Currently based in the University of Sheffield’s Department of History, ‘The Language of ‘Authoritarian’ Regimes is a collaborative project intended to explore and problematise ‘authoritarianism’, broadly defined. The concept of ‘authoritarianism’ has through overuse been somewhat emptied of critical meaning. Often considered a shorthand descriptor for political ‘others’ of the West, the term can serve to disregard the political plurality and cultural diversity of and within ‘authoritarian’ regimes, as well as the social histories of their populations.
The project therefore aims to provide nuance to the rigid distinction between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘democratic’ politics, or of similar binaries and oppositions which are often informed by Cold War and (neo)colonial assumptions, in order to more fully understand the nature and practise of power and relationships within and between states and populations.
The project seeks to provide a space in which those working on ‘authoritarianism’ can share critical reflections on usages and practises of ‘authoritarianism’ in the study of contemporary and historical contexts, enriching knowledge of the diverse cultures and societies frequently written off as ‘authoritarian’, and making connections between history and issues in the present day.
We welcome contributions that speak to this aim from a range of geographical, methodological or historical perspectives, and from all levels of study inside and outside ‘the academy’.
For more information or queries, please contact:
Hannah Parker: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephanie Wright: email@example.com
Even though the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) has disappeared from discussions on women’s rights since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, its history remains relevant to our understanding of state feminism and transnational women’s rights. Indeed, by the end of the Cold War, the WIDF—founded in Paris in 1945 by women from about 40 countries—became one of the world’s biggest transnational women’s organizations, known for its activity for women’s rights, peace, and anti-colonialism. However, the WIDF occupies an ambiguous position within the history of the women’s movement. While known to researchers as both an important actor in the struggle for women’s rights in a global context, it has been criticized for uncritically praising women’s emancipation under state socialism, while ignoring the double burden and lack of political freedom that women experienced there. The federation was thus an active participant within the Cold War and, during a certain period of time, its victim: accused by the American government of Communist activities between 1954 and 1967, the federation was deprived of its status as a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN.
What were the organisation’s achievements and problems? And why did it eventually become almost invisible in historical accounts? In what follows, I propose a few answers to these questions.
The third WIDF Congress, which took place in Copenhagen in 1953, adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Women. The Declaration demanded quite an impressive bill of rights for all women, regardless of their race, nation or class. These rights included, amongst others: the right to work and the right to choose a profession or occupation, equal pay for equal work, the right to the state protection of maternity and childhood, the right to education and the right of the peasant women to own land. Within their historical context, such demands were brave and challenging. Indeed, parts of Africa and of Asia continued to be occupied as colonies of European countries, where universal rights to education or maternity protection did not exist. In many European countries the principle of equal pay for equal work was far from being realized: in Sweden, for example, special salaries for women (kvinnolöner) ceased to exist only in 1960. Such a broad declaration of rights attracted many new supporters to the organization and, not least led to the WIDF becoming one of the initiators of the International Year of Women, 1975, and an important actor behind the UN’s adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
On the other hand, looking at the history of the WIDF compels us to confront the problem of the ‘Soviet fronts’ (or, organizations sympathizing with the USSR, according to Peterson), and their fellow travelers. The question about how much the Soviet Union and other countries of the Eastern bloc influenced this organization continues to be asked by the historians even now, 30 years after the end of the Cold War.
The materials in the Moscow archive are particularly interesting in this respect. The files of the Committee of Soviet Women, a member of the federation, have preserved not only the protocols of WIDF board-meetings and congresses, but also a lot of classified reports that the representative of the Soviet Committee working in the WIDF Secretariat (from 1951 in East Berlin) wrote to Moscow. These reports suggest that Soviet expectations of WIDF activities included promoting a positive image of the Soviet Union and its foreign policy. The Soviet female employees involved in the work of the WIDF were organized through a hierarchical structure and received a salary from the Soviet state.
Soviet employees in the WIDF were charged with informing the Soviet state about the WIDF’s internal operations and, in particular, individual opinions and conflicts with respect to the development of the organization and international politics. One report informed Moscow about the position concerning the ‘struggle for peace’ that was taken by one of the WIDF leaders, vice-president, Dr. Andrea Andreen from Sweden. According to the letter, Andreen:
Considers it important that while organizing cooperation with other women’s organizations we [the WIDF] should take the position that is different from one insisting that everything in the USSR is good and everything in the USA is bad. We have to criticize both. She also suggested to make an appeal to the governments of the USA, UK and the USSR demanding a ban of atomic weapons.
It is easy to suppose that such a position did not fully correspond to Soviet expectations. The report shows however, that in the case of Andreen, like in many others, the Soviet representatives did not have the power to give orders or demand certain behaviour from activists from different countries. Still, such classified information helped Moscow to choose their strategies, first of all with respect to cadre issues and the drafting of the WIDF’s official documents.
During the 1960s, the WIDF underwent significant changes due to many factors, including increased membership of women from newly independent countries or countries involved in anti-colonial struggles. The 1970s-1980s saw the WIDF’s biggest international success in this regard. As previously mentioned, during this period the WIDF was active in the UN, in particular before and during the UN Decade for Women (1975-1985). The WIDF continued to be active not only at the first UN conference in Mexico, but in all further conferences until the end of the Cold War. For example, the WIDF’s General Secretary, Vire-Tuominen, in her report for the WIDF council in 1980, proudly stated that the WIDF had accomplished a lot during the NGO forum in Copenhagen:
WIDF organized 17 seminars, 2 film projections, and wide distribution of our printed materials including a special issue of our journal prepared during the forum. Our president, Freda Brown, chaired two panels, and our experts participated in several panels.
On the other hand, the development of mass, grassroots radical feminist movements in Western Europe and the USA, often referred to as ‘second wave feminism’, influenced changes in how gender differences were seen by society. In many countries, feminist activism led to changes of legislation on marriage, divorce, work, abortion, as well as on taxation, contributing to more gender equality, and recognition of LGBT rights. Due to these changes in legislation, practice, and grassroots mobilization, the language of the discussions around gender inequality and discrimination in many countries of Western Europe and North America became both more radical and more specific than that which the WIDF could offer.
The growth of grassroots activism was also in contrast to the WIDF’s centralized structures. Thus, the federation was forced to confront criticism on its lack of internal democracy. In the 1960s such a critique was made by the Italian delegates, and in the early 1980s the organization of French women demanded more democracy in the WIDF’s working routines. The Declaration of the National Bureau of the Union of French Women addressed participants of the WIDF’s 1980 bureau meeting, expressing the French contingent’s discontent with the lack of democratic decision-making. The document also criticized the WIDF’s unlimited support for the viewpoint of the ‘socialist countries’, and the use of the experiences of these countries as a positive example for other countries to follow. The declaration stressed, for example, that the WIDF congresses had to be transformed into a real space for discussion and decision-making, while the role of the administrative bodies like the Secretariat should be diminished.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the WIDF headquarters at Unter den Linden 13 in East Berlin was closed, the WIDF periodical ceased publication, and in the years that followed, the organization’s centre moved to Latin America. However, paradoxically, one of the last issues of the WIDF journal published in 1991 contains an article by Javier Perez de Cuellar, Secretary General of the UN, who noted that during all these years, the federation had played an important role in promoting equality of women’s rights and wished ‘all the success in your work’ to the WIDF on the occasion of its 45th anniversary. Thus, it is possible to say that the WIDF’s importance for international women’s rights became particularly visible internationally at the very moment when the Cold War confrontation, which had been crucial to the WIDF’s existence, came to an end.
 de Haan, F., The Global Left-Feminist 1960s. From Copenhagen to Moscow and New York”. In: Ch. Jian, M. Klimke, M. Kirasirova et al.(eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Global Sixties. Between Protest and Nation-Building (London: Routledge, 2018), pp. 234-236.
Petersson, F. (2013). Caught Between Nostalgia, Anti-Colonialism, International Communism, Transnational Networks and Radical Spaces: A Re-Assessment on the Historiography of the League against Imperialism. CoWoPa – Comintern Working Paper, 28, pp. 1-31.
