by Emily Katzenstein
Emily Katzenstein: You describe your own work in terms of ‘decolonising urban spaces’ through artistic interventions. Can you tell us what that decolonisation means in this context? What projects are you currently working on?
Yolanda Gutiérrez: At the moment, I have two different kinds of projects. One is the Urban Bodies Projects. That’s a project that deals with the colonial past of European cities. I am working with local dancers in each city. The next one will be in Mexico City, and then one, next year, in Kigali. My second project is the Decolonycities Project. That’s a project about dealing with the German colonial past in the city of Hamburg, through the eyes of those who were colonised. I am planning to do five projects in five countries—Togo, Cameroon, Tanzania, Namibia, and Rwanda [countries Germany colonised in the late 19th and early 20th century—eds.]
And then I have the Bismarck-Dekolonial Project, which I started when this Bismarck controversy arose. In Hamburg, they are renovating the Bismarck monument for €9 million. It became a big controversy and overlapped with the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S., and here in Germany. Here in Hamburg, activists started to paint or graffiti all kinds of colonial monuments and symbols of white supremacy. Suddenly, overnight, these monuments had been altered. But you can’t really do that with the Bismarck statue because they’re currently renovating it and it’s surrounded by protective walls. So, we’ve been having a two year long discussion about what should happen with the Bismarck monument.
The discussion in Hamburg was driven by a lot of activists, especially people of colour. For me, however, it was important to see what would happen if we brought in the perspectives of artists from former German colonies (Namibia, Cameroon, Togo, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania—eds.) who are living with the consequences of Bismarck’s role in Germany’s colonial past. So I acted as a producer and curator, and I invited artists from the countries that Germany colonised in Africa to stage their own performances in Hamburg, at historical sites that are linked to Germany’s colonial past. The artists who participated were Isack Peter Abeneko, Dolph Banza, Vitjitua Ndjiharine, Stone, Moussa Issiaka, Fabian Villasana aka Calavera, Sarah Lasaki, Faizel Browny, Samwel Japhet, and Shabani Mugado.
That’s a political statement. When the invited artists put themselves in the spaces that have some significance in Germany’s colonial history, they appropriate those spaces. The artists put on performances that reinterpreted the meaning of the places in which they performed. During the International Summer Festival, when the invited artists from Bismarck-Dekolonial put on their performances, for example, the audience could participate in what I call a decolonising audio-walk: you could see the artists’ performance while simultaneously listening to an audio track that plays the sounds of German troops leaving the Hamburg port, for example—a huge event at the time. So, the audio of German troops leaving from the Hamburg port is juxtaposed with the performance of the artists from Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Cameroon. You are listening to an audio track about the event of German colonial troops leaving from the Hamburg port, and, simultaneously, you see the performances of artists who are descendants of those who were most directly affected by Germany’s colonial policy.
We often tend to think of history as something stale, dead—something that belongs in the past, that we don’t care about. In discussions of Germany’s colonial past, that is a reaction that you encounter quite often. People say: That’s in the past and there is nothing that we can do about it. The past cannot be undone. And my reaction is: Yes, the past cannot be undone but we can change the perspective of how we look at history.
EK That is something that brings the different contributions of this series together—the sense that the past is, in a sense, contemporaneous, and that the stories that we tell about the past are crucial to our sense of who we are today. Can I come back to the question I asked earlier? What does decolonisation mean when it comes to artistic interventions? How do you conceive of decolonisation in your own work?
YG: Yes, my work reflects on the fact that history has been written by the colonisers. For hundreds of years, the colonial gaze has shaped our understanding of the societies that Europeans colonised. For example, during the Spanish conquest of Latin America, Spanish priests often took on the role of historians. Their impressions of the societies they encountered was heavily influenced by the own cultural presuppositions. For example, they had certain notions about the role of women in society, notions about gender roles, etc. That coloured and distorted their view of the societies they tried to describe. In the case of women in Aztec society, for example, they confused expectation and reality, and described what they expected to find—they portrayed Aztec women as unemancipated and occupying a predominantly domestic role, because that’s the way they saw the role of women in Catholic Spain. But now there are new histories of indigenous societies. There was an amazing exhibition in the Linden Museum Stuttgart on Aztecs culture, for example, that reflected very critically on the ways of seeing that have shaped European impressions of Aztec society over generations. That is what I am trying to do in terms of my artistic interventions—to publicise and communicate ‘unwritten’ histories, untold stories, and marginalised historical perspectives.
To do that, I work closely with historians. For example, my most recent project is situated in Namibia, which was colonised by Germany in the late 19th and early 20th century. From the beginning, I’ve collaborated with Jan Kawlath, a doctoral student in history at the University of Hamburg. His PhD investigates how the departure of German colonial troops was publicly celebrated to performatively construct images of Germany as a colonial power. And when we visit the historical sites at which we will stage performances, we listen to his writings about events that took place there, and his writing about these places and sites informs our choreography.
In that sense, my work is influenced by Gloria Wekker’s work on the cultural archive. Wekker writes so powerfully about the importance of the cultural archive. There’s also a James Baldwin quote that captures it well: “History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals.”
EK: In your work, you’ve experimented with different modes of presentation and media to stage decolonising artistic interventions. You already mentioned the ‘decolonising audio-walk’. Can you explain the concept of a decolonising audio walk?
YG: Yes, I use the concept of decolonising audio walks in all my projects. The audience has head-phones, and walks to historical sites that have some significance in the colonial past of the city. When you arrive at a site, you see the performance while listening to the audio soundtrack. It is a combination of different types of information, historical facts, interviews with experts, statements by artists, music, etc. etc. Afterwards, you walk to the next site, and so on. It is a way to incorporate a lot of different elements: Dance, audio—it’s an embodied experience for the audience because they walk through the city. Walking through the city allows you to see familiar places with new eyes. I mean, normally, once you’ve lived in a city for a while, you assume you know the place and you’re not going to go on a tour of the city. But then, during the decolonising audio walk, you experience yourself not knowing the city that you assumed you knew, and that allows you to uncover the histories that are normally not talked about.
EK On the website of the Bismarck-Dekolonial Project, you raise a question that I found fascinating, and that I wanted to put to you: namely, what kinds of artistic interventions are effective in contributing to decolonising urban spaces? How do you think about the different artistic strategies and interventions one can stage, and about the differences in the impact they have? With regards to the ‘decolonising audio-walk’, is there a tension between this momentary performative intervention and the monuments that embody permanence? Can performances effectively contest the built environment?
YG: Performances in urban spaces are a way to reach people easily. By contrast, universities have, for a couple of years, been doing a lot of “Ringvorlesungen” (series of lectures by different speakers), where you have artists and academics talk to each other about decolonisation. I have been following all these discussions, and I think that’s also an interesting approach, but they don’t reach a broad audience. Similarly, in the arts, there are many exhibitions that deal with decolonisation, but they are framed in a very particular way, and it’s for a particular audience; they don’t reach as many people. And what I really love about dance is that it allows me to juxtapose different temporalities and sensory impressions—historical accounts or sounds from the past are juxtaposed with a performance that’s very much in the moment. You can connect the history to which you are listening to what you see. In that sense, it’s a way to demonstrate the contemporaneity of the past. It’s like puzzle pieces coming together.
But audio walks, and performances more generally, are ephemeral, and that is my big challenge. You can put on as many performances as you like—for example, during the International Summer Festival 2021 in Hamburg, we put on five performances every day, which was already a lot. But even if you do a hundred performances per day, it doesn’t change the fact that it is ephemeral. So right now, my big question is how we can turn this into something more permanent. Because it’s all about memory, right? It’s about memorials and historical sites that need to be decolonised. And the challenge for me is: How can I, as an artist in the performing arts, leave a print that’s permanent? I am trying to get ‘into memory’ and I am still trying to figure out how far we can go with these performances and audio-walks in historical sites, what their impact is.
So that’s my big next challenge. I always say that the fact that the artists who participated in the Bismarck-Dekolonial Project—Isack Peter Abeneko, Dolph Banza, Vitjitua Ndjiharine, Stone, Moussa Issiaka, Fabian Villasana aka Calave, Sarah Lasaki, Faizel Browny, Samwel Japhet, and Shabani Mugado—put on these performances around the Bismarck monument means that the space has been altered. It is no longer the same space, no longer holds the same meaning. The traces they left are ephemeral but they are there, nonetheless. There is a trace. That’s why I want to work on putting up a QR code or something similar. At the moment, my idea is to combine it with a visually appealing sculpture or something else that attracts passers-by, so that they say: “What’s that? I want to know more.” And then they can use the QR code to watch the performance that happened in the space.
EK: One of the questions that always structures debates about contested monuments, it seems to me, is how we should think about the relationship between meaning and monuments. As an artist, how do you think about this relationship between monuments and meaning? Can we speak of a ‘hegemonic’ meaning of particular monuments or should we think about a multiplicity of meanings? Should we oppose hegemonic meanings with counter-hegemonic meanings, or prioritise showcasing the diversity and multiplicity of possible interpretations and meanings? What’s your approach to this?
YG: In Germany, we haven’t spent enough time reflecting Germany’s colonial past. The Second World War is obviously a horrific part of Germany’s history, and it tends to overshadow everything else, including Germany’s colonial past. But that means that you miss crucial connections, and that people don’t know Germany’s colonial past. For example, that the idea of the concentration camps was first developed during the genocide of the Herero and Nama in Namibia, camps that were built in the beginning of the 20th century. For me, the representation of Bismarck is a symbol of the power that Germany had in the world at that time. In the case of Bismarck, this is dangerous, because it works as a magnet for the right-wing, and we experienced that in a very, very bad way. During the performance of Vitjitua Ndjiharine, a visual artist from Namibia, one person in the audience suddenly went up to her and gave the Hitlergruß. He was facing the Bismarck monument, and stood in front of her, and gave the Hitlergruß.
So, trying to deal with this statue and with what it represents is exactly where the power is, for me. I mean, just look at it. The sheer measure of the monument is so imposing. And I think that’s the way that Germans were feeling when they colonised Namibia. If you read the writings of German colonial officials at the time, there is this feeling of supremacy. And that’s difficult to deal with, especially now, when they are polishing the Bismarck monument and literally making it whiter.
EK: There have been many proposals as to what should happen with the Bismarck monument. Some have argued that the monument should be removed altogether, others have argued that it should be turned on its head, and yet others propose letting it crumble. I assume letting it crumble is not really an option for safety reasons, but I’ve always liked the symbolism of it. What do you think should happen with the monument?
YG: I think if you vanish the Bismarck monument that doesn’t mean that you’ve vanished the meaning of Bismarck in the minds of people; what his figure means for people. And you can’t simply let the monument crumble—the size of the monument means that that is unfeasible. There were issues with the static of the monument, that’s why they’re renovating it. I mean with some monuments, you can let them crumble, no problem, but given the size of the Bismarck monument that’s not feasible.
But you know what? I could see it happening in a video, a video that’s then projected unto the Bismarck monument. That’s something that we have experimented with, too. We didn’t pull the statue down but we did what we call ‘video mapping.’ We did it at night, and that’s when I really felt like an activist. I had a generator, and it was midnight, and we had to set everything up. That’s the first time where I had to inform the municipality and said: Hey, I'm going to do this at the Bismarck monument. And they said, OK, that’s fine. You're going to destroy it. Nothing is going to happen. But I mean, you could see the change—suddenly the Bismarck monument became the canvas instead of the symbol it usually represents.
Of course, that’s a temporary intervention. But I am also convinced that we need a permanent artistic intervention. I think we need an open space for discussions. For example, I could imagine a garden around the monument, a place where we can keep this dialogue and this discussion going once the renovation is done.
I am not a visual artist, obviously, but I was on a podium discussion about decolonising and recontextualising the Bismarck statue with several other artists. There were two very interesting women, Dior Thiam, a visual artist from Berlin, and Joiri Minaya, a Dominican- American artist based in New York. Joiri Minaya has already covered two colonial statues at the port of Hamburg, a statue of Vasco da Gama and a statue of Christopher Columbus, with printed fabrics of her own design—it’s very interesting work. As I said, I am not a visual artist, but I think that a permanent art intervention is necessary. Because what I do is so ephemeral, and I have the sense that we need to reach as broad an audience as possible.
EK: The discussions about what to do with the Bismarck monument have been ongoing for the last two years. What impact has the debate had? Do you get the sense that the debate has contributed to a broader political awareness of Bismarck’s role in Germany’s colonial past in Hamburg? Or is this largely a debate amongst a relatively narrow set of actors?
YG: Yes, the question about impact. What I got tired of were all these discussions on advisory boards, and advisory committees: People discuss a lot. I am a maker, and I sat at a lot of these discussions and said, yes, we can keep discussing but we also need to do something now. And people had a lot of reasons for why we couldn’t do anything until later. But to me it seemed wrong to wait until the renovations are finished. It seemed like a strange idea to stage an intervention once Bismarck’s shining in all his glory, you know. The discussions are good and all, but they are not enough. They don’t reach enough people; they don’t reach communities. I think it would be fantastic to have something like the project Monument Lab in the United States here in Germany. Monument Lab is combination of different layers of communities—they bring together artists, activists, municipal agencies, cultural institutions, and young people. That’s precisely what we need to do around the Bismarck statue. We need a multilayered participatory process that includes different groups in society.
 Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, Isack Peter Abeneko could only participate remotely from Dar es Salaam.
 Gloria Wekker, White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham, 2016.
 As cited in I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck (2016; New York: Magnolia Pictures, 2017), Netflix. (1:26:32).
 Behörde für Kultur und Medien Hamburg, “(Post) colonial Deconstruction: Artistic interventions towards a multilayered monument”, 16.09.2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6215&v=hRFzASv_ea4&feature=emb_logo
 For images of the covered statues and an explanation about the symbolism of the printed fabrics, see the link above at 1:25-1:30.
by Emily Katzenstein
Recent years have seen successive waves of “statue wars”—intense controversies over the visible traces of European colonialism in built commemorative landscapes. The most recent wave of controversies about so-called “tainted” monuments—monuments that honour historical figures who have played an ignominious role in histories of slavery, colonialism, and racism—occurred during the global wave of Black Lives Matter protests that started in reaction to the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. During a summer of global discontent, demonstrators famously toppled statues of Jefferson Davis (Richmond, Virginia), and Edward Colston (Bristol), beheaded a Columbus statue (Boston), and vandalised statues of King Leopold II (Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent), Otto von Bismarck (Hamburg), Winston Churchill (London), and James Cook (Melbourne), to name just a few examples.
These spectacular events sparked heated public debates about the appropriateness and permissibility of defacing, altering, or permanently removing “contested heritage”. These public debates have also led to a renewed interest in questions of contested monuments and commemoration in political theory and political philosophy. So far, however, this emergent debate has focused primarily on normative questions about the wrong of tainted commemorations and the permissibility of defacing, altering, or removing monuments. Engagement with the political-sociological and aesthetic dimensions of monuments, monumentality, and commemoration, including their relationship to political ideologies and subjectivities, by contrast, has remained relatively thin in recent debates about commemoration and contested monuments in political theory. This means that crucial questions about the role of commemorative landscapes in political life and in the constitution of political subjectivities have remained underexplored. For example, there has been only a relatively superficial reconstruction of the ideological stakes of the debate over the fate of contested colonial monuments. Similarly, while there have been several powerful defences of vandalising and defacing “tainted commemorations,” the literature in political theory and political philosophy has not yet engaged fully with innovative aesthetic strategies for contesting colonial monuments through decolonising artistic practices.
This series, Contested Memory, Contesting Monuments, seeks to curate a space in which emergent debates about monuments and commemoration in political theory can be in conversation with debates about the politics of the built commemorative landscape in political science, anthropology, sociology, and area studies that explore political-sociological and aesthetic dimensions of monuments and commemoration. Importantly, it also seeks to facilitate a direct exchange of perspectives between scholars of monuments and commemoration in the academy, on the one hand, and memory activists and artists who are actively involved in today’s politics of memory and monuments, on the other.
This is intended to be an open-ended series but we start with a wide-ranging series of inaugural contributions. In the first contribution to the series, Moira O’Shea traces the history of contesting Confederate monuments in the US and reflects on our relationship to the past. Upcoming contributions include an interview with Yolanda Gutierrez, a Mexican-German performance artist, and the founder of Bismarck Dekolonial, in which we discuss the realities of attempting to decolonise the built environment through artistic interventions; Chong-Ming Lim’s exploration of vandalising tainted commemorations; Sasha Lleshaj’s Sound Monuments, which reflects on very idea of monumentality, and connects struggles over ‘contested heritage’ to political contestations of ‘soundscapes’; and Tania Islas Weinstein and Agnes Mondragón analyses of the political uses and abuses of public art in contemporary Mexican politics.
 Mary Beard, "Statue Wars," Times Literary Supplement, 13.06.2020 2015.
 Chong‐Ming Lim, "Vandalizing Tainted Commemorations," Philosophy & Public Affairs 48, no. 2 (2020).
 Joanna Burch-Brown, "Should Slavery's Statues Be Preserved? On Transitional Justice and Contested Heritage," Journal of Applied Philosophy 39 no. 5 (2022).
 Helen Frowe, "The Duty to Remove Statues of Wrongdoers," Journal of Practical Ethics 7, no. 3 (2019); Johannes Schulz, "Must Rhodes Fall? The Significance of Commemoration in the Struggle for Relations of Respect," Journal of Political Philosophy 27, no. 2 (2019); Burch-Brown, "Should Slavery's Statues Be Preserved? On Transitional Justice and Contested Heritage."; Lim, "Vandalizing Tainted Commemorations."; Macalester Bell, "Against Simple Removal: A Defence of Defacement as a Response to Racist Monuments," Journal of Applied Philosophy 39 no. 5 (2021).
 Daniel Abrahams, "Statues, History, and Identity: How Bad Public History Statues Wrong," Journal of the American Philosophical Association, First View , pp. 1 - 15 (2022).
 Bell, "Against Simple Removal: A Defence of Defacement as a Response to Racist Monuments."; Ten-Herng Lai, "Political Vandalism as Counter-Speech: A Defense of Defacing and Destroying Tainted Monuments," European Journal of Philosophy 28, no. 3 (2020); Lim, "Vandalizing Tainted Commemorations."
Is the past past? Confederate monuments, narrative tropes, and understandings of history
by Moira K. O'Shea
Questions of how we relate to our history have been at the forefront of U.S. national discourse as debates about school curricula, the renaming of military bases and public institutions, and other topics seem to be represented in online fora and the pages of newspapers every week. In these debates, we argue not only about how to represent the past, but whether the past is really past at all. Not least among the arguments that touch on these issues is the debate around Confederate monuments and other public commemorations of historical figures who have participated in oppression in various forms. Cities such as Richmond, Chicago, and New York have commissioned studies of their monuments, inviting comment and, in the case of Chicago and New York, issuing reports on the state of their urban representation of historical figures and events. While the last ten years have seen two waves of monument removals—the first in 2015-2017, and the second in 2020—controversies around the appropriateness of public monuments are no new phenomenon. In this essay, I outline a history of the debates around the removal of monuments to illustrate how our current debates about monuments have a past of their own that we have forgotten. Inherent in these debates and the suggestions for what to do with problematic monuments are diverse and sometimes contradictory understandings of our relationship to history. Take, for example, the removal of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans almost six years ago.
The removal began around 2 a.m. on April 24, 2017. While the police and onlookers watched, and snipers stood guard, workers with covered faces began to dismantle the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place. Despite worries to the contrary, there was little disruption, and around 5 a.m. the monument was loaded onto a flatbed and driven away. For the third and perhaps last time in 126 years, the monument was removed from public sight. Amid protests that sometimes turned violent, the city of New Orleans removed three more monuments over the next 25 days. By May 5th, a bright Friday afternoon, the last of the monuments, that of Robert E. Lee, was hauled away, leaving Lee Circle without a statue of its namesake for the first time in 133 years.
