Is Europe Truly Multicultural?

Written by Emma Bronsema

Europe and discourse surrounding Europe like to portray it as being inclusive and multicultural, but when it comes down to it, and you change the discussion, it is a truly ideological polarizing continent. There is more division than unification found within. 

When examining the discourse surrounding the Muslim communities in Europe, it becomes clear that they are often othered, understood in static terms, and categorized to be traditional, intolerant, and a rigid community. More often than not, their voices are drowned out by European concerns about the supposed threat to the culture that they have become too comfortable in. By systematically concentrating racialized minorities into certain areas, there becomes a visible supposid threat to European culture.  

It is ironic how Europeans will look at the Muslim culture as rigid and traditional, and like to claim that their culture is fluid and inclusive, when they are ones who are rigid and unwilling to accept, adapt and recognize other cultures. Similarly, xenophobia comes into clear view when looking at the reluctance the Europeans had when it came to admitting refugees into their countries. This is also shown when looking at the policy created by the EU, which contains the desire for minimal support efforts and to minimize and prevent migrants. In practice, anti-immigration sentiments were clearly shown by their response to the 2015 refugee crisis – during which they were extremely reluctant to accept Syrian refugees.

I would like to know how Nations who claim to be multicultural are so afraid of including and accepting outside cultures. Especially since Islamic Europeans are not a new phenomenon and have resided in Europe for centuries. My best answer would be that it is through selective memory, that Europe is able to portray a specific culture and narrative that allows them to completely disregard their long history of emigration and immigration.

References:

Fatima El-Tayeb, “”Gays Who Cannot Properly be Gay.’ Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City” European Journal of Women’s Studies 19/1, (2012): 79-95. 

Dan Stone, “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

Nilüfer Göle, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam” New Literary History, Volume 43, Number 4 (Autumn 2012): 665-685.

Covid-19, Conspiracies, and the Growing Appeal of the Far-Right in Western Europe

Written by Emma Bronsema

Sign translates to”Stop Corona Madness”

The far-right is becoming more attractive during the pandemic. This is being achieved through the spreading conspiracy theories and participating in the rallies and anti-lockdown protests. Since the start of the pandemic, quarantine regimes have seen an increase in mobilization of right-wing extremists, whose ideologies have been gaining traction through the use of alternative media outlets, the spread of Covid conspiracies, and anti-lockdown protests.

How they are spreading their message

Right-wing messages are often shared through social media platforms. These platforms, full of targeted propaganda, are used to connect and gather people together, as well as to advertise and disperse misleading information. They send out messages and conspiracy theories that play on the uncertainty of the pandemic, and people’s fears and insecurities.

The far-right often uses “alternative media” outlets for their publications, in order to distance themselves from established, elite, and political media. The alternative media uses the same facts but interlace their reports with speculation and suggestions of things that could be true. This includes claims that the virus was lab-created and is not as dangerous as other media outlets would like the public to believe. The mistruths they tell are often subtle and seemingly harmless.

There are also connections made between alternative media with other platforms – including Facebook and Youtube – to gain the perception of credibility and attract a dedicated following. Credibility is also obtained when public figures, such as celebrities, play into the conspiracy theories.

An attractive option for people

As the pandemic ensues and people are under strict rules – as vitally important as the guidelines are – people are continuing to lose faith in the government; especially business owners and workers who are financially and mentally suffering due to the prolonged lock-downs and enforced curfews. Other people are finding the restrictions oppressive and an inhibitor of their normal lives that they desperately long to go back to. People are upset and the far-right preys on this, with the desire to cultivate hatred and mistrust amongst people’s views of the democratic system and its political leaders.

Covid protest in Lepzig Germany

Making themselves visible

Within the last year, especially the last few months, neo-Nazis, QAnon, and other right-wing extremist groups, are participating in anti-Covid restriction protests. The riots that have ensued provide a way for “virus deniers, political protesters and kids who just saw the chance to go completely wild.”

The extremist groups who are encouraging, hijacking, and establishing protests are able to use violence as a way to promote their ideology and gain media attention. They portray themselves as activists that are hands-on and are involved with and act for the people; they refuse to step down, instead they fight for what they believe in. This was shown during the protests in Vienna where Neo-Nazi militants “refused to disband and blocked traffic.”

