View of the A15 motorway near Paris, where the demonstration of farmers in tractors, are blocked by the police on January 29, 2024. Photo: Franck Legros.

Connection Between Populism and Identity Politics in the European Union Before the 2024 European Parliament Elections

The 2024 EU parliament election polls show the populist right and far right as the main winners. The fact that voters tend to choose populist parties could increase the populist agenda of the left to compete with the far right, as an attempt to transform xenophobic tendencies by the right into inclusionary populism, which describes the conservative elite as the other and creates further social conflicts. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves how populism (both left and right) impacts EU legislation and what forecasts we can identify for the elections in 2024.

By Katharina Diebold

The upcoming elections of the EU Parliament and the next presidency of the Council of the EU, which will be Hungary, are contentious issues for the European Community (Henley, 2024). The polls for the 2024 EU elections and the Hungarian presidency indicate a rise of right-wing and anti-Europe populist parties. These tendencies fuel the transformation of the EU towards the right and conservativism (Wax & Goryashko, 2024). 

The 2024 EU parliament election polls show the populist right and far right as the main winners. The fact that voters tend to choose populist parties could increase the populist agenda of the left to compete with the far right, as an attempt to transform xenophobic tendencies by the right into inclusionary populism, which describes the conservative elite as the other and creates further social conflicts (Henley, 2024; Suiter, 2016; Stavrakakis & Katsambekis, 2014). Therefore, we need to ask ourselves how populism (both left and right) impacts EU legislation and what forecasts we can identify for the elections in 2024.

In this essay, I propose that recently adopted EU legislation, the Green New Deal (including the Nature Restoration Regulation and Deforestation Regulation), and the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, are influenced by populism and identity politics and harm the EU. In connection with this, populist candidates driven by identity politics threaten the future of the EU. 

Theoretical Framework 

Populism is defined as a thin ideology comprising three key elements: the people, the general will and the elite, (Zulianello & Larsen, 2021; Mudde, 2004). Additionally, it incorporates the dimension of the “dangerous others,” often represented by migrants, positioned in contrast to the people (Rooduijn & Akkerman, 2015).

Even though populism is in Western Europe closely associated with the right, the left has increasingly adopted populist strategies. The negligence of academic research about the populist left can be responsible for those recent findings. This seems even more relevant when we consider the outstanding electoral performance of populist left parties compared to populist right parties for the last elections of the European Parliament in 2019, such as Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and Sinn Féin in Ireland (Bernhard & Kriesi, 2021; Statista, 2024).

For example, The Greek Syriza Party (founded in 2004) and the Irish Sinn Féin Party (founded in 1905) were only recognized as left-wing populist parties in 2014 (O’Malley & Fitzgibbon, 2014; Stavrakakis & Katsambekis, 2014). Nevertheless, Syriza’s populism has been questionable through its government term and recent opposition in 2021 (Markou, 2021). 

Identity is a set of labels describing persons distinguished by attributes (Noury & Roland, 2020). Identity politics is the belief that identity is a fundamental focus of political work, which can be connected to lifestyle and culture (Bernstein, 2005). Politicizing immigrants as the other is an example of that. In Europe, identity politics is referred to as the protection of the “silent majority” from harmful consequences of immigration, which is used by right-wing populists (Noury & Roland, 2020). 

The effect of rising populism within the EU on the right- and left-wing can already be recognized by looking at EU-party campaigns or populist candidates for the upcoming elections. Besides the right, the left populists also employ identity politics. The left populism can be seen in promoting marginalized identities, such as racial and ethnic identities and seeking to transform the shame previously associated with these identities into pride (Salmela & Von Scheve, 2018). Accordingly, these protests generate others, including people who abide by a different value system and also the privileged elite who overlook intersectional identities as a threat. While promoting human rights, advocacy for intersectional identities can also fall into the trap of populism among leftist groups and other advocates (Stavrakakis & Katsambekis, 2014). However, intersectionality may not be the only advocacy that can turn into a populist movement in the name of advocacy. Climate and human rights activists can also be politicized and positioned as polarized identities (Mackay et al., 2021). 

Inherent Populism in EU Legislation

Environmental politics presents contention for both the right- and left-wing populist parties.  Both the right and left-wing parties instrumentalize newly adopted legislation to increase the public appeal of voters (European Commission, 2023). This can be exemplified in the recent regulations. The newest adopted legislation, the European Green New Deal, including its Deforestation Regulation and its Regulation on Nature Restoration, and the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, have elements of otherization and marginalization of identities. A closer examination of de jure analysis and how these laws, as portrayed in political language, unearths the need for more interest in realizing the general goals of protecting nature. It looks like nature is wiped of its identity within the hands of humans who instrumentalize nature as a theme broadly advocated by large swaths of society. Therefore, identity politics exploiting nature must be identified and widely discussed to protect nature and the shared values of humanity, not to sacrifice basic human dignity for politics, especially before the upcoming elections. 

The European Green New Deal

The European Green New Deal, including the Deforestation Regulation, entered into force on June 29, 2023, and the provisional agreement for the Regulation on Nature Restoration was accepted on November 9, 2023. These legislations gaining the support of the left can also be instrumentalized to boost the attention and sympathy of left-wing parties before the elections.

The populism surrounding the Nature Restoration Regulation can be approached as a case showcasing populist politics appealing to the left (The EU #NatureRestoration Law, 2023). The left uses advocacy of this legislation, especially the Greens/EFA, in the elections for greenwashing purposes and voter accumulation. However, this law focused more on economic benefits than actual environmental protection and lost its progressiveness throughout the legislative procedure. Therefore, it is based on the misconception that this regulation substantially improves nature restoration and indigenous rights protection (Pinto, 2023). Moreover, this law increases the financial burden for the forestry, fishery, and farming sectors, claims the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) (Weise & Guillot, 2023). However, these realities are dismissed in the political language of environmental advocacy. 

The Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) campaign clearly describes the people as the “citizens, farmers, fishers and business in the EU.” The elite is defined as “the conservatives, far right and some liberals” who “try to tear down a new EU law to restore nature.” The general will of the people focuses on tackling “biodiversity and the climate crisis (GreensEFA, 2023). The campaign by the Greens/EFA for this regulation plays into identity politics as the party uses a language claiming to advocate for the protection of marginalized indigenous and local communities. While this claim remains to be only a discourse, regardless, it boosts the popularity of the Greens. Zoomed closely, the ostensibly evergreen legislation advocating the protection of biodiversity promotes local cartels and exploitative companies that benefit and take advantage of the EU partnerships (Euronews, 2023). The hypocrisy and the tact in the use of language can be seen in the advocacy language of the party that left these cartels intentionally out.

Deforestation Regulation 

The Greens/EFA campaign for the Deforestation Regulation shows characteristics of populism (European Commission, 2023). Greens/EFA characterizes “the people” as the “people that must always come before profit.” Thus, this regulation favors European distributers instead of the exploited farmers in the developing countries. In this case, “the elite” is the group of companies that need to safeguard no deforestation or human rights violations along the production.” “The general will” is intended to “end EU-driven deforestation” (Greens/EFA, 2023). This is an example of how left parties connect political anti-elitism to economic anti-elitism and the argument that hardworking, ordinary citizens are betrayed by the political-economic power elite (Rooduijn & Akkerman, 2015). 

Additionally, the new regulation will only prevent EU customers from buying products derived from deforestation. However, the actual deforestation and sales of deforested products to other customers worldwide can continue (Greenpeace, 2021). The regulation also lost its progressive and ambitious character throughout the legislation procedure (Fairtraide.net., 2022).

New Pact on Migration and Asylum 

The left and the right use identity politics as a tool to increase sympathy for the upcoming elections through the usage of marginalized identities such as “migrants” and “asylum seekers” (Greens/EFA, n.d.). The recent pact on migration can be shown as an example of populist identity politics transcending the right and left binary, uniting the voters around the so-called threat posed by the influx of migrants and asylum seekers. 

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum reinforces the topic of illegal migration and thus supports the right-wing campaigning for the European Elections 2024. The political language on this regulation is laden with populist elements. Firstly, the right-wing European Peoples Party defines “the people” as “the hard-working EU citizens.” Secondly, “the elite” is defined as “smugglers and traffickers controlling illegal migration” (Press Statement von der Leyen, 2023). Thirdly, “the general will” is defined as stopping the suffering of the EU through migrants (Press Statement von der Leyen, December 20, 2023; Press Statement Schinas, 2023). 

The populist language forebears the identity politics around migration appealing to both the right and the left. The New Pact and statements by the EU Commission play into identity politics through the terminology of the “bad migrants,” positioning them as “dangerous others.” Unfortunately, the New Pact has been under debate in the EU since 2020 and is now used as a promotional tool for the upcoming elections to attract voters on the right and the left (Georgian, 2024). 

The New Pact can also be used by the Greens/EFA populist campaign for the European Elections 2024, reinforcing the idea of a unified peace union. “The people” are defined as “us and the migrants and asylum seekers, that we do not leave behind.” “The general will” is to “uphold human rights and international law” (GreensEFA, 2023). “The elite” is defined as the authoritarian national governments of developing countries, making it necessary for refugees to flee (Greens/EFA, n.d.).

Additionally, the Pact favors the reinforcement of border controls, returns and re-admissions over legal migration opportunities. Those stay symbolic, vague, and distant policy goals. Recent reviews of policy documents show that the EU prioritizes regulating irregular migration, and despite its rhetoric for “strengthening legal migration,” concrete action is missing (Sunderland, 2023). 

Identity Politics and Candidates 

Introducing inexperienced candidates tailored to resonate with particular social groups is a common strategy employed by both left and right populist parties to garner support. This practice serves as another instance of identity politics shaping the European political landscape. Following in the footsteps of their forerunners, like Marie Le Pen or Hugo Chávez from the past, these charismatic political figures engage in populist rhetoric, addressing a diverse range of social and legal issues in their political discourse—from environmental protection to EU identity and migration (Serra, 2017).

Examples for the upcoming European Parliament elections 2024 include Nicola Gehringer, promoted by the German right-wing party CSU (Christian Social Union), on place nine. Gehringer is a successful executive assistant of a big corporation “Neoloan AG” with potential to attract successful business owners. Another figure is the farmer and agriculture expert Stefan Köhler, who runs for the CSU on place six to attract farmers (Zeit Online, 2023). With the recent increasing farmer’s protests in Germany, France and the Netherlands, farmers have become increasingly crucial in the European discourse (Trompiz & Levaux, 2024). 

Legal and security experts are also running with public appeal to the voters across political divides. The German candidate for “Die Linke,” a leftist Party, is Carola Rackete. She is a human rights activist fighting for better refugee rights and asylum laws, running for the second position (MDR.DE., 2023). The human rights activist as a candidate can increase the amount of more radical voters from the left. The German Green Party is heading with a policeman on place eighteen towards the elections, trying to include more right-leaning social groups as well in the Green voter repertoiresince police officers can tend to vote for conservative and right-wing parties (Papanicolaou & Papageorgiou, 2016).

In Austria, the first candidate for the Greens party is Lena Schilling, a climate activist of “Fridays-for-future.” Schilling has a high chance of attracting young voters as she is the only young female top candidate among all running top party candidates in Austria (Völker, 2024). The second place will be Thomas Waitz, a sustainable and organic farmer who aims to attract sustainable farmers in Austria (Waitz, 2023; Schweighofer, 2024). The references to elite vs the people in their language blur the lines between the right and the left ideologies and connect these figures around a shared sentiment: fighting for the people against a designated elite. This populist sentiment fuels populism and social conflict, undermining liberal democracy and EU values. 

Conclusion 

The increasing populism of left and right parties in the EU and the fanatism of those who want to increase their share of voters for the upcoming EU elections are tremendously responsible for the outcomes of recent EU legislation. The populist rhetoric before and after the adoption of new EU legislation clearly shows how parties instrumentalize the outcomes of EU legislation procedure instead of trying to find real compromises and long-term future-oriented solutions for the problems of unregulated migration and the climate crises. 

Regulated migration is still almost not touched upon in the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which has been part of discussions in the EU since 2020. The Green New Deal, especially with the Nature Restoration and Deforestation Regulations, was a proper start to increase sustainability, environmental protection, and indigenous rights. However, both proposals lost their progressiveness and lacked ambition and actual help for developing countries outside of the profit-making fetishism of the EU. If the upward trend of populism persists on both the left and right, EU politics and legislation may increasingly adopt populist and voter-driven approaches, potentially jeopardizing the democratic and compromise-oriented decision-making process within the EU. This heightened polarization between parties could further contribute to a climate of bashing and hinder cooperative efforts.

Remarkably, identity politics not only permeates the populist rhetoric of EU party politics but also extends to the selection of candidates for upcoming elections. If identity politics continues to embed itself deeply within the strategic political framework of EU parties, the shift towards prioritizing short-term voter turnout and popularity contests over substantive and long-term democratic considerations seems inevitable. This trend risks undermining EU values by leveraging EU legislation for immediate political gains rather than establishing enduring goals for the European Community. It is imperative to educate voters about this form of political manipulation that compromises EU values for short-term advantages. No political gain should supersede long-term EU objectives, as such a scenario would entail the erosion of EU values and identity.


