Sweeper: A misunderstood Brexit?

Our discussion on Friday centered itself mainly around the aspects of Brexit and British populism that are perhaps overlooked by scholars and media. Namely, feelings and sentiments held by the “leave” camp surrounding immigration.

Of course the role of immigration in British culture has been a touchy subject long before Brexit, particularly in regard to eastern Europe. The migrant crisis of 2015 worked to exacerbate these existing anxieties and as we discussed, is perhaps not as well recognized as it ought to be.

In class we saw the areas of the UK and the demographics that tended to vote for the “leave” side on average. In discussion, this was built on and unpacked some more.  Older, more conservative individuals in the UK were worried about immigration and wanted to maintain autonomy from the EU.

This got me thinking about the built-in biases that individuals such as ourselves carry into these analyses. Most people do not think the way we do. There is a large portion of society that is never exposed to post-secondary thinking or the liberal values that are so well-drilled into students or faculty such as ourselves.

This makes topics like immigration an intimidating and confusing unknown to a lot of people, which subsequently became a focal point for the “leave” campaign to utilize.

As we discussed, these issues are therefore brushed aside in conversations similar to ours. We would never even consider going into the subject of immigration as a factor for Brexit, as they are wrong and therefore inherently sterile in our eyes.

What should be checked at the door by more by journalists, academics and professionals is their principles when delving into these kind of issues. If you want to understand populism, maybe you need think along the same lines.

Op-Ed: “Putin’s populism absolves him of just about anything”

methodetimesprodwebbin2cd7c276-278e-11e8-bb7d-85110f4c5caaVladimir Putin is facing serious international estrangement and political hostility by other world powers on the eve of Russia’s presidential election. You might think this would throw a wrench in voters opinions, but likely it won’t.

On top of dealing with his normal routine of denying Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election, Putin has become embroiled in new political dramas. Stating that Jews, Ukrainians and Tartars were behind the election meddling has raised criticisms abroad. The current expulsion of diplomats from Britain and Russia following the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy this week seems like a throwback to the Cold War as tensions rise between Russia and the West.

The Russian presidential election is this weekend. If I was betting, I would say Putin is still going to be ruling Russia on Monday. And here’s why.

Putin is a populist leader, and he has made his brand of populism synonymous with the well-being of Russia. How we define and examine populism can explain this.

Patriotism and populism in Russia

Many Russians support Putin because he has enshrined himself as the strongman who will pursue and advocate Russia’s interests internationally. He is an unabashed patriot. This vigorous patriotism is critical, and Putin plays it up every chance he can get.

Just look at the new Russian missiles that were unveiled earlier this month, aimed to re-establish Russian influence that has been absent for decades. Or the decision to move the election so it takes place during the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, which remains hugely popular domestically.

In Neil Robinson and Sarah Milne’s article (Populism and Political Development in Hybrid Regimes: Russia and the Development of Official Populism)  we see that populism can be invented around this patriotism after a government has already taken power.

Putin’s government has  consistently fallen short of its socio-economic goals and his ratings are decreasing. Russia’s electoral authoritarianism and unfair elections require populism in order to survive. As Robinson and Milne argue, Putin has merged voting patterns with the welfare of Russian society since the election of 2011-2012. Being a Russian patriot means voting for Putin, and this populist tactic has been hugely successful.

The importance of a powerful leader

Putin would not have been able to create this populism surrounding him if he wasn’t a charming leader. In Federicho Finchelstein’s book, From Fascism to Populism in History, he emphasizes this greatly.

As Finchelstein explains, historically populism has been an evolution of fascism. This post-fascism revitalizes an authoritarian view of democracy and translates itself into a regime. This is dovetailed with a leader who works within the democratic system, but is more “trustworthy ” than any of the institutions in place. The leader knows what is best for the people, and is considered legitimate by working within the existing political system.

Putin’s time as Russian president fits this description surprisingly well. He is perceived as a strongman who defends Russia from the West and NATO. He “saved” Russia from economic stagnation when he first came to power almost 20 years ago. All without overthrowing the political system or causing major political instability.

He can do no wrong?

What needs to be taken away from all of this is that Putin probably isn’t losing sleep over whats going on in the world news and how it may affect the election. And neither are his supporters.

