Tag Archives: nationalism

Extreme Tension on the Right in France*

I. Introduction

For several years now, extreme right in France has presented two tendencies. The first tendency, to be called neo-conservative, lacks an established party and is relatively new in the French political scene. Ultraliberal from an economic point of view, it is also ultra-reactionary in everything related to family values, abortion, contraception or assisted reproductive technology (ART). It arrived in France some fifteen years ago by transposing the American ultra-right (mainly the evangelist one) into the traditionalist Catholic framework favoured by the pontificate of John Paul II. It became a political force through movements such as La manif pour tous (LMPT)[1], Sens Commun[2] and journals like L’incorrect or Valeurs Actuelles. For a long time, it was present in very small circles, trying to influence, for example, N. Sarkozy, F. Fillon and L. Wauquiez[3]. This high-tech extremism has young activists and is embodied today by Marion Maréchal.

The second, better identified and commented, is populist and nationalist and more neutral in terms of family mores and values (does not show hostility towards contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage), this despite the presence of former Lefebvrists[4] within its ranks. It claims dédiabolisation and has a classic power-seizing strategy: in the ballots through a party, (Rassemblement National [RN], heir of the Front National [FN]). Its favourite topics are anti-migration, “remigration” and “the great replacement”. It is embodied by Marine Le Pen, who keeps, softened, the cheeky humour and the apparent frank talk of her father.

The existence of these two distinct right-wing extremist positions and the tensions between them have led to several identifiable consequences. First, there is a threat of break-up of the right (Les Républicains [LR]). This threat derived mainly from the attempts of neo-conservatives to enter classical right-wing parties (as is the case in the United States). François-Xavier Bellamy’s[5] candidacy at the head of the list for European elections is a significant example thereof. The aim was to eliminate the moderate right —in France, the Gaullist and regal right, and even more the social right. . Some of the traditional right voters who did not consider themselves as part of the ultra-Catholic neoconservative extremism of Laurent Wauquiez and François-Xavier Bellamy have already expressed their wishes and voted for La République En Marche.

Second, the RN has partly recovered and can prosper electorally in the context of the so-called “yellow vest” crisis. Here the lack of crisis management by progressive parties and even by the LR is quite noticeable (we saw Éric Ciotti[6] or Laurent Wauquiez put on a yellow vest in November 2018 before making a sudden turnaround in December). The political hound dogs are not mistaken. That is why Patrick Buisson[7], a consistent neoconservative, has abruptly approached the RN, and why LR municipal officials are already looking favourably at the RN for the Union des droites lists. Moreover, here has been an extremist rise over leadership within the LR, which became noticeable before the election of Christian Jacob as leader of the party. A rapprochement between the RN and LR is therefore possible, which would mean an extreme turn to the right for the French classical right, with its liberal centre wing joining the presidential party.

Although both extremists dream of union, such is a “forbidden debate” (Thierry Mariani[8] quoted by Ollivier, 2018). But, leaving their differences aside, do they form a “bloc” (in Gramsci’s terms) for the conquest of power? The strength of neo-conservatism, born from ultra-liberal think tanks, lies in its conception of State reform to impose market rules on public services (hospitals, education, pensions) by the power of the state. But in this field, La République En Marche is a competitor. The RN seems to be the only one to take charge of popular anger and demands, and this could bring it to power. However, how long will the hate speech (anti-elite, anti-migration, anti-parliament, anti-Europe, anti-journalism, etc.) disguise an inconsistent economic and social program? Even more decisive and disabling seems to be its lack of a proper religious anchorage. Indeed, this is a terrain where the extreme right is currently thriving worldwide. Will Marine Le Pen be seen in Notre Dame, as Matteo Salvini did before in the Duomo of Milan, taking the oath jointly on the Bible and the Italian constitution? The tension between the two extreme rights in the French political field undoubtedly plays out on the religious terrain.

These two political entities come from very different political backgrounds despite their family ties. The first one, a US-origin neoconservatist force, was transposed to France in the early 2000s. The other, a nationalist and populist force, got established in France during the nineteenth, and particularly the twentieth century. We will first analyse the history of the Front National (II) and then that of French neoconservatism (III) before drawing up a picture of their union (IV) and doing a partial analysis of the tensions this generates.

II. A look back at the history of the Front National

A. The Front National, its origin and evolution

At the time it was born in 1972, the FN was based on the revanchists of French Algeria, and some monarchists and nostalgics of Pétain[9] and the 1934 leagues, all of whom dreamed of overthrowing the Republic. After years of a highly fragmented right-wing extremism reduced to a small extent—in particular by the cleansing and disapproval of the collaboration—and surviving only at groupuscule dimension (GUD[10], Occident[11], Ordre nouveau[12], Jeune nation[13]; some of which would join the FN), the issue was to create a mass party for action (identified with Doriot[14] and the Italian MSI); one likely to enter the legalism of the electoral game, at least in appearance. The party attracted several kinds of activists: Poujadists, traditionalist and fundamentalist Catholics, neo-Nazis and was characterised by an oratory style that appealed to violence in line with a totalitarian style. Among its founders, Francis Duprat[15] claims to be a Lenin-like revolutionary[16]. Direct action is part of the (neo-fascist) groupuscule culture inherited by the FN. Disciple of Doriot, former communist and collaborator Victor Barthélémy[17], for example, has made several references to Mussolini. In addition, the symbol of the Italian MSI neo-fascists (a green-white-red flame) has been transposed into blue-white-red for the FN.

The programme was simple: society must be organised according to “natural” rules. A hierarchical order is natural if it reassures the legitimate, non-transferable authority. This order opposes “constructivism”, egalitarian individualism and modern contractualism. Thus, the natural authority affirmed is that 1) of the owner over their property (of the craftsman, the peasant, the entrepreneur over the fruit of their work), 2) of the father over his children (education as well as the budgets for culture and health need to be privatised), 3) moreover, inhabitants are rooted in the territory as their vital space, a territory that generates a natural, ethnic and cultural identity. Furthermore, “Nature” is regarded as the standard of the Good and the Beauty. It constitutes a hierarchical order just like the Church or the army. Since men are neither good nor perfectible, a hierarchical authority is necessary. This somewhat rustic common sense is far from the neo-conservative economic theories of the Institut Turgot[18] or Atlantico[19].

B. The dédiabolisation of the FN

During the 1980s, the fact that the FN entered the representative system, its rise and growing importance on the national political scene and the break—at least on record—with, among others, those who were nostalgic for Nazi Germany were quite remarkable events. Nevertheless, some past legacies have remained to this day: the exaltation of Catholic virtues and the “promotion of the French family”, the condemnation of “secularist, Masonic and leftist sectarianism” and of the laws allowing abortion[20]. Abortion was conceived as genocide and and it was seen necessary to destatize an education perceived as Marxist. SOS Racisme[21], MRAP (Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l’Amitié entre les Peuples)[22] and LICRA (Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme)[23] were labelled as anti-French lobbies, while feminism were the result of the Marxisation of the mind. Joan of Arc and the Virgin Mary were always called to the rescue, but within a more neutral rhetoric that moves away from that of fascist or National Socialist mass parties. It was the end of the appeal to violence, despite the ambiguities and diverse positions taken by subgroups or individuals.

Since the mid-2000s, pro-colonial and, at times, royalist topics, nostalgia for the collaboration and anti-Semitism seemed largely exhausted subject matters. The French far right seems to have broken with the non-conformist reactionary utopia (Doriot), even if the idea of a radical transformation of society, of a break necessary to return to the past, of a revolution in the etymological sense still persists. The Republic was no longer the object of imprecations, although the recent rhetoric of Frontist “republicanism” did little to hide its discourse of national identity in the non-republican right-of-blood sense. Mostly, the party moved from anti-Semitism to anti-Islamism. There has also been a shift from ultraliberalism to an “anti-system” critique of globalisation, from the praise to NATO and Reaganism to an anti-American sentiment and praises to Vladimir Putin.

Alain Soral[24] is said, among other things, to be at the origin of Marine Le Pen’s speeches (“republicanism”, “people of the workers”) (Albertini and Doucet, 2014, p. 281), while at the same time, Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be actively exploiting the ideological background partly undone by the FN, with the help of Maurras’ follower, Patrick Buisson. The dissemination of extremist language and values has been very broad and constitutes an ideological victory. “[…] FN leader and his favourite topics—immigration, lack of public safety, national identity—have ‘contaminated’ the French political agenda so deeply that the discussion is built around them” (Chebel d’Appolonia, 1996, p. 394). Nowadays, even Macron’s LREM uses an analytical framework partly coming from the RN (Grange, 2020).

Since the election of Marine Le Pen as president of the party in 2001, several shifts have taken place, which turn right-wing extremism into neo-populist nationalism, whose activists or supporters are partly former workers or people from certain modest middle classes. These social groups were driven out of working-class or socially mixed structured urban neighbourhoods and relegated either to remote “urban” areas or to areas mainly occupied by immigrants, their competitors in the labour market. At the same time, there has been a notable shift, a form of reversal taking place within the FN. Anti-Semitism has given way to an anti-Muslim discourse[25] and anti-communism is fading in favour of an anti-globalisation rhetoric (even Brecht, Marx and Michea have been quoted). The left-right landmark has been knowingly blurred. This nationalist, protectionist anti-liberalism contrasts with the libertarian neo-conservative hyper liberalism, which is generally pro-European, even if it is a Europe with “Christian roots”, a federation of nations.

Over the past decade, the electorates of the UMP (Union pour un mouvement populaire, now Les Républicains) and the FN have seemed less and less disjointed (Fourquet and Gariazzo, 2013). Both parties have been getting closer on matters related to identity and immigration, but increasingly diverging on social and economic issues.

“The stances taken by different leaders of this conservative current, whether the new general secretary of the party, Laurent Wauquiez, or the leaders of the Sens commun movement, deliberately refuse to choose between the FN and the PS and seek to develop a doctrinal body able to attract an electorate potentially seduced by the FN to the UMP–LR and to the parliamentary right” (Brustier and Escalonga, 2015, p. 525). Right-wing extremism has been thus ideologically absorbed by a government party[26].

The collapse of the middle classes and the social suffering of the “blind spot of globalisation” (the working classes of developed countries) (Guilly, 2014) created an invisible mass in distress, which has been left outside the social game and political discourse. In all regions, the Frontist vote is over-represented around large metropolises, in the suffering peri-urban areas, and extends towards small towns and rural areas (Guilly, 2014, p. 58). The working classes, the unemployed, the young people excluded from employment, the low-income retirees, middle-class declassed, the petit blanc, choose the Front National, which has become the Rassemblement National. This success is partly caused by the weakness of social discourses among progressive parties and the disappearance of the communist party.

III. Another extreme right: the transposition of American neoconservatism to France

The so-called neoconservatism in the United States has long been a realistic doctrine that aspired to international military and political influence, therefore, to the hard power of the American State apparatus. From Reagan’s presidency, but especially after 2003 under G. W. Bush, the prevailing objective—fuelled by the evils of counterculture—has been the inner remoralisation of America, together with a theological approach to politics. The goal was to cause panic in an already restless public opinion after 9-11 and to gain strength through soft power. God has chosen the US of free enterprise to fight Evil. The forms of action and slogans of evangelist and Catholic groups in the United States have been implemented in extreme Catholic groups and tradismatic movements (traditionalists and charismatics) in Europe. As in politics, as in Religion the catholic new conservatives, thought of themselves as a morally exalted, outsider group, standing in judgment over a sinful nation (Allit, 1995).

A. GRECE[27] and the Club de l’Horloge[28]

The new intellectual right comprises the Club de l’Horloge —founded in 1974 by Henry de Lesquen[29], Yvan Blot[30] and Jean-Yves Le Gallou[31]— and GRECE (the “new atheist right” according to the FN), which operated independently (the FN incorporated some of its ideas between 1988 and 1992, before breaking up in 1992-93) (Chebel d’Appolonia, 1996, p. 373).  It sought to rebuild an essentially neoliberal right based on the elites and think tanks, far from the insults and questionable jokes of FN members—although there are some deserters between different groups and the FN. The aim was to preserve Western values, to criticise Christian idealism and weakness in a somewhat Nietzschean tone and to establish a “cultural counter-power” (Alain de Benoist). It was this rather peculiar right that would meet the powerful current of neoconservatism coming from the United States at the beginning of the millennium.

“Convinced that the best tactic for taking down an adversary is to turn their weapons against them, GRECE adheres to the theories of the left […] On the other hand, within the reference system built by GRECE is Gramsci, who supposedly ‘demonstrated’ that the conquest of political power requires that of cultural power” (Chebel d’Appolonia, 1996, p. 320). Club 89[32] created by Alain Juppé worked in parallel (but has also written a joint report with the Club de l’Horloge) offering a more realistic and statist approach to take power—the concept of “national preference” was born in this context and later taken on by the FN.