 

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Photo: Shutterstock.

Revealing the Intricacies of Gendered Islamophobia and Populism through the Lens of Transnational Feminist Endeavors

As transnational feminist scholars and activists, it becomes imperative for us to intervene in feminist epistemologies by carefully discerning the nuances among the concepts of anti-Islam, anti-Muslim, and Islamophobia. An essential focus lies in understanding the ongoing transformation of the new transnational anti-Islamic movement from ethnic-based nationalism and oppressive authoritarianism towards a liberal standpoint that advocates equality, justice, and democratic values. This involves active participation in knowledge production through the experiences and agency of the complex subjects central to debates: Muslim immigrant women.

By Hafza Girdap

Societal perceptions in the Global North often oversimplify and stereotype immigrant women from the Global South, particularly focusing on Muslim immigrant women. This tendency is magnified within transnational feminist studies and civil society works, where categorization frequently portrays these women as a homogeneous group, primarily depicting them as victimized bodies.

The exclusive emphasis on rights, coupled with the need to consider global governance frameworks linked to class privilege and education, impedes a comprehensive understanding of this complex issue. A significant challenge faced by transnational feminist work is its struggle to transcend established affiliations such as nationality, ethnicity, race, and religion.

Recent research and activism on racism and Islamophobia, while valuable, fall short without a nuanced gender analysis. Existing approaches either overly prioritize gender or disproportionately underscore race and religion, neglecting the intricate and intersectional impact of these factors on the everyday experiences of Muslim women and women from the Global South. Addressing this gap necessitates treating these women as ‘complex subjects’ and meticulously examining their identity formation within diverse circumstances, thereby accentuating their diversities across multiple temporal and spatial signifiers.

Clarification of Some Crucial Terms

In this particular context, it becomes essential to elucidate terms like Islamophobia, anti-Islam, and anti-Muslim, given the influential role of framing and mobilization in identity politics. Islamophobia is defined as an irrational, emotional fear, while anti-Islam signifies a theoretical shift from reaction to action, aligning with the prevalent agency-oriented perspective in social movement analysis (Berntzen, 2019).

The incorporation of liberal viewpoints that depict Islam as a threat to Western civilization and as an ideology incompatible with democratic and progressive values provides justification and legitimacy for the transnational mobilization of far-right groups. Central to the discourses of this liberal far-right are discussions surrounding women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and their alignment with Islamic traditions. Termed an “ideological duality” (Berntzen, 2019), the anti-Islamic far-right espouses a semi-liberal worldview and approach towards Islam, portraying it as incongruent with modernity, human rights, and liberal principles. 

Identity Formation and Intersectionality

Stuart Hall’s (1990) concept of identity as an ongoing process significantly shapes the (de)construction of identity. As a Muslim immigrant woman scholar and activist, I consistently underscore the impact of various elements within the identity process, focusing on the experiences of exploring (Muslim) immigrant women as they navigate self-discovery and re-identification within the realms of interaction, adaptation, and religion.

The concept of “cultural identity” and its intersection with politics, gender, ethnicity, and race gains particular significance in this context. Understanding identity formation necessitates the consideration of both origin and resettlement spaces, along with the influence of temporal and spatial factors.

Extending racialization theories, particularly focusing on the experiences of Muslim women, becomes imperative. This involves scrutinizing the impact of contextual factors on the reidentification experiences of Muslim immigrant women, intending to challenge prevailing paradigms such as whiteness and populism, evident in far-right, far-left, and even liberal politics.

This analysis explores the nuanced ways in which Muslim and non-Western women grapple with otherness and double-marginalization at the intersections of gender, race, class, and religion, both as migrants in Western contexts and as local women in their homelands.

Transnational Feminism and Analytical Tools

Scholarly work, grassroots activities, and political mobilization must meticulously consider the push factors for migration and subsequent reidentification experiences of these women. Addressing hegemonic masculinity in their homelands and its impact on citizenship discourse, with a focus on heteronormative requirements, adds depth to the understanding of challenges faced by Muslim women.

Transnational feminism emerges as a pivotal analytical tool in comprehending the construction, reconstruction, and deconstruction of identities among immigrant women. It is imperative to critically examine terms like “Third World Women” and “women of the Global South” to highlight the complexities and pitfalls of homogenizing diverse groups. An intersectional analysis becomes necessary, considering historical, regional, ethnic, racial, and religious factors.

Knowledge Production and Counter-Hegemonic Discourse

In light of these considerations, knowledge production becomes a critical practice aimed at dismantling prevailing knowledge frameworks dominated by Western perspectives. This strategic approach is essential to challenge Islamophobic populist discourses impacting particularly Muslim immigrant women.

As the term ‘Global South’ transcends a metaphor, encompassing narratives of colonialism, neo-imperialism, and ongoing disparities, scholars and activists must continue developing concepts and practices of solidarity drawn from experiences in the Global South. Emphasizing the importance of recognizing diverse experiences, challenging binary constructions of identities, and engaging in transnational alliances is crucial. Grewal and Kaplan’s (1994) idea of a “politics of location,” delving into the tension between temporal and spatial theories of subjectivity, provides a valuable framework. Discourses and language use, aligned with Bell Hooks’ (1989) concept of a “dialectical space,” prove instrumental in dismantling binaries and discriminations.

Resistance and Counter-Hegemonic Discourse

Such an understanding underscores the potential of resistance through the creation of spaces that facilitate the transformation of the current reality. It also highlights the importance of challenging enduring colonial and discursive homogenization through counter-hegemonic discourse. Research and civil society engagements contribute to the generation of diverse perspectives and epistemologies, particularly through the experiences and agency of Muslim immigrant women.

In conclusion, attention to the emotional impact of activism on immigrant women and the potential for reduced emotional distress when actively advocating for equality is essential. The ability to reconceive culture and religion as spaces that allow reasoned, autonomous, and democratic participation, aligning with the approach of exploring reidentification experiences “on them, by them,” becomes pivotal in transnational feminist work challenging any forms of (gendered) populism. This includes far-right, far-left in Western contexts, as well as authoritarian, Islamist populism in the Global South. Contextual factors in origin and resettlement spaces play a crucial role in adaptation and integration processes, influencing the manifestation of identities.

Highlighting the transnational impact of the growth of the far-right and an anti-Islamic twist in Western Europe and North America, an anti-Islamic activism of pioneering movements and political parties in Europe is conducted through hypocritical discourses and acts by far-right politicians and activists who portray themselves as liberals. This is done to avoid stigmatization by using certain discourses of human rights as proxies to exploit anti-Islamic agendas. Women’s and gender-based rights are conveniently claimed by these politicians and other social actors, for instance, to “denigrate Muslimness.” 

Thus, a significant shift is observed within the approach of populist rhetoric, particularly of the far-right, towards Islam and Muslims. This is actually a shift from authoritarian and ethnocentric to a modern, liberal, and transnational anti-Islamic activism. In other words, the far-right takes on a liberal attitude and appearance through a “transformation as a partial decoupling between authoritarianism and the radical right through an adoption of liberal positions on many issues” such as free speech, democracy, gender equality, animal rights, and the preservation of Christian and Jewish heritage (Berntzen, 2019).

By framing Islam as a homogenous, totalitarian ideology posing a threat to Western civilization, the far-right appears to shift from its traditional, radical, and authoritarian stance to a more liberal, modern, and rights-based strategy. This strategy places a greater emphasis on the ideology (Islam) rather than the individuals (identities). 

Consequently, as transnational feminist scholars and activists, it becomes imperative for us to intervene in feminist epistemologies by carefully discerning the nuances among the concepts of anti-Islam, anti-Muslim, and Islamophobia. An essential focus lies in understanding the ongoing transformation of the new transnational anti-Islamic movement from ethnic-based nationalism and oppressive authoritarianism towards a liberal standpoint that advocates equality, justice, and democratic values. This involves active participation in knowledge production through the experiences and agency of the complex subjects central to debates: Muslim immigrant women.


References

Berntzen, L. (2019). Liberal Roots of Far-Right Activism – The Anti-Islamic Movement in the 21st Century. Routledge.

Hall, S. (1990). “Cultural identity and diaspora.” In: J. Rutherford (Ed.) Identity: Community, culture, difference (pp. 222-237). Lawrence & Wishart.

Hooks, Bell. (1989). “Choosing the margin as a space of radical openness.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media36, 15–23.

Grewal, I. and Kaplan, C. (Eds.) (1994). Scattered hegemonies: Postmodernity and transnational feminist practices. University of Minnesota Press.

Giorgia Meloni, Italy's prime minister, reacts during a handover ceremony at Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy on October 23, 2022. Photo: Alessia Pierdomenico.

‘Foreigners’ in Radical Right Populism: Enemies or Friends?

Populist radical right parties are known to be nativist, even xenophobic, opposing foreigners and using hostile rhetoric against them. Even though “foreigners” are still the subject that populists target, their position, whether as “enemies” or “friends” in populist discourse, depends on some variables. Firstly, the position of a populist radical right party plays a vital role in determining the role of foreigners. In the opposition, they can risk being against everyone and everything, like the EU, United Nations, or human rights itself. Nevertheless, when they come into office, they need money and resources to rule correctly, which means they must balance their discourse and sometimes soften it.

By Tuna Tasir*

Europe has been highly affected by the global rise of populism (Balfour, 2017; Lazar, 2021; Jones, 2017; Crum and Oleart, 2023); especially radical right populism. In some countries, like Italy, radical right populists have won power; in others, like France, they are growing their influence. Besides European politics, scholarly debates and media are haunted by populism. Many reasons why populism is so successful have been revealed. The pragmatic flexibility of populists is crucial because it allows them to transform their discourses, policies, and targets. Populists adapt quickly to society’s changing needs (real and perceived), based on the country and its elites, which complicates the paths taken to respond to populism.

The Nature of Populism

Normative explanations cannot describe populism because it has no fixed shape with regular programs or principles. As some have argued, populism is not a full ideology like liberalism or socialism but rather is a thin-centered ideology that can be combined with other ‘thicker’ ideologies easily (Abromeit, 2017: 178; Çamurcuoğlu, 2019: 285; Canovan, 1999: 4; Mudde, 2004: 543; Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser, 2012: 168). When associated with the radical right, populism is also associated with nativism and authoritarianism (Mudde, 2007: 22). Specifically, nativism is known to set the basis for xenophobia to emerge and spread (Yıldırım, 2017: 57). However, is associating with nativism, even xenophobia, a normative feature of populism or does it adapt over time or with the conditions of a specific country?

Populists often construct the alienated others, including foreigners, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, as scapegoats. The targeted language of populist discourse depends on various determinants like the majority and minority ethnicity or religion, the position of the populist party being either the ruling party or in opposition, and the opportunities that emerge in the country. Although left-wing and right-wing variants differ in their creation and treatment of ‘others,’ for the sake of brevity, this piece will focus solely on right-wing populism and its discursive and divisive construction of “foreigners.”

Rhetoric about “the foreigners” varies among the right-wing parties. Considering their nativist, even xenophobic politics, radical right populism might be assumed to always use hostile discourse towards foreigners. In contrast, it can vary in different contexts. In this essay, I will analyze the political rhetoric of the right-wing parties about “foreigners” by examining the cases of Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Turkey.   

Different Usages of Foreigners in Radical Right Populism

The usage of ‘foreigners’ in populist rhetoric is observed to differ according to the position of a populist party- whether in opposition or office. Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, promised to prevent immigrants from coming by sea during her election campaign (Giuffrida, 2022). After coming to power, she enacted a code that limits humanitarian non-governmental organizations from running rescue operations in the Mediterranean (The Maritime Executive, 2023). Yet, her populist attitude against foreigners has changed slightly, especially after being criticized following a shipwreck in which at least 86 immigrants died near the coasts of Calabria in Italy in February (AFP, 2023). Recently, Italy changed its attitude towards immigration and gave the green light to sign a new Migration and Asylum Pact proposed by the European Union (EU). Meloni decided to ease her populist attitude against immigrants for now (Sorgi and Barigazzi, 2023). While some assert that Italy gained some concessions from the EU (Sorgi and Barigazzi, 2023), Marine Le Pen, the leader of a populist radical right party in France, claimed that Meloni’s seemingly more inclusive attitude results from the recovery plan offered by the EU (Basso, 2023). No matter which account is accurate, the situation demonstrates that populist radical right attitudes towards foreigners can change after coming into office and over time.

Another element that defines pragmatic changes in the rhetoric about others by the right-wing parties regards the politics of ethnicity. Ethnicity is central in the rhetoric of radical right populists. After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Ukrainians had to move to European countries. Having radical right populists in office, countries such as Poland and Hungary softened their exclusionary rhetoric and welcomed Ukrainian refugees (Palotai and Veres, 2022). It can be argued that in this case, it is situational and not related to ethnicity. It can also be claimed that these governments oppose immigrants, not refugees or asylum seekers. However, while these countries showed their hospitality to Ukrainian refugees, they were not as welcoming towards refugees of war and conflict from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (Beauchamp, 2015; Vadhanavisala, 2020; Cienski, 2017; Witte, 2022; Ghadakpour, 2022). This double standard is not unique to radical right populists – examples can be located throughout European politics. Nonetheless, this double standard by the radical right populists is ironic when considering their typically nativist, even xenophobic, politics (Venturi and Vallianatou, 2022; Reilly and Flynn, 2022).