 See for example, de Haan, F., Continuing Cold War Paradigms in Western Historiography of Transnational Women’s Organizations: The Case of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), Women’s History Review, 19:4 (2010), pp. 547-73.
 The Soviet government usually presented itself internationally as a country aspiring for peace and détente. However, as it is widely known the USSR also participated in arm race and the development of atomic weapons.
 Ghodsee, K., Revisiting the United Nations Decade for Women: Brief Reflections on Feminism, Capitalism and Cold War Politics in the Early Years of the International Women’s Movement, Women’s Studies International Forum, 33 (2010), pp. 3-12; Ghodsee, K., Second World, Second Sex (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).
Images are the author’s own. Figures 2 and 3 were taken at Arbetarörelsens Arkiv och bibliotek and IISH respectively, and should not be reproduced without the express permission of both Gradskova and the relevant archive.
On 1 December 2019, Kazakhstan celebrated its first Day of the First President since Nursultan Nazarbayev’s resignation from the presidency earlier that year. The national holiday has been celebrated since 2012, but this year was particularly significant as Kazakhstan’s first post-Soviet leader had been celebrated not as its president, but as a symbolic figure: the ‘leader of the nation’, Elbasy.
Nazarbayev takes pride in this role, and the celebrations of his leadership last December focused not only on Nazarbayev as the state-builder, but also the nation-builder of contemporary Kazakhstan. As president, Nazarbayev placed great importance on creating new shared histories, myths, and symbols for Kazakhstan, which form an important part of any nation-building project. Having written several books on pre-colonial Kazakh history, the former president’s central place in these nation-building efforts is significant, given that much of Kazakhstan’s official post-1991 history has been centred around his cult of personality. His interest in revitalizing interest and awareness of pre-colonial history results from his publicised concerns over the fact that ‘over 150 years, Kazakhs nearly lost their national traditions, customs, language, religion’ during Russian/Soviet colonial rule, which in his view has diminished Kazakh national identity too far.
Indeed, as a multi-ethnic country with a major fault line running through its middle between the predominantly Kazakh south and the largely Russian north, it is in Kazakhstan’s interests to bring a sense of legitimacy, continuity and national authenticity to the entire country.
However, maintaining legitimacy is complicated for a country with flawed democratic institutions and political processes governed more by patronalistic self-interest than by the rule of law. Therefore Kazakhstan’s claim to Weberian legal legitimacy, which derives from trust in the rationality and predictability of a political system based in the rule of law, is devalued by the patronal character of the Kazakhstani system. As a result, legitimacy deriving from other sources, such as historical tradition, perhaps take a greater role in justifying the regime’s political authority in Kazakhstan than elsewhere.
For these tasks, the rewriting of history is a useful tool with which to ground hegemonic discourses about what it means to be Kazakhstani (a civic identity) and Kazakh (an ethno-cultural identity) on the state’s preferred terms. The former president has institutionalized his push for greater pride and awareness of this Kazakh nomadic past through cultural policies, such as the ‘Spiritual Revival’ program, which proposes to ‘modernize historical consciousness’ through the production of documentary films, new museums and a park dedicated to ‘The Great Names of the Great Steppe’, as well as an archive digitization project, Archive-2025.
Projects such as these have tended to focus on the period immediately preceding tsarist conquest, the Kazakh khanate period (15th-19th centuries). The Kazakhs’ nomadic chiefdom system, comprised of three ‘hordes’ (in Kazakh, zhuz, meaning hundred) and many clans within each horde, long set them apart from other peoples inhabiting the steppe. As a society featuring strong leadership, spiritualism, collectivism, and defined social roles, the khanate period is often portrayed in contemporary Kazakhstan as a semi-utopian golden age. National holidays, museums, and monuments created in the post-Soviet period have linked contemporary Kazakhstan to this ‘golden age’ in an effort to draw on traditional legitimacy.
Moreover, as a project led by the symbolic head of the state, Kazakhstan’s historical revival serves to legitimize not only the existence of the nation-state, but also the form which the state and the nation take in Kazakhstan. More specifically, Nazarbayev’s historical revivalism legitimises the domination of Nazarbayev’s presidency and personality over the public sphere. Historical Kazakh symbols and Nazarbayev’s own symbols are intentionally placed side by side to highlight the links between the country’s heroic past and glorious present.
In front of the Nazarbayev Museum, in his former official residence, a statue of the founders of the first Kazakh khanate, Kerey and Zhanibek, stands as a visual reminder of the two pillars of the regime: historical tradition and personal charisma. Thus, these projects have the effect of not only reinforcing the central place of historical Kazakhs in the country’s national symbols, but also of cementing Nazarbayev’s own place in Kazakhstan’s history.
The framing of the Kazakh khanate as a semi-utopian society also serves as a moral framework, against which contemporary Kazakhstan is evaluated. Nazarbayev for instance says: ‘Our heroic ancestors willed us to always hold our banner high, wishing us great victories. Since then, all our successes and achievements have been realized under our sky-blue flag’. The imagery of Kazakh ancestors tacitly approving of Kazakhstan’s current course gives a sense of continuity between past, present, and future, and legitimizes the current political course by linking it to Kazakh tradition as the ‘correct’ course. By corralling Kazakhstan’s historical narrative into a linear story, the state is able to lay claim over concepts of patriotism, belonging, and ultimately, legitimate political expression. In this sense, historical reframing has the ability to strengthen the stability of the regime by justifying its present with the use of the past.
Moreover, references to the moral character of Kazakh ancestors also serve to de-legitimize movements and ideas which run counter to the state’s desired political culture, resulting in a hegemonic, rather than democratic, understanding of patriotism. This is seen in discourses on the Kazakh tradition of religious tolerance; an official book commissioned by the Ministry of Education, The World of Values of Independent Kazakhstan, maintains that as a result of the spiritualism of Kazakhs’ nomadic ancestors, ‘religious tolerance and lack of fanaticism’ characterize contemporary Kazakhstan. While religious tolerance might initially seem uncontroversial, it is significant because Islamist political movements have mobilized against Nazarbayev’s regime in the past; the state has thus made a point of deflating undesirable political ideas by framing them as fanatical, and therefore, as an affront to Kazakhstan’s ‘inherent tolerance’, unpatriotic or un-Kazakh.
In this way, conformism with the state-imposed political culture is a prerequisite to contemporary Kazakhstani patriotism as framed by official historical discourse, which thus acts to reinforce the undemocratic nature of the current political system. In sum, Kazakhstan’s state-led historical revival projects play a role in strengthening the foundations of the authoritarian state by grounding it in nationalist, traditional, and charismatic forms of legitimacy. In turn, this historical project informs Nursultan Nazarbayev’s reputation as founder of the new Kazakhstani nation-state and upholder of Kazakh traditions and legacies, and will likely continue to do so long after his departure from office.
Ellen Leafstedt is a master’s student in Russian and East European Studies at Oxford University, where her research focuses on political institutions and legitimacy of authoritarian states in the former Soviet Union. Find her on Twitter @ellenleafy.
 A.D. Smith, ‘State-Making and Nation-Building’ in J. A. Hall (ed.), States and History (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1986), pp. 228-263.
 S. N. Cummings, ‘Legitimation and Identification in Kazakhstan’, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 12:2 (2006), p. 178.
 O. Kesici, ‘The Dilemma in the Nation-Building Process: The Kazakh or Kazakhstani Nation?’, Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe, 10:1 (2011), p.31.
 Some Western and Kazakh historians argue the khanate marked the beginning of Kazakh statehood, as these hordes functioned as political and military unions using customary law; moreover, their nomadic lifestyle arguably distinguished them from neighboring peoples enough to give them a sense of national identity and distinctiveness. Martha Brill Olcott, The Kazakhs (Stanford University Press, 1987), 15.
