Fear and “Othering” in Post-War Europe

M. Guthrie

Following the upheavals of 1989, the role of memory became an increasingly useful tactic in building support for populist movements. Evoking (and often, completely revising) collective memory of recent political and economic strife allowed for populist parties and their leaders to instill not only a belief in a collective national identity (“the people”), but also a deep-seated fear of the “Other” in a society experiencing rising levels of immigration.

As Christopher A. Molnar notes in “Greetings from the Apocalypse: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification,” the use of fear has long served as a powerful agent of change. Whether this change can be labelled as productive or otherwise has been the subject of intense debate, however, in the case of Germany in the 1990s this growing fear of the “Other” (most often due to fears of migrants and the “over-foreignization” of the German nation) became widely-perceived as a in the public sphere (493). In some cases, even leading to a resurgence in targeted violence by the far-right.

Likewise, Anna Cento Bull’s “The Role of Memory in Populist Discourse,” examines the ways in which fear and creation of the “Other,” worked in furthering Italian populist movements in the Italian Second Republic (from 1992-2011). By affirming the characteristics of the national identity and drawing on recent historical memory, which Bull aptly terms as “empty signifiers,” populist movements likewise created a portrait of those who posed a threat in this national identity (214). At times using the controlled media in the creation of such memory politics – with Italian leader Berlusconi using his ownership over media channels to spread messaging warning against leftist (or communist) corruption (224).

Interestingly enough, the discrimination and violence towards migrants did not evoke memories of another recent atrocity in Europe: the Holocaust. Molnar notes that distaste towards migrants in Germany could often be pinned on either religion or pseudo-science, although one must also question how much the fear evoked by populist movements played into reactions towards immigration (500-502). Did swathes of Germans really believe that it was God’s will for people to stay in their designated region? Or that different races had vastly differing biological makeup? (Remember, this was only in the 1990s, not the distant past.) Or was this acting in self-interest and protectionism? Perhaps providing a way for Europeans to explain away their racism in the wake of populist, fear-driven hysteria – no matter how fringe those movements may have been.

Works Cited

Anna Cento Bull, “The Role of Memory in Populist Discourse: the Case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 213-231.

Christopher A. Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 491-515.

Post 1989 Challenges

Europe after 1989 has two very common themes: the ‘othering’ of groups of people and rapid capitalization. On page 218 in the Don Kalb reading, he mentions two types of social Darwinism that sprouted in the 1990s, one through neoliberal means vs the other through national-socialist means. What both types of ‘Darwinism’ have in common is that people of the Visegrad countries where these systems were implemented believed that neither one of these constructs was real capitalism and that governments are still run by the corrupt bourgeoisie. This would set the stage for years of unrest and division to come. In the Anna Cento Bull reading, she speaks about how memory is used by populist movements in order to justify scapegoating a group of people, while at the same time classifying supporters as the “real people”. By doing these two things, post-1989 populist governments can restructure historic events to radicalize people and delegitimize their political opponents. In the Christopher Molnar reading, we talk about letters written to President Weizsäcker about how the German people feared immigrants or seeking asylum in their country. Ranging from extreme to concerned, the letters still exemplify the ‘othering’ of minorities to scapegoat them for the country’s problems. Within the ‘Actually existing’ reading, we learn about how and why populism is supported by an increasing population of those involved in agriculture during a modern and industrial age. By clinging to the past and ‘othering’ the left, people in European agriculture find solidarity in populist movements that swept the EU after 1989. In conclusion, all these readings highlight how populism riles up one group of people, by marginalizing another.

Deconstructing Fear, a Vital Step

D.Khaznadji

For some reason, I want to start this week’s post by talking about the Godwin law, which states that any online debate that goes on for too long is bound to have a Nazi analogy at some point. This is clearly a testament to the omnipresence of Nazi horrors in the memory of people, but the readings this week, especially Molnar, are careful not to have such a simplistic view. 

Molnar traces the history of fear in postwar Germany and places it within a larger timeline that goes back to pre-World War II times. Fear, for Molnar, is what sustained democratic stability in Germany (495). The determination not to have the rise of a fourth Reich is what drove that fear. When it came to finding a scapegoat for that fear, asylum seekers were seen to be ideal candidates. The whole point of such high emotions in the hearts of Germans is the protection of the fatherland. Molnar interestingly points out that not unlike Nazi times, postwar Germans victimized themselves, and saw their very survival threatened by foreign invaders. 

