I’m sure we are all used to hearing and talking about this theme, but time and time again, the problems of defining terminology comes back up. March’s article identifies a core three, including “people-centrism, anti-elitism and popular sovereignty.” On the other hand, Fieschi identifies a core refusal of the democratic process. This was something that different articles this week tackled, with a few drawing the conclusion that populism was not present in the centre. Perhaps most interesting in their analysis was Fieschi, who outlines xenophobia not only in the far-right, but also in the left. While I certainly understand her point, I feel that the shifting of our understanding of terms is often problematic in the process of better understanding populism. Should we consider the pliability of xenophobia, or reassess our understanding of populism? This is especially relevant in the discourse around identifying populist parties, which often seems closely tied to constant redefinition of the concept. Perhaps, in this regard, if we need to contort the core foundations we understand in order to place these parties in the same groups, considering their fundamental difference could be useful.
Apart from this recurring theme, I felt a bit conflicted reading Fieschi’s statement that left wing populism explains “why populism is attracting the favours of otherwise reasonable people.” I felt there was some bias that needed to be underlined here, because certainly this looks to paint the right in a demeaning light. In this regard, I feel something that needs to be considered in understanding the growth of far-right populism is the societal perceptions placed on them. If general conservative ideology is pinned as “non-reasonable,” are we not pushing these people further towards the extreme? I feel like this kind of statement over-glorifies the left, implying a clear moral and intellectual superiority over those who identify with the right. In this sense, while I somewhat understand where the author is coming from (certainly, liberal ideas on women’s and LGBT rights should be recognized as AT LEAST “reasonable”), I can’t help but feel she left her bias at the door. What do you guys think?
While the reading on homophobic and transphobic crimes increasing in Wales and England is of course something that should be of concern, I certainly wonder if Right-Wing populism is really the key factor in this increase. While I of course do not mean to undermine the dangers of populism and their antagonism towards the LGBTQ+ community, I feel that the article fails to consider perhaps the opposite lens, which I would assume is a general increase in openly trans and homosexual identification. I assume that in the same years that these crime rates increased (in this case between 2013 and 2018), there was likely a similarly large increase in openly LGBTQ+ members in the community. Especially because the article focuses on crimes per capita (rather than crimes proportional to the size of the community or perhaps the increase in crime in proportion to the growth of LGBTQ+ communities in the UK), I feel that the conclusion drawn is largely meant to incite fear of a proposed “huge” growth in homophobic and transphobic crimes. I feel the article is right in addressing right-wing populism hate, but the methodology of this article certainly seems flawed.
On another note, I felt it important to talk about the CEU. While our reading talks about a bill in April 2017, it was written at the time of it happening. Of course not to the authors fault, but this means it fails to highlight that the CEU was actually forced to move its main campus to Vienna as a result of this bill, which I feel is a big loss and alarming thought for gender studies in the country. In this regard, the article was perhaps a bit over-optimistic in their outlook on the situation, which certainly looked much grimmer only a year later.
A key part of the VICE interview that I felt was only briefly touched upon were the reasons behind the growth of QAnon in Germany in particular. If Germany hosts the second largest QAnon group, the feelings of isolation due to COVID seem insufficient in underlining this growth, as this was certainly not exclusive to Germany. A point made early in the documentary suggested that German disillusionment with the pandemic was especially present because Germany was relatively unaffected (keeping in mind that this documentary was made over two years ago, when the second wave had not yet occurred). Once again, this hardly seems exclusive to Germany, with some other countries having even fewer cases. Perhaps the most appealing suggestion is that QAnon is good at including their rhetoric into local causes, which leads to the understanding that somewhat similar movements were already booming in the country. Still, it is impressive (and scary) to consider the effectiveness of QAnon in co-opting local rhetoric to garner support.
In a similar sense, the examples of Indonesia and Turkey have shown examples of where the importing of racial biases from abroad have been effectively shifted for a local audience. Especially in Turkey, which took American racial terms and instead shifted them towards religion and culture. Similarly, the imported “real antisemitism” in Indonesia perhaps represented the effectiveness of European Nazis in propagating their ideology abroad. I feel both of these cases kind of bring further discussion to the assessment that while populist and fascist movements are inherently local, local ideas can be adapted abroad successfully.
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.
As a sort of follow up to last week, this week’s readings especially resonated with me in regards to the attempt to grow far-right movements through a somewhat expansion of the target group. In this regard, Bland’s article somewhat reiterated last week’s perspective portrayed through the Nouvelle Droite, which attempted to turn the far right towards a more European concept. The National Front’s support for regimes like that in Libya somewhat underlined a different perspective of the same coin: supporting segregation from both sides. To me, the reading on women getting involved in far right politics seems to share a similarity in grouping oneself with those who would share similar ideology, as long as the premise is somewhat broadened. This reading made it clear that men are not alone in their perception of racial threat, and that by focusing on these issues, far-right groups are able to garner an increasing female support. In this regard, I feel that these readings especially explored how, perhaps somewhat as a reflection of the ND’s attempts, far-right movements are shifting their rhetoric to become applicable for a larger audience in order to garner more support.
On another note, I found the reading by Glynn on female perpetrators especially thought provoking, through its reflection of gender-norms through terrorism. The reading quite thoroughly underlines the aspect that women were unable to talk openly about their violent past, as violence was closely associated with men. To some extent, it harkens back to the gender norms we’ve talked about in previous weeks, where one was allowed to stray somewhat from their gender roles, as long as they returned eventually. It was not the fact that these women participated in violence, but rather their return to innocence or victimization that pressured them.