“Foreigners” do not always have to be enemies in the populist discourse. Religion and opportunistic considerations play a crucial role in shaping rhetoric about foreigners. The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, embraced numerous Syrians after the Arab Spring. Besides, the EU is committed to aid 10 billion Euro to Turkey for Syrians (European Union “EU Support to Refugees in Türkiye”). Therefore, economic considerations about the ongoing refugee crisis between the EU and neighboring states feed into creating pragmatic approaches toward refugees as foreigners in a populist sense. The same pragmatism can be seen in Meloni’s attitude towards immigrants. One of the reasons for embracing Syrians might be related to the financial aid from the EU, just as Meloni’s green light to the new Migrants and Asylum Seekers Pact might be associated with the post-covid recovery funds.

Embracing Syrians seems to be associated with discursive opportunities and benefits as well. In this way, Erdogan claims he cares for Syrians (Presidency of the Republic of Türkiye, 2016), who are Muslims, as most Turkish people are. Syrians are a valuable subject to earn the support of religious and conservative identities. Additionally, Erdogan used Syrians to threaten the West to let them flow into Europe (Beaumont and Smith, 2019) and rhetorically to accuse the West of causing the tragedy not only in the Middle East but in the Aegean and Mediterranean as well (Alarabiya News, 2015; Hacaoglu and Nikas, 2021; Rankin, 2020). Although most Turkish people reported wanting Syrians to return to Syria, Erdogan used Arab and Syrian immigrants given citizenship as voters in the 2023 Turkish General Elections. Although these votes may not be enough to change the results, what will happen in the next elections when the number of Syrians gaining citizenship increases over the years? 

Conclusion

Populist radical right parties are known to be nativist, even xenophobic, opposing foreigners and using hostile rhetoric against them. Even though foreigners are still the subject that populists target, their position, whether as enemies or friends in populist discourse, depends on some variables. Firstly, the position of a populist radical right party plays a vital role in determining the role of foreigners. In the opposition, they can risk being against everyone and everything, like the EU, United Nations, or human rights itself. Nevertheless, when they come into office, they need money and resources to rule correctly, which means they must balance their discourse and sometimes soften it (Taşır, 2023). 

Moreover, the ethnicity of foreigners might change the attitudes of populist radical right parties. Two arguments can explain this change: First, some populist parties might feel close to foreigners because they share ethnic and geographic past. Second, some foreigners might be prioritized due to their ethnicity. The cases of Hungary and Poland are likely to be explained by both arguments. Furthermore, a discursive benefit of this attitude is to create antagonistic division among foreigners by separating them into “good” and “evil.” They accept foreigners according to the arguments above, in this way, can claim that they are not literally against foreigners. In the case study of Hungary and Poland, Ukrainians are considered as good and deserving of protection, while “others” are seen as evils who might corrupt the countries if they get accepted.

Finally, religion and opportunities can transform foreigners from enemies to friends in populist rhetoric. In a society that identifies as conservative and religious, it is an excellent opportunity to welcome foreigners from the same religion as natives. In this way, a message can be directed to ‘the people’ that says: I care about what you care about. Furthermore, it is a different way to make an antagonistic division and mobilize people around that. In our case, the “pure us” who embrace Syrians versus the “corrupt them” referring to the West creates a greater common enemy by using the new foreigners in the country and positioning them against a bigger alienated other. Besides, foreigners might be used as a bargaining tool, as seen in the case of allowing a large intake of Syrians into Europe.

Consequently, thanks to their flexibility, the populist radical right seems to continue to appeal to people (Mudde, 2004: 563; Moffitt, 2016: 135). Although “foreigners” will be the main topic in the future because of wars, crisis, climate change, especially with the increase of “climate refugees” (Taşır, 2023), and poor living conditions, it is hardly easy to say that they were always positioned as enemies in the rhetoric of the radical right populism. The context might change the populist undertones, including a harsher or softer discourse yet there is always an enemy. That is why, to cope with radical right populism, it is vital to produce solutions according to the context.

More questions remain to be addressed: What can prevent the disintegration of civil society under the rule of a populist regime that uses hate speech or softer and seemingly inclusive language yet still targets and creates an enemy? What can the international community do in support of civil rights in times of political targeting of specific groups within or beyond the borders of a country? What have we learned or did not learn from history, and how can we build a safer society for the most vulnerable? What can the youth and the young professionals do in times of crisis to support EU values, liberal democracy, and civil rights? These questions beget collective thinking and sharing the pain of the most vulnerable internationally and equally


 

(*) Tuna Tasir (Taşır) is currently a writer at Institute for a Greater Europe and a senior undergraduate student and researcher in Political Sciences and Public Administration. His papers have been published in several think tanks. Tuna is interested in populism and the far-right, Euroscepticism, political sociology, and comparative politics. Besides, he has been conducting his research project on “the level of Euroscepticism of would-be bureaucrats in Turkey” granted by The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey. 

Tuna participated in national and international projects, including European Solidarity Corps projects funded by the European Union. Furthermore, he is one of the owners of a project conducted in association with Izmir Metropolitan Municipality called “Eco Solutions Fest,” which aims to raise awareness of climate change and its impacts among people, especially youth. He worked as a peer reviewer for EPR 2023, run by EST Think Tank, and as an intern at “Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Research,” “Center for Diplomatic Affairs and Political Studies,” and “Bayraklı District Governorate.”  From September 2023 to January 2024, he will study at Université Libre de Bruxelles as Erasmus Student Exchange Program. 


 

References

— (2015). “Erdogan: Europe responsible for refugees ‘drowining in the sea’.” Alarabiya News. July 31. https://english.alarabiya.net/News/world/2015/07/31/Erdogan-Europe-responsible-for-refugees-drowining-in-the-sea-

— (2016). “We have stood with our Syrian brothers since the first day.” Presidency of the Republic of Türkiye. May 15, 2016. https://www.tccb.gov.tr/en/news/542/43945/we-have-stood-with-our-syrian-brothers-since-the-first-day

— (2023). “Italy’s Parliament Approves Measures to Restrict NGO Rescue Vessels.” The Maritime Executive. February 19, 2023. https://maritime-executive.com/article/italy-s-parliament-approves-measures-to-restrict-ngo-rescue-vessels

Abromeit, J. (2017). “A Critical Review of Recent Literature on Populism.” Politics and Governance 5, no.: 177-186.https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v5i4.1146.

AFP. (2023). “Death toll from Italy migrant shipwreck rises to 86.” Macau Business. March 16, 2023. https://www.macaubusiness.com/death-toll-from-italy-migrant-shipwreck-rises-to-86/

Basso, D. (2023). “Le Pen slams Meloni’s migration ‘concessions’ to the EU.” Euroactiv. June 15, 2023 .https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/le-pen-slams-melonis-migration-concessions-to-the-eu/

Balfour, R. (2017). “The (Resistable) Rise of Populism in Europe and its Impact on European and International Cooperation.” European Institute of the Mediterraneanhttps://www.iemed.org/publication/the-resistable-rise-of-populism-in-europe-and-its-impact-on-european-and-international-cooperation/

Beauchamp, Z. (2015). “Why Hungary is so awful to refugees.” Vox. September 18. https://www.vox.com/2015/9/18/9349081/syrian-refugees-hungary-viktor-orban.

Beaumont, P. & Smith, H. (2019). “Erdoğan: I’ll let Syrian refugees leave Turkey for west unless safe zone set up.” The Guardian. September 5, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/05/erdogan-ill-let-syrian-refugees-leave-turkey-for-west-unless-safe-zone-set-up

Canovan, M. (1999). “Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy.” Political Studies. 47, no. 1: 2–16. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9248.00184

Cienski, J. (2017). “Why Poland doesn’t want refugees.” Politico. May 21, 2017. https://www.politico.eu/article/politics-nationalism-and-religion-explain-why-poland-doesnt-want-refugees/

Crum, B. & Oleart, A. (2023). “Populist parties and democratic resilience in Europe.” The London Schools of Economics and Political Science. March 2, 2023. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2023/03/02/populist-parties-and-democratic-resilience-in-europe/

Çamurcuoğlu, G. (2019). “Çoğunlukçu Demokrasiye Yöneliş Olarak Popülizm.” İnönü Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi Dergisi 10, no.1: 277–291. https://doi.org/10.21492/inuhfd.559362.

Ghadakpour, N. (2022) “Syrian and Ukrainian refugees should receive ‘same treatment’, says UN commission chair.” Euronews. July 5. https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2022/07/04/syrian-and-ukrainian-refugees-should-receive-same-treatment-says-un-commission-chair

Giuffrida, A. (2022). “‘Left on the street’: migrants in Italy face fresh hostility as election looms.” The Guardian. September 20, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/20/all-we-want-is-to-be-able-to-live-migrants-left-destitute-in-italian-border-town

Hacaoğlu, S. & Nikas, S. (2021). “Erdogan Accuses Greece of Pushing Refugee Boats Back in Aegean.” Bloomberg. November 11, 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-11-12/erdogan-accuses-greece-of-pushing-refugee-boats-back-in-aegean

Jones, E. (2017). The Rise of Populism and the Fall of Europe. The SAIS Review of International Affairs37(1), 47–57. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27001445

Lazar, M. (2021). “European Populism, From Left to Right.” Institut Montaigne. November 10, 2021. https://www.institutmontaigne.org/en/expressions/european-populism-left-right

Moffitt, B. (2016). The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation (Stanford: Stanford University Press).

Mudde C. (2004). “Populist zeitgeist.” Government and Opposition. 39, no. 4 (2004): 543–563. doi:10.1111/j.1477-7053.2004.00135.x 

Mudde, C. (2007). Populist radical right parties in Europe 1. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mudde, C. & Cristobal R, K. (2012). “Exclusionary vs. Inclusionary Populism: Comparing Contemporary Europe and Latin America.” Government and Opposition. 48, no. 2 (2012): 147–174. https://doi.org/10.1017/gov.2012.11

Palotai, M. & Veres, G. K. (2022). “Why Hungary and Poland Are Welcoming Ukrainian Refugees.” Hudson. March 10, 2022. https://www.hudson.org/foreign-policy/why-hungary-and-poland-are-welcoming-ukrainian-refugees

Rankin, J. (2020). “Erdoğan puts EU’s failure to agree a common migration policy in spotlight.” The Guardian. March 2, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/02/four-years-after-turkey-deal-eu-no-closer-to-new-asylum-system

Reilly, R. & Flynn, M. (2022). “THE UKRAINE CRISIS Double Standards: Has Europe’s Response to Refugees Changed?” Reliefweb (Global Detention Project). March 2, 2022. https://reliefweb.int/report/ukraine/ukraine-crisis-double-standards-has-europe-s-response-refugees-changed

Sorgi, G. & Barigazzi, J. (2023). “EU countries agree to major migration deal.” POLITICO. June 8, 2023. https://www.politico.eu/article/italy-giorgia-meloni-assylum-seekers-eu-holds-migration-deal-hostage/

Taşır, T. (2023). “The Future of Europe and the European Union in the Context of Populism and Euroscepticism.” Institute for a Greater Europe. May 25, 2023. https://institutegreatereurope.com/elementor-3601/

Taşır, T. (2023). “Populist Performance in Office Against Foreigners: The Case of Italy.” Institute for a Greater Europe. May 1, 2023. https://institutegreatereurope.com/populist-performance-in-office-against-foreigners-the-case-of-italy/.

The European Union. “EU Support to Refugees in Türkiye.” Neighborhood Enlargement. https://neighbourhood-enlargement.ec.europa.eu/enlargement-policy/turkiye/eu-support-refugees-turkiye_en#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20main%20mechanisms,addressed%20in%20a%20comprehensive%20manner.

Vadhanavisala, O. (2020). “Radical Right-Wing Politics and Migrants and Refugees in Hungary.” European Journal of Social Sciences 3. no. 1: 1-13. https://revistia.org/files/articles/ejss_v3_i1_20/Vadhanavisala.pdf

Venturi, E. & Vallianatou, I. A. (2022). “Ukraine exposes Europe’s double standards for refugees.” Chatham House. March 30, 2022. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2022/03/ukraine-exposes-europes-double-standards-refugees

Yildirim, Y. (2017). “The Right-Populism and the Rising of Far-Right in Europe in the Context of the Crisis of Liberal Democracy.” Amme İdaresi Dergisi 50, no. 2: 51-72. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318909719_Liberal_Demokrasinin_Krizi_Baglaminda_Avrupa%27da_Sag-Populizm_ve_Yukselen_Asiri-Sag_The_Right-Populism_and_the_Rising_of_Far-Right_in_Europe_in_the_Context_of_the_Crisis_of_Liberal_Democracy

Witte, D. M. (2022). “Ukrainian refugees face a more accommodating Europe, says Stanford scholar.” Stanford News. March 24, 2022. https://news.stanford.edu/2022/03/24/ukrainian-refugees-face-accommodating-europe-says-stanford-scholar/

BuryMeMyLove1

COMTOG Report on ‘Bury Me My Love’

Galland, Martin. (2023). “COMTOG Report on ‘Bury Me My Love’.” Never Again Initiative. European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). April 3, 2023. https://doi.org/10.55271/rp0036

 

Bury Me My Love is a game about distance. It is a game which places front and center relationships between humans, how they interact, and what drives people to take a leap into the unknown and risk their lives in the hope of reaching safety. The eponymous phrase, ‘Bury Me My Love,’ is an Arabic expression to take care roughly meant to signify, “don’t think about dying before I do.” The game is inspired by but does not tell, the real-life story of Dana, a Syrian woman having left her country in September 2015.

