Memory-Making

Alison Miller

These pieces on the Catechism debate really dig through the mille-feuille that is memory creation and culture. It’s is already summed up in the pieces themselves, but the questions of who is responsible for memory culture, how that culture is built (ex. “officially” versus “unofficially”), who and what is reinforcing it, the state’s version of events versus individuals versus groups, etc. are all coming together to address this issue around Holocaust memorialisation and German colonial memory.

I read a few different articles, but the one that really stuck out for me was Wolff’s “Refusing the Extended Hand.” His experiences are tied to his identity as well as the identity of those around him that he interacted with, as an Eastern German, a Communist, and a Jewish person.

His piece highlights the complexities of memorialisation. His discussion on the East versus West German development of memory culture displays that despite current the geographical unity of the German state, there is still a hegemonic imposition of specific historical narratives upon those that have different historical experiences.

One of the things that Wolff brought up that I hadn’t thought about before was the sterility of institutional leftist memory culture. There is a specific experience that Wolff draws on, but I think that this is a concept of sterility really gets at what all of these entries about the Catechism debate are about (I think sterility can be applied to a lot of other things to, as I perceive it as almost a critique of memory culture as building franchises in different places to provide exactly the same product to as many people as possible). Opinions and methods of building memory culture that are outside of the hegemonic narrative add complications that the entities responsible for this culture do not like. Memorialisation is deprived of complicating factors not only as a method of maintaining a state-sponsored coherent narrative, but almost as a preventative to avoid right-wing groups from appropriating dissenting opinions in order to deny that events ever happened, or at the very least manipulate the narrative to their own ends.

In not addressing these nuances, it’s just as Wolff says – the memory culture is not for memory or culture.

There is certainly something to be said about the fact that Holocaust memorialisation should centre the Jewish experience, but somehow Jewish voices that do not agree with institutional memory are at odds with the narrative.

Back to the Populist Dictionary (extended edition)

Alison Miller

A quasi-return to the beginning of the course and setting out the definition of populism, but this time, I think, with a larger emphasis on the distinction between left and right wing populism. Addressing who is populist, the role of radicalism within movements, left vs. right wing populism, and the gooey anti-democratic/elite centre of populist movements.

The flexibility of populism is linked to the fact that it is not burdened by a “coherent programme” (as March puts it) and that by linking populism to a more robust ideology, it takes on a different look depending on whether the movement is left or right wing. I find Mudde and Kaltwasser’s argument for their simplified definition of the concept particularly convincing. Populism seems to essentially boil down to: A movement that clearly establishes an in-group (morally pure) and an out-group (morally corrupt), where anti-elitism plays a huge part in how the movement defines these groups. There is also a deep seated belief that rule by the people supercedes anything else – the popular will is central to everything (of course the popular will is the will as defined by the in-group).

This definition ensures that we get a clear, and important, distinction between groups that are and are not populist. Fieschi states outright that we need to categorise populism in order to separate out legitimate movements from their populist counter parts. Essentially to use taxonomies to ensure that movements that are meant to address serious shortcomings in democracy are not mistaken for their populist cousins. Both Fieschi and March also bring up the importance of demoticism as part of the taxonomy.

Another part of the taxonomy was explored in the left/right wing populist dynamic, broken down by case studies to try and divine if there are fundamental differences in left and right wing populism. Mudde and Kaltwasser hold case studies that essentially boil down to the idea that the right is exclusionary (focus on the creation of the outsider), and the left inclusionary (focus on policies). March essentially supports this statement, but iterates that they are not universal, and that most populist groups have horizontal and vertical divisions in the parties.

To me, its a good idea to analyse the left/right divide and to take time properly defining the difference between populist movements and movements that are looking to bring democratic change. With regards to the left/right divide, because left-wing populists do not do as well in Europe, they can sometimes be forgotten due to the focus on highlighting the right-wing. The value of mentioning that simply looking to improve democratic outcomes is not in and of itself populist can assist in combatting members of populist movements that attempt to co-opt protests for democratic change.