At first glance, it might seem as if the events leading to the removal of these monuments began in June 2015, when then-mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, called for the removal of four monuments: the statues of Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, and the monument to the Battle at Liberty Place. Or one might assume that these events were sparked by contemporary events, such as the shooting of nine Black worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina by a White man and the subsequent removal of the Confederate flag from that state’s capitol building. Indeed, as New Orleans newspapers such as the Times-Picayune and the Advocate, and national newspapers such as the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post covered the story, coverage of the monuments frequently referenced these events. As in subsequent waves of monument removals, public commentary linked controversies surrounding the monuments to broader contemporary issues of racial justice and racial violence, making questions about the future of Confederate monuments all the more salient.
However, as I will show, the contestation—and eventual removal—of confederate monuments in New Orleans cannot be understood simply in terms of contemporary events, or as the actions of a single politician. Instead, the removal of these monuments must be understood as part of a much longer history of contesting confederate monuments in New Orleans. In the words of a local councilman, “I am the descendant of slaves. Before I knew there was a person called Mitch Landrieu, the people I cared about were talking about the need to take those statues down.” Indeed, in the case of these four monuments in New Orleans, very public contestations had occurred since at least the 1960s. For example, groups such as the NAACP, Concerned Clergy, and Black Lives Matter held protests in 1974, 2000, and 2014 respectively, seeking the removal of the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place, and later, to Robert E. Lee.
Throughout these controversies, monuments were sometimes temporarily removed or were amended with the addition of explanatory or exculpatory plaques; however, they were always returned, until 2017. As support for monument removal in public discourse grew over the decades—from being expressed primarily in the pages of newspapers such at the Louisiana Weekly, which began by serving predominantly the African American community, to being outspoken in the pages of the Times Picayune, a newspaper that has struggled with issues of race—the arguments both for and against the monuments themselves have remained remarkably stable, with both sides articulating their desires in terms that reflect distinct and divergent understandings of the relationship between the past and the present. It seems our disagreements about the past have their own past.
The monuments that were eventually removed in 2017 honoured three important figures of the Civil War and one event during the post-war Reconstruction period: Robert E. Lee, the commander of the confederate army; P.G.T. Beauregard, a confederate general and native son of New Orleans; Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy; and the Battle of Liberty Place. This battle, or really skirmish, took place on September 14th, 1874, when the integrated Metropolitan Police attempted to block the White League, a paramilitary organisation associated with anti-Black and anti-Republican violence, from receiving a shipment of arms. The Metropolitan Police were quickly overwhelmed, and the White League overthrew the government of Republican Governor William Kellogg. Although the city came back under Republican and Union control, the “battle” has been characterised by some as a fight for liberty from the rule of Republican “carpetbaggers.”
The monuments were all erected in the post-Reconstruction years between 1884, with the unveiling of the R.E. Lee monument, and 1915, with the unveiling of the P.G.T. Beauregard monument. They were part of an attempt to romanticise and valorise the Civil War, known as the Lost Cause, and were erected in a political climate that saw the rolling back of civil liberties and voting rights for African Americans. The Lee monument was unveiled on January 22, 1884—George Washington’s birthday. In the dedication speech given at the unveiling and articles written at the time, attempts were made to link the two historical figures as men equally dedicated to honour and country, thereby attempting to lift Lee to the status of Washington in the pantheon of national heroes. In one opinion piece written at the time, the author remarks that they “were both charged with rebellion” (emphasis in the original). After these monuments were unveiled, commemorative activities, often organised by the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Sons of Confederate Veterans, were held annually into the 1970s, with speeches, organised laying of wreaths, and musical performances.
However, beginning in the 1960s and 70s, public protest surrounding the monuments began to arise in New Orleans. Perhaps first among the four monuments to be the subject of this attention was the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place. This monument had become a rallying place for white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, and a site at which speakers at commemorative events in the 1960s decried federal interventions impinging on ‘school choice’ (read desegregation) and other areas as akin to those of the Reconstruction era. In 1964, the monument was put into storage for approximately five years to make way for the construction of the International Trade Mart. Groups that supported the monument extracted a promise from the mayor at the time that it would be returned to its original site and that the removal would be handled “just as was the repair and restoration of the Robert E. Lee statue on St. Charles.” While the monument was in storage, commemorative activities continued to take place without the monument itself, and after the monument was returned in 1970, the speeches at subsequent commemorations included reference to the idea that it was not only White Leaguers who were against the “carpetbaggers,” but that Black New Orleanians also rallied against Reconstruction “interlopers.” These narratives, which explained the monument not in terms of race, but in terms of liberty, ran directly counter to a plaque that had been added to the monument by the Crescent White League in 1932 that “recognised white supremacy in the South.”
In 1974, the NAACP New Orleans College Chapter and the New Orleans NAACP Youth Council organised protests against the monument. In a page of letters to a local newspaper, the Times Picayune, about the Battle of Liberty Place monument, readers began to voice tropes that continue to resonate in contemporary debates about the fate of contested monuments. These letters are predominantly supportive of the monument. They range from arguments about the destruction of history and assertions that “slavery was never truly the issue behind the Civil War,” to fears of a ripple effect:
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People must be embarked upon a movement to destroy everything related to history. Should they continue, and be successful with their asinine efforts to remove the Liberty Monument… probably their next move would be to destroy the Coliseum in Rome.
The single opposition to the monument came in a letter written by a self-identified young Black man who, nevertheless, did not want the monument to come down. He explained:
[as someone] opposed to white supremacy… [I] cannot accept the views that the plaque proclaims. But the monument should be allowed to stand, for it is a constant reminder of what can happen if blacks should become zeal-less in their efforts to gain and keep the rights that so many have paid the price for.
This movement was seemingly put to rest by the installation of an additional plaque that read: “Although the Battle of Liberty Place and this monument are important parts of New Orleans’s history, the sentiments in favour of White supremacy expressed thereon are contrary to the philosophy and beliefs of present-day New Orleans.”
By 1981 the controversy began anew. Then-Mayor Dutch Morial was accused of having tried quietly to remove the monument without public notice. However, by this time, opposition to the monument had a clear voice in the pages of the Times-Picayune. Comparing a page of letters called “Your Opinions” in 1981 to a similar page mentioned above in 1974, an almost complete reversal can be seen. Instead of almost all letters being in support of the monument, almost all were in favour of taking it down. Letters in opposition to the monument draw attention to the continued injustices taking place in New Orleans at the time: “The doctrine of white supremacy is alive and well, waiting for the right political climate to re-release itself. This is evident in the popular upsurge of the Klan.” Others applauded the mayor for initiating a symbolic “decision to further King’s vision of peace, love, and brotherhood.”
As in recent controversies, contemporary events sharpened the debate. Police shootings of four Black New Orleanians in the Algiers neighbourhood as well as KKK activities were cited, not as precipitating forces, but as events that made the issue of the monument all the more pressing. Former KKK grand wizard David Duke tried unsuccessfully to obtain a restraining order preventing the removal of the monument and claimed equivalency between the monument to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place. However, these claims are vehemently contradicted in opinion pieces appearing around the same time. In the end, the matter was left unresolved. The City Council of New Orleans voted to retain for itself the final say in the removal of any monument, statue, or plaque in the city of New Orleans and planned to remove the inscription referencing white supremacy. Instead of removing the inscription, it was, in the end, simply covered over.
In 1989 it was reported that the monument was to be moved due to “traffic engineering” and to improve access to the Canal Street ferry and the Aquarium and that city officials did not know if the monument would be returned when the work was finished. This set off the largest and most protracted controversy until the monument’s removal. Lasting four years, it involved state and federal preservationists, a suit by a local pharmacist against the city for emotional damages caused by the absence of the monument, and federal Housing and Urban Development officials demanding repayment of funds used for the traffic improvement if the monument was not returned.
Despite the fact that the monument was not on the National Register of Historic Places, the idea that it might be eligible, its being considered historically significant by the Louisiana Landmarks Society and other groups, and the fact that the roadway, sidewalk, and traffic-signal improvements were in part federally funded, led to the necessity of an agreement being negotiated with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. This agreement stipulated that the monument be re-erected by May 1, 1991. Whether or not there were underlying reasons for the monument’s initial removal, it became clear that the city administration was loath to return it to its initial location. In April of 1991, a four-month extension was granted to the city, and while the city attempted to give the monument to the Louisiana State Museum, their offer was refused. Having missed a September deadline as well, federal historic preservation officials began action to coerce repayment of funds, and a private citizen brought a suit against the city and the mayor’s office. After missing three deadlines, the city was, in the end, forced to re-erect the monument, although in a slightly less prominent position, but protests broke out at the re-dedication ceremony, which was marked by speeches by David Duke, among others, as well as by the very public, forceful arrest of a respected civil rights leader, Avery Alexander.
Public discourse regarding the monument was more negative at this time than during any of the previous incidents. Opposition to the monument and to arguments that it was not connected to racism used David Duke’s involvement to illustrate their points. One staff writer argued:
First supporters of the Liberty Monument tried to tell us that the controversial piece of stone that sits at the foot of Iberville Street has absolutely nothing to do with race. Then, they brought in former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke for the monument’s rededication ceremony last Sunday and obliterated that argument.
Others leveraged analogies between Hitler and the Holocaust to express disagreement with a previously published article calling for a nuanced understanding of the Battle of Liberty Place:
If a citizens’ group in Munich, Germany, attempted to dedicate a memorial to commemorate Adolph Hitler's futile effort in 1923 to take over the German government—what we now call the Munich Beer Hall Putsch—surely Mr. Gill would understand if the Jewish citizens of that city were a bit nervous about any such attempt. Certainly, Mr. Gill’s support of these Jews would not waver, even if the citizens’ group argued that the memorial did not celebrate Hitler’s later persecution of the Jews and other minorities (after all, no Jews were killed in Hitler’s putsch) and was only meant to commemorate the Fuehrer’s wonderful record of German economic recovery and his all too successful establishment of the Third Reich.
The tide of sentiment had clearly turned. Despite this, supporters of the monument continued to advance arguments in favour of preserving the monument that would sound familiar to observers of today’s monument controversies, citing a need to honour history and fear of a ripple effect (that is, the argument that if one is removed, many or all will be removed). During public hearings on the monument held in 1993, Rev. Henry McEnery asked: “Should we demand the Egyptian pyramids be destroyed because they were built by slaves?”
Like the 1981 conflict, this controversy was also left somewhat unresolved. It left the monument under a federal protection order but with a new law that enabled the New Orleans City Council to remove monuments that are considered nuisances and a new amendment to the monument with the addition of a plaque honouring “Americans on both sides.” The plaque listed the names of the members of the Black and White members of the metropolitan police who died in the skirmish and concluded with a missive that it was “[a] conflict of the past that should teach us lessons for the future.”
In the most recent controversy, the office of the New Orleans Mayor, Mitch Landrieu, spoke of discussions surrounding the 2018 tricentennial of New Orleans, saying:
Part of this process should include a close examination of the historical symbols throughout our city and what changes could be made as we approach 2018, including the Robert E. Lee statue in Lee Circle. These symbols say who we were in a particular time, but times change. Yet these symbols—statues, monuments, street names, and more—still influence who we are and how we are perceived by the world.
The statements of the mayor and the mayor’s office set off another round of controversy, and in this controversy, ultimately opposition to the monuments succeeded. In the months after June of 2015, there were at least three opportunities for public commentary at City Council meetings, heated public discourse in newspapers and online, and the creation of several committees and organisations with the purpose of either taking down or retaining this and other confederate monuments. While the shooting of nine people in a Charleston, SC, church and the subsequent removal of the confederate flag from that state’s capitol in Columbia may have preceded and even given greater urgency to the issue of the monuments in New Orleans, both the Mayor and citizens who fought to take them down insisted that the movement is not a response to these other actions, but something with deeper roots.
Despite a 6-1 resolution of the New Orleans City Council in December 2015 to remove the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place as well as those to Lee, Davis, and Beauregard, the process faced numerous obstacles. A lawsuit to keep the monuments, which stayed the city’s hand for a number of months, was resolved in favour of the City Council’s resolution; however, the city was not able to immediately remove the monuments. At first there was difficulty finding a contractor to do the actual work, the first contractor having rescinded his bid due to death threats and his Lamborghini having been set on fire; later, continuing lawsuits stymied the removal. It was only two years later that the monuments were finally removed.
In this most recent example, a culmination of both narrative style and legal precedent can be seen. Opponents of the monuments declare that these monuments were erected to propagate the ideology of the Lost Cause and that they reflect and perpetuate a history of pervasive inequality in the United States. If David Duke and Hitler are considered anathema to the supporters of the monuments, then they must also consider the monuments and their symbolism to be highly inappropriate in the public sphere. In leveraging these narrative tropes, a memorial and moral dissonance is asserted which attempts to put supporters of Confederate monuments in a difficult position. By drawing these connections, monuments are burdened with additional memorial frameworks—most strikingly, that of the holocaust—and ostensibly supporters of the monuments would then have difficulty maintaining that they support the monuments simply as representations of military figures or objects of the past that have no bearing on the present.
Supporters of Confederate monuments use their own well-established narrative tropes: one might be characterised by the separation of history and current social problems; another might be characterised as predicting a ripple effect that would generate an overwhelming number of similar claims. These tropes are remarkably similar to those expressed almost twenty-five years earlier. After Mayor Landrieu called out a local businessman for his support of the monuments (for which he later apologised), the man in question responded with a two-page ad in The Advocate in which he addressed Mayor Landrieu directly:
I ask you, Mitch, should the Pyramids in Egypt be destroyed since they were built entirely from slave labour? We all have learned about the power and abuses of the Pharaohs and the plight of the slaves since the Pyramids are still with us today. What about the Roman Coliseum? It was built by slaves, who lived horrible lives under Roman oppression, but it still stands today and we learn so much from seeing it. Egypt and Italy should be grateful they had no Mitch Landrieu in power or these magnificent structures would not exist for the world to see today.
When supporters of the monuments use the tactic of ripple effect or bring out the example of the Colosseum or the pyramids of Egypt, they argue for a moral and historical equivalence between these objects and those like Confederate monuments: they are part of a difficult past, but it is a past from which we can learn.
As these comments by supporters and opponents of confederate monuments demonstrate, there exist radically different views on what monuments have to do with history, and the role that history plays and ought to play in present-day life. Opponents of the monuments see an incongruence between the values represented by the monuments and the values of equality and justice that should characterise present-day society. They assert that it is because injustice continues in the present that the past is not really past, and that the monuments themselves should be understood as destructive, reflecting and participating in a continuing legacy of racism in the United States. Supporters of Confederate monuments take different views. While most agree that the past associated with these monuments diverges from our understandings of what society ought to be today, they argue that the monuments themselves are not problematic precisely because they should be understood as historical rather than contemporary objects and protected for their historical value. Another group of participants in the debate call for a process of “fixing” or contextualising the monuments by adding plaques or explanatory material in order to present them “in the context of their time.” Thus, the three distinct temporal relationships to the monuments emerge in the narrative tropes that are used to support varying positions as well as in the suggestions for how to respond to the monuments themselves.
Over the last five decades during which it was in public view, the Battle of Liberty Place monument was removed, returned, amended, and re-amended. Yet, it continued to be site through which struggles over the role of history in the present took place. If monuments such as the Battle of Liberty Place can be materially amended or even removed while the narratives surrounding them remain relatively stable, how are we to think about the past and the possibility of reshaping our public spaces? The choice between keeping or toppling monuments seems inadequate to the task of bridging divergent understandings of the role of history in the present, and yet the presence of heavy material symbols such as Confederate monuments cannot be ignored. It is time, then, to radically rethink the role, form, and lifespan of monuments in our public spaces.
 Quoted in Robert McClendon in the Times Picayune, December 18, 2015, “Charges May Not End with Four Statues - Liberty Place Under Protective Order”
 For more information on the construction of Confederate monuments, see Winberry, John. “‘Lest We
Forget’: The Confederate Monument and the Southern Townscape.” Southeastern Geographer 23, no. 2 (November 1983): 107–21, and Fahs, Alice., and Joan. Waugh, eds. The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
 R.E. Lee Monumental Association (New Orleans), and Charles E. Fenner. Ceremonies
Connected with the Unveiling of the Statue of General Robert E. Lee, at Lee Circle, New Orleans,
La., Feb. 22, 1884: Oration. 46 p. New Orleans: W.B. Stansbury & Co., Print., 1884.
 1884. “Washington and Lee” Times Picayune, January 22.
 C.f. Fealing, Ken. 1981. “Mayor Takes Steps to Remove Liberty Monument from Canal Street” Louisiana Weekly, January 24.
 C.f. 1963. “Tribute Paid to Liberty Battle Heroes by Herbert” Times Picayune, September 14 and 1967. “Herbert Says U.S. Courts Hurt Freedom of Choice” Times Picayune, September 15.
 1964. “Mayor Pledges Obelisk to Stay: Move from Canal Street Site Opposed” Times-Picayune, December 19. The removal of Robert E. Lee referred to in this piece occurred in 1954 when the wood of the pedestal had dry-rotted and had to be replaced. As far as I can tell, the only outcry was from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which did not want the statue to be removed from the pedestal at all.
 Theodore, William. 1974. “Against Despotism” Times-Picayune, February 19.
 Sloan, L. 1974. “Coliseum Next?” Times-Picayune, February 19.
 Hunter, Joe. 1974. “Meaning for Blacks” Times-Picayune, February 19.
 Marcelia, Vanward. 1981. Times-Picayune, January 26
 Smith, M.D. 1981. “Pulverize Monument” Times-Picayune, January 26
 DuBos, Clancy., & Massa, Joe. 1981. “Monument inscription will be removed by city” Times-Picayune, February 27
 C.f. Eggler, Bruce. 1989. “Monument to whites is canned on Canal”. Times-Picayune, October 11.
 Frazier, Lisa. 1993. “Celebrating Old Divides” Times-Picayune, March 12.
 Epstein, James. 1993. “Liberty Monument - How to satisfy everybody” Times Picayune, April 6.
 Finch, Susan. 1993. “Monument Hearing Is Divided - History Invoked for And Against” Times-Picayune, June 30. Incidentally, there is now broad consensus among Egyptologists that the pyramids were built with paid labour.
 Section 146-611 of the Code of the City of New Orleans.
 Barry, Jarvis. 2015. “Statue of Lee and issue for N.O. - Mayor concerned how symbol fits in city’s future” Times-Picayune, June 24.
 Stewart, Frank. 20176. “An Open Letter from Frank Stewart to Mayor Mitch Landrieu.” The Advocate, May 3.
Culture and nationalism: Rethinking social movements, community, and free speech in universities
by Carlus Hudson
Although the study of social movements has shown that state institutions are not the only vehicles for societal change, the political forces which emanate from civil society and challenge state authority require theorisation. Near the end of his life, in 1967 Theodor Adorno conceptualised the post-1945 far right as a potent movement with social and cultural attitudes spread widely in West German society and still capable of attracting mass political support. Nazism’s defeat in 1945, the partitioning of Germany and the process and legacy of denazification kept the re-emergence of a similar threat at bay, but the ideology did not disappear. By rejecting a monocausal social-psychological explanation of post-war fascism, Adorno also rejects the pessimistic idea of it as something that people must accept as an inevitable part of living in modern and democratic societies.
Anti-fascists have the agency to change society for the better and they have used it for as long as fascism has existed. Fascist street movements in the UK were defeated in the 1930s and again in 1970s by anti-fascists who mobilised against them in larger numbers at counter-demonstrations. Students took anti-fascism into the National Union of Students (NUS) by voting for the ‘no platform’ policy at the April 1974 conference. The aim of the policy, which built on earlier anti-fascist praxis and has returned in different forms since then, is to deny spaces in student unions to the ideas espoused by fascists and racists, thereby making them less mainstream and limiting the size of the audience reachable by fascist and racist ideologues. By no platforming, students were able to use their unions instrumentally to counter the influence of the extreme right. They were driven by moral revulsion at fascism and racism, a near-universal positive commitment to democratic freedom in society, and in smaller numbers commitments to anti-fascism and anti-racism as social movements and to left-wing politics.
