Memory, the full picture?

Kathleen McKinnon

The discussion of memory is important in the topic of populism, because as has been seen throughout the course, often the backing for ideology is a historical narrative. As the Moses article points out in the Catechism Debate, that this type of historical manipulation like romanticizing of the past, leads to things like radicalization which can end in extremes like Auschwitz. The manipulation of history always has the potential of spiraling to extremes since it can create polarizing images as well as images of the past that are incomplete giving people a sense of pride or a sense of not being acknowledged. 

I think the discourse last week on the differences between right and left-winged nationalism and their similarities might also point to history being used on both sides for their particular advantage. Firstly the right in idealism with a push to return to the “way things were” and the left in emphasizes things that need to be “fixed.” Memory is a tool that is tied heavily to emotion so it is no surprise how divisive it can be, although this is not a European phenomenon and is experienced all over the world, the memory of specific European events like the Holocaust can be very difficult to navigate with respecting memories and moving on from the past and perhaps this is how memory begins to be selective.

How Left and Right Populism Interact in Politics

Kathleen McKinnon

At the beginning of the course we mentioned left-winged populism and it is interesting to see that topic come back after several weeks of studying what drives right winged populism. As the March article points out, there are similarities between left and right-winged populism in that the main goal is criticizing the elites – although right-wing populism brings in the dimension of marginalized groups, and perhaps this is where they draw more scrutiny than left-winged populism (285). However, March states that there is less left-wing populism than right-winged populism, in the case that he looks at (200).

Another interesting point that is brought up in the March article is that there is room for both sides to work together, which is very surprising considering they come from opposite ends of the political spectrum (285). However, this does explain why in my own mind I always had a difficult time discerning the difference between where some populist movements lay on the political spectrum. March mentions that left-wing populism does not necessarily mean communist so this makes the distinction a little more difficult between how the two sides operate, without that obvious ideology. However, as Akkerman states, ideological left-wing parties can be communist and these left-winged parties often employ populist tactics in that it gives them a better position in the arena of mainstream parties (195). March points out that there is little evidence of populism among mainstream parties meaning that it needs to be a mechanism used to promote more fringe ideology and perhaps covers for the deficiencies in the party’s ideology and organization (200).

M. Rooduijn Akkerman T. “Flank attacks: Populism and left-right radicalism in Western Europe” Party Politics 23 (3) (2017): 193-204.

March L. “Left and right populism compared: The British case” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations. 19(2) (2017): 282-303.

Media giving the far right room to grow

Kathleen McKinnon

The distinction between “thin” and “thick” ideology for populism is useful (Kraemer, 1296) when looking at populist movements. It shows the differences between where there is more salience on a particular right-winged movement than another and not only that, but also in whether or not these movements are strong to begin with- having a good ideological base.

I would argue that there is perhaps more of a thick ideology present now than when the Kraemer article was written because it was in 2017 just after the election of Donald Trump and before a wave of populism in many European countries, or at least during the outset of this. That means that there have to be some deeper connections in the ideology and this is likely due to the role of the media in sensationalizing issues and reporting on far-right issues in other countries such as in the US as well as how quickly non mainstream events can be spread. This creates a network for the far-right to deepen their ideology, although international aspects are not a new phenomenon. Not all far-right ideas and things shared in media pick up enough momentum to become important in seeing what the right-winged populist believes, however as in the case of the Hebdo event, there is an aspect of a thick ideology that is emerging since there was a popular aspect of supporting Hebdo in the mainstream media as well as by people at large (Neffati, 288). This predates the election of Trump, however, shows that there is a united front and movement towards right-winged populism that suggest it does go beyond thin ideology in some aspects, however, there remain weaknesses that have allowed right-wing populism to fade somewhat in recent years and perhaps it will fade back to think ideology despite media having given populism some help in becoming salient.

Imen Neffati, “Anti-sociologisme, Zionism, and Islamophobia in Philippe Val’s Charlie Hebdo” French Cultural Studies (2021) 32(3):280-295.

Nicole Doerr, “Bridging language barriers, bonding against immigrants: A visual case study of transnational network publics created by far-right activists in Europe” Discourse & Society 28(1) (2017): 3–23.