On-line and Off-line Influences

The readings this week concerning social media and other visual and non-visual methods of communication for populists were, in my opinion, a great way of displaying the networks required to bring populists together as well as the dispersal of the message. It highlights Postill’s message of there being substantial interaction between media, while also highlighting the impossibility of blaming a single piece of media or medium for media for the success of populists and populist parties. On top of this, as we get as well from Postill, everyone can and does use these tools, and just because there is a successful campaign does not necessarily mean that social media is the only thing responsible for that success.

I would argue that one of the things that social media has helped with is spreading specific vocabulary related to populist goals transnationally (especially the US/Europe vector) however as we see from Doerr, it is not only social media that helps to spread these images, specific political parties are involved in translating these images in different ways to match contexts. Despite this, I think that Kramer’s point about populists communicating identity identity is a central element of a lot of their use of mainstream social media. The ease of sharing the visual media associated with their particular populist movement in the shape of memes, posters, conspiracy, etc. has meant that a common vocabulary has developed, one that can then be enforced if the leader also uses this same vocabulary in either the mainstream media or on the same social media platform. These pieces of visual media allow immediate recognition of like-minded individuals, and even when they are translated, if the visual element of the media is the same, there is still the possibility of understanding outside of language barriers (mass media can even play the role of translator if there is a particular controversy around it). I want to emphasize here that this is not a thing new to social media, pamphlets, zines, and other forms of paper media have played this role for some time. What I will restate is that the transnational movement that these visual elements have when they are posted to a common social media space.

Perhaps not directly related to this week, but I found this article interesting: One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia

Nuance in the Anti-Gender Conversation

Alison Miller

One of the major themes in the readings this week was the influence of institutions on the promotion of anti-gender campaigns and ideology, as well as how the analysis of anti-gender movements could be more nuanced.

I found the Żuk and Żuk article to be very well written, as the way that it methodically broke down the logical fallacies present in a lot of right wing discourse is a useful way to structure and address our own anti-fascist and anti-populist arguments. Appeals to emotion are very useful on both sides of the argument, but recognition of why these arguments are poor ones to make can be very useful in cutting through strong emotional responses, especially when dealing with emotional topics as abortion and LGBTQIA issues.

In a different vein, I appreciated the Patternotte and Kuhar article especially, as I think the emphasis on looking at different ways that anti-gender movements operate allows for a more nuanced approach on how to solve these particular issues. I do still think there is some connection often between countries, as we have seen from previous weeks’ readings that there is a transnational element to these movements. One example would be a comparison of the new-Marxism present in especially CEE countries, versus the “cultural-Marxism” based in the United States.  

What I thought might have been interesting for Patternotte and Kuhar to look at would be the media’s presence in all of this. Britain especially is known for its wide variety of tabloids, and the framing that media does when it addresses issues like gender would have added to the conversation.

On a bit of a side note, trans-exclusionary radical feminists are an interesting intersection of all of this, as they often perceive themselves to be protectors of women and feminists but are surprised when many of the things they talk about receive positive attention from right-wing populists. Patternote and Kuhar highlight that the anti-gender conversation is not just about right-wing populists but left-wing as well. To further see this kind of dynamic, there’s an interesting article on La Manif Pour Tous’s founder Emile Duport who states that he does not see his work as left or right wing, or Catholic, but rather “This is a humanitarian topic. It is like ecology for us. We try to give [it] a higher meaning.” He now works as part of an anti-abortion organization supported in part by the Catholic Church.

France’s Anti-Vaccination Movement

Alison Miller

The Gateway Drug to Populism – The Anti-Vaccine Movement

France has a long history tied to the modern vaccine movement, and a population that is heavily skeptical of vaccines of all kinds. Despite being the home country of one of the fathers of vaccination, a recent survey of French citizens showed that 33% of the French population surveyed do not believe in the efficacy of vaccines.