By Martin Galland*

Introduction

Bury Me My Love is a game about distance. It is a game which places front and center relationships between humans, how they interact, and what drives people to take a leap into the unknown and risk their lives in the hope of reaching safety. The eponymous phrase, ‘Bury Me My Love,’ is an Arabic expression to take care roughly meant to signify, “don’t think about dying before I do.” The game is inspired by but does not tell, the real-life story of Dana, a Syrian woman having left her country in September 2015. Both the journalist who wrote the article on Dana’s story and Dana herself working as part of the game’s editorial team (Le Monde, 2015).

Developed by The Pixel Hunt in 2015, Bury Me My Love is a branching text-based narrative based around the story of people on the move during the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis. Its main characters are Nour and Majd, a young couple from Homs, Syria. The player takes on the role of Majd, having stayed behind in Syria to take care of his mother and grandfather, while his partner, Nour, goes on to attempt the journey to Germany in order to receive refugee status there. Much of the game is based on three core mechanics which impact the outcomes of choices made throughout Nour’s journey: Time; the itinerary; and finally, Nour’s own variables of morale, budget, her relationship with Majd, and what she has or does not have on her person in key moments. With this expansive and branching narrative, there are 50 different locations to go through and nineteen possible endings for Nour’s journey, with widely divergent outcomes. 

As part of the COMTOG project’s goal to bring together different but complementary voices of the field, three individuals were interviewed about the game Bury Me My Love and its subject matter. These included Florent Maurin, President of The Pixel Hunt and one of the game’s lead developers; Dr Angus Mol, a Games Studies scholar from Leiden University; and Tigs Louis-Puttick, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator for Samos Volunteers, a non-profit organisation supporting refugees and asylum-seekers on Samos. Keeping in mind the intent of the project – which was to “showcase the educational and social potential of video games relaying the realities of conflict” – I first formalised my approach towards Bury Me My Love and the interviews I conducted around two main themes. The first and most important which informed most of my questions as the interviews were conducted was the difference between authenticity and accuracy of the experience of people on the move. The second was the necessary emphasis on empathy towards people on the move and their experiences and the engagement of players in those narratives.

The discussion around authenticity is the one that is most discussed academically and theoretically in Games Studies. In this burgeoning field, scholars note that creative designers (big studios, indie developers, social media influencers) “design their versions of the past, purely or mostly, as entertainment products, where the focus is on making money through designing fun.” This becomes a three-fold issue when such actors “(1) have not traditionally been and are frequently still not taken seriously in their role in shaping our collective understanding of the past, (2) are not primarily (or at all) concerned with teaching about the past and (3), more and more, the connection many people have with the past is partly or even primarily shaped by video games, including how they learn or teach others about it” (Boom et al., 2020: 28-29). These challenges highlight the importance of bridging the gap between stakeholders beyond those in the video game-making sphere and including activists on the ground and researchers alike.

Authenticity vs Accuracy

In the interview with Dr Mol, an important theme which emerged from the conversation was the difference between authenticity and accuracy when it comes to portraying the experience of people on the move. For Dr Mol, what really interests players is this notion of an ‘authentic past’ more so than focusing on the accuracy of the past portrayed. Bury Me My Love strongly engages with the player’s sense of empathy, providing an experience that emulates the challenges, thoughts, and problems people face on the move. Of course, this experience can only go so far in accurately visualising these very issues which thousands of people faced and still face today. Part of the game’s intention, as explained by Maurin, was to replicate this sense of anxiety and distance through the text-message thread between Nour and Majd, with the player often left with information streaming in progressively, missing context until it is later explained, and no answers from Nour until a given time when she can respond back.  

In order to best showcase the sort of journey people on the move can undertake, the game developers went through numerous documentations on the subject: including testimonies, articles, news reports, and documentaries, and themselves interviewed people in refugee camps in France. Maurin comments that the first four months of production of the game were solely dedicated to documenting, reading, and watching different sources. This was in order to get a firmer idea of the game and story they wished to tell and to account for the different paths people on the move take to get to Europe. For Dr Mol, this sort of emphasis on research and fact-checking is something that has become more prevalent and noticeable in the industry in the past ten or so years. It also reflects a shift in academia with regard to video games. As Dr Mol attests, the ways to study video games and the medium, in general, have greatly advanced and evolved in recent years, and while there is still some level of disconnect between developers and academics, there is an increasing number of projects which try to bring both sides together in the research and development of games. 

One crucially important aspect brought up by Louis-Puttick is the game’s inability to truly replicate the sense of time that people on the move go experience. It is true that comparatively speaking, Nour’s (and Dana’s) journey is very short compared to the length of time now spent by people on the move in camps – where months and years go by with little to no change in their status. While the game does include both a path which discusses this major issue in the refugee camp, and an ending which does see Nour stuck in a camp indefinitely, the player does not experience these in real-time, and so this crucial part of the experience of people on the move cannot be passed on. However, the game does not shy away from portraying some of the intense hardships faced by people on the move during their journeys. Whether it is the cold realisation that death is always a possibility, or being antagonised, chased, and beaten up by a neo-Nazi group in Greece, or the lack of care shown by European authorities as they either condemn people to a camp or deport them back to Syria. 

Ultimately, what is missing the most from this report with regard to the authenticity of Bury Me My Love is a voice from people on the move and their testimony, and whether they feel as though the game reflects enough of their experience. While the game was inspired by and involved the editorial input of a person on the move, this project would have benefited far more from involving someone with the direct experience of travelling to Europe under difficult conditions. 

Empathy and Engagement

When it comes to a subject matter such as the one on the experiences of people on the move, it is difficult to discuss Bury Me My Love in terms of ‘enjoyment’ and ‘entertainment.’ Few would describe the journey undertaken by people on the move, even vicariously, as being ‘fun,’ and it was not at all in the intention of the developers to portray it as such. For Maurin, it was difficult to balance the stark tone that the game takes with the way people would cope with this experience through levity and humour. With several thousand lines of dialogue, much of the game’s focus was on the story and the characters and the ways in which they interact with the world around them as events unfold. From personal experience with the game, both main characters were truly well-fleshed-out and felt real in their emotions, thoughts, and worries for one another. Those who meet Nour along her journey also reflect a multitude of people and how they would act towards her plight.

It is difficult to assume how different players will engage with Bury Me My Love, as the game’s several endings make it so gameplay experience can wildly vary from person to person. Criticism of the game can be found on the game’s Steam (an online game distribution platform) page, where one particular comment lists that they found the game far too upbeat and treated with too much levity with regard to the subject material. When addressing feedback of that nature, Maurin comments that, while the commenter appears to be hyperbolising, it is entirely possible that they experienced the trek replicating Dana’s journey, which was comparatively easier and with fewer issues than other possible paths – which is an outlier. Dr Mol comments on this notion of making a game engaging enough for players to want to play it while respecting the subject matter enough to consider and internalise the message. In my experience with Bury Me My Love, the game is ‘entertaining’ in the sense that it does engage you with the challenges presented in front of Nour; it is also equally heart-breaking in the lowest lows of the story and does leave one with more awareness of the life of people on the move. 

Ultimately, the game is not one meant to be entertaining in the literal sense of the term. It provides a story, a human story, one that is anchored in reality, and pushes the player to learn about the hardships faced by people on the move. News cycles and mass information have been noted to desensitise individuals of distant (and not so distant) occurrences and Bury Me My Love works to try to fight that antipathy by providing a deeply empathetic experience about the Syrian Refugee Crisis and inspiring the player to do something with the feelings they feel and receive after having played the game.

Conclusion

In closing the interview, all three interviewees were asked whether or not they felt video games could contribute to helping address common memory of certain conflict-centric events, such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Maurin puts it best that the game and its themes of adversity, displacement, struggle, and distance, are still very much relevant today. There are still important migrant flows of people fleeing conflict and disaster, and as such, the game Bury Me My Love remains, unfortunately, relevant and contemporary. This sentiment is echoed by Dr Mol and Louis-Puttick, who both see potential in video games, though with addendums on the intent and the goals set out by the developers in making such charged games. 

This set of COMTOG interviews was designed to bring together different stakeholders and actors who have only to gain by interacting with each other. This project also placed front and center the importance of discussing and grasping the notion of ‘authenticity’ and how games can provide empathetic perspectives on still ongoing challenges for countless people. Maurin addresses it by humorously commenting on the ‘God-complex’ of developers and that their total control over the world in which the game is placed is misleading. If there was an attempt by developers to portray a very pointed perspective (in terms of values, convictions, etc.), it would feel very forced and could be spotted immediately by players. What developers like Maurin try to do is portray a collection of stories which are sourced from documentation; they do not provide a moral or a lesson but the tools for the players to internalise the experiences they have vicariously lived through and hopefully do something about it. 


ECPS’ Never Again initiative and COMTOG project

Our collective history offers stories of war, resistance, intolerance, and perseverance. ECPS’ Never Again initiative prompts us to look back at these memories of conflict and democratic backsliding so that we, citizens, can be better informed of their causes and realities. A wealth of research has highlighted how mainstream media, i.e., TV, film, radio & news, have shaped the collective memory of these conflict narratives. However, as media technology evolves rapidly, the research studying collective memory must evolve with it.

The Collective Memory Through Online Games (COMTOG) project has emerged under this Never Again initiative to showcase the educational and social potential of serious, transformative gaming (video games, LARPs, tabletop roleplaying games) relaying the realities of conflict through a nuanced, well-researched, and empathetic lens. COMTOG is set to publish a series of interviews exploring the research process, artistic direction, and dissemination of these conflict-centred games. The game creator’s insights are included in interviews alongside the experience of diverse experts in the field (i.e. historians, policymakers, activists), thus creating a resource improving historical serious games’ ability to aid active remembering.

Moreover, serious gaming can provide the population with an immersive experience that can be used for educational purposes such as raising awareness, boosting ethical values, and preserving collective memory. Existing research has found their integration into educational programmes promising and positively impactful. We aim to understand how serious games discussing and portraying the victims of the conflict were researched and developed to stimulate interest in creating similar kinds of games.


 

(*) Martin Galland is a Master’s graduate in both European Policy and History, from the University of Amsterdam and KU Leuven, after having done a Bachelor in International Studies at Leiden University. His most recent thesis analysed the presence of (banal) nationalistic discourses present in a historical theme park in France, and how a specific vision of a French identity emerges from the theme park’s various shows. His research interests lie in the banal nationalism of contemporary populist movements, and the strengthening of right-wing populist discourse in interpretations of the past and history.


 

References

— (2015). “Le voyage d’une migrante syrienne à travers son fil WhatsApp.” Le Monde. December 18, 2015. https://www.lemonde.fr/international/visuel/2015/12/18/dans-le-telephone-d-une-migrante-syrienne_4834834_3210.html (accessed on March 2, 2023).

Boom, K. H. J.; Ariese, C. E.; van den Hout, B.; Mol, A. A. A. and Politopoulos, A. (2020). “Teaching through Play: Using Video Games as a Platform to Teach about the Past.” In: Hageneuer, S. (ed.) Communicating the Past in the Digital Age: Proceedings of the International Conference on Digital Methods in Teaching and Learning in Archaeology (12–13 October 2018). Pp. 27–44. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bch.c. License: CC-BY 4.0.

Politopoulos, A.; Mol, A. A. A.; Boom, K. H. J. & Ariese, C. E. (2019). “History is our playground”: action and authenticity in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Advances In Archaeological Practice, 7(3), 317-323. doi:10.1017/aap.2019.30.  

FlorentMaurin

COMTOG Interview with Florent Maurin on ‘Bury Me My Love’

Interviewed by Martin Galland 

Developed by The Pixel Hunt in 2015, Bury Me My Love is a branching text-based narrative based around the story of people on the move during the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis. Its main characters are Nour and Majd, a young couple from Homs, Syria. The player takes on the role of Majd, having stayed behind in Syria to take care of his mother and grandfather, while his partner, Nour, goes on to attempt the journey to Germany in order to receive refugee status there. Much of the game is based on three core mechanics which impact the outcomes of choices made throughout Nour’s journey: Time; the itinerary; and finally, Nour’s own variables of morale, budget, her relationship with Majd, and what she has or does not have on her person in key moments. With this expansive and branching narrative, there are 50 different locations to go through and nineteen possible endings for Nour’s journey, with widely divergent outcomes.

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Refugees, asylum seekers protest immigrants' deportation at Rautatientori Railway Square in Helsinki, Finland on March 11, 2017. Photo: Shutterstock.

