How QAnon’s embracing of American paranoia will ensure that Trump stays in the political limelight

by Sydney Linholm

The Storm is coming—at least, that’s what QAnon supporters believe is happening, and Trump will be the face of that reckoning. QAnon has emerged as a new and popular far-right set of conspiracy theories that are centered around the core belief that the world is run by Satan-worshipping pedophiles, some of which include influential people such as the Obamas, Joe Biden, the Clintons, Ellen DeGeneres, Pope Francis, and more. According to this theory, Donald Trump was recruited to run in 2016 by high-up military generals to serve justice on the members of this group, and imprison them. They also believed that President Trump would refuse to leave office on Inauguration Day, and that he instead would exercise martial law and stage a coup d’etat in order to serve justice upon the Democrats. Additionally, they encourage other popular conspiracies, such as the events surrounding 9/11, the existence of aliens and UFOs, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. According to the New York Times, they have also become a stronghold for the false theory that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from President Trump, and maintain that he is the rightful president.

So what is “The Storm”? This is a reference to a remark that Donald Trump made in 2017, in which he said “You guys know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm” as he posed for a photo with military generals. As mentioned before, QAnon supporters believe that President Trump is the heroic figure in the middle of all this, brought to power in order to rain justice down on these alleged Satan-worshipping pedophilic figures. The election was stolen from him, as they say, and he’s planning a triumphant comeback. This kind of rhetoric is dangerous in that it has the ability to fire up Trump’s fanbase once again—and keep him in the political loop.

There are some visible parallels between Trump supporters and QAnon supporters, and one of the most prominent ones is paranoia. Both groups’ supporters seem to capitalize on the paranoid side of American brains in order to convince them that some of these well-respected world leaders have ulterior motives, and use this as a way to gain supporters. Any skepticism that American voters may have is a target for Trump and QAnon’s similar rhetoric, and together they create a culture of fear. Of course, this isn’t news to anyone: Trump has repeatedly been accused of fear-mongering.

This isn’t the first time that influential politicians and far-right groups have capitalized on paranoia. If you were being bold, you could even compare Trumpism and QAnon supporters to Nazism. The Nazis were a far-right group who introduced a culture of fear into their administration, and then capitalized on that fear in order to further their own agenda. For example, during the persecution of Jewish people under the Nazi regime, people living in Germany were too scared to disobey Nazi laws, which allowed them to maintain control over the state. The Nazi party began as a group of radicalized Hitler supporters that saw Hitler as the divine leader of the movement and supported his philosophies.

Having said this, the situation with Trump and QAnon is nowhere near this dire, however it is escalating—some QAnon supporters participated in the storming of the United States’ Capitol on January 6, 2021. While Donald Trump is no longer in office, they refuse to let go of the belief that he is the heroic figure at the centre of this conspiracy, and continue to push their agenda that influential democrats are leading secret, criminal lives. Radicalized Trump supporters, or any far-right sympathizers, agree with this notion or at least are inclined to believe QAnon and Trump’s claims.

QAnon continues to gain supporters, which in turn means that Trumpism isn’t dead. It means that Trump will continue to be a prominent figure among American politics, as he represents both the demographic of people who don’t trust Joe Biden and the people who believe that the election was robbed from him. Both Trump and QAnon, and other far-right sympathizers, use this distrust of political figureheads as a vessel for their own agendas, and with QAnon having lots of overlap with Trump and his supporters ideological beliefs, they will continue to push their cause: which means Trump isn’t going anywhere.

Evading responsibility for (too) long

As time passes, the Nazis criminals that escaped from the law in the post-war years trials might be left unpunished due to their old age.

The Nuremberg trials convicted Nazi collaborators for their crimes during the Second World War. But some of them escaped from Germany and were able to live out their life as free men and women, away from the suffering that they caused.

Hidden Nazis

They were difficult to trace down because they obviously changed their name, or they were protected and assisted in their escape. This was for example the case of Klaus Barbie, who worked in the gestapo police in Lyon.