 Brudny and Finkel show how this hegemonic conception of patriotism is a marker of authoritarian political culture in the case of Russia, where the regime commands discursive hegemony over what behaviors are considered patriotic and appropriates patriotism to mean alignment with the regime; Y.M. Brudny and E. Finkel, ‘Why Ukraine Is Not Russia: Hegemonic National Identity and Democracy in Russia and Ukraine’, East European Politics and Societies, 25:4 (2011), p. 830.
 A. Nysanbayev, Mir tsennostey nezavisimogo Kazakhstana [The World of Values of Independent Kazakhstan] (Almaty, 2011), p. 6.
 S. Akiner, ‘The Politicisation of Islam in Postsoviet Central Asia’, Religion, State & Society, 31:2 (2003), pp.103-119.
In a bid to control poverty with punitive measures, the Hungarian government recently criminalized one of the most visible manifestations of homelessness: ‘sleeping rough’. A recent October 2018 Constitutional amendment banning sleeping on Hungarian streets, has attracted much domestic and international criticism on the basis of human rights violations and infringement of the European Pillar of Social Rights. However, despite recent attention, such discourses, which place the blame for poverty on the individual, have been present for many years in Hungarian politics. The path to the criminalization of homelessness was laid decades ago.
Since the late 1980s, the Eighth District of Budapest, Józsefváros, has been considered one of the capital’s poorest neighbourhoods, though like many areas in Budapest, it has undergone gentrification in recent years. The former mayor of Józsefváros, Máté Kocsis (who was also responsible for addressing homelessness on a national level) launched a public order campaign in 2011, banning ‘dumpster diving and rough sleeping’ in conjunction with a wider local law that forbade living in public spaces in Budapest. Unsurprisingly, hundreds of homeless people have subsequently been detained for routine daily actions like ‘living in public space, public urination, consumption of alcohol, picking through garbage and begging’. In April 2012, the Hungarian Parliament went further and made living and keeping one’s belongings in public spaces illegal, effectively furthering the ban of visible homelessness.
The Hungarian Constitutional Court, in an effort to uphold the values of human dignity and property it had established during a period of judicial activism in the early 1990s, declared this ‘anti-homeless’ legislation unconstitutional, annulling it in November 2012. In response, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán amended the Constitution, allowing local authorities ‘the right to decide whether homeless people can live permanently on their streets or not’, reflecting both Orbán’s increasingly authoritarian leadership, and the diminishing authority of the historically progressive Constitutional Court. As a result, many local authorities passed decrees in line with Orbán’s anti-homeless agenda. This agenda was justified by the aims of protecting ‘public order, public security, public health and cultural values’. With a two-thirds majority in its support, the amendment passed in 2013, and it has subsequently been scrutinized by international watchdogs as an indicator of a deteriorating democracy.
This punitive anti-homeless legislative agenda belongs to a broader political and media discourse regarding ‘the “undeserving” and delinquent poor populations’. The media tends to report on ‘cases where homeless individuals are allegedly involved in gruesome crimes’, portrayals which dehumanize them, and marginalize them from ‘mainstream’ society.  Eoin Devereux highlights this discourse of differentiation in media where sensationalist reality TV shows such as now-cancelled ‘The Big Chance’, have homeless contestants compete in a style akin to that of the TV show ‘Big Brother’. Devereux’s research demonstrates how the homeless of Budapest are portrayed as addicted to alcohol, gambling and smoking, and in need of moral salvation, which can be attained only by owning up to their own personal laziness.
The emphasis on explaining ‘poverty and exclusion in terms of individual weaknesses’ not only contributes to a culture inopportune for cultivating real solutions, but also reflects a certain continuity with socialist times, when citing structural reasons as an explanatory factor for homelessness was forbidden as a critique of the socialist system, which should have rendered social inequality obsolete.  Socialism proposes principles of collectivism and a more equal society, with a remit that involved the central distribution of public housing and nationalization of apartment buildings. In the hands of Hungary’s twentieth-century leaders, this programme also included significant limitations on personal freedoms, including criticisms of the state. Instead of state responsibility, personal deviances were blamed for social inequality and homelessness, and in the 1950s poverty was declared non-existent.
During this period, however, government programmes for social housing and work were set in place, including shelters to accommodate workers. Once social welfare policies were employed, alcoholics or individuals deemed to be living idly were subject to punitive measures. These punitive measures included work therapy institutions that resembled a jail workhouse as well as ‘deportation to correctional facilities’. Individuals charged and ‘arrested for the ‘dangerous avoidance of work’ faced fines and compulsory work.
The transition from socialism in the 1990’s included an economic crisis that left many people unemployed and homeless. Inequality in the distribution of wealth also widened, where privatization afforded already ‘wealthy and, above all, educated people’ with ‘better housing at the beginning of the privatization wave’. The political transition saw a re-stratification of society and made homelessness and poverty more visible, as the Hungarian economy suffered. The legacy of socialism and the thirty-year-old transition into capitalism is therefore incredibly relevant to understanding the context of the housing crisis today. Now, similar policies and ideas are used under Orbán’s increasingly authoritarian reign, where the aesthetics of presenting an orderly country are paramount and freedom of speech suffers.
In 2011, Hungary introduced a similar, highly controversial compulsory work program that forces long-term unemployed individuals, including some homeless, to work at a rate lower than the minimum wage. In 2019, the gap between public workers earnings and the minimum wage widened when the government froze wages for the third year in a row. The program contributes to a flawed statistic of decreasing unemployment, which the Hungarian government cites to insist poverty is decreasing substantially.
While an average of 200,000 participants are considered ‘employed’ under the public works scheme, these numbers don’t capture the lived experience of those in poverty nor the full picture of employment. It also acts as a scapegoat for the government, as the unemployed technically have the opportunity to find employment through these work programs. However, it does not address practical barriers like mental health issues, addictions and physical disabilities. Additionally, those who earn such meager wages still live in poor conditions and while they may not be so visible on the streets, they are at risk of dying in their homes due to the effects of poverty. Moreover, the statistics used to justify the reduction of poverty highlight the glorification of a program that is punitive and exploitative in nature.
The leading grassroots advocacy organization for homelessness and housing rights The City is For All (A Város Mindenkié), reports that there were almost 600 criminal cases between 2013 and 2016 involving homeless people arrested for ‘sleeping in public spaces’, with the majority resulting in the ‘warning of mandatory public work’. On the ground, those subjected to punitive measures are not offered viable or practical alternatives to the housing insecurity they face. Institutional responses to homelessness have mostly consisted of emergency solutions and an ineffective shelter system, neglecting to focus on exit strategies or the diverse needs of the homeless. Shelters that do exist are usually dangerous, causing many people to avoid them and further contributing to the visibility of people living on the streets.
While homeless people are being pushed outside of visible spaces to help create an image of order on Hungarian streets, social justice groups like A Város Mindenkié are visible in their active petition against the government. In the media, organizations that serve the 1,200 homeless in Budapest bring awareness to the issue of poverty, despite a government that strives to hide it. Perhaps offering a glimmer of hope for more liberal politics, a recent October 2019 city election saw the victory of Gergely Karácsony as mayor of Budapest. Karácsony provides an encouraging alternative to the far-right and increasingly authoritarian reign of Orbán’s Fidesz party. Karácsony has proposed a plan to improve homeless shelters before winter approaches, and his election invokes a cautious sentiment of hope in the capital of a nation that has seen the encroachment of authoritarianism and a backslide in democratic values for decades.
The tendency to blame individuals and their ‘poor choices’ for their current socioeconomic positioning is a phenomenon not unique to Hungary. It is however, important to note that Hungary is the first nation where criminalizing homelessness is ‘explicitly enacted in the highest law of the nation.’ It is also a country with inadequate and short-term institutional solutions for homeless people. When coupled with punitive legislation, poverty is reinforced and reproduced, punishing an already vulnerable population. These punitive measures coincide neatly with blaming individuals and their personal choices to avoid a critical analysis of the system, like under socialist times, structures and policies that contributed to their circumstances. The public works program and the criminalization of homelessness operate as an expression of power and authority, to keep statistics of unemployment favorable as well as to ensure tidiness and order on Hungarian streets.