The European demonstrators encouraged breaking rules – including businesses, saying that they should open “in the spirit of civil disobedience.” However, this is ironic, far-right demonstrators encouraging businesses such as restaurants to break the rules. They want to gain favour of the public but if they are encouraging people to break the rules, how do they expect a committed following of people who will listen to them and comply with their rules and desires for the country.

Historical Imagery and Comparisons

Aside from social media platforms and violence, the far-right extremists use symbols and specific imagery to get attention and spread their ideology. In Belgium, like many European countries, the government is advising mass vaccinations in order to lift lockdown measures. In opposition of this, however, the far-right “used an image of Auschwitz in its campaign against public health measures and vaccinations.” The repurposing and editing of an Auschwitz image was used as a symbol of government control in a time when it was advertised that the government knew what they were doing. Using historical imagery, in combination with social media, accelerates their message and gains them a mass following. Other brandished images are a nod to the Reichsbürger movement – a movement that “rejects the legitimacy of the modern German state.”

campaign poster with drawing of entrance to Auschwitz
The Belgian anti-vaccine add

Lastly, the anti-lockdown riot in Berlin saw comparisons to the Reichstag fire in 1933 – that was used as a way to consolidate power and target communities, allowing the Nazi regime to rise in Germany. Decades later, the right-wing extremists took over the riots in order to storm the Reichstags (government) building. This is important to note as they want to overthrow the current democracy system in favour of a far-right regime, and are using Covid-19 as means to an end.

While right-wing extremists are actively participating in riots, they are attracting large numbers of people with their ideologies. They spread conspiracies and prey upon people’s fears that are a result of tensions with the uncertainty of the pandemic, and the response and measures put in place by the government.

Memory and the Importance of Collaboration

Written by Emma Bronsema

Overtime, memory culture changes, as does the way we look at and understand certain historical events. Discussions and research surrounding the holocaust were based on the political and intellectual context of the time. Memories and stories were not immediately following, and in the same way, right after the war, in comparison to decades following. Some reasons are due to the desire to maintain hidden following the war. Other reasons include interests and focus being placed on different aspects of the war. In relation to the commemoration of the jewish experience and the use of plaques and monuments, they were not popular until the 1980s.

Stories are told, memories shared, and memorials are created successfully through collaboration between the two groups and a receptive audience. A minority group may rally for something, but until their voice is heard by the majority and people are genuinely willing to work together, whatever it is they are asking for will not be given.

This is especially prevalent in regards to the holocaust memorials in small German towns. While members of the returning Jewish community were pushing for a monument or plaque to commemorate the Jewish lives lost and their experience during the Second World War, it was not until they gathered together and got their voices heard by the rest of the community. They had to get their community interested and invested in order to get their wishes granted. At the same time, without the return of the Jewish communities, their voices would have been lost and experiences unheard by the residents still there.

By working together, not only are their memories able to be kept alive, but the collective population is able to learn about other people’s experiences. Furthermore, they, and historians and researchers, can attempt to understand how people can become marginalized, as well as become involved in a system of collective violence. This includes figuring out how to deal with it, and grapple with the limits of our collective and individual knowledge and understanding.

References used:

Helmut Walser Smith, “It Takes a Village to Create a Nation’s Memory” Zocalo Public Sphere https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2021/01/11/post-war-germany-jewishreturn-memory-national-reckoning/ideas/essay/ 

Mary Fulbrook, Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice podcast https://soundcloud.com/historyhit/coming-to-terms-with-the 

Michael Rothberg, “Comparing Comparison: From the “Historikerstreit to the Mbembe Affair” Geschichte der Gegenwart September 23, 2020 https://geschichtedergegenwart.ch/comparing-comparisons-from-the-historikerstreitto-the-mbembe-affair/

W. Sollors, “Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text.” German Life & Letters. Vol 71, Issue 2 (2018): 139-153. 

Far-Right Women and Missing Voices

Written by Emma Bronsema

In many fascist societies, women play a large and important role. Historically, their roles and femininity has been overlooked, generalized, and propagandized; they were often marginalized, and their complex stories were simplified. However, it is not shocking that women were involved in nationalistic and war efforts. They were heavily ingrained in society as secretaries, social workers, and educators, to name a few. They were also in close proximity to where these wartime events were taking place; close to power and close to crime scenes. Many people became desensitized to what they were seeing, in addition to being ideologically indoctrinated by what their government propagandized.

