Sweeper: A misunderstood Brexit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriotism and populism in Russia

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

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

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

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

The importance of a powerful leader

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

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

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

He can do no wrong?

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

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

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

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can it Happen in Ontario?


As of late populist leaders have been making waves across the world, from the election of Donald Trump to the electoral success of the Five Star Movement in Italy.  With the recent catastrophe of a party leadership race, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives elected Doug Ford as party leader.  The new leader now has around three months to convince voters in Ontario that he is the replacement for Kathleen Wynne.

Upon Doug Fords winning of the party leadership one cannot help to think that this a new Donald Trump north of the American border.  Pundits were quick to classify the election as a Hillary-Donald situation or that Donald and Doug are one in the same.  Upon watching an interview with the Globe and Mail the resemblances can be seen, Doug had switched up his blue tie for a red one harkening a resemblance to the President.  However, Doug Ford should not be confused with Donald Trump as their brands of populism are quite different.

Donald Trump’s populism came from a nationalist and anti-immigration stand point.  The restriction of illegal immigrants and the construction of a border wall between the United States.  Doug Ford on the other hand needs the immigrant vote to win.  About 48% of Ontario’s population resides in the GTA and almost half of those people are immigrants.  There are also many immigrants in Whitby and Ajax.  Ford cannot use the rhetoric of other populist politicians that are against immigration, instead he will take on the plight of the everyman.

Doug Ford’s populism will take shape in his anti-political and anti-bureaucratic stances and in doing so will distinguish him from Wynne and Horwath as an everyday guy just trying to do his best.  In the slew of interviews that have taken place since his new PC leadership role these ideas come forth clearly.

His anti-establishment messages come through clearly in these interviews.  He has pledged to “clean out the rot” in the Ontario government.  In the interview with the Globe and Mail he classified politicians as phony and that the ways they act in public and behind closed doors is different.  Another one of his policy proposals is the shrinking of government, by simply not rehiring people who quit or retire, he says there are too many “supervisors”.  His call to be a regular man in the eyes of the voters he says, “I’m going to be Doug, I can’t change.  I’m just going to be the average person”.  Now this is a direct attempt to position himself as the regular person I believe it will come out in further talks.  His work at his label company will be used to assure voters that he is just like them, a taxpayer.

This is not the first time that Ontario has will have had a populist Premier.  Former liberal Premier from the 1930’s Mitch Hepburn is known for his outlandish populist acts.  Hepburn shared similar anti-government mentalities seen through the cutting of MPP’s salaries, the firing of 1500 civil service workers and the selling of the provinces limousines.  The firing of the civil service employee’s mirrors Ford’s comments on not hiring new people after civil service agents retire.

I believe that Doug Ford will be able to win a majority government come June.  Long-time Liberal voters are going have trouble deciding whether to vote for Kathleen Wynne again or the NDP.  Voters are tired of the spending of the Liberal party and Ford will take advantage of these sentiments to bring them over to the conservative vote.  Others who do not approve of Ford will be forced to choose the NDP.

Ontarians that are against Doug need to take a lesson from south of the border.  Many thought that Trump had no chance of winning, here in Ontario the polls suggest that there is a very strong possibility of seeing Ford in the Premier’s position.  Do not be fooled to think that “it can’t happen here”, because evidence would show that it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Alienation and Xenophobia in Europe: Where Do We Go From Here?

Many of the arguments that are dominating politics today seem to be discussed as extremes – a middle ground is almost never considered or is sometimes even dismissed as being unobtainable.  I believe that this is the common theme among the readings assigned for this week and could quite possibly be a solution to many of the issues being discussed around the world today. The readings make you wonder: it is that a middle ground is truly impossible, or is it our own limited thinking that is preventing us from obtaining it? Furthermore, it could be argued that it is from this tendency to look at issues as black-or-white that we are seeing a political shift and an influx of populist movements which, some argue, are threatening democracy as we know it today. I think that the driving force behind these polarizing issues, when really boiled down, is a lack of empathy and a willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – regardless if you like or agree with the other person or culture.

For example, think of the refugee crisis and rise of anti-immigration protests. When this is being discussed, many people fail to remember and visualize that these are real people who are being bombed and driven from their homes. In the instance of Black Pete, many people who expressed outrage over anti-Black Pete protests failed to think for a moment how a person of color might feel and instead were hyper focused on what they perceived as an attack on their culture as a whole. In the instance of homelessness, someone may see a person on the side of the road and easily reduce them down to a good-for-nothing bum and walk by, instead of thinking of the culmination of instances and experiences that may have pushed that person to be in this situation (childhood abuse, lack of resources for mental health and substance abuse issues, etc).