Victoria Sztanek is a writer with an M.A. from the University of Toronto, Centre for European, Eurasian and Russian Studies. She has worked in the due diligence industry and is a Certified Anti Money Launderer. She specializes on topics such as financial crime and is passionate about the environment and social justice issues. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
 Marton Czirfusz, Vera Horvath, Csaba Jelinek, Zsuzsanna Posfai, Linda Szabo, ‘Gentrification and Rescaling Urban Governance in Budapest – Jozsefvaros’, Intersections. East European Journal of Society and Politics, 4, no. 1, (2015), pp. 62, 72.
 Eva T. Udvarhelyi, ‘“If we don’t push homeless people out, we will end up being pushed out by them”: The criminalization of Homelessness as State Strategy in Hungary’, Antipode, 46, no. 3, (2014), p. 821.
 Deena A. Zakim, ‘Housing over Handcuffs: the Criminalization of Homelessness in Hungary’, Suffolk Transnational Law Review, 37, no. 1, (2014), p. 146.
 Orbán’s amendment is cited from Zakim, ‘Housing over Handcuffs’, p. 148. Historically the Hungarian Constitutional Court has played a pivotal role in the development of democratic practices through the country’s transition from socialism. Legal scholar Kim Lane Scheppele notes how since the early 2000s, structural changes have immobilized the Court’s independence and effectiveness, with recent rulings showing ‘a strong tendency to defer to the new government’. Kim Lane Scheppele, ‘Guardians of the constitution: constitutional court presidents and the struggle for the rule of law in post-Soviet Europe’, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 154, no. 6, (2006), p. 1786.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Western actors have supported the development of independent journalism in Central Asia as a means of assisting the transition from communism to democracy. Assuming the universal appeal of Western, democratic values, they trusted that providing funding and Western-style journalism training would be sufficient for democratizing media in the region.
This strategy is also known as the “import model,” which, according to Peter Rollberg and Marlene Laruelle, “is based on the expectation that Western values can be introduced through the formation of Western-educated media elites whose work will promote liberal values.”
Nearly 30 years later, however, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the import model has failed to increase press freedom in the region.
In 2019, Freedom House gave all five Central Asian states press rankings of “not free,” with the exception of Kyrgyzstan, which is considered “partly free.” Kyrgyzstan holds the best ranking among the Central Asian states with a score of five, Kazakhstan received a six, Tajikistan came in at six and a half, while Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan both scored the worst possible freedom rating of seven out of seven in terms of being the “least free.”
According to the 2019 World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders, Turkmenistan has now replaced North Korea as the most unfree media environment in the world.
Nevertheless, Western governments and non-government organizations continue to rely on the import model to guide their involvement in the region’s media landscape, ignoring scholars’ skepticism about its effectiveness and the obvious lack of progress after years of intervention and millions of dollars in investment.
The failure of the import model can be attributed in part to regional elites and their reluctance to relinquish control over local media. This creates a wide range of negative incentives that discourage journalists from pursuing Western-style independent reporting, ranging from economic pressure and self-censorship to physical threats.
But although this accounts for the small amount of independent journalism being produced in the region, it doesn’t explain the fact that popular engagement with independent media (and the values it was founded upon) is very limited, as well.
Overall, Western attempts to influence the Central Asian media landscape failed to anticipate how local values and the legacy of the Soviet system continue to influence popular expectations for the press. As such, the failure of the import model in Central Asia can arguably be attributed to flaws in the model itself.
According to Richard Schafer, the Marxist values that defined Soviet era journalism continue to influence press systems in Central Asia today. Unlike democratic press systems, Soviet journalism was interpretive rather than objective and functioned as an ideological propaganda tool subordinate to the state. This system remained in place until Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost’ reforms of the 1980s sought to enhance press freedom.
Gorbachev’s new media laws renegotiated the relationship between the state and the press. Journalists’ ability to work more freely became connected to the granting of official accreditation (in other words, being a registered journalist). According to researcher Olivia Allison, journalists’ rights then became conditional and could be revoked if they did not fulfill their corresponding duties to the state – which was still a step up from complete subordination.
After the Soviet Union’s collapse, Central Asian elites essentially incorporated this conditionality into their respective national press systems. As Eric Freedman argues, post-Soviet press systems in Central Asia have effectively adapted Soviet-style media to their own authoritarian nation building projects. As a result, people in Central Asia expect media to be interpretive and values driven, rather than objective. What’s more, they are often weary of perceived Western or liberal bias in independent media, and instead seek out media that reflects their values.
For example, a 2011 case study from journalist Navbahor Imamova revealed that international radio and television broadcasting in Uzbekistan had an overall annual reach of less than 4 percent. What’s more, respondents often considered foreign broadcasters as platforms for the Uzbek political opposition or believed these media outlets reflected the policies of the countries that fund them.
This critical response to Western and/or Western-style media reflects a generally different set of expectations for journalism. Although Western media often has its own political biases, there is an expectation (or hope) that journalists strive for objectivity in their reporting, even if this is not the reality. In Central Asia, however, the assumption is that journalism serves the interests of some political group; be it the state, the opposition, or a foreign country.
Expectations for values driven media also contribute to the popularity of Russian media in the region, especially Russian television. Capitalizing on shared values, language, high production quality and entertainment value, Russian media enjoys a widespread audience in Central Asia.
In Kazakhstan, for example, there are 15 free television channels available, 11 of which feature bilingual Russian and Kazakhstani programming, and about half of the population has access to the 103 available subscription channels of Russian origin. The Russian language RuNet also dominates the country’s Internet space; the most popular search engine (Yandex), social networks (VKontakte and Odnoklassniki) and Email service (Mail.ru), all come from Russia.
Although there have been some attempts to constrict Russian influence through the promotion of Kazakhstani media – such as laws increasing the mandatory amount of programming in the Kazakh language – when compared to Western media, Russian media has profited from comparatively fewer constraints from local political elites because it is reflective of their values.
By assuming the universal appeal of liberalism and democracy, Western actors thought the fall of the Soviet Union would implicitly give way to the development of democratic states in Central Asia. Instead, the consolidation of authoritarian nation states in the region has promoted nationalism, conservative and/or “traditionalist” values and different expectations for democracy.
Although countries in the region are experiencing social change, it is not necessarily liberal or democratic in the Western sense of the words. As Paul Stronski and Russel Zanca wrote for the Carnegie Russia & Eurasia Program:
“Democracy is important to the people of Central Asia, but their notions of democracy are different from American ones. Far more than the desire for political parties, free elections, or an independent parliament, Central Asia’s budding social activism is motivated by the desire for transparent and accountable government, even if it is not fully democratic.”
Meanwhile, Russian media thrives because of its ability to promote “shared conservative values” that allegedly set Russia and states in Central Asia apart from the rest of the world. As Peter Rollberg and Marlene Laruelle argue, this explains why the Russian media strategy of masking authoritarian values as democratic has been far more successful than the promotion of actual liberal democracy. Meanwhile, the Western import model has had the unintended consequence of being most successful at influencing media commercialization, rather than independence, in the region.
Overall, academics see the potential for the development of truly independent media in Central Asian states as extremely limited. Meanwhile, a small number of independent journalists continue to work in the region against all odds and at great personal risk. Their stories reflect the successful spread of Western-style independent journalism, but their influence is not widespread. Barring radical political and social change in Central Asia, the state-controlled, Russian-influenced media landscape isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Eilish Hart is a freelance writer and editor covering current affairs in Eastern Europe, Russia and Eurasia. She is a recent M.A. European and Russian Affairs graduate from the University of Toronto, interested in a range of topics, including international affairs, human rights, media freedom, migration, memory politics and Soviet history. Follow her on Twitter @EilishHart.
 Peter Rollberg and Marlene Laruelle, “The Media Landscape in Central Asia: Introduction to the Special Issue,” Demokratizatsiya 23.3 (Summer 2015): 228.