The American government kept him safe after the war because he possessed important information on French communist parties. Sadly, it also kept him from facing justice for many years. He spent years in Bolivia before he was traced by Nazi hunters, and was tried in 1987 in France, the very place where he tortured Jews.

Nazi hunters, people dedicated to finding the remaining Nazis hiding mostly in American countries, were able to trail some of them thanks to meticulous work. Examples include Jakiw Palij, a former labor camp guard who lived in the USA before he was discovered in 2003. What gave him away is that his name figured on an archived Nazi record. As for the guard Friedrich Karl Berger, he was discovered because his name was on a document found on a sunken Nazi ship.

Tedious trials

The advanced age and health condition of the criminals make the trials complex. The sessions in court are short and limited, as shown be the recent case of Bruno Dey, also a former guard, who was tried this last summer.

Unfortunately, some die before they can face their crimes. Laszlo Csatary died in 2013 at 98 years old, just days before his trial would start, after spending decades living as an art dealer in Canada. Similarly, Oskar Groening, known as the bookkeeper of Auschwitz, died in 2018 at aged 93 before the trial could start.

This points to the urgency of acting quickly when Nazis are located, something that host countries are not always good at. In Barbie’s case, it took about 20 years before Bolivia agreed to turn him to France, where he could symbolically be tried.

Another obstacle that time brings is that there is not enough material. Less witnesses are available, and some Nazis walk away free because of a lack of evidence. There is also the fact that most of them will say that they were just doing their job. They don’t consider themselves criminals, and won’t confess, which complicates things.

Nazi hunting in the popular culture

The subject of Nazi hunting is accessible through the work of hunters publishing books and doing interviews. The case of the notorious Adolf Eichmann and how he was found in Argentina and tried inspired a movie (Operation Finale) and a book.

More recently, the controverted TV series Hunters placed this aspect of history in the popular culture. It was maybe an attempt to honor the victims of the Holocaust despite the very frustrating fact in the 1970s, Nazis were still free out there. Or it might just have been in order to popularize the subject, as it is inspired by the story of real Nazi Hunters during the Cold War in New York. Either way, the awareness raised certainly helps with bringing into light this part of the legacy of the Holocaust, and how it is dealt with.

Since the remaining fugitive Nazi will soon all be dead, this might well be the only way to outline their crimes and expose them. It would be a part of pursuing the mission behind the phrase “Never again”. Artistic and academic projects are becoming necessary to acknowledge this historical heritage, since the bureaucratic justice failed and will fail to punish most of the perpetrators.

“Part of the problem [mass murders still happening after the Holocaust] is that so few of the people who were involved in these crimes were actually held accountable.” That is how Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi hunter, concludes his interview. It justly shows how a punishment, even post-mortem, is needed.

Why Donbass Matters More than Navalny

By: Willem Nesbitt

The recent events within Russia concerning Alexei Navalny have captured the world’s attention, and for good reason. From surviving a James Bond-esque assassination attempt to a heartbreaking goodbye to his wife as he was arrested on his return to Russia, Navalny has inspired some of the largest protests in the Putin era. However, these events, while important, ultimately only concern Russia, and the world’s attention being captured by Navalny has allowed a far more important, world-affecting event to fall by the wayside.

Nearly two-hundred years after the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Crimean peninsula and the eastern region of Ukraine are once again notable on the world stage thanks to warfare – only this time instead of cannons and cavalry charges, it is tanks, drones, and modern military tactics deciding the fate of the region. With the Ukrainian separatists rather translucently supported by Russia and debate surrounding the actual presence of Russian regulars, the ongoing events of the War in Donbass harkens back to the history of grey-area conflict utilized by an authoritarian state to further its influence and goals, the world turning a blind eye to it and instead focusing on the recent hubbub surrounding Putin critic Alexei Navalny.