The Club de l’Horloge and GRECE subsequently showed a significant evolution towards criticism of economic liberalism and condemnation of Occidentalism. In any case, the complexity and versatility of the doctrines make the work of GRECE difficult to analyse. But this right-wing extremism was the first to fraternise with the neoconservatism from across the Atlantic. They were both “cold” political trends originated in private circles or groups, far from the anti-intellectual nature and bloody nationalism of the FN. Hence, “the issue is no longer to take power, but to provide an ideological, philosophical and cultural basis able to guide (or contradict) decisions”, as stated by GRECE (Favard-Jirard, 2008). “The Nouvelle Droite[33] went to (ideological) war with a package full of masks, lamps, cotillions and pamphlets […] The murderous theories of yesteryear, those that had thrived in the France of the Barrès, Maurras and Déroulède, would be carefully removed from the limelight, without being put back permanently […]. Therefore, GRECE members’ speeches include multiple references to Che Guevara, Blanqui, the Brigate Rosse” (Maricourt, 1993, p. 33). Despite the differences in the discourses, some of the characteristics of the Nouvelle Droite and GREECE are used by the new French conservatism represented by Marion Maréchal.

The mode of action of the Nouvelle Droit is similar to that of the think tanks on the other side of the Atlantic. For a long time, however, this was a neo-pagan movement, neither Christian, and certainly, nor Catholic. This is why American neoconservatives have long struggled to make a real alliance with these groups. “What is left of this attempt at renewal? Simply, and this is not a small thing, the irruption of ideas that the Nouvelle Droite helped spread, popularise in the intellectual debate […] The rehabilitation, against the Jacobin republican model, of religious and ethnical communities […] The introduction of American communitarians into France as well as of a set of works around Carl Schmitt and Ernst Jünger; a renewal of the economic positions of the rights, in an anti-materialistic sense in the case of GRECE, and in an ultra-liberal sense in the case of the Club de l’Horloge” (Maricourt, 1993, p. 176).

Some (namely, the populist extreme right) made use of the common themes (the fight against homosexuality, feminism, pornography, abortion, euthanasia, parliamentary democracy) to defend the Nation or French identity; others (neo-conservatives from big cities or western Paris and other gentrified spaces) used them to defend the Christian commandments (hidden under terms such as “natural order”, civilisation and even “human values”) and to support the contentment with a Christian Europe (Manent, 2006).

B. One of the legacies of Pétainism

What brings the ideology of the “National Revolution” and neoconservatism closer together is the reactionary utopia of the “natural order” (the natural neoliberal character of the market, social and family order) successfully combined with industrial rationalisation (as far as Vichy is concerned). In both cases the imposition of a new economic and social order responds to roots more counter-revolutionary than traditionalist. A reactionary revolution aimed at society, by instrumentalising the State: such was the paradox both in 1940 and 2010. In 1940, the prerequisite was the repeal of the 1875 republican constitutional laws—some neoconservative currents dream of this even today, although they will not admit it. To this they add, among other things, the challenge to the programme of the National Council of Resistance.

Despite having a different socio-historical and economic context, their common ground is to impose a radical social transformation, a change in the meaning of institutions (what is currently called a “state reform”), whose aim is to impose market rules on public institutions. The instrument for this institutional change is an unusual anti-republican State with a strong executive power, a State that transforms society through administration to inculcate or impose its “moral values”. “Vichy left traces where the traditionalists had a free pass: the family, public morality” (Paxton, 1999, p. 138).

It was in the context of defeat and occupation, under the threat of an even more fatal fate, that Vichy has imposed a new counter-revolutionary social order. It is under another form of threat, i.e., the social crisis in fact generated by an economic crisis, that neoconservatism is trying to impose itself today. Likewise, a civil war, critical events or disorders may be the source of a new divine surprise [34] that some neo-conservatives are secretly calling for.

“On the one hand, extreme right-wing thought is based upon the affirmation of an immutable “natural” (or divine) order to which all human societies must conform […]. And on the other hand, against the course of the universal decadence of human things, its political project aims at establishing a “new order”, rebuilding a deeply degraded and perverted social edifice on new bases […]” (Janin, 2009, p. 150).

The bottom line is that the establishment of this “new order” is not “natural”. Like in Pétainism, the instrument to restore the intermediate bodies, the political role of fathers of large families and the defence of corporations is the state or the administration. Similarly, the return to values is carried out within a state framework: “family” values are set by the state.

The proposal to return to the foundations (love and family, meaning and spirituality, discipline, authority) is presented as spontaneous and popular but, on closer look, seeks to impose such values by law and the state. This is a particular brand of reactionaries (the Pétainism of 1940, the Printemps français[35] and Sens Commun at present). It is neither traditionalism (which would simply like to reinvest the religious, moral or cultural past and operate in continuity), nor conservatism in the sense of immobility and perpetuation of existing institutions. This particular form of extremism is adorned with the rhetoric of rupture: the return to “values” would be innovative. The “new paradigm” is something different from a return to the past. It is a religious and political revolution.

Therefore, the neoconservative extreme right seeks to review the achievements of the French Revolution, May 1968, the welfare state and republicanism, with the aim of “returning” to the social (and political) role of the church. In the words of Bernard Antony:

“Thirty years after May 68, we must develop the necessary cultural counter-revolution. The fight will be hard! But we have already had some successes: in 1996 the celebration of the fifteenth centenary of the baptism of Clovis, last 9 November the trial of communism, France has a universal destiny” (Mendès-France and Praz, 1998, p. 229).

C. Return to religion

Despite some common ideological elements, this mixture of populist nationalism and traditionalism is nevertheless quite different from the neo-conservatism that came from the United States. Neoconservatism in the United States has been transformed and greatly strengthened by its alliance with the Tea Party and evangelical movements. It grew from some small think tanks to a large political movement. A similar but more troublesome attempt has been taking place in France since the 2000s. The circles of the new intellectual right, including the Club de l’Horloge, have attempted to create a larger and more popular movement by returning to the religious tradition. But French Catholicism is not evangelism. It retains strong traces of Gallicism as well as of social Christianity. In addition, the French society seems much less willing to retain or return to religion than the American society. Then, in a context of secularisation and thanks to the action of certain extreme-right bishops, a return to religion movement was launched in France by means of another American import: the charismatic movements.

The charismatic movement, which appeared as an exotic variant of Christianity, heterogeneous to the theological culture of the Church of France (evangelical Christians practise a literal reading of the Bible)[36] and to the Catholic institutions of Europe, has remarkably grown in importance within the church itself. This movement, which perceives itself as capable of saving a church in decline thanks to the vocations of the new evangelization, has served as an incubator and support for the protest movements. Its more recent manifestations range from the LMPT to the politicisation of the Sens Commun movement, linking the traditionalist Catholic branch of the FN to the neoconservatives.

The reactionary currents (LMPT, Les Veilleurs[37]) that manifested themselves on the French streets in 2012 and 2013 do not represent a reactionary intolerance or a simple attachment to the past. They are syncretic and come from several sources. These groups have worked on their language elements for a decade or two within the Nouvelle Droite think tanks and prayer and evangelisation circles. They show great activism, sometimes even within academic institutions, and have stood out for their numerous publications, and specially their intense online presence.  They evoke a dogma or unitary metaphysics such as novation, a re-enchantment revolutionising the supposed disenchantment of modernity, a return to myths and beliefs.

This re-enchantment is assimilated to post-secularism [38]. Dedicated to materialism, scientism and reductionism, modern secularism would be impoverishing for humanity, an “anthropological rupture”, “a subtractive story”. Human nature would require belief, presented as a form of fundamental impulse, an intuitive and spontaneous search for “re-enchantment”, an irrepressible conviction, a taste for the “wonderful”. Faith and belief would be an individual and collective evidence. In this simplistic scheme, the break with superstition, the modern scientific progress, is regarded as loss (“the loss of meaning). In response to the question: what is modernity? Henri Guaino (2016) answers[39], “[…] surrogacy, euthanasia, gender theory, denunciation, communitarianism, suppression of notes or cursive writing, commodification of the world. But what is this modernity before which everything must give way?” Capitalism is virtuous, but it is the defeat of morality, the weakening of religious practices, consumerism and the relaxation of morals, which, since May 68, has transformed social and economic activity into disorder and immorality.

The return to moral values (in fact religious and if possible Catholic) is presented as the only answer to the culture of death and the need for meaning that has emerged at the very heart of postmodernity. This return is therefore quite frequently linked to religious fundamentalism. Following René Rémond, this would mean considering that a past moment of the institution is an eternal model (Camus and Lebourg, 2015, p. 183). Fundamentalism refers to all those who fight against the political and social openness of Catholicism by any means including denunciation; then, the adversaries of any openness who confuse devotion to the past with loyalty to the Lord. (Poulat, 1969, p. 78).

The neo-conservative return to religion is very selective. Spiritualities without institutions, clerics or churches, non-Christian forms of faith, beliefs without monotheistic transcendence are left aside, as well as many currents within the Church itself, social Christianity, among others. Not to mention, agnosticism or deism. Non-fundamentalists are designated negatively by default and are violently fought even today

But what characterises fundamentalism (Protestant, Muslim or Catholic) is that it is less a spiritual search or a religious movement than a political process. The aim is to politically embody and literally realise religion in society by political means (with some preferring violence to politics). The fundamentalist conception of faith implies an absolute truth of dogmas. It does not allow the possibility of religious convictions confined to the private domain (this is the secular ideal), nor the possibility of praying in Assisi next to devotees of other creeds. Originally close to traditionalism—the aim being that liturgy and the organisation of the church stay the same—and inner to Catholicism—in opposition to liturgical progress, modernisation of the dress code and language of worship, etc.—fundamentalism supports a political return to an anti-modern past that confuses politics with religion. At present, its Catholic neoconservative version wants to prevail through cultural and political influence rather than violence.

D. Intellectuals, philosophers and other extremist influencers

In the last decade, an unseen “new paradigm” has silently become dominant in France, hidden by the downfall of entire branches of the human sciences in French research and public universities. However weak its intellectual coherence—despite a self-proclaimed superiority—this new paradigm is ideologically coherent—challenging modernity and the Enlightenment, proposing the end of state and institutional secularity—and, of course, has consequences on French public policies. In fact, the definition of natural moral rules, the idea—between cognitivism and Thomism—that there are social rules inscribed in our neurons and the notion that there are “social essences” that do not derive from contractualism or history has led to sophisticated expressions of the Vatican’s views as well as to radical evangelism. For example, regarding the state of the embryo. They have also led to justify neoliberal economic arguments that fiercely opposed the public service of education, as well as any tax or state regulation on the economy (Roucaute, 2005; Folscheid, 2002; Nef and Livet, 2009; Delsol, 2002; Delsol and Grimpret, 2008; Nemo, 2002).

The warhorse of neo-conservatives, as will be explained in detail further on, is the return of religions to the societal space. “God is for everyone! The Catholic faith must open up to public debate and it is not good to send everything back into the private sphere” (Clavier, 2013). They postulate that secularisation or secularism (the latter being the recognition and guarantee of respect for any individual conviction, which neoconservatism denies) would be the bearers of a true crisis for French or European society. A claim that is far from being demonstrated; on the contrary, we may presume that the crisis is linked to the capitalist world economy or to the lack of clarity of progressive socialism.

The Christian religion, the return to the Christian roots of France and Europe, would be destined to rescue true freedom and true democracy (Ratzinger, 1994, p. 50). The liberticidal tyranny of the State, the legal subjectivism “without territory” and social Darwinism would lead to anomie, suicide, relativism. Therefore, tradition, borders, limits should be proposed as a counterbalance. The family and its values then rise against the state, pornography, surrogacy[40]. Relativism and the the culture of death derived from May 1968 is destined to be overthrown by a new and traditionalist “May 68” (Bès de Berc, Durano and Roktvan, 2014). According to this rhetoric, the negative and nihilistic Parisian philosophers do not understand that there is a “failure of the soul”, a “repression of God” (Allan Bloom, Pierre Manent), and that republicanism is oppressive (it even leads to foeticide).

Therefore, a necessary re-enchantment is imposed: a return to emotions, meaning, faith, to the real life of the real people (muted by intellectuals, lazy and evil Marxist teachers, and by the forced secularisation of institutions). People from the suburbs would be in need of meaning, their poverty is spiritual in principle. Suffering and social unrest derive from a failure caused by atheistic modernism, hedonism (related to consumerism), individualism (related to selfishness), by secularism and relativism fundamentalists and even by capitalism (when bosses and managers are no longer Christian).

This rhetoric of “re-enchantment” and “new paradigm” is not traditionalist, it is post-post-modern and neo-reactionary. A rhetoric that strives to bring back the work of critical thinkers (such as Foucault, Bourdieu, Barthes, Debord, G. Anders) and democrats who criticised modern democracy in the name of the ideal of modernity (such as Tocqueville, Marx, Proudhon, Nietzsche, Zyzek). It maintains Nietzsche’s challenge to the Enlightenment and Kantian morality, but not his criticism of Christianity. Philosophical works are instrumentalised and sometimes read in contrast to their clearest doctrines. These neoconservatives do not hesitate to affirm that modern rationalism would have engendered fascism, Nazism and communism. According to them and from a philosophical point of view, “another Enlightenment”—a Christian one—could triumph over the Enlightenment and modern ideals and define the roots and identity of Europe through another Reason (which could be that of Maurrassism or neo-Thomistic rationalism). In this context, Scottish contributors to the Enlightenment are valued and studied within philosophy.