 Richard Shafer, “Soviet Foundations of Post-Independence Press in Central Asia,” in After the Czars and Commissars: Journalism in Authoritarian Post-Soviet Central Asia, ed. Eric Freedman and Richard Shafer (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011), 20-21.
 Olivia Allison, “Loyalty in the New Authoritarian Model: Journalistic Rights and Duties in Central Asian Media Law,” in After the Czars and Commissars: Journalism in Authoritarian Post-Soviet Central Asia, ed. Eric Freedman and Richard Shafer (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011), 143-144.
 Eric Freedman, “Theoretical Foundations for Researching the Roles of the Press in Today’s Central Asia,” inAfter the Czars and Commissars: Journalism in Authoritarian Post-Soviet Central Asia, ed. Eric Freedman and Richard Shafer (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011), 2.
 Navbahor Imamova, “International Broadcasting in Uzbekistan: Does it Still Matter?” in After the Czars and Commissars: Journalism in Authoritarian Post-Soviet Central Asia, ed. Eric Freedman and Richard Shafer (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011), 200.
 Rollberg and Laruelle, “The Media Landscape in Central Asia,” 228-229.
 Marlene Laruelle, Dylan Royce and Serrik Reyssembayev. “Untangling the Puzzle of ‘Russia’s Influence’ in Kazakhstan,” Eurasian Geography and Economics 60.2 (2019): 226-227.
 Rollberg and Laruelle, “The Media Landscape in Central Asia,” 229.
In the first part of this series of articles on neo-Pentecostalism in Brazil, I talked about how IURD (the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God) megachurches came to the forefront of the political struggle in the country. This blog will unpick the political and linguistic strategies used by the IURD in its pursuit of power in Brazil, both at the micro and macro levels.
In my previous piece, I explored how the smaller churches serve a specific purpose of disseminating the gospel as a tool of recruitment. Those spaces also provide instruction and education in a system of ‘obreiros’ (a casual Brazilian Portuguese word for ‘workers of God’), young people who help the leadership and dedicate themselves fully to the Church in both spiritual and technical matters. Within this system, young people considered to display eloquence and charisma are sent to religious schools to acquire formal education in the gospel, techniques of conversion and marketing, thus becoming pastors themselves and potential future politicians like the present mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo Crivella.
This system can be considered somewhat ‘tentacular’, due to its low entry-level requirements and capacity to be implemented in communities where the state is absent and infrastructure is scarce. Using this model the IURD has become the most politically successful church in the country. Its model is easily replicable and allows leaders to gather financial resources quickly, calling on believers to sacrifice their incomes in order to help with what the pastors call the ‘work for God’.
This bottom-up recruitment has been used in conjunction with an astute media strategy. In 1989, Edir Macedo, founder of the IURD, began to purchase shares of the second-largest television broadcaster in Brazil. These purchases have evolved into the media empire he possesses today. This television kingpin’s main product is soap operas inspired by the Bible, like the blockbuster “The Ten Commandments” (later re-released as a movie). Macedo’s power, acquired through the Church’s intensive and constant campaigns for tithes,has allowed him to organize and finance the controversial and conservative Brazilian Republican Party (PRB).
The infrastructure composed by these media assets, mega or cellular churches, and their presence in almost every town in Brazil, has allowed Macedo to elect not only the current mayor of Rio de Janeiro, but 30 Church members to the House of Representatives in the last election. The PRB is an important support base for President Jair Bolsonaro’s Congressional coalition, and it is worth mentioning that the Vice-President of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies also comes from the PRB party’s lines.
One of the most controversial appointments to ministerial leadership is Damares Alves, who now commands the recently established Ministry of Human Rights, Family, and Women. This institution was specifically designed to appease the ‘Evangelical Coalition’ that helped Bolsonaro to reach the executive office in last October’s general elections. An evangelical pastor and lawyer, Damares has also been accumulating controversies in a fashion that would make any Trump supporter blush.
The erosion of democratic institutions in Brazil is accompanied by a specific political and religious discourse that escapes the universe of rational arguments and finds fertile ground on social media. With the technological development of smartphones and social media apps, the ideological dispute is projected at the individual level, aiming to manipulate the subconscious, rather than engaging in broader, conventional debate. This individualism can be perceived through the proliferation of the notion of ‘fake-news’ and ‘post-truth’ in recent years.
Armed with this knowledge, Bolsonaro frequently engages with his followers through Twitter or Facebook livestreams, even ditching a meeting with the French ambassador to cut his hair live on social media. Notwithstanding technological and institutional changes in Brazil that have enabled the Neo-Pentecostal movement to grow, the increasing bureaucratization of Brazil’s trade unions has allowed social and cultural services previously provided by the labor movement to be incorporated within the churches’ missions.
The fracturing of historical forms of anti-systemic organizations has been accelerated by the juxtaposition of digital media, television and the proliferation of radical conservative religious groups like the Neo-Pentecostals. Crippling even further the social importance of traditional movements like unions and civil rights organizations, the new Labour Code ended the mandatory contribution to workers’ rights organizations (from both labourers and the State), thus increasing the importance of the Churches’ social programs and sense of collective action in poor and working class communities.
Bolsonaro’s election showcases how far the evangelical speech reached in Brazil during the last years. Piggybacking the anti-left campaign in the medias, Neo-Pentecostal conservatism emerged in the political environment as a force to be reckoned with. This leverage, in terms of both membership growth and moralizing discourse, brought even greater conflict to the already divided Brazilian Catholics.
The veterans of the Charismatic Renewal – a movement that started in the United States in the 1960s that preaches for a spiritual renovation of the self, incorporating several elements of Pentecostalism like glossolalia (the act of speaking strange languages attributed to the Holy Spirit)—saw in Bolsonaro a positive shift towards the defense of eroded family values in the country. Therefore, by focusing on the customary agenda Bolsonaro manages to fissure the Catholic pole even further, not only by creating controversies that catches the public minds, but pitching particular groups within Catholicism against each other.
Neo-Pentecostal politicians often forge lobbying fronts with those Conservative Catholics, in order to constrain what they believe to be an attempt by leftists to instil “gender ideology” inside public schools. This blatant homophobia is perceived in this group’s organisation against the bill of education on combating homophobia. Called ‘School without Homophobia’, the Ministry of Education program was blocked in congress as constituting a “Gay Kit”, allegedly intended to turn kids into ‘homosexuals’.
From the varied perspective of left-Catholics, the radicalization of the Christian-right further deepens the differences between pro-LGBTQ, pro-Social Justice Catholics, and attempts by Pope Francis to reform and open the Church. In some cases, ultra-conservative leagues of Catholics started to name and shame progressive priests, and call out the Catholic Universities in Brazil for their complacency towards ‘communist-plagued’ academic departments.
Soon after, speaking to an audience of members of Brazil’s largest evangelical denomination, the Assembly of God Church in Brazilia, Bolsonaro spoke about nominating an evangelical Federal Justice. From the president’s perspective, the Supreme Court is trying to overrule Congress and run the country on their own. The opportunity to have a Supreme Court judge who promotes confessional votes in key legislations like the Law Against Homophobia is among one of the most important strategies to be deployed in order to turn Brazil into a theocratic country.
The holy alliance between authoritarians and the evangelical conservative movement must be closely followed by progressives and socialists alike. The present developments in Brazil can be perceived as a new blueprint for Christian, right-wing extremism to gain a foothold on power. The bridgehead of the alt-right lies in Christian conservatism, bringing back the importance of the religious as a space for political dispute, one in which the left still needs to learn how to operate.
Rafael Antunes Padilha is a Bachelor in Social Sciences from the University of São Paulo, with majors in Sociology, Political Science and Cultural Anthropology. His bachelor’s thesis was in Rural and Political Anthropology, focusing on the economic dynamics of Italian Settler descendants in Brazil. Last August, Rafael graduated from the Pennsylvania State University in a Masters in Labour and Global Worker’s Rights (with a thesis on the Oaxacan labour movement and their struggle for broader democracy). He has just started a second masters, this time in Contemporary Philosophy at the University of Porto.