Migration diet of populism versus migrant attraction in Finland

Populist movements and parties have been successful in gaining support by tapping into people’s emotions, fears, and grievances, and by promoting simplistic and often divisive solutions to complex problems. As long as these underlying factors exist and are not effectively addressed, populist movements are likely to continue to emerge and gain support.

By Ilkhom Khalimzoda

Contemporary populism has become a prevalent and polarizing topic in modern-day politics. Populist movements and parties have gained significant momentum in recent years, and their impact on the political landscape is undeniable. Populism has risen to prominence in several countries, such as the United States, Italy, Hungary, and Finland, as a response to globalization, inequality, and economic crises (Mudde, 2019). The topic of populism represents a significant shift in political dynamics, characterized by a rejection of political elites, a focus on emotions and identity, and a disregard for democratic norms (Weyland, 2018). 

In Finland, the populist movement gained momentum with the formation of the Finns Party, formerly known as the True Finns Party, in 1995. The party is primarily known for its anti-immigration stance, Euroscepticism, and opposition to globalization (Kuisma, 2019). The party’s early success was limited, but it experienced a significant surge in popularity during the European migrant crisis in 2015 (Salmela & Jungar, 2019). The Finns Party received 17.7 percent of the votes in the parliamentary election in 2015, making it the second-largest party in the parliament (Kuisma, 2019). 

Anti-migration discourse is a central theme of populist movements and parties in Finland. Populists use anti-migrant rhetoric to appeal to voters’ fears of losing their jobs, cultural identity, and safety (Kuisma, 2019). Some parties have been particularly vocal about its opposition to immigration, advocating for strict immigration policies and the expulsion of migrants with a criminal record (Kuisma, 2019). Party’s anti-immigrant stance has also been criticized for being xenophobic and racist (Jungar & Peltonen, 2018). 

Populist movements and parties benefit from the fear of the “other” by capitalizing on people’s anxieties and grievances. Populists use identity politics to create a sense of belonging among their followers, and they often blame migrants and minorities for the economic and social problems facing the country (Mudde, 2019). This strategy allows them to deflect attention from the underlying causes of these problems and instead offer simple solutions that appeal to voters’ emotions.

Polls have suggested that there is a significant level of anti-immigrant sentiment among the Finnish public, while others have shown a more positive attitude towards immigrants. For example, a survey conducted by the Finnish polling firm Taloustutkimus in 2019 found that a majority of Finns believed that immigration had a negative impact on Finland. The survey found that 55 percent of respondents believed that immigration had a negative impact on the economy, while 65 percent believed that it had a negative impact on social cohesion. Additionally, the survey found that 62 percent of respondents believed that the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Finland should be reduced. However, other surveys have suggested that Finns are generally more positive towards immigrants than these results might suggest. For example, a survey conducted by the Finnish National Agency for Education in 2020 found that 72 percent of respondents believed that it was important to promote multiculturalism in Finland, and that 70 percent believed that the country should be more open to accepting refugees and asylum seekers. Anti-migrant parts of the population are more likely to vote for populist parties. According to a survey conducted by the Finnish National Election Study, voters who expressed negative attitudes towards immigrants were more likely to vote for the Finns Party (Jungar & Peltonen, 2018). The study also found that the Finns Party had the highest share of anti-immigrant voters among all political parties in Finland. 

The anti-migration discourse in Finland has created a negative perception of the migrant population, leading to discrimination and exclusion in society (Salmela & Jungar, 2019). In the recent study, it was found that immigrants believe they are perceived more as a threat than a benefit to Finnish society (Nshom et al., 2022). The discourse has also contributed to the stigmatization of migrant communities, which has resulted in a lack of integration and social cohesion (Jungar & Peltonen, 2018). This dynamic perpetuates a cycle of fear and resentment, leading to further polarization and division. 

What Does Populism May Do to the Talent Attraction Attempts of Finland?

Finland has introduced a new immigration act, which is intended to make the immigration process more efficient and straightforward for migrants. It has launched a global marketing campaign to attract talent to the country, called “This is Finland” (Business Finland, n.d.). The campaign showcases the country’s quality of life, innovation, and business opportunities (Business Finland, n.d.). Additionally, various programs aimed at integrating willing residents with foreign backgrounds into mainstream society have been taking place. One potential explanation for Finland’s continued efforts to attract skilled workers is that the government is attempting to balance the economic benefits of migration with the political challenges posed by populist movements. Some researchers argue that policies promoting economic growth through migration can help mitigate populist backlash by addressing the underlying grievances of voters, such as job insecurity and economic inequality (Givens & Luedtke, 2020). These attempts have been affected by the populist rhetoric, as the anti-immigrant discourse has created a negative image of the country in the eyes of the potential migrants, argues Jylhä & Leinonen (2021). 

Discussion

Populist movements and parties have been successful in gaining support by tapping into people’s emotions, fears, and grievances, and by promoting simplistic and often divisive solutions to complex problems. As long as these underlying factors exist and are not effectively addressed, populist movements are likely to continue to emerge and gain support.

The dilemma of growing populism and skilled worker attraction is not unique to Finland alone, as many other countries also face similar challenges. What is different is the specific context and characteristics of the Finnish society and economy. Finland, with a relatively small population, traditionally relied on exports and innovation for economic growth. In recent years, Finland has been facing demographic challenges such as an aging population and declining birth rates, which have created a need for more skilled workers to maintain economic growth and ensure the sustainability of the welfare state. 

Furthermore, many populist groups in Finland have been particularly vocal in their opposition to immigration, especially from non-Western countries. This has often taken the form of opposition to refugee resettlement and asylum-seekers, rather than opposition to skilled workers. However, populist groups in Finland (and elsewhere) often frame their opposition to immigration in terms of protecting domestic jobs and economic opportunities, which could potentially extend to opposition to skilled workers as well. But overall, it is more common for populist discourse in Finland to focus on refugees and asylum-seekers as a perceived threat to national identity and security. This has created a tension between the need for skilled workers and the political pressure to restrict immigration. Therefore, the specific context and characteristics of the Finnish society and economy make this dilemma somewhat unique, and it requires careful consideration and balancing of economic and political priorities.

It is important to note that the impact and influence of populism can be mitigated by promoting inclusive and participatory democratic institutions, strengthening social cohesion, and addressing the root causes of economic and social inequalities. While populism in a way is a legitimate form of political expression, reflecting the concerns and the grievances of a segment of a population (Mudde, 2019), anti-migration populism discourses are concerning. Especially so when it is polarizing, black-and-white, and often based on distorted facts and figures. This takes further the climate of us-and-them, prejudice, and division (Weyland, 2018). The negative perception of migrant communities perpetuated by the discourse can lead to discrimination and exclusion, which undermines social cohesion and appeal of new talents into the country. 


References

— (n.d.). “This is Finland.” Business Finland. https://toolbox.finland.fi/ (accessed on February 25, 2023).

— (2019). ”Maahanmuuttajien vaikutukset suomalaiseen yhteiskuntaan.” Taloustutkimus Oy. 

Givens, T. E. & Luedtke, A. R. (2020). “The Economic Benefits of Immigration: How the Biden Administration Can Use a Strategic Approach to Promote Growth, Innovation, and Inclusion.” Progressive Policy Institutehttps://www.progressivepolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Immigration-and-Growth.pdf

Jungar, A. C. & Peltonen, J. (2018). “The Rise of Populism and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe.” Journal of Democracy. 29(2), 16-30. doi:10.1353/jod.2018.0020 

Jylhä, K. & Leinonen, E. (2021). “Attracting talents and retaining them: A case study on the Finnish immigrant experience.” Geoforum. 118, 93-102. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2020.12.009

Kuisma, M. (2019). “Populism in Finnish Politics.” In: R. Heinisch, C. Holtz-Bacha, & O. Mazzoleni (Eds.), “Handbook of Political Populism.” (pp. 1-19). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Mudde, C. (2019). “The Study of Populism as a Way of (not) Studying Democracy.” In: C. R. Kaltwasser, P. Taggart, P. Ochoa Espejo, & P. Ostiguy (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Populism. (pp. 96-114). Oxford University Press.

Nshom, E.; Khalimzoda, I.; Sadaf, S. & Shaymardanov, M. (2022). “Perceived threat or perceived benefit? Immigrants’ perception of how Finns tend to perceive them.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 86, 46-55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2021.11.001.

Nshom, E. (2022). “Perceived threat and support for right-wing ideology in Finland.” Acta Sociologica. 65(1), 43-54.https://doi.org/10.1111/asap.12294

Salmela, M. & Jungar, A. C. (2019). “The institutionalisation of populism in Finland: An analysis of populist actors and their discourse.” Acta Politica. 54(1), 22-44. doi:10.1057/s41269-018-0104-9

The refugees migrate to Europe. Photo: Shutterstock.

Climate, conflict, and migration: Europe’s next frontier of populism

The far-right populists are able to predicate on the securitisation of refugees in high welfare economies. Should welfare economies become overwhelmed by refugees displaced by the climate crisis, it is likely that the far right could become even more potent in Europe. To prevent a populist backlash against refugees fleeing the effects of climate change, a number of policy changes must be made immediately.

By Jake Moran*

It is not so long ago that we began to witness the reincarnations of far-right, anti-immigrant populist movements in Europe. UKIP and the BNP in Britain, Front Nationale in France, Brothers of Italy, and the Sweden Democrats drawn support from across the political spectrum and became electorally successful. Their alarming tone about rising levels of inward migration seemed to appeal to voters. The political successes in the Italian and Swedish elections this year are particularly poignant because they demonstrate that, seven years after the peak of the refugee crisis, refugees in Europe remains a significant issue for voters. 

This article extends the discussion of my previous piece on climate related migration and the rise of the populist far right. Here I will discuss how the climate crisis could displace vulnerable populations and force them to migrate to Europe. I argue here that the success of far-right, anti-immigrant populist parties in Europe today serves as a blueprint for what could occur in the next 50 years as climate-related migration potentially increases. After a short literature review, I will discuss how this could produce Europe’s next frontier of populism. I will end with policy recommendations aiming to prevent this dual catastrophe of humanitarian disaster and political crisis facing the continent.

Refugees and Far-Right Populism: A Brief Literature Review

The 2015 refugee crisis, which spurred a wave of far-right populist victories across Europe (Tomberg et al., 2021; Zimmermann, 2016; Vadlamannati et al., 2020), continues today. Many studies have examined how economic migration propelled populist reactions, but only a few have examined populist reaction to refugees specifically (Tomberg et al., 2020; Vadlamannati et al., 2017). This literature can guide our enquiry to establish whether rising refugee numbers can be linked to the growth in far-right populism, and therefore whether refugee populations displaced by climate change will increasingly incur far-right populism.

The literature broadly establishes a link between increased refugee intake and support for the far-right by examining data in specific countries at a macro level (see Dustmann et al., 2019; Dinas et al., 2019; Hangartner et al., 2019; Torres, 2022). For example, a study found a 1.2 percent point increase in the vote share for the far-right for every 1 percent increase in asylum seekers accepted by Germany. Crucially, they find that support for the far right grows in relation to refugee numbers despite high levels of employment nationally, signalling that their relationship is independent of economic factors (Tomberg et al., 2022). 

Scholars highlight the link between the increase in refugee numbers and far-right support in 27 industrial democracies between 1990-2014 (Vadlamannati et al., 2017). Accordingly, the concomitant rise in the numbers of refugees and far-right populism is dependent on ‘welfare chauvinism’ — the concern that refugees settling in a country of high welfare payments will receive a greater share of national resources than they are entitled to–. The concern about refugees getting paid by welfare state without proper work fuels a sense of grievance against the refugee population (Vadlamannati et al., 2017). 

Overall, there is a consensus in the literature that growing numbers of refugees accepted by a host country incur greater support for far-right populist parties. While the economic conditions of host countries do not appear to impact this trend (Tomberg et al., 2022), countries with large welfare states funded by high taxes form a key variable in inflating the popular grievance against refugees (Vadlamannati et al., 2017). 

On the other hand, the research highlighting the economic contributions of refugees to their adapted country can be read as a response aiming to lessen the social impact of potential far-right responses on the lives of refugees both in the countries of study and where the research is published (Betts et al., 2017). However, there is more to be done. Considering these discussions, we can argue that a surge in refugees displaced by climate change would incur a growth of support for far-right populist parties in Europe. 

Securitization of Refugees and the Discourse of Threat

Social conflict in response to climate refugees can emerge in many forms. The far-right could launch a populist backlash using disinformation campaigns that promote harmful and false narratives about refugees inflating concern to their electoral advantage (ISD, 2021). The more likely route for populists launching this backlash is the ‘securitization’ of refugees as a threat requiring an urgent political response.  

Securitization refers to the transformation of an issue into a threat against the collective from beyond normal or ordinary parameters of governance (Elander et al., 2022). ‘Securitizing’ an issue allows policy makers and other actors to issue emergency responses or employ extreme framing outside of policy norms to deal with such ‘threats’ (Elander et al., 2022). In the context of refugees, securitization has the potential to transform discourse around asylum seekers from that of a humanitarian issue into a discourse about a security ‘threat’ which society needs urgent protection from.