By harnessing Russian patriotism and channeling it into support for his government, combined with his strong leadership, Putin has crafted his own variety of populism. And despite lower ratings, he continues to wield it with great effect.

This is important to recognize as the Western world begins to rally against Russia. Perhaps these insights can be valuable tools for how we understand why Putin manages to get away with just about anything.

Works Cited:

Booth, William and Mathew Bodner. “Britain to Expel 23 Russian Diplomats after Poisoning of Ex-Spy.” The Washington Post, March 14, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/britains-theresa-may-prepares-response-to-russian-spy-poisoning/2018/03/14/0a232d2c-26f5-11e8-a227-fd2b009466bc_story.html?utm_term=.dea519a39f54.

Carroll, Oliver. “Russian Election 2018: Voters are Faced with a Difficult Choice – Vladimir Putin or Vladimir Putin.” The Independent, March 12, 2018. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-election-2018-vladimir-putin-vote-when-polls-president-moscow-a8252246.html.

Carroll, Oliver. “Russia Rolls Back Putin’s Cold War-Era Rhetoric as Kremlin Denies ‘Nuking Florida’ in Video Mock-Up.” The Independent, March 2, 2018. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-nuking-florida-video-putin-spokesman-denies-nuclear-weapons-us-a8236506.html.

Finchelstein, Federico. From Fascism to Populism in History. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2017.

“Putin says Jews, Ukrainians, Tatars Could be Behind U.S. Election Meddling.” USA Today, March 10, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/03/10/putin-says-jews-russian-citizenship-could-behind-u-s-election-meddling/413321002/.

Robinson, Neil and Sarah Milne. “Populism and Political Development in Hybrid Regimes: Russia and the Development of Official Populism.” International Political Science Review 38, no. 4 (2017): 412-425.

“Russian Election 2018: Why Does Vladimir Putin Always Win?” The Times, March 14, 2018. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/world/russian-election-2018-why-does-putin-always-win-s8sd060zt.

Smith, Alexander. “Putin on U.S. Election Interference: ‘I Couldn’t Care Less.'” NBC News, March 1, 2018. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/putin-u-s-election-interference-i-couldn-t-care-less-n855151.

Image taken from: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/world/russian-election-2018-why-does-putin-always-win-s8sd060zt.

First Response: Zimbabwe’s politics are a symptom of its history

A notable saying comes to mind for this week. Perhaps you can’t see the entire forest from the trees.

This weeks readings looked directly into the authoritarian ZANU-PF party that has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980. To provide context, Timothy Scarnecchia’s piece, The ‘Fascist Cycle’ in Zimbabwe, 2000-2005 shows how the regime can resemble Italian fascism through the usage of paramilitaries, abuses of power and party membership as a necessity for success.

Lets unpack the nature of Zimbabwe’s extreme ideology and proclivity to political violence.

In Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s article, Rethinking Chimurenga and Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe: A Critique of Partisan National History, the idea of extreme ideology as an engine for violence against dissenting opinions is explored. Any black person who does not align with the anti-colonial cause is a target for violence. Anyone who is white is inherently dubious to the state (just look to the farm invasions when Mugabe first seized power).

Rudo Mudiwa’s article, Feeling Precarious explains the characteristics of the Zimbabwean youth, who can go from docile civilians to fearsome weapons of the state if the need arises.

Obviously a strong case could be made that Zimbabwe’s government has resembled and employed various fundamental tactics of fascist authority over the last 30 years. Today, we might use the term “populist” in following Finchelstein’s notion of populism as a modern variant of fascism in his book From Fascism to Populism in History.

So why has this occurred? Why has Zimbabwe’s extreme and radical political history unfolded in the way it has? Why is political violence the norm?  Look to its colonial history, look back to Rhodesia.  

The ZANU-PF should not be excused. However, we need context if we want to truly understand why fellows like Mugabe and ideologies like chimurenga could flourish.


Class facilitator: Multicultural Europe

There was an idea I wanted to bring up on this topic. In particular I wanted to address the difference between truth and perception. In class we looked at the cultural history of Europe and the role of Islam in shaping it. The truth of the matter is that Europe is highly multicultural in this sense and has been for centuries. However we must recognize the perceptions of many Europeans who are unaware of this. Which concept influences society more? Which shapes social, political and cultural reality more in Europe?

This topic made me think about a specific quote. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. How can we reconcile truth and perception with the migrant crisis in Europe?


First Response: Role of gender in populism today

This week’s reading addressed the ways in which race, gender and the identities of people were defined and utilized by authoritarian regimes and democratic societies to further a nationalistic agenda. All three of them share the notion that within each specific context, gender identities became tools to “advance” or improve the well-being of the state overall.

Can we observe the same kind of ideas if we were to assess gender roles and race today? What about in modern populism? This is something worth discussing in the present.

A concurrent theme from the readings was the concept of national value in regard to how one self-identified or was identified. Be it:

  • The feminized or masculine homosexual in early 20th century Germany (Claudia Bruns)
  • The linear success, male-dominated and non-individualistic discourse around people in postwar Japan (Rio Otomo)
  • The warlike, hardworking and socially committed “New Man” of interwar Romania (Valentin Săndulescu)

These ideas made me begin to think about what a democratic society such as ours today perhaps hold similar to these examples. The Bruns reading shows how in German life today, female or gay descriptions are still sometimes used in a derogatory manner and that the German LGBT(QI) community may exhibit racist discourses towards Muslim immigrants.

But can we think of other ways in which gender identities today continue to shape our collective thought processes? Terms like, “be a man,” or “act like a lady” come to mind. Could it be that we still subconsciously use the gender roles that are ascribed today to further our own conception of national value?


Op-Ed: “Greek and Polish nationalism is playing with fire”


Places like Greece and Poland are on a slippery slope. By ignoring or not feeling concerned with these issues going on in the world, we turn a blind eye to history and what this has led to before.

Earlier this month in Athens, far-right demonstrators marched and shouted with torches, holding flags of the Golden Dawn – Greece’s right wing nationalist party. They were protesting the Greek government and its negotiations with the Republic of Macedonia, as they and many Greeks believe the name “Macedonia” should only belong in Greece.

By the end of it thousands of anti-fascists and police were present, an anarchist squat was burned down and a Holocaust monument vandalized.

You might ask yourself, why should I care? Perhaps you feel the nationalist rhetoric being thrown around more and more frequently and confidently in places like Greece or Poland is far away and unimportant.

You should be worried, and here’s why. History shows us that fascism (and far-right populism) takes hold by normalizing its behavior using national and political myths to replace history. This comes from Federico Finchelstein’s book, “From Fascism to Populism in History.”

I was told once by an old mentor that it is not history that repeats itself, but the patterns of history. It’s not Germany or Italy this time, and that should not reassure us.

The “Polish death camps” law

The new law that was declared just last month in Poland punishes anyone who argues that there was Polish collaboration with the Nazi’s in WWII. At first, this does not appear problematic. Poland’s suffering during the years of Nazi occupation was enormous and remains impossible to reconcile.

The reason this law is alarming has to do with what it means for Polish nationalism and its thriving far-right movement.

Poland is currently dealing with a surge of ethnocentric nationalism that is on the rise. This is most easily recognized with the anti-immigration protest that occurred in Warsaw last November. 60,000 people attended, many espousing racist views. The mayor, a member of the ruling nationalistic Law and Justice Party (PiS) even paid for some of the activists travel.

The law represents an attempt to cleanse a nationalistic heritage and take the moral high ground moving forward. In spite of this, historians warn of the dangers of simplifying history. Events such as the murdering of Jews by the villagers of Jedwabne in 1941 or the expulsion of thousands more during the 1968 “anti-Zionist campaign” are at risk of being ignored.

Finchelstein’s book makes this danger clear, that fascism and modern populism will bend history and normalize nationalistic ideas in order to eventually overthrow the democratic system. Timothy Snyder’s book (On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century) similarly shows that fascism constructs creative myths over history in order to further agendas.

For far-right nationalists in Poland, this law may very well serve as a lightning rod to endorse and promote Polish nationalism to a higher degree.

Greece’s “Macedonia” issue

A similar situation is unfolding here. The Golden Dawn party currently holds 16 seats in the Hellenic parliament. The far-right protestors at the demonstration rallied against the leftist government and used a nationalistic agenda to advocate the historical Greek claim to the name “Macedonia.”

Greek nationalism runs deep on this issue and has been a problem for decades. The far-right nature of this demonstration reveals how Greek nationalists are utilising historic grievances and normalizing aggression to get their views across with success.