The same tactics were later used against homophobic, sexist, and transphobic speakers. Evan Smith’s critically acclaimed study of ‘no platform’ historicises the tactic’s use in the contexts of anti-fascism in Britain and contemporary fear on the right, which he argues is unfounded, for free speech on campuses. Three essential points can be made from Smith’s study about what ‘no platform’ is. Firstly, it is a political decision made against a particular person or group of people. Secondly, those decisions rely on the judgement of the validity of specific demands for restrictions on free speech. Thirdly, ‘no platform’ is a specific type of restriction on free speech that is set apart from the functionally synchronous restrictions put in place by national governments.
Governments have legislated limitations on free speech and protections on citizens’ rights to express it in a variety of ways. Free speech is not immutable because political dissidents occupy a contradictory space that leaves them permanently open as targets of state repression and targets of co-optation in the repression of the other. Marxist and anarchist theorists of fascism before 1945 conceptualised it in similar terms to their analyses of states, societies and ideologies: historical formations driven by class interests. As a researcher of student activism, I notice how little can be found in their perspectives about student unions compared to united and popular fronts, revolutionary unions, and vanguard parties. Students’ involvement in political activities and adherence to different ideologies is well-documented. It suggests that student unions affiliated to universities remained peripheral in the organising activities and theoretical interventions of the interwar left.
Meanwhile, the growth of free speech as a talking point for the right is unexpected judging by the norm in European and North American history, because of the state repression and censorship that accompanied reaction to political revolutions from the seventeenth to the late twentieth century. While there is no reason to imagine this as any different from state repression outside of European and North American contexts, this chronology can be extended into the twenty-first century with consideration of the rise of new authoritarian governments in Poland, Hungary and Russia. In the twentieth century the British government put limits on the freedom of speech to espouse extreme and hateful views using the Public Order Act 1936 and the Race Relations Acts passed in 1965, 1968 and 1975, but as Copsey and Ramamurthy have shown it has been anti-fascist and anti-racist movements rather than government legislation that has most to counter fascism and racism. In the late 1960s and 1970s, when the National Front (UK) was at the height of its popularity posed a danger with the possibility of winning seats in local elections, it turned its hatred on Black and Asian immigrants under a thin veneer of populist opposition to immigration and criminality. It added Black and Asian people to Nazism’s older enemies—Jews, communists, the Romani, and LGBT people—while it kept its ideological core out of public view.
The brief and limited success of the National Front (UK) can be read patriotically as an aberration or an anomaly in a society that was utterly hostile and inhospitable to it. In this view, civil society would eventually have defeated the National Front without the help of anti-fascists or any compromise on free speech at universities. One problem with that interpretation is the racialisation of religious communities after the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the initiation of the War on Terror. Anti-Zionism, the broad-brush term for opposition to Israel, includes anything from criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians on human rights grounds to opposition to Israel’s existence as a country. Left-wing anti-Zionism has received more attention in research about student activism than the anti-Zionism of the extreme right. NUS leaders opposed left-wing anti-Zionist uses of ‘no platform’ in the 1970s, when it was introduced to student unions.
After the September 11 attacks, anti-Zionism drew renewed criticism but with greater emphasis on Islamism. Pierre-Andre Taguieff explained the growth of a new type of European anti-Semitism in those terms. In the popular press, a debate about Islamism spilled over into Islamophobic racism. For example, the printing in Charlie Hebdo and Jyllands-Posten of the Mohammed cartoons were acts of mainstreaming Islamophobia in France and Denmark that supported moral panic about Islam. The attack in France on Charlie Hebdo in 2015 had a chilling effect on free speech by contributing to a political climate where it became impossible for ‘those who felt unfairly targeted’ to respond and be heard.
Understanding the problem of Muslims being shut out of debates about them, and of being transformed into a debateable question in the first place, requires a consideration of counter-terrorism measures that have marginalised Muslims. In England and Wales, the regulation of charities and the government’s Prevent duty which covers the whole of the UK have added such pressures to the free speech of Muslim students and workers at universities. The positioning of the presence of Muslims in majority White and Christian countries by non-Muslims as a question of cultural compatibility instead of Islamophobia as a racism morally equivalent to anti-Semitism makes it harder for multiculturalism to function there. That said, explanations of the racialisation of religious minorities are incoherent without analysing race. The number of examples that could be given to prove why restrictions on freedom of speech are too harsh in some instances but not harsh enough in others are practically without limit. Anti-fascists who also consider themselves to be communists or anarchists support the administration of justice in ways that are radically different from those in our own societies but which are nonetheless constructed on the same principles that adherents of liberal democracy follow, including freedom of speech. The same statement descends into nakedly racist prejudice when it is used to refer to racialised religious communities.
Free speech is at the centre of a cultural conflict. The first two decades of the twenty-first century saw a world economic crisis and the growth of populism and authoritarianism on the right, which according to Francis Fukuyama capitalised on the need for social recognition felt by resentful supporters. As economic inequality grew, identity politics showed an alternative way for people to articulate difference. Identity politics itself changed little through these processes. For example, a prevailing idea among American conservatives is that universities and colleges, like other levels of the education system and other sectors of civil society, are dominated by a left that threats freedom of speech. Dennis Prager sets the stage for a battle for liberal opinion between the left and, he argues, the centre’s natural allies on the conservative right. His views about universities should not be decontextualised from his commentary on religion. In his book written with Joseph Telushkin, Prager explains anti-Semitism using a history of it and an engagement with Jewish identity. They acknowledge the influence of Taguieff’s research on their taking anti-Semitism more seriously as a tangible threat to Jews. Opposing Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, which they barely distinguish, is a key part of their argument. From another perspective, in his defence of classical liberalism, Fukuyama dedicates a chapter to discussing the global challenges in the twenty-first century to the principle of protecting freedom of speech. One argument he makes is that critical theory and identity politics, when they appear together in the contexts of free speech in higher education and the arts, mistakenly give too much importance to language as an interpersonal mode of political power and structural violence instead of the main targets of leftist critique: the coercive function of institutions and physical violence, capitalism and the state. With universities engaging with a wider definition of what constitutes harm than they have in the past, the parameters for unacceptable speech have widened too. Free speech is no less a political issue today, by which I mean it is a term that people use to express their ideological attachments and experiences of real socio-economic conditions, than it has been in the past.
Different conclusions can be drawn from these points. One option is to join socialists and progressives in their fights for equality and social justice through a movement that simultaneously counters the hegemony of right-wing ideology. Another option is to join the right’s defence of freedom of speech on campuses against ‘woke’ students and academics, ‘safer spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’. Far from simply being bugbears, they are central concepts of opposition for the right in their wider defence of what they value most in their idea of Western civilisation. A more analytical response would be to engage more critically with what identity politics is and engage with the probing questions of how social movements driven by identity politics affect the inclusiveness of societies.
Religious, secular and post-secular nationalisms are relevant here because they have a greater determining role than economic interest on political beliefs constructed around identity. However, their influence on politics organised along a left-right axis has never been negligible and the claim that a purely economistic political ideology can exist is highly dubious. Understanding identity politics gives context to the right’s fear for freedom of speech. Another approach is to take the right’s claim at face value and begin to think of freedom of speech as a legislated guarantee for the conditions of voluntary social interaction, without which civil society becomes an impossibility. It would therefore be morally necessary to consider the figuration of the right’s semi-invented enemies. The presentation of these enemies is not necessarily a racist act of subjective violence, and this caveat demarcates a large section of the right from fascists and identifies them as fascism’s serious competitors. At the same time, the right delegitimises its opponents by tarring them as enemies of freedom of speech and therefore a step closer to fascism. What these examples show is how complex an issue freedom of speech at universities is. Freedom of speech must be defined in recognition of that complexity because we are at the greatest risk of losing this freedom when we express ourselves under assumptions that lead us to oversimplify and decontextualise it.
 Theodor W. Adorno, Aspects of the New Right-Wing Extremism, trans. Wieland Hoban (Medford: Polity, 2020).
 Evan Smith, No Platform: A History of Anti-Fascism, Universities and the Limits of Free Speech, (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2020).
 Dave Renton, Fascism: History and Theory, new and updated edition (London: Pluto Press, 2020).
 Dave Renton, No Free Speech for Fascists: Exploring ‘No Platform’ in History, Law and Politics (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2021), 11-34.
 Dave Renton, The New Authoritarians: Convergence on the Right (London: Pluto Press, 2019).
 Nigel Copsey, Anti-Fascism in Britain, second edition (London; New York: Routledge, 2017), 56; Anandi Ramamurthy, Black Star: Britain’s Asian Youth Movements (London: Pluto Press, 2013), 25.
 Dave Renton, Never Again: Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League 1976-1982 (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2019), 14-36.
 Dave Rich, The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism (London: Biteback Publishing, 2016).
 Pierre-André Taguieff, Rising from the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004).
 Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter, Reactionary Democracy: How Racism and the Populist Far Right Became Mainstream (Brooklyn: Verso Books, 2020), 75-9.
 Alison Scott-Baumann and Simon Perfect, Freedom of Speech in Universities: Islam, Charities and Counter-Terrorism (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2021).
 Francis Fukuyama, Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition (London: Profile Books, 2018).
 Jordan B. Peterson, No Safe Spaces? | Prager and Carolla | The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast - S4: E44, YouTube, vol. S4: E44, The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHXxtyUVTGU.
 Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism, the Most Accurate Predictor of Human Evil (New York: Touchstone, 2007).
 Francis Fukuyama, Liberalism and Its Discontents (London: Profile Books, 2022).
by Lenon Campos Maschette
Over the past few centuries, the concept of civil society has shifted a few times to the centre of political debate. The end of the 20th century witnessed one of these moments. From the 1980s, civil society resurfaced as a central political idea, an important conceptual tool to address all types of social and political problems as well as describe social formations. At the end of the last century, a general criticism of the state and its inability to solve key social problems and the search for a ‘post-statist’ politics were problems shared by several countries that allowed the civil society debate to spread globally.
In Britain, ideologies of the right had an important role in this movement. From the 1980s, all the discussions around community and citizen participation have to be analysed, at least in part, within the context of how the nature and function of the state were being reshaped, especially through the changes proposed by right-wing intellectuals and politicians. This tendency is even more noticeable within the British Conservative Party. In one of the most important works on the British Conservative Party and civil society, E. H. H. Green argues that the Conservative Party’s state theory throughout the 20th century was more concerned with the effectiveness of civil society bodies than with the role of the state. Therefore, it is a long tradition that was continued and reinforced by Thatcher’s leadership.
As I argued in another work, the Thatcher government redefined the concept of citizenship and placed civil society at the centre of its model of citizenship. In this new article, I want to compliment that and argue that civil society had vital importance in Thatcher’s project. From this perspective, the Thatcher government redefined the idea of civil society, regarded as the space par excellence for citizenship—at least in the way Thatcherism understood it. Thatcherism attributed to civil society and its institutions a central role in the socialisation of individuals and the transmission of traditional values. It was the place par excellence of individual moral development and, consequently, citizenship.
Thatcherism and civil society
The Conservative Party never abandoned the defence of civil associations as both important institutions to deliver public services and essential spaces for maintaining and transmitting shared values. Throughout the post-WW2 period, the Party continuously emphasised the importance of the diversity of voluntary associations, and as a response to the growing dissatisfaction with statutory welfare, support for more flexible, dynamic, and local voluntary provision became part of its 1979 manifesto.
As already mentioned, civil society had virtually disappeared from the public debate and Thatcher herself rarely used the term ‘civil society’. However, the idea had a central role within Thatcherism. As the article will show, the Conservatives were constantly thinking about the intermediary structures between individuals and the state, and from these reflections we can try to comprehend how they saw these institutions, their roles, and their relationships. According to the Conservatives, civil society was being threatened by a social philosophy that had placed the state at the centre of social life to the detriment of communities. In fact, civil society had not disappeared, but was experiencing profound changes. In a more affluent and ‘post-materialistic’ society, individuals had turned their attention from first material needs to identities, fulfilment, and greater quality of life. Charities and religious associations had also changed their strategies and came close to the approach and methods of secular and modern voluntary associations, loosening their moralistic and evangelical language and adopting a more political and socially concerned discourse. These are important transformations that are the basis of how the Thatcher government linked the politicisation of these institutions with the demise of civil society.
Thatcher always made clear that voluntary associations and civil institutions were central to her ‘revolutionary’ project. The Conservatives under Thatcher regarded the civil institutions as the best means to reach more vulnerable people and the perfect space for participation and self-expression. The neighbourhood, this smallest social ‘unit,’ was more personal and effective than larger and more bureaucratic bodies. Furthermore, civil society empowered individuals by giving them the opportunity to participate in local communities and make a difference. It is noteworthy that Thatcher’s individualism was not synonymous with an atomised and isolated individual. Thatcher did not have a libertarian view about the individuals. As she argued to the Greater Young Conservatives group, ‘there is not and cannot possibly be any hard and fast antithesis between self-interest and care for others, for man is a social creature … brought up in mutual dependence.’ According to her, there was no conflict between her ‘individualism and social responsibility,’ as individuals and community were connected and ‘personal efforts’ would ‘enhance the community’, not ‘undermine’ it. She believed in a community of free and responsible individuals, ‘held together by mutual dependence … [and] common customs.’ Working in the local and familiar, within civil associations and voluntary bodies, individuals, in seeking their own purposes and goals, would also achieve common objectives, discharge their obligations to the community and serve their fellows and God. And here is the key role of civil and voluntary bodies. They were responsible for guaranteeing traditional standards and transmitting common customs. By participating in these associations, individuals would achieve their own interests but also feel important, share values, strengthen social ties, and create a distinctive identity. Thatcherites believed that voluntary associations, charities, and civil institutions had a central position in the rebirth of civic society. These conceptions partly resonated with a conservative tradition that recognised the intermediated structures as institutions responsible for balancing freedom and order. For conservatives, civil institutions and associations have always played a central role within civil society as institutions responsible for socialising and moralising individuals.
From the Thatcherite perspective, these ‘little platoons’—a term formulated by Edmund Burke, and used by conservatives such as Douglas Hurd, Brian Griffiths, and Thatcher herself to qualify local associations and institutions—provided people a space to develop a sense of community, civic responsibility, and identity. Therefore, Thatcher and her entourage believed that civil society had many fundamental and intertwined roles: it empowered individuals through participation; it developed citizenship; it was a repository of traditions; it transmitted values and principles; it created an identity and social ties; and it was a place to discharge individuals’ obligations to their community and God.
The state—not Thatcherism, nor indeed the market—isolated individuals by stepping into civil society spaces and breaking apart the intermediary institutions. In expanding beyond its original attributions, the state had eclipsed civil associations and institutions. Centralisation and politicisation were weakening ‘mediating structures,’ making people feel ‘powerless’ and depriving individuals of relieving themselves from ‘their isolation.’ It was also opening a space for a totalitarian state enterprise. While the state was creating an isolated, dependent, and passive citizenry, the new social movements were politicising every single civil society space, fostering divisiveness and resentment.
The great issue here was politicisation. Civil and local spaces had been politicised. The local councils were promoting anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic agendas, local government and trade unions were encouraging riots and operating ‘to break, defy, and subvert the law’ and the Church was ‘failing the people of England.’ Neoconservatives drew attention to both the intervention and politicisation from the state but also from social movements such as feminism. As shown earlier, civil society dynamics had changed and new and more politicised movements emerged. John Moore, a minister and another long-term member of Thatcher’s cabinet, complained that modern voluntary organisations changed their emphases from service groups to pressure groups. That is the reason why Thatcher, in spite of increasing grants to the voluntary sector, carefully selected those associations with principles related to ‘self-help and enterprise,’ that encouraged ‘civic pride’ while also discouraging grants to institutions previously funded by left-wing councils.
The state and the new social movements had politicised and dismantled civil society spaces, especially the conservatives' two most important civil institutions: the family and the Church. Thatcherism placed the family at the centre of civil society. Along with the ‘surrounding community of friends and neighbours,’ the family was a key institution to ‘individual development.’ This perspective dialogued with a conservative idea that came directly from Burke and placed the family at the core of civil society. From a Burkean perspective, the family was an essential institution for civilisation as it had two fundamental roles: acting as the ‘bulwarks against tyranny’ and against the ‘perils of individualism.’ The family was important as the first space of socialisation and affection and, consequently, the first individual responsibility. Within the family, moral values were kept and transmitted through generations, preventing degeneration and dependence. Thatcher’s government identified the family as the ‘very nursery of civil virtue’ and created the Family Policy Group to rebuild family life and responsibility. The family also had a decisive role in checking the state authority. Along with neoconservatives, Thatcherites believed that the welfare state and ‘permissiveness’ had broken down the family and its core functions. From this perspective, the most important civil institution had been corrupted by the state and the new social movements. If Thatcherism dialogued with neoliberalism and its criticism of the state, it was also influenced by conservative ideas of civil society and neoconservative arguments against the new social movements and the welfare state. Despite some tensions, Thatcherism was successful in combining neoliberal and neoconservative ideas.
The other main civil institution was the Church. Many of Thatcher’s political convictions were moral, rooted in puritan Christian values nurtured during her upbringing. Thatcher and many of her allies believed that Christianity was the foundation of British society and its values had to be widely shared. The churches were responsible for exercising ‘over [the] manners and morality of the people’ and were the most important social tool to moralise individuals. Only their leaders had the moral authority ‘to strengthen individual moral standards’ and the ‘shared beliefs’ that provide people with a moral framework to prevent freedom to became something destructive and negative.
Thus, the conservatives had the goal of depoliticising civil society. It should be a state- and political-free space. Thatcher’s active citizen was an apolitical one. The irony is that the Thatcher administration made these institutions even more dependent on state funding. Thatcherism was incapable of comprehending the new dynamics of civil institutions. The diverse small institutions, mainly composed of volunteer workers, had been replaced by larger, more bureaucratic and professionalised ones closely related to the state.
If the state and, consequently, politicians could not moralise individuals—which, in part, explains the lack of a moral agenda in the period of Thatcher’s government, a fact so criticised by the more traditional right, since ‘values cannot be given by the state or politician,’ as she proclaimed in 1978—other civil society institutions not only could, but had a duty to promote certain values.
The Thatcher government and communities
From the mid-1980s, the Conservative Strategy Group advised the party to emphasise the idea of a ‘good neighbour’ as a very distinct conservative concept. The Conservative Party turned its eyes to the issue of communities and several ministers started to work on policies related to neighbourliness. At the same time, Thatcher’s Policy Unit also started thinking of ways to rebuild ‘community infrastructure’ and its voluntary and non-profit organisations. The civil associations more and more were being seen by the government as an essential instrument in changing people’s views and beliefs.
As we have seen, it was compatible with the Thatcherite project. However, it was also a practical answer to rising social problems and an increasingly conservative perception, towards the end of the 1980s, that Thatcher’s administration failed to change individual beliefs and civil society actors, groups, and institutions. And then, we begin to note the tensions between Thatcherite ideas and their implications for the community.
Thatcherites believed in a community that was first and foremost moral. The community was made up of many individuals brought up by mutual dependence and shared values and, as such, carrying duties prior to rights. That is why all these civic institutions were so important. They should restrain individual anti-social behaviour through the wisdom of shared ‘traditional social norms that went with them.’ The community should set standards and penalise irresponsible behaviour. A solid religious base was therefore so important to the moral civil society framework. And here Thatcher was always very straightforward that this religious basis was a Christian one. Despite preaching against state intervention, Thatcher was clear about the central role of compulsory religious education to teach children ‘the difference between right and wrong.’ In order to properly work, these communities and its civil institutions should have their authority and autonomy restored to maintain and promote their basic principles and moral framework. And that is the point here. The conservative ‘free’ communities only could be free if they followed a specific set of values and principles.
During an interview in May 2001—among rising racial tensions that lead to serious racial disturbances over that year’s spring and summer—Thatcher argued that despite supporting a society comprised of different races and colours, she would never approve of a ‘multicultural society,’ as it could not observe ‘all the best principles and best values’ and would never ‘be united.’ Thatcher was preoccupied with immigration precisely because she believed that cultural issues could have negative long-term effects. As she said on another occasion, ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’ Different individuals would work together and keep themselves together only if they shared some basic principles and beliefs. Thatcher’s community was based on common tradition, not consent or contract. Conservatives believed that shared values were essential for social cohesion. That is why a multicultural society was so dangerous from her perspective. Moreover, there is also another implication here. Multiculturalism not only needed to be repulsed because it was regarded as divisive, but also because it presupposes that all cultures have equal value. It was not only about sharing the same values and principles, but also about sharing the right values and principles. And for the conservatives, the British and Christian traditions were the right ones. That is why Christian religious education should be compulsory for everybody, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background.