One particularly relevant example of the securitization of refugees in recent years can be found in how Sweden handled the 2015 refugee crisis. Sweden has one of the most generous welfare states in Europe. When the crisis began in 2014, the Swedish people were told to ‘open [their] hearts’ to refugees fleeing Syria and other countries afflicted by war (Elander et al., 2022). Yet in 2015, only a year later, this invitation was revoked, and refugee access was restricted following widespread concern that the enormous burden of integrating refugees was overwhelming Sweden’s welfare system (Elander et al., 2022). 

The above-mentioned dramatic U-turn in government policy clearly demonstrated how the issue of refugees can be rapidly framed as a threat thus, securitized. This change in the attitude and policy about migration illustrates how a welfare state that was known to be an inclusive society can change by seeking ways to limit the migration. Eventually, we witnessed a great success of the populist anti-migration Sweden Democrats in the elections of September 2022 to be second biggest party in Swedish politics and to have great influence over the conservative coalition government, despite it did not take part in the coalition. 

The rise of the Sweden Democrats (SD) was at the heart of the changes in policies and electoral preferences. The opposition to the then government’s ‘open hearts’ policy increased the electoral support for the SD. The Sweden Democrats launched their populist appeal by framing the large inbound refugee population as a threat. This framing resulted in cultural and ethnic differences and the Islamic faith perceived in a negative light. Moreover, the concerns around terrorism and crime were consequently attached to the refugee population (Elander et al., 2022). 

Presenting refugees as a threat to the Swedish people, the Sweden Democrats have made a meteoric rise. Unfortunately, SD is not the only party using securitization to gain political power. All far-right populist parties garnered electoral success through securitizing refugees in recent years in other parts of Europe (Tomberg et al., 2020).

The case of Sweden lends weight to the findings of the literature and precisely demonstrates the argument this article is making. Without sufficient management of refugee populations across Europe, most of the burden will be placed on a small number of countries. The literature finds that far-right populists are able to predicate on the securitization of refugees in high welfare economies. Should welfare economies become overwhelmed by refugees displaced by the climate crisis, it is likely that the far-right could become even more potent in Europe. Refugees from the MENA region are at particular risk of being securitized by far-right populist forces by the ‘othering’ of their ethnic and religious characteristics (Telford, 2018). This is due to underlying assumptions about these groups relating to terrorism and cultural differences from European societies (Telford, 2018). 

Policy Recommendations: Prevention, Management, and Improvement

To prevent a populist backlash against refugees fleeing the effects of climate change, several policy changes must be made immediately. I divide these recommendations into prevention, management, and improvement. We need to prevent displacement in the first instance. Failing this, we need mechanisms of protection for the vulnerable populations fleeing from their countries through policies to effectively manage refugee lives. Reducing economic inequality in ‘host’ countries is crucial to prevent populist forces gaining footholds to secure electoral gains. In other words, supporting the climate and refugees acts as a stress test on democracy in Europe.

Preventing displacement of these populations from their homelands should be our starting point. The obvious motive for doing so is that nobody becomes a refugee by choice. All refugees would rather keep their homes, their lives, their communities, and their futures, before dispensing with them out of fear. Protecting people from displacement is not simply a political priority for European democracies, but an essential humanitarian objective which we must all prioritize. However, such a global preventive step requires collaboration of international community. 

We see examples of global governance on climate and refugee crisis; however, they are not sufficiently effective. In line with the recommendations of the UNHCR, overseas aid and climate change relief funds should be targeted at the most vulnerable countries (UNHCR, 2021). This includes meeting the commitment to provide $100 billion annually to support mitigation measures, with at least 50 percent funneled towards adaptation strategies (UNHCR, 2021). For example, building dams in Pakistan, which was recently afflicted by enormous flooding, or building irrigation infrastructure in Syria to adapt their agricultural communities to drought, could prevent massive displacements of people in the future.

However, notwithstanding the efforts we apply to this objective, the reality is that climate change is already displacing populations, and will continue to do so (UNHCR, 2021). To avoid dangerous unregulated refugee migration, an appropriate framework of management must be developed between states and at an EU level. In this new age of the climate crisis, the EU has an important and historical role in developing preventive measures and better policies in global context. 

We need to work on the international governance of refugees at state and interstate level as well as regarding theoretical and policy aspects, to meet the challenge of managing the potential increase in the future climate refugee flows. To achieve this objective, we need a transformative and radical overhaul of international law. 

To develop effective international regulations, we must firstly address the central legal problem facing climate refugees: that the current UN Refugee Convention does not provide legal rights for people displaced by climate change (Acras, 2012). Thus far, the issue of governing climate refugees has been addressed with the creation of a Taskforce for Displacement (TFC) alongside the Paris Climate Agreement 2015 (Vanhalla & Calliari, 2022). Yet, there is debate about its powers and jurisdiction in relation to other UN agencies, and whether it is endorsed by the EU (Vanhalla & Calliari, 2022). 

Another aspect of such global governance might include working on the distribution of refugee flows more equitably to ensure that European countries (such as Greece, Italy, Germany, and Sweden) are less likely to become overwhelmed. Equitable management of refugee distribution would seek to minimize any populist backlash by reducing the risk of national resources being over exhausted. As the literature shows, this imperative is even greater in high welfare economies where the securitization of refugees is more likely.

Finally, there is significant evidence that economic inequality caused by globalization provides fertile electoral ground for the populist far-right. They exploit ‘touchstone issues’ like asylum and migration to pray on anxieties felt by the ‘left behind’ and ‘losers’ of globalization (Kriesi et al., 2012; Ford & Goodwin, 2014; Vadlamannati et al., 2017). Therefore, a strong recommendation for policy makers seeking to insure their democracies against populist gain, would be to improvethe economic conditions of voters. Pursuing redistributive tax policies and shielding industries from the negative effects of globalization would reduce the economic grievances felt by voters. Doing so would decrease the susceptibility of disaffected voters to populist forces relying on the securitization of refugees to expand their reach (Tomberg et al., 2021).

If followed, these policy recommendations have potential to minimize the suffering of refugee populations and protect European democracies from a new frontier of populism by passing its stress test on global governance of climate crisis.

Conclusions

The purpose of this essay has not been to throw refugees under the proverbial bus to avoid a pile up of populism further down the road. Rather, I have tried to highlight the impending risk of a dual catastrophe between humanitarian disaster and a new frontier of populism in Europe.

I accept that my predictions rely on certain assumptions about how individuals, states, and the international community respond to climate change. However, my analysis finds a strong, evidence-based link between climate change, migration, and support for the populist far-right. I further argued that this trend will outgrow the populist surge of 2015 onwards, as climate related migration to Europe will only rise with global temperatures (Moran, 2022).

Action to address the combined challenges I have raised in this article should begin immediately, with a level of response akin to what we have witness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the international community is aware of this tide approaching, but remains nowhere near the vicissitude of reaction necessary to impede its hastening approach.


(*) Jake Moran is a graduate of International Relations from the University of Leeds, specializing in populist studies and the politics of national identity, particularly around Brexit.


References

— (2021). The networks and narratives of anti-refugee disinformation in Europe.  Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). https://www.isdglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/The-networks-and-narratives-of-anti-migrant-discourse-in-Europe.pdf

— (2021). Key Messages and Calls to Action. UNHCR. [Leaflet]. Glasgow.

Acras, R.L-A. (2012). “Climate Migrants: Legal Options.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. 37, pp. 86-96

Betts, A.; Bloom, L.; Kaplan, J. D. & Omata, N. (2017). Refugee economies: Forced displacement and development. Oxford University Press.

Dinas, Elias; Matakos, Konstantinos; Xefteris, Dimitrios & Hangartner, Dominik. (2019). “Waking up the Golden Dawn: Does exposure to the refugee crisis increase support for extreme-right parties?” Political Analysis. 27(2), pp.244–254.

Elander Ingemar; Granberg, Mikael and Montinc, Stig. (2022). “Governance and planning in a ‘perfect storm’: Securitising climate change, migration and Covid-19 in Sweden.” Progress in Planning. 164, pp. 100-634.

Ford, R.A, & Goodwin, M.J.G. (2014). Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain. London: Routledge.

Hangartner, Dominik; Dinas, Elias; Marbach, Moritz; Matakos, Konstantinos & Xefteris, Dimitrios. (2019). “Does exposure to the refugee crisis make natives more hostile?” American Political Science Review. 113(2), pp.442–455.

Kriesi, Hanspeter; Grande, Edgar; Lachat, Romain; Dolezal, Martin; Bornschier, Simon & Frey, Timotheos. (2012). “Globalization and its impact on national spaces of competition.” In: Kriesi, Hanspeter; Grande, Edgar; Lachat, Romain; Dolezal, Martin; Bornschier, Simon & Frey, Timotheos. ed(s). West European Politics in the Age of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 3-22). 

Moran, J.M. (2022). “Will the climate crisis lead to Europe’s next refugee crisis?” Voice of Youth. European Centre for Populist Studies. November 16, 2022. https://www.populismstudies.org/will-the-climate-crisis-lead-to-europes-next-refugee-crisis/ (accessed on November 28, 2022).

Telford, A.T. (2018). “A threat to climate-secure European futures? Exploring racial logics and climate-induced migration in US and EU climate security discourses.” Geoforum. 96, pp. 268-277.

Tomberg, Lukas; Smith Stegen, Karen & Vance, Colin. (2020). “’The mother of all political problems’? On asylum seekers and elections.” Ruhr Economic Papers, No. 879, ISBN 978-3-96973-018-8, RWI – Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Essen, https://doi.org/10.4419/96973018  

Torres, K.G. (2022). “The 2015 refugee inflow and concerns over immigration.” European Journal of Political Economy. October 26, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejpoleco.2022.102323

Vadlamannati, K.C.V. (2020). “Welfare Chauvinism? Refugee Flows and Electoral Support for Populist‐Right Parties in Industrial Democracies.” Social Science Quarterly. 101(4), pp. 1600–26.

Vanhalla, L.V. & Calliari, E.C. (2022). “Governing people on the move in a warming world: Framing climate change migration and the UNFCCC Task Force on Displacement.” Global Environmental Change. 76, pp. 102-578.

Zimmermann, K.F. (2016). Refugee Flows, Labor Mobility and Europe. ASSA Meeting Chicago 2017: Princeton University.

A group of people carry a boat by hand for the disappearance of the port due to rising sea levels due to climate change in Kutubdia, Bangladesh in July 2009. Photo: Salva Campillo.

Will the climate crisis lead to Europe’s next refugee crisis? 

The discussion of climate refugees has long been a feature of environmental security studies and predictions about the effects of climate change, particularly on Middle Eastern and Sub-Saharan African populations. One of the basic assumptions about climate-induced migration is that the shortage of water and damage to crops because of rising temperatures and drought will result in conflict over these scarce resources.

By Jake Moran*

As COP27 enters its second week in Egypt, stark warnings from world leaders have put climate refugees at the top of the agenda. Last week, Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley issued her prediction that the number of people displaced by climate change internationally will swell to 1 billion by 2050 (Mottley, in Greenfield, et al., 2022). The 2015 refugee crisis in Europe saw a humanitarian catastrophe unfold across its borders and on its seas, as multiple conflicts in the Middle East forced millions to flee their homes. 

In this article, I consider whether a similar chain of events could unravel from the destruction caused by climate change in the region and recommend greater international governance of refugee populations if this occurs. This enquiry forms the prelude to the subsequent article, in which I assess how climate-induced migration could produce a new frontier of far-right populism in Europe.

Climate Change, Conflict and Migration: A Tenuous Link

The discussion of climate refugees has long been a feature of environmental security studies and predictions about the effects of climate change, particularly on Middle Eastern and Sub-Saharan African populations (Hartmann, 2010; Selby and Hoffman, 2014a). One of the basic assumptions about climate-induced migration is that the shortage of water and damage to crops because of rising temperatures and drought will result in conflict over these scarce resources (also known as a Malthusian crisis) (Hartmann, 2010; Selby and Hoffmann, 2014b).

Reports by the Pentagon in 2003 and Christian Aid in 2007 cited the case of water scarcity caused by drought in Darfur, Sudan, which caused an outbreak of conflict in 2003. The reports further predict that such conflicts will continue as climate change pushes temperatures higher in arid regions (Hartmann, 2010; Selby and Hoffmann, 2014b). More recently, studies have pointed to the role of climate change in sparking the uprising in Syria in 2011, as prolonged droughts caused by rising temperatures devastated rural agriculture and forced populations to migrate into cities (Abel, et al., 2019; Gleick, 2014; Kelley et al., 2015). It was partly the lack of resources in urban areas to accommodate these rural populations that resulted in anti-government protests that sparked the war, and the case of Syria is often talked of as a blueprint which future climate-induced conflicts could spring from. 

However, these examples do not demonstrate a causal link between climate change and conflict (Abel, et al., 2019). Rather, climate change played a role in exacerbating existing socio-economic conditions which can lead to conflict (Hartmann, 2010). Readdressing the case study of Syria, while rising temperatures caused prolonged droughts, scarcity of water and agricultural destruction, climate change was not the only variable involved in this chain of events. The droughts took place against the backdrop of years of neglect by the Syrian government, which managed farming poorly and increased irrigation of agricultural lands, leaving these communities far more susceptible to droughts made worse by climate change (Abel, et al., 2019; Kelley, et al., 2015). 