 A ‘tithe’ in the context of the IURD consists of a financial gift to the Church, presented as one of the ways to fall into God’s grace. Such financial contributions can collectively amount to millions of dollars.
 Silver, B. J. (2003). Forces of labor: workers’ movements and globalization since 1870. Cambridge University Press.
On 11 November 1965, the Southern African colony of Southern Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence from Britain. Incensed by the ‘winds of change’ blowing through the continent, the white settler state broke off negotiations with Harold Wilson’s Labour government, and decided to go it alone. Britain, having handed political autonomy to the Rhodesian government (along with control of one of Africa’s most technologically-advanced militaries), was powerless to resist this act of treason, which was somewhat ironically taken in Queen Elizabeth II’s name.
This declaration of independence (UDI), a ‘loyal’ act of treason, was a paradox typical of Rhodesia: a place typified by the tensions between a quintessentially colonial British society, and its vision for itself as a viable, post-colonial national community. The rebellion persisted until April 1980, when Britain’s last African colony gained its independence as Zimbabwe, over two decades after Britain’s colonial withdrawal from Africa had begun with the independence of the Gold Coast colony (as Ghana) in 1957.
Viewed alone, the UDI rebellion is a bizarre and anomalous late-colonial episode, but it was profoundly connected to broader trends taking place around the world: the decolonisation of Africa and Asia and the advent of ‘majority-rule’ administrations and states; the re-negotiation of national identities taking place in settler colonial societies in Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand; and the evolving and deeply intertwined discourses of Cold War and decolonisation. It also has ramifications for the way we understand contemporary identity politics in what Lorenzo Veracini has called ‘the settler colonial present’. In particular, Rhodesia continues to inspire discourses of racially-defined national identities and ‘whiteness’ in these settler societies, as well as in Britain and other parts of the ‘Western world’.
The period in which Rhodesia rebelled against Britain and the concept of ‘majority-rule’, or the right of black Africans to rule themselves, was one of flux, transition, and contestation as different groups fought for the right to define their nations. The languages of unilateralism, sovereignty, and independence used by the Rhodesians thus belied the fact that their nation relied upon, and was embedded within, a series of transnational networks that worked both for and against the rebel state.
One such network was the so-called ‘white bloc’ which surrounded Rhodesia upon UDI. This bloc, consisting of South Africa and the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola, almost surrounded Rhodesia, and went a long way towards mitigating the international economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations in 1965. Thanks to trading links through South African ports and the Mozambican port of Beira, Rhodesia continued to receive vital supplies, such as oil, to keep its rebellion going.
The Southern African white bloc also shared intelligence, and military personnel and hardware, mirroring the transnational struggles waged by the major Zimbabwean liberation armies, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and the Zimbabwean People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA). These armies were based outside of Rhodesia, in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
In this sense the war being fought for the Rhodesian and Zimbabwean nations was markedly transnational. While it claimed to stand alone, the support of Portugal and South Africa meant that Rhodesia did not fight alone, and by the end of the liberation war South Africa was bankrolling the defence of the white state.
Rhodesia was also part of wider settler colonial networks which, along with the former imperial mother country of Britain, were forced to interrogate their identities in the face of imperial retreat. Though nationalist histories told stories of colonies flourishing as nations, often in the wake of bloody sacrifices such as the First World War battle of Gallipoli, these tales were simplistic and self-serving.
These settler-colonial fictions served to obscure the continuing domination of indigenous populations by indigenising the settler presence, recasting settlers (who were, by definition, outsiders) as ‘natural’ citizens. These languages of belonging masked continued social, political, and economic inequalities. In this sense Rhodesia was one among many; far from being an exceptional basket-case state, it engaged in wider global reassessments of white identity which saw a raft of new national symbols such as anthems and flags emerge to signify sovereignty.
The Rhodesian rebellion also drew upon and engaged with debates in Britain about what Britishness meant, leading postcolonial scholars like Bill Schwarz to see in the Rhodesian crisis the evolution of long-gestating notions of racial whiteness and their associations with Britishness. As Britain became more multicultural after the Second World War, white Britons began to invert discourses of colonisation, claiming that the ‘mother country’ was being ‘colonised’ by Caribbean and South Asian migrants.
This logic was, and continues to be, perverse. Yet it had a considerable emotive hold. What Rhodesia offered to discontented Britons, feeling adrift and emasculated in a post-imperial world, was a haven of Britishness, a vision of a past – better Britain – where imperialist notions of gender, race, and decorum were preserved.
Such notions were fuelled by a sense of shared history and culture. When proud Rhodesians spoke of their plucky little country defying global economic sanctions, they used the idioms of the Second World War. Rhodesia had inherited the ‘blitz spirit’ and the ghost of Winston Churchill was often evoked by the Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith, who went so far as to say that if Churchill were still alive (he conveniently died in 1965, shortly before UDI) he would choose to live in Rhodesia.
In Rhodesia, whites were a race set against time, defying decolonisation to preserve what they considered to be the ‘best of British’. Their failure was due to the collapse of white society domestically, the ratcheting up of pressure by an increasingly effective liberation movement, and the erosion of the white Southern Bloc. Mozambican independence in 1975 saw the opening of a new 3,000-mile frontier for the already-overstretched Rhodesians to police, and whenever South Africa sought to bring the intransigent Rhodesians to the negotiating table, it simply turned off the economic and military taps sustaining the rebel state’s resistance.
In 1977, two years before Rhodesia collapsed, British pop-punk band The Jam sang of ‘War in Rhodesia, Far Away, A Distant Land’. But thanks to the international networks of which Rhodesia was a part, Rhodesia was closer to home than the lyrics suggested. The Rhodesian rebellion came at a time of increasing racial anxieties in 1960s and 1970s Britain. In the twilight of Britain’s empire, white nationalist fervour was stoked by opportunistic politicians such as Enoch Powell. Powell often held up the Rhodesian crisis as yet another example of Britain’s post-imperial emasculation and humiliation.
Though Powell’s conception of Britain was more complicated than it has often been portrayed, a white backlash in support of Rhodesia’s rebellion helped to fuel a broader narrative that continues to haunt contemporary British politics: the idea that Britain, once so great, could be great again. This, like white Rhodesia’s narrative of sovereign independence, was based upon misplaced assumptions about the strength of the nation, and its failure to reassess its place in the world after the empire.
Today, as white nationalism around the globe has become resurgent, the symbols of the Rhodesian state have re-emerged. Dylann Roof, who massacred 9 black churchgoers in South Carolina in 2015, was famously pictured wearing a jacket with the apartheid South African and Rhodesian flags. For such white nationalists, the story of Robert Mugabe’s
misrule of Zimbabwe (and the failings of the post-apartheid South African state) have been read as proof that white people are inherently more capable than black people. Similarly, older online communities of ‘Rhodies’, now dispersed around the world, whose colonial nostalgia has been joined and in some senses usurped by today’s growing online community of white supremacists, with no direct connection to the former colony, who venerate Rhodesia as part of their broader racist discourse.
Now, as then, this obscure historical episode in Southern Central Africa was never just about a single country. It had implications which reverberated through space and time to inform debates about British and settler identity and belonging; the meaning of decolonisation and sovereignty; and the racialised nature of national identities. Though Rhodesians spoke of ‘going it alone’, their rebellion would have lacked both materiel and meaning without these broader international contexts.
David Kenrick is an independent researcher. He received his BA and MA from the University of Liverpool and his D.Phil. from St John’s College, University of Oxford. His first book, “Decolonisation, Identity and Nation in Rhodesia, 1964-1979” will be published by Palgrave as part of the Britain and the World Series on 12 December 2019. He has published work in the Journal for Southern African Studies (JSAS) regularly reviews books on imperial history, decolonisation, and settler colonialism for the JSAS, Itinerario, and other journals. He tweets at @dwkenrick
Jair Messias Bolsonaro, a former Army Captain of the Brazilian Army, was recently elected President of the largest Latin American nation. Wielding the motto ‘Brazil above all, God above everyone!’, Bolsonaro has achieved infamy worldwide due to his bigoted, xenophobic and openly homophobic statements. On top of that, he reached the newspapers headlines over his anti-conservationist approach towards Brazil’s natural resources.