Considering that Western states have been using that fear when conducting policies, I was able to better understand the context behind the emergence of the great replacement theory. Molnar makes it clear that those sentiments did not come out of the blue. When speaking of German attitudes toward Turkish laborers, he highlights the influence of the post-Ottoman world in shaping those attitudes. The influx of Turkish migrants becomes reminiscent of Ottoman expansionism into Europe. We saw many times this semester that right-wing ideologies are built upon particular historical moments, that are then twisted and used for a specific political agenda. 

Another thing I wished to discuss was the idea of “Racism without race”. I thought it was interesting how racism itself adapted to a post-war world, which once again resonates with what we saw about fascism evolving according to changing world order. The new form of racism that Molnar proposes focuses less on biological differences, but on cultural ones that are deemed as too fundamental to be reconciled (502). What surprised me is that it was even framed as a law of nature, in the sense that humans tend to gravitate towards similar individuals or groups of individuals, and that the addition of an alien individual to a homogenous group would only create problems. 

Despite this reformation of racism, the underlying fear remains the same. That is, barbarian foreigners, coming to disturb the peace of a civilized country. I would say the mistake that the majority of those fearing people make is the automatic association between religion and culture. Religion (at least the Abrahamic faiths) by definition are not bound by the concept of nationality. Someone can be Muslim and “white” at the same time. The likes of Le Pen or Zemmour believe that being Muslim necessarily means being Arab or non-European. The deconstruction of that fear is thus a priority. 

Fear and Anxiety within the Collective Memory of the Far Right

By Ali Yasin

When discussing the role of collective memory within populist movements there is a tendency to over-emphasize its nostalgic forms, namely the desire to return to a glorified and imagined past. This neglects the fact that similar nostalgic narratives are frequently adopted by anti-populist liberals, as well as the importance of fear and anxiety to the collective memory of the far-right. Several of this week’s articles examined the impact of this more angst inducing form of collective memory on the European far-right following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union. Through his analysis of primarily source documents, Christopher Molnar effectively demonstrated how the language of crisis, disorientation, and collapse prevalent within German historical narratives of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust, were used by the far-right to characterize fears of “over-foreignization” and immigration following German reunification. Terms such as “annihilation” and “liquidation”, taken directly from the nomenclature of the holocaust, were used by both East and West Germans to characterize the peril uncontrolled immigration contained for the interchangeable German nation and people. Allusions to the both the historical collapse Weimar Republic, and the more recent case of Yugoslavia, were presented as empirical examples of societal and political collapse which Germany risked through its asylum and social policies. In both instances, deeply ingrained cultural memories of crisis and upheaval are reappropriated by populist to integrate contemporary political conflicts into their collective and often polemic historical narratives.

Anna Cento Bull, “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 213-231

 Christopher Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

The Media and The People

Declan Da Barp

The “people” has been a topic that has come up time and again throughout the class but is central to the understanding of both the Italian Second Republic and a reunified Germany. This definition of the people had the inverse outcome of creating an “other” that the people are cast against. In the case of Germany in 1989, those people were the Turks and other asylum seekers and immigrants of non-European descent (Molner, 499). In the Italian case, it depended on the political party but central to Silvio Berlusconi’s Discesa in campo was the exclusion of communists and the political left (Bull 220). What the two have in common was the centrality of an in-group and out-group that allowed for as Bull describes “a chain of equivalence around key empty signifiers” allowing for the recreation of national myths (220). In so doing, aiming to redefine the nation around new shared ideas.

Berlusconi’s control of Italian media poses an interesting question that I believe needs to be explored much more deeply. While it is by no means true to say that he had complete control over the media Italian’s consumed, given the importance of a revisionist representation of Italian history to his political movement, Berlusconi’s media empire allowed him to broadcast his message into the homes of Italians. The “onslaught” of Berlusconi’s media empire on the Italian left must be understood within this greater idea of rewriting post-war Italian history. As seen in the German case with the war in Yugoslavia (Molner, 508), the images and narratives broadcast into their homes affected their outlook on current events; one that I believe has been overlooked for too long.  

Works Cited

Anna Cento Bull, “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 213-231


Christopher Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

1989 Redefinition: The Far-Right’s Return To Legitimacy – Demonizing The Other

Wesley M.