It might be easy to blame the export of the American anti-vaccine movement as solely responsible for France’s anti-vaxx dilemma, but France has been perfectly capable of brewing their own anti-vaxxers. The movement has incorporated imported American ingredients (the use of the English “Big Pharma” versus a French translation) with French anti-elite practices and anti-vaccine watershed moments, including health scandals from 1991, 2009 ,and 2010, and of course the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is a transnational movement, however, and much like populist ones, there are fundamental elements found in every version that are then adapted to particular locations. Issues of bodily autonomy, anti-intellectualism, and anti-elitism are found in every anti-vaccine movement, but these are flexible enough to fit right into French culture where flexibility is needed.

Populism and Vaccine Hesitancy

Given the similarities in populist and anti-vaxx movements ideologies, its unsurprising that early research finds close correlation between them. While anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism have already been mentioned, these groups often both include conspiracy theory, as well as creating in and out-groups, and, in extreme cases, resorting to violence.

The similarities also include blaming immigrants for national failures. This includes when the Front Nationale’s David Rachline placed the responsibility for the 2017 resurgence of preventable diseases at the feet of French immigrants, an argument against a new law the French government put forward calling for more mandatory childhood vaccines. Marine Le Pen herself waded in, reusing one of the anti-vaccine movement’s most frequent quips about vaccination, “nous connaissons assez peu les conséquences à long terme” as a retort against the bill. Both figures ignored the real cause for the outbreak (erratic and insufficient vaccination rates among the European population) in favour of creating a new anti-immigrant narrative.

COVID-19

COVID-19 has unsurprisingly exacerbated the anti-vaccine issue, as government mandated lockdowns, masks, and vaccines spark populist demonstrations in France. The anti-vaccine movement primed people to engage in these demonstrations, as the anti-vaxx movement had already introduced people to many of the same ideas present in both movements. The degree to which there is cross-over at these events is evident in the presence of far-right nationalist groups, including France’s version of UKIP – Les Patriotes.

These anti-vaccine and anti-vaccine passport demonstrations have also drawn on another populist fall-back: Anti-Semitism. Signs with anti-Semitic visuals, as well as the use of the yellow star the Nazis forced Jewish People to wear to identify them, and comparisons of vaccine mandates to the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation of France have all sprung up as part of the backlash against the Covid-19 vaccine mandates.

Despite the demonstrations and threats of violence, 76.6% of the French population is now vaccinated, a substantial step up from the concerns in January 2021 of the short-comings of the vaccination programme. This has taken effort at a lot of different levels, including television appearances promoting vaccination by President Macron, government vaccine mandates, and grass-roots level groups such as Les Vaxxeuses working anonymously on Facebook to promote accurate vaccine science.

Covid vaccination centres vandalised in France - BBC News

Image courtesy of BBC News

Multi-Dimensional Muslim Identities

Alison Miller

Some of the readings this week deal with the concept of right-wing groups using minority groups that they had previously discriminated against as tools to further the oppression they impose on, especially, Muslims. Both the Hungarian case and in El-Tayeb’s article, far-right groups were willing to put their homophobia and Anti-Semitism on the back-burner in order to fight against a larger threat, that of Muslims. This seems to be the one thing that a lot of far-right groups are able to coalesce around, and one that European politicians and bureaucracies often explicitly or tacitly endorse.

I found the El-Tayeb article particularly interesting. These ideas of white gays being able to be multi-dimensional as long as they are multi-dimensional within the single framework of being a consumer. One of the things that wasn’t necessarily in the article (and that I wouldn’t insist upon because I think the article addresses what it needs to address) but that I think would be interesting is how the issue of class plays into all of this. The article notes police interaction with Muslim, Brown, and Black communities, as well as how people from these communities often provide the cheap labour necessary to support wealthier white LGBTQ people’s lifestyles. I would be interested to see (again in a different article), how those concepts, along with things like gentrification removing the liveability of neighbourhoods in exchange for stores that are essentially tourist destinations for those not living in that area of town, work with the intersection of class, race, and Islam.

The Urban/Rural Divide

Alison Miller

The readings this week predominantly discuss the internal and external divisions that caused illiberal and populist governments and movements to come to the fore. These movements relied on call-backs to old ideas and events, but these events also shaped how each of these countries saw their far-right populist movements developing.

