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Performing 'resistance' – the far right's master narrative

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Abstract

This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork to analyse the ‘master narrative of resistance’ that is governing the activities of the German far right. The ‘resistance narrative’ came into effect during the 2018 Chemnitz riots. Yet the topos is being appropriated by a variety of actors on the far right. The paper exemplifies the significance of far-right political narratives and affects on current developments and tendencies of German far-right groups, among them far-right initiatives such as Pro Chemnitz, far-right protest movements such as PEGIDA, and the German spin-off of the French yellow vests’ movement. When analysing these groups’ uses of narrative and affective elements in terms of the ‘resistance topos,’ the paper elaborates the semantics, performances, and functions of a narrative that seems to constitute a common denominator of distinct groups and agents of the far right. In 2018 and 2019, we followed in particular the developments in the wake of the Chemnitz racist riots using ethnographic methods and conducted participant observations and conversations with various agents of the far right that share the ideological aspects of nationalism, xenophobia, authoritarianism, and welfare chauvinism. A constant practising, performing, and narrating of the ‘resistance topos’ enables activists on the far right to frame their cause, collective actions, and their (individual and group) identities in a particular manner. We argue that the ‘resistance narrative’ has to be understood as a part of the far right’s politics of affective attachment, attunement, and belonging that aims at furthering their social acceptability.
... Indeed, the citations do not only evoke some of the most positively remembered moments in German twentieth-century history such as the antifascist resistance and the Peaceful Revolution. Also, they resonate with local political culture due to their connection with the regional context of the state of Saxony of which Dresden is the capital (Göpffahrt, 2021;Leser et al., 2019;Rensmann, 2017). For instance, the 1989 Peaceful Revolution took off from the Saxon city of Leipzig with the weekly 'Monday Demonstrations' and reached Dresden in October 1989. ...
... Rather, historical references to the antifascist resistance against Nazism dominated protest. Ironically, however, some of the symbols aiming to express PEGIDA's rejection of Nazism and extremism have assumed the semiotic value of typical far-right repertoires in recent years: Both the Wirmer flag and the discursive frame of 'resistance' (or: 'counter-revolution') have been appropriated by other German populist far-right actors (Leser et al., 2019;Rensmann, 2017;Schlürmann, 2015;Weiß, 2017). Similarly, actors such as AfD have mobilized some of the symbols of 1989 to appeal to the memory of anti-communist resistance (Simon, 2019). ...
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This article contributes to cultural approaches to populism, focusing on the uses of memory in far-right protest politics. Conceptually, it develops a novel approach to memory politics suitable to investigate the uses of memory in grassroots mobilization by integrating scholarship on ‘the politics of memory’ and the ‘movement-memory nexus’. Also, it argues for the conceptualization of populism as a collective action frame to explain the emergence and persistence of populist street mobilization. Methodologically, the article draws from the critical case study of the Dresden-based ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident’ (PEGIDA), one of contemporary Europe’s most sustained instances of populist far-right protest. Based on the interpretive analysis of original ethnographic data generated in demonstrations in Dresden in 2019-20, it shows how PEGIDA deploys controversial reinterpretations of regional, national, and European history to sustain the populist master frame of ‘resistance against dictatorship’, articulating the antagonism between ‘the people’ and ‘the elites’ as a long-standing struggle of democracy against leftist totalitarianism. Uncovering the many ways in which PEGIDA strategically mobilizes the past, the analysis emphasizes the constitutive relationship between culture and populist protest, and demonstrates the dovetailing of populist and far-right ideational elements in grassroots mobilization.
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Using discourse analysis, the paper argues that the far right naturalises their ongoing insistence on anti-migrant shielding and expulsion based on juridical, and physical patterns. This rhetoric suggests a realistic and objective position and helps repelling political or ethical critique as naive and unworldly. Informed by political theory, an investigation into far-right discourse can enrich our understanding of how far-right actors' distance themselves from racism. Moreover, it reveals far-right politics as a sort of depoliticisation.Zusammenfassung: Der Beitrag untersucht diskursanalytisch, wie neue Rechte mithilfe physikalischer und rechtlicher Diskurse ihre Forderungen nach Ausschluss und Abschottung naturalisieren, sie damit sachlich rahmen und vor ethischen oder politischen Einwände schützen. Eine politiktheoretisch sensi-bilisierte Analyse neurechter Diskurse hilft, die selbstsichere Distanzierung neurechter Akteur*innen vom Rassismus besser zu verstehen. Sie zeigt zudem, dass diese dabei eine Politik der Entpolitisierung betreiben.
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