Following the Second World War, a clear dynamic emerged between the capitalist west and communist east, giving birth to the Cold War, a term which reflects the realities of the modern state of warfare. With the proliferation of nuclear weapons in numerous states, the threat of the Cold War “going hot” was a very real threat, but historically led to tensions between competing nuclear-capable nations being fought through proxy wars.

Whether having direct involvement of the global superpowers of America (see: the Vietnam War) or the Soviet Union (see: the Soviet-Afghan War), or more subversive involvement via arms and training support (see: the ongoing Syrian Civil War), the consequences of nuclear weapons have led to a state in which powerful nations no longer wish to directly engage in war with one another. Opting instead for indirect proxy wars as seen with ongoing War in Donbas, modern authoritarian states such as Russia draw on the influence of past tactics by previous authoritarian states in order to expand their influence and control.

The Spanish Civil War was the prologue to the Second World War and saw the struggle of left-leaning Republicans fighting against a revolt of the right-wing Spanish Nationalists. What is important about this war in relation to the conflict in Ukraine was the involvement of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in supporting the Nationalist side, assisting them in their eventual victory and the establishment of Francoist Spain. With the triumph of Franco in Spain, 1930s Europe now held three relatively powerful fascist nations, Germany and Italy expanding their influence within Europe through direct involvement in an ongoing conflict.

Similarly, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s also saw a comparable attempt by an authoritarian nation to sway a conflict in its favour. With the Soviet Union dissolving in 1991, the state of Russia found itself too weak to directly support Yugoslavia, and later Serbia, during the war, but stood up for them at the assembly of the United Nations in 1999.

With the war in Donbass soon to reach its seventh year, Russia’s direct and indirect involvement draws much influence from proxy wars and destabilizations of the past. With the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014 igniting the conflict, the instability within the region gave Russia a prime opportunity to intervene and expand its own influence. While simply destabilizing a NATO and UN-friendly country would have been one thing, Russia also made the bold move to annex the Crimean Peninsula, returning the warm-water port of Sevastopol to Russian control and strengthening Russia’s physical footing within Europe.

Under Putin, Russia is no doubt an authoritarian state. The persecution of opposition and activists, open murder of dissenters, and corruption within the government all are obvious signs internally, but the external undertakings of Russia in Ukraine should be given more weight on the world stage than Putin trying to kill off yet another political opponent in Alexei Navalny.

In its attempt to expand its influence and territorial control within eastern Europe as of the last decade, Russia is attempting to undermine the authority of nations and global organizations it perceives as hostile to its own motives and views. Whether it is the direct support of separatists in Ukraine, the supporting Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, the alleged interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum, or the many other attempts at destabilizing opponents, Russia is not only drawing from the playbook of past authoritarian nations, but also its own authoritarian past.

Far-Right Representation in Media

Sara Dix

Far-right groups around the world have been able to connect easily through the internet and continue to increasingly become more vocal about their beliefs. This also includes promoting far-right beliefs through all sorts artistic mediums, such as music, as a way of expressing themselves and promoting their extremist views.

A rapper by the pseudonym, “Mr. Bond,” was recently arrested in Austria and accused for producing music that was neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and racist, as well as encouraging neo-Nazi forum members to commit terrorist attacks since 2016. He was prosecuted for producing and spreading Nazi ideas and inciting hatred.

The AFP news agency reported that one of his songs had been used during an attack in Halle, Germany in October 2019.

The Interior Minister, Karl Nehammer, mentioned how “the lyrics of his songs glorify National Socialism and are anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic . . . the fight against right-wing extremism is our historical responsibility.”

The music is described to portray “violent fantasies” and thus have attracted many far-right, neo-Nazi listeners in online networks. It’s appealing due to the neo-Nazi humour that’s infused within the lyrics and so the songs are explicit in their promotion of anti-Semitism and racism.

In fact, Mr. Bond is known to be involved with a global network of young, radicalized men who idolize the recent wave of far-right shootings. However, Mr. Bond is unique from other far-right German hip-hop acts. The fact that his music was geared towards hip-hop has even caused serious debate within far-right groups on whether it could even be accepted to have extremely politically-charged music within a genre that was originally a tradition for Black people.

