Populism and the Other

by Kaileigh La Belle

In doing this week’s readings, I was struck by Cento Bull’s reading on populism and popular memory. In particular, her argument is that the other is consistently used to construct a populist national image. I think that this argument can be applied to other readings from this week. Namely, Molnar’s article on the role of racial anxiety in reunified Germany. Throughout the article, Molnar highlights narratives from reunified Germany in which German citizens suggest that immigration would threaten their country. As such, through this construction of the other, they attempt to call back to a mythic, historic image of Germany, one that is predominately white and Christian. 

The Cento Bull reading also encouraged me to consider why narratives of the other are so successful in creating both an imagined past and an imagined community around which people can rally. Personally, looking at cases such as those discussed in Molnar’s article, I feel that the ‘other’ is often conceptually distanced, but also physically distanced. For example, in his introduction, Molnar highlights a racist letter against immigration written by a man called Lange. In this letter, Lange uses examples of other ethnically mixed countries, namely in Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe, and suggests that this would be Germany’s fate. The physical distance between these countries would enable people to demonize the situation and present a myth as fact as there becomes greater space for disinformation.  

In conclusion, I felt that Cento Bull raised some interesting points about the role of the other in populist myth-making, which I feel carries over to other readings from this week. In considering this subject more critically, I found myself faced with continued questions as to how these processes occur and what makes them so successful in such varied situations.

3 Replies to “Populism and the Other”

  1. Great Points! It baffles me that this sentiment that foreign migrants pose a direct threat to national security exists. Sure if proper screening is not carried out threats can be present, but that never seems to be the real reason behind peoples belief in it. Post-Soviet Germany did not seem to really care about national security, or the fact that they were literally letting former communists into the West, but they surely seemed concerned about the skin pigmentation and religious beliefs of migrants since those are obviously massive threats! (Sarcasm)

    1. I was thinking the same thing, Max. It was surprising to see that Russian Germans were willingly accepted back into the population, while Turkish populations remained targeted for violence. It really pokes holes in the whole idea of “cultural racism” as non-biological – somehow “ethnically German” populations are able to overcome huge differences in political cultures, but adding people of colour will somehow lead to civil war.

  2. I really like your point about distance contributing to these othering narratives. It brought to mind ideas from the post-1968 readings, in particular the one about the British National Front Party, where the author discussed the Party’s support Arab and African nationalist movements. Not only was this done to disarm accusations of racism, but also to serve a more pernicious goal: If these movements succeed, then it would mean more people from those parts of the world will remain in their homelands and not migrate to Western Europe. However, supporting these nationalisms within Britain would work against the National Front’s aim of resisting multiculturalism. Thus, physical distance provides mental and rhetorical distance, which allows neofascist groups to engage in their highly contradictory and xenophobic mental gymnastics.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: