Conspiracy Theory No Laughing Matter

This week taking a look at conspiracy theories, my initial thought was that it would just a funny thing to listen and read about. I feel everyone at some point has explored some conspiracy theories from the moon landing to the grassy knoll/ JFK assassination. In all my time reading about these things i had never taken them truly seriously and thought them to be just an exploration of alternative scenarios….for fun. However while watching the short Vice video on Q Anon gaining momentum in Germany, it really started to show how their is a fine line between being slightly curious to it completely taking over a persons psyche. One moment specifically came when a man named Miro was describing the collapse of his marriage, what struck me was the previous notion i had that someone who took these theories for face value might have experienced something that would drive them to follow such a thing but in the case of Miro’s wife, this was not the case. Even a former vegan chef, Atilla Hildemann merged the Q Anon conspiracy with his own animal right morals.

This raises another important issue on how Q Anon conspiracy theory, originally an American phenomenon, has made its way across the Atlantic to Germany where it has the second most followers and will no doubt will spread across Europe. While followers of this are still small in numbers they still appear in the UK and Italy where the pandemic and helped tremendously in gaining followers. While its easy to dismiss such ideas as nonsense, what is important is to not take these followers as just another fringe group. Every day more and more people fall into the mindset of believing such things and to dismiss them means ignoring an ever growing population that could mobilize and create allot of trouble in the future, more so than they already have.

A Traditional Europe?

I enjoyed this weeks combination of articles discussing the way Europe is conceptualized in the sense of who belongs where and the traditional idea of who belongs. In the Göle reading for instance, it reminded me of a paper that i had written this last semester about the impact that Bosniak Muslims have had in the culture of the Balkan region as well as the formation and breakup of Yugoslavia. In the former Ottoman Balkans in the 17th century where Bosniak culture was respected and revered saw a very different look after Turkey withdrew from the region and those people became repressed under a system that sought to favour the more desirable and ‘traditional’ eastern orthodox Serbian-Croatian denominations. Not only this, but Muslim influence has extended into the mediterranean region and the Iberian peninsula.

The theme of this imagined rightful demographic to situate itself in Europe extends into the New York Times article by Norimitsu Onishi about how immigrants are colonizing the white homelands of the French and of other white Europeans as stated by Renaud Camus. This idea that Immigrants are replacing Whites has had a direct influence on French politicians and has resonated widely beyond France with right wing white supremacist groups. Interestingly Mr. Camus was known a novelist and a pioneering writer of gay literature before turning to writing about the “great replacement”

These ideas expand to many types of people and are not reserved for a single stereotype. The majority of these ideas lay in misinformation of the lack of proper education on the matter, for example Mr. Camus had his ideas based solely on his experience on Facebook and Twitter….how can one fully grasp the situation of immigration and integration so far removed. The Göle article is the opposite and tries to show us that “Europe and Islam as connected histories, yet with competing narratives, cultural values, and time-space constructs of modernity”

Emergence of the Nouvelle Droit

Rejecting left-wing ideas of human equality, the Nouvelle Droite was heavily influenced by the tactics of the New Left and some forms of Marxism such as the socio cultural ideas of Gramsci, thus propelling a counter to this is the formation of the New Right. Despite this positioning the Nouvelle Droite in Roger Griffin’s “Between metapolitics and apoliteia: the Nouvelle Droite’s strategy for conserving the fascist vision in the ‘interregnum’” It represents something odd as political allegiances and tactics seem to have a lack of ideological positioning and makes the case that ” accepting a particular definition of generic fascism, whose main empirical basis is writings by self-styled fascist ideologues” (pg.36) this looks to emphasize he idea of redefining what far right nationalism was in this era and makes me question whether or not this attempt at rebranding worked.