In part, it explains the Thatcher administration’s long fight against local councils and authorities that supported multiculturalism and anti-racist movements. They were seen as a threat to cultural and traditional values as well as national sovereignty. In addition to responding many times with brutal police repression to the 1981 riots—which is in itself a strong state intervention—the government also released resources for urban regeneration and increased the budget of ‘ethnic projects’ in order to control these initiatives. The idea was to shape communities in a given way and direction and create tools for the community to police themselves. The government was seeking ways to change individual attitudes that, according to the Conservatives, were at the root of social problems in the inner cities. Rather than being the consequence of social problems, these attitudes, they argued, were caused by cultural and moral issues, especially in predominantly black communities. In encouraging moderate black leaders, the government was trying to foster black communities that would behave as British middle-class neighbourhoods. Thatcher’s government also tried to shape communities through business enterprises and market mechanisms. In the late 1980s, her government started a bold process of community refurbishment that aimed to revitalise what were regarded as deprived areas. The market was also seen as a part of civil society and a moralising space that encouraged good behaviour.
Thatcher’s relationship with the family, the basis of civil society, was also problematic. The Conservatives had a very traditional conception of family. The family was constituted by a heterosexual married couple. If Thatcherites accused new social movements of imposing their worldview on the majority, Thatcher’s government tried to prescribe a ‘natural’ view of family that excluded any type of distinct formation. Furthermore, despite presiding over a decade that saw a rising expansion of women's participation in the workplace and education, Thatcher advanced an idea of community that was based on women's caring role within the family and the neighbourhood.
Finally, the Church, regarded as the most important source of morality, was, at first, viewed as a natural ally, but soon would become a huge problem for her government. As with many established British institutions, according to the Conservatives, the Church had been captured by a progressive mood that had politicised many of its leaders and diverted the Church's role on morality. The Church was failing Britain since it had abdicated its primary role as a moral leader. It was also part of a broader attack on the British establishment. Thatcher would prefer to align her government with religious groups that performed a much more ‘valuable role’ than the established Church.
The tensions between the Thatcher government's ideas and policies—which blended neoliberal and neoconservative approaches—and its results in practice would lead to reactions on both left and right-wing sides. If Thatcher herself realised that her years in office had not encouraged communities’ growth, the New Labour and the post-Thatcher Conservative Party would invest in a robust communitarian discourse. Tony Blair's Party would use community rhetoric to emphasise differences from Thatcherism, whereas the rise of ideas that focused on civil society, such as Compassionate Conservatism, Civic Conservatism, and Big Society, would be a Conservative response to the Thatcher's 1980s.
Conventionally, conservatives have treated civil society as a vehicle to rebuild traditional values, a fortress against state power and homogenisation that involved the past, the present and the future generations.
Thatcher believed that a true community would be close to the one where she spent her childhood. A small community, composed by a vibrant network of voluntary bodies free from state intervention, in which apolitical and responsible citizens would be able to discharge their religious and civic obligations through voluntary work. These obligations resulted from religious values and individuals' mutual physical and emotional dependence, which imposed responsibilities prior to their rights, derived from these duties rather than from an abstract natural contract. Therefore, the Thatcherite community was, above all, a moral community. Accordingly, it was based on a narrow set of values and principles that was based on conservative British and Christian traditions. In a complex contemporary world of multicultural societies, it is difficult not to see Thatcher's community model as exclusionary and authoritarian.
Despite her conservative ideas about neighbourhoods, her government seems to have encouraged even more irresponsible behaviour and community fragmentation. Thatcher seems not to have been able to identify the problems that economic liberalisation policies and strong individualistic rhetoric could cause to the community. Here, the tensions between her neoliberal and neoconservative positions became clearer. As she recognised during an interview, ‘I cut taxes and I thought we would get a giving society and we haven’t.’
To conclude, it is interesting to note that the civil society debate emerged in the UK with and against Thatcherism. The argument based on the revitalisation of civil society was used by both left and right-wingers to criticise the Thatcher years. New Labour’s emphasis on communities, post-Thatcher conservatism’s focus on civil society, the emergence of communitarianism and other strands of thought that placed civil society at the centre of their theories; despite their differences, all of them looked to the community as an answer for the 1980s and, at least in part, its emphasis on the free market and individualism. On the other hand, as I have tried to show, Thatcherism was already working on the theme of community and raised many of these issues during the years following her fall. The idea of civil society as the space par excellence of citizenship and collective activities, as the place to discharge individual obligations and as a site of a strong defence against arbitrary state power, were all themes advanced by Thatcherism that occupied a lasting space within the civil society debate. Thatcherism thus also influenced the debate from within, not only through the reaction against its results, but also directly promoting ideas and policies about civil society.
 Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997), 71-72.
 E.H.H. Green, Ideologies of Conservatism. Conservative Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 278.
 Lenon Campos Maschette, 'Revisiting the concept of citizenship in Margaret Thatcher’s government: the individual, the state, and civil society', Journal of Political Ideologies, (2021).
 Margaret Thatcher, Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture (‘Liberty and Limited Government 11 January 1996). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/108353.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Greater London Young Conservatives (Iain Macleod Memorial Lecture, ‘Dimensions of Conservatism’ 4 July 1977). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103411.
 Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (London: Harper Collins, 1993), 627.
 Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Party Conference, 14 October 1988. Margaret Thatcher Foundation document 107352: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107352.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech at St. Lawrence Jewry (‘I BELIEVE – a speech on Christianity and politics’ 30 March 1978). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103522.
 Thatcher, The Moral Basis of a Free Society. Op. Cit.
 Douglas Hurd had several important roles during Thatcher’s administration, including Home Office. Brian Griffiths was the chief of her Policy Unit from the middle 1980s and one of her principal advisors.
 Michael Alison, ‘The Feeding of the Billions’, in Michael Alison and David Edward (eds) Christianity & Conservatism. Are Christianity and conservatism compatible? (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), 206-207; Brian Griffiths, ‘The Conservative Quadrilateral’, Alison and Edward, Christianity & Conservatism, 218; Robin Harris, Not for Turning (London: Corgi Books. 2013), 40.
 Griffiths, Christianity & Conservatism, 224-234.
 Margaret Thatcher. Speech to Conservative Party Conference 1985. Margaret Thatcher Foundation: http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106145.
 John Gummer, apud Martin Durham, ‘The Thatcher Government and “The Moral Right”’, Parliamentary Affair, 42 (1989), 64.
 American neoconservatives such as Charles Murray, George Gilder, Lawrence Mead, Michael Novak, etc., worked on the social, cultural, and moral consequences of the welfare state and the ‘long’ 1960s. They were also much more active in writing on citizenship issues. These authors had a profound influence on Thatcher’s Conservative Party through the think tanks networks. Murray and Novak, for instance, even attended Annual Conservative Party conferences and visited Thatcher and other Conservative members’ Party.
 Timothy Raison, Tories and the Welfare State. A history of Conservative Social Policy since the Second World War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990), 163.
 Geoffrey Finlayson, Citizen, State and Social Welfare in Britain 1830 – 1990 (Oxford, 1994), 376.
 Douglas Hurd, Memoirs (London: Abacus, 2003), 388.
 Richard Boyd, ‘The Unsteady and Precarious Contribution of Individuals’: Edmund Burke's Defence of Civil Society’. The Review of Politics, 61 (1999), 485.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to General Assembly to the Church of Scotland, 21 May 1988. Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107246.
 Douglas Hurd, Tamworth Manifesto, 17 March 1988, London Review of Books: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v10/n06/douglas-hurd/douglas-hurds-tamworth-manifesto.
 Douglas Hurd, article for Church Times, 8 September 1988. THCR /1/17/111B. Churchill Archives, Churchill College, Cambridge University.
 Thatcher, Speech at St. Lawrence Jewry (1978), Op. Cit.
 Margaret Thatcher, apud Matthew Grimley. Thatcherism, Morality and Religion. In: Ben Jackson; Robert Saunders (Ed.). Making Thatcher’s Britain. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2012), 90.
 Many meetings emphasised this issue throughout 1986. CRD 4/307/4-7. Conservative Party Archives, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University.
 ‘Papers to end of July’, 18 June 1987. PREM 19/3494. National Archives, London.
 Edmund Neill, ‘British Political Thought in the 1990s: Thatcherism, Citizenship, and Social Democracy’, Mitteilungsblatt des Instituts fur soziale Bewegungen, 28 (2002), 171.
 Margaret Thatcher, ‘Speech to Finchley Inter-church luncheon club’, 17 November 1969. Margaret Thatcher foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/101704.
 Margaret Thatcher, interview to the Daily Mail, 22 May 2001, apud Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher, Vol. III Herself Alone (London: Penguin Books, 2019), 825.
 Margaret Thatcher, TV Interview for Granada World in Action ("rather swamped"), 27 January 1978. Margaret Thatcher foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103485.
 Oliver Letwin blocked help for black youth after 1985 riots. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/30/oliver-letwin-blocked-help-for-black-youth-after-1985-riots.
 Paul Gilroy apud Simon Peplow. Race and riots in Thatcher’s Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019), 213.
 Grimley, Op. Cit., 92.
 Thatcher’s interview to Frank Field, apud Eliza Filby. God & Mrs Thatcher. The battle for Britain’s soul (London: Biteback, 2015), 348.
 Neill, Op. Cit., 181.
The nationalism in Putin's Russia that scholars could not find but which invaded Ukraine
by Taras Kuzio
The roots of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine are to be found in the elevation of Tsarist imperial nationalist and White Russian émigré views, which deny the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians. The Soviet Union recognised Ukrainians as a people separate but close to Russians. Russian imperial nationalists hold a Jekyll-and-Hyde view of Ukraine. While denigrating Ukraine in a colonial manner that would make even Soviet-era Communist Party leaders blush, Russian leaders at the same time claim to hold warm feelings towards Ukrainians, whom they see as the closest people to them. In this light, ‘bad’ Ukrainians are nationalists and neo-Nazis who want their country to be part of Europe; ‘good’ Ukrainians are obedient Little Russians who know their place in the east Slavic hierarchy and want to align themselves with Mother Russia. In other words, ‘good’ Ukrainians are those who wish their country to emulate Belarus. In practice, during the invasion, cities such as Kharkiv and Mariupol that have resisted the Russian incursion have been pulverised irrespective of the fact they are majority Russian-speaking. In turn, the fact of this resistance means to Russia’s leaders that these cities are inhabited by ‘Nazis’, not Little Russians who would have greeted Russian troops—and who should therefore be destroyed.
Without an understanding of the deepening influence of Tsarist imperial nationalism in Russia since 2012, and especially following Crimea’s annexation in 2014, scholars will be unable to grasp or explain why Putin has been so obsessed with returning Ukraine to the Russian World—a concept created as long ago as 2007 as a body to unite the three eastern Slavs, which underpinned his invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Putin’s invasion did not come out of nowhere, but had been nurtured, discussed, and raised by Putin and Russian officials since the mid-2000s in derogatory dismissals of Ukrainians, and in territorial claims advanced against Ukraine. Unfortunately, few scholars took these at face value until summer 2021, when Putin published a long 6,000-word article detailing his thesis about Russians and Ukrainians constituting one people with a single language, culture, and common history. Ukrainians were a ‘brotherly nation’ who were ‘part of the Russian people.’ ‘Reunification’ would inevitably take place, Putin told the Valdai Club in 2017.
The overwhelming majority of scholarly books and journals have dismissed, ignored, or downplayed Russian nationalism as a temporary phenomenon. Richard Sakwa claimed Putin was not dependent upon Russian nationalism, ‘and it is debatable whether the word is even applicable to him.’ Other scholars described it as a temporary phenomenon that had disappeared by 2015–16. A major book on Russian nationalism published after the 2014 crisis included nothing on the incorporation of Tsarist imperial nationalist and White Russian émigré discourse that dismissed the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine backed by Russian nationalist rhetoric has led to many Western academics suggesting that the Russian forces have ended up—or will end up—with egg on their faces. Why they felt the need to take this angle has varied, ranging from elaborate political science theories popular in North America about the nature of the Russian regime to the traditional Russophilia found among a significant number of Euro-American scholars writing about Russia. As Petro Kuzyk pointed out, in writing extensively about Ukrainian regionalism, scholars have tended to exaggerate intra-Ukrainian regional divisions.  This has clearly been seen during the invasion, when Russia has found no support among Russian-speakers in cities such as Kharkiv, Mariupol, Odesa, and elsewhere. Furthermore, the prevailing consensus prior to the invasion among scholars and think tankers was eerily similar to that in Moscow; namely, that Ukraine would be quickly occupied, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would flee, and Kyiv would be captured by Russian troops. That this did not happen again shows a a serious scholarly miscalculation about the strength of Ukrainian identity, and an overestimation of the strength of Russian military power.
Nationalism in Putin’s Russia has integrated Tsarist imperial and Soviet nationalisms into an eclectic ruling ideology that drives the invasion. Putin, traditionally viewed as nostalgic for the Soviet Union, has also exhibited some pronounced anti-Soviet tendencies, above all in criticising Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin for creating a federal union of republics that included ‘Russian lands’ in the south-east, and artificially creating a ‘fake’ Ukrainian people. Putin’s invasion goal of ‘denazification’ aimed to correct this mistake by destroying the ‘anti-Russia’ nurtured by the West.
Both scholars and Russian leaders have been baffled as to how to understand and explain the tenacity of Ukrainian identity that has fought the Russian army to a standstill, and is now in the position of launching counterattacks. What is particularly difficult for Russian political leaders and media journalists to explain is how a people that supposedly does not exist (Ukrainians) could greet the ‘special military operation’ (Putin’s dystopian term for the invasion of Ukraine) not with bouquets of flowers but met it with armed resistance.
Instrumentalism: Russian Nationalism as a Temporary Phenomenon
Sakwa writes that ‘the genie of Russian nationalism was firmly back in the bottle’ by 2016. Pal Kolstø and Marlene Laruelle, along similar lines, write that the nationalist rhetoric of 2014 was novel and subsequently declined. Meanwhile, Henry Hale also believes Putin was only a nationalist in 2014, not prior to the annexation of the Crimea or since 2015. Laruelle concurs, writing that by 2016, Putin’s regime had ‘circled back to a more classic and pragmatic conservative vision’. Laruelle describes Putin’s regime as nationalistic only in the period 2013–16, arguing that ‘since then [it] has been curtailing any type of ideological inflation and has adopted a low profile, focusing on much more pragmatic and Realpolitik agendas at home and abroad.’ Paul Chaisty and Stephen Whitefield write, ‘Putin is not a natural nationalist’ and ‘[w]e do not see the man and the regime as defined by principled ideological nationalism.’ Sakwa is among the foremost authors who deny that Putin is a nationalist, describing him as not an ideologue because he remains rational and pragmatic—which sharply contrasts with an invasion that most commentators view as irrational. Allegedly, moreover, there has been a ‘crisis’ in Russian nationalism. Other scholars, meanwhile, believed that Putin ‘lost’ nationalist support.
In reality, the opposite took place. Russian imperial nationalism deepened, penetrated even further into Russian society and became dominant in Putin’s regime during the eight years between the invasions of Crimea and Ukraine. Russian imperial nationalist denials of the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians became entrenched and have driven the invasion of Ukraine.
Patriots and Conservatives - Not Nationalists
Scholars described Russian nationalists as ‘patriots’ and western-style ‘conservatives.’ In the same year that the constitution was changed to allow Putin to remain president until 2036, Laruelle writes ‘the Putin regime still embodies a moderate centrist conservatism.’ Petro, Sakwa, and Robinson analogously describe a ‘conservative turn’ in Russian foreign policy.
If contemporary British conservatives annexed part of Ireland and denied the existence of the Irish people, “conservatism” would no longer fully capture the ideology they represented. By the same token, the Putin regime’s annexation of Crimea and denial of the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians has sharply steered Russian conservatism towards the conceptual centrality of imperial nationalism.
In their analyses, Sakwa and Anna Matveeva could only identify ‘militarised patriotism’ or elites divided into ‘westerners’ and ‘patriots.’ Following his 2012 re-election, Sakwa writes that Putin only spoke of ‘Russian identity discourse’ and Putin’s ‘conservative values’ which he believes should be not confused with a Russian nationalist agenda.
Sakwa has generally avoided using the term ‘nationalist’ when discussing Russian politicians. This created problems in explaining why a ‘non-nationalist’ Putin might choose to support a wide range of far-right and a smaller number of extreme left political movements in Europe and the US, ranging from national-conservatives, populist-nationalists, irredentist imperialists to neo-Nazis in Europe. Sakwa attempts to circumvent this conundrum by relying on a portfolio of euphemistic alternatives, describing these far-right and extreme left movements as ‘anti-systemic forces,’ ‘radical left,’ ‘movements of the far right,’ ‘European populists,’ ‘traditional sovereigntists, peaceniks, anti-imperialists, critics of globalisation,’ ‘populists of left and right,’ and ‘values coalition.’
Putin’s Imperial Nationalist Obsession with Ukraine
The Soviet regime recognised a separate Ukrainian people, albeit one that always retained close ties to Russians. The Ukrainian SSR was a ‘sovereign’ republic within the Soviet Union. In 1945, Joseph Stalin negotiated three seats at the UN for the USSR (representing the Russian SFSR), Ukrainian SSR, and Belarusian SSR. In the USSR, there was a Ukrainian lobby in Moscow, while this has been wholly absent under Putin.
Soviet nationality policy defined Ukrainians and Russians as related, but nevertheless separate peoples; this was no longer the case in Putin’s Russia. In the USSR, Ukraine, and the Ukrainian language ‘always had robust defenders at the very top. Under Putin, however, the idea of Ukrainian national statehood was discouraged.’ Although the USSR promoted Russification, it nevertheless recognised the existence of the Ukrainian language. For a decade prior to the invasion, the Ukrainian language was disparaged by the Russian media and political leaders as a dialect that was artificially made a language in the Soviet Union.
Russian nationalist myths and stereotypes underpinning the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine had been raised, discussed, and threatened for over a decade prior to the ‘special military operation’. When Putin returned as president in 2012, he portrayed himself as the ‘gatherer of Russian [i.e., eastern Slavic] lands.’ Ukraine’s return to the Russian World, alongside Crimea and Belarus, was Putin’s unfinished business that he needed to accomplish before entering Russia’s history books. Ukraine, as a ‘Russian land’, should fall within the Russian World and remain closely aligned to Russia. Ukrainians, on this account, had no right to decide their own future.
Russia sought to accomplish Ukraine’s return to the Russian World through the two Minsk peace agreements signed in 2014–15. Ukrainian leaders resisted Russian pressure to implement the agreements because they would have created a weak central government and federalised state where Russia would have inordinate influence through its proxy Donetsk Peoples Republic and Luhansk Peoples Republic.
The failure of Russia’s diplomatic and military pressure led to a change in tactics in October 2021. Early that month, former President Dmitri Medvedev, now deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, penned a vitriolic attack on Ukrainian identity as well as an anti-Semitic attack on Jewish-Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, ruling out further negotiations with Kyiv. Medvedev claimed Ukrainian leaders were US puppets, and that therefore the Kremlin needed to negotiate directly with their alleged ‘puppet master’—Washington. Meanwhile, Russia would ‘wait for the emergence of a sane leadership in Ukraine,’ ‘who aims not at a total confrontation with Russia on the brink of war…but at building equal and mutually beneficial relations with Russia.’ Medvedev was revealing that Russia’s goal in any future military operation would be regime change, replacing an ‘anti-Russia’ leadership with a pro-Kremlin leader.
In early November 2021, Russia’s foreign policy machine mobilised and made stridently false accusations about threats from Ukraine and its ‘Western puppet masters.’ Russia began building up its military forces on the Ukrainian border and in Belarus. In December 2021, Russia issued two ultimatums to the West, demanding a re-working of European security architecture.
