Definitions, definitions…

By Felix Nicol

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?

Transphobia and gender studies

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.

QAnon and Garnering Support

By Felix Nicol

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.

Far-Right Populism is not as Strong as we Think

By Felix Nicol

Giorgia Meloni speaking to the lower house of parliament in Rome, Italy (2022) Photo: Remo Casilli, Reuters. Source

With the recent rise of populist movements throughout Europe, talks of the dangers of far-right parties have once again become prominent. The rise of far-right parties in Italy and Sweden has made Orbán much less isolated in his far right agenda. This growth is closely tied to a shifting ideology of the Far-Right, which has distanced itself from its racist roots to focus on “right to difference” as a means to justify anti-immigrant sentiments. While this is certainly cause for concern, the actual implications of rising far-right populist movements seems largely overstated. In fact, backtracking and inconsistencies in policy as well as recent failures of populism suggest that the far-right has not quite found its footing.

Though the decision of the EU to suspend funds towards Hungary has proved insufficient, it is hard to argue that Brussel’s financial benefits are hard to resist for populists. Though Italy’s Giorgia Meloni has attempted to pin Germany as anti-European due to their stance on the energy crisis, it has become clear that the benefit of EU funding is simply too important. It incited her to backtrack on antagonism of Germany, instead asking for small policy changes to help keep the prices of energy and gas in check. Though this does not represent a complete shift away from Meloni’s good relationship with Orbán, it shows that the far-right is not as tightly-knit as might be assumed. 

Clashes in the rhetoric of populist parties are not limited to the energy crisis, however. In spite of Orbán’s positive position towards Russia, as well as support of Putin from possible coalition partners, Meloni has kept a pro-Ukraine stance. Once again, this suggests that the stances of far-right populists may not necessarily align as neatly as one might assume. That is to say, despite the assumption that other far-right parties may fully turn towards Orbán for support, the position of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy in the EU has made this difficult.

Liz Truss’ hasty resignation further complicates the situation. Her ineffective tax cuts intended for economic growth, which bear a striking resemblance to Giorgia Meloni’s economic proposals, will certainly create doubts regarding populist policies. The result is almost certainly a reduced willingness of center-right parties to lean on populist rhetoric as a means of garnering support. This suggests that as was the case with Meloni, instead of a shift towards far-right populism, center-leaning parties may look elsewhere for public support.

It is also important to remember that the success of these parties does not indicate widespread support for far-right populism across Europe. Countries like Germany, who have elected “the most boring guy in the world” show us that the success of the far-right has not followed everywhere. Further, the success of populist parties may instead represent the fragmentation of the opposition. This was the case in Sweden, where left-wing Social Democrats won the popular vote, but did not form a coalition. That is to say, while there have certainly been a few far-right parties elected in the EU, it does not represent a larger cultural shift across the region. Even with the rise of populist parties, Hungary lacked sufficient support to block its loss of Cohesion Funds in the European Council. Also of note is the history of the EU, which suggests that crises have actually been beneficial in strengthening the EU.
Though far-right ideology is certainly not harmless, it remains important to stay level-headed in understanding the threat that populist support poses to Europe. While Hungary under Orbán shows no major signs of slowdown regarding the success of its populist illiberal democracy, it is important to recognize that this trend is not true for all far-right populist parties. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy actually provides a strong argument to the contrary, as we’ve seen clear examples of ideological compromise with the EU on both the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine. The further failure of the Tory party in Britain as a result of a populist shift may further halt transitions towards the far-right. These factors, along with the reality that populism has not garnered a majority of support in the EU suggests that populism will not successfully undermine the democratic values of the region, even if the EU is unable to effectively prevent it.

Perceptions of the far-right and racism

By Felix

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.

Shifting Views of the post-war Movements

By Felix Nicol

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 EU cannot prevent the rise of Populism

By Felix Nicol

“Let’s preserve the peace and security of Hungary” poster from Orbán’s election campaign. Photo: Raketir / Shutterstock. Source

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.

Though the EU funding in question makes up 9% of the Hungarian GDP, it is clear that Orbán does not find himself particularly threatened. In fact, when looking at Hungary’s proposed anti-corruption laws, it needs to be understood that the democratic institutes of the country are often only democratic on the surface. In this regard, the effectiveness of the EU’s leverage of funding comes under question. Even if they were to have stronger requirements as recommended by some, it is unlikely that further institutional reform will change the situation of the country. For this reason, the EU likely needs to look for further leverage to truly get Orbán’s regime under control.

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?

Furthermore, it is important to recognize that with the rise of other populist movements, it may become increasingly difficult to even apply restrictions towards Hungary. While Poland has long held good relations with the country, the rise of more populist movements in the EU could suggest increased leverage in the EU for populists. With Italy’s Giorgia Maloni showing ties to Orbán, as well as Sweden’s radical right-wing party with neo-Nazi roots show that support on an EU level is present. With the growing support of populist movements, the abilities of the EU to effectively fight these movements is put into question even further. In this regard, with the questionable viability of the EU’s legislative abilities in preventing the rise of illiberalism, reconsideration is in order if it wishes to retain its liberal democratic ideals.

Despite the focus on Hungary for its particularly pronounced departure from the liberal norms of the EU, it should not be assumed that it is alone in its departure from these values. The previously mentioned Poland has aligned itself with Hungary precisely because of their similar values, providing each other with a partner in antagonizing the Union. Furthermore, in a world where the labeling of parties like Orbán’s FIDESZ as “‘fascist’, extremist or far-right” does nothing to delegitimize them, reconsideration of the tools used to ensure continued liberal democracy are in order. A step away from tools like the EU’s acquis communautaire and financial incentives is necessary, and perhaps more effort in remedying the root causes of populism are in order. Recognition of certain factors such as anti-immigrant sentiment or economic insecurity as underlying factors for the growth in populism is important, but consideration on how these might be improved is necessary. Otherwise, liberal democracy risks pushing an increasingly diverse group towards the populist movements it looks to prevent.

The Far Left in Considering the Far Right

By Felix Nicol

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.

Creative Liberties and their Implications

By Felix Nicol

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.

Masculinity and Far-Right Belonging

By Felix Nicol

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.