Recent investigations uncovered an active stance of the Executive in Chief, that ended up providing institutional backup to cattle and soy farmers and their eerie intentions of setting the Amazon rainforest in flames, in what has been called in Brazil ‘a day of fire‘. The country’s current trend of far-right populism and attacks against minorities has thrown Brazil into the international spotlight, sparking public debates over human rights and democratic decay. Despite claiming to be Catholic, the president typically peddles violent discourses to his most hardened supporters: the neo-Pentecostal Christians.
Neo-Pentecostal churches are a relatively recent episode in Brazil’s religious history. Pentecostalism emerged in the country throughout the 1970s and has had a steady membership growth of 7.9% a year; Neo-Pentecostals constitute 65% of all self-proclaimed evangelicals. The rise of Neo-Pentecostal denominations in the country brought a new political force into the mainstream, in the form of several political parties created directly by, or with support from churches in the last twenty years.
Bolsonaro today is perceived by pastors and followers as a catalyst of change in a corrupt Brazil. Bolsonaro’s middle-name is Messias (Messiah) and his social media followers nicknamed him ‘the Myth’. Such a movement evokes the historical phenomenon of messianism in Brazilian politics, which has seen two civil wars attempt to suppress messianic popular figures in the countryside (namely the Canudos War in the 19th Century and the Contestado War in the 1910s). The figure of a savior that shall free the poor masses from their sorrow and finally fulfill the national destiny of glory is an ever-present topos in the Brazilian popular imaginary.
In the present day, there is a profusion of different churches, denominations and eclectic liturgies in the local Pentecostal spectrum. No central authority has been established to bring coherence to the Evangelical Neo-Pentecostal movements’ desires and aims. However, there are among the notorious Televangelical denominations a comprehensive set of successful evangelising tactics that are similar in shape or form.
The Neo Pentecostals in Brazil differ from the Charismatics in the USA by their successful business model that produces strong geographical capillarity. Brazilian neo-Pentecostal megachurches not only manage to organize political parties but have also reached the highest echelons of the State’s administration, from army generals to rank-and-file nominees of ministerial cabinets. Today, local churches like the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD in the Brazilian Portuguese acronym), founded by the Rio de Janeiro born Edir Macedo in 1977, and the International Church of God’s Grace, acquired diplomatic passports for their pastors through their connections in the Ministry of Foreign relations, as well as privileges to expand their operations beyond the country’s borders.
As founder of the IURD, Edir Macedo is the precursor of the neo-Pentecostal movement in the country in its present form, and also the architect of the managerial culture within the religious structures. Macedo is vocal in his defense of the ‘Gospel of Prosperity’, according to which, the church’s mission is to obtain happiness and material gains in the earthly life for its flock. A huge component of the church’s activities lies in encouraging generous monetary donations from the followers of the church, which it presents as one of the ways to fall into God’s grace. Those financial gifts are commonly named tithes and can collectively amount to millions of dollars or even to real estate properties.
Such economic power afforded the IURD a powerful institutional leverage during the 1990s and 2000s that has been built, brick by brick, with the support ofthe center-left Workers’ Party. This alliance between the social democratic left and the largest evangelical groups to pursue electoral victories, ended up opening the gates of the public debate to more conservative discursive repertoires, like the rise of homophobic discourse in Brazil. The former head of the Executive branch of the government for the Workers’ Party, Luis Inácio (Lula) da Silva – a Catholic whose views were influenced by his brother, a friar in the Theology of Liberation – saw in the evangelical demographic an opportunity to advertise outside the oppositional, elitist mainstream media to a more left-leaning administration. Using pastors and TV channels under evangelical ownership, the Workers’ Party managed to advertise its governmental agenda to the poor masses.
With such a formidable institutional framework boosting their religious infrastructure, the largest evangelical churches developed a robust model of conversion and congregation that allowed them to project power overseas, facilitated by the leniency of the State. From Africa, Europe and North-America, the IURD alone now has a foothold in 180 countries and claims to have 12 million active members. In order to amass large numbers of followers, they tend to focus on marginalized and disenfranchised groups (economically and racially).
In the cases of Brazil and Mozambique, religious traditions such as Candomblé (and other animist expressions) are cast as scapegoats for all the evils and hardships that people face in their lives. I witnessed this phenomenon when accompanying a relative in one IURD church service. On the ‘Altar’, the pastor summoned a family from the region whose son was addicted to drugs. Socio-economic problems like violence, substance abuse and poverty are then treated as the work of Exú, an important and traditional figure for religions of the Yoruba matrix in Brazil. The young man, according to the pastor, had attended a ritual in a terreiro (a religious space for Afro-Brazilian beliefs) because of a girlfriend who forced him to partake in ‘demonic’ Candomblé practices and rites. That contact allegedly let the evil spirits take his soul and led him to use cocaine and other substances.
This approximation of different beliefs to evil is neither a novelty, nor usually authentic. These ‘testimonies’ or rituals of cure and exorcism are very often a ‘make-believe’ played by hired actors that appear in different churches or televangelical shows. In a not so remote past, Our Lady of Aparecida (Patron Saint of Brazil and one of the Saints with the largest group of followers in the world) was also associated by IURD with the devil and pointed out as the ultimate cause of all Brazil’s underdevelopment and suffering. The clear message of Pastors and evangelical churches’ leadership is to demonize any competitor in the religious marketplace.
The heavy emphasis of IURD churches on planned parenthood (here meaning the usage of birth control pills, imposition of one single child for each couple and going further to support abortion in some cases) and the tithe can be explained as an attempt to convert marginalized individuals into economic agents for the church, that being, a way of controlling the followers’ family budget expenditures in order to keep the money flow to the institution as strong and stable as possible. The tithe is a source of direct income transfer from the members, like a pension, that enable the religious organisations to design services to improve the quality of living of many of the churches’ members.
In a country like Brazil, where despite the average global real increase of wages above inflation has improved millions of peoples’ lives, the economic toll in middle-income families is still expensive. The high costs of private healthcare and education are the main destination of families’ incomes, considering the poor quality of the public services available. In that manner, the church (IURD) sees larger families as a challenge to their campaigns for large sums of tithes. If one has too many mouths to feed, by the end of the month they will not have enough to give as a contribution to the church.
For the Brazilian philosopher Marilena Chauí, the mixing of the spiritual and the economic, and the heavy focus on the entrepreneurial ideology of late capitalism, have guaranteed the survival of the Gospel of Prosperity. According to the IURD’s ‘Theology of Neoliberalism’, the world we live in is the final work of God, and we should therefore manage it in order to unleash prosperity and wealth to all.
One aspect usually disregarded by the Brazilian Left (represented by the Workers’ Party and Socialism and Liberty Party, the main left in Congress), is that the church has successfully empowered commonly marginalized communities with this ideology. With the economic growth of the 2000s, the harnessing of those groups by the evangelical denominations – through the proliferation of small devotional spaces and an evangelical-only network of clothing, food, and furniture, accompanied by the decline of the Catholic Church that refuses to further its reforms and compete in equal standards with the new Christian options in the religious market – produced a circular exchange of money and goods strengthening the new religious organisation itself. Whereas Catholics tend to support more charitable and donation-driven practices, evangelical denominations dedicate resources and efforts in developing a welfare system for their followers under a tight and authoritarian grip of the church’s leadership.