This week’s readings look at how the European far-right was able to use the momentum of 1989 involving the reunification of Germany as well as the overall collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to redefine their own position and use the resulting chaos of those two events throughout Europe to slowly regain the public perception of their own legitimacy by channeling fears of authoritarianism against the far-right’s enemies; the chosen ‘Other’ instead of against themselves in order to legitimize themselves, helped by criticism.

In Professor Bull’s article, she discusses how populists utilize and redefine popular memory in order to clarify  the notion of who is considered ‘people’, specifically arguing constructing of ‘people’ involves “developing empty signifiers but also constructing powerful myths that draw on a collective memory of an imagined past in order to define who belongs to ‘the people’.”[1] Using examples of Italian populist leaders from the Second Republic: Silvio Berlusconi, Umberto Bossi, and Antonio Di Pietro, Bull demonstrates how all three used strategy of rejecting elites and constructing people so as to “redefine the polity in terms of legitimization and de-legitimization of friends and enemies.”[2]

The Molnar article expands on this issue of redefinition and legitimacy by relating it to the reunified the German state and how they inadvertently allowed the reunification to stoke fears of either a societal collapse or a civil war, against minority groups such as non-European Germans or foreigners, resulting in vast scepticism about the governments policies towards immigration and migration, despite the fact that a significant amount of the violence during this period was not caused by migrants at all.[3] This demonstrates that the German government’s policy of allowing migration actually weakened their own legitimacy in the eyes of their people, thus directly correlating to an expansion of the far-right’s influence.

The Kalb reading discusses how following 1991 conciliation of the former Soviet bloc territories was not evenly done thus the economic devastation of the 2008 crash created a widespread way for populist rejection of liberal influences within those devastated countries (such as Viktor Orban), resulting in the far-right gaining legitimacy through targeting minority groups, as well as setting up their own version of Europe as being against the liberal EU, with the EU’s weaknesses becoming the far-right’s strength.[4]

The Mamonova article discusses how due to the failure of neoliberalism, a capitalist crisis involving farmers and agriculture, and COVID-19 resulting in major rural alienation, the far-right populists have been able to use resulting rural dissatisfaction as a powerbase: with German villages seeking to revive the Nazi concept of Volksgemeinshaft, with Spain the far-right party Vox gained support due to the massive rural depopulation, the UK’s Brexit has allowed for claims of people against elites in a rural vs. urban argument, in the Ukraine the far right’s capitalized on all of the land reform issues in order to assist their use of selective memory; claiming democratic weakness, inequality and emptiness result in stagnation.[5]


[1] Anna Cento Bull, “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 217.

[2] Bull, “The role of memory”: 219.

[3] Christopher Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

[4] Don Kalb, “Post-Socialist Contradictions. The Social Question in Central and Eastern Europe And the Making of the Illiberal Right” The Social Question in the Twenty-First Century: a Global View edited by Jan Breman et al. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019). 208–26. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvr7fcnz.17.

[5] Natalia Mamonova, Jaume Franquesa, and Sally Brooks, “‘Actually Existing’ Right-Wing Populism in Rural Europe: Insights from Eastern Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and Ukraine,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 47, no. 7 (2020): 1497–1525.

Bibliography:

Cento Bull, Anna. “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 213-231.

Mamonova, Natalia, Franquesa, Jaume, and Sally Brooks, “‘Actually Existing’ Right-Wing Populism in Rural Europe: Insights from Eastern Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and Ukraine,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 47, no. 7 (2020): 1497–1525.

Molnar, Christopher A. “‘Greetings from the Apocalypse’: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification.” Central European History 54, no. 3 (2021): 491–515. doi:10.1017/S0008938920001090.

Kalb, Don. “Post-Socialist Contradictions: The Social Question in Central and Eastern Europe and the Making of the Illiberal Right.” In The Social Question in the Twenty-First Century: A Global View, edited by Jan Breman, Kevan Harris, Ching Kwan Lee, and Marcel van der Linden, 1st ed., 208–26. University of California Press, 2019. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvr7fcnz.17.

Preying on the Past

M. Nagy

How do you build a nation?