In fascist Spain and Germany, women’s roles were often used to sell a story to various audiences – including women of a different political view to portray them as ideal and the better between the two. “Officially” both Spanish and German women returned back to a domestic role after the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War ended. Their stories and accounts of the wars and their contribution often went missing. There were many reasons for this, including the fact that many women did not speak about their actions and the events that took place. Moreover, women’s roles were often propagandized, generalized, victimized, hyper-sexualized, and or given a sympathetic image. Furthermore, many women were difficult to track down because they got married and changed their last names. 

Lastly, their stories were not recorded because they were not regarded as relevant at the time. Women’s roles and experience during the war was not an area of interest for reporters and historians at the time. Another reason for the lack in interest stems from political reasons and change in the government, or women were simply left out of studies done. This resulted in many phenomena that have been suppressed, overlooked and under-researched. As well as the stories that are recorded and get told today are a result of selective memory, where the person telling the story trailers it so it is inline with what their audience would like to hear.

Sources used:

Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713. 

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013), pp15-75.

Capitol Hill Rioters’ Use of Uniforms and Symbols

Written by Emma Bronsema

The apparel worn by the rioters storming the Capitol on January 6th demonstrate how far-right extremists use their clothing, adorned with specific symbols, to get attention, instill fear, and gain a following. They focus on appearance so the public will pay attention and, in some cases, be more receptive and truly listen to their ideas and ideologies. What people see is more impactful than what they hear. It is what turns people’s heads and sticks with them.

Clothing, or the uniforms worn by extremist group members, was, and still is, effective. It provides a way for individuals to advertise their mind state and shared purpose. It can be used as a way for someone to embody another character – to become a person whom they believe should be idolized. Moreover, it allows for people to rebel against what they disagree with, and stand up for their ideologies and views. 

This was seen through the costumes used during the riots; which included Proud Boys logos, sweatshirts with 1776 written across the front, clothing with Q-Anon and Oath Keepers symbols, ranging from discrete to plastered across the front, and many others. There were also some people who wore clothing with anti-Semitic sayings and symbols. This included a black hoodie with “Camp Auschwitz” emblazoned on the front. The symbols adorning these clothing items were meant to break a taboo and resurface painful memories, and the associated fear and emotions.

The popularization and saturation of these symbols are meant to normalize the extremes to which they represent. Members of these far-right groups want to share and spread their ideologies amongst the general population. Through the use of their uniforms and costumes, they are able to gain traction on social media platforms and grab people’s interests and attention. This creates a receptive audience who intentionally engage with the messages they are being fed.

Marketing tactics and quality-made clothing makes these groups accessible, and encourages the normalization of their opinions and ideologies. Through the use of clothing, they are able to foster a sense of belonging and promise relationships and fulfillment. This is especially attractive to those who feel alienated or rejected by the status quo.

The wardrobe choices of the rioters were intentional. Historically, uniforms needed to foster a sense of intimidation and fear. Shaved heads and combat boots was one way to do it. Symbols aided in the provocation of fear, uncertainty, and provided a reminder of a previous time. They are historically grounded and used because of their association with past events and or peoples.

In general, clothing is now more modern and trendy. Hoodies, hats, and shirts fit in with what the general population wears. However, they still have historical roots and allow for loud statements by those who step out of their uniforms with a clear message. 

Some clothing is garish, outlandish and stands out, while others blend in with the crowd and popular styles. Both extremes grab attention and make a statement, but to different extents. The latter is more relatable and makes the individuals in the onlooking audience question the generalizations surrounding the group and what they stand for. In other words, it goes against historical stereotypes of the group to which they belong, and are more open to listening to what they have to say. The former pays homage to their “origins” and those who came before them, sharing similar values. For example, one of the rioters, known as the “Q Shaman”, was dressed to make a large and clear statement. The use of the viking symbolism with the horn helmet and knot tattoos are a nod to the idea of the “aryan” race, and the associations of the vikings with strength, honor, violence, and superiority. 

During the riots, the images circulated through social media and made their way out of the United States to Europe. They sent messages of hatred, of fear, of anti-semitism, of strength of the group, of pain and suffering, of white supremacy, and of far-right ideologies. The fixation, fascination and horror that came as a result of looking at the clothing adorned by the rioters allowed for their messaging to be widespread and gain traction. Out-there clothing demands attention, and their messaging was captured and spread throughout media outlets. Therefore, far-right groups are able to gain momentum through the use of what they wear and the symbols they choose to adorn themselves with.