The Far-Right: United in Fear

Kathleen McKinnon

In the anti-genderism movement, the far-right is picking another opponent and this is not a surprise. We can see through time the folk devils have often changed, from Jews and antisemitism in the WWII years, to democracy and the West and now land on genderism, not that it has never been a topic for the far-right but now it is a more publicized enemy of the right in today’s backsliding European countries. In Poland, the church takes a role in the issues with abortion and genderism (Zuk and Zuk, 567), but it may be the case that even if the church was absent from the discourse in Poland, as it was in France (Paternotte and Kuhar, 8), that this type of rhetoric would continue. 

The factors that unite these issues are closer than the circumstances that make them different in each country. The fear and hate that unites the far-right against a common enemy, the fear of change and deviances vs. whether or not the government is far-right and can condemn genderism, if the Church is playing a role, etc. In each case, the underlying factors are the same even if the catalysts change depending on the context for a respective group.

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.

Piotr Żuk and Paweł Żuk. “‘Murderers of the Unborn’ and ‘Sexual Degenerates’: Analysis of the ‘Anti-Gender’ Discourse of the Catholic Church and the Nationalist Right in Poland.” Critical discourse studies 17.5 (2020): 566–588

The EU, Hungary and Democracy

Kathleen McKinnon

Hungary is facing an election soon, but it is no longer news that the democracy in this European Country is “backsliding.” There is no shortage of issues with the democracy of this country and the rights that become compromised as it continues to move in a populist, right-winged direction. The country for some years, especially with the rise of the Fidesz party and Viktor Orban as its leader, has been heading in a direction of illiberalism and in opposition to core values of the EU, specifically liberal democracy which can easily slip into authoritarianism. For some reason, however, the European Union (EU) allows this to continue- not even in their backyard but right in one of their own Member States. European values are not only democratic but they ensure the protection of the people against tyranny and oppression. As can be seen in some recent moves by the Hungarian government, the slide into a non-democratic state looms closer. 

In light of the recent election, some focus has been put on observing what the Fidesz party is doing which has resulted in noticing some interesting legislation that furthers the illiberal state of the country. It is no surprise that the opposition parties are concerned with the recent vote by the party in government to set a two-thirds parliamentary threshold to dismiss the chief prosecutor. This is in the wake of many changes recently that the opposition parties say are to preserve Orban’s influence if in the upcoming election he is defeated. These efforts could result in Orban nominating an ally as Hungary’s president just before the elections. This means that democracy is further threatened in Hungary as Orban and his party take further measures to create a monopoly on power for their right-wing views even after they leave, if that happens. This type of manipulation of government is a corrupting factor and a worrisome indicator of how slowly but surely the country is losing its democratic features and what’s next maybe the loss of opposition parties altogether. The EU is alarmed at this matter but remains relatively unable to fix the situation through its own pressures. 

Viktor Orban’s party has been a right-wing thorn in the side of the EU and a symptom of a democratic issue in Eastern European Member States. Orban is quoted as saying “They would force us to be European, sensitive and liberal – even if it kills us” this shows how the European identity has been slipping in this country, and despite the benefits it receives from the EU, has become a skeptic of the values they are supposed to share. This is also a symptom that the far right is alive and well in Europe, so much so that the democratic charter of countries is not safe. And after the country has become illiberal, what does the EU have to say? In fact, the EU has been outspoken on the matter but little continues to be done. The EU is built on democracy and democratic values and now faces the new issue of what to do when this important foundation is being compromised. Especially since illiberal regimes have others as their allies within the EU, such as Poland, also outside, such as Russia (even now Hungry will be producing the Sputnik V vaccine). It is hard for the EU to find a mechanism strong enough to change the situation. However, something needs to be done even if little by little and being outspoken against the regime and its mechanisms are not enough. 

The EU has a duty to protect its citizens from illiberalism (everyone who is a citizen of an EU Member State is also a citizen of the EU), democracy was the deal Hungary signed on for when it joined the EU after all. Clearly, unless voted out, the Fidesz party will continue on its anti-EU trajectory and continue with its democratic backsliding as well. The situation shows how the issues of populism happening in the Eastern Member States need to be addressed by the EU, and although not easily done through the mechanisms in place for such issues, this compromises the integrity of what the EU is built on. 