An outstanding example, among many, is provided by Pierre Manent, who recently expressed his anti-contractualism and direct opposition to democratic modernity. The positive, irreversible and decisive rupture of modernity is understood here as a loss, a subtraction, an error, a fortunately reversible break. The social contract, the natural law (in the modern sense) and human rights must be erased. A “new paradigm” regards religion and prejudice as something necessary for social life and favours “culture” and contextualisation over universal truths.

Neoconservatism therefore differs from traditionalism, conservatism, reactionism. Already a successful movement in the United States, neoconservatism has been transferred to Europe since the 2000s, initially through think tanks and some inconspicuous groups and by the “conversion” of intellectual elites, particularly those from philosophy and the humanities. In its attempts at seduction, it has resorted to topics such as the re-enchantment and the return to meaning, values and beliefs in established institutions (CNRS, ENS, EHESS as well as in external offices (IPC[41], IUP, Collège supérieur de Lyon[42], “Université” catholique de l’Oues“). It also spread in the press, magazines and shows of scientific dissemination and discussion, and on the street thanks to movements such as Le Printemps Français, Jour de Colère[43], Les Veilleurs or Sens Commun. After several attempts (François Fillon’s candidacy for the 2017 presidential elections), the movement is currently looking for a new political anchor in France, well aware that it would be better to operate by internal transformation, subversion of traditional political parties (the Republican Party in the United States is a good example), than by creating an ad hoc party. It should be noted, however, that while the nature and processes of neoconservatism are similar in Europe and across the Atlantic, the doctrinal content is different, among other things, because of French political history. The transposition is, therefore, a translation, a transformation.

The—carefully designed—pastel colour ideologies and demonstration materials of the LMPT after the Printemps français, the misleading headlines, the sites and organisations with kind façades, all those young dynamic activists of the “return to meaning”, the words of freedom, humanism, transdisciplinarity, spirituality, the seminars of logic or philosophy of science, they all hide a major ideological undertaking. The latest proposal for “human ecology” or “integral ecology” (Bès de Berc, Durano[44] and Roktvan, 2014)[45], a proposal that is barely ecological but entirely neo-conservative, is quite representative of the subject of our reflections.

Like right-wing extremism in general, neo-conservative thinking is, is controversial in all its expressions; garnished by a rhetoric of break: “anthropological” divorce is condemned by the “natural” law [46]. The “change of civilisation”[47] would require a “cultural struggle”. Neoconservatism then develops antitheses (the “loss of meaning” opposed to “true values”, the “culture of death” opposed to Christian faith) strategically arranged to define its perspective by means of opposition. Relativism and materialism (Delsol, 2011) (consumerism, communism) are indeed a threat to Europe and French society. To restore these “true values” would be to overcome a social and spiritual crisis. For neoconservatism, this restoration goes through the elites miraculously rediscovering the “common sense” of the “French people”.

“Restoration” is a desire to annihilate the emancipatory ideals of the Enlightenment, as reinterpreted during the Glorious Thirty. It transposes a scheme developed in the United States to France but expressed within a particular framework, previously defined by French right-wing extremism. The transposition has some distinct characteristics. Like its source of inspiration on the other side of the Atlantic, French neoconservatism advances in disguise, within the framework of a cultural war, hence the euphemisms. It proceeds in three stages: 1) evoking a “crisis of meaning” (o disguise the imposition of a return to religious dogmas), 2) alerting to the danger of a supposed “anthropological break” (thus denoting the extension of legal equality to sexuality), 3) proposing a “new paradigm” (to hide its intelligent design or pseudo-scientific apologetics). The Movement has denounced as naive the ideas of the “empire of good” or the “political correctness” (modern ideals of social justice, the beatitude according to P. Muray[48]). It is the Christian religion, with its emphasis on the importance of evil and the fall that could bestow a little density and complexity to the human condition.

E. Think tanks and the media, extremism 2.0

In France, as in the rest of the world, the far right is currently using alternative channels to those preferred by traditional organisations. Formatting opinion involves a large number of associations, think tanks, institutes with vague and apparently neutral names, that difficult to relate to right-wing extremism. The very name of the school opened by Marion Maréchal in Lyon, Institut de sciences sociales, économiques et politiques (ISSEP), is inexplicit, even if the stance of its founder does not leave room for doubt.

Publications, think tanks, institutes and associations, websites, blogs play an intermediate role between that of the University and simple militant media. The political question is only present in an indirect way and never immediately visible. They address taxes, ethics, education and, through these specific social concerns, the public is turned towards neoconservatism. This is also the case of certain think tanks or prayer circles (focused on conjugality, the relationship between the sexes, psychology, etc.). Methods proven by the new evangelisation or by Opus Dei recruiters are transposed here. Their websites and entertainers are personable and present well-chosen arguments, followed by requests for donations and then, invitations to make a more specific commitment.

Many examples can be mentioned: Institut de formation politique[49], SOS-Éducation, Espérance banlieue[50], Contribuables Associés, Sauvegarde des retraites or institut pour la Justice, IFRAP (Foundation for Research on Administration and Public Policy), Institut des recherches économiques et fiscales (IREF), Créer son école of Anne Coffinier[51] (near the LMPT), Foundation pour l’école turned Liberté pour l’école, Espérance banlieue, Santé, Nature, Innovation (SNI, where Professor Henri Joyeux has long been a scientific expert), etc. Invisible in the public domain, these organisations have a modus operandi and funding sources inspired by the American extreme right. They benefit from significant private donations (in 2014, SOS-Éducation received 1.5 million in donations), corporate funding and even commercial activities (file and email list rental, etc.).

French neoconservatism wants soft power and strives to persuade, to form opinion, to guide actions through ideology (Grange, 2017). Hence, the important presence of extremism in the media: CNews channel has just entrusted a daily programme to É. Zemmour. TV Libertés and PolonyTV, on their part, reflect extremist positions picturing them as innovative. LCI broadcast Eric Zemmour’s speech at the “Convention des Droites” in September 2019 and invited journalists of L’Incorrect (founded by Jacques de Guillebond[52], a close friend of Marion Maréchal). We may add Valeurs Actuelles, FigaroVox, Causeur[53], the Atlantico site (led by a close friend to P. Buisson), Le Comité des orwelliens[54]and many others.

Tweets, sites, blogs, social media messages are effective ways for constant campaign, especially among the under-30s, the new target of the far right. The Veilleurs (now Les éveilleurs d’espérance) was created in 2013 by P. Nicolas and J. Sevillia[55] from the LMPT, like Padreblog (by Abbés Grosjean[56], with 30,000 followers on Facebook), they target a student elite (e.g., those from the Higher Normal Schools where F.X. Bellamy, M. de Jessey, M. Durano were trained, as well as many others who studied under the guidance of Father Armogathe, Paul Clavier[57], Pierre Manent, Rémi Brague[58], J.L. Marion[59] and others).

IV. Meetings, tensions and alliances

Some organisations from the classical extreme right or Catholic traditionalism have concluded with neoconservative movements and taken up their methods. Ichtus[60], for example, is one of the heirs of Jean Ousset‘s Cité catholique[61]. The Fondation Saint-Pie-X[62] has also evolved giving birth to Civitas[63]. The objective, however, is no longer the past monarchical restoration or theocracy. The Institut Ichtus clearly defines the present goal: “It is not the Church that imposes its power, but the State that responds to an invitation to order society in a way that promotes the salvation of souls”. State and church are not in the least confused with each other, but the former is supposed to implement the values of the latter. This political project of a non-denominational or non-theocratic State—but an indirect instrument of a Church that regains power over morals, intellectual life and society—is at the heart of French neoconservatism in its alliance with classical Catholic reactionism.

The alliance of the the Nouvelle Droite and Catholic fundamentalist traditionalism was made through the charismatic movement. This has given birth to the “tradismatics”, hyper-modern animators of La Manif pour Tous, who seek a union between classical-style extremism and neoconservatism.

Could we say, however, that in France in the extreme right identity and partisan (RN) and the neoconservative movements are willing to enter into an alliance? They seem to disagree on some points, even at the ideological level. For example, the RN supports secularism (it is certainly more prone to denounce Muslim street prayers than Civitas parades) as part of “identity republicanism”, while those surrounding Marion Maréchal despised this idea. There is also a great difference regarding the way of seizing power. The RN proclaims a degree of political voluntarism like no other party in France, while neoconservatism is linked to the “intellectual rearmament”, the cultural war, and wants to influence political life either by transforming right-wing parties from within or by becoming the “adviser of princes”. Both, however, want a return to a Christian or Catholic “French identity” within the framework of the “clash of civilisations”. The differences, therefore, concern their strategies to access power, their timetables and the persons who are supposed to incarnate such power.

Given their groupuscule operation, the flow of deserters among groups and their fluctuating alliances, it is difficult to map these movements.  Ideologies often merged.  The RN, whose political future largely depends on its ability to embody social unrest, frequently develops arguments that contradict its own social discourse (e.g., J. Bardella’s compliments to D. Trump for the tax cuts in favour of corporations and the wealthy in autumn 2019).  The populist extreme right (RN) and neoconservatism (Sens Commun, Marion Maréchal, F.X. Bellamy) agree on key points, even if one and the other advance in disguise. The “Convention de la droite” convened in Paris on 28 September 2019 was supposed to focus on the “alternative to progressivism” (a theme of neoconservative tone). Instead was opened by Eric Zemmour’s virulent anti-Islam speech, whose words were very close to the discourse of the RN (the “great replacement”, Islamisation of the streets, extermination of the white Catholic heterosexual male).

The 2013 demonstrations and failure of La Manif pour Tous are practically forgotten, as is the unfortunate incorporation of F. Fillon to Sens commun in the fall of 2016. Despite the disastrous candidacy of F.X. Bellamy in 2019 and the difficulties brought about by the infiltration of the LR, overall it seems that although with decreased street and media visibility, extremism, far from being extinguished, is a fundamental movement. It is a movement that, from now on, will have a considerable weight in French political life, even if it is impossible to know yet how it will achieve this, whether through a “bloc of rights” or through the Rassemblement National.

Behind the supporters and charismatic leaders of the two shades of brown that we have described and behind the Le Pen family saga hides the forest of national and international social networks, true vectors of neoconservative proselytism as well as digital nationalist populism. The elements alien to French political life have weight and will be critical in the future. Right-wing extremism exists all across Europe, in Austria, Hungary, Poland, and the alliances forged within this framework will be decisive.

* Translated by Jean-Marc Gaillard, Association CPCL (France).



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[1] La Manif pour Tous (LMPT): founded in 2012, it is a collective of Catholic and conservative associations, supported by the French episcopate although they are officially non-denominational. It has organized large protests against same-sex marriage and adoption. Its best-known spokesperson was Frigide Barjot that later would break with the movement as a consequence of the increasingly reactionary and far-right drift of it. It became a political party in 2015.

[2] Sens commun: movement created in 2013 within the protests against same-sex marriage. This movement, which emerged from La Manif pour Tous, has joined Les Républicains party, supporting the most reactionary and neo-conservative candidates (François Fillon in 2017).

[3] Wauquiez, Laurent (born in 1975): politician, deputy and several times minister in right-wing governments. Ephemeral president of Les Républicains between 2017 and 2019. He represents the most right-wing line of the party, very close to traditionalist Catholic movements.

[4] Bishop Marcel Lefebvre opposed the Vatican II Council (1962/1965). He advocated the continuum of Latin office, was against any progress within the Church, as well as any relationship with any other religion thus creating a dissident movement (Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie-X). He was excommunicated in 1988. Today, his movement and the Curia seem to be getting close again.

[5] Bellamy, François-Xavier (born in 1985): essayist and politician, former student of the École normale supérieure of Paris. Member of European Parliament four Les Républicains. Ideologically close to the radical right-wing and the Catholic fundamentalist tendencies (La Manif pour Tous, Les Veilleurs, etc.).

[6] Ciotti, Éric (born in 1965): politician of Les Républicains, member of the National Assembly for Alpes Maritimes. He represents the far right wing of the party.

[7] Buisson, Patrick (born in 1949): political scientist and journalist, influenced by the ideology of Maurras. He has been campaigning for a very long time for the Union des droites. He has been an advisor to many politicians, in particular Nicolas Sarkozy.

[8] Mariani, Thierry (born in 1958): politician, deputy and minister, moved from the Right to the Rassemblement national for which he is currently a European deputy. He militates for the Union des droites.

[9] In l’Heure de Vérité, on French TV, in 1984, Jean-Marie Le Pen said, “Pétain was unfairly overwhelmed”.

[10] GUD: Groupe Union Défense, an extreme right-wing student organization created in 1968. Has drawn attention to its violent actions against left-wing parties. Was very active in Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front national.

[11] Occident: Extreme right-wing group founded in 1964 under the influence of Pierre Sidos. Nationalist, racist, counterrevolutionary and anti-republican, this group celebrated collaboration with the Nazis between 1940 and 1944 in the name of defending the West. It was rebuilt under the name Ordre nouveau, although some of its members have migrated to the GUD.

