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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Report on Small Group Meeting: Is Facism on the rise?

04.11.2015, by Kai Sassenberg in meeting report

May 15-18, 2015 -- EASP-COST IS1205 meeting in Athens, 8-9 May 2015 -- Organizers: Organisers: Xenia Chryssochoou, Susan Condor, Chiara Volpato, Christina Kouloupri (Historian), Chantal Kesteloot (Historian)

“Are fascism and extreme right ideologies on the rise again in Europe?” was the question that brought together social psychologists and historians in a unique interdisciplinary and international meeting held in Athens on the 8th and 9th May 2015, the dates that mark the 70th years for the end of the Second World War (e.g., Victory Day). With the support of the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP) and the COST Action IS 1205 which is a network of social psychologists and historians devoted to the study of the "Social psychological dynamics of historical representations in the enlarged European Union". The meeting and following public event was organized at Panteion University in Athens by Xenia Chryssochoou and her associates, Christina Koulouri, Chantal Kesteloot, Chiara Volpato and Susan Condor, with the support of the Hellenic Psychological Society - Political Psychology, the Contemporary History Research Center and the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences.

The event brought together twenty-nine social psychologists and historians from fourteen countries: Belgium, Croatia, France, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
On the first day, six panels tackled the issue. The discussions very soon highlighted the disciplinary interests and different approaches taken by members of the two disciplines to temporality and the notion of "event ".

The first panel examined the fascist discourse in the past and present. It included the papers of Giovanna Leone on the ambivalence and the impact of the fascist heritage on three Italian generations, Inari Sakki on the Finnish past and present far-right rhetorics, and Elena-Irina Macovei, who described the past and present fascist discourses of the radical right in Romania. The second panel focused on the collective memories of fascism. Silvia Mari (with Federica Durante, Luca Andrighetto, Alessandro Gabbiadini and Chiara Volpato) presented findings on the difficulty to take responsibility for misdeeds committed during in the Italian families’ fascist past. Laura De Guissmé (in collaboration with Laurent Licata) contrasted the collective memories about the respective Flemish and Walloon Belgian communities’ collaboration with the German occupiers during the Second World War. Daniel Vojak’s talk focused on the ideological heritage in Bleiburg and Jasenovac, Croatia.

The third panel examined the issue of public history, the teaching of history and the use of the past in schools. Chantal Kesteloot addressed the goals of the use of the past by different social groups. Vassiliki Sakka reflected on the teaching of history in secondary education in the context of the current crisis and increase in the neo-fascist rhetoric in Greece. Angelos Palikidis examined how much the Greek history education is anti-fascist in nature. Luigi Cajani focused on how the defining policies of the European identity fight or still allow racism, xenophobia, fascism and totalitarianism.

The following panel was dedicated to the far-right in contemporary Europe. Katarina Petterson spoke about the discursive constructions of the Other on the right-wing radical populist political blogs in Finland. Justyna Kajta explored the motivations and beliefs of those who joined the Polish nationalist movement. Aniko Felix examined the role of women in the far-right movements and political parties in Greece and Hungary. This panel was complemented by Vassilis' Pavlopoulos work on social psychological aspects of the far Right in Europe (including rhetoric and communication strategies and the exploitation of fear).
Group dynamics and the representations of fascism were the object of the fifth panel. Christian Staerklé talked about right-wing populism and the representations of social order. Xenia Chryssochoou presented findings about the profile of who could endorse violence and extreme right-wing beliefs. Joaquim Pires Valentim examined the social representations of authoritarianism held by the young generation in Portugal and in the former Portuguese colonies. Yechiel Klar presented a conception of the national group in which the group is viewed as eternal, organic, unfairly victimized, and invested with a unique mission, a pattern that can turn ingroup love into outgroup hate.

The last panel of this day focused on the link between mobilization and identity. It was opened by Andreea Ernst-Vintila, who examined, in collaboration with Irina Macovei, Yechiel Klar and input from Laurent Licata, the collective response of the French society to the terrorist attacks in Paris in January 2015 (Charlie Hebdo and Vincennes), based on the notion of nexus, and found that the mobilization was less massive when the attacks made Jewish victims. Gülseli Baysu’s talk focused on the emergent political identities in the Gezi Park protest in Turkey. The final talk by Steve Reicher addressed the identity processes involved in intergroup relations, and the role of "virtue" in the mobilization of fascist or far-right collective action.
The second day's program was conducted in the Panteion University auditorium and was open to students, teachers and the Athenian public. It hosted two plenary lectures, by Roger Griffin (Historian, University of Oxford Brookes) and Steve Reicher (Social psychologist, University of St. Andrews). Roger Griffin spoke about the many disguised forms adopted by fascism after 1945, when its political available space was reduced. Griffin’s conclusion, which may seem surprising to some of the audience, was that today we are not witnessing a dangerous rising of fascism as was the case in the period between the two world wars. Steve Reicher’s talk focused on the conditions under which people are willing to accept, if not look for, authoritarian leaders and follow them in acts of atrocity. These plenary lectures were followed by Thalia Dragona, Aleka Koroneou, Antonis Liakos, Dimitri Christopoulos, and Xenia Chryssochoou discussing in an interdisciplinary round table (history, psychology, sociology) the rise of the Greek far right political party named "Golden Dawn", which is often identified as neo-Nazi, although it rejects this label. The actuality and drama around these presentations were greatly enhanced by the fact that just two weeks or so before the conference the top leadership of the "Golden Dawn" (including current and former MP) party stood trial in Athens on felony charges for having established a criminal organization, and committed several racist attacks and murder.

This highly illuminating and engaging meeting ended with a special walking tour in the center of Athens sponsored by the Greek Public Archives of Social and Contemporary History and led by a WWII historian, who took the participants to several places important for Athens’ memory of the Second World War and resistance. The walking tour allowed a continuing conversation and exchanges between the two disciplines and the researchers from different generations and geographical origins, and enriched the innovative, original and interdisciplinary approaches started during the meeting. Several fine Greek cuisine meals and a dinner, one of them in a delicious cooperatively run restaurant in which shared-eating from big common plates is the rule, strengthened this spirit of sharing and exchange.

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