Europe is not always what it wants to look like

Kathleen McKinnon

The refugee crisis and rise of far-right “news” sources like QAnon show very much that Europe still struggles with its identity. There is a very clear image of it being the promoter of liberal democratic values as it says in the Stone article (pg. 234), however that image is grafted on to a deeper feeling that on the outside seems to have been let go of in the years just after WWII. As can be seen in previous weeks the far right, fear, “othering,” etc. has never gone away and this is made clear over and over as different circumstances occur such as the refugee crisis but also in the rise of populist regimes as a result of the crisis, not just outspoken people making a point about them. That means that it is not just a few people making noise but enough people are feeling the effect of fearing the “others” to vote in parties that question brining in refugees.

Another theme that occurred in the readings is the US’ influence on race in Turkey (Ezgi Güner) and also the influence it has had on delegitimizing institutions through the Trump administration’s “draining the swamp” ideals and the rise of QAnon not only being in the US with the deep state terminology but spreading in Europe as well (Mark Scott). The international aspects of the far-right are always surprising because they impose an ideology on different circumstances and make them fit. The deep state is exchanged for the European elites, for example, and therefore shoehorns a different culture and different circumstances into wherever it can find relevance because the basic principles are the same.

New “othering” tactics

Kathleen McKinnon

In the 1989 transition period, many challenges came out of myth construction and trying to “other” people (Bull, 215). Not that these are new ideas but they lead to the eventual push from the right on the new more democratic governments. Using a national myth and “othering” tactics leads to the delegitimization of government, intending that a new illiberal type of political structure is needed to save the population from the “outsider”. For this to be done, there needs to be some common background established and this is where a myth being used is important. It is clear that this is a method used in the past, however, here this is more of a push back on acceptance of outsiders and liberalism that has been used in later decades. After the ‘80s there was a push to restore countries to the more “pure” way that had once been without so many outsiders being brought in as a result of liberalism. As Molner in his work points out in the case of Germany (Molner, 495), the Western German case saw that the bringing in of foreign workers to rebuild was met with hostility from the East in reunification. This points to the unique challenges of different histories and national myths coming together and clashing, a western liberal background with a less democratic east that has challenges accepting circumstances which they did not create. Although admittedly this anti-outsider attitude is not new, even before the ‘90’s asylum seekers were met with hostility, however, it increased in the ’90s with political discourse on the subject (Molner, 496).

The fight against the new democracy

Kathleen McKinnon

In the neo-fascist movements of the era after the immediate post-war times, the elements changed from fear of the west and its direct influence on culture and values. These issues remained but the new democratic nature of the newly established governments and democracy as a whole became the new issue at large. It is true that the world was not cleansed of the far right the day after WWII had ended and nor did the movement disappear in the future but some of the elements that were involved changed. In London (Bland, 109) the National Front observed democracy in Libya to learn from its dictatorship, and in Italy (Mammone, 215) the democracy that was supposed to be established was seen as failing. Students become a battleground between right and left ideologies not just theoretically but also violently even leading to arrests.

In Italy especially there were violent cases of terror and coups to take over the government (Amyot, 30), this shift in trying to gain power through means of terrorism is an extension of fear tactics that were used just a few years earlier against the new western influence seen in the post-war era but now more overt and much more dangerous and against the local government rather than against the new western influence. The point should be made, however, the new democracy in Italy is from western ideals so terrorism is still against western values but it has grown into a more violent and political realm of violence and even coup attempts which are normally associated with far less developed countries which made this a more interesting, if not unexpected case.

Grant Amyot, “The Shadow of Fascism over the Italian Republic,” Human Affairs 21, no. 1 (2011): 35–43

Benjamin Bland, “Global Fascism?: The British National Front and the Transnational Politics of the ‘Third Way’ in the 1980s,” Radical History Review 2020, no. 138 (2020): 108–30

Andrea Mammon, “The Transnational Reaction to 1968: Neo-Fascist Fronts and Political Cultures in France and Italy.” Contemporary European History, vol. 17, no. 2 (May 2008): 213–236.

Russian Elections- Authoritarianism or a Limited Democracy? 

Kathleen McKinnon

In light of the recent Russian elections, the democratic nature of this country comes to mind. Russia has been long criticized for the democracy it says it has but lacks. It has been called a “guided” or “managed” democracy by many in academic and political circles. The question is whether a “managed” democracy is democracy at all or authoritarianism by another name here the answer will simply be both.