The consensus within Euro-American commentary on the invasion has been that this crisis was completely artificial. NATO was not about to offer Ukraine membership, even though Ukraine had held periodic military exercises with NATO members for nearly three decades, while the US and NATO at no point planned to install offensive missiles in Ukraine. The real cause of the crisis was the failure of the Minsk peace process to achieve Ukraine’s capitulation to Russian demands that would have placed Ukraine within the Russian sphere of influence. After being elected president in April 2019, Zelenskyy had sought a compromise with Putin, but he had come round to understanding that this was not on offer. The failure of the Minsk peace process meant Ukraine’s submission would now be undertaken, in Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s words, by ‘military-technical means’—that is, the ‘special military operation’ that began on 24 February 2022.
Russian Imperial and White Émigré Nationalism Captures Putin’s Russia
Downplaying, marginalising, and ignoring Russian nationalism led to the ignoring of Russian nationalism’s incorporation of Tsarist and White Russian émigré denials of the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians. Marginal nationalism in the 1990s became mainstream nationalism in Russia in the 2000s under Putin when the ‘emergence of a virulent nationalist opposition movement took the mainstream hostage.’ The 1993 coup d’état against President Boris Yeltsin was led by a ‘red-brown’ coalition of pro-Soviet and far-right nationalists and fascists. The failure of the coup d’état and the electoral defeat of the Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov in the 1996 elections condemned these groups to the margins of Russian political life. At the same time, from the mid 1990s, the Yeltsin presidency moved away from a liberal to a nationalist foreign and security approach within Eurasia and towards the West. This evolution was discernible in the support given to a Russian-Belarusian union during the 1996 elections and in the appointment of Yevgeny Primakov as foreign minister. Therefore, the capture of Russia by the Soviet siloviki began with the Chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Primakov, four years before the chairman of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Putin, was elected president. Under Primakov, Russia moved from defining itself as part of the ‘common European home’ to the country at the centre of Eurasia.
Under Putin, the marginalised ‘red-brown’ coalition gradually increased its influence and broadened to include ‘whites’ (i.e., nostalgic supporters of the Tsarist Empire). Prominent among the ideologists of the ‘red-white-brown’ coalition was the fascist and Ukrainophobe Alexander Dugin, who has nurtured national-Bolshevik and Eurasianist political projects. In the 2014 crisis, Dugin, then a professor at Moscow State University, stated: ‘We should clean up Ukraine from the idiots,’ and ‘The genocide of these cretins is due and inevitable… I can’t believe these are Ukrainians. Ukrainians are wonderful Slavonic people. And this is a race of bastards that emerged from the sewer manholes.’
During the 2000s the ‘red-white-brown’ coalition came to prominence and Putin increasingly identified with its denial of Ukraine and Ukrainians. Tsarist imperial nationalism was integrated with Soviet nostalgia, Soviet traditions and symbols and historical myths, such as the Great Patriotic War. Since the mid 2000s, only five years into his rule, Putin spearheaded the rehabilitation of the White Russian émigré movement and reburial of its military officers, writers, and philosophers in Russia. These reburials took place at the same time as the formation of the Russian World Foundation (April 2007) and unification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the émigré Russian Orthodox Church (May 2007). These developments supercharged nationalism in Putin’s Russia, reinforced the Tsarist element in the ‘red-white-brown’ coalition and fuelled the growing disdain of, and antipathy towards Ukraine and Ukrainians that was given state support in the media throughout the two decades before the invasion.
Putin personally paid for the re-burial of White Russian émigré nationalists and fascists Ivan Ilyin, Ivan Shmelev, and General Anton Deniken, who called Ukraine ‘Little Russia’ and denied the existence of a separate Ukrainian nation. These chauvinistic views of Ukraine and Ukrainians were typical of White Russian émigrés. Serhy Plokhy writes, ‘Russia was taking back its long-lost children and reconnecting with their ideas.’ Little wonder, one hundred descendants of White Russian émigré aristocrats living in Western Europe signed an open letter of support for Russia during the 2014 crisis.
Putin was ‘particularly impressed’ with Ilyin, whom he first cited in an address to the Russian State Duma as long ago as 2006. Putin recommended Ilyin to be read by his governors, senior adviser Vladislav Surkov, and Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. The intention was to use Ilyin’s publications in the Russian state programme to inculcate ‘patriotism’ and ‘conservative values’ in Russian children. Ilyin was integrated into Putin’s ideology during his re-election campaign in 2012 and influenced Putin’s re-thinking of himself as the ‘gatherer of Russian lands;’ that is, integrating Belarus and Ukraine into the Russian World, and specifically his belief that the three eastern Slavs constituted a pan-Russian nation.
Laruelle has downplayed the importance of Ilyin’s ideology, writing that he did not always propagate fascism, and that Putin only quoted him five times. Yet Putin has not only cited Ilyin, but also asked Russian journalists whether they had read Deniken’s diaries, especially the parts where ‘Deniken discusses Great and Little Russia, Ukraine.’ Deniken wrote in his diaries, ‘No Russian, reactionary or democrat, republican or authoritarian, will ever allow Ukraine to be torn away.’
In turn, Tsarist imperial nationalist and White Russian émigré denials of Ukraine and Ukrainians were amplified in the Russian media and in its information warfare for over a decade prior to the invasion. Ukraine and Ukrainians were mocked in the Russian media in a manner ‘typical in coloniser-colonised relationships.’ Russia and Russians were cast as superior, modern, and advanced, while Ukraine and Ukrainians were portrayed as backward, uneducated, ‘or at least unsophisticated, lazy, unreliable, cunning, and prone to thievery.’ As a result of nearly two decades of Russian officials and media denigrating Ukraine and Ukrainians these Russian attitudes towards Ukraine and Ukrainians ‘are widely shared across the Russian elite and populace.’ This is confirmed by a March 2022 survey conducted by Russia’s last remaining polling organisation, the Levada Centre, which found that an astronomical 81% of Russians supporting Russian military actions in Ukraine. Among these supporters, 43% believe the ‘special military operation’ was undertaken to protect Russophones, 43% to protect civilians in Russian-occupied Donbas, 25% to halt an attack on Russia, and 21% to remove ‘nationalists’ and ‘restore order.’
Russian Imperial Nationalist Denigration and Denial of Ukraine and Ukrainians
Russian imperial nationalist views of Ukraine began to reappear as far back as the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections, when Russian political technologists worked for pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych’s election campaign, producing election posters designed to scare Russian speakers in south-eastern Ukraine about the prospect of an electoral victory by ‘fascist’ and ‘nationalist’ Viktor Yushchenko. This was when Russia revived Soviet ideological propaganda attacks against Ukrainian nationalists as ‘Nazi collaborators.’
Putin’s cult of the Great Patriotic War has been intricately linked to the promotion of Russia as the country that defeated Nazism in World War II (this is not true as all the Soviet nations contributed to the defeat) and which today is fighting contemporary Nazis in Ukraine, Poland, the three Baltic states, and beyond. Ukraine’s four de-communisation laws adopted in 2015 were despised in Moscow for many reasons. The most pertinent to this discussion was one law that equated Nazi and Soviet crimes against humanity (which contradicted Putin’s cult of Stalin) and another law that moved the terminology of Ukraine’s wartime commemorations from the 1941–45 ‘Great Patriotic War’ to ‘World War II’ of 1939–45.
One of the 2004 election posters, reproduced below, imagines Ukraine in typical Russian imperial nationalist discourse as divided into three parts, with west Ukraine as ‘First Class’ (that is, the top of the pack), central Ukraine as ‘Second Class’ and south-eastern Ukraine as ‘Third Class’ (showing Russian speakers living in this region to be at the bottom of the hierarchy).
Poster Prepared by Russian Political Technologists for Viktor Yanukovych’s 2004 Election Campaign
Text:Yes! This is how THEIR Ukraine looks. Ukrainians, open your eyes!
The map of Ukraine in the above 2004 election poster is remarkably similar to the traditional Russian nationalist image of Ukraine reproduced below:
Map of Russian Imperial Nationalist Image of Ukraine
Note: From right to left: ‘New Russia’ (south-eastern Ukraine in red), ‘Little Russia’ (central Ukraine in blue), ‘Ukraine’ (Galicia in orange), ‘Sub-Carpathian Rus’ (green).
Putin’s Growing Obsession with Ukraine Ignored by Scholars
Imperial nationalism came to dominate Russia’s authoritarian political system, including the ruling United Russia Party. Putin’s political system copied that of the late USSR, which in turn had copied East European communist regimes that had created state-controlled opposition parties to provide a fake resemblance of a multi-party system. In 1990, the USSR gave birth to the Liberal Democratic Party of the Soviet Union, becoming in 1992 the Liberal Democratic Party of the Russian Federation (LDPRF). Led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the LDPRF repeatedly made loud bellicose statements about Ukraine and the West. The LDPRF’s goal has always been to attract nationalists who would have otherwise voted for far-right political parties not controlled by the state. In the 1993 elections following the failed coup d’état, the LDPRF received 22.9% - more than the liberal Russia’s Choice Party (15%) and the Communist Party (KPRF). Under Putin, these state-sponsored political projects expanded to the extreme left through the national-Bolshevik Motherland Party, whose programme was written by Dugin, and the Just Russia Party, which was active in Russian-occupied Donbas.
Putin’s authoritarian regime needs internal fifth columnists and external enemies. Domestically, these include opposition leaders such as Alexei Navalny, and externally ‘anti-Russia’ Ukraine and the West. Changes to the Russian constitution in summer 2020 extended the ability of Putin to remain president for fifteen years, but in effect made him president for life. Political repression and the closure of independent media increased after these changes, as seen in the attempted poisoning of Navalny, and grew following the invasion of Ukraine. In 2017, The Economist said it was wrong to describe Russia as totalitarian; five years later The Economist believed Russia had become a totalitarian state.
A similar evolution has developed over whether Putin’s Russia could be called fascist. In 2016, Alexander J. Motyl’s article declaring Russia to be a fascist state met with a fairly tepid reception. and widespread scholarly criticism. Laruelle devoted an entire book to decrying Russia as not being a fascist state, which was ironically published a few weeks after Russia’s invasion. By the time of the invasion, all the ten characteristics Motyl had defined as constituting a fully authoritarian and fascist political system in Russia were in place:
Fascists rely on projection; that is, they accuse their enemies of the crimes which they themselves are guilty of. This has great relevance to Ukraine because Russia did not drop its accusation of Ukraine as a ‘Nazi’ state even after the election of Zelenskyy, who is of Jewish-Ukrainian origins and whose family suffered in the Holocaust. Indeed, civilian and military Ukrainians describe Russian invaders as ‘fascists,’ ‘racists’, and ‘Orks’ (a fictional character drawn from the goblins found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). After shooting and severely wounding a Ukrainian civilian, the Russian soldier stood over him saying ‘We have come to protect you.’ Another Russian officer said to a young girl captive: ‘Don’t be afraid, little girl, we will liberate you from Nazis.’
Putin and the Kremlin’s justification for their ‘special military operation’ into Ukraine was based on many of the myths and chauvinistic attitudes to Ukraine and Ukrainians that had been disseminated by Russia’s media and information warfare since the mid 2000s. Of the 9,000 disinformation cases the EU database has collected since 2015, 40% are on Ukraine and Ukrainians. The EU’s Disinformation Review notes, ‘Ukraine has a special place within the disinformation (un)reality,’ and ‘Ukraine is by far the most misrepresented country in the Russian media. Russia’s information warfare and disinformation has gone into overdrive since the 2014 crisis. ‘Almost five years into the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Kremlin’s use of the information weapon against Ukraine has not decreased; Ukraine still stands out as the most misrepresented country in pro-Kremlin media.’
Since the mid 2000s, Russian media and information warfare has dehumanised Ukraine and Ukrainians, belittling them as unable to exist without external support. In colonialist discourse, Ukrainians were mocked as dumb peasants who had no identity, did not constitute a real nation, and needed an ‘elder brother’ (US, Russia) to survive. Such discourse was reminiscent of European imperialists when discussing their colonies prior to 1945.
Ukraine was repeatedly ridiculed as an artificial country and a failed, bankrupt state. Putin first raised this claim as far back as in his 2008 speech to the NATO-Russia Council at the Bucharest NATO summit. Ukraine as a failed state is also one of the most common themes in Russian information warfare. In 2014, the Ukrainian state allegedly collapsed, requiring Russia’s military intervention. The Ukrainian authorities were incapable of resolving their problems because Ukraine is not a real state and could not survive without trade with Russia.
Russian disinformation claimed that Ukraine’s artificiality meant it faced territorial claims from all its neighbours. Central-Eastern European countries would put forward territorial claims towards western Ukraine. Russia has made territorial claims to south-eastern Ukraine (Novorossiya [New Russia] and Prichernomorie [Black Sea Lands]) since as far back as the 2008 NATO summit and increased in intensity following the 2014 invasion of Crimea. Putin repeatedly condemned Lenin for including south-eastern Ukraine within the Soviet Ukrainian republic, claiming the region was ancient ‘Russian’ land.
Another common theme in the Russian media was that Ukraine was a land of perennial instability and revolution where extremists run amok, Russian speakers were persecuted, and pro-Russian politicians and media were repressed and closed. Ukrainian ‘nationalist’ and ‘neo-Nazi’ rule over Ukraine created an existentialist threat to Russian speakers. Putin refused to countenance the return of Ukrainian control over the Russian-Ukrainian joint border because of the alleged threat of a new ‘Srebrenica-style’ genocide of Russian speakers. Putin used the empirically unsubstantiated claim that Russian speakers were subject to an alleged ‘genocide’ as justification for the ‘special military operation.’ On 16 March, the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice, threw out the Russian claim of ‘genocide’ and demanded Russia halt its war.
Putin and the Kremlin adopted the discourse of an artificial Ukrainian nation created as an anti-Russian conspiracy. Putin said: ‘The Ukrainian factor was specifically played out on the eve of World War I by the Austrian special service. Why? This is well-known—to divide and rule (the Russian people).’ Putin and the Kremlin incorporated these views of Ukraine and Ukrainians a few years after they had circulated within the extreme right in Russia. The leader of the Russian Imperial Movement, Stanislav Vorobyev said, ‘Ukrainians are some socio-political group who do not have any ethnos. They are just a socio-political group that appeared at the end of the nineteenth century by means of manipulation of the occupying Austro-Hungarian administration, which occupied Galicia.’ Vorobyev and Putin agreed with one another that ‘Russians’ were the most divided people in the world and believed Ukrainians were illegally occupying ‘Russian’ lands.
These nationalist myths were closely tied to another, namely that the West created a Ukrainian puppet state in order to divide the pan-Russian nation. Russia’s ‘special military operation’ is allegedly not fighting the Ukrainian army but ‘nationalists,’ ‘neo-Nazis and drug addicts’ supported by the West. Putin has even gone so far as to deny that his forces are fighting the Ukrainian army at all, and has called on Ukrainian soldiers to rebel against the supposed ‘Nazi’ regime led by Zelenskyy—an especially cruel slur given that several generations of the latter’s family were murdered during the Holocaust.
The Russian nationalist myth of a Ukrainian puppet state is a reflection of viewing it as a country without real sovereignty that only exists because it is propped up by the West. Soviet propaganda and ideological campaigns also depicted dissidents and nationalists as puppets of Western intelligence services. Russian information warfare frequently described former President Petro Poroshenko and President Zelenskyy as puppets of Ukrainian nationalists and the West. 
These Russian nationalist views have also percolated through into the writings of some Western scholars. Stephen Cohen, a well-known US historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, described US Vice President Joe Biden as Ukraine’s ‘pro-consul overseeing the increasingly colonised Kyiv.’ President Poroshenko was not a Ukrainian leader, but ‘a compliant representative of domestic and foreign political forces,’’ who ‘resembles a pro-consul of a faraway great power’ running a ‘failed state.’ Cohen, who was contributing editor of the left-wing The Nation magazine, held a derogatory view towards Ukraine as a Western puppet state, which is fairly commonly found on the extreme left in the West, and which blamed the West (i.e., NATO, EU enlargement) for the 2014 crisis, rather than Putin and Russia.
Soviet propaganda and ideological campaigns routinely attacked dissidents and nationalist opposition as ‘bourgeois nationalists’ who were in cahoots with Nazis in the Ukrainian diaspora and in the pay of Western and Israeli secret services. Ukraine has been depicted in the Russian media since the 2004 Orange Revolution as a country ruled by ‘fascists’ and ‘neo-Nazis.’ A ‘Ukrainian nationalist’ in the Kremlin’s eyes is the same as in the Soviet Union; that is, anybody who supports Ukraine’s future outside the Russian World and USSR. All Ukrainians who supported the Orange and Euromaidan Revolutions and are fighting Russia’s ‘special military operation’ were therefore ‘nationalists’ and ‘Nazis.’
Between the 2004 Orange Revolution and Putin’s re-election in 2012, Russian imperial nationalism rehabilitated Tsarist imperial and White Russian émigré dismissals of Ukraine and Ukrainians into official discourse, military aggression, and information warfare. In 2007, the Russian World Foundation was created and two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church were re-united. Returning to the presidency in 2012, Putin believed he would enter Russian history as the ‘gatherer of Russian lands’ which he proceeded to undertake with Crimea (2014), Belarus (2020), and Ukraine (2022).
The origins of Putin’s obsession with Ukraine lie in his eclectic integration of Tsarist imperial and Soviet nationalisms. The former provides the ideological bedrock for the denial of the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians while the latter provides the ideological discourse to depict as Nazis all those Ukrainians who resist being defined as Little Russians. Putin believed his military forces would be greeted as liberators by Little Russians eager to throw off the US imposed nationalist and neo-Nazi yoke, the artificial Ukrainian state would quickly disintegrate, and the country and capital city of Kyiv would be taken within two days. Russian troops brought parade uniforms to march down Kyiv’s main thoroughfare and victory medals to be awarded to troops. This was not to be, because Putin’s denial of a Ukrainian people is—put simply—untrue. The Russo-Ukrainian war is a clash between twenty-first century Ukrainian patriotism and civic nationalism, as evidenced by Zelenskyy’s landslide election, and rooted in a desire to leave the USSR behind and be part of a future Europe, and nineteenth-century Russian imperial nationalism built on nostalgia for the past.
Unfortunately, many scholars working on Russia ignored, downplayed, or denied the depth, direction, and even existence of nationalism in Putin’s Russia and therefore find unfathomable the ferocity, and goals behind the invasion of Ukraine. This was because many scholars wrongly viewed the 2014 crisis as Putin’s temporary, instrumental use of nationalism to annex Crimea and foment separatism in south-eastern Ukraine. Instead, they should have viewed the integration of Tsarist imperial and Soviet nationalisms from the mid 2000s through to the invasion as a continuous, evolutionary process that has led to the emergence of a fascist, totalitarian, and imperialist regime seeking to destroy Ukrainian identity.
 See Taras Kuzio, Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War: Autocracy-Orthodoxy-Nationality (London: Routledge, 2022).
 Vladimir Putin, ‘Pro istorychnu yednist rosiyan ta ukrayinciv,’ 12 July 2021. http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66182?fbclid=IwAR0Wj7W_7QL2-IFInLwl4kI1FOQ5RxJAemrvCwe04r8TIAm03rcJrycMSYY
 Y.D. Zolotukhin, Bila Knyha. Spetsialnykh Informatsiynykh Operatsiy Proty Ukrayiny 2014-2018, 67-85.
 Vladimir Putin, ‘Speech to the Valdai Club,’ 25 October 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvY184FQsiA
 Anna Matveeva, A. (2018). Through Times of Trouble. Conflict in Southeastern Ukraine Explained From Within (Lanham, MA: Lexington Books, 2018), 182, 218, 221, 223, 224, 277.
 Richard Sakwa, Russia Against the Rest. The Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 125.