This transitions over into the Riccardo Marchi article and the transformation of the portuguese right wing parties in how they dealt with the “French ND and the reactions to it in the extreme-right milieu.” (pg.236) and the re-branding of the far-right politics became adopted in Portugal among the student followers. These followers played a central role in the new liberalization of the country and lead the transitioning process in which they utilized the ideas to try and “battle to win the hearts and minds of the nation.” (pg. 237)

Finally, in Tamir Bar-On’s “Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite” the sophisticated European cultural revolution in the anti-fascist age helper produce a turn of ideology of extreme nationalist into “pan-europeans” and sought to show that “If the rhetoric of the left was always more transnational, as in Marx’s famous dictum ‘Workers of the World Unite!’, it is also true that the mimetic rival of the revolutionary left, the revolutionary right, theorized and behaved through a transnational lens.” (pg. 221)

Your body, not your choice: Poland’s Populist Wave

In recent months, women in Poland have experienced the repercussions from the passing of some of the most stringent anti-abortion laws in Europe from the ruling Law & Justice (PiS) party, notorious for having an extensive history in ruling against other issues such as euthanasia, comprehensive sex education and invitro feralization. It seems that in Europe, with the rise of populist nationalist movements, Poland has followed in suit in implementing conservative positions of issues on abortion where they already were among the strictest in Europe, saw the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on accepting an almost total ban. The new ruling that went into effect in October means that the 98% of abortions that were carried out on the grounds of standard pregnancy terminations, will be made illegal and only issued in cases of rape, incest or when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother which currently only make up only about 2% of legal terminations.

A legal challenge was made against the 1993 law permitting abortion in cases of severe fetal disabilities, accounting for 98% of terminations carried out in Poland, and was launched by MPs from PiS after being pressured by Bishops and lay Catholic groups. Poland’s conservative government has strong ties to the country’s powerful Catholic Church, 92.9% of all Polish citizens adhere to the Roman Catholicism making it one of the most devout countries in Europe and heavily intertwined with the Polish government, for example Tadeusz Rydzyk, an influential priest in Warsaw is also the owner of both a television network and radio station that receives mass funding from the PiS.

As a result the court justified its ruling on the grounds that “an unborn child is a human being” and therefore it deserves protection under Poland’s constitution which ensures the right to life. This has not been the first time the abortion debate has come up in Poland, in 2015 a civil initiative to introduce a complete ban on abortion but the Polish parliament, the Sejm, rejected the measure. Despite this ruling in 2016 Polish organizations once again pushed for anti-abortion laws say in the case it endangered a woman’s life and this time the law passed with included penalties to abortion providers with up to five years of imprisonment. On the day the bill was to be ratified in parliament, the ‘Black Protests’ took place in major Polish cities with women going on strike, refusing to work, attend school or participate in domestic chores. This action quickly made politicians to distance themselves away from the bill and although the strikes did not result in a complete reversal of anti-abortion laws in Poland, it brought the conversation of women’s reproductive rights to national attention and succeeded in deterring the government from passing a proposed law that would restrict all abortions.

So if tighter restrictions were shot down once, what was the thought process in attempting this again without expecting the same result? well as per the rise of populist movements globally, the PiS has implemented many reforms and has replaced much of the countries establishment since coming into power in 2015. The party can be looked at ridding the populist wave and taking advantage of the far reaching influence that they have gathered and utilizing rhetoric from other populist leader like Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” and following suit with policies that mimic Viktor Orban’s Hungary. Not only was utilizing populist rhetoric to gain support from the population leaning to the right, the fact that the judicial body that establishes to resolve disputes on the constitutionality of the activities of state institutions has judges appointed by PiS, subsequently giving them an unprecedented majority ruling on all matters.

The Law & Justice Party (PiS) has expanded its provincial influence since the last election in 2011. Source: Polish Election Commission

Despite the countries strong religious ties, the majority of Poles opposed the formation of a stricter ban and demonstrations took place in Polish cities shortly after the ruling. Protesters arrived to opposed the interference of the Roman Catholic Church in public matters, and the domination of all three branches of government by the ruling coalition which severely impacted the decision overall. Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, has even appeared to have broken ranks with his government and has backed himself with demonstrators. Despite the passing of the law, women will still seek out seek abortions at all costs, the anti-abortion law has led to creation of “underground” abortion services and “abortion tourism’ where in the neighboring Czech Republic, has seen an increase in Polish women arriving for their services.

Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS and de facto leader of Poland has been quoted in saying in response to mass protests that he called for the defense of the church while calling upon Polish patriotism and that the authorities have the full right to oppose these protests. One can compare these inflammatory statements to that of former president Trump and that they are purposefully used to create division and civil unrest between left and right supporters.