[12] Ordre nouveau: Far-right nationalist political movement, which replaced Occident in 1969. Future ministers Gérard Longuet and Alain Madelin were among the leaders of the movement. The movement participated in the founding of the FN in 1972. After a violent confrontation with the Ligue Communiste, the movement was dissolved in 1973. Most of the members left the F.N. in 1974.

[13] Jeune Nation: Nationalist group created in 1948 and dissolved in 1958, which frequently participated in violent demonstrations.

[14] Doriot, Jacques (1898-1945): journalist and politician, after passing through communism, he joins fascism. He was a staunch supporter of collaboration with Nazi Germany, he fought on the Eastern Front as a volunteer in the SS. In 1944 he took refuge in Germany and a year later he was killed by the allied air force.

[15] Duprat, François (1940-1978): politician and essayist, defender of the negationist theses, influential member of the FN. He has published in far-right newspapers and magazines. He died in the explosion of his car, a case that has never been clarified.

[16] Duprat was the first one to use the term “national populism” (Camus and Lebourg, 2015, p. 211).

[17] Barthélemy, Victor (1906-1985): politician who went from communism to fascism and collaborated in the Parti Populaire Français of J. Doriot. He was a Supporter of French Algeria in the 1950-60s. He participated in the creation of the FN with J.-M. Le Pen in 1972.

[18] Institut Turgot: Ultra liberal think tank that disseminates information online. Opposed to any form of state regulation in economy or education. Spread skeptical arguments about climate change.

[19]Atlantico: online news site created in 2011. Representative of a neoconservative movement inspired by the United States.

[20] Condemned in the Present journal, a forum of fundamentalist Catholicism within the FN.

[21] SOS Racisme: association created in 1984 to confront the rise of racism promoted by the FN of Jean-Marie Le Pen. The slogan is “Don’t touch my buddy”. The objective of the association is to build a “mixed republic” which ensures equality for all.

[22] MRAP: Created in 1949 by former deportees to concentration camps. Currently close to many organizations of the left and extreme left without ever appealing to violence, very active in the reception and regularization of undocumented immigrants.

[23] LICRA: founded in 1928. Association combating racist and anti-Semitic acts and statements, in particular by bringing cases systematically to court.

[24] Alain Soral (born 1958): extreme right-wing essayist and ideologue who maintains a very popular blog “Égalité et réconciliation”. Several times he was condemned for racist and anti-Semitic remarks, negationism and apology for war crimes or against humanity. Close to the FN of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

[25] The two kinds of xenophobia are sometimes juxtaposed within the same organisations but the stigmatisation of Muslim immigrants normally prevails, despite the survival of an anti-Semitic rhetoric. We have also observed some connections between different fundamentalist movements (Muslims and Catholics, also Jewish traditionalists) in the movement against same-sex marriage.

[26] In September 2016, L. Wauquiez, member of Les Républicains, launched a petition against “Cazeneuve’s plan to distribute Calais immigrants in our regions”, just after FN’s Steve Briois founded an association of mayors called Ma commune sans migrants (My city without migrants).

[27] GRECE: Created in 1969 among others by Alain de Benoist. Group elitist and technocratic, Europeanist but politically anti-liberal, which has had an influence on many political figures and journalism until today.

[28] Club de l’Horloge:  Political club created in 1974 (Carrefour de l’Horloge in 2015) that brings together theorists of a very technocratic extreme right (many important public officials), economically liberal and non-Catholic. It served as a study center for many right-wing politicians and for the FN.

[29] De Lesquen, Henry (b.1949): important public official and then a far-right journalist, president of the Club de l’Horloge. He was convicted several times for his racist and hate speech and for denial of crimes against humanity.

[30] Blot, Yvan (1948-2018): important public official and politician, member of GRECE, then co-founder of the Club de l’Horloge. In 1989 he passed from the Gaullist party (RPR) to the FN. When Nicolas Sarkozy assumes the direction he returns to the UMP.

[31] Le Gallou, Jean-Yves (1986-2004): important public official and politician, member of GRECE and co-founder of the Club de l’Horloge. He has gone from the centrist right to the FN. He developed the concept of “national preference”, he is in favor of the “remigration” of families of foreign origin, defends the thesis of the “great replacement” and approaches the negationist circles.

[32] Club 89: think tank founded by Alain Juppé in 1981 to bring together right-wing thinkers and politicians. In 1989, the Club 89 published a joint report with the Club de l’Horloge, with which he has maintained links since 1982.

[33] T.N.: The French expression is kept to differentiate it from the Anglo-Saxon “New Right”.

[34] Expression used by Maurras on 9 February 1941, in a reference to the defeat of 1940 and the “National Revolution”.

[35] Printemps français: political movement resulting from the Manif pour Tous founded in 2013 by Béatrice Bourges, advocating peaceful civil disobedience in the name of the preeminence of religious morality over republican law. Collaborates with various far-right or traditionalist associations.

[36] “The Christian fundamentalist is convinced that, being the word of God, every word in the Bible is literally true, and that they are on Earth to act as guardian and propagator of this truth” (George, 2007, p. 135).

[37] Les Veilleurs: youth movement derived from the Manif pour Tous, whose mode of action is to occupy public space permanently by reading texts from literature or philosophy. They seek a visible militancy against the evolution of modern society (marriage for all, abortion, contraception, “atheistic” capitalism, etc.). The Veilleurs have dissolved into Les Éveilleurs d’Espérance, more politically organized.

[38] Die Entzauberung der Welt is an expression that Max Weber borrows from Schiller. Within the Weberian framework, Christian monotheism, and particularly Protestantism (this being its accomplishment) is responsible for emptying the world of magical powers and supernatural forces.

[39] Guaino, Henri (born 1957): important public official and right-wing politician (Les Républicains). Adviser to President Sarkozy, he defends a line of sovereignty in the economy and nationnalist in the ideological plane, not without shades of racism.

[40] Houellebecq and Chantal Delsol are called the rioters to the rescue (Michea, 2011).

[41] IPC: Free Faculty of Philosophy and Psychology founded in 1969 (with the name of Institute of Comparative Philosophy). Institution of higher education that claims “Christian values”, closely linked to traditionalist groups and openly creationist academics.

[42] Collège supérieur de Lyon: Philosophy teaching institution for advanced students. The teachers are mostly right-wing Catholics, close to traditionalist circles (F.-X. Bellamy, T. Anatrella, J.-L. Marion, etc.). Its objective is a re-Christianization of the student elites in order to prepare them for the main competences of the public function.

[43] Jour de colère: Demonstration organized on January 26, 2014 by a group of far-right organizations, anti-tax, Catholics and traditionalists (Civitas, Alain Soral, Collectif Famille Marriage, etc.). The protest that began demanding the resignation of President Hollande then continued with anti-Semitic slogans and violent clashes with the forces of order.

[44] Durano, Marianne (born in 1991): philosopher, co-founder of Limite journal. She denounces contraception (“putting the woman’s body under chemical control”) in the name of integral ecology and “natural feminism”. Committed to the creation of Les Veilleurs, she defends a conservative vision of “Catholic natural law” and a communitarian approach to society.

[45] See Limite journal.

[46] The supposed “anthropological break” of same-sex marriage. Instead of calling attention to the fact that an extended definition of marriage is contrary to dogma, the church disguises its reasoning by removing it from the religious sphere.

[47] In Le Mai 68 conservateur (2014), the work that finally justifies the movement, Gaël Brutier gives credit to the idea of the church leading the defence of Western civilisation.

[48] Muray, Philippe (1945-2006): novelist and essayist, he is a critic of the moral principles that prevail in the modern world, such as anti-racism, the rejection of homophobia or sexism. An argument that the extreme right uses to denounce what is “politically correct”

[49] See Leloup, Battaglia and Laurent, 2019.

[50] Espérance Banlieues: a network of schools without a contract with the State, financed by Fondation pour l’École, which claims “traditional” values (salute to the flag, sometimes single-sex lessons, etc.). Many observers have pointed to the links of this network with right-wing parties and traditionalist Catholic movements.

[51] Coffinier, Anne (born 1974): educated at ENS, Sciences Po and ENA, she is an activist for an education outside of state control. Founder and president in 2004 of Fondation pour l’École and Créer son école. Foundation that was recognized as of public utility by F. Fillon, then Prime Minister. Close to the traditionalist circles of the Catholic Church (Famille chrétienne).

[52] De Guillebon, Jacques (born 1978): (b. 1978): journalist who writes for the right and far right press. Linked to Marion Maréchal since 2013, co-founder of Limite journal at the time of L’Incorrect.

[53] Causeur: online magazine created in 2007. The title is a parody of the feminist magazine Causette, with an extremely reactionary editorial line. Causeur was noted for a petition in defense of prostitution parodying the slogan of SOS Racisme (“Don’t touch my bitch”).

[54] Comité des Orwelliens:  Collective of “sovereignist” journalists founded in 2016 who, under the pretext of defending “freedom of expression”, promote the ideas of the neoconservative ultra-right in the media.

[55] Sévillia, Benoît: son of Jean Sévillia, he founded with his brother Nicolas the “Éveilleurs d’Espérance” of Versailles in 2015, a neo-conservative political movement that propagates reactionary ideas through digital media. Near Marion Maréchal.

[56] Grosjean, Abbé Pierre-Hervé (born in 1978): Catholic priest known for his blogging activity (Padreblog). He spreads a traditionalist and ultra-reactionary Catholic message to the younger generations through the use of modern media.

[57] Clavier, Paul (born in 1963): scholar, philosopher, long teacher at ENS. Specialist in “rational theology”. Defender of modernized creationism, a position that under the pretext of separating science and religion gives the last word to the latter.

[58] Brague, Rémi (born in 1947): scholar, philosopher, member of the Catholic Academy of France. Defender of a theological-political conception of society with an anti-secular and anti-republican vision.

[59] Marion, Jean-Luc (born in 1946): philosopher, scholar, academician, he defends the conception of a philosophy that is at the service of faith. He insists on the importance of religion in politics and on the fact that only the communion of believers is the foundation of society. He supported F. Fillon in 2017.

[60] ICHTUS (Cité catholique): organization founded in 1946 by Jean Ousset to spread a Catholic vision of society. He defends a traditionalist and anti-republican conception of Catholicism. Many political leaders attend their trainings (F.X. Bellamy, L. de la Rochère, Ch. Beigbeder). It is a very influential organization in the spheres of political power.

[61] Ousset, Jean (1914-1994): Maurrasian-leaning essayist and activist, Under the Vichy regime during World War II, Ousset became the chief of the research bureau of Jeune légion,. In 1946 he became one of the leaders of Cité catholique, a group that seeks to establish a Christian social and political order following the model of Salazar in Portugal or Franco in Spain. He approaches Opus Dei in the 1960s. When he died, two movements shared the ideological heritage: Ichtus and Civitas.

[62] Fraternité sacerdotale (Fondation) Saint-Pie X: founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1970, a society of traditionalist priests opposed to the Second Vatican Council. In 1975 it lost its recognition by the Vatican after the suspension of the bishop. La Fraternité has built a network of “counter-Church” with places of worship, priests, and specific schools. It defends an ultra-traditionalist vision of Catholicism, rejects interreligious dialogue and defends counterrevolutionary positions in politics.

[63] Civitas: Association created in 1999. Led by Alain Escada, a Belgian Catholic national politician. The movement had its heyday in protests against same-sex marriage. It is a traditionalist far-right, petainist and anti-immigrant Catholic lobby that has had very close ties with la Fraternité Saint-Pie-X until 2014. Since 2016, it is a political party that militates for the re-Christianization of France and Europe. It created the Coalition pour la vie et la famille, a far-right European anti-abortion and contraception group.


The Politics of Victimhood in Human Rights Violations: The Case of the Erased Residents of Slovenia

The article analyses the political practice of human rights in the case of the erased residents of Slovenia. The term “Erased” refers to the 25,671 individuals, ethnically mainly Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Roma, who were unlawfully erased from the Register of Permanent Residents of Slovenia by the government after the break-up of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992. The Erased were Yugoslav citizens who either did not apply for Slovenian citizenship or whose application was denied in the process of Slovenian state building. At that point, they were formally given the possibility to apply for a permanent residency permit, but in reality the newly adopted Aliens Act did not enable them to maintain their residential status. Hence, many of them became irregular foreigners and lost the political, social and economic rights they had once enjoyed.

The erasure was committed in secret and from 1992 to 1999 the general public was unaware about this event. It was only in 1999 after several unsuccessful legal complaints filed by the Erased that the Constitutional Court declared Article 81 of the Aliens Act unconstitutional and revealed the crime in its entirety. Paralysed by the futile political process of human rights reconciliation, eleven individuals filed a complaint against the Republic of Slovenia at the European Court of Human Rights in July 2006, which reached its final judgement in the case of Kurić and others vs. Republic of Slovenia (2012) and held unanimously that there had been a violation of the 8th, 13th and 14th Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. It took altogether twenty-one years for the political process of human rights redress to be concluded by establishing a compensation scheme for the Erased in 2013.