The spread of populist movements in Europe in recent times has become an increasingly problematic issue for the European Union, especially when observing the democratic backsliding in Hungary. Recent news that the EU may look to suspend funds vis-a-vis Hungary as a result of the country’s illiberalism shows the commitment of the EU to ensuring the return of liberal, democratic values to Hungary. As a reply the Hungarian government has put forth two anti-corruption laws it intends to put in place. Though seemingly promising, a deeper analysis would suggest that these laws are insufficient in suppressing Orbán’s illiberal democracy. In fact, it should be doubted that the EU has any coercive power in returning liberal values to its illiberal member states.
Yet what does the EU have left to leverage? When taking in the historical context, the options look even murkier. In discussions with potential members, the EU is known for using their “carrot and stick” methods, using membership as a key driver of political reform. Hungary is no stranger to this, as prior to its own accession to the EU, reform in the country was certainly driven by potential membership. It is also important to understand in this context that the EU already has a set of laws, the acquis communautaire, that potential states must adhere to in order to be truly accepted into the Union. Under this understanding, the implications of Hungary’s move towards an illiberal democracy underlines key flaws in the underlying democratic framework of the Union, which should look to protect and continue its own democratic values. That is to say, despite having respected all of the requirements the EU put in place for candidacy, Orbán’s populist movement was still able to move away from the liberal democratic institutions that were put in place. If the EU was unable to ensure Hungary remained democratic through its acquis communautaire, what tools does it have left?
Perhaps a bit on the nose considering Professor Evans directly addressed this last week, but I thought it interesting to ponder the meaning of a reading on the New Left in a week called “1968 and the New Right.” Though the obvious conclusion might be that contrast, I believe the readings instead showed us the superfluous reality of the post-Nazi era. Ideologies associated with the far Right were present in Leftist movements, like in the November 9th 1969 bombing of the Berlin Jewish Community Center (Biess 210). On the other hand, Benoist’s ideology under the Nouvelle Droite shows us that though a clear path between the Fascist past and New Right present exists, there is a clear separation on many fronts. In particular, the transnationalist angle inciting a Euro-centric approach rather than a national one is in stark contrast with the previous Nazi regime. In this regard, I believe the important takeaway from the readings is the revolutionary nature of the post-1960s, where both sides tried (and perhaps struggled) to separate themselves from their problematic past.
To me, this was especially present in the New Left reading, which underlined that both sides pinned the other as “fascist,” which meant “they had no chance for meaningful dialogue or reform” (Biess 236). In the same vein, Benoist’s assessment that liberalism was also totalitarian (Bar-On 206) shows us that this criticism was not uniquely for the opposing side, but also against the status-quo. As was the case with the attempted shift away from the Fascist ideas of the past, I believe this shows the desire of these movements to validate themselves in an era where they felt it was necessary to create distance between themselves and the recent atrocities of the past.
In this week’s readings, a question stayed with me, shaping my interpretation of the readings. I wondered: to what extent is the reinterpretation and narrative-shaping present in recounting the past useful or perhaps instead counterproductive in molding our understanding of the past. As underlined in Fulbrook’s chapter Bearing the Voices of Victims, first-person accounts were often accompanied with information added by professionals to add context and perhaps give a more unbiased and “accurate” view of victims (371). It is understandable that some form of editing is necessary, as these accounts, usually recounted years after the fact, are likely to contain information warped through a post-war perception. However, on the other hand, the amazement of readers surprised by the objectivity of a victim whose work had been intertwined with a ghost-writer’s analysis as explored by Fulbrook provides problematic interpretation in the other direction (373). In this regard, there is a danger to be seen in the views of a general public who may have false understanding of the past due to objective information of a third party placed in the recountings of a primary source.
Moeller’s analysis of Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg underlines similar problems with the creative liberties taken in improving storytelling. Moeller explores this problem through the perspective of the American and German critics, the former of which glossed over the false recountings of the past, rather interpreting German criticism as proof that the German public was not willing to accept its past (510.) Without going into details, the use of Salomon’s work as a primary work of understanding Fragebogen explored by Sollors looks at the irony of his criticism of the survey without having submitted one himself (149). In both of these examples, though I do see merit in using creative liberties to ensure interesting work which allows a work to gain popularity, I feel we need to be careful not to create false perspectives of the past, especially towards readers and watchers who may not have the means and or the interest to inform themselves further on the subject.
Mary Fulbrook, “Discomfort Zones” and “Voices of the Victims” in Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp: 314-336, 361-377.
Robert Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” German History Vol. 31, Issue 4 (December 2013): 497-522.
W. Sollors, “Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text.” German Life & Letters. Vol 71, Issue 2 (2018): 139-153.
This week’s readings and videos put into question some of the base assumptions we may have about fascism, as well as exploring the underlying reasons someone might find a sense of belonging in far-right groups. Doctor Miller-Idriss’ presentation gave us a glimpse at the new-age avenues through which youth find themselves involved in different movements. Her explanations of means like clothing providing a somewhat lower barrier of entry helps us understand the increase in younger members of these groups, as was observed in VICE’s video on Spain’s Fascism. It also helps us understand the contradictory nature of a Dutch man’s fanaticism for Spanish rhetoric, as well as the support he receives from his Fascist partners. In this regard, to me, the modern need for brotherhood exhibited by far-right movements seems reminiscent of the camaraderie underlined by Kühne in Nazi Germany. We see that despite ideals of the hardened man, Fascist movements had room for gentler sides of the man, shared with partners (and in the past particularly, fellow soldiers.) Especially in the story of Lieutenant Fritz Farnbacher and Peter, we see the tenderness that could be displayed and went hand in hand with the toughness expected by the regime.
In the end, the sense of community displayed in these modern far-right groups seem particularly reminiscent of Kühne’s description, one where the revoking of “feminine” traits was felt necessary to distance oneself from homosexuality. In this regard, these groups offer a space where men can show “femininity” under the protection of camaraderie and male toughness.
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