 Pal Kolsto, ‘Crimea vs. Donbas: How Putin Won Russian Nationalist Support—and Lost It Again,’ Slavic Review, 75: 3 (2016), 702-725; Henry E. Hale, ‘How nationalism and machine politics mix in Russia,’ In: Pal Kolstø and Helge Blakkisrud eds., The New Russian Nationalism. Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 221-248, at p.246; Marlene Laruelle, ‘Making Sense of Russia's Illiberalism,’ Journal of Democracy, 31: 3 (2020: 115-129.
 P. Kolstø and H. Blakkisrud eds., The New Russian Nationalism. Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016).
 For a full survey see T. Kuzio, ‘Euromaidan Revolution, Crimea and Russia-Ukraine War: Why it is Time for a Review of Ukrainian-Russian Studies,’ Eurasian Geography and Economics, 59: 3-4 (2018), 529-553 and Crisis in Russian Studies? Nationalism (Imperialism), Racism, and War (Bristol: E-International Relations, 2020), https://www.e-ir.info/publication/crisis-in-russian-studies-nationalism-imperialism-racism-and-war/
 See Petro Kuzyk, ‘Ukraine’s national integration before and after 2014. Shifting ‘East–West’ polarization line and strengthening political community,’ Eurasian Geography and Economics, 60: 6 (2019), 709-735/
 T. Kuzio, ‘Putin's three big errors have doomed this invasion to disaster,’ The Daily Telegraph, 15 March 2022. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/03/15/putins-three-big-errors-have-doomed-invasion-disaster/
 ‘Do not resist the liberation,’ EU vs Disinfo, 31 March 2022. https://euvsdisinfo.eu/do-not-resist-the-liberation/
 T. Kuzio, ‘Inside Vladimir Putin’s criminal plan to purge and partition Ukraine,’ Atlantic Council, 3 March 2022. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/inside-vladimir-putins-criminal-plan-to-purge-and-partition-ukraine/
 R. Sakwa, Russia Against the Rest, 159.
 P. Kolsto, ‘Crimea vs. Donbas: How Putin Won Russian Nationalist Support—and Lost It Again’ and M. Laruelle, ‘Is Nationalism a Force for Change in Russia?’ Daedalus, 146: 2 (2017, 89-100.
 H. E. Hale, ‘How nationalism and machine politics mix in Russia.’
 M. Laruelle, ‘Making Sense of Russia's Illiberalism,’126.
 M. Laruelle, ‘Ideological Complimentarity or Competition? The Kremlin, the Church, and the Monarchist Idea,’ Slavic Review, 79: 2 (2020), 345-364, at p.348.
 Paul Chaisty and Stephen Whitefield, S. (2015). ‘Putin’s Nationalism Problem’ In: Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska and R. Sakwa eds., Ukraine and Russia: People, Politics, Propaganda and Perspectives (Bristol: E-International Relations, 2015), 165-172, at pp. 157, 162.
 R. Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine. Crisis in the Borderlands (London: I.B. Tauris, 2015) and Russia Against the Rest.
 Robert Horvath, ‘The Euromaidan and the crisis of Russian nationalism,’ Nationalities Papers, 43: 6 (2015), 819-839.
 P. Kolsto, ‘Crimea vs. Donbas: How Putin Won Russian Nationalist Support—and Lost It Again’ and H. E. Hale, ‘How nationalism and machine politics mix in Russia.’
 M. Laruelle, ‘Making Sense of Russia's Illiberalism,’126.
 R. Sakwa, ‘Is Putin an Ism,’ Russian Politics, 5: 3 (2020): 255-282, at pp.276-277; Neil Robinson, ‘Putin and the Incompleteness of Putinism,’ Russian Politics, 5: 3 (2020): 283-300, at pp.284-285, 287, 289, 293, 299); Nicolai N. Petro, ‘How the West Lost Russia: Explaining the Conservative Turn in Russian Foreign Policy,’ Russian Politics, 3: 3 (2018): 305-332.
 A. Matveeva, Through Times of Trouble, 277 and Sakwa, Russia Against the Rest, 119.
 R. Sakwa, Russia Against the Rest, 125, 189.
 Ibid., 60, 75, 275, 276.
 Mikhail Zygar, All the Kremlin’s Men. Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin (New York: Public Affairs, 2016), 87.
 Taras Kuzio, ‘Medvedev: The Russian-Ukrainian War will continue until Ukraine becomes a second Belarus,’ New Eastern Europe, 20 October 2021. https://neweasterneurope.eu/2021/10/20/medvedev-the-russian-ukrainian-war-will-continue-until-ukraine-becomes-a-second-belarus/
 Charles Clover, Black Wind, White Snow. The Rise of Russia’s New Nationalism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2016), 287.
 M. Laruelle, ‘The three colors of Novorossiya, or the Russian nationalist mythmaking of the Ukrainian crisis,’ Post-Soviet Affairs, 3: 1 (2016), 55-74.
 Mykola Riabchuk, ‘On the “Wrong” and “Right” Ukrainians,’ The Aspen Review, 15 March 2017. https://www.aspen.review/article/2017/on-the-wrong-and-right-ukrainians/
 Anders Aslund, ‘Russian contempt for Ukraine paved the way for Putin’s disastrous invasion,’ Atlantic Council, 1 April 2022. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/russian-contempt-for-ukraine-paved-the-way-for-putins-disastrous-invasion/
 Serhy Plokhy, Lost Kingdom. A History of Russian Nationalism from Ivan the Great to Vladimir Putin (London: Penguin Books, 2017), 327.
 Ibid., 332.
 M. Laruelle, ‘In Search of Putin’s Philosopher,’ Intersection, 3 March 2017. https:// www.ponarseurasia.org/article/search-putins-philosopher
 S. Plokhy, Lost Kingdom, 326.
 Alena Minchenia, Barbara Tornquist-Plewa and Yulia Yurchuk ‘Humour as a Mode of Hegemonic Control: Comic Representations of Belarusian and Ukrainian Leaders in Official Russian Media’ In: Niklas Bernsand and B. Tornquist-Plewa eds., Cultural and Political Imaginaries in Putin’s Russia (Leiden and Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2018), 211-231, at p.225.
 Ibid, 25 and Igor Gretskiy, ‘Lukyanov Doctrine: Conceptual Origins of Russia’s Hybrid Foreign Policy – The Case of Ukraine,’ Saint Louis University Law Journal, 64:1 (2020), 1-22, at p.21.
 T. Kuzio, ‘Stalinism and Russian and Ukrainian National Identities,’ Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 50, 4 (2017), 289-302 .
 Anna Oliynyk and T. Kuzio, ‘The Euromaidan Revolution of Dignity, Reforms and De-Communisation in Ukraine,’ Europe-Asia Studies, 73: 5 (2021), 807-836.
 Masha Gessen is wrong to call Russia a totalitarian state,’ The Economist, 4 November 2017.
 ‘The Stalinisation of Russia,’ Economist, 12 March 2022. https://www.economist.com/leaders/2022/03/12/the-stalinisation-of-russia
 Alexander J. Motyl, ‘Putin’s Russia as a fascist political system,’ Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 49: 1 (2016), 25-36.
 I was guest editor of the special issue of Communist and Post-Communist Studies and remember the controversies very well as to whether to publish or not publish Motyl’s article.
 M. Laruelle, Is Russia Fascist ? Unraveling Propaganda East and West (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2022).
 Olga Kryshtanovskaya and Stephen White, ‘Putin's Militocracy,’ Post-Soviet Affairs, 19: 4 (2003), 289-306.
 Zelenskyy is the grandson of the only surviving brother of four. The other 3 brothers were murdered by the Nazi’s in the Holocaust.
 Yuriy D. Zolotukhin Ed., Bila Knyha. Spetsialnykh Informatsiynykh Operatsiy Proty Ukrayiny 2014-2018 (Kyiv: Mega-Pres Hrups, 2018), 302-358.
 T. Kuzio, Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War,1-34.
 ‘Putin fears second “Srebrenica” if Kiev gets control over border in Donbass,’ Tass, 10 December 2019. https://tass.com/world/1097897
 V. Putin, ‘Twenty questions with Vladimir Putin. Putin on Ukraine,’ Tass, 18 March 2020. https://putin.tass.ru/en
 V. Putin, ‘Ukraina – samaya blyzkaya k nam strana,’ Tass, 29 September 2015. https://tass.ru/interviews/2298160
and ‘Speech to the Valdai Club,’ 25 October 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvY184FQsiA
 ‘Putin references neo-Nazis and drug addicts in bizarre speech to Russian security council – video,’ The Guardian, 25 February 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2022/feb/25/putin-references-neo-nazis-and-drug-addicts-in-bizarre-speech-to-russian-security-council-video
 Stephen Cohen, War with Russia?: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2019), 145.
 Ibid., p. 36.
by Blendi Kajsiu
There is a strong tendency to conflate populism and anti-politics. In the media every political actor or party that rejects the political status quo is labelled populist, regardless of their political ideology. In academia, on the other hand, the rejection of the existing political class and institutions is understood as the very essence of populism. According to one of the leading political theorists of populism, Margaret Canovan, ‘in its current incarnations populism does not express the essence of the political but instead of anti-politics.’ In similar fashion, Nadia Urbinati argues that anti-politics constitutes the basic structure of populist ideology. Hence, the concept of populism has been ‘regularly used as a synonym for “anti-establishment”’.
The conflation between populism and anti-politics is understandable given that anti- elitism constitutes one of the core features of populism in its dominant definitions, whether as a thin ideology or as a political logic. In most contemporary populist movements anti- elitism has taken the specific form of anti-politics, whether in the rejection of traditional political parties (la partidocracia) by Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or the denunciation of the political establishment by Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece. The traditional political class has also been the main enemy of right-wing neo-populist movements in Latin America. Likewise, dissatisfaction with the political establishment has constituted an important source of right-wing populism in Europe. Hence, the confusion between anti-politics and populism, even when absent theoretically, can easily appear at the empirical level.
Yet anti-politics and populism are two distinct phenomena. The rejection of the political status quo, the denunciation of the existing political class and institutions can be articulated from different ideological perspectives. Politics, politicians, and political institutions can be rejected for violating the popular will (populism), for undermining market competition (neoliberalism), for weakening the nation (nationalism), for undermining tradition and family values (conservatism), or for producing deep inequalities and high concentrations of wealth (socialism). Hence, there are populist, conservative, socialist, neoliberal, and liberal anti-political discourses, alongside many others, which combine various ideological perspectives in their rejection of the political class and political institutions.
It is only when the rejection of politics, politicians, and the political status quo is combined with key concepts of populism that we can talk of populist anti-politics. Following Mudde, I understand populism as a “thin-centred ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite,’ and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people.” The antagonism between the honest people and the corrupt elite, the people as the underdog and the only source of political legitimacy, as well as popular sovereignty, constitute the conceptual core of any populist discourse because they are present in all its historical manifestations.
Populism functions as an ideology insofar as it partially fixes the meaning of these concepts in relation to each other. Thus, from a populist perspective, democracy is understood primarily as a direct expression of ‘the’ people’s will rather than as a set of institutional or procedural arrangements (liberal democracy). Popular sovereignty here means that ‘the people are the only source of legitimate authority’. Political legitimacy is defined in terms of the will of the people, as opposed to tradition (conservatism) or procedures (liberalism). Within the people–elite antagonism, the people are defined vertically as the underdog (the plebs) against a corrupt elite. This is different from the horizontal definition ‘the-people-as-nation’ within nationalist ideology, where the people are defined primarily in opposition to non-members rather than against the elite.
The last point is important in order to distinguish between populism and nativism. The latter denotes an exclusionary type of nationalism ‘that holds that states should be inhabited exclusively by the members of the native group [….] and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogeneous nation-state.’ It is normally conflated with populism given that ‘both nationalism and populism revolve around the sovereignty of “the people”, with the same signifier being used to refer to both [“the people” and “the nation”] in many languages (e.g., “das Volk”).’
Although in practice these two ideologies are interweaved, they define ‘the people’ in distinctive ways. From a populist perspective, the people is defined vertically as the underdog against an oppressive elite. This is an open-ended definition which implies that all those social groups that are being oppressed by the elite could be part of the people. In other words, the ‘people’ is not defined positively through a fixed set of criteria, as much as negatively in opposition to the corrupt elite.
The nativist ideology, on the other hand, defines the people horizontally as a nation in opposition to other nations, cultures, religions, or social groups. This is a closed definition that assigns a set of positive attributes to the people in terms of language, territory, religion, race, culture, or birth. Hence, from a nativist perspective the national elite remains ‘part of the nation even when they betray the interests of the nation and their allegiance to the nation is questioned.’ This is not true in the case of populism where ‘the elite’ by definition is not part of the ‘people’.
Given that populism as a very thin ideology articulates a very limited number of key concepts, anti-politics can rarely be simply, or even primarily, populist. This is why a number of scholars have argued that although radical right-wing parties in Europe are often labelled populist they are primarily defined by ethnic nationalism or nativism. In other words, their rejection of the existing political class and institutions is more nativist than populist. Yet despite the growing consensus that ethnic nationalism or nativism is the key ingredient of extreme right-wing parties in Europe, they are still labelled populist radical-right parties, and not nationalist or nativist radical-right parties.
This is not to say that there cannot be right-wing political parties that articulate anti-politics primarily in a populist fashion, although they are hard to find in Europe. A number of leaders and political movements in Latin America, usually labelled neo-populists, have successfully combined a neoliberal ideology with populism. Presidents Alberto Fujimori in Peru (1990–2000), Carlos Menem in Argentina (1989–1999), and Fernando Collor (1990–1992) in Brazil combined populism and neoliberalism when in office. In all these cases, populism, and not nativism, was the key element of their political articulation.
Hence the articulation of populism with nativism in right-wing populist movements is contingent rather than necessary. It appears natural due to the Eurocentrism of most literature on radical right-wing populism, which focuses on Europe and often ignores right-wing populist movements in Latin America and beyond. Our obsession with populism can blind us to the ideological zeitgeist that fuels the current anti-politics. Instead of identifying the populist versus anti-populist cleavage that has supposedly displaced the left–right division, it could be more productive to clarify how ideological polarisation has been producing rejections of current politics, whether along the cosmopolitan–nationalist or the left–right ideological dimensions.
Indeed, ideological polarisation along the left–right and the cosmopolitan–nationalist spectrums would tell us a lot more about the 2020 Presidential Elections in the USA than the populist–non-populist cleavage. A focus on nationalism would tell us a lot more about the emergence of radical-right parties in Europe, as well as the rise of extreme right-wing politicians such as Eric Zemmour in France, which mainstream media calls “populist”. Not to mention that populism, unlike nationalism, tells us very little about the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Focusing on populism diverts our attention from the multiple ideological dimensions of anti-politics discourses today. The rejection of politics, the political class, and political institutions is rarely developed simply from a populist perspective, especially in Europe. It is often justified in the name of tradition, equality, identity, and especially in the name of the nation. Equating populism with anti-politics tends to obscure the ideological dimension of the latter, especially when populism is understood as a non-ideological phenomenon that lies beyond the left–right spectrum.
 M. Canovan, The People (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), 78.
 N. Urbinati, Me the People: How Populism Transforms Democracy (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2019), 62.
 J. W. Müller, What Is Populism? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 1.
 See C. Mudde, 'The populist zeitgeist', Government and Opposition 39:4 (2004), 542–563, at p. 543 and E. Laclau, On Populist Reason (London: Verso, 2005).
 K. Weyland, 'Neopopulism and Neoliberalism in Latin America: Unexpected Affinities', Studies in Comparative International Development 33:3(1996), 3–31, at p. 10.
 See C. Fieschi & P. Heywood, 'Trust, cynicism and populist anti-politics', Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004), 289–309; as well as H. G. Betz, ‘Introduction’, In Hans-Georg Betz and Stefan Immerfall (Eds.) The New Politics of the Right: Neo-Populist Parties and Movements in Established Democracies (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998).
 C. Mudde, 'The populist zeitgeist', 543.
 B. De Cleen and Y. Stavrakakis, 'Distinctions and Articulations: A Discourse Theoretical Framework for the Study of Populism and Nationalism', Javnost – The Public 24:4 (2017), 301–319, at p. 312.
 C. Mudde, ‘Why nativism not populism should be declared word of the year’, The Guardian, 7 December 2017, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/07/cambridge-dictionary-nativism-populism-word-year
 B. De Cleen and Y. Stavrakakis, 'Distinctions and Articulations', 301.
 B. De Cleen, ‘Populism and Nationalism’ in C. Rovira Kaltwasser, P. Taggart, P. Ochoa Espejo, and P. Ostiguy, (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Populism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 342–362, at p. 351.
 See B. Moffit, ‘The populism/Anti-populism Divide in Western Europe’, Democratic Theory 5 (2018), 1–16; B. De Cleen, ‘Populism and Nationalism’, 349; J. Rydgren, ‘Radical right-wing parties in Europe: What’s populism got to do with it?’, Journal of Language and Politics 16:4 (2017), 485–496.
 K. Weland, 'Neoliberal Populism in Latin America and Eastern Europe', Comparative Politics 31 (1999), 379–401, at p. 379.
by Noam Hadad and Yaacov Yadgar
How are we to understand a self-proclaimed “religious-nationalist” ideology if we take seriously the critical insights of a wide field of studies that question the very meaning of and distinction between the two organs of this hyphenated identity (i.e., religion and the supposedly secular nationalism)?
A wide field of studies (what is usually termed post-secularism or critical religion) have convincingly situated the emergence of the modern usage of these categories or concepts in specific historical and political configurations of power, debunking the (nevertheless prevalent) notion that they are universal and supra-historical concepts, the distilled essences of which can be found everywhere and everywhen in human history, only the outer appearance of them changing from place to place and from time to time. These critical studies caution us not to accept the assumed distinction between irrational, apolitical and private religion and secular, public and rational politics as a natural “given”. Instead, they encourage us to highlight exactly the specific political and historical makeup of the configuration of power that motivates the very construction and usage of these concepts.
We take Religious-Zionism as a case study to explore the manner in which the so-called religious identity of an ideology whose foundational values are those of nationalism and the nation-state, is shaped. We also explore the ways in which this ideology, bent on “hyphenating” nationalism and religion, deals with the ideational challenges posed by an epistemology that insists that the two are mutually exclusive.
The Western construction of “religion” and “the secular”
Popular imagery, as well as the discourse prevalent in large swaths of the academic field tend to view religion and the secular as universal (that is, culturally agnostic), almost natural and obviously neutral categories, that are used to describe—and to analyse—any given social and political reality. Religion is described in this context as a primordial, non-rational (or irrational) basis of human society, and secularism or secularisation as a rational, enlightened release from the archaic bonds of religion.
Powerful critiques reject this construction of both religion and the secular. Critics retrace the emergence of the conceptual binary to its historical and cultural (modern, Christian, largely Protestant, European) context, and warn against employing this binary as if it were supra-historical and universal. The prevailing concept of religion, they show, has developed in the context of the emergence of the modern, secular nation-state. Religion is charged with a (negative) normative load, often captured in what secularist partisans depict as the violent and irrational nature of religion. The critics further show that the secular is constructed as the mirror image of religion, associated with a positive normative load of reason, rationality, and progress. Most importantly, these critiques highlight the ways in which this Western construction of religion serves the politics of the nation-state, while delegitimising competing claims for authority as religious, hence irrational and danger.
This construction of religion and the secular nourished on Protestant ideas, especially the depiction of religion as a personal, apolitical matter. The Church, this view would claim, should avoid interfering in matters of politics, leaving it for the secular state to conduct. The outcome of this segregation of religion and its distancing from politics is thus inherently political: it dictates that one’s loyalty should be given exclusively to the state. Loyalty to God (and the teachings taught in God’s name by tradition) is to be depoliticised, neutralised of its public power.
The secularist discourse is thus presented with a dilemma when considering the phenomenon of religious nationalism: How to account for this obviously modern “hybrid”, that professes political loyalty to both God and nation-state? The academic discourse on Religious-Zionism, which for the most part has been bound into the secularist discourse suggests that the key for understanding this phenomenon is in the balance of power between the two organs: religion and nationalism. Many of these studies have employed the concept of fundamentalism to study Religious-Zionism. Other studies reject fundamentalism as an irrelevant framework, describing instead this ideology as existentially torn between its competing, incompatible commitments to secular Zionism and the religious Judaism.
