Pride and prejudice: a tale of two nationalisms


Equality March 2018 in Katowice, Poland. Photo by: Silar

Nationalist movements helped defeat communism in the late eighties and early nineties, as a result people are proud of their national histories, their national culture, their national tradition. But are all forms of national attachment the same?

When Hungarians were asked to vote in a referendum in April 2022, LGBTIQ and human rights activists “went out to different Hungarian cities and talked to people in the streets,” says Rita Antoni, a women’s rights activist and journalist in Budapest, the country’s capital.

The referendum aimed at diminishing the rights of sexual minorities was cloaked by the populist Orban government as “protecting the rights of children.” It followed several years of increasing anti-women and LGBTIQ rights rhetoric and policy decisions.

The government was forced to declare the referendum invalid after a successful campaign by those opposing it: Hungarians en masse checked all the options as advised by the activists.

The referendum, the rhetorics, and the actions by human rights activists illustrate some of the core issues studied within POPREBEL, a European research project on neo-feudalism and neo-traditionalism by UCL, Tartu University (Estonia), Jagiellonian University (Poland), Charles University (Czechia), and Corvinus University of Budapest (Hungary) in partnership with Edgeryders and funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

On September 29th and 30th, 2022, the researchers came together with civil society activists, journalists, artists, and others to explore both the rise of populism and what could be done to push back against it. Panel 5 focused on how to counter the attacks on women and LGBTIQ people in Europe.

Narratives

“Brussels has clearly attacked Hungary in recent weeks because of the child protection law,” Hungarian president Orban said in response to invalidating the referendum. This one single sentence embodies part of the rhetoric used by anti-rights politicians and groups throughout Europe: there is an “outside threat” to “our country and our values” (the EU, the “west”), while the only thing they’re trying to do is “protect family values.”

Populists seek to limit the definition of people in whose name they claim to speak. The purpose is to draw boundaries between the in-group and outgroup. If a group is put into the outgroup, you can ignore what they’re saying. Populists delegitimize any opposition, any negative voices, any critical voices.

Throughout Europe, populists have adopted similar but different narratives to aid or cement their power depending on the country’s “preferences.”

“What we see is that the discourse shifts a little bit, it changes the form, but the patterns are quite similar,” says Zdenek Sloboda, a researcher with Charles University in Czechia. Zdenek analyzes manipulative or populist media outlets in Germany, Poland, and Czechia.

“In Poland and Hungary, the church, sovereignty, and the nation are very strong. The church and the nation in Czechia are quite weak, but there is a stress on anti-EU and anti-NGO narratives.”

“Initially, populists in Poland defined Polishness in terms of shared ethnicity and religion, which allowed them to construct Muslim refugees from Syria as a threat. When the refugee crisis was no longer as impactful, they “defined what it meant to be a real Pole even more narrowly, and included sexuality in their definition,” explains Dr. Richard Mole, Professor of Political Sociology at UCL and Co-I/Director of Research of POPREBEL, who researched the role of nationalism in anti-LGBTQ narratives in Poland, Czechia and Germany.

Polish populist politicians started defining LGBTQ as a threat to the Polish nation in terms of its biological, cultural reproduction, and its shared norms in terms of Catholic values and traditional gender roles. In addition, LGBTQ people are seen as loyal to Brussels than to Warsaw. They are defined as not only an enemy to the nation, but also an enemy to the state.

Rita Antoni, a Hungarian freelance journalist and women’s rights activist says that in Hungary there has been a serious increase in these kinds of narratives. “They will say that
Europe and the West are pushing liberal ideas on “us,” and these are a threat to our national identity. They demonize human rights NGOs as the mercenaries of George Soros, or that they are loyal to the EU.”

Although the language used to promote their ideas isn’t relatively new - several narratives were also used in the 1910s and 1980s - the recent successful global adoption by them is.

Several decades ago, far-right, ultra-conservative, and other populist movements struggled to get support for their anti-rights agendas. So, what happened?

According to Claire Provost, a feminist investigative journalist who has focused a large part of her career investigating the ultra-conservative Christian Right, the adoption of these narratives across borders isn’t a coincidence. Even more so, it is the result of decades-long strategic, coordinated, and very well-financed campaigns by networks organizing opposition to LGBT and women’s rights.