An interesting comparison that’s used is that Mr. Bond is also known as the “far-right Weird Al.” The comparison focuses on the fact that Mr. Bond creates parodies of already existing songs, but instead of using over-the-top satire, he uses violent and racist lyrics.

Historically, as one of the first countries to be invaded and controlled under the Nazi regime during the Second World War, Austria has had its fair share of immense Nazi propaganda that flooded various means of communication and mediums to spread the ideology.

While Austria was politically weak after the First World War, it was fairly easy for Nazi propaganda to spread and it intensified so that by the early 1930s, a group of Nazis attempted a siege on the Austrian government and assassinated the chancellor at that time.

Once the plebiscite vote by the citizens of Austria, the Anschluss, passed to unite Austria to Nazi Germany, the 99% voter support was definitely contributed by a combination of Nazi propaganda, manipulation, and terror. While hip-hop music did not exist during this time, or was not as wide-spread, the main medium that the Nazis used to spread their propaganda was newspapers that also included political cartoons that demeaned the nature of Jews. So, it was prominent in Austria as well as they were controlled by the Nazis as well.

In modern times, it is much easier for far-right groups and individuals to connect with each other as well as to become more influential through the realm of the creative arts, such as music, art, and writing. In terms of social media, they have created specific social media apps for far-right groups to express their opinions and provide alternative interpretations and conspiracy theories.

These social media apps are much smaller with less policing or limitations to what people can say. For example, Gab is an alternative app where far-right groups gather, including Trump supporters, believers of QAnon conspiracy theories, and other right-wing extremists.

Because social media is such an influential aspect of everyone’s lives, it is far easier to pass on fake news and conspiracy theories that people can believe on a global scale. It has created many new far-right organizations since social media emerged as it provides a platform without any traditional rules of conduct or formal facilitation for some social media platforms.

It’s through these smaller, less facilitated groups where far-right extremists can upload their own expressions and perspectives. This includes the Austrian rapper, Mr. Bond, who has become popular through his hip-hop music that promotes far-right attitudes and violent behaviour.

It’s through these platforms that far-right ideals and beliefs can spread quickly and music, especially, tends to be favoured and listened to by younger people. It doesn’t help that Mr. Bond’s music is catchy and easy to understand because it is in the hip-hop genre than the usual genre of heavy metal. So it’s possible that it will go viral within the far-right communities.

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”

 

 

America might be “uncancelled,” but the Republican Party of old can’t say the same

Michaela Bax-Leaney

The 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference. Photo via the New York Times/Erin Schaff.

Liz Cheney and the nine other house representatives who voted in favour of impeaching Trump highlighted a stark divide in the Republican party, but it is a divide that has been forming for years. It is a complicated, multi-faceted divide, resulting from fractures on dozens of issues, but the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, entitled “America Uncancelled” highlighted those differences in perhaps the clearest terms yet. If not gone then quickly fading are the libertarian roots of the GOP – the Liz Cheney brand of Republicanism, as it were – advocacy for less spending and smaller government.

Instead, in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, the GOP is leaning into its new identity, cemented in anti-immigrant, nativist grievances focussed on wielding a culture war rather than one rooted in policy. But what is perhaps most interesting is the wholehearted embrace of the European model of far-right populism, including forging ties with other foreign populists. While this might seem like a contradiction from a party that has made a point of reinventing itself to convey “America First” messaging, this international populist allegiance makes more sense than one might imagine.

In fact, David Motadel, a historian at the London School of Economics, made the case in 2019 that the far-right is far more internationally minded than their rhetoric would initially lead us to believe. Motadel wrote of the alliance between members of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party from France, Matteo Salvini’s Italian Northern League, to members of Nigel Farage’s Reform Party (known at the time as the Brexit Party). This alliance was formed of members of Europe’s leading far-right nationalist groups, and yet it spanned international borders.