As international condemnation looms, Amnesty International’s Center for Reproductive Rights and Human Rights Watch has said they would send independent monitors to the Polish court stating that “The Constitutional Tribunal’s upcoming proceedings take place in the context of repeated government attacks on women’s rights and efforts to roll back reproductive rights, as well as legal and policy changes that have undermined the independence of the judiciary and rule of law in Poland”

 

 

The paths that memories make

Some memories can be too painful to deal with and people will choose to bury them in the back of their mind, letting it collect dust then face up to it head-on and deal with lasting consequences. They can either leave scars that retain bitter reminders of a dark time but they can also serve as a way to redemption and reconciliation but only if the memory is brought out from the darkness and brought to light. Like Hugo Spiegel who returned to his hometown to rebuild his life after the war, he also sought to rebuild and remind those of the tragedy that not only he endured but Jews everywhere. People did not want to be reminded, or think about that dark time but just because something is hard to deal with doesn’t mean you can push it down and block it out. Remembrance is an essential part of the healing process, confronting what happened in all forms from Spiegel’s attempt at erecting a simple memorial plaque is a very simple reminder of the essence of Holocaust remembrance. It is what gave us culturally significant moments such as “Schindler’s List; the Stockholm Declaration of 2000 making commemoration of the Nazi genocide central to European identity; and the 2005 dedication, after years of debate and controversy, of the vast Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the center of Berlin.” (Walser Smith, 2021)

While rekindling a memory can help heal, it can also cause blowback. The holocaust was a tragedy of epic proportions but the changed meaning of Holocaust memory has become distorted as we get further and further away from the end of WWII. Comparisons have been utilized by conservative thinkers that have used the juxtaposition of Nazism with Stalinism and liberal thinkers who focus more on colonial violence, slavery, and, more broadly, coming to terms with anti-Black racism. Was the gulag system similar to concentration camps? Was the forced migration of Africans comparable to the forced deportation of Jews? It doesn’t matter if one group suffered more than the other as it dilutes and lessens the necessity for responsibility. More so, it is important that the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor can come to terms with the past through mediums such as “community work, the necessity of reaching across divides, and the crucial role that local school teachers, archivists, retirees, hobby historians, and preservationists may well play in the great transformations of a nation’s memory.” (Walser Smith, 2021)

Bibliography

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/

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/

Women’s Role in Far-Right Movements

Angry white men voting for angry white men, this trend was seen as the standard in the right of populism but interestingly women are now coming to dominate right-wing leadership. With this, the gender gap in women’s roles in these movements seems to be shrinking with similar attitudes in feeling ‘left behind’ as well as becoming increasingly worried about immigration and Islam. With at least some power shifting into the favour of women, a new challenge comes from these women to combat the masculinity that is a traditional standard in the more right-leaning parties, trying to move away from the idea of traditional female roles or in the case of Marie Le Pen, trying to soften the party stance on anti-abortion and combatting the need to entice women voters by changing the idea of what it means to be a woman with these views and the male voters not likely to want to move away from these traditional aspects. So now we are thrust into a scenario where the fundamental aspects of right-wing populism are being challenged by the inclusion of women who are then not welcomed for their rebranding efforts.

Speak when Spoken to: Corruption and Free Speech in Putin’s Russia

The man who rose to international prominence by organizing anti-government demonstrations, and running for office to advocate political reforms against corruption in Russia, Alexi Navalny has been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin for quite some time. Active in Russian politics for some time with heavyweight attempts under his belt for running for the mayor of Moscow and his attempt to run in the 2008 presidential election, he is a stark reminder of the fight that is going on to highlight Vladimir Putin’s “party of crooks and thieves” where Navalny has showcased the United Russia ruling party of being involved in widespread corruption, embezzlement and political suppression. Being a staunch critic of Putin does not go without its dangers and ironically Navalny himself has been accused, charged and found guilty of embezzlement, a tactic used for the intention to bar him for any further attempts to run in any election and wildly criticized as an unscrupulous and blatant attempt at silencing the staunch critic. Navalny was also convicted of embezzlement from a state timber company in Kirov in 2013 but was still allowed to run for mayor of Moscow while appealing against the ruling.