Using Men to Strengthen Authoritarian and Nationalistic Regimes

Written by Emma Bronsema

Authoritarian and nationalist regimes, such as Romania, Germany, and Italy, wanted to strengthen the unity within their society. They had charismatic leaders with influence over the masses. These men demonstrated and dictated the archetype – the ideal citizen who was active and whom every man was supposed to aspire to be. This idolized figure gave men a person to strive to be, and modeled a way to behave. This advertisement of a “new-man”, who had hero-like qualities, offered a sense of belonging, purpose, and validation within their community. He was used as a way to combat revolutionary movements of people and “fix” the shortcoming of the Romanian economy and politics. It was also used to strengthen and mandate how regimes, such as Germany and Italy, were to run. 

The ideal citizen was a specific kind of man. There was a constructed idea of what the male population should strive for; with the importance placed on strength, and an emphasis placed on a newly defined masculinity. He was a man who had control and independence, but followed order without question, and had camaraderie. They had to be tough, aggressive, stoic, have endurance, control over their entire being – including their body, mind and psyche – as well as have the ability to sacrifice unquestioned. 

In these authoritarian and socialist regimes, there was a need for social interaction, and affirmation and validation by other men. They built and fostered the desire and drive for camaraderie. The ability to be independent and stand on your own was just as important as the ability to work as a cohesive group. If one man was weak or failed, the other members of the group were lumped in with that description.

Weakness was associated with femininity; therefore if a man was weak, he was seen as less than, and not a strong, tough man. However, there was a contradiction where a true man was able to integrate his “femininity” in his life. He was supposed to be able to do traditional feminine tasks, such as publicly show affection to his wife and children. And yet, he had to be able to do this without other people questioning his manhood. His masculine identity had to be so strong, there was no doubt he was a true man, even if he was in touch with his “feminine” side. He was supposed to be in complete control of all aspects of himself.

Sources:

Thomas Kühne, “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich” Central European History Vol 51, Issue 3 (September 2018): 390-418. 

David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe” Politics and Governance Vol. 6, No. 3 (2018): 6-19

Valentin Sandulescu, “Fascism and Its Quest for the ‘New Man’: The Case of the Romanian Legionary Movement.” Studia Hebraica 4 (2004): 349-61. 

The use of Tourism and Symbols as a way to Propagandize the Romanticized Version of Far Right Extremism, and Why it’s Appealing

Written by Emma Bronsema

In the 1960s, tourism was used as a way to propagandize political agendas. Film and souvenirs in this industry showed the supposed developments and improvements of the Spanish nation under Franco. They were used as a way to justify his rule and ideology. Appearance and perception was everything. The usage of symbolism and actions found within material objects, film and music was, and continues to be, a way to advertise identity traits to which one should aspire to. It congregates like-minded people, and fosters a sense of community and meaning. Not only are these objects reflections of identity, but have the power to shape it, and frame the way people think and act. 

In the context of right wing extremism, the symbols found on material goods brings together people who share a romanticized version of fascism. Rather than focusing on the marginalization and lack in certain civic rights, people yearn for a patriotized, nationalistic version of the past – for a society that painted itself to be full of opportunity, freedom, prosperity, and ran efficiently.  Although there are different fascist groups, they can work in tandem with one another. This includes participation in protests and movements to which the members have close ties and similarities to those in the other group. 

For some, these extremist groups provide people with a sense of community, a home where they are surrounded with people with similar ideologies. There is a social side of fascism. Some tourists even travel to interact and develop relationships with these people who have similar views. For others, it is a way for some to climb a social ladder, a way for them to become popular and almost a celebrity within their world. Often it has to do with memorabilia they have, or shrines with specific pictures and symbols they displayed. Lastly, these groups provide a way to justify and express their disagreement with the current state of their nation. It validates their seemingly unpopular opinion, as it goes against mainstream thought and politics.

Works Cited

Shelley Baranowski, Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 1-10, pp. 162-98 

Justin Crumbaugh, “Prosperity and Freedom Under Franco: the Grand Invention of Tourism” in Destination Dictatorship: the Spectacle of Spain’s Tourist Boom and the Reinvention of Difference (SUNY Press, 2009), pp. 15-41. 