For Bull, each Italian government of the Second Italian Republic worked to define their populism in such a way so as to exclude particular enemies of the party, with only anti-elitism being a binding agent of all three parties. Drawing on old ideas of Southern Italy as a parasite, re-writing historical events to cast Communists as the enemy, and memories of the First Republic, each party worked to fashion the ‘Other’ that they could set themselves against in order to get into power.

I found the Mamonova, Franquesa, Brooks reading particularly interesting because they address how the history of each of their case studies has influenced current rural/urban divides. This divide is a familiar one, as we see it in movements in the US and Canada as well. I found the concept of the rural areas being emptied to be particularly compelling with regards to why we see the rise of populist groups.

The concerns in Ukraine about land being snapped up by conglomerates is also particularly striking, as I think we are seeing things similar to this in the Canadian context, although my particular reading has more covered the Canadian housing crisis in urban areas.

Furthermore, post-Covid frustration is mounting as people who live in high cost of living areas are moving into smaller towns (ostensibly a good thing in terms of addressing rural emptiness) but are driving housing prices up and making no efforts to actually get involved in civic life in smaller towns. The degree to which this is a similar issue in Europe would be interesting, as work from home could be a good change for rural areas if housing prices are kept down and demand for representation and services goes up.  

The Flexibility of Fascism

Alison Miller

This week’s readings revolve around the returning theme of the flexibility of fascism, and how this flexibility permitted both the transnational spread of fascist thought (especially in the case of British and French fascists), as well as the cooperation that took place among different fascist parties that were looking to make a parliamentary splash.

The flip side of this flexibility, however, and like most movements, means that there were multiple disagreements among a variety of different fascists about how best to address their cause. Notably, the ongoing split of parties in Italy and France that helped create, for example, the FN. Issues with the TP also meant there was friction among groups, often to the point of being incapable of working with each other to achieve a singular goal (Mammone especially discusses this).

Despite the frictions, Italian remained a point of origin for a lot of new Fascist thinking, both in the case of France and Britain. Fascinating in the British case is the use of Italian texts that had not been translated, and so had to be recounted by Roberto Fiore.

What we also see in the Amyot paper is what we have been discussing in class as well, that fascists in Italy, much like Nazis in Germany, were brought into the fold of the day to day running of the government, military, and other major organisations, which despite the alleged neutrality of not permitting outright fascist or communist parties, led to bombings that were blamed on left-wing groups.

One of the things that Amyot reminded me of is the ongoing use of agents provocateurs in a lot of left-wing protest marches, as well as what the French term “casseurs” which are people who specifically aim to cause damage during French protests, including breaking windows, setting cars on fire, etc. in order to shift the media narrative not only away from what the protest is about, but also to blame left-wing groups. This does not mean there are not people within left-wing groups that aren’t looking for a fight, but rather that this is a reminder of the historical connection between protest and left-wing movements today and in the post-1968 era.

Why Europe continues to struggle with memorialising its colonial legacy

Alison Miller

Canada’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Day has come and gone, but the point of origin for the colonial system that has made the day necessary is notably silent besides a quiet acknowledgement from Queen Elizabeth II. Despite the success that Germany has had with addressing Holocaust history, and Europe’s memorialisation of World War One and Two, the continent continues to struggle with (and ignore) how to address its dark history as coloniser.

Yes, some concessions have been made at the EU level with regards to acknowledging the legacies left by colonialism, but acknowledgment at the country level (particularly England, France, Germany, Italy, and Belgium) are slow in coming, not thought through, or are applied unevenly.

The question, it seems, is two-fold. The first is why Europe, and especially France, continues to struggle to acknowledge its colonial past and the second is how that colonial past might be memorialised.

