While our previous classes have highlighted the importance of inter-European relationships between fascist parties, this week’s material re-emphasized the importance of inequalities within and among European states as a contributor to fascist movements. While our class discussion has always maintained fascist movements as distinctly nationalistic, I think it can be easy to equate a post-war European Union as having reconciled tensions that existed in the first half of the 20th century and focus on a pan-European identity against immigration from the Global South. While the Molnar reading reaffirms the important role that fears of the “non-European immigrant” play in far-right movements, the Kalb and Mamonova et. al readings have helped reveal resistance to the cosmopolitan European Union that I hadn’t considered previously. This was most visible in how the Mamonova et. al reading emphasized that East Germans joined fascist movements despite Islamophobic attitudes – revealing other tensions at play beyond racialized fears.
This left me with a question that perhaps I would be interested in discussing next class – has globalization and European integration made fears of “international conspiracies” seem more legitimate? I am not suggesting that radical anti-Semitic theories have any basis in reality, nor proposing that they should be taken as anything beyond hateful. Yet comparing global interconnections in 2022 from the mid-twentieth “classic” era of fascism, the advents of a European economy and neo-liberal capitalism have heightened international connections. The Kalb reading showcases this twofold: where national economies become increasingly dependent on global finance and where feelings of abandonment increase as cosmopolitan considerations replace labour/welfare/rural need. Reading about the relationship between neo-liberalism and East-European workers, I can see why disempowered populations may feel as though international forces have stripped their control over their livelihoods or how their considerations become sidelined by government agendas.
Does modern globalization serve to bolster long-standing capitalist conspiracy theories in a way that wasn’t present in the past? Or am I simply diminishing the international connections that existed previously among European states?
One of the themes that struck me from the readings was how late 20th century Europeans “othered:” who did they consider to be included t of their “nation” or “people” and who they did not. What I found interesting was that the lines were often drawn differently depending on the context, and how this was done not only by leaders of radical right parties, but also by average citizens.
Cento Bull examines the more high-level perspective of far-right Italian Second Republic parties radically redefined inclusion and exclusion in their efforts to reconstruct the past. One example is discussed Lega Nord. On the one hand, they othered Southern Italians based on a dissonance between work ethic and perceived criminality vis-à-vis Northern Italians. On the other, they saw migrants (in particular people from Arab-speaking countries) as an excluded group from all Italians, Southerners included (p.222-3).
While Italian politicians were doing mental gymnastics to develop their imagined past, Germans in the recently reunified Germany were also engaging in othering from a more bottom-up persepective. Molnar’s piece highlights that post-War racism in Europe had shifted from Nazi-era “biological” differences to ideas of European cultures being incompatible with those of the global south. While this was a discourse pushed by far-right and neofascist groups, Molnar’s examination of letters from German citizens to President Wiezäcker illuminate that these ideas held sway over “average” German citizens, evidenced also by the 1992 anti-asylum compromise (p.498-501).
From these readings we can see how othering ultimately leads to the marginalization of, persecution of, and violence towards groups in European society that were not considered to be included in the dominant national or ethnic group.
To humans, differences between them and other individuals or groups are enough to set them apart in their mind. From a different opinion to the color of the skin, everything matters from that perspective. It’s also hard to accept change as it can be scary and it is exactly what populism is trying to exploit since its creation. This is what author Ivan Kalmar tries to argue about Hungary and Victor Orbán creating a culture of Islamophobia. Immigration is a catalyst for fear and with Europe having large waves of immigrants coming in it’s the perfect excuse to channel racist thoughts based on fear and anxiousness rather than the plain “evil” side of individuals. It is an excuse and an easy way out to blame society’s problems on rather than work out complicated equations to accommodate everyone. Racism then becomes a tool for a political party to manipulate the popular opinion to achieve their social and political goals. This leads to more institutionalized racism like in Turkey with the White Turks defined as the bureaucratic elite and the Black Turks as the common population. This influencing methods are particularly efficient and pernicious because at a certain points these ideas become an individual’s own thoughts and he starts to accept more radicalized positions that the populist group suggests, creating a cycle of hatred. It is a lot easier to blame an external source than to face the problems within their own nation building roots.
Some kind of populist myth is mentioned in all of the articles this week, but most prominently in the Bull article. When Bull discusses the role of memory in populist discourse, it is that memory is being hijacked by myth to promote a “people” and their supposed “good ol’ days.” Those good ol’ days are a fiction constructed by the myth, but people’s memories are easily corrupted so they start to remember the past differently. Once people believe in a fictionalized past, it is easy for someone to say “x took that away from you” and the antagonism of populism begins.