And it would appear that this brand of internationally minded nationalism has found its way into the GOP, where it has been warmly received. Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, was a featured guest at last year’s CPAC and gave a video message to attendees this year, alongside far-right Spanish and Croatian politicians. A former right-wing South Korean politician told the crowd that he had also lost his election due to voter fraud from the left.

The Trump brand of conservatism saw close ties forged with Jair Bolsonaro, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Polish president Andrzej Duda, all of whom have embraced far-right populism in their own countries. 

But nationalists have always found one another, and there are clear examples of the forging of these bonds throughout history, particularly throughout the interwar and post-war years in Europe. In 1934, Benito Mussolini’s Comitati d’Azione per l’Universalità di Roma convened the 1934 Conference of Fascist Parties in Montreux, Switzerland. The goal was to form strong transnational bonds in order to resist socialism and liberal democracy. At the Nuremberg Party Rally in 1931, the Nazis hosted fascist youth from Spain, Italy, Romania, Japan, Siam, Bolivia, and Iraq.

There was the World Nationalist Congress in the 1970s, formed by neo-fascist Americans, and which hosted peers from the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, and others, lobbying for the release of Nazi war criminals, and proclaiming support for “all White Nationalists throughout the world,” writes Motadel. The policy of the British National Party in the 1960s was that it was “as much concerned with the fate of our people in Melbourne as those in Manchester, or those in Stockholm and those in Sheffield” declaring that this international cooperation was integral to the formation of a united nationalist world movement.

Historian Florian Bieber argues that as long as the worldview of the far-right is dominated by real and perceived external threats, those within will always seek to form ties with their fellow resisters – in this case, those resisting the “threat” of the liberal brand of internationalism, and its corrupting influence on the white, so called Judeo-Christian identity of which many within the Western far-right see themselves as not only members, but defenders. 

And while these alliances certainly seem paradoxical, there is a near inevitability to their formation. They will certain not be without their own internal friction, but it is clear that far-right lawmakers and their supporters in the U.S. see the future of conservatism in expanding the role of government to combat the threat of liberal ideology, and to do so they are embracing the ties that bind – even if those ties span the very borders they so virulently seek to defend.

Why COVID-19 Could Signal a Further Rise of the Far-Right in the 21st Century || Opinion

By: Bryce Greer

By reconstructing our memory of the 1918 Influenza epidemic, we can prepare to combat the ever-more potential rise of the far-right in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Like many others trying to escape boredom in their time of isolation due to COVID-19 lockdowns, I looked more and more to the internet. Here, I happened upon a news article by Crawford Kilian that stood out for its almost prophetic warning to our current pandemic despite being written in 2017. Although, realistically, Kilian was not a prophet. Instead, what he does is show the importance of reconstructing our memory of the 1918 Influenza pandemic.

I bring up his article today as a plea for us to continue looking to the past to prepare for the near future. In recent headlines, I have noticed media claim that the far-right is taking massive blows due to COVID-19 revealing their incompetence. While there is an element of truth to such claim, I fear, in perhaps an alarmist tone, that we underplay the threat of the far-right with these statements. One look to the 1918 Influenza pandemic may be enough to show how COVID-19 can lead to long-term gains for far-right movements.

Back in May 2020, researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York published a report claiming that the 1918 Influenza pandemic had supported the rise of Nazism. Statistics had shown that regions that suffered greater mortality-rates due to the virus also had higher turn-out rates for far-right parties in the years following. Similarly, it was noted that there was an increased anti-immigrant outlook in regions due to the uniqueness of the new virus, coupled with a weaponizing of the “Other” by parties like the Nazi Regime.

Richard Evans, a historian focused on Germany, has recently noted that Nazi Germany weaponized the fear in the language of “virus” by comparing Jews to terms like parasite or plague. The rhetoric seems shockingly familiar – perhaps Trump’s claim of a “China Plague” rings a bell. Just as was done with the 1918 Influenza pandemic, now we see an increase in anti-immigrant outlook among the populace once again.