The Black Pete reading resonated with me as I am biracial with a predominately black family, and I found myself offended and extremely saddened by the responses from the Dutch in regards to the anti-Black Pete protests (the author describes it as like taking a dose of undiluted poison and I have to agree). But, I made myself imagine the viewpoint of the Dutch and how Black Pete and has been embedded in their culture – thus their national identity – even though I don’t agree with what they are saying. It saddened me as well that so many people claimed it was an attack by immigrants on Dutch culture, while almost forgetting that not everyone born and raised in the Netherlands is white. There are some Dutch people who might be offended and feel rejected by their own culture! This made me question if there could be a middle ground that would appease both sides of the debate. Could it be possible to keep Black Pete, but instead of having him portrayed offensively as a white person in black face with exaggerated lips and idiotic mannerisms, maybe he could be portrayed, in the media and in-person during parades and other celebrations, as a person with soot on his cheeks? Black Pete wouldn’t have to be erased from the culture but would be portrayed in a way that is less offensive and objectifying and also more true to the original story (for he is apparently only black because he is covered in soot).

Finding a common middle ground is so important if we want to be able to co-exist peacefully. I know that there are some who do not want to co-exist (racists, xenophobes – but that is another problem altogether, unfortunately). The argument over Black Pete could be compared to virtually any other majority versus minority struggle as the underlying psychology remains the same. Empathy and the ability to truly listen and compromise (instead of alienating ourselves and sticking our heads in the sand) is the key to many of the issues we are facing today and might be the solution to some of the troubling populist movements we have seen. I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but approaching disagreements from a common ground and attempting to see the common humanity among all groups of people from all walks of life seems to be a good start.

Torture and the Media

From my reading of the texts, the main conflicts arise from how torture and uncomfortable topics are handled in the media. From Ayress’ public account of her rape and torture to the archived methods of torment in Villa Grimaldi.

It’s clear that the media was not afraid to publicize these stories (although the articles are too short to fully explore this idea). I want to know more about the publication problems that were encountered. Were there oppressive censorship laws? Did journalists seek out victims or were they too afraid of the regime to bother?

Finchelsten’s chapter What is Populism in History talks about how populism governments make themselves appear to be outside the regular government, and that those who opposed to the “real” nation were the “real” bad guys. What was the journalistic opinion? Were the South American journalists targeted? Or were non-latin journalists the only ones available? Like how Ines Antunez snuck out Ayress’ memories and sought the help of foreigners.

Finally, who’s choice is it to publicize the discussions of rape? These stories do not hold back on garish details when it comes to how the prisoners were tormented, but what did they omit (if anything). It was talked about in the readings how there were potentially pornographic responses to the instances of rape. Were journalists within their right to ask about these stories if they knew they had happened? Victim’s were tortured through physical and verbal abuse regarding their sexuality, so is it ok to ask them to relive these tortures for the sake of a complete narrative?

Feminism is flourishing amid Trump presidency

In the context of populist regimes and movements, the role of women and their ability to engage with their surroundings has incredible historic repercussion in the growth and perpetuation of feminist ideals.

Women’s movements are nothing new. Women have been fighting for equal rights in many capacities since the suffrage movement. The interesting element is the ability for women to do that under populist regimes. This has benefits, and consequences. In the wake of the #MeToo movement addressing sexual assault and violence, the general public is starting to understand the power of mass female movements, and their influence in the larger political context.  

In the 1930s, the rise of Nazism gave way to a political climate of fear and violence. This was not only issues through the war, but also through the Holocaust.  Women under the Nazi party used the institutions in place to move their way through the ranks. At the time of Nazi power, women still did not have the right to vote, a symbol of their poor political and social status. Their ability to participate in the war greatly affected their ability to organize. This came in the form of working as secretaries, marrying high ranking officers, and serving as nurses or militia women.

Serving in the war came at a great cost to women in Germany. As explained in Wendy Lowler’s  Hitler’s Furies, women were expected to take on more responsibility in lieu of men going off to battle. By the end of the war, women made up 40% of the roles in high ranking Gestapo offices. Under the anti-Semitic regime of Nazi Germany, there were three main categories for women: witnesses, accomplices, and murderers. One of the testaments in Lowler’s novel, made by Erna Petri, stated that she justified the violent actions against the Jewish people as a desire to prove herself to the men, and to further advance her social status.

Parallels exist between female militancy in Nazi Germany and segregation movements in the United States. A women’s group in the United States known as Daughters of the American Revolution are a group of ladies responsible for the maintenance of American culture. Over the years there has been swirling controversy over their practices. Until recently, there was heavy segregation for black American women in the group, as well as the funding to preserve Confederate generals’ statues. In light of the neo-Nazi demonstrations in places like Charlottesville, these symbols and statues continue to promote pro-slavery rhetoric and fuel the overall segregated, populist sentiment.