In the Molnar article, the above sentiment is reflected in a partially medieval aesthetic reminiscent of the obsession with the medieval world that we read about earlier. One German man says of the Turkish immigrants something like “they had kicked out the Turks at Vienna in 1683 and should not be letting them in now.” The Kalb article about Eastern Europe shows a more interesting myth in that the good ol’ days are not as clear, but there is still the “x took that away from you” sentiment. After the collapse of the USSR, people in Eastern Europe had hope, but that hope was crushed by the failures of mass privatization, which they associated with liberalization. This resulted in the myth that “liberalism took your hope away from you.” The Mamonova/Franquesa/Brooks article shows the most clear ‘good ol’ days’ sentiment in discussing the rural-urban divide, where for rural-dwellers the time before urban migration was better but the amount to which it was better has been exaggerated. The result is a resentment towards ‘urban elites’ for luring their population away. Resentment also appears to be a common theme.
In this week’s readings, especially those centred around Germany, key points came in direct conflict with the conceptions we may have made in regards to populism throughout the course. As we’ve discussed to great lengths, populism and fascism were closely tied to racist or pro-national ideology. However, Mamonova et al. and Molnar’s articles provide us with two different perspectives that somewhat come to clash with these notions.
In their focus on East Germans, Mamonova et al. explore the growth of far-right movements in the part of the country which was formerly communist. Rather than based on racial motives, however, we see that these movements are primarily based on discontent with the socioeconomic situation of East Germans, who felt themselves as “second-class citizens” (Mamonova 1504.) Further supported by the lack of anti-Muslim sentiment in the protests that took place in Dresden (Ibid 1504), we can suppose that the rise of far-right is not especially tied to their racist discourse. This comes to throw a first wrench in the cogs of our understanding of racism as a key component of populism and authoritarianism.
This is further complicated through Molnar’s exploration of the general sentiment in Germany at the time. In fact, it would suggest that anti-Muslim sentiments were more present in the general public and in government, as one could gather from the support towards Helmut Kohl’s plan to pay Turks to leave the country (Molnar 497). The growth of anti-Muslim sentiment, especially supported by the Chancellor of the CDU, becomes hard to pin as exclusive to populist or authoritarian far-right ideals. Rather, our understanding of the ties between far-right movements and racism needs to be reconsidered, perhaps especially due to the uncertainties present at the time.
France is a large country in Europe with a rich history and culture and a population of 67.7 million. It is an integral member of both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and France’s complexities of diplomacy may be as daunting as 3-dimensional chess, and extremist views domestically limit Macron’s available political capital in the international arena.
Emanuel Macron and his Le Republique En Marche party was re-elected in the 2022 election with 58% of the vote, his top competitor, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally (Rassemblement National) party had their largest-ever gains, winning 89 seats and denying Macron a majority government. Previously known as the National Front, the National Rally party has been a political force in France for decades. They received 34% of the vote in the last election.
Le Pen voters are often referred to as far or extreme right, or even the anti-immigration party. In the April 2022 election 41% of French voters supported Le Pen and the National Rally party, who were known for their racist and authoritarian beliefs. During the campaign Le Pen repeated her intent to make social assistance programs unattainable for foreigners who had not worked for a minimum of 5 years in France and to ban Muslim headscarves (hijabs) in public. In addition, Le Pen associates with Viktor Orban of Hungary whom I talked a bit about in the previous OP/ED, and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy amongst other authoritarian and fascist leaders. To make matters worse she even spoke of withdrawal from NATO, and Since 2011 Le Pen has declared her admiration for Vladimir Putin and his policies. However, due to Russia’s invasion on Ukraine Le Pen has brushed off questions about Putin and began to shift her public position.
Prior to the 2022 election but after the war in Ukraine had begun, the people of France found Macron to be a good crisis leader, and his poll numbers improved. Yet Macron’s record on immigration is not a good one, nor did he inherit anything resembling a functioning immigration system. In 2018 the United Nations (UN) criticized France and the Macron government of inhumane and substandard conditions experienced by asylum-seekers. With an increased anti-immigrant sentiment among the French, Macron’s government has continued to destroy migrant settlements without providing services to even the most vulnerable. The message they provide instead is move on. Meanwhile, on March 10, 2022 Ukrainian refugees were given temporary protection in France, similar to those who hold Schengen Visas which are renewable every 6 months. Neither Macron nor Le Pen offers any reasonable solution to France’s continued abuse of basic human rights, and this same scenario is being played out in other European countries too. In France there is room for the white Ukrainians fleeing war and no room for the people of color predominantly from countries that are under travel advisories in the West.
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.