What all these approached has in common is their insistence on employing the secularist epistemology, analysing Religious-Zionism through the contrast and tension between a secular nationalist ideology (i.e., Zionism), and religion.
Yet a critique of the ways in which academic literature based on secularist epistemology has struggled to understand Religious-Zionism is not in itself sufficient to overcome this hurdle. This is so since spokespeople and thought leaders of Religious-Zionism themselves also rely on the bipolarity that pits religious tradition against secular politics as an infrastructure of their thought. Religious-Zionism has for decades based its self-perception on this bipolarity, viewing itself as tasked with the challenge of synthetising or reconciling this apparent binary of a thesis and its antithesis.
This is the background against which to appreciate far reaching changes in the ways in which Religious-Zionists have understood the meaning of their religious commitments and allegedly secular nationalist loyalties. Much of the history of the Religious-Zionist thought in the past half-century can thus be explained as a struggle to reconcile what its carriers viewed as an inevitable conflict between the two, potentially conflicting but equally cherished cores of their identity.
As practically all scholars agree, the June 1967 Six Days war mark, in this regard, a watershed, further motivating this ideological soul-searching. But its effect took time to emerge into the foreground. The two decades immediately following the war saw Religious-Zionists continuing to view their guiding ideology as offering a unique combination of secular and religious values into a whole, consistent system of thought. Some viewed this combination as achieving wholeness, while others insisted on preserving the distinction between the two separate yet interlocked arms. The “Western” (i.e., Euro-American) conceptual toolkit remained their primary framework for understanding their politics. This was especially apparent when spokespeople for Religious-Zionism took a leading role in resisting what they depicted as the separation of religion from state politics, demanding that certain aspects of Jewish tradition are granted a substantial place in public life. The epistemological tension entailed in trying to combine and unify what are, according to the very fundamentals of the secularist discourse, separate and mutually exclusive organs has been apparent. Even when it was clear that the writers are acutely aware of the tension, they were unable to solve it, invested as they were in the conceptual framework that nourished it in the first place.
This tension was rapidly coming to a head during the early 1990’s when the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were negotiating and signing what became known as the Oslo Accords. Religious-Zionists commentators, who read the Accords as an Israeli capitulation, led by secular Zionist leaders, could no longer accept the principal legitimacy of secular dimension of Zionism. They began to question the legitimacy of the so-called secular element in Zionist thought. It is the thin ideological bedrock of secular nationalism, these spokespeople argued, that results in the Israeli inability to safeguard Zionist fundamentals. The only remedy against this precariousness of the Zionist commitments is, they concluded, religion. It is religion, in other words, that safeguards nationalism and guarantees that it is not undermined. Religious-Zionist writers thus solved, in this context, the tension between secular nationalism and religion by transforming the (allegedly secular, even by their own measures) nation-state into a supreme religious value. In effect, this solution meant that any secular Jewish-nationalism is not properly Zionist, since it is only Religious-Zionism that fits bill of authentic Zionism.
Yet this solution, too, remains wedded to the same conceptual framework, where religion and nationalism are understood to be distinct from each other. In retrospect, it is clear that it has not gained much ground. It was during the Religious-Zionist campaign against the Israeli “Disengagement” (namely, the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and armed forces from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank) in 2005 that religion, in its Western-constructed manner, was no longer presented as a foundational element in Religious-Zionist identity. Neither was religion used to distinguish Religious-Zionism from general, secular Zionists. Instead, Religious-Zionist spokespeople focused on the notion of Judaism, which they saw as identical to Zionism writ large. Moreover, there were also calls from within the Religious-Zionist camp to separate religion from realpolitik, or at least to substantially limit its footprint, since it was limiting Religious-Zionism’s ability to confront this realpolitik of the state. While in the past Religious-Zionist spokespeople sought to legitimate religion as worthy of playing a role in politics, they now started to question religion’s political worth, and to position it at the lower ranks of Religious-Zionist ideology, assigning it a utopian more than politically practical and influential role.
In other words, we can see here a renewed “Protestanisation” of Jewish religion among Religious-Zionists. Jewish tradition, seen as mere personal and spiritual “religion,” was gradually pushed aside from matters of national politics, which were fully dominated by the state. Ironic as it may sound, we can speak here of a Religious-Zionist trend of separating religion from politics, that gained power against the background of the Israeli “Disengaging Plan”.
Nationalism and Territory—the Land of Israel
The effects of the secularist, Western epistemology are also apparent when considering the ideological principle of the settlement of the national territory (the Land of Israel) with members of the sovereign nation, a central foundation of Zionist ideology generally. Scholars and commentators of various kinds have tended to single out the principle of settlement as the very core of Religious-Zionism. Critically, they have interpreted it as a matter of Religious-Zionism’s Judaic, religious commitments, depicting Religious-Zionism as promoting the achieving or fulfilling of this end or “commandment” by all available means, including the nation-state, and Zionist ideology itself. At the very least, these scholars have explained the settlement of the Land of Israel as an independent religious value, to which Religious-Zionism is committed as a matter of its religious orthodoxy, regardless of or in parallel to this ideology’s commitment to the nation-state. Accordingly, scholars subscribing to this view have explained various conflictual flash-points—especially since the onset of Religious-Zionist led settlement of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—as putting Religious-Zionism in an existential dilemma, torn between its religious commitment to settle the land and its political, secular commitment to the state. (Some even presented the latter as a matter of religion too).
Yet careful examination of Religious-Zionist public discourse during the half-century since the June 1967 war shows that the value of settling the Land of Israel was rarely granted an independent, self-fulfilling status. Instead, it was usually tied to and dominated by a broader nationalist view, at the center of which stands the state, the nation and nationalist ideology. The idea of the “undivided Land of Israel”, central and important as it has been in Zionist thought generally and in Religious-Zionist thought specifically, has not been elevated to the status of an absolute value, but remained subservient to the sanctification of nationalism and sovereign statehood.
Moreover, the Religious-Zionist public discourse has not focused on a theological discussion of the sanctity of the Land of Israel (a religious principle from which this ideology allegedly nourishes its commitment to colonising the land, according to the scholarship mentioned above.) Instead, most spokespeople have dedicated most of their and their readers’ attention to matters that are commonly identified as secular (primarily issues of security and strategic concerns, but also those of demography), ultimately revolving around one core issue: sovereignty over the national territory.
Thus, for example, one of the central arguments in the Religious-Zionist discourse on the Land of Israel (mostly following the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967) was about the “historical right”—not the theological one—of the nation-state to rule over the land. This right was presented as an axiom that needs neither proof nor explanation; it is clearly seen as part of a universal, political concept of sovereignty. Another major argument made by spokespeople for Religious-Zionism to defend their maximalist stance on matters of territory had to do with matters of security. Often, these security concerns have overshadowed all other arguments regarding the Land. They have argued that exercising sovereignty and military control over the territory and colonising it are a necessary condition for guaranteeing the security of the state. It is the latter—the state, its security—that held the status of the absolute value.
The Land of Israel—and the project of settling it—were presented as one of the most important means to achieving this primary end, not an ideological absolute in and for itself. Certainly, they were not made into a theological end. Moreover, even when the Land and settlement were dressed in a “religious” garb, they still formed part of a theopolitical argument, that is: as a nationalist, Zionist matter of Jewish nation-statism, not as a traditional Judaic value.
Militarism as the expression of the modern nature of Religious-Zionism
The values of militarism and security, which have gradually grown in dominance, culminating in their occupying the very center of Religious-Zionist ideology in the past decade or so, are also a rather stark expression of the all-encompassing commitment of this ideology to the politics of the sovereign nation-state. Militaristic political ideals that sacralise the security of the state and the nation, rendering this an absolute value and justifying in its name violence and bloodshed are indeed by definition bound to nation-statist thought.
Religious-Zionist ideology’s valorisation of the state’s security was most explicitly pronounced in the context of justifying and rationalising the death of Israeli soldiers as the price demanded for guaranteeing this security. This became all the more pronounced against the background of violent conflicts around which there was no consensus among Jewish-Israelis. Especially when critics (usually coming from the Zionist Left) doubted whether such deaths were justified, questioning the necessity, reason and morality of the violent conflicts into which the Israeli government sent its armed forces, Religious-Zionist pronouncements became all the more dominated by intensive, militant militaristic discourse. Indeed, a dominant theme in the Religious-Zionist militaristic discourse surrounding these events has been the demand that the Israeli military is sent to fight, even if this necessarily entails the death of Israeli soldiers. (This demand was made against a background of public debate which questioned the merit of this military adventures, exactly because of their price in human lives.) The prevalent argument heard over Religious-Zionist platforms (either explicitly or implicitly) was clear: the security of the state is an absolute value, that justifies the highest of sacrifices, that of soldiers’ lives.
Even more pronounced was this valorisation of the state’s security when what was at stake were the lives of civilians from the enemy’s side. There has been little doubt among formulators of the Religious-Zionist stance on these armed conflicts that such conflicts are a normal feature of the lifecycle of states, and that in this context the killing of civilians on the enemy’s side during war, unfortunate as it may be, is wholly justified and acceptable.
A striking feature of this Religious-Zionist militaristic discourse is its utter indifference to the kind of language, argumentation and reasoning that would usually (that is, when seen through the prevalent religious-secular binary) be put under the heading of “religious.” One would be hard pressed to find such “religious” aspects of this militaristic thought, with its focus on “secular” values of security and statism.
God and theopolitics
How are we, then, to understand the theological aspect of Religious-Zionist political thought? One crucial part of the answer has to do with the nature of these theological language and argumentations: they do not fit what the prevalent discourse will mark as the category of “religion”. This mainstream discourse does not consider the traditional Jewish elements within so-called “secular” Zionist ideology to be “religious”, no matter how deeply rooted they may be in what this same discourse sees as “religion”; instead, it would view the appearance of these elements within Zionism as a product of their “secularisation.” This theological language and argumentation is seen as essentially modernised, politicised and “rationalised”, and it is ultimately aimed at the politics of the nation-state: it fits neither within an apolitical, individual and a-rational notion of religion, nor within the frame of “fundamentalism”, which would put the interest of the state under a higher religious diktat.
Furthermore, it cannot be framed as one side of an alleged ideological “synthesis” of two organs that are allegedly separated-in-principle. The Religious-Zionist nation-statist commitment (or its patriotism) does not clash with, serve, or complement theology; rather, it is the very essence of this theology. Like many other modern cases, the political theology at hand sanctifies the modern, supposedly secular and rational nation-state, and positions it in the role of savior, who accordingly demands absolute loyalty and functions as the center of the political order. As William Cavanaugh (2003, 2) puts it (referring, of course, to the general genus of which Religious-Zionism is but a case), “supposedly ‘secular’ political theory is really theology in disguise”. Or, in Carl Schmitt’s famous phrasing, “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularised theological concepts.”
The God, who has traditionally occupied the very center of Jewish theology, was now joined, if not even pushed aside, by the state. At best, God is seen as sanctifying the state, shifting the focus away from Him to the (political, this-worldly) sovereign. Either way, Religious-Zionist theopolitics marks nationalism and the state, not God, at the ultimate purpose.
A continuing process of blurring the distinctions between theology, Judaism and nationalism has culminated in the relegation religion to the private realm, barred from the field of politics. “Religion” was replaced in the context of this argumentation by “Judaism” or “Jewish identity”, as these are understood by the modern, nationalist, Zionist discourse. Like the founding ideologues of the Zionist movement, a growing number of Religious-Zionist spokespeople, too, came to argue (either implicitly or explicitly) that Judaism is not necessarily (or not even primarily) about “religion”: rather, it is about (political) nationalism, and its primary value is patriotism.
We argue, then, that Religious-Zionism is best understood when considered as a nationalist, Zionist ideology, at the center of which stand not religion or traditional Judaism, but nationalism and the state. Contrary to this ideology’s self-perception, and against a prevalent stream within the academic field that similarly un-self-reflectively employs a modernisation-and-secularisation discourse to construct the meaning of religion and nationalism, we argue that Religious-Zionism should be viewed primarily as a quintessentially modern-Western ideology of the nation-state. The State of Israel, relying on its military power (in which context it is “security” concerns that dominate all others); Zionism; and nation-statist sovereignty over a territory to which the nation claims a “historical right”—these are all the very core of Religious-Zionist ideology, and not merely means to achieving some hidden theological ends such as redemption or the observance of religious praxis.
An understanding of the strong gravitational force of the notion of the nation-state that dominates Religious-Zionist ideology necessitates the release of its analysis from the grip of the Western, secularist epistemology, which developed as in the context of the emergence of the modern, secular nation-state. The modern epistemology serves primarily the state, depicting it as “secular”, thus legitimising it, while rendering some of its competitors “religious” hence illegitimate. Overcoming the dominance of this epistemology allows us to see how its conceptual toolkit shapes Religious-Zionist identity—both in constructing the meaning of its religiosity, and in situating the state as its ultimate value.
 W. T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); T. Fitzgerald, Discourse on Civility and Barbarity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); D. Dubuisson, The Western Construction of Religion: Myths, Knowledge, and Ideology (Baltimore, PA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007); T. Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore, PA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).
 G. Aran, ‘Jewish Zionist fundamentalism: The Bloc of the Faithful in Israel (Gush Emunim)’, in M. E. Marty and R. S. Appleby (Eds.), Fundamentalisms Observed (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 265–344; C. S. Liebman and E. Don-Yehiya, Civil Religion in Israel: Traditional Judaism and Political Culture in the Jewish State (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983); M. Inbari. Messianic Religious Zionism Confronts Israeli Territorial Compromises (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); A. Horowitz, ‘Religious-Zionism – from Zionist radicalism to religious-national fanaticism’, in D. Arieli-Horowitz (Ed.) Religion and Politics in Israel (Tel-Aviv: The Centre for Jewish Pluralism, 1996), 41–55.
 For example, M. Hellinger et al., Religious Zionism and the Settlement Project: Ideology, Politics, and Civil Disobedience (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2018); E. Don-Yehiya, ‘Messianism and politics: The ideological transformation of religious Zionism’, Israel Studies, 19 (2014), 239; A. Cohen, ‘Patriotism and religion: Between coexistence and confrontation’, in Ben-Amos, Avenr and D. Bar-Tal (Eds.) Patriotism: Homeland Love (Tel-Aviv: Haqibutz Hameuḥad and Dyonon, 2004), 453–78.
 A. Sagi and D. Schwartz, Religious Zionism and the Six Day War: From Realism to Messianism, trans. B. Stein (London: Routledge, 2018).
 W. T. Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination: Christian Practices of Space and Time (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2003), 2.
 C. Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 36.
by Fabio Wolkenstein
One of the more interesting political developments in contemporary Europe is the migration of the language that has originally been used to describe what Europe is. This language has migrated from the vocabulary of centre-right politicians, who were committed to unifying Europe and creating a more humane political order on the continent, to the speeches and campaigns of nativists, nationalists and ultraconservatives.
The idea of “Christian Europe”
Consider to start with the notion of Abendland, which may be translated as “occident” or, more accurately, “Christian West.” In the immediate post-war era, the term had been a shorthand for Europe in the predominantly Catholic Christian-democratic milieu whose political representatives played a central role in the post-war unification of Europe; indeed, the “founding fathers” of European integration, Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman and Alcide De Gasperi, were convinced that – as De Gasperi put it in a 1954 speech – “Christianity lies at the origin of … European civilisation.”
By Christianity was primarily meant a common European cultural heritage. De Gasperi, an Italian educated in Vienna around 1900, whose first political job was in the Imperial Council of Austria-Hungary, spoke of a “shared ethical vision that fosters the inviolability and responsibility of the human person with its ferment of evangelic brotherhood, its cult of law inherited from the ancients, its cult of beauty refined through the centuries, and its will for truth and justice sharpened by an experience stretching over more than a thousand years.”
All of this, many Christian Democratic leaders thought, demarcates Europe from the superficial consumerism of the United States – however welcome the help of the American allies was after WW2 – and, even more importantly, the materialist totalitarianism of the Soviet Union. Europe is culturally distinctive, and that distinctiveness must be affirmed and preserved to unite the continent at avoid a renewed descent into chaos.
This image of Europe figured prominently in the Christian Democrats’ early election campaigns. In 1946, a campaign poster of the newly-founded Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) featured the slogan “Rettet die abendländische Kultur” – “Save abendländische culture.” The poster boasts a bright depiction of the allegorical figure Ecclesia from Bamberg Cathedral, which is meant to represent the superiority of the Church. And Ecclesia faces the logo of the SED, the East German Communist Party, which was founded the same year.
The message was clear: a democracy “rooted in the Christian-abendländisch worldview, in Christian natural law, in the principles of Christian ethics,” as Adenauer himself put it in a famous speech at the University of Cologne, had to be cultivated and defended against so-called “materialist” worldviews that represented nothing less than the negation of Christian principles, and by extension the negation of moral truth. In Adenauer’s view, Europe was “only possible” if the different peoples of Europe came together to contribute not only economically to recovering from the war, but also culturally to “abendländisch thinking, poetry.”
This idea of Europe also resonated with General Charles De Gaulle, who served as the first French president after the founding of the Fifth Republic, and who became a natural ally for Adenauer and German Catholic Christian Democrats. De Gaulle certainly had a more nation-centric vision of European integration than Adenauer, and he resisted the idea that supranational institutions should play a central role in the integration processes – but he likewise envisioned a concert of European peoples that shared a common Christian civilisation. These nations should, in De Gaulle’s words, become “an extension of each other,” and their shared cultural roots should facilitate this process.
The Italian historian Rosario Forlenza aptly summarised De Gaulle’s views on Europe as follows: “When le général famously spoke of a Europe ‘from the Atlantic to the Urals’ he was in fact conjuring up, quite in line with the Abendland tradition, a continental western European bloc based on a Franco-German entente that could stand on its own both militarily and politically: a Europe independent from the United States and Russia.” In his memoirs, moreover, De Gaulle asserted that the European nations have “the same Christian origins and the same way of life, linked to one another since time immemorial by countless ties of thought, art, science, politics and trade.” No wonder many Christian Democrats saw Gaullism as “a kind of Christian Democracy without Christ.”
European integration from shared culture to markets
However, those political leaders who conceived Europe as a cultural entity were gradually disappearing. De Gasperi died already in 1954, Adenauer died in 1967, and De Gaulle resigned his presidency in 1969 and died one year later. Robert Schuman, the other famous Christian Democratic “founding father,” who has been put on the path to sainthood by Pope Francis in June 2021, died in 1963. Replacing them were younger and more pragmatic political leaders, many of whom believed that free trade was better able to bring the nations of Europe closer to each other than shared cultural roots.
Culture was not considered irrelevant, to be sure – this is why hardly anyone considered admitting a Muslim country like Turkey to the European Communities. But the idea of a Christian Europe whose member countries shared a distinctive heritage, which performed the important function of unifying an earlier generation of centre-right politicians, was gradually superseded by the much less concrete notion of “freedom” as a sort of telos of European integration. Already in the late 1970s, powerful conservative leaders such as Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher converged on the vision that European integration should secure freedom. “Freedom instead of socialism” was the CDU’s 1976 election slogan, which was quite different from “Save abendländische culture” in 1946. Socialism remained the primary enemy – but it should be fought with free markets, not Christian ethics and natural law, as Adenauer believed.
Importantly, foregrounding the notion of freedom and de-emphasising thick conceptions of a shared European culture also facilitated the gradual expansion of the pan-European network of conservative parties from the mid-1970s onwards. Transnationally-minded Realpolitiker like Kohl realised already in the mid-1970s that integrating “Christian democratic and conservative traditions and parties” from non-Catholic countries into the European People’s Party and related transnational organisations was crucial to avoid political marginalisation in the constantly expanding European Communities. And many new potential allies, perhaps most notably Scandinavian conservative parties who obviously had no Catholic pedigree, would have shrunk from the idea of joining a Christian Abendland modelled in the image of Charlemagne’s empire.