Close observation of the case of the Erased over the last decade has prompted significant questions about how human rights actually work in practice. Sadly, this case alludes to the fact that when faced with a situation wherein human rights are at risk, those responsible may not take immediate action nor offer the response needed to abolish the elements of human rights violation and abuse. This casts doubt on the efficiency of human rights, for if these rights which are supposed to represent the minimum standard of dignified life can be ignored for so long and with such particular lightness, even after the violation had been already legally established, we must then question and expose the factors which obstruct their implementation and diminish their potential for the individual and humanity.

This paper offers an analysis of the human rights practice in the case of the Erased focusing in particular on the political construction of their victimhood. By adopting the standpoint of anthropology of human rights, the article contextualizes the erasure and demonstrates how universal human rights were vernacularized (Engle Merry 2006), appropriated (Speed 2006, 2008) and reinterpreted within the Slovenian political setting in order to align with the values of the local community and the rules flowing from the existing political and legal order. The article begins with a brief introduction into the main ideas of the anthropology of human rights and continues by charting the context of the erasure. This is followed by an examination of the significance of legal residence in relation to human rights implementation. Thereafter I introduce the process through which the Erased became recognized as victims of a human rights violation and thus human right-bearing subjects. Finally, I examine the criteria for dividing “true” and “false” victims of the erasure revealing how human rights and victimhood construction operate within a political setting. In this manner, I expose elements of human rights discourse that are not seen as an obvious part but nevertheless a play major role when putting rights into practice.

An Anthropological Approach to Human Rights Practice

Human rights can be considered separately from the political structures by which they were formed and beyond the situations in which they are practised. If considered in a vacuum of legal documents, conventions and declarations regardless of their implementations, we note that human rights law generates a figure of rights built upon the human as its main subject and basic principles such as universality (Donnely 2003) human dignity (Carrozze 2013; Klein and Kretzmer 2002; Kateb 2011), human integrity (Rodley 2014) and equality (Clifford 2013; Moeckli, 2014). Human rights are often understood as legal categories in the instrumentalist sense as a tool for protection against the arbitrary power of the state, especially within the idea that the power of the state is not unlimited, that each individual has some autonomy and rights with which no authority can interfere (Osiatynski 2009: 1; Donnelly 2003).

Stemming from this, we can assert that human rights law constitutes a kind of culture in the sense that the discourse on rights is defined by particular characteristics—for example, a way of speaking, thinking, a construction of the self and sociality (Covan, Dembour and Wilson 2001; Riles 2006). Human rights law, however, is only one part of human rights articulations in a nearly endless array of human rights practices. Although I take human rights to be those rights enshrined in international human rights law, I also recognize the significance of the wider social and historical context which led to the emergence of human rights and their current practices. Therefore, I tend to rely on Goodale’s (2009: 378) description of rights as “a phrase that captures the constellations of philosophical, practical and phenomenological dimensions through which universal rights, rights believed to be entailed by common human nature, are enacted, debated, practised, violated, envisioned, and experienced”. This formulation is in line with anthropologists such as Cowan, Dembour and Wilson, (2001), Riles (2006) and Engle Merry (2006), and points to the position that human rights culture is best understood as a discourse with its own logic of operation, its own possibilities and limitations, which is not limited to law but also reflects and contributes to the understanding of perceptions about who we are, and what our social ideals and cultural values are.

In adopting an anthropological view of human rights it is important to recognize two relevant approaches that broaden the above position. The first approach is that of the ethnography of human rights, which examines how the global culture of human rights is subject to transformation by adopting and adjusting to the existing social values, power relations, and powerful structures, when used at the micro-level in a particular socio-cultural context (Cowan, Dembour and Wilson 2001; Engle Merry 2006, 2009; Goodale 2006, 2007, 2009) giving it a specific character that may depart from the official framework of universal human rights. At the heart of the focus here is the “translation” of the human rights principles into local situations by integrating local concerns into the interpretation and implementation of human rights. In line with Speed (2008) and her term “local appropriations”, and with Engle Merry (2006) and her concept of “vernacularization” of human rights, special emphasis is put on examining the processes of justification and actualization of human rights within the context of local settings and the never-ending negotiations between agency, culture, and power.

The second approach – critical anthropology of human rights – is complementary to ethnography, but tends to reflect critically on the concepts of society, culture, and human rights beyond their manifest declarative level to discover the power relations which reside within the human rights framework itself (Goodale 2009). Human rights law often operates with categories that at a first glance may appear to be self-evident and unproblematic. In this sense, recognition of the political element of the human rights regime is essential; as observed by Žižek, human rights as a supposedly “non” or “pre-political” phenomenon demonstrate “that every naturalization of some partial content as “non-political‘’ is a political gesture par excellence” (Žižek 2005: 125). Such an approach builds upon establishing a critical distance to human rights law in order to examine the political dimensions and power relations that reside within and reproduce a political world order that may finally not be entirely in line with the principles of human rights.

The category of a victim of a human rights violation is undoubtedly one place where a myriad of political dimensions and power relations intersect. If we take a closer look at how the figure of a victim is articulated in practice, either in international law or local contexts, we soon realize that victimhood is far from being clear-cut and unambiguous. Instead it points to the very issue of power relations by raising significant questions such as who counts as a victim of a human rights violation, what are the elements of the criterion for establishing victimhood, who determines the human rights redress and what constitutes the legitimacy of a human rights claim.

An anthropological approach to the question of victimhood construction draws attention to examining how political tensions which appear during the process are navigated in different ways. In this paper, I will demonstrate that the notion of territorial attachment, political loyalty and compliance with the legal order, readily entering the process of victimhood constitution and operating as an important element of interpretation and implementation of human rights despite having little or nothing to do with the idea of human rights as such. Following the standpoint of anthropology this should not surprise us, for if victimhood construction takes place in political discourse – the prime place for exhibiting nationalist rhetoric, pride, and self-glorification (van Dijk 1990) – it is expected that through the process of vernacularization, the values of human rights will be entangled with the values of the local political setting.

The theories of human rights which take humanity as their base obviously aim to create a connection of essentialism where it does not exist. We must agree with Foucault on his view that throughout history men have never ceased to construct themselves and their subjectivities in multiple series that never end and can “never bring us in the presence of something that would be “man.”” (Foucault 2002: 276). Human rights, as they exist in international law are rights constructed as a result of the knowledge and power relations of contemporary society and not something that exist beyond or independent of that knowledge and power. Victimhood is, in the same vein, a social construct, consisting of views, opinions, perceptions and social practices which define and demonstrate our understanding of humanity. The anthropological approach to victimhood construction is therefore not about examining the process of applying the language enshrined in international legal documents as a one-way process with an aim to resolve the cases of human rights violations. An analytical look beyond the essentialism offered by the rationality of human rights on the declarative level is required. Consequently, the task of analysing victimhood within human rights can therefore not be setting the interpretation to a level showing primarily how things should be – although this cannot be entirely avoided – but mainly to exposing how things are and why.



A Contextualization of the Erasure

The erasure from the register of permanent residents of the Republic of Slovenia in 1992 befell citizens of other republics of the former Yugoslavia who had not applied for Slovenian citizenship, whose application for citizenship had not been accepted by officials at the administrative units, and for those whose application for citizenship was rejected. Among the Erased, there were 20,311 adults and 5,360 minors, of whom 14,775 were men and 10,896 were women. They represent a heterogeneous group of people; some were internal immigrants from other republics of the former Yugoslavia who held common Yugoslav citizenship, while others were born and raised in Slovenia. Most had spent a significant part of their lives there and had developed personal, social, cultural, linguistic and economic bonds in their private and family lives.

The story of the erasure begins in the early 1990s’, after the separation from Yugoslavia.  One of the first documents of Slovene statehood, the Statement of Good Intent (1990), guaranteed, “the members of all other nations and nationalities their right to an overall cultural and linguistic development, and to all those who have their permanent residence in Slovenia that they can obtain Slovene citizenship, if they so desire”. On 25th June 1991, the Republic of Slovenia formally declared its independence and adopted legislation related to internal affairs, citizenship and sovereignty. In line with Article 40 of the Citizenship Act (1991) individuals who held citizenship from other republics of former Yugoslavia and who had permanent residency in the Republic of Slovenia were given the possibility to apply for Slovenian citizenship without additional requirements related to length of stay, language proficiency and material status or similar[1]. Under this article, approximately 171,000 out of 200,000 citizens of other Yugoslavian republics gained Slovenian citizenship (Zorn 2009).

Although the Slovenian government proved to be liberal in this regard, it had expressed exclusivist tendencies toward permanent residents of Slovenia from other Yugoslavian republics who did not wish to, could not, or were not eligible to obtain Slovenian citizenship. These individuals came under the rules of the Aliens Act (1991). They reasonably expected to be able to maintain their permanent residency status, however, Article 81 of the Aliens Act stipulated that a permanent residence permit could be granted if a person had been living in Slovenia for three years on the basis of a temporary residence permit. The decisive fact was that no such permits were needed for citizens of other republics of former Yugoslavia before the break-up of the country. This bureaucratic banality was used as an argument for taking away their status as permanent residents.

But the legal void of the Aliens Act was neither a mistake nor an unfortunate coincidence. The transcript of the 19th session of the then Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia from 1991 demonstrates that parliamentarians were conscious of the difficulties foreigners would face if the Aliens Act was passed without preliminary provisions for Yugoslav citizens which allowed them to keep their permanent residency. Member of Parliament, Metka Mencin, proposed an amendment to article 81 of the Aliens Act which could have prevented the erasure by suggesting that:

Citizens of the SFRY who are citizens of other republics and have not filed a request for citizenship of the Republic of Slovenia, but who do have a registered permanent residence or are employed in the Republic of Slovenia on the day this law takes effect, will be issued a permanent residence permit in the Republic of Slovenia.

(transcript of 19th Session of the Socio-political Chamber, 3rd June 1991).

On the 3rd of June 1991, they turned down the amendment to article 81 of the Aliens Act by two votes. On the 27th of February 1992, Minister of the Interior, Igor Bavčar, dispatched the Official Communication to local administrative units, instructing them to start “clearing up the records” and managing the status of all citizens of other republics of former Yugoslavia who did not apply for citizenship in the Republic of Slovenia by the stipulated deadline (MI, 1992a). Even though the Aliens Act did not provide a legal basis for such a procedure, 25,671 individuals were erased from the Register of Permanent Residents of Slovenia. These persons became known as the “Erased.” Some were deported, some left Slovenia of their own accord, others stayed on the basis of temporary work permits, while others had no choice but to live without legal residency status or even found themselves stateless. Three months after the erasure Bavčar, acquainted with the difficulties the Erased had been subjected to, argued in another Official Communication to the government that the previously existing rights of the individuals who had not applied for Slovenian citizenship or whose application had been rejected, needed to be ignored (MI, 1992b) as his standpoint was that they needed to be treated as foreigners entering Slovenia for the first time.



Legal Residence as a Condition of Human Rights

The Erased experienced a number of adverse consequences, such as the destruction of identity documents, loss of employment and health insurance, the impossibility of renewing identity documents or driving licences, difficulties in claiming pension rights, etc. Those who did not meet the conditions necessary to obtain a temporary residence permit were simply unable to overcome the legal vacuum caused by their irregular residency status and the consequences it had upon their lives. When attempting to arrange their status at the administrative units they faced innumerable formal and informal obstacles (see Lipovec Čebron and Zorn 2011). The situation in local courts was similar; between 1992 and 1999 the courts operated as a subsidiary of the state’s executive power. Even the Supreme Court, which accepted several complaints on behalf of the Erased, did not respond to the restrictive measures of the Ministry of the Interior but instead uncritically followed the laws which were clearly unfair (Kogovešek Šalamon 2011). The question arising in regard to this situation is why it was so difficult, even impossible, for the Erased to overcome the situation of absolute rightlessness (Arendt 1976) which rendered them superfluous and “out of place”.

The case of the Erased demonstrates that the legal residence given to an individual by a sovereign state on the basis of its sovereign right to decide who shall be admitted to its territory proves to be an important condition for full access to human rights. The status of (ir)regular foreigner remains as one of the most far-reaching “common-sense” inclusions/exclusions even when human rights are at stake. Kesby (2012: 108) notes that irregular or undocumented migration status is absent from the prohibited grounds of discrimination, which can be understood as a deliberate exclusion of irregular migrants from the position of the right-bearing subject. If a person does not hold permission to be in the territory of the state, the state is not deemed responsible for protecting and ensuring his or her rights. This is a stance which is clearly evident, for instance, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – that the obligation of the state is to respect and ensure rights to individuals who reside lawfully within its territory or are subject to its jurisdiction. The relation between the state’s responsibility to protect and the lawfulness of the individuals’ residence thus puts legal residence as the very source of a human rights claim, the source of the paramount of all human rights i.e. the “right to have rights” (Arendt 1976).