Indeed, other authors highlight examples of resource scarcity caused by climate change that did not result in conflict but rather greater regional and community cooperation to manage these resources (Brown et al., 2007; Witsenburg and Roba, 2007 in Harmann, 2010). So, while climate change will result in greater resource scarcity for countries which are most vulnerable to its effects, it is the relationship these resources have with other socio-economic factors including government policies and demographic pressures (Abel, et al., 2019) which could provide the conditions necessary to induce conflict, as demonstrated in the case of the Syrian conflict.

With regards to the enquiry of this article, the literature establishes a pathway to understanding how climate change can spark conflict under certain pressures and that this will become more likely as the effects of climate change worsen. It is, thus, conceivable that in countries such as Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Syria, etc. that climate change will pose a greater threat and increase the likelihood of conflict and forced migration.

While I am cautious to avoid establishing a causal link between climate change, conflict and forced migration, especially given the criticisms made of the ‘neo-Malthusian’ narrative around ‘failed states’ being uniquely susceptible to climate-induced conflict (Hartmann, 2010; Selby and Hoffman, 2014b), the next section of this article will demonstrate how conflict in the regions most affected by climate change—Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries—are likely to produce a growing refugee population as the effects of climate change in this region worsen.

Destination: Europe. Will Climate-Afflicted Refugees Migrate to Europe?

11 years after the Syrian Civil War began (European Commission, 2021), refugees are entering Europe at an unprecedented rate. The growing number of small boat crossings to the UK from France, and the increased settling of Syrian as well as Afghan refugees, demonstrate that Europe remains a focal destination for refugees coming from the MENA region. So, if the next chapter of the climate crisis is indeed a story of conflict and migration in the most vulnerable regions of the world, will Europe become host to an even greater population of refugees? To answer this question, this section will examine how conflict and migration have already played out in Europe.

What became known as the Refugee Crisis in Europe, began in 2015, when around 868,000 refugees arrived in the year’s second half—almost six times the refugees who arrived in the first half of the year (UNHCR, 2018 in Torres, 2022). Indeed, conflicts in Yemen, Libya and elsewhere had already contributed to a rise in refugees from the MENA region, but the influx from the Syrian Civil War pushed that number to its peak, as Syrian refugees came to represent the largest group of asylees in Europe (Petillo, 2021). Most entered by either land or sea through EU border countries like Hungary, Greece, Italy and Macedonia. Many went onward to France, Sweden and Germany, the latter of which received more asylum claims in 2015 (BBC News, 2016).

Europe is a destination for refugees fleeing from MENA, not least because of its geographical proximity to the region and ease of access, but also because of its relative wealth, social services, stability and scale of economic opportunity. All these factors make Europe an appealing place to start a new life (Kings College London, 2015). Further still, language plays a crucial role in the decision of many refugees to migrate to Europe, especially in the context of former colonial countries, where speaking the language of their former colonists—mainly French or English—allows migrants to integrate and find employment quicker. Displaced people also often have family or relationships with other refugees that have already fled to Europe and seek to follow them for reasons of support or familiarity.

So, does the previous wave of refugees which escalated due to the Syrian war and Europe’s relative attractiveness, mean that this is bound to be repeated as the climate crisis increases conflict and migration in the MENA region? I argue that this is likely.

It is certainly true that not all migration attributed to climate change will be bound for Europe. Mobility within countries affected by climate change is already predicted to be the main route taken by populations displaced by climate change (USA for UNHCR, 2021). This means that the brunt of refugees may not enter Europe at all. Instead, they are more likely to move to towns and cities within their home countries where surviving economically without relying on climate-afflicted sectors like agriculture is possible (Chung, et al., 2022). Additionally, countries within the region received a greater number of refugees than Europe during the Syrian refugee crisis, in particular Turkey and Lebanon (Cockburn, 2015). Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the majority of refugees affected by climate change in this region will migrate to Europe.

However, the plight of refugees fleeing from conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, have all produced a sizeable upturn in the refugee population migrating to Europe. The story of Syria shows just how far refugees from the MENA region will travel in search of safety. Numbers of small boat crossings to the UK from France are at an all-time high with most refugees coming from Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria (Home Office, 2022). So, while refugees affected by climate change will migrate within their own countries and to neighbouring ones, the experience of the 2015 refugee crisis and persistence of refugees migrating from the MENA countries to Europe today, clearly indicates that any future conflict or devastating climate event will likely result in an upsurge of refugees migrating to Europe for safety. 

Since the entire MENA region will be affected by climate change—and many states (such as Yemen and Afghanistan) are already in a state of conflict, poverty or weak governance, impeding their ability to support vulnerable populations—this increase in refugee numbers will be substantial. 

Conclusion

This article described the tenuous link between climate change, conflict, and migration. While acknowledging that this is not a causal link, it remains to be seen if socio-economic pressures currently experienced by vulnerable countries and regions could be exacerbated by climate change, sparking conflict. As the Syrian experience demonstrates, such conflict is likely to result in a growth of the refugee population migrating to Europe, especially due to its multiple ‘pull’ factors for refugees originating in the climate-vulnerable MENA region.

Therefore, it will be incumbent on the international community to develop a rigid framework of governance to manage this new population of refugees displaced by climate-induced conflicts and share responsibility for the burden on each European country and region. Doing so will be crucial for humanitarian reasons, especially given the role that Europe has had historically in causing climate change and avoiding the chaos of 2015 which resulted in unnecessary suffering for refugees. I will discuss the establishment of this framework in future writing.

The findings of this article form the basis of my next piece: assessing whether the increase in refugees displaced by climate change will result in a surge of far-right populism. In this subsequent article, I will argue that failing to support regions most vulnerable to the effects of climate change is likely to produce a new wave of populism in Europe.


(*) Jake Moran is a graduate of International Relations from the University of Leeds, specialising in populist studies and the politics of national identity, particularly around Brexit.


References

— (2016). “Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts.” BBC News. Marc 4, 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911 (accessed on November 12, 2022). 

— (2018). “Refugee situations — Mediterranean situation: Operational portal.” UNHCR,http://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean#_ga=1 (accessed on November 15, 2022).

— (2021). “How climate change impacts refugees and displaced communities.” USA for UNHCR. September 21, 2021. https://www.unrefugees.org/news/how-climate-change-impacts-refugees-and-displaced-communities/ (accessed on November 8, 2022). 

— (2021). “Overall figures of immigrants in European society.” European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/promoting-our-european-way-life/statistics-migration-europe_en#RefugeesinEurope (accessed on November 13, 2022). 

— (2022). “Factsheet: Small boat crossings since July 2022.” Home Office. London: GOV.UK.https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/factsheet-small-boat-crossings-since-july-2022/factsheet-small-boat-crossings-since-july-2022 (accessed on November 13, 2022). 

Abel, G.A.; Brottrager, Michael; Cuaresma, Jesus Crespo; Muttarak, Raya. (2019). “Climate, conflict and forced migration.” Global Environmental Change. 54(1), pp. 239-249.

Brown, O; Hammill A. & McLeman, R. (2007). “Climate change as the new security threat: implications for Africa.” International Affairs. 83(6), pp.1141–1154.

Chung, J, et al. (2022). “Climate mobilities into cities: A systematic review of literature from 2011 to 2022.” Urban Climate. 45(1), pp. 101-252.

Cockburn, P. (2015). “Refugee crisis: Where are all these people coming from and why?” The Independent. September 7, 2015. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/refugee-crisis-where-are-all-these-people-coming-from-and-why-10490425.html (accessed on November 12, 2022). 

Gleick, P.H. (2014). “Water, drought, climate change, and conflict in Syria.” Weather Climate Society. 6(3), pp. 331-340.

Hartmann, B.H. (2010). “Rethinking climate refugees and climate conflict: Rhetoric, reality and the politics of policy discourse.” Journal of International Development. 22(2), pp. 233-246.

Kelley, S.K, et al. (2015). “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought.” PNAS. 112(11), pp. 3241-3246.

King S College London. (2015). “Why do refugees and migrants come to Europe, and what must be done to ease the crisis?” The Telegraph. September 4, 2015. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/11845205/Why-do-refugees-and-migrants-come-to-Europe-and-what-must-be-done-to-ease-the-crisis.html (accessed on November 13, 2022). 

Mottley, M. (2022). “Barbados PM launches blistering attack on rich nations at Cop27 climate talks.” The Guardian. November 7, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/07/barbados-pm-mia-mottley-launches-blistering-attack-on-rich-nations-at-cop27-climate-talks (accessed on November 8, 2022).

Petillo, K. (2021). “Out of place: Why Europe needs a new refugee policy.” ECFR. February 4, 2021. https://ecfr.eu/article/out-of-place-why-europe-needs-a-new-refugee-policy/ (accessed on November 11, 2022).

Selby, J.S. & Hoffmann, C.H. (2014a). “Beyond scarcity: Rethinking water, climate change and conflict in the Sudans.” Global Environmental Change. 29(1), pp. 360-370.

Selby, J.S. & Hoffmann, C.H. (2014b). “Rethinking Climate Change, Conflict and Security.” Geopolitics. 19(1), pp. 747-756.

Torres, K.G. (2022). “The 2015 refugee inflow and concerns over immigration.” European Journal of Political Economy.October 26, 2022. pp.102-323. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejpoleco.2022.102323

Witsenburg K. & Roba, AW. (2007). “The use and management of water sources in Kenya’s drylands: Is there a link between scarcity and violent conflicts?” In: Conflicts over Land and Water in Africa. Derman, B.; Odgaard, R, & Sjaastad, E. (eds). James Currey: Oxford.

Photo: Netflix.

Youth Populism and the Aesthetics of Dread in Je suis Karl

Right-wing populism does not need staged violence to attract new recruits. Online rabbit-holes and the “smart branding” of a new “hipster image” in place of skinhead aesthetics were more than enough to set Generation Identity in motion. The world is still not safe for young people – not because of immigrants, but because of genuinely dangerous and far less graspable forces. This commentary reviews the 2021 German-Czech film Je Suis Karl, about far-right agitation and radicalization among young people. 

By Heidi Hart

“Just crossed the border!” squeals a middle-aged Frenchwoman in a car, in English, filming herself. She and her German husband have just smuggled a Libyan refugee out of Hungary; his face jumps into the screen from under a blanket. This jittery, found-footage effect carries over into the next scene, as the couple’s teenage daughter returns home to Berlin from visiting her grandparents in Paris. The family, with two young sons they call “the Bonsai,” have a comfortable, bourgeois life that seems a bit smug in their “multikulti” do-gooding and cooking with fresh herbs. 

After the father Alex (Milan Peschel) accepts a package delivered for an elderly neighbor, tragedy strikes as a bomb inside the box decimates half of the apartment building. Outside in the street, Alex struggles to stand up in the falling ash and cradles a dead blackbird in his hand. A pulsing soundtrack follows emergency vehicles onto the scene. Alex’s wife and sons have been killed in the explosion. 

Filmed partly around Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin, Je suis Karl (2021) recalls the protests and counter-protests there in 2015-16, when I lived in that area and passed rows of police vans every Monday night to lead a Quaker vigil for nonviolence and inclusion. After the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, tensions were high all over Germany, as the populist PEGIDA organization drew supporters who feared the “Islamification” of Europe. My community’s own do-gooder impulses felt small in response to the rising wave of nationalist fervor, especially in the former East Germany (Jegic, 2018).

Je suis Karl also recalls the “Je suis Charlie” slogan popularized – and polarized in right-wing circles – after the 2015 attack. As the film’s plot unfolds, Maxi (Luna Wedler), Alex’s daughter who has survived the bombing, finds herself recruited by a confident young man involved in a pan-European youth group armed with pamphlets, YouTube videos, concerts, and conferences that stoke young people’s socio-political anxieties. Maxi’s father has identified the courier of the explosive package as having a “dark beard,” unintentionally feeding the xenophobic biases of groups like the film’s fictional Re/Generation Europe, based on the “hipster” far-right group Generation Identity in Germany. 

The truth turns out to be even more twisted, when group leader Karl (Jannis Niewöhner) reveals that Re/Generation planted the bomb to stir up anti-immigrant fears. Because this is genuinely multicultural Berlin, however, public reaction has been more compassionate than enraged. At a conference in Prague, where Karl seduces Maxi to win her over more completely to the cause, plans emerge for more staged violence. 

Karl plots his own shooting in France, amid campaign events for a far-right female candidate who comes across as a younger version of currently embattled Marine Le Pen. Named Odile (like the “evil twin” ballerina in Swan Lake), this seemingly fun and engaging young woman draws Maxi into her circle of approval and influence, with a campaign slogan that reads simply “POUR” (“FOR”). 

After the shooting, the feel-good, ostensibly female-friendly, rhetorically upside-down appeal of Re/Generation Europe (their pamphlet includes language about “protecting diversity”) explodes into openly racist attacks in the streets. Maxi escapes with her father and his refugee rescue Yusuf (Aziz Dyab), who have tracked her down and cradle her in an underground tunnel while Yusuf sings soothingly in Arabic.