In Russia, which is one of the most obvious cases of this “managed” democracy, there are many elements at play that make it an excellent example of where strong nation and state-building collide with democracy and stunt its growth. Russia displays elements of authoritarianism and questionable tactics to quell party opposition but that does not make it far removed from the beginnings of democracy that can grow in the future (see here a New York Times article on the recent elections and some democratic deficits ). Anti-democratic elements can exist strongly in a country such as Russia, but they do in every country even if in small amounts considering there are many flaws to most electoral systems including voter turnout and the popular vote vs. who gets voted in which means that democratic deficits do not make or break which countries become a fully-fledged democracy (see here a CBC article on how the winning party in the Canadian Federal 2021 election did not win the popular vote, which means more Canadians did not vote for who formed government than those who did 

In Russia, there is such a vast territory and identities that uniting the people creates a very difficult task and it is this nation-building and state-building that brings out the authoritarian aspect in this country. In building a national identity the goal is to have a stronger state that is not under threat of fragmentation through bids for succession or feelings of marginalization and vocalized dissent. With such a vast region and diverse identities in Russia, the name of Vladimir V. Putin’s party being “United Russia” should say it all (see here for an interactive map of Russian regions

For Russia to stay a world power it needs to stay united and if regionalism and politics get too far then the country could face more turmoil than it is already in (for example economic issues see chart here for an example of Russia’s economic “highs and lows” Creating a shared history, memory, identity and goals are all important factors used in authoritarian regimes to keep salience and are used in Russia for the same reason, to build a national myth of unity and to keep the country together. In fact, Putin’s approval rate went up in Russia when his government annexed Crimea This shows that the identity and nation-building attempts are working and that there is indeed on some level a “United Russia” with very clear boundaries of who should be “in” whether they are already or not. 

The regional political interests in Russia, and the fight to keep a unified identity, especially after the Soviet Union with the past unified Soviet identity/legacy despite the extensive territory it had, Russia will never get there unless there is some “top-down” approach in keeping things together. There are elections, there are opposition parties and these are the seeds that democracies need to develop even if now there are suspicious circumstances surrounding how the opposition leaders leave the race for presidency and possible ballot stuffing. For now, things are working out for President Putin, it has evolved this way and Russia will continue to evolve even after Putin is gone because there will come a day where this will happen and Russia will face what it has and where it can go with where it is.

So in the end, Russia is a “managed democracy,” democratic in that it does have features that can grow into a fully established democracy but “managed” in that the leader, Vladimir Putin, is trying to keep the country united despite its intricate regional differences. To have everyone be “Russian” means that the country can be one strong force in the world instead of being divided and fragmented, losing its voice and image of the Soviet power it once was. 

Fear of the Unknown Post-War

Kathleen McKinnon

I think something particularly interesting about this week’s readings is that they look at far-right movements in countries that are different from Italy and Germany, for example. France in particular is a country that is known for its liberalism and move to “freedom.” It is then an interesting case to look at in the Bar-On article since it shows a history of support for apartheid and “the white man” which help perpetuate anti-west influence by some French thinkers (pg. 202).

The fact that after WWII there was a conservative revolution in Germany for example, is interesting and it makes sense as the country moved to Western values, decadence would look overwhelming. (Griffin, 40). This caused a backlash to what was new vs. was known and what was that nation’s identity to their knowledge after two wartime periods and an interwar period that was rather harsh. This also occurred in Italy and concerned the older generation about what would happen to the kids if this continued (Griffin, 41).

I think that it is interesting that the two very often cited cases for fascism in the 20th century (Italy and Germany) are also the ones that had this “Conservative Revolution” and it possibly points to the fear of the unknown and the over-blown reports of what was happening elsewhere. If a country reads the news of another country what they will find can often be negative but that does not mean modernization is bad just because the problems become different or at least more known/publicized.

Tamir Bar-On, “Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite.” Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 45, no. 3 (July 2011): 199–223.

Roger Griffin, “Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: The Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the ‘Interregnum.’” Modern & Contemporary France, vol. 8, no. 1 (Feb. 2000): pp. 35–53.