Legal residence in this sense is a crucial element in the practice of making and unmaking an individual a bearer of human rights. Many contemporary authors have been successful in exposing the complex relationships between states, sovereignty and human rights law (e.g. Arendt 1976; Kesby 2012; Agamben 2008; Ranciere 2004; Gündoğdu 2012, 2015; Vincent 2010) and have explained the difficulties arising from this as well as the consequences for the universal recognition of human rights. Although, as Gündoğdu (2015) notes, individuals within contemporary human rights law are not completely robbed of their legal personhood when ejected from the “the old trinity of state-people-territory,” – as notably believed by Arendt (1976) – they are nevertheless often deprived of their rights by the normalization of deportation of irregular foreigners, the illegalization of residency, or other forms of state population control. Kesby (2012) and Bosniak (2006) assert that the illegalization of residency constitutes internal borders so that even if a person may be physically present, they are to be socially and legally absent through the denial of key rights or formal and practical impediments.

As seen in the case of the Erased, legal residency provides a person with a legal personality, which is key to having the right to action and speech. Noted by Arendt (1976: 296) “the fundamental deprivation of human rights is manifested first and foremost in the deprivation of a place in the world which makes opinions significant and actions effective.” This is precisely what happened to the Erased – their lack of a legal residence permits in practice stripped away the significance of their arguments, which were considered void and worthless, having neither legitimacy nor importance. Hence the paradox, despite the fact that the human rights of the Erased were violated, they could not be recognized as victims of a violation as their claims were not considered legitimate. So it is that the construction of victimhood is inherently linked to the question regarding who has the right of a “speaking subject” (Foucault 1982)[2], and consequently to the concept of who is considered to be “in place” and who is “out of place” (Kesby 2012: 7). In other words, irregular residency constitutes a position of profound victimlessness, which can only be overcome by “gaining a voice” by the legalization of resident status. This means that a victim of human right violations can only be constituted in line with the rules of the recognition of the victim, as set out by sovereign nation states.

The exclusion of the Erased through the illegalization of their resident status points to the boundaries of humanity and human rights, which in this case overlap the boundaries of the state. Although human rights are often explained as moral entitlements people possess by virtue of common humanity, we can note here that having access to human rights is not linked to the question of being human. The idea of ​​humanity providing the right to have rights or the right of every individual to be a member of humanity is not provided by humanity itself. As the case of the Erased shows, the idea of humanity is beyond the current realm of international law, as the latter still operates on the basis of the decision-making of sovereign states (Arendt 2003: 379). The concept of universal all-encompassing humanity is thus under question as it is evident that humanity in reality is not sealed from the exclusionary practices which nation-states employ (Kesby 2012: 103).

It appears that the right of a nation-state to control the admission and residence of non-citizens rests above the humanity postulated in international human rights law. This works not only through border control and restricted access state territory but also through the construction of the illegality of persons who are territorially present, but nevertheless expelled from humanity (ibid). Having the right to stay in the territory of a country functions in this case as a vital entry point that endows the individual with “the right to have rights” and “the right to be heard” (Arendt 1976) and thus become the subject of human rights in a full sense. In the case of the Erased it can be seen that the principle of territorial sovereignty based on controlling the admission of foreigners to the territory of the state, justified as legitimate acts of sovereign statehood, ended up creating divisions within humanity itself.



Becoming a Right-Bearing Subject

In the two decades following the erasure, the Erased were represented in the media and especially in political discourse as disloyal and potentially dangerous; they were repeatedly represented as criminals, calculating and speculative individuals, national enemies and aggressors, even if there were no objective reasons for such a demonization, as they were mainly ordinary people living Slovenia. In the years following the erasure, journalists who wrote about the Erased in Mladina, a traditionally liberal weekly newspaper, were often confronted by questions from their editors, “Why do we need to write about this at all?”, “After all, they are the aggressors”, “Do you think this will increase the number of our copies?” (Mekina 2007). Devaluation and dehumanization excluded the Erased from political life, left them without the rights of a speaking subject and pushed them into a “bare life” (Agamben 1998) which additionally diminished the legitimacy of their human rights struggle.

Agamben (2008) recognized that the political order of the nation-state does not offer an autonomous space that would allow for the existence of a “mere” human; according to him, refugees or undocumented migrants can only gain full access to human rights either by deportation or naturalization i.e. inclusion into the polity of a state. Similarly, the claims of the Erased could only be recognized as legitimate by reintegration into the political community; it was 1999, seven years after the erasure, when the Constitutional Court established the unconstitutionality of Article 81 of the Aliens Act (CC 1999). This had a significant impact in that it provided legitimacy to the claims of the Erased, although only by including them into the national polity according to the rules of the nation-state – not as mere humans –could they enforce their human right claims. In its decision, the court ordered the government to resolve the inconsistency within a period of six months and demanded the abolition of unconstitutional conditions taking into account ‘the status that the Erased should have had but due to the improper legislation did not have’ (ibid).

As the court explained in its judgement, Article 81 of the Aliens Act was unconstitutional because it did not specify the conditions for obtaining a permanent residence permit after the expiration of the deadline for citizens of other republics of the former Yugoslavia. The Constitutional Court’s Decision had a decisive impact on transforming the Erased into rights-bearing subjects: (1) it revealed the actual extent of the erasure; (2) it created a potential core for developing a new subjectivity of the Erased as victims of human rights violations; (3) it formed a legitimate position from which the Erased could claim their rights; (4) it brought the issue to the political and parliamentarian agenda. The decision was the first document that clearly articulated the Erased from the perspective of constitutionality and also had a binding request to eliminate the injustice. What is more, it discontinued the silence and the political ignorance and in this respect succeeded in exceeding the impacts of the totalitarian elements of power previously shown in the Slovenian legal system (Kogovšek Šalamon 2011: 177).

Despite the ruling, the human rights struggle was far from over. Most politicians indeed emphasized their distance toward human rights violations, not only because these are generally against the law but also because this would most likely result in constructing their negative self-presentation. What they failed to do, however, was to adopt genuine human rights positions. What could be traced in the case of the Erased was that in general, politicians acted humanely and in a tolerant manner towards those among the Erased whom they perceived as victims of rights violations, but at the same time strongly defended the national interests indicating how conflicting ideologies of cosmopolitan humanitarianism and nationalism intertwine. The political debates that followed demonstrated the classical ‘firm, but fair’ position (van Dijk 1993), where the fairness served as a cosmopolitan disguise intended to avoid impressions or accusations of nationalism, whereas the firmness was the actual aim being pursued from their standpoint. Within the political setting of the human rights redress of the Erased, we were actually faced with simultaneous support toward human rights values, on the one hand, and the denial of human rights claims to a particular group within the Erased on the other hand.

In this respect, it is not important to establish whether individual politicians were xenophobic and intolerant toward the Erased, but to focus on the systematic flaws, elements in the processes, activities, and cognitions involved in the construction of victimhood. For instance, politicians applied various means to adjust the values of human rights, discredited the human rights holders and justified the crime of erasure with relativization. As highlighted by Jalušič (2008: 97), dealing with mass human rights violation involves several approaches and one of them, and also the most problematic one, is to explain the violent crime “through “contextualization” and their apologia – sometimes even in the form of an open justification of what has been done which can serve to legitimize further exclusion”. Indeed, there was an obvious attempt to represent the erasure as an administrative injustice which happened unintentionally during the state-building process, which also implied the reluctance of Slovenian political actors to determine objective or subjective responsibility for the violation of human rights.

Another way of dealing with mass violation of human rights, Jalušič notes (ibid), involves denial and silence about the criminal past and attempts to exculpate oneself using negative propaganda, powerlessness, and nationalist politicians as a pretext. As typified by Cohen (2007) in relation to other atrocities and human suffering, the case of the Erased likewise exhibited various states of denial such as outright denial (the erasure did not happen), discrediting (they were aggressors, criminals, and speculators), renaming (they were not erased but transferred from one register to another), and justification (they did not wish to reside in Slovenia anyhow). In this way, the politicians simultaneously denied the meaning of the erasure, claimed that it happened independently of their will and justified it in nationalistic terms. Politicians invented a particular discourse in relation to the Erased that was highly coded, full of references to political loyalty, territorial attachments, right and wrong, good and bad, and the responsibility to protect the state against its opponents.

The shift in recognition of the Erased as victims of a human rights violation has been to a large extent a result of the Constitutional Court’s decision from 1999 as well the critical approach of academics and legal experts, however, it turned out that the fundamental problem of the Erased was that the issue was being solved on the political and not the legal level. The political process of the recognition of the human rights violation following the constitutional court decision indeed demonstrated how much human rights are not just a matter of law, but are to a great extent dependent on the will found within a political setting where the battle to determine the final interpretation of human rights takes place. To grasp this troublesome development, we can examine the key milestones in the political process of human rights reconciliation.

In line with the constitutional court decision from 1999, the first political initiative to resolve the status of the Erased occurred the same year when the government filed the Act Regulating the Legal Status of Citizens of Former Yugoslavia Living in the Republic of Slovenia (the Status Regulation Act 1999). In 2000, the Constitutional Court ruled that this act was unconstitutional as it lay down stricter conditions for obtaining a permanent residence than those laid down in the Aliens Act of 1991 (CC 2000) in 2003, when it declared the unconstitutionality of the Status Regulation Act because it recognized the Erased’s residence only from the date of the re-application for residency and not from the date of erasure (CC 2003). The constitutional ruling returned the Erased to the parliamentary agenda debates in 2003 when the government attempted to pass two acts. One was adopted but later rejected in 2004 in a public referendum, while the legislative procedure of the other was suspended in 2004 due to a right-wing government. Under the rule of this government, i.e. from 2004 to 2008, all procedures for granting residence permits to the Erased on the basis of the decision of the Constitutional Court in 2003 was suspended. After the change of government in 2008, the Status Regulation Act from 1999 was finally amended and adopted in 2010. In 2012 the European Court of Human Rights (2012) delivered its final judgement in the case of Kurić and others vs. Republic of Slovenia. The Grand Chamber unanimously held that there had been a violation of the 8th, 13th and 14th Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered the Slovenian government to set up an ad hoc domestic compensation scheme within one year of the final judgement. Following a six-month delay, the Slovenian government passed The Act on Restitution of Damage for Persons who were erased from the Register of Permanent Population (the Restitution Act 2013).

As evident from the brief sketch, becoming a rights-bearing subject may not be achieved immediately after the legitimacy of the rights claim is constituted in legal terms. It points to the fact that the violation of a right, even after it has been recognized by the court, does not provide an immediate solution to the problem. The whole process indicates that human rights are not simply a question of legal recognition, but more than that, a political decision of those in power to decide about whom human rights belong to and under which conditions. This brings us immediately to the question of victimhood construction along with an examination of who counts as a victim of a human rights violation and what constitutes the legitimacy of the human rights claim. As we shall see in the next section, the political setting and its approach to human rights violations may be deemed particularly ineffective, since it does not necessarily stem from human rights law and human dignity but builds upon a particular political interest justified outside human rights discourse.



Construction of Victimhood of the Human Rights Violation

The Constitutional Court as well as the European Court of Human Rights recognized the erasure per se as a human rights violation, essentially applying to all individuals affected. The Slovenian government, however, did not recognize every erased person as a victim. On the contrary, during the reconciliation process, members of parliament were constantly “sifting the wheat from the chaff” by establishing differences between the “true” and the “false” victims of the erasure. Their debates had been generally rather technical in the sense that they discussed what the precise rules were, the conditions and other measures which needed to be applied so that only the “most loyal” among the Erased could obtain a residence permit and essentially, to cut down the number of individuals eligible to claim compensation for suffering and loss of rights. At the same time, and what is especially worrying, the basic notions of human rights discourse such as human dignity and human equality as well as the inalienability and universality of the rights of the Erased were more or less absent from the process of victimhood construction. Instead the political construction of victimhood was intersected with references to political loyalty, legal compliance and territorial attachment.

Victimhood through Territorial Attachment

In the case of the Erased, territorial attachment turned out to be one of the prime features of the process of the victimhood construction. Article 1 of the Status Regulation Act determined that the Erased “who were registered as permanent residents in the territory of the Republic of Slovenia on 23 December 1990 and are actually resident in the Republic of Slovenia, and foreigners who were actually resident in the Republic of Slovenia on 25 June 1991 and have been living there continuously ever since, shall be issued with a permanent residence permit” (The Status Regulation Act, Article 1 2010).

The Act also stipulated that the condition of actual and uninterrupted residence was likewise met if the person left the Republic of Slovenia as a consequence of erasure from the Register of Permanent Residents and if the person left the Republic of Slovenia because he or she could not acquire a residence permit in the Republic of Slovenia owing to non-fulfilment of the relevant conditions and the application for a permit was rejected or dismissed or the procedure was terminated (The Status Regulation Act, Article 1č 2010).

Following this, an erased person who had left Slovenia and had not attempted to return did not meet the conditions for obtaining their lost permanent residence and consequently could not be counted as a victim of a human rights violation. Such a condition, entirely incompatible with the principle of universal human rights, created a differentiation within the victims of the erasure. The logic behind this is that the human rights of individuals who had emigrated from Slovenia after the erasure were not violated since they did not wish to live in Slovenia anyhow, which is evident from the following transcript:

Everybody who expressed some kind of interest to live in Slovenia in the period of ten years after they left Slovenia and those who regardless of the erasure remained living in Slovenia have the opportunity to arrange their status as permanent residents

[…] I believe the selection of rightful claimants has been thoughtfully determined. […] we have individualized our approach so that the eligibility of claimants depends on the fact that they have tried to arrange residential status, that is to say, they have expressed interest. Those who have not expressed any interest, those who have left Slovenia and have not attempted to return and to live in Slovenia, those have not suffered a loss and it would be absurd to give them financial compensation.