Take for example Canada. Opinions have surfaced critiquing the Canadian government for their “open house” policy through air travel into the country. While the article states that statistically only 1.3% of cases come from airports, and there is strict policy on who may currently enter, one look to the comments can see people turning the blame of the virus on foreigners. The rhetoric is wrong, and yet the damage is already harmful.

Due to COVID, polls have shown that 20% of Canadians have grown a more negative attitude to immigration due to fear of the pandemic. While some can try and claim that this could be simple fear of the pandemic, last week, Vancouver reported that Anti-Asian hate crime has increased by 717% in the last year. This is one city, and an arguably progressive one as well. Clearly, nationalist, and anti-immigrant, outlook is growing. This will ultimately fuel the far-right.

And so, as experts highlight the massive blows due to the incompetence of far-right populists, I want to direct attention to the growing fear of the “Other” whether seemingly connected to the pandemic or not. Secondly, I also want to express the words of Cas Mudde, a political scientist focusing on populism in Europe. “Trump is the exception but not the rule.” Coming to generalize the far-right on the incompetence of Trump’s clear mishandling of the pandemic fails to show the nationalist element of the far-right. In Europe, there is a different story.

Ignacio Garriga, the regional candidate of Catalonia for Spain’s far-right Vox, was a vocal critic against Salvador Illa, of the Socialist Party, for his mismanagement and failure to deal with COVID. Illa had resigned as health minister, and from the weaponizing of the pandemic, Garriga had made a new move for Vox into Catalonia’s parliament securing eleven seats in the recent election. Previously, the party had no hold in their government. Vox’s support has come from pandemic burnout. Not only in Catalonia but also in France can we see the far-right Marine Le Pen’s popularity soar in the pandemic, now on par with Macron in voter support.

While some far-right falter, others take the mantle and strive. In the short-term, there are sacrifices, but in the long-term, COVID is bound to bring about further economic recession and a greater anti-immigrant outlook, policies that the far-right easily weaponize. For that, I think we may soon need to address the second wave that is the far-right not so long after surpassing the waves of COVID.

Dissidence, Democracy and Dictatorship: The Struggle for Freedom in Europe’s last Authoritarian State

By Austin Pellizzer

With the Coronavirus pandemic continuing to make headlines in the European news for the last year, the fight against Europe’s last dictatorship continues to rage on despite being pushed out of the media limelight. For many Belarusians, the ongoing aspirations for democracy, human rights, and freedom continue to burn deep and unite citizens. 

Since the August 9, 2020, Presidential election in which Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko won by a landslide with 80% of the vote and cementing his 6th term in office, citizens immediately took to voicing their opposition. Within the first week of the civilian protests, tens of thousands marched in what some experts called the largest demonstrations to occur since independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. With Lukashenko holding the office of the presidency since 1994, the tides of technology, access to information, and opposition leaders continue to test the limits of what a leader can do to keep his regime in place. 

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends his inauguration ceremony in Minsk, Sept. 23, 2020. (AP Photo)

One of the biggest threats to Lukashenko’s rule is the growing wave of technology and how the Belarusian youth have used it as a tool to push back against the violent crackdowns by the state. Platforms such as Telegram are used inside and outside its borders to share news regarding ongoing police violence. Not only has social media made it easier for Belarusians to connect even within nationwide internet blackouts, but also, it has been a tool to help promote opposition leaders to the Lukashenko Government.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 38, is seen as the nations popular opposition leader with support from pro-democracy protesters and youths all over the nation. (BelarusFeed Photo)

A notable public figure who has helped lead the charge for democracy and human rights in Belarus is none other than 38-year-old Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Tikhanovskaya, a teacher and stay-at-home mother took the stage as one of Lukashenko’s opponents in the 2020 Presidential election after the arrest of her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky who was a leading presidential candidate. After sending her small children out of the nation to safety, she saw the opportunity to step into her husband’s shoes and take charge of the opposition movement. When the national election took place, it is reported that Tikhanovskaya only receiving 9.9% of the vote. However, Tikhanovskaya disputes it being closer to 75% of the vote based on the amount of public support she had gained in polls and social media popularity. With this disputed election result and international outcry over fraudulent and corrupt elections, she continues to push hard and stand not just for her family but also for the people of Belarus. Although the protests in August of 2020 have had overwhelming public support and international recognition, the movement in more recent months seems is at threat of losing momentum and traction among its supporters.  