“The first time that I first heard about the global war against the rights of women and LGBT people around the world, I was undercover at the World Congress of Families in 2017,” Claire explains. The World Congress of Families is described as an “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist movements in the US. In 2017 it was held in Budapest, Hungary, and Orban was a keynote speaker.

The World Congress of Families, and other internationally connected elites, she says, conduct studies researching which language and which strategy would have the most impact in which country - including utilizing focus groups.

“One of the sessions that I went to in 2017 explicitly discussed wedge issues, issues that could drive apart their opponents.” One of them, she says, was trans rights. Currently, in the UK, anti-trans rhetoric is dominating headlines and has been adopted by people who refer to themselves as “feminist.” It has resulted in multiple attacks on Britain’s oldest and largest LGBTQ organization Stonewall.

How to fight back?

“Nationalism doesn’t have necessarily the same negative connotations among people of Central and Eastern Europe,” Dr. Mole explains. Nationalist movements helped defeat communism in the late eighties and early nineties, as a result people are proud of their national histories, their national culture, their national traditions. In the past couple of years, using nationalist narratives turned out to be a successful strategy for populist to gain more support.

Dr. Mole decided to apply a psychological approach to define nationalism. On the hand there is national collective narcissism he explains: “this is the idea that your nation is exceptional and is entitled to privileged treatment.”

On the other hand there is national in-group satisfaction: “You take a pride in your nation. You take a pride in its achievements, in its history, its culture. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you think your group is better than others, or that it should be received as sort of a privileged position in sort of international affairs.”

Dr. Mole conducted a social psychological study in which people completed various scales to measure whether they were closer to national collective narcissism or national in-group satisfaction in terms of feelings of attachment to the nation. After that, they sought to determine whether or not one or the other form of national attachment was more likely to produce negative attitudes towards LGBT people. It became clear that national collective narcissism best predicts homophobia at the level of the individual.

Taking all of this into consideration, Dr. Mole advises not to dismiss people’s nationalist feelings. Even more so, to emphasise that there are different types of national attachment. By promoting national in-group satisfaction and de-emphasizing national collective narcissism in discussions of Polish national identity, you “take away the power of nationalists to define what it means to be Polish.”

In addition, to emphasize that LGBTQ rights are a Polish issue, not necessarily a European or an international issue, you also remove that “outside threat.”

“Activists might find it useful to draw in national symbols,” Dr. Mole says. “At Polish pride marches, they have a rainbow version of the Polish flag, they use of Polish national symbols. This helps to emphasize that queer Poles are Poles. It presents alternative views of Polishness, it includes LGBTQ people.”

4 Likes

ping @ivan @nadia @Richard @SZdenek first draft summary of the conference panel. Let me know what you think!

1 Like

Dear Inge

I think you have captured this really well! Just a few things:

  1. Typo: In Poland, populists initially used the Syrian refugee crisis

  2. I’d reorder this section slightly: “Initially, populists in Poland defined Polishness in terms of shared ethnicity and religion, which allowed them to construct Muslim refugees from Syria as a threat. When the refugee crisis was no longer as impactful, they “defined what it meant to be a real Pole even more narrowly, and included sexuality in their definition,” explains Dr. Richard Mole, Professor of Political Sociology at UCL and Co-I/Director of Research of POPREBEL, who researched the role of nationalism in anti-LGBTQ narratives in Poland, Czechia and Germany.

  3. “On the one hand, there is national collective narcissism …”

  4. Capitalise Mole in third paragraph from the bottom.

  5. Capitalise Pole in the last line.

1 Like

@inge two things.

On a more general note I think populism is a fuzzy and divisive term. I’d not use the word and be more specific about what you mean when you say “populism”.

In terms of edits to the text

  • I think a good title would highlight the key point of tension: On Cultural Pride that builds a nation and the narcissism that breaks it. Maybe title it something like “Pride and prejudice: A tale of two nationalisms”.

  • Maybe add a subtitle: Nationalist movements helped defeat communism in the late eighties and early nineties, as a result people are proud of their national histories, their national culture, their national tradition. But are all forms of national attachment the same?

1 Like

Dear @inge

The primary aim of POPREBEL is populism, so we really need to keep it in. I disagree that it’s a fuzzy term. @Jan and I would be happy to provide the definition we use. Can you let us know where would be a good place to add the definition and I can send you a few lines.