(Transcript of 17th parliamentary session, 24 September 2013)

Such an argument is not only inconsistent with the basic orientations of human rights law but also shows a lack of understanding and knowledge about the life situations of the Erased; a considerable part of those in question had not actually and uninterruptedly resided in Slovenia because in many cases, this was impossible owing to the erasure (Kogovšek Šalamon, 2007). From the view of the erasure itself, it is absolutely absurd to require from the Erased that they return and live in Slovenia as it was precisely because they were erased that they did not meet the conditions to do so. In other words, by this condition the government actually required them to do something against the law, i.e. to return to Slovenia illegally (Krivic 2013). By this measure the government denied the Erased who had left Slovenia their right to be heard before any action concerning the violation of their rights was taken. In this manner, they were stripped of the possibility to explain their individual circumstances as well as the reasons for leaving Slovenia as if the actual impact of the erasure on their lives was a priori irrelevant.

In the same way the compensation scheme, which was set by the government by adopting The Restitution Act in accordance with the final judgement of the Grand Chamber of European Court of Human Rights, admitted compensation exclusively to individuals who had put at least some effort into settling their status in Slovenia, or in the words of a member of parliament:

Speculators, meaning those who have left the country and never cared, never wished to come back to Slovenian territory, cannot just appear and demand some kind of compensation. This [the compensation] is meant for the people who made an effort, who endeavoured to arrange their statuses.

(Transcript of 17th parliamentary session, 24 September 2013)

On the basis of this argument approximately 13,000 of the erased individuals who had left Slovenia were not eligible to regain their status or be indemnified for the loss and damages inflicted upon them by the erasure. From the human rights point of view, however, whether an individual has lived in Slovenia, left, or attempted to return is of no significance. It does not change the fact that by erasing them from the register of permanent residence the state had robbed these people of their human rights. The members of parliament now tried to put forward an interpretation which translated as the rights of those who had left Slovenia was not really violated as they wanted to leave anyhow.

Such an explanation truly modifies and denies the real meaning of the erasure and consequently also modifies the meaning of human rights. The fact remains that the erasure inflicted a violation of human rights no matter if the Erased left Slovenia afterwards and had not attempted to return. But the case of the Erased demonstrates what happened after the violation of rights, that in this case, the individual place of residence has the ability to confirm or deny the violation itself. What one must understand in this regard is that territorial residence here does not merely operate as geographical location, but primarily as an objective signifier of belonging, attachment and membership that at the same time serves to indicate loyalty to the values of the Slovene nation state. For this reason, introducing the territorial dimension into victimhood construction, which appeared as a result of the power of the nationalist discourse, must be understood in the sense that the territorial identity of the Erased was also considered a way of expressing loyalty and defining group membership. In the last instance, this means that the victims of the erasure could only be the ones who proved to be those most loyal through territorial attachment.

Territory has another important political aspect from the view of human rights victimhood construction. As Elden (2013) convincingly proposes, territory cannot be understood as a part of a land in the simple political-economic sense of rights of use, appropriation, and possession attached to a place. Territory can be thought of as the extension of the state’s power or as a mechanism though which state power is exercised. The practice of human rights is clearly not particularly successful in diminishing the idea of the territory in regard to exercising state power. To be in the territory is to be subject to sovereignty and to be subject to sovereignty is to be recognized as entitled to human rights protection. One is subject to sovereignty while in the territory and not beyond (Elden 2013: 329). In other words, the state legitimizes itself as the supreme legal institution in charge of the protection of all inhabitants in its territory, regardless of their nationality, which gives rise to problematic distinctions between those in the territory and those who are outside it, even when it comes to the question of who is entitled to rights (Gündoğdu 2015: 43). In the same vein, Kesby (2012: 110) highlights that the territorial border is distinctive in that it eclipses the question of one’s humanity in that it bestows human rights obligations exclusively to those under its jurisdiction in a territorial sense, so that only those physically present in the territory trigger a state obligation to protect their human rights. The result is that the Erased who left Slovenia and never tried to return did not appear to the state as a ‘human’ to whom human rights obligations were owed, despite the fact that they were unlawfully erased from the Register of permanent residents and as a result of that erasure, their human rights were violated.



Victimhood through Deviancy and Imprisonment

Another problematic condition for settling the status of the Erased was the provision of the Status Regulation Acts determining that a residency permit could not be granted to anyone among the Erased who had been convicted of an offence resulting in imprisonment of at least three years or sentenced to more than one term of imprisonment with a total length of more than five years (Status Regulation Act, Article 3 2010). There is no official data regarding the numbers of the Erased who would be denied permanent residency on the basis of the above provisions, but it can be assumed that the number is very low or even zero. For this reason in particular it is thought-provoking that such a provision exists despite the fact that in reality there were not many cases, if any, to which they could have been referring. The restrictions on human rights protection on the ground of deviancy are indeed illustrative of the connotative content of the victim figure; my concern here, however, is also related to the role of international law in overcoming exclusions on the basis of deviancy.

What is most important is this regard is that international human rights law does not interfere with the right of the sovereign state to control the entry of aliens into its territory nor to set the rules of their residence and expulsion. The role of human rights law in this regard remains tenuous as it considers the matters of citizenship and the residence of foreigners to be within domestic jurisdictions insofar as they are consistent with international conventions and customary international law (Ersboll 2007: 253) i.e. as long as the state action is not arbitrary, discriminatory or has statelessness as a result. It has to be noted that the same reasons – imprisonment of three years or a total imprisonment length of more than five years – were listed in the Aliens Act from 1991 as the reason for possible renouncing permanent residence to a foreigner (Aliens Act, article 24 1991); from this aspect it cannot be claimed that the provisions related to the Erased are arbitrary or discriminatory.

The implicit message of the exclusion of prisoners from the victimhood construction of the Erased therefore is that they could lose their permanent residency in any case no matter if the violation of their human rights was recognized. That may be true, however, to deny erasure as a violation of human rights in the case of former prisoners actually means to deny the true meaning of the erasure – as an act of violation of human rights law per se. Such provisions namely make a statement that among the Erased, some do not deserve to be recognized as victims of a human rights violation and that their human dignity and equality may perhaps be disregarded when it comes to recognition of their right claims. The problem lies in that it is not the state that appears to be a “savage” who violated human rights, but the former prisoners who appear to be “savages” not worthy enough to have their rights fully respected.

We may turn to the question of why is it reasonable to restrict the human rights of prisoners, if these are the rights that everybody is supposed to be entitled to on the basis of being human, and why such discrimination against prisoners is not deemed discrimination but as a reasonable restriction? The main point of the criticism here is the automatic denial of human rights victimhood on the basis of deviancy alone. Recognition of human rights is not a privilege and also a convicted prisoner remains the bearer of human rights (Kesby 2012: 72). Within this relationship and these exclusions, we find a profound expression of the existing values of modern societies we come across when dealing with prisoners. Kesby (2012: 71) illustratively depicts prisoners as society’s outcasts, forcing us to reflect whether human rights are a privilege to be denied to those who are deviant and undeserving and thus not worthy of being placed inside a political community. Although everybody is considered a bearer of human rights which do not depend upon individual moral worthiness, the fact of being imprisoned, especially in the case of a grave offence, reveals “the “natural man” beneath, says Kebsy (2012: 78) by lifting the veil of formal equality stemming from humanity, the distinctions between deviant and law-abiding individuals come to the front.

The distinction between victims of human rights violations justified in terms of deviancy is used to define the preferred human rights bearers and to outcast those deemed unworthy. In the case of the Erased this can be seen as the arrogance of power over morality, especially from the point of view that it was the state which broke the law and violated human rights in the first place, and that the same state then denied the recognition of those human rights violations and once more acted against the idea of the universal human rights. The civilizing mission comes to the fore here, which strips away the full humanity and dignity of prisoners who are depicted as “savages” and defined as undesired, unwelcome, and dangerous and as such clearly impossible to be considered victims of human rights violations as they are themselves represented as the negation of humanity.



Victimhood through Political Loyalty

The case of the Erased revealed another significant element within the process of victimhood construction, i.e. political loyalty. The Status Regulation Act determined that the status of a permanent resident could not be returned to individuals who had been convicted of an offence directed against the Republic of Slovenia, irrespective of where the crime was committed (Status Regulation Act 2010). While loyalty does not appear to be in any way a factor of respecting human rights – as already explained human rights are not something that is either earned or can be lost – here it played a crucial role in the construction of victimhood in the case of the Erased. Although the provisions related to the actions against the sovereignty of Slovenia have no real significance in actual life, since no individuals were convicted of such criminal acts, the process of victimhood construction nevertheless shows what society generally understands as legitimate reasons for denying one’s human rights.

The Status Regulation Act namely denied access to permanent residency to an erased person if he or she was, “after 25 June 1991, convicted of an offence under the 15th or 16th chapter of the Criminal Code of SFRY, directed against the Republic of Slovenia […], irrespective of where the crime was committed; […] or convicted of an offence under the 33rd, 34th or 35th chapter of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Slovenia” (Status Regulation Act, 2010). The 33rd, 34th  and 35th chapters of the Criminal Code, include acts such as damage to commercial buildings, means of transport and equipment and public facilities in order to undermine the constitutional regime or security of the Republic of Slovenia; invasion of the territory of the Republic of Slovenia for infringement of its territorial integrity; collection of confidential military, economic or official information for foreign countries; failure to respond to the call to  fulfil defence duties when an emergency or state of war had been declared; careless handling of weapons, which can lead to damage or destruction; recruitment for foreign armies, etc. (Criminal Code 2008). I do not claim that the recognition of human rights has no restrictions whatsoever nor that freedom of action should not be limited by the human rights of other people, but what stems from the above list is that human rights are to be denied to those who have committed an act against the sovereignty of a particular state. The irony of this relationship is that human rights do not operate as a protection of the individual against the state but as protection of the state against the individuals.

The exclusion of the Erased as legitimate human rights bearers was thus targeted at those individuals who did not prove to be “loyal” residents, did not share “our” values and acted against the Republic of Slovenia. Moreover, denying human rights based on the above described arguments essentially means denying human rights on the basis of a person’s political opinion, especially in the context of the Yugoslavian break-up and related political confrontations. Such exclusion therefore casts doubt on the recognition of political opinion as a category within the prohibited grounds of discrimination, particularly if one’s political opinion opposes the sovereignty of a particular state. A contradiction of this kind can never be part of human rights and morality; denying human rights to political opponents does not contribute to greater respect for human rights, as Douzinas (2000: 141) says “in these circumstances, the righteous commit the crime they set out to prevent” i.e. they violate human rights in the name of preventing the human rights violation. But the approach applying the distinctions in regard to political loyalty of the Erased was, in fact, the only acceptable approach for parliamentarians. Recognition of all the Erased, including the “disloyal” ones, as victims of human rights violations would in their opinion mean high treason and betrayal of the Slovene national community as well as denial of the values of Slovene statehood and independence. The members of the parliament were essentially saying that:

The individuals, who suffered injustice due to the loss of resident status, these [injustices] will be abolished […] in a selective style and holds guarantees that those, who acted against the interests of the Republic of Slovenia in an unlawful mode and threaten the highest values, acknowledged by the civilized world, those will not be able to regain the status under provisions of this [Status Regulation] act.

 (Transcript of 30th parliamentary session, 28 October 2003)

We do not deny the right to enforce his or her rights deriving from Constitutional Court Decision, of course, selectively, in a manner, which will clearly examine what these people did in 1991, when the country bled/…/all of them who operated against the country, this [recognition of their rights] needs to be prevented.

 (Transcript of 2nd parliamentary session, 29 January 2009)

The discourse was evidently not merely ideological but messianic: ultimately, the exclusion of disloyal individuals from the victimhood of the erasure was a defence of the “civilized world”. Such exclusion may be one of the most “common sense” exclusions throughout the history of the modern nation-state; however, it is incompatible with the idea of human rights. By using such an approach, politicians acted against the universality and inalienability of human rights and the equality of the Erased. Instead, the legal provisions subordinated their just claims to the operation of the state, exemplifying the dominant logic of the state’s supremacy. Such conditions, useful in terms of distinguishing between loyal and disloyal individuals, point to the weakness of the idea of human rights, especially because they apply a selective approach where the recognition of human rights is subordinated to the logic of the state. Humanity as the basis for inalienable rights was replaced by a community of people loyal to the legal system and the sovereign power of the state. An analogy may be drawn from Kesby’s (2012) explanation in regard to disenfranchised prisoners that individuals may be denied rights because they have assaulted the special relationship of rights and duties which exist between a community and its citizens. This illustrates the dominant logic according to which the sovereignty of the state operates contrary to the universality of human rights, thereby showing that human rights, which are supposed to be the cornerstone of the rule of law, are actually protected only when a person proves to be a good citizen.