People take part in a protest against the presidential election results demanding the resignation of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and the release of political prisoners, August 16, 2020. 
(Reuters Photo)

With reliable and accurate polls scarcely available, it is difficult to pinpoint how these protests have won over citizens throughout the nation. However, one of the closest and reliable sources from the Berlin Centre for East European and International Studies (a nonprofit funded by the German Foreign Ministry) states that support from solely urban Belarusians that look favourably on these social uprisings is at 45%. This underwhelming support from a critical sector of the population is also being paired with the dwindling attendances at street demonstrations as Tikhanovskaya conceded in mid-February that they ‘lost the streets’ concerning her movements efforts. With Lukashenko carrying out harsher crackdowns and holding support from  Moscow and his Government Officials, the efforts for social and political change are coming closer to deteriorating. 

If internal actors continue to fall short of uniting all citizens, Belarus is in danger of failing to become a more welcomed and integrated member of the European family. While on the other hand, the likelihood of Lukashenko ever relinquishing power after this attempt at democracy becomes a more far-fetched aspiration in the hearts and minds of all Belarusians alike.

Leaked documents from the Chinese Government Show How They Orchestrated the Mass Detention of Muslims; Are You Surprised?

Very recently, 403 pages of internal Chinese documents leaked to the New York Times show the severity of the clampdown on the ethnic minorities of the Xinjiang region. President Xi Jinping ordered the mass detention of Muslims under the pretext that it is for the struggle against religious extremism and terrorism. The targeted population are a Turk-speaking mostly Islamic population in Central Asia called the Uighurs, an ethnic minority. However, even he was quoted saying “round up everyone who should be rounded up.” This is indeed extremely vague and makes it easy to target Muslim communities as epicenters of “religious extremism”, even if they are not. It offers a great opportunity for marginalization and oppression from the Chinese authorities, and they have used this simple definition to detain the masses of Islamic peoples.

These detainees are sent to prison and internment camps that are described by the state as “job-training centers” that will allow the minds of those who have contracted the “virus” of religious radicalism to become healthy again and rejoin society. International and local students whose families have disappeared are being threatened to silence about matters of imprisonments on the basis that what they say and their behaviours will impact what happens to their families. This has been happening incessantly over the past three years. One cannot overstate the severity of the generalization of Islamic communities in the detentions made by Mr. Xi’s government.

How surprising is it that China organised the mass detention of Muslims? Surely, the Chinese government has committed many crimes against basic human rights, but this is not the point I am trying to make. I should rephrase the question: how surprising is it that Muslims are the ones being detained? Is China the only country doing this? The answer is no. There is an increasing global trend of “Othering” the Islamic community. Just last week in India, a massive student protest occurred because a professor was hired to teach Sanskrit in the faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnan at the Banaras Hindu University. There was a student walkout and the protest is still going. All this simply because this professor identifies as Muslim and the students found it inappropriate that a Muslim was teaching Sanskrit, even though he was fully qualified to do so. So, China is definitely not the only one persecuting Muslims. However, the Chinese instance this is a very explicit oppression, while others, like Europe, take a more subtle approach to the othering and oppression of the Islamic community.