Best wishes

Richard

1 Like

@Richard @nadia so yeah I used populism on purpose because of POPREBEL, I would otherwise as a journalist have used “far right” - most likely. I personally agree that populism in terms of general public understanding could be too “fuzzy” but for academic purposes it is actually more precise (encompassing more than just those far right).

Happy to use whichever preferred for the purposes of this article.

Please use populist. Far-right doesn’t work in the Polish case, as the main populist party is economically to the left.

I’ll liaise with @Jan later today and send over a concise definition that you can incorporate into your text if you think it’s needed.

Hi @Richard and @inge.

Please keep in mind that we are curating this as journalism, not academic research reports. We want people to engage with the content without being blocked by ontology with very tribal/ divisive connotations.

Even amongst an erudite group where people on average had at least two degrees in the humanities, use of the term “liberalism” triggered a whole discussion about semantics and almost derailed the conversation away from the topic/ focus of the session.

Hi @nadia

I’m sorry but I strongly disagree with your view that people will not engage with the content and that they will be ‘blocked by ontology with very tribal/divisive connotations’. My ideas on populism and homophobia have been published by journalists in major European newspapers and news channels without any negative feedback. If you think people will be put off by the word ‘populism’, then we shouldn’t refer to nationalism (which can be seen as even more tribal) either, in which case there is no point discussing my ideas at all. We were given EUR 3.5 million by the Commission to research and challenge populist feeling. We can’t do that by simply ignoring the concept.

It was in no way my intention to question your ideas or expertise Richard and I am sorry if it came across this way.

1 Like

What title + subtitle/ article intro would you be comfortable with @Richard? I think it needs to be different from the session title.

I liked your suggestions!

1 Like

@inge did you have time to make edits as per Richard’s feedback?

1 Like

so edited richard’s feedback in immediately, now also changed headline and lead. Honestly think that the headline can be a bit too much of an inside joke and not get people to click so I can think of some alternatives tomorrow :slight_smile:

let’s just go with what we have. Anyway, the translators will have to come up with different titles for non-anglophone readers…

1 Like

I am late to this, as it is a busy day. The key thing is to make a distinction between populism as a term of analysis and populism as a term of popular discourse, The same with “nationalism” that is also all over the place. The later is indeed all over the place and it is fact that we need to study. But, on the other hand there are four major “technical” definitions of populism that are quite precise. In POPREBEL we use (mostly) a refined version of Mudde’s definition and it works well.

Populism is a type of ideology. It has two forms: thin and thick. The former has four features, the latter – five. Following Cas Mudde, we assume in POPREBEL that all four features need to be present (logical AND), at least in trace amounts, to classify a given ideological statement/political programme/discourse as populist. These features include:

  1. Vertical polarisation that sets ‘the people’ against ‘the elites’, which are seen as separate and mutually exclusive groups or categories of people.

  2. A claim that there exists antagonism between the two groups.

  3. A Manichean valorisation of this antagonism (i.e., fundamentalist moralising or mythologization), which assumes that the essential feature of social/human reality is the struggle of the forces of good and evil and that any conflict/tension between these two groups is an instance of that fundamental struggle.

  4. Finally, there is the idea that politics should be the expression of volonté général (general will).

  5. Populists need to define ‘the people’ and when they offer such a definition populism thickens. The most common cultural resource employed in providing such a definition is a conception of national identity, usually derived from the concept of nativism. It serves to generate horizontal polarisation whose essence is the juxtaposition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people. But there are other cultural resources that may be employed in the thickening of populism, for example a religious discourse/idiom that contrasts the faithful with the infidels.

I am really not sure that this theory works. But depends on the definition of “nationalism.” It is important to remember also that nationalism/national identity was not uniformly suppressed under communism. The opposite: it was often used to beef up communist credentials. One of the key slogans was: socialist in content and national in form.

it’s this one that is the one I believe is most relevant for this publication as it is intended for people who are interested in society and participate in political discussions (especially online). So - internet attention span and little time/ interest in/ ability to process detailed research findings.

Hmm, I could debate that with you at length. But that’s for another time. :smiley:

it still needs ALOT of work in simplifying without losing nuance, but here is the work in progress @Jan and @Richard https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vOSLZpukP6t8nSVQKsYcwXLKQQFlhPRbmmlNymy7K3w/edit#