Human rights are thought to be the rights protecting individuals against the excess power of the modern nation state, obviously pointing to the fact that one of the problems in this regard is the nation-state itself. Yet, paradoxically, observes Vincent (2010: 106), if human rights are to be successful they require states to bring them into practice and enforce them. What can be noticed in relation to this is precisely that the dependency of human rights upon the state, i.e. that the implementation of human rights is so intensely intertwined within the state which provides the space and infrastructure for their implementation, that at times human rights operate through bypassing the considerations related to humanity, dignity and equality, turning to notions that have little to do with human rights, such as territorial attachment, political loyalty and compliance with legal order.

The case of the Erased proved the reason the State functions as a resilient argument for adjusting the values of international law, modifying the claims for legitimacy and altering the morality of human rights. By focusing less on the equality of individuals and more on the State as an end in its own right, politicians covertly implied that individuals matter only insofar that they prove to be somehow relevant for a reinforcement of state power. In this sense, the political discourse of victimhood construction manifestly contributed to the particularity of the state-centrism prevailing over human rights and confirmed the political logic of human rights discourses, which are often expressed in exclusionary practices that deny full participation to those who fail to support the interests of the dominant group (Evans 2005).

As shown at the beginning of the paper, the construction of victimhood is inherently linked to the question of a right-bearing subject and consequently to the conceptions of who is considered to be “in place” and who is “out of place” (Kesby 2012: 7). A nation-state constitutes a mode of exclusion manifesting through a differentiation between legal and irregular residents which is at the same time also an exclusion from the position of a legitimate human rights bearer. Irregular residency constitutes a position of complete victimlessness, which can only be overcome through legalization of resident status. It is equally important to note the contradiction between human rights recognition and practices of exclusions in the process of victimhood construction which are justified by diminishing the moral capacities of individuals who were subjected to a violation. Although human rights are not rights which are to be “deserved with proper behaviour”, the case of the Erased proves that this might be the case in practice.

Mutua (2001: 228-9) explains that the typical image of a victim in human rights discourse is founded on a helpless and innocent subject, abused by the state, its agents or pursuant to an offensive cultural or political practice. Distinguishing characteristics of the victim are powerlessness and inability to defend oneself against the state. The victims are usually represented as nameless, desperate and pitiful individuals, many of them poor and uneducated. This image corresponds with the part of the Erased who lived in Slovenia and tried to retrieve their permanent residence but were unsuccessful, who suffered due to their life without rights, who were violently separated from their families or who for many years hopelessly wished to return to Slovenia. In this manner victimhood could not be recognized to anyone who proved to be convicted, imprisoned or who had been deemed politically disloyal or who had acted against the sovereignty of the Republic of Slovenia, as such a person could not be acknowledged as a helpless suffering subject but instead seen as an immoral individual. From this aspect, it turns out that the construction of victimhood in the case of the Erased ironically demonstrates not the protection of the individual against the state but the protection of the state against the individuals.

The idea of the nation-state overruled the idea of universal human rights which was evident in the fact that members of parliament adopted legislation that stipulated criteria for selectively admitting violations of international law. The problematic provisions of the Status Regulation Act and The Restitution Act set the criteria for dividing legitimate and illegitimate victims of the erasure and thus lost the opportunity to develop a genuine discourse on human rights by introducing the dichotomy between the “real” and “false” victims of the erasure. The construction of the victim in the case of the Erased did not stem from the basis of human nature or the dignity human equality. As seen, the victimhood evolved around the notions linked to the relationship between the individual and the state, especially to a person’s obedience to the state’s legal and political order, avoidance of deviancy, loyalty and territorial attachment.

This whole process of victimhood construction demonstrates how parameters which are in fact antagonistic to the idea of human rights play an important role in the implementation and interpretation of the right on a micro-level. Local concerns shaped and determined the ways in which universal rights were implemented, resisted and transformed, while the specificities of particular struggles demonstrated the tangible limitations of the global human rights law in a local context. The discrepancies between universality of human rights and the selectivity of the nationalist state-centric logic revealed the fact that even if everybody should enjoy the same human rights, the case of the Erased demonstrates that in contemporary societies, particular groups or individuals are viewed as victims only with great difficulty. Even those parliamentarians who argued for protection of the human rights of the Erased did not recognize the difficulties and inconsistencies that the selective approach brings in terms of the principle of universality. What is particularly intriguing is that such an implementation of human rights does not undermine the concept of those rights itself but transforms their interpretation by introducing the values of state sovereignty into the human rights idea.

Such a mode is problematic as it employs the power of the state-centric discourse to modify the meaning of human rights according to its own values; it turns and transforms the ‘universal’ into the ‘particular’, without denying the universality of human rights so that in the end, the final impression is that justice has been done and human rights have been fully respected. This approach, hidden behind the mask of human rights as a discourse that follows the norms and values of human rights law, leaves little or no space for an effective political human rights struggle. The conclusion then brings us to the question whether the victims of the erasure in fact reclaimed their human rights – as they actually were given rights which could not be justified on the basis of their humanity, equality and dignity. In this sense Arendt (1979: 293) appears to be particularly illuminative in her thought-provoking statement that “although everyone seems to agree that the plight of these people consists precisely in their loss of the Rights of Man, no one seems to know which rights they lost when they lost these human rights.”



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1 This provision was applicable to citizens of other Yugoslav republics (Serbs, Croatians, Macedonians, Bosnians, and Montenegrins) who held permanent residency in Slovenia on 23rd December 1990 i.e. the Plebiscite Day, when the people voted for an independent state.

2 Foucault (1982: 52) says in his lecture that “in society like ours, the procedure of exclusion are well known. […] We know quite well that we do not have the right to say everything, that we cannot speak of just anything in any circumstances whatever, and tht not everyone has the right to speak of anything whatever.

Philip J. Anderson and Dag Blanck (eds.), Norwegians and Swedes in the United States: Friends and Neighbors (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012)

The collection is divided into four distinct sections—Context, Culture, Conflict and Community—each undertaking a thorough examination of the relationships and interactions between the largest immigration populations from Scandinavian to the United States. As the subheadings suggest, a comprehensive study of the relationship between Norwegians and Swedes in the United States cannot be sustained on comparison alone. Indeed, as Donna R. Gabaccia outlines in the very useful foreword to the book, the narrative of this relationship continues to develop new strains due in part to increasing attention to “inter-ethnic perspectives” concerning American immigration history in general and Scandinavian interactions in particular. It is the developing story of Scandinavian “inter-ethnic perspectives” that the collection aims to uncover and narrate and as a whole this aim is successful. As Gabaccia rightly points out, however, the collection downplays the “importance of contention” between the two groups, by choosing to highlight “the Americanization that brought both groups of immigrates closer to each other.”


The first section on context contains two substantial introductory chapters: “Friends and Neighbors? Patterns of Norwegian-Swedish Interaction in the United States” by co-editor Dag Blanck and “Norwegians and Swedes in America: Some Comparisons” by H. Arnold Barton. The opening chapters strive to broadly describe the identities of each group and the patterns of interactions between them. Blanck develops a useful chronology for grappling with the complex issue, dividing recognizable patterns of interaction into three periods. Blanck emphasizes that although there has yet to be a systematic and comprehensive study of the history of the Scandinavians in the United States, certain patterns emerge from the studies that do exist. When division did occur between Norwegian and Swedish immigrants it was along religious lines, more so than national ones. In matters of the heart, however, Norwegians and Swedes found each other the most desirable and within the political sphere they were each others’ closest allies. Barton’s comparative study of the two groups is admittedly more speculative in nature, but no less productive in results by focusing on the differences between the groups. Some of Barton’s findings are less surprising than others. That the Norwegians were the more nationalist of the two immigrant groups makes sense in term of Norway’s political development over the nineteenth century ending with its independence in 1905. That Norwegian Americans wrote more novels than Swedes was unexpected. As was the conclusion that Swedish Americans generally outpaced their Scandinavian neighbors in the sciences and technology, the visual arts and business. As Barton states, differences such as those I have pointed out are compelling and open new lines of investigation for further research. How to assess why these differences occurred, however, is not as easy or apparent.


The second section examines the central position that diverse aspects of culture held in the Norwegian and Swedish immigrant experience. The following three chapters stood out: Odd S. Lovoll’s opening chapter, “Preserving a Cultural Heritage Across Boundaries: A Comparative Perspective on Riksföreningen Sverigekontakt and the Nordmanns-Forbundet” skillfully depicts how even as societies were started in both Norway and Sweden to promote home colonization, the two societies mentioned in the title were founded to cope with expanding populations outside the nation state. Lovoll’s explanation of how each society aimed to create a notion of worldwide nationality founded on the promotion of cultural retention within emigrant populations is thought provoking, particularly regarding the underlying conservative politics at its core, a point I would have liked to see more thoroughly developed. In “Freedom, Identity, and Double Perspectives: Representations of the Migrant Experience in the Novels of Vilhelm Moberg and O.E. Rølvaag,” Ingeborg Kongslien illustrates that although each author penned works of historical fiction and not historical accounts per se, due to the authors’ personal experiences the novels nevertheless provide ample and reliable insights into Scandinavian emigration, including those historical, psychological, sociological and existential. James P. Leary’s “Är Du Svenske?”–”Norsk! Norsk!”: Folk Humor and Cultural Difference in Scandinavian America” is the highlight of the section as it is rich with familiar jokes that become compelling examples of the development of cultural difference between Norwegian and Swedish Americans. Leary convincingly maps how “Scandihoovian” humor is more about negotiating relationships between Norwegians and Swedes in the United States than about any actual reference to the homeland. Indeed, he illustrates that what often appears as insider teasing is in reality a way to communicate cultural difference to the wider, and often undiscerning, American public.


The third section of the collection identifies areas where conflict arose between the Scandinavian immigrant groups. The first two chapters examine how Norwegian independence affected relationships between Norwegian and Swedish Americans, while the second two chapters scrutinize the complex divides, factions and mergers within the varying denominations of the Lutheran Church in the United States. Jørn Brøndal’s “We are Norwegians and Swedes Now, Not Scandinavians”: The Impact of Norwegian Independence on Scandinavian American Politics in the Midwest” and Ulf Jonas Björk’s “An End to Brotherhood?” Swedes and Norwegians in America Discuss the 1905 Union Dissolution” are complimentary chapters that detail the ramifications of Norway’s independence on political and social alignments between Norwegian and Swedish Americans. The conclusions of both chapters reflect back to my earlier statement concerning the collection overall: conflicts were limited and those that arose were short-lived. As each chapter suggests, pan-Scandinavianism seems to have post- dated any animosity, albeit at varying levels across time and place. Kurt W. Peterson’s “A Question of Conscious: Minnesota’s Norwegian American Lutherans and the Teaching of Evolution” is the stand out piece of the collection. Peterson targets the imperative position that Norwegian American Lutherans held in early twentieth century debates concerning the status of evolution in public schools and by doing so, places current discourse on the subject into a new, and nuanced historical context. The chapter is filled with—what was for me at least—compelling insight into how Lutheran history supported the separation of church and state, thus ultimately rendering null the scheme to legislate the exclusion of evolution in Minnesota’s public schools and universities. Peterson asserts that, “many Lutherans wanted nothing to do with [legislation] because they wanted nothing to do with the Reformed tradition. Their fight was not simply over the teaching of evolution; for them, the heart of their Lutheran theological heritage was at stake.” Equally compelling is the way in which Peterson details the close ideological ties between Norwegian American Lutheranism and the broader Evangelical movement.


The closing section of the collection is a fitting bookend to a study that casts a wide net as it examines both distinct features and broad trends within the Norwegian and Swedish American community. That this section is the largest reinforces the collection’s unifying intentions. Each chapter features a case study of a specific cluster of Norwegian and Swedish immigrants within the United States. The section is rich with description and details, demographics and specifics, whether investigating the nontraditional immigrant position held by many Norwegian and Swedish engineers and architects, as in Per-Olof Grönberg’s contribution, or chronicling the narrative of an insulated Scandinavian enclave on the shores of Lake Superior, as in Philip J. Anderson’s piece. All but one chapter, however, focuses on Scandinavian communities in the Midwest. The exception being Jennifer Eastman Atterbery’s “Scandinavian’s in the Rocky Mountain West: Pragmatic and Programmatic.” Atterbery’s very interesting examination of Scandinavian settlements in Montana and LDS Utah (touching only briefly on California) broadens the scope of what is an otherwise very regional-specific section. In fact, the exclusion of the West is one of the shortcomings of the collection as a whole and I would have liked the same rigorous scholarship that pervades the collection applied to Norwegian and Swedish communities in California, Oregon and Washington, or for that matter, to those in New York and the East. One of the most outstanding features in this section is the way in which personal narrative and family history interjects into large-scale and oftentimes characterless demographic statistics. In more than one instance, particularly in Byron J. Nordstrom’s “Norwegians and Swedes in Willmar, Minnesota, in the Early Twentieth Century,” general and sweeping statistical information is transformed from the tedious to the compelling by granting the dates, numbers, and anonymous names on the page, a narrative. By fleshing out both the communities under study and particular individuals within those communities, the closing section is a fitting end to what is a comprehensive, informative and insightful study of Norwegians and Swedes in the United States. The information presented in this study will most certainly fuel and encourage subsequent research and publication in the field.