Creating trumped-up charges to prevent an official opposition is one thing but taken to the extreme Putin and the Kremlin are also accused of carrying out the poisoning of Navalny on August 20th, 2020 while on a plane travelling from Tomsk to Moscow with a deadly nerve agent placed in tea that he had consumed some hours before the flight. Had it not been for a quick emergency landing and attentive crew he would have surely died. After being transported to Belin to receive emergency medical treatment where it was announced that Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, from the same family of nerve agents that were used to poison Sergei Skripal, another prominent critic of Putin. Navalny was subsequently flown to Germany where he was put under a medically induced coma, an investigation thus ensued where it was discovered that a special unit of the FSB, which specializes in chemical substances, had been tracking Navalny’s movement for over three years. It has been speculated that the reasoning for this came from Navalny’s announcement in 2018 that he would be running in the Russian federal election as well as his ongoing critiques of Putin and his allies.

On January 17th, 2021, Navalny returned to Russia from Germany and was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport for allegedly violating the terms of his probation from those past embezzlement charges by leaving the country and on February 2nd, his suspended sentence was replaced with a prison sentence, meaning he would spend over two and half years in a penal colony. Navalny described the procedure as “ultimate lawlessness” and called on his supporters to take to the streets.

While in jail, an investigation and release of the documentary “Putin’s Palace: History of the world’s largest bribe” was released by Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) on January 19th. Navalny alleged that an expansive property near Gelendzhik, a town in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar, was constructed for Russian President Vladimir Putin with illicit funds of $1.35 billion, provided by members of his inner circle and that Putin is the real owner of the palace.

The reaction to Navalny’s attempted political assassination, imprisonment, and release of the information related to the report and documentary, widespread anti-government protests erupted around major Russian cities where it was estimated up to 40,000 protesters gathered in Moscow alone. Reactions to these protests have had an international impact which Navalny wanted all along from the Russian ruble dropping in value against the dollar and euro, to state departments world wide condemning the actions of the Russian government such as German chancellor Angela Merkle stating “Those responsible must be identified and brought to justice” and the U.S state department releasing a statement in which they “strongly condemns the use of harsh tactics against protesters and journalists this weekend in cities throughout Russia. Before today’s events, the Russian government sought to suppress the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression by harassing protest organizers, threatening social media platforms, and pre-emptively arresting potential participants. This follows years of tightening restrictions on and repressive actions against civil society, independent media, and the political opposition.”

What this means for the future of Navalny and the the rest of Russia is unsure, this is not the first or last time we will hear of these clandestine operations to silence any criticisms of Putin’s regime and with a referendum on a constitutional change held in July that would let Putin run for election after his term ends in 2024 it does not look like he will be leaving anytime soon. But that does not mean that the rest of the world should ignore the struggle that Mr. Navalny and the rest of the Russian population are feeling in trying to combat what feels like a resurgence of a dictatorship like Russia and help steer Russia towards the path of democracy.

A tale of two reasons: Ideology & its Role in Suppression

In this weeks readings, their are many themes bundled together that can provide someone with great insight into the way society treats, accepts and punishes the individual. In David Paternotte’s article, the topic of creating an anti-gendered campaign to combat right wing European populism through “challenging the thinking and stimulate debate around the rise of populism, with its impact on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights issues and how to respond to this changing context” which stems from an alarming rise of control over women’s rights and issues in an increasingly new hostile environment projected by the democratic backsliding in some EU member states. This comes from an overwhelming opposition to gender, sexual, reproductive and LGBT rights in Europe that have converged into a phenomena undertaken by far right parties, religious fundamentalism, nationalism, racism, neo-liberalism or austerity politics. Its easy to feel that the right is on the rise everywhere with the recent political climates being experienced but as this is more and more on the rise, it is important as the author states to look at this empirically and theoretically to understand these complex, contextual issues. The conservative opposition, like most issues, have deep historical roots (with heavy ties to the roman catholic church) and all mobilization efforts to denounce equality share a common denominator: they share a critique of gender, labeled as “gender ideology”, “gender theory” or “(anti)genderism”. They all claim to combat “gender”, which is seen as the root of their worries and the matrix of the reforms they want to oppose.