The Struggle of Apologising

Most frequently blamed for the lack of apology is that the events happened such a long time ago, and that the people that were responsible for them are no longer around, so it does not make sense to apologise for them, despite the fact that the last major European colony gained independence in the 1970s. Colonialism is deeply entrenched in the European system (the continent was built on the money, labour, and capital that colonialism brought) but the lack of education about the colonial project and its effects is lacking.

It might also be tempting to put the blame on far right-wing parties and their espousal of the myth of European exceptionalism for the resistance to addressing colonialism on the European continent, but major figures in multiple European countries have fallen short of real apologies, or have simply refused to give them. Emmanuel Macron, often considered a centrist, has refused to apologise to Algeria for what the French did during the colonial period. The Belgian King wrote a letter to the President of the Congo, but King Leopold II is not named as the perpetrator for the atrocities and the apology is incomplete. Britain has mentioned it “sincerely regrets” certain actions taken during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, and is willing to make reparations, but the extent of the British Empire at its height indicates this is only a very small first step. Shada Islam even argues that the only reason Europe is even thinking about apologising is because it is a strategic when trying to develop new economic agreements with African countries.

Of all of the colonial countries resisting addressing their colonial past, France presents one of the most interesting cases. Leading French intellectuals hold the belief that addressing colonialism is somehow intertwined in the transnational encroachment of American perceptions of social justice. The fear is that French secularism and the importance France places on integration will be subsumed by American practices, and that these practices will create fractures in French society. These beliefs have been at least somewhat endorsed by Macron, despite the fact that the country has yet to even address racial inequality by gathering official metrics on race and ethnicity in the country.

How can one begin to memorialise colonialism when even the act of acknowledging race becomes a national concern over the loss of societal cohesion, and apologies are perceived as strategic rather than genuine bids for acknowledgement of wrongdoing?

Transnational Reparations?

It is not likely that many of these colonising countries will make wide-reaching apologies for colonialism, even as a united front. At least, not for a long time. Too many of the countries within Europe are built on the legacies of colonialism, and the dearth of knowledge about colonial pasts leaves these countries slow to move.

However, the failures to address colonialism and the racism within Europe have come face to face with a transnational response to the racism present in countries that participated in it. Following the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement found its way into Europe, bringing issues that anti-colonial and anti-racist groups have been working on for decades to the forefront. Despite France’s concerns over the Americanisation of France, there was clearly something that struck a chord, as protests against police brutality sprung up in the country. In much the same manner, statues of Leopold II were graffitied and torn down, Britain underwent major overhauls of a variety of statues, streets, and buildings named after slave-traders and that invoked Imperialist ideals, and 15000 people attended protests in Berlin alone.

Getty Images, courtesy of the BBC

Prior to these protests, Europe reframed de-colonisation as mostly working on anti-racism and the renaming of streets and buildings. The George Floyd protests fit neatly into this method of European anti-racism action, but at a much larger scale. While an argument can be made that tearing down statues does not address the deeper legacies of the racism of colonisation, when Europe has been so slow to address these issues, addressing the very public facing memorialisation of colonialism seems like a good start.

Alison Miller

One of the things I liked about this weeks readings was the shifting of focus to France, and how France and specifically French thinkers, interacted with and inspired the far right both within Europe, and internationally.

Of particular interest was this belief in needing to bring in and create a set of academic writings for the right, as the left had a tremendous head start on the right in this regard. Despite the search for the rational, there is a lot of esoteric and conspiracy thought that found its way into a lot of these writings, especially in the case of Julius Evola’s works.

To me, Bar-On’s article was the most interesting article this week, very much highlighting the development of French “New Right” thinking and the give and take it had with other countries, as well as the emphasis on a culture hegemony (and unspoken a “culture war” that needed to be won, a concept still in use today). The irony of drawing on a lot of ideas from Gramsci is not lost on me.

On the flip side however, an emphasis on academic superiority undermined a lot of the 68s movement in Germany. Over and over again, Biess discusses how leadership in the student movement often isolated other members of the movement. While certainly not the sole reason for failure, the almost bourgeois condescension of much of the leadership isolated them from possibly forming stronger bonds with labour, who may have entertained some of the New Left’s belief system.