As several reviewers have noted, the film’s plot is contrived and Maxi’s conversion not entirely convincing (Van Hoeij, 2021Kenigsberg, 2021). German director Christian Schwochow’s efforts to frame a tale of right-wing infatuation is strategically similar if ideologically opposite to the left-wing teenage drama Wir sind die Welle (We Are the Wave, 2019), in its treatment of rising political zeal amid hormonal surges and generational resentments. In that case, students who feel their comfortably liberal parents are not doing enough to counter environmental and racial issues take things into their own increasingly radical hands. 

While this youthful phenomenon is nothing new, right-wing populism does not need staged violence to attract new recruits. Online rabbit-holes and the “smart branding” of a new “hipster image” in place of skinhead aesthetics (Somaskanda, 2017) were more than enough to set Generation Identity in motion, though the movement’s various iterations have faced de-platforming and outright bans in the past four years (Hume, Langston, and Bennett, 2021). Conceived before the Covid-19 pandemic, Je suis Karl seems even more contrived today, when anti-vaccine sentiment has joined with far-right ideology seemingly overnight, especially in German-speaking countries (Morris, 2021).

Photo taken from Netflix.

 

What Je suis Karl does convey effectively, aside from plot, is a material sense of dread in an uncertain world. The film includes several overt visual references to the German series Dark (2017-20): dead birds falling from the sky, and a feathery black mask that Maxi wears, recalling the pattern over young people’s burned eyes in that complex time-travel series. Particularly striking moments occur when Maxi’s father Alex keeps trying to answer his cell phone and sees instead the dead bird, over and over, in his hand, or when he buries the bird in a flowerpot under the bonsai that recalls his dead sons’ joint nickname. 

Just as Dark is not only about time and missing children (its sidelong theme is environmental-existential dread), Je suis Karl is also, by unavoidable default, about the malaise and anxiety facing those coming of age in a time of climate crisis and seemingly unbridgeable political divides – even before the pandemic threw school and social life into numbing disarray. Recurring visual motifs like the dead bird might seem heavy handed, but the film’s cinematography treats those moments with equal parts jitter and blur, creating a palpably unsettling quality. 

The sound of dripping water in the tunnel in the film’s final scene recalls similar aesthetics in Andrei Tarkovsky’s sensually rich work, for example in the toxic chemical plant where he filmed Stalker (1979) near Tallinn, Estonia. This final sound, more than Yusuf’s singing, undermines what would otherwise be an easy or sentimental ending. The world is still not safe for young people – not because of immigrants, but because of genuinely dangerous and far less graspable forces. 

Je suis Karl is now available for streaming on Netflix.

Hundreds of immigrants had to wait at the border between Greece and FYROM waiting for the right time to continue their journey from unguarded passages on September 24, 2015 in Idomeni, Greece. Photo: Ververidis Vasilis.

Ethnographic Reflexivity: Why listening to individuals matters in an age of populistic cacophony

Populism and migration studies should be a vital voice to people and should include individual narratives and multi-perspectival methodologies into work instead of limiting themselves with the meta-narrative discussions and frameworks. Until then it can produce multi-perspectival, grounded narratives that develop a certain critique before populism.

By Dilek Karal

In a book club or let it be an intellectual cafe of castaway academics, one of us said: “How weird is that we all are KHK[i]people…” KHK was the abbreviation for governmental decrees that cost more than a hundred and fifty thousand people their jobs and more in Turkey… Among them were bureaucrats, state officials, journalists, teachers, and us: a group of academics trying to survive in different countries rounded in a Zoom meeting discussing “ethics.” 

Another meaning of KHK –that you could not find any international report or local dictionary was that– the labeled, scapegoat, the unwanted… one step further: terrorist. All times’ usual suspects, persona non grata. Its effect grew in your gut and your surroundings after you got it like an epidemic. If you become a KHK person, you get scapegoated, isolated, have to explain yourself, or keep your silence to have a second chance out of humiliating, pejorative legal mechanisms. 

All of us paused and thought over the memories of the past 6 years that drastically changed our lives after the controversial coup attempt in Turkey in 2016. Not all of us had the KHK but some of us were still unwanted ones of the state since we either were families with people, the state found dangerous or we were dangerous because of our opposing positions or views to government. This was a scene beyond overarching holistic discourses and populistic cacophonies. Life experiences and stories of real individuals, where their life is directly affected by any populistic discourse or action. Like it happened to me and my colleagues.

The problematic aspect of generalist or data-centered perspectives in social science is that when a bad happens to thousands of people, you get the feeling that a personal story is of non-significance. Just a thing, among other things. All the pain, social isolation, curfew, fear become unfortunate “normal” as if it does not count. Overall, the immigrants in this personal example are just numbers in totalistic data-centric perspective of today’s migration studies, however, as being one of them, I can personally tell beyond data or any dictionaries. This personal example reminded me of the two major problematic perspectives that we encounter in today’s populism studies: responding to generalist and data-centric claims of populists with generalizations. Second, limited space is given to populism in ethnographic studies.

Taking anti-immigrant discourse as a departing point example, I suggest digging into reflexive ethnographies more to make human narratives more vivid and distancing migration research (or any kind of social research) from highly populistic and politicized discussions on migration today. In this short introductory discussion, I claim that populism studies to be a vital voice to people, should and must include individual narratives and multi-perspectival methodologies into work instead of limiting themselves within the meta-narrative discussions and frameworks. Until then it can produce multi-perspectival, grounded narratives that develop a certain critique before populism.

Populism vs. Individual

Defined as a “thin-centered ideology and rather a discursive frame” (Mudde, 2007), populism is a meta-discourse between discourse and ideology playing in with the “antagonism between people and elites against the backdrop of popular sovereignty” (Aslanidis, 2015: 88). As Frank (2017) pointed out earlier, as individuals evanesce from the public space, populism speaks for the masses. “The defining claim of populism emerges from the democratic necessity and impossibility of the people speaking in their name. Populism emerges as an event by exploiting this tension between the authorized representation of public authority and the enactment of popular power that proceeds without authorization” (Frank, 2017: 631). That is how populism stands against the individualization of discourse. 

Anti-elitism, people centrism, popular sovereignty stands as the core dynamics of populism (Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2012) along with xenophobia and anti-immigrant discourse. However, the populistic perspective considers people, the nation as a collective or as if an organism that moves in tandem. That is why we encounter much of a terminology “our nation”, “others”, “elites” as if there are groups of people carrying fictitious banners of their group. Similarly, immigrants are the modern scapegoats for populist leaders. They are considered as the perfect other of populist vision of the nation. However, immigrant as a general term is more generalized in the hands of populists where they are counted as long as they are considered as a nation of immigrants.  

There is no space in populistic policies for the individual. The only individual at the center is their “charismatic leader” in the Weberian sense. As once philosopher Carl Jung used to define Hitler: You cannot speak to Hitler, such an initiation is alike speaking to a whole nation. Rather than an individual with weaknesses, psychological problems, or clumsiness, populistic leaders are perfectionated personalities as “nation” in their terms.[ii]

Possibility of an Ethnographic Reflexive Critique towards Populism

As expected, populism did not find a large resonance in ethnographic studies or anthropology though it is largely handled as a topic of political science or more generalist frameworks. The growing political wave was “anathema to anything and everything anthropological thought has ever represented” (Bangstad, 2017). While ethnographic studies centered upon individual experience as a core starting point to evaluate social, populism and alike ideologies are mostly seen as topics of the more holistic kind not suitable for ethnographic studies. Similarly, Mazzarella (2021) names populism as an awkward topic to discuss for anthropologists, criticizing the ethnographic and anthropological studies’ distancing themselves from political or popular topics. 

In this regard, anti-immigration discourse is overall highly populist where individuals’ stories dissolve from the scene while answering populists’ holistic claims. For example, when a populist leader calls immigrants a burden on the economy, we are trying to prove that they are not. However, within this dichotomic thinking, we are underestimating the humanitarian value of individual for just being a human being, even this individual is a person who cannot make any contribution to the economy. Think about immigrants who are elderly, living with disabilities, or just children. I insist that instead of defending immigrants via generalizing data before any populist policy, we should propose the value of the individual through developing more of an individualistic discourse both in populism and migration studies.

I claim that reflexive ethnographies can present alternative research methodologies both for the study of immigration and anti-immigrant populistic discourses. Ethnographic reflexivity, on the other hand, is mainly the researcher’s positioning herself as a part of research and adding her insights, observations, distance or closeness to the narration of the research and analysis. While “postmodern individual is structuring itself via language, that is narrative” (Neyzi, 1999: 3), we should seek new frameworks to develop a critique of populistic meta-narratives, epic and didactic stories that consider people as long as they belong to a group with clear boundaries such as a nation. 

Reflexivity values ethnographies though the critique of the categorical and national character of migration research claiming perspectival, political and performative nature of categories are lacking to describe migration phenomenon (Dahinden, Fischer & Menet, 2015: 31-33). Alike reflexive methodologies can develop objective and realistic research that inherently facilitates a critique towards populism: irrational populistic cacophonies vs. human narrative and experience.

Contrary to dichotomic thinking present in sociology, in search of a more social constructivist way, autoethnography also functions as a passage “by definition operates as a bridge, connecting autobiography and ethnography in order to study the intersection of self and others, self and culture” (Ellingson & Ellis, 2008: 446). Researching of the self through autoethnographies, qualitative researchers develop introspection via “diaries, journals, freewriting, field notes and narratives of his or her lived experiences, thoughts and feelings, and then using these as data” (Ellis, 1991 as cited in Ellingson & Ellis, 2008: 451). Through a reconstruction of experiences, reflections and memories, the researcher became both the subject and the object of research (Ellingson & Ellis, 2008: 451). I argue that reflexive ethnography can fully integrate reflexivity without abandoning its claims to develop valid knowledge of social reality before populistic claims (Davies, 1999: Preface). Autoethnography provides us means to deconstruct the dichotomy between the researcher and the researched. In this regard, “Author’s own experiences emotions and meanings become data for exploration” (Ellingson & Ellis, 2008: 451). 

This type of knowledge is omnipresent in multiple mechanisms of migration policies however, has it given value in social science apart from ethnographers or sociologists? As Fischer (2017) claims “anthropology has to “reinvent itself as a vital public voice, activating society and supporting values of the social good for the contemporary worlds emergent around us.” That sound critique can be reversed and directed towards any studies around popular topics including but not limited to populism studies while “all the apparently informal sayings, doings, and feelings that in fact become decisive for formal political outcomes, especially in populist times” (Das, 2006; Gutmann, 2002; Spencer, 2007 in Mazzarella, 2021: 54). If so, why do not we activate the power of the individual as an agent who produces multiple, vivid discourses instead of assigning individual a presupposed subaltern, subordinate, pathetic role in politics and research?[iii]

References

Aslanidis, P. (2015). “Is Populism an Ideology? A Refutation and a New Perspective.” Political Studies. 64 (1_suppl):88-104. doi:10.1111/1467-9248.12224

Bangstad, S. (2017). “Academic freedom in an age of populism.” Anthropology News. Feb. 13.

Dahinden, J.; Fischer, C. & Menet, J. (2020). “Knowledge production, reflexivity, and the use of categories in migration studies: tackling challenges in the field.” Ethnic and Racial Studies. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2020.1752926Das 2006

Davies, C. A. (1999). Reflexive Ethnography: A guide to researching selves

and others. Routledge: London and NY.

Ellingson, L. L., & Ellis, C. (2008). “Autoethnography as constructionist project.” In: J. A. Holstein & J. F. Gubrium (Eds.), Handbook of constructionist research. (pp. 445-465). New York: Guilford.

Frank, J. (2017). “Populism and praxis.” In: Rovira Kaltwasser et al. The Oxford Handbook of Populism. pp. 629–643.

Mazzarella, W. (2021). “The Anthropology of Populism: Beyond the Liberal Settlement.” Annual Review of Anthropology. 48:45–60. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-102218-011412.

Mouffe C. (2018). For a Left Populism. London: Verso.

Mudde C. (2007). Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Mudde, C. & Rovira Kaltwasser, C. (2012). (eds). Populism in Europe and Americas: Threat or Corrective for Democracy. 

Neyzi, L. (1999). İstanbul’da Hatırlamak ve Unutmak: Birey, Bellek, Aidiyet. Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları: İstanbul.


[i] After the controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the government in Turkey, using emergency decrees, dismissed more than 152,000 civil servants, including academics, teachers, police officers, health

workers, judges and prosecutors. Turkish government has taken more than 150,000 people into custody during the state of emergency and arrested more than 78,000 on terrorism-related charges, 50,000 of whom are still in jail (European Commission, 2019). 155,560 people are still currently under investigation due to their alleged links to the coup attempt (Hurriyet Daily News, 2019). (Information retrieved form the report: Political Persecution and Intersections of Violence against Women in Turkey by Hand in Hand for Women).

[ii] For a detailed discussion on totalitarian leadership and its reflections among public please see Arendt, H. (1964). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil. New York: Viking Press

[iii] For a detailed discussion of subordinated individual please see Spivak, G.C. (1988). “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In: Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds) Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. London: Macmillan.