To continue with the theme, we can also take a took at Dan Healey’s article “Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi” which also explores the root cause to these issues as well as the historical context to them, and the over all objective and goal from those perpetrating the right wing rhetoric. The article provides a framework of better understanding homosexuality in the Soviet Union and Russia by using the Gulag prison systems as a historical lens. Male and female homosexual relations were not only ubiquitous but highly visible (either consensual or coerced), and registered in a rich code of symbols: nicknames, subcultural terms, and visual signs. Yet, queer visibility was considered as a symptoms of defective Stalinism and the renewal and modernization of the means of repression of homosexuality was a necessary feature of de-Stalinization. Yet, despite this fact, it was not initially actively repressed as “Cost controls from the Gulag’s economic model must have been a key driver of the rationale to suppress heterosexual sex” which I found quite interesting and alarming.

Linking the relationship between Paternotte’s article and this one comes from the idea of the discussion of homosexuality as a very taboo issue, especially in Stalinist Russia. The world view that shaped the ‘sexual morality’ as well the passage of time that saw the discussion of it evolve from the death of Stalin to the modernization of the Gulag penal system revolves around heteronorrnative values underpinned the regime’s official rhetoric of “reforging” the Gulag prisoner. The use of ‘heteronormative’ as a tool is a good link between the two as the historical notion of  heterosexuality as the default, preferred, or normal mode of sexual orientation and the assumption of gender binary causes great outrage when these norms are deviated from. Just as the catholic church was a foundation for the far right to uphold these notions as well as the church itself upholding the values that go against pro-choice motives with heavy influence in countries that have experienced these movements, in the Healey article the stand in for this is ‘Stalinist Ideology’ where it was seen as a flaw in the implemented grand plan for the Soviet people.

References

Dan Healey, “Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the
Gulag after Stalin” Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London: Bloomsbury Press,
2017).

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

Fascism Vacation

In this weeks readings it was interesting to look at the relationship between fascist ideology, the Reich and how it effected leisure activity of everyday people. This tool of propaganda, one of many tools utilize to lull the population into a false sense of security, showcased the ability of the right to manipulate the population into taking part in a German exclusive way of leisure activity as well as those who did not have such opportunities for a vacation or leisure no had the ability under the KDF where Baranowski discusses this was a way to improve the German standard of living.

The illusion of the Reich being well off also manifested itself by the high standards of German living through the war as a way to showcase Aryan superiority to its allies as well as the rest of the world by means of staged photo ops. I found it particularly interesting that the “the SS competed for the responsibility of monitoring opposition, proved at least as willing to convey the satisfaction, or lack of it, of tourists.” (pg. 162) Through this agents had access to the most intimate and mundane thoughts f travelers which would prove useful as these travelers were in a seemingly secure scenario to which they did not have to worry about guarding their thoughts.

Fascism & The New Italian

By: Vincent Larocque


In this weeks reading and Youtube video had the idea of remaking and reworking the perceptions of the image of the average Italian as well as the Italian state itself.

In “Conquest and Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy by Ruth Ben-Ghiat observed the attempted creation of the new Italian “no longer becoming, but IS a soldier” amongst other ideals set forth by Mussolini and the Italian Fascist government. The theme of of renewal or change is present in the article as Italy was undergoing a type of identity crises all the while seemingly copying and trying hard to relate to the Nazi regime in Berlin. Mussolini and other Italian Fascist were off put by the Nazi’s bid to become the undisputed rulers of the “new Europe” and Italian fascists grew alarmed at the unequal relationship between Berlin and Rome since they considered themselves to be equal. As such, this accelerated the idea of Italians to become “a race of hard edged conquers” and even more alarming were the 1938 racial laws that sought to define Italians as Aryans by instituting a campaign of cultural reclamation (bonifica della cultura) and copying anti-Jewish measures for Mussolini’s plan of Italian “Aryanization” to overcome the national inferiority complex.

The idea of the “New Italian” is also present in the video presented of the week “Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema” where Italian cinema at this time reinforced Fascist racial and labour policies. The Italian style cinema, which has been compared to 1930’s Soviet realism, focuses on the “new man’ archetype where it is centered around the Italian male and has heavy connotations to Italian colonialism. Through film and because Italian colonial holding are not as historical and mostly new reflected a way to disengage audiences with domestic troubles, “don’t worry about what is going on at home when we are trying to re-create the Roman Empire” and through the cinematic experience of idealizing the Italian male, it could create a colonial history and behavior that reflects all the ideals of Fascist Italy.

Sources

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

Ben-Ghiat, R. (2015, April 9). Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema. New York University. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch v=ZbFFLXVvtXc&ab_channel=CasaItalianaNYU