Maybe that’s why so many of us don’t seem to bat an eye at issues like these.

The patterns of history repeat themselves

What all of this means is that we are not safe from fascism in the 21st century.

Finchelstein’s book clearly states that modern populism is in many ways a direct reincarnation of traditional fascism, only this time working more closely with democratic institutions.

What’s going on in Greece or Poland may be far away, but that doesn’t mean the possible repercussions will be distant either. Populist movements at home are taking notes.

If southern and eastern European nationalism is playing with fire, who’s to say we won’t be susceptible either?

Works Cited

Davies, Christian. “Poland’s Jews Fear for future Under New Holocaust Law.” The Guardian, February 10, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/10/polands-jews-fear-future-under-new-holocaust-law-nazi-atrocities.

Eglash, Ruth and Avi Selk. “Israel and Poland Try to Tamp Down Tensions after Poland’s ‘Death Camp’ Law Sparks Israeli Outrage.” The Washington Post, January 28, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/01/27/it-could-soon-be-a-crime-to-blame-poland-for-nazi-atrocities-and-israel-is-appalled/?utm_term=.18fe02d470e5.

Finchelstein, Federico. From Fascism to Populism in History. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2017.

Kelly, Lidia and Justyna Pawlak. “Poland’s Far Right: Opportunity and Threat for Ruling PiS.” Reuters, January 3, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-politics-farright/polands-far-right-opportunity-and-threat-for-ruling-pis-idUSKBN1ES0BK.

Noack, Rick. “How Poland Became a Breeding Ground for Europe’s Far Right.” The Washington Post, November 14, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/13/how-poland-became-a-breeding-ground-for-europes-far-right/?utm_term=.a57f74c3bb12.

Snyder, Timothy. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017.

Strickland, Patrick. “Tens of Thousands of Greeks Protest Macedonia’s Name.” Al Jazeera, February 5, 2018. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/tens-thousands-greeks-protest-macedonia-180204141039260.html.

Strickland, Patrick. “Tensions High in Athens Ahead of Nationalist Rally.” Al Jazeera, February 3, 2018. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/tensions-high-athens-nationalist-rally-180203221505840.html.


Sweeper: Innocence in Lebensraum?

Were some of the young German women who went East during Generalplan Ost under the Nazi regime “just doing their jobs?” After our group discussion the answer seems to be no, but it’s complicated.

This became the fundamental topic that our class facilitator brought forward. Rightly so, the Lower book highlights the often downright malevolent complicity that German women working during the Eastern occupation carried out. But can we place a value on complicity? Can consent be treated as a sliding scale in this context? What about the nurses, secretaries and teachers who went? As we saw during a previous class, fascism harnesses the youth as a resource through social and institutional controls. For some young women in the Third Reich, new opportunities to travel and start careers that were never possible before were suddenly available and encouraged. If you were in their shoes, would you say no?

However as we discussed, the Nuremberg Trials made clear that “I was just following orders” is not tolerable. The Milgram Shocking Experiment came up, and we talked about how far people can go when instructed to do so by an authority figure. Combine that with years of racial brainwashing under the Nazi state, and the “innocence” argument loses its edge. You do not have to be working in the death camps to be complicit, and support for genocide could be as simple as forwarding an SS officer’s paperwork.

In sum, the women who participated should not be absolved. But Lower’s examination of some of these women’s circumstances shows how complex this topic really is.



A quick sketch of me

Hi everyone,

I’m Reid and am currently in the final semester of my undergrad. My major is Political Science with a concentration in IR and a minor in History. When I saw the title and description for this class, I registered immediately. The role of populism, and specifically far-right movements in recent history and today, are certainly subjects that deserve a focused analysis, and I’m excited to unpack this issue. Exploring such a fascinating and often dark feature of human politics and history should be very intriguing.

About me, I’m originally from Calgary! I enjoy skiing, golfing and trap shooting for sports. I’m also a huge fan of music and go to shows/concerts regularly as well as collect vinyl (my collection is about 400-ish). Travel is another hobby, so far I’ve been to Europe, Africa and a fair bit of North America. Currently planning a few months in Central Europe this summer.

Looking forward to meeting and discussing with all of you,

Reid G.