It has become more pronounced in the recent years that the historical tradition of the “east” as the “other” has become focused as Islam as the “other”. The EU devoting itself to the unifying of Europe under the prospects of humanism, equalitarian values and tolerance, yet this does not apply to Muslims inside Europe and to those that are wishing to come to Europe. Fatima El-Tayeb of the University of California outlines this issue in her article ‘Gays who cannot properly be gay’: Queer Muslims in the neoliberal European city. El-Tayeb shows that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Europe struggled to reunite the opposing sides of the eastern and western bloc in an increasingly interconnected world. There was a need to define a common identity for unification. How could they define what it means to be European, when Europe is so diverse? Surely it is easier to define what is not European. Thus, the “othering” became a unifying factor. So, the slogan of the European Union “Unity in diversity” becomes “Unity of the Eastern and Western European states against the Islamic Other.” Why? Because, as El-Tayeb argues, Islamic communities are viewed as a threat to the “European values” mentioned above (equality and tolerance) even though by adhering to the othering of Muslim communities, Europe is breaching its promise of the same equality and tolerance they vowed to protect.

So, I ask again: is it so surprising that China is also taking a blow at the globally marginalized community?

Watchin’ the Tide Roll Away?

By Absalom Sink

It’s becoming a tiresome cliché, isn’t it? Almost as tiresome as the cliché from a few years ago: that of a ‘rising tide of far-right populism’ in Europe. And while that old number is still getting plenty of play, it seems like every month there’s a handful of new articles and op-eds pontificating on whether the ‘populist tide’ has peaked and begun to ebb.

To be fair, I can understand the urge behind writing pieces like those. The ‘populist right’ has been dealt a number of blows this year. There was the “stunning rebuke” against populism in Slovakia with the election of centre-left, liberal Zuzana Caputova. Just over a week ago in Bologna, Italy, a rally held by the populist Matteo Salvini and attended by a little under 6000 supporters was counter-protested by between 12000 and 15000 people. Similarly, far-right rallies held last week by Pegida in Dresden and the ultranationalist NPD in Hannover were dwarfed by counter-protesters. And it’s hard not to see 13500 people marching in Paris against Islamophobia as a raised middle finger aimed at the Rassemblement National (RN), the political embodiment of Islamophobia in France. Finally, let’s not forget the “collapse of the far-right” in the Austrian election this past September, when the FPO lost 10% of the overall vote as compared to the last election because of a corruption scandal.

The problem is when we try to use events like these to extrapolate out over the whole of Europe. In fact, just framing it as the populist right is problematic. Certainly, there are transnational connections between populist movements/parties, but there is no single, monolithic populism. These groups cooperate to the extent that it’s practical. But if, say, Germany’s AfD were to suddenly founder, it’s a fair bet that the Swiss Peoples’ Party and the RN and the Sweden Democrats—far-right populists, all—would let them sink before risking their own positions. By lumping all these groups together when declaring that the ‘populist tide is receding’, we massively oversimply a complex transnational political situation.

Aside from oversimplifying things, there’s also the worry that such statements might make voters complacent; believing the threat to be behind them, voters might have less impetus to vote. The problem is a number of far-right populist parties in Europe still have fairly robust polling numbers. Germany’s AfD has held steady at 13-14% in the national polls for two years, while in Thuringia’s state election last month it came second, with over 23% of the vote. In France, Marine Le Pen’s RN is actually leading the presidential poll, hovering around 28%. Even in Austria, where the ‘Ibiza affair’ saw the FPÖ drop by 10% in the last election, they picked up enough seats that they were able to maintain their coalition government with the winning ÖVP. How can we claim that far-right populism has peaked when a party like the ‘formerly’ fascist Sweden Democrats are poised to become the biggest party in their country, and could conceivably with the 2022 election?

My point in all of this is simply that journalists and political observers alike should be wary of making sweeping declarations on the state of far-right populism. Europe is bigger and more diverse than we sometimes recognize; when we’re talking about an entire continent, it’s worth remembering that high tide happens at different times in Helsinki, Finland and Cadiz, Spain. The same goes for the metaphorical tide. While populism might ebb in one region, it can still be in flood in another.