Cynthia Miller-Idris, “The Extreme Gone Mainstream” IIITMedia lecture, May 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHYcakSDUCE 

Inside Spain’s Fascism Fandom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqKSXPiGe7U

Nationalism does not equal Anti-internationalism

Written by Emma Bronsema

Fascist and nationalist are against certain aspects of internationalism, especially in relation to the movement of people and ideas on a global scale. However, these regimes have worked in tandem with one another to preserve their ideals and see their nationalistic beliefs spread on a global scale. This cooperation between the like-minded nations is a part of the international phenomenon. 

Commonality is often found within the far right political spectrum. For example, fundamental fascists beliefs and policies are inline with other fascists in another part of the world. What these anti-colonials, nationalists and fascists stand for, are in line with each other. In other words, they share the same basic interests of the independent, self-sufficient, homogeneous cultured nation. This includes not encouraging the movement of people and keeping the population in groups based off of nationality, race and/or ethnicity.

Even though they are not completely in line with what the term internationalism has come to be defined as, fascists are not completely against it. Alliances and cooperation on an international level between like-minded nations is considered beneficial rather than a hindrance.

Through this camaraderie, they are able to maintain their desired homogeneity, but are involved in global discourse. There is also an understanding that there is strength in numbers, and their success in running their nation is a direct result of their relationship with internationalism. Moreover, the term internationalism acknowledges the existence and role of the nation – which is one of the major concerns of nationalistic regimes.

References:

David Motadel, “The Global Authoritarian Moment: The Revolt Against Empire” American Historical Review Vol. 124, Issue 3 (July 2019): 843-877.

David Motadel, “The Far RIght Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism — But They Depend on It” The New York Times (July 2019).

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “Conquest and Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 (University of California Press, 2004), pp. 123-130.

Analogies to, and within, History – is this wrong?

Written by Emma Bronsema

There has been a debate among scholars as to whether using analogies is ahistorical or essential. More specifically, is it right to compare present day atrocities to events such as the holocaust, or the politics and characteristics of Trump to fascist Italy and Hitler Germany. 

Comparison is beneficial and, at times, crucial to getting the public interested and involved in current events that need addressing. Analogies help to understand the situation and look at how similar issues have been dealt with in the past. But it has to be done right. One cannot only focus on the commonalities, but rather the differences as well. No matter what it pertains to, what happened then and what is happening currently, is not the same. Solely focusing on comparison has a strong potential to result in bad decisions being made. These decisions become based off of the analogy rather than in response to the current climate and context of the event. This is where actions are driven by fear created by the comparison. It is also important to note that comparisons are often political. These analogies are often made through a particular lens with an agenda behind it. It is vitally important to go beyond the comparison. Good analogies must not only focus on the commonalities but also work in tandem with differences.

Using analogies to compare current day events to historical ones, or even comparing events within history to each other, can be beneficial and is even important when studying history and understanding what is going on in our world today. But contrasts need to happen to, in order to fully grasp the big picture and not become blinded by the thought of only one specific outcome of history repeating itself.

References:

Gordon, P. (2020, June 25). Why Historical Analogy Matters. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, S. (2020, June 24). The Trouble with Comparisons. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

Introducing Myself

Emma Bronsema

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is picmonkey.png
This is a picture I took of an old beetle parked on one of the streets in Athens Greece, May 2019.

My name is Emma and I am currently finishing up my degree in Global and International studies, with a specialization in global and transnational history, and a minor in German. I have a passion for 20th century European and Canadian history. More specifically occupied Netherlands during the Second World War, and the migration of young dutch people to Canada. 

In the spring of 2019, I had the opportunity to spend a month in Europe. For three of those weeks, I was in Mainland Greece, going to dozens of museums and historic sites. I was also able to go on many hikes, explore different cities, and eat incredible food. My last week in Europe was spent in the Netherlands. While there, I immersed myself in the culture and learned more about my heritage. I also fell in the quaint little city known as Delft. My trip reinforced my interest in European history.

I aspire to work in the public history field and for a company such as ICOM or UNESCO. This past year, I worked at the Diefenbunker Museum. I conducted research on the Cold War and largely contributed to the online exhibit on Igor Gouzenko.  During my time there, I worked with both adults and children, and explained the history of and surrounding the Bunker. On my tours, I made connections from local experience and importance of the cold war, to the global experience and importance. 

Apart from history and travelling, I thoroughly enjoy a good book and a hot cup of tea. I also love photography, and both listening to, and playing, music. And I look forward to further diving into and learning more about 20th century European history during this course.