The simple answer is that you start with the people, but there is more to it than that. A people need something to believe in, something to strive towards, something to rally behind. They need symbology, iconography, and a future; but most importantly, they need a history. When looking at Bull’s analysis of the Italian Second Republic, there is a stark emphasis on the manner in which “the First Republic behaved as mnemonic warriors, collapsing the distinction between the Second Republic and its predecessor, and constructing their opponents as corrupting the ‘foundations of the polity’, to which end they did not shy away from utilizing the label of ‘terrorist’.”1 In Molnar’s recounting of the reunification of Germany, they rely on marking how, “Germans insisted, in often apocalyptic terms, that the arrival of foreigners in large numbers would lead to death, war, and perhaps the destruction of the German state and people.”2 Kalb maintains the mould through their dictation of the Visegrád Four’s political unity, admitting that, “In some areas in the 1990s, a majority of actually employed or self-imagined working people, the working poor, were coping with household income levels around two hundred to three hundred euros per month and were structurally dependent on benefits, remittances, and in natura support from kin.”3

In each of these cases, there is a strong underscoring of how these groups relate the fears of the past into the modern perspective. These actors distance themselves from their contemporaries by emphasizing these key aspects of their national histories. They are creating their national antemurale myth. Antemuralism is the use of both contemporary and historical relations to establish a precedence for developing a national character around being a bulwark, shield, or wall against an ideology.4 It is derived from the Latin of ante, meaning before; and murale, meaning wall. Much in the same way as antemuralism was developed following the chaotic and turbulent times of the early modern period; it is now being used to relate a generational past and the fears associated with it. The authoritarian parties of today have made effective use of the historical correlations in contemporary events to develop a cohesive ante-mural myth of what the nation and the national identity stand for. They are using a politics of fear to drive their national discourse into admitting them the power to stop these events from transpiring again. They are establishing themselves as the bulwarks against a chaotic and uncertain future; and they are doing it well.

1Anna Cento Bull, “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016).

2Christopher Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021).

3Don Kalb, “Post-Socialist Contradictions. The Social Question in Central and Eastern Europe And the Making of the Illiberal Right” The Social Question in the Twenty-First Century: a Global View edited by Jan Breman et al. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019).

4PålKolstø, “Antemurale thinking as historical myth and ethnic boundary mechanism,” Rampart nations: Bulwark myths of East European multiconfessional societies in the age of nationalism (2019): 347-373.

Migration and the “Other”

Emma C

The readings this week discuss the ideas of immigration and the idea of the “other” and how ideas about these can change depending on demographic and geography. The far-rights ideas about immigration are still relevant today. As we have discussed previously the way in which these groups build their support is around the idea of nationalism. 1989 and onwards there was an increase in immigration in Europe, making populations more diverse. Far-right groups were able to use the increase in immigration to garner more support for their cause through “othering” immigrants.

The idea of the other is still seen today as far-right groups have strict ideas around migration, typically known for not supporting it. Limiting migration assists these group in building a stronger sense of nationalism and there are less foreigners entering their country and not taking the focus away from the national culture. The “other” was a tactic used in the us versus them attitude in regard to migration where if you are not born in the country or have roots there, you are considered an “other”, an outsider. Groups feel that democratic liberal institutions and ideas around migration are harming their country as the increase in diversity of the population, harms a country’s national identity.

Anna Cento Bull, “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 213-231

Christopher Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

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 Urban/Rural Divide

Alison Miller

The readings this week predominantly discuss the internal and external divisions that caused illiberal and populist governments and movements to come to the fore. These movements relied on call-backs to old ideas and events, but these events also shaped how each of these countries saw their far-right populist movements developing.

For Bull, each Italian government of the Second Italian Republic worked to define their populism in such a way so as to exclude particular enemies of the party, with only anti-elitism being a binding agent of all three parties. Drawing on old ideas of Southern Italy as a parasite, re-writing historical events to cast Communists as the enemy, and memories of the First Republic, each party worked to fashion the ‘Other’ that they could set themselves against in order to get into power.

I found the Mamonova, Franquesa, Brooks reading particularly interesting because they address how the history of each of their case studies has influenced current rural/urban divides. This divide is a familiar one, as we see it in movements in the US and Canada as well. I found the concept of the rural areas being emptied to be particularly compelling with regards to why we see the rise of populist groups.

The concerns in Ukraine about land being snapped up by conglomerates is also particularly striking, as I think we are seeing things similar to this in the Canadian context, although my particular reading has more covered the Canadian housing crisis in urban areas.

Furthermore, post-Covid frustration is mounting as people who live in high cost of living areas are moving into smaller towns (ostensibly a good thing in terms of addressing rural emptiness) but are driving housing prices up and making no efforts to actually get involved in civic life in smaller towns. The degree to which this is a similar issue in Europe would be interesting, as work from home could be a good change for rural areas if housing prices are kept down and demand for representation and services goes up.