The re-emergence of the language of Christian Europe
At any rate, while the language of a Europe defined by shared culture gradually disappeared from the vocabulary of centre-right politicians, decades later it re-appeared elsewhere. It was adopted by political actors who are often categorised as “right-wing populists” – more accurately, we might call them nativists, nationalists and ultraconservatives. These sorts of political movements have discovered and re-purposed the culturalist narrative of a “Christian Europe.”
In the German-speaking world, even the notion of Abendland made a comeback on the right fringes. The Alternative für Deutschland (or AfD), Germany’s moderately successful hard-right party, commits itself in its main party manifesto to the “preservation” of “abendländisch Christian culture.” The closely related anti-immigrant movement PEGIDA even has Abendland in its name: the acronym stands for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamicisation of the Abendland.” The Austrian Freedom Party, one of the more long-standing ultraconservative nationalist parties in Europe, used the Slogan “Abendland in Christenhand,” meaning “Abendland in the hands of Christians” in the 2009 European Elections.
Even more striking are the increasing appeals to the idea of Christian Europe that resound in Central and Eastern Europe. The political imaginaries of the likes of Viktor Orbán – the pugnacious Hungarian prime minister who has transformed Hungary into an “illiberal democracy” – and Jarosław Kaczyński and his Polish Law and Justice party, are defined by an understanding of Europe as a culturally Christian sphere. And they claim to preserve and defend this Europe, especially against the superficial, culturally corrosive social liberalism of the West, which they consider a major threat to its shared values and traditions.
Orbán even seeks to link the notion of Christian Europe to the ideological tradition of Christian Democracy. Not only has he repeatedly called for a “Christian Democratic renaissance” that should involve a return to the values and ideas of the post-war era. In February 2020, when the European People’s Party – the European alliance of Christian Democratic parties – seemed increasingly willing to expel Orbán’s party Fidesz due to the undemocratic developments in Hungary, he even drafted a three-page memorandum for the European Christian Democrats.
In this memorandum, a most remarkable document for anyone interested in political ideologies, he listed all the sort of things that Christian Democrats “originally” stood for – from being “anti-communist” and “pro-subsidiarity” to being “committed representatives … of the Christian family model and the matrimony of one man and one woman.” However, he added, “We have created an impression that we are afraid to declare and openly accept who we are and what we want, as if we were afraid of losing our share of governmental authority because of ourselves.” To save itself, and to save Europe, a return to the ideological roots of Christian Democracy is needed; or so Orbán argued.
In sum, the language of Europe as a thick cultural community, the idea of a Christian Europe, and indeed some core elements of the ideology of Christian Democracy itself – all this has migrated to other sectors of the political spectrum and to Eastern Europe. Ideas and concepts that after WWII were part of the centre-right’s ideological repertoire are now used by nativists and ultraconservative nationalists, and used in order to justify their exclusivist Christian identity politics.
Note that the Eastern European parties and politicians who today reach for the narrative of Christian Europe stand for a broader backlash against the previously-hegemonic, unequivocally market-liberal and pro-Western forces that made many Western European centre-right leaders enthusiastically support Eastern Enlargement in the early 2000s. For the Polish Law and Justice party not only rejects liberal views about same sex-marriage, abortion, etc.; several of its redistributive policies also mark “a rupture with neoliberal orthodoxy,” and thus a departure from the policies of the business-friendly, pro-EU Civic Platform government of Donald Tusk, which Kaczyński’s party replaced in 2015. In Orbán’s Hungary, free-market policies have largely remained in place – especially when Orbán and his cronies profited from them – yet the recent “renationalisation of the pension system [and] significantly increased spending on active labour market policies … point towards an increasing … role of the state in social protection.”
Understanding the migration of language
One interesting interpretation of this development frames it in terms of a revolt of Eastern – and indeed Western – European nativists and nationalists against a perceived imperative to be culturally liberal and anti-nationalist. Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes perceptively note that “[t]he ultimate revenge of the Central and East European populists against Western liberalism is not merely to reject the ‘imitation imperative’, but to invert it. We are the real Europeans, Orbán and Kaczyński claim, and if the West wants to save itself, it will have to imitate the East.”
While there is much to be learned from this analysis, another reading of the eastward and rightward migration of culturalist understandings of Europe is available. This starts from the observation that talking about Europe as a geographical space defined by a deeply rooted common culture implies talking also about where Europe ends, where its cultural borders lie. Recall that the Europe envisaged by the Christian Democratic “founding fathers” and by De Gaulle was a much smaller, more limited entity than today’s European Union with its 27 member states. They believed, for example, that there were profound cultural differences between the abendländisch, predominantly Catholic Europe and Protestant Britain and Scandinavia. De Gaulle was in fact fervently opposed to admitting Britain to the European Communities and famously vetoed Britain’s applications to join in 1963 and 1967.
If talking about Europe in cultural terms necessarily involves talking about cultural boundaries, then it is perhaps not surprising that today’s nativists, nationalists and ultraconservatives came to endorse a culturalist understanding of Europe. After all, these are virtually the only political actors who indulge in talking about borders and attribute utmost importance to problematising and politicising cultural difference. Seen in this light, it is only natural that the once-innocuous notion that Europe has, as it were, “cultural borders” finds a home with them.
Revisiting the question of European culture
One need not endorse the political projects of Viktor Orbán, Jarosław Kaczyński and their allies to acknowledge that the questions they confront us with merit attention. What is Europe, if it is an entity defined by shared culture? And, by extension, where does Europe end? Not only those who simply do not want to leave it up to nativists, nationalists and ultraconservatives to define what Europe is, culturally speaking, will need to ponder these questions. Where Europe ends is also a highly pertinent issue in current European geopolitics, and interestingly, it seems as though key EU figures are gradually converging on a position that structurally resembles a view that was prominent on the centre-right in the post-war era – without linking it to narratives about shared culture.
Indeed, with the Von der Leyen Commission’s commitment to “strategic autonomy” and the objective to ascertain European sovereignty over China, the original Christian Democratic and Gaullist theme of Europe as independent “third” global power has returned with a vengeance – just that independence today means independence from the United States and China, not the United States and Soviet Russia (though Russia remains a menacing presence). However, whereas De Gaulle and Christian Democratic “Gaullists” saw Europe’s Christian origins and a shared way of life as the backbone of geopolitical autonomy, the President of the Commission limits herself to mentioning the “unique single market and social market economy, a position as the world’s first trading superpower and the world’s second currency” as the sort of things that make Europe distinctive.
Much like earlier pragmatically-minded politicians, then, von der Leyen mostly speaks the language of markets – and of moral universalism: “We must always continue to call out human rights abuses,” she routinely insists with an eye to China. But it is doubtful whether human rights talk or free market ideology are sufficient to render plausible claims to “strategic autonomy.” Being by definition boundary-insensitive and global in outlook, they are little able to furnish a convincing argument for why Europe should be more autonomous.
Perhaps the notion of “strategic autonomy” is actually much more about a shared European “way of life” than present EU leaders, unlike their post-war predecessors, are willing to admit. Why else would von der Leyen also want to appoint a “vice president for protecting our European way of life,” whilst describing China as “systemic rival” and even cautiously expressing uncertainty about the ally-credentials of post-Trump America? Here, the twin questions of European culture and where Europe ends, come into view again. And it seems by all means worthwhile to speak more about that – without adopting the narrow and exclusionary narratives of Orbán and Kaczyński or wishing for a return to post-war Christian Democracy or Gaullism.
 Cited in Rosario Forlenza, ‘The Politics of the Abendland: Christian Democracy and the Idea of Europe after the Second World War’, Contemporary European History 26(2) (2017), 269.
 Konrad Adenauer, (1946) Rede in der Aula der Universität zu Köln, 24 March 1946. Available at https://www.konrad-adenauer.de/quellen/reden/1946-03-24-uni-koeln, accessed 15 May 2020.
 Forlenza, ‘The Politics of the Abendland’, 270.
 Charles de Gaulle, Memoirs of Hope: Renewal and Endeavor (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1971), 171.
 Ronald J. Granieri, ‘Politics in C Minor: The CDU/CSU between Germany and Europe since the Secular Sixties’, Central European History 42(1) (2009), 18.
 Josef Hien and Fabio Wolkenstein, ‘Where Does Europe End? Christian Democracy and the Expansion of Europe’, Journal of Common Market Studies (forthcoming).
 Martin Steber, Die Hüter der Begriffe: Politische Sprachen des Konservativen in Großbritannien und der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1945-1980 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017), 410-422.
 Wolfram Kaiser, Christian Democracy and the Origins of European Union (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 316.
 Alternative für Deutschland, Programm für Deutschland (2016) Available at https://cdn.afd.tools/wp-content/uploads/sites/111/2018/01/Programm_AfD_Druck_Online_190118.pdf, accessed 16 September 2020.
 Cabinet Office of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at a conference held in memory of Helmut Kohl (16 June 2018), Available at: http://www.miniszterelnok.hu/prime-minister-viktor-orbans-speech-at-a-conference-held-in-memory-of-helmut-kohl/, accessed 10 June 2020.
 Fidesz, Memorandum on the State of the European People’s Party, February 2020.
 Olivier Roy, Is Europe Christian? (London: Hurst, 2019), 118-214.
 Gavin Rae, ‘In the Polish Mirror’, New Left Review 124 (July/Aug 2020), 99.
 Dorothee Bohle and Béla Greskovits, ‘Politicising embedded neoliberalism: continuity and change in Hungary’s development model’, West European Politics, 1072.
 Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, ‘Imitation and its Discontents’, Journal of Democracy 29(3) (2018), 127.
 Jolyon Howorth, Europe and Biden: Towards a New Transatlantic Pact? (Brussels: Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, 2021).
 Speech by President von der Leyen at the EU Ambassadors’ Conference 2020, 10 November 2020. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_20_2064, accessed 22 June 2021.
 As Quinn Slobodian convincingly argues, free market ideology ultimately seeks to achieve a global market with minimal governmental regulations, see Quinn Slobodian, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).
Alternative logics of ethnonationalism: Politics and anti-politics in Hindutva ideology
by Anuradha Sajjanhar
As in most liberal democracies, India’s national political parties work to gain the support of constituencies with competing and often contradictory perspectives on expertise, science, religion, democratic processes, and the value of politics itself. Political leaders, then, have to address and/or embody a web of competing antipathies and anxieties. While attacking left and liberal academics, universities, and the press, the current, Hindu-nationalist Indian government is building new institutions to provide authority to its particular historically-grounded, nationalist discourse. The ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its grassroots paramilitary organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have a long history of sustained Hindu nationalist ideology. Certain scholars see the BJP moving further to the centre through its embrace of globalisation and development. Others argue that such a mainstream economic stance has only served to make the party’s ethno-centric nationalism more palatable. By oscillating between moderation and polarisation, the BJP’s ethno-nationalist views have become more normalised. They have effectively moved the centre of political gravity further to the right. Periods of moderation have allowed for democratic coalition building and wider resonance. At the same time, periods of polarisation have led to further anti-Muslim, Hindu majoritarian radicalisation.
This two-pronged dynamic is also present in the Hindu Right’s cultivation of intellectuals, which is what my research is about. Over the last five to ten years, the BJP has been discrediting, attacking, and replacing left-liberal intellectuals. In response, alternative “right-wing” intellectuals have built a cultural infrastructure to legitimate their Hindutva ideology. At the same time, technical experts associated with the government and its politics project the image of apolitical moderation and economic pragmatism.
The wide-ranging roles of intellectuals in social and political transformation beg fundamental questions: Who counts as an intellectual and why? How do particular forms of expertise gain prominence and persist through politico-economic conjunctures? How is intellectual legitimacy redefined in new political hegemonies? I examine the creation of an intellectual policy network, interrogating the key role of think tanks as generative proselytisers. Indian think tanks are still in their early stages, but have proliferated over the last decade. While some are explicit about their political and ideological leanings, others claim neutrality, yet pursue their agenda through coded language and resonant historical nationalist narratives. Their key is to effect a change in thinking by normalising it. Six years before winning the election in 2014, India’s Hindu-nationalist party, the BJP, put together its own network of policy experts from networks closely affiliated to the party. In a national newspaper, the former vice-president of the BJP described this as an intentional shift: from “being action-oriented to solidifying its ideological underpinnings in a policy framework”. When the BJP came to power in 2014, people based in these think tanks filled key positions in the central government. The BJP has since been circulating dominant ideas of Hindu supremacy through regional parties, grassroots political organisations, and civil society organisations.
The BJP’s ideas do not necessarily emerge from think tank intellectuals (as opposed to local leaders/groups), but the think tanks have the authority to articulate and legitimate Hindu nationalism within a seemingly technocratic policy framework. As primarily elite organisations in a vast and diversely impoverished country, a study of Indian think tanks begs several questions about the nature of knowledge dissemination. Primarily, it leads us to ask whether knowledge produced in relatively narrow elite circles seeps through to a popular consciousness; and, indeed, if not, what purpose it serves in understanding ideological transformation. While think tanks have become an established part of policy making in the US and Europe, Indian think tanks are still in their early stages. The last decade, however, has seen a wider professionalisation of the policy research space. In this vein, think tanks have been mushrooming over the last decade, making India the country with the second largest number of think tanks in the world (second only to the US). As evident from the graph below, while there were approximately 100 think tanks in 2008, they rose to more than 500 in 2018. The number of think tanks briefly dropped in 2014—soon after Modi was elected, the BJP government cracked down on civil society organisations with foreign funding—but has risen dramatically between 2016 and 2018.
Fig. 1: Data on the rise of Indian think tanks from Think Tank Initiative (University of Pennsylvania)
There are broadly three types of think tanks that are considered to have a seat at the decision-making table: 1) government-funded/affiliated to Ministries; 2) privately-funded; 3) think tanks attached to political parties (these may not identify themselves as think tanks but serve the purpose of external research-based advisors). I do not claim a causal relationship between elite think tanks and popular consciousness, nor try to assert the primacy of top-down channels of political mobilisation above others. Many scholars have shown that the BJP–RSS network, for example, functions both from bottom-up forms of mobilisation and relies on grassroots intellectuals, as well as more recent technological forms of top-down party organisation (particularly through social media and the NaMo app, an app that allows the BJP’s top leadership to directly communicate with its workers and supporters). While the RSS and the BJP instil a more hierarchical and disciplinary party structure than the Congress party, the RSS has a strong grassroots base that also works independent of the BJP’s political elite.
It is important to note that what I am calling the “right-wing” in India is not only Hindu nationalists—the BJP and its supporters are not a coherent, unified group. In fact, the internal strands of the organisations in this network have vastly differing ideological roots (or, rather, where different strands of the BJP’s current ideology lean towards): it encompasses socially liberal libertarians; social and economic conservatives; firm believers in central governance and welfare for the “common man”; proponents of de-centralisation; followers of a World Bank inspired “good governance” where the state facilitates the growth of the economy; believers in a universal Hindu unity; strict adherers to the hierarchical Hindu traditionalism of the caste system; foreign policy hawks; principled sceptics of “the West”; and champions of global economic participation. Yet somehow, they all form part of the BJP–RSS support network. Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of the RSS, has tried to bridge these contradictions through a unified hegemonic discourse. In a column entitled “We may be on the cusp of an entitled Hindu consensus” from September 2018, conversative intellectual Swapan Dasgupta writes of Bhagwat:
“It is to the credit of Bhagwat that he had the sagacity and the self-confidence to be the much-needed revisionist and clarify the terms of the RSS engagement with 21st century India...Hindutva as an ideal has been maintained but made non-doctrinaire to embrace three unexceptionable principles: patriotism, respect for the past and ancestry, and cultural pride. This, coupled with categorical assertions that different modes of worship and different lifestyles does not exclude people from the Hindu Rashtra, is important in reforging the RSS to confront the challenges of an India more exposed to economic growth and global influences than ever before. There is a difference between conservative and reactionary and Bhagwat spelt it out bluntly. Bhagwat has, in effect, tried to convert Hindu nationalism from being a contested ideological preoccupation to becoming India’s new common sense.”
As Dasgupta lucidly attests, the project of the BJP encompasses not just political or economic power; rather, it attempts to wage ideological struggle at the heart of morality and common sense. There is no single coherent ideology, but different ideological intentions being played out on different fronts. While it is, at this point, difficult to see the pieces fitting together cohesively, the BJP is making an attempt to set up a larger ideological narrative under which these divergent ideas sit: fabricating a new understanding of belonging to the nation. This determines not just who belongs, but how they belong, and what is expected in terms of conduct to properly belong to the nation.
I find two variants of the BJP’s attempts at building a new common sense through their think tanks: actively political and actively a-political. In doing so, I follow Reddy’s call to pay close attention to the different ‘vernaculars’ of Hindutva politics and anti-politics. Due to the elite centralisation of policy making culture in New Delhi, and the relatively recent prominence of think tanks, their internal mechanisms have thus far been difficult to access. As such, these significant organisations of knowledge-production and -dissemination have escaped scholarly analysis. I fill this gap by examining the BJP’s attempt to build centres of elite, traditional intellectuals of their own through think tanks, media outlets, policy conventions, and conferences by bringing together a variety of elite stakeholders in government and civil society. Some scholars have characterised the BJP’s think tanks as institutions of ‘soft Hindutva’, that is, organisations that avoid overt association with the BJP and Hindu nationalist linkages but pursue a diffuse Hindutva agenda (what Anderson calls ‘neo-Hindutva’) nevertheless. I build on these preliminary observations to examine internal conversations within these think tanks about their outward positioning, their articulation of their mission, and their outreach techniques.
The double-sidedness of Hindutva acts as a framework for understanding the BJP’s wide-ranging strategy, but also to add to a comprehension of political legitimacy and the modern incarnation of ethno-nationalism in an era defined by secular liberalism. The BJP’s two most prominent think tanks (India Foundation and Chanakya Institute), show how the think tanks negotiate a fine balance between projecting a respectable religious conservatism along with an aggressive Hindu majoritarianism. These seemingly contradictory discourses become Hindutva’s strength. They allow it to function as a force that projects aggressive majoritarianism, while simultaneously claiming an anti-political ‘neutral’ face of civilisational purity and inter-religious inclusion. While some notions of ideology understand it as a systematic and coherent body of ideas, Hodge’s concept of ‘ideological complexes’ suggests that contradiction is key to how ideology achieves its effects. As Stuart Hall has shown, dominant and preferred meanings tend to interact with negotiated and oppositional meanings in a continual struggle. Thus, as Hindutva becomes a mediating political discourse, it may risk incoherence, yet defines the terms through which the socio-political world is discussed.
The BJP’s think tanks, then, attempt to legitimise its ideas and policies by building a base of both seemingly-apolitical expertise and what they call ‘politically interventionist’ intellectuals. Neo-Hindutva can thus be both explicitly political and anti-political at the same time: advocating for political interventionism while eschewing politics and forging an apolitical route towards cultural transformation. However, contrary to critical scholarship that tends to subsume claims of apolitical motivation within forms of false-consciousness or backdoor-politics, I note that several researchers at these organisations do genuinely see themselves as conducting apolitical, academic research. Rather than wilful ignorance, their acknowledgement of the organisation’s underlying ideology understands the heavy religious organisational undertones as more cultural than political. This distinction takes the cultural and religious parts of Hindutva ‘out of’ politics, allowing it to be practiced and consumed as a generalisable national ethos.
 Nistula Hebbar, “At Mid-Term, Modi’s BJP on Cusp of Change.” The Hindu. The Hindu, June 12, 2017. https://www.thehindu.com/thread/politics-and-policy/at-mid-term-modis-bjp-on-cusp-of-change/article18966137.ece
 Anuradha Sajjanhar, “The New Experts: Populism, Technocracy, and the Politics of Expertise in Contemporary India”, Journal of Contemporary Asia (forthcoming 2021).
 Deepa S. Reddy, “What Is Neo- about Neo-Hindutva?” Contemporary Southeast Asia 26, no. 4 (October 2, 2018): 483–90.
 Edward Anderson and Arkotong Longkumer. “‘Neo-Hindutva’: Evolving Forms, Spaces, and Expressions of Hindu Nationalism.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 26, no. 4 (October 2, 2018): 371–77.
 Stuart Hall, “Encoding/decoding.” Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks 16676 (2001).