The difference between movements of the past, and today, is the ability to resort to violence and exclusionary politics in the face of populism. While the women in the previous examples were able to use the political institutions for their own personal advancement, it was at a detriment to other individuals and social groups.

On the other hand, women during the Trump administration era today are supporting each other and using their stories to inspire. While the President is a known molester, women have come out in large crowds, of every race, creed, religion, and sexual orientation to march and protest for their basic rights. In 2017, just a few months after Trump was elected to office and cut programs like Planned Parenthood, over 500,000 women and supporters marched in Washington to advocate for legislation reform in support of women’s rights and social programs. The movement has grown to multiple cosmopolitan cities across the United States and worldwide, reaching numbers of marchers again in the hundreds of thousands.

This gives me hope because in the face of racist and hateful world leaders that are using populist rhetoric, women today are coming together and fighting for what is right and important, in a way that supports each other.

Featured Image from: CNN

Italian Populism, Two Sides of the Same Coin

The upcoming Italian election features two populist leaders who became famous through the entertainment industry. The Five Star Movement, founded by actor and comedian Beppe Grillo, is poised to make a push in the upcoming Italian election.  The party is an alternative to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. He became a prominent figure in Italian politics by running on principles such as anti-corruption and elitism but has since contradicted them after spending time as Prime Minister.  The five Star movement now carries the message of anti-politics, anti-elites and anti-corruption that the voters want.  The comparisons that can be made about the groups are palpable, although FI and Silvio Berlusconi are now political professionals.

Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi are more similar than they want to believe, Berlusconi has changed but his political rise and populist origins are eerily familiar.  Both leaders had immense fame before entering into politics which helped them build an audience that could be converted into political followers.  Berlusconi got his start working on cruise ships telling jokes and singing and now owns Italy’s three largest private T.V. networks that he uses to spread his message.  Grillo, too, is a product of the entertainment industry – a comedian, satirist and impressionist who was a frequent face on Italian national T.V.  Both men also use video formats to communicate to their constituents, Berlusconi through his T.V. networks and Grillo through his YouTube channel.  The leaders held public spotlight before entering into politics making it easier for them to amass supporters.

Italy has a long history of embracing populist style leaders who used popular media to appeal to the common man.  Inoslav Besker characterizes the two leaders’ approach as ‘populism, anti-party attitudes, demonization of opponents and an approach to the public and to politics focused on the leader.  Silvio Berlusconi started as an anti-politician and has described the politicians in Italy as to have never ‘worked’ a day in their life.  Unlike them Berlusconi has worked for his status and is thus shows himself as a worthy leader.  Grillo also despises the political class and refers to politicians as ‘zombies’ and ‘corpses’.  He would have one believe that he is not a politician and that his FSM isn’t even a political party.  They also share the similar sentiment that the political system in Italy needs to be reformed.  Grillo proposes bans on candidates convicted of crimes and limiting terms in office.  Similarly, Berlusconi, positions himself as a business man who is not at all like the politicians and that proportional representation needs to be replaced with a majoritarian system with more emphasis on the role of the Prime Minister.

Despite these anti-political origins, something changed once Berlusconi took power.  He became the very elite that he campaigned against causing him and his coalition to lose the favour of the public.  Berlusconi used his time in office to create laws that protected his own business interests instead of promoting the small business entrepreneurship of which was his platform.   The once anti-political populist who emphasised how corrupt the politicians and elites were became the embodiment of what he once despised.  By embracing the throngs of political leadership, he contradicted his original message and alienated his followers.  He created a political vacuum that afforded the opportunity for a party to propose the same anti-political message except this time he is the politician.  The upcoming election provides the perfect backdrop for an inquisitive look into the state of Italian politics, with the Five Star Movement polling so high, do they offer something new or is it the similar story of using the populist message for personal gain.

The Five Star Movement winning 25% of the votes in the 2013 election showcases a wider issue in Italy, the public’s distrust of politicians causes them to elect anti-government populists.  A positive feedback loop is created when an anti-government party is elected, they become the government causing the need for more anti-politics parties.  The Five Star Movements success means that they will become serious politicians, contradicting their platform.  After winning the election with not much of a party structure, clear leadership roles have been created and the founder has stepped down being replaced by Luigi di Maio.  Beppe Grillo once said his party was not even a party, but one look at the Five Star Movement, you can see that is changing.

By: Riley Bowman

First Response: Role of gender in populism today

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Polish death camps” law

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greece’s “Macedonia” issue

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

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

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

The patterns of history repeat themselves

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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