However, the economic boom that Brazil experienced during the years of the Workers’ Party government (2002-2016) was depicted by the churches not as a direct consequence of a robust democracy and progressive policies, but rather as the result of strictly individual-centered efforts. In a broader sense, whilst the Left decided to relax their grassroots strategies and working-class commitments of the past, even departing from their alliances with progressive Catholics, Neo-Pentecostal televangelical groups used the Left’s traditional anti-hegemonic strategies to conquer a bigger flock. Garages were converted into small temples in every favela, and pastors began to occupy a central role within social-movements (trade unions, prison community rights organisations and anti-poverty groups) and institutions like the notorious Landless Workers’ Movements.
On the surface, the doctrine of ‘brother votes for brother’ implemented by the Evangelical coalition subsumes national politics into a theocratic system that disables the secular qualities of the Brazilian State. However, in reality, the strategic positioning of Neo-Pentecostal candidates (usually bishops), comes as a necessary step in the acquisition of financial resources or tax deductions for the churches’ benefit. The last stage of the political neo-Pentecostal movement pursues the steering of the presidential nomination for the Supreme Court of Justice. Success in this objective could enable ultra-conservative Brazilians to appoint someone who supports their votes as a judge under the Confessional Practice, which is the conscious decision of a policy-maker or judge to make decisions based on the bible rather than the constitution and liberal civil rights.
This demographic shift in the judiciary could result in the blockage of the relatively progressive current nominated bench of the Court, that during the last years criminalized homophobia, approved the bill on same sex marriage, and is about to vote on the decriminalization of cannabis. The most dangerous aspect of this intertwining of Church and State is the presumption of a fixed Christian morality above all. The dynamics of liberal democracy are based upon the balance of forces and different opinions meeting halfway. If the laws, customs and desirable behaviours are written in stone by some kind of ‘enlightened’ authority, diversity is then rendered as deviance. The new social-political landscape of Brazil poses a threat not only to the rules of the democratic game, but also to other religious minorities or dissident voices within Christendom.
Rafael Antunes Padilha is a Bachelor in Social Sciences from the University of São Paulo, with majors in Sociology, Political Science and Cultural Anthropology. His bachelor’s thesis was in Rural and Political Anthropology, focusing on the economic dynamics of Italian Settler’s descendents in Brazil. Last August, Rafael graduated from the Pennsylvania State University in a Masters in Labour and Global Worker’s Rights (with a thesis on the Oaxacan labor movement and their struggle for broader democracy) after a brief period working in South America with Corporate Social Responsability, and freelance research for organisations such as the ILO. Currently, he is preparing to start a second masters, this time in Contemporary Philosophy at the University of Porto.
 P. Semán, ‘¿Quiénes son? ¿Por qué crecen? ¿En qué creen?: Pentecostalismo y política en América Latina’, Nueva Sociedad, 280 (2019), pp. 26-46.
 The ‘Theology of Liberation’ is the embracing by some Roman Catholics priests in Latin America of Karl Marx’s critique of Capitalism. According to this theology, the Church should have a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and first satisfy their physical, social and economic needs before attending spiritual necessities. For more information, I cannot recommend enough the book Introducing Liberation Theologyby Leonardo Boff and his brother Clodovis Boff.
Modernist re-imaginings of space and society were everywhere in the 1920s. Avant garde artists were captivated by the ideas of progress, utopia, and, especially in the Soviet Union, by revolution. Film, photography, and architecture all embraced the possibility of creating new worlds: politically, socially, and aesthetically. Soviet propaganda posters denounced the old and celebrated the radiant future awaiting the workers and peasants under socialism.
These visions of the new world were remarkably varied. This was really a period when competing visions of modernity emerged in many different places, from Paris to Moscow to Istanbul to Samarqand. Even within the scope of Soviet propaganda posters – which we might expect to represent the single, official voice of the state – there was a wide range of images and ideas, with influences from religious imagery, abstract art, and commercial advertising.
It’s hardly surprising, then, to find that there were almost as many visions of the utopian future as there were artists to depict it. Some focussed on the image of the “Soviet East.” They depicted the Bolshevik revolution as an anti-imperial uprising, and the non-Russian parts of the Soviet Union as postcolonial space.
One such poster [Fig.1] directly contrasts life for “peoples of the East” [sharq xalqlari (Uzbek), narody vostoka (Russian)] under Soviet and colonial rule. A bold geometric diagonal divides the composition between the Soviet and the colonised East in such a way as to make the Soviet East seem bright and open, in contrast to the crowded and oppressive capitalist world, which was populated by caricatures of grotesque and bloodthirsty colonialists and downtrodden peoples suffering under the colonial yoke.
The light of modernity shines upon the Soviet East, whose people are both much bigger in scale and fewer in number, giving them a sense of monumentality and implicit grandeur. This exaggerated scaleis echoed in the architecture; besides fruitful fields and urban landscapes, the Soviet side also features a huge fantasy structure. Its foundation is a red five-pointed star, and rises up in geometric tiers, like flattened scaffolding, to hold a giant hammer and sickle and the letters USSR (in both Cyrillic and Arabic scripts) in silhouette against the rising sun.
The message is clear: the Soviet East, having thrown off imperial rule, is free and fruitful, and serves as an exemplar to be emulated by other colonised peoples. It visualises, therefore, the Soviet government’s policy to exploit cross-border ties in the hope that if they overtly and ostentatiously promoted the interests of minority groups, it would attract the support of other “oppressed nations” abroad, and further the cause of world revolution. The poster even depicts a small group of figures on the colonial side who look and gesture upwards at their Soviet counterparts as if in supplication.
Other images, too, stress the solidarity between the Soviet East and the colonised abroad. А1933 poster by Vladimir Kaidalov contrasts, in bold black and red, peaceful celebrations of the 15thanniversary of the 1917 revolution with violence and starvation in the colonies [Fig.2], while another symbolically represents the Uzbek SSR as “the brightest lighthouse on the edge of the colonial east.” [Fig.3]. The metaphor of light – signified here by the lighthouse, but in other images by the sun, lightening, electricity or abstract rays of light – was extremely common, and not just limited to Eurocentric imagery. The rising sun in particular was used by Uzbek reformist Muslim intellectuals known as the Jadids as a symbol of their own brand of modernity and enlightenment.
However, despite some shared aims with local reformists, Soviet developmentalism was underpinned by a fundamentally Eurocentric, teleological view of progress. The very concept of the “Soviet East” is based in Orientalist assumption: the idea of an intrinsic Eastern-ness uniting the Soviet East with the colonial subjects of European empires, irrespective of specific differences in culture or geography. It is also rooted in the Marxist-Leninist understanding of teleological progress, according to which societies are at different stages of economic development, and some are therefore more “advanced” or more “backward” than others. The “backward” nationalities, according to Soviet definition, were those who had been oppressed by Russian imperialism and lagged behind on the path of progress.
Soviet policy, therefore, despite its anti-imperialist bite, also revived and rationalised particularly crude categories of East (backward) and West (advanced) to justify its civilising mission. To belong to the peoples of the Soviet East was to have a shared history of colonial oppression, to have been liberated by the October revolution, and now to be in the process of catching up. Or, to use the Soviet term of the time, to be “formerly-oppressed.”
In several ways, therefore, depictions of the “Soviet East” actually reveal the profoundly Eurocentric perspectives underlying Soviet cultural policy and propaganda. As the 1920s went on, temporary compromises made between the Soviet state and local elites began to wear thin: national cultures were to be celebrated only so long as they conformed to the party line on progress (without leaning towards “bourgeois nationalism” or “local chauvinism”), and liberation meant not just rejecting imperial power but also overthrowing traditions and social norms seen as backward. Soviet “postcolonialism” therefore operated within rigid boundaries.
This didn’t stop artists from representing the “Soviet East” as a paragon of liberty.
This poster [Fig.4], produced for the 10-year anniversary of the Red Army, does just that. It depicts a cavalryman riding a red horse directly out of the frame of the poster, towards the viewer, his gaze uplifted and his posture composed: he is literally the flag-bearer of Soviet order. He is also a romanticised figure, the mountain horseman depicted in monumental scale and vivid colour against a stylised landscape. The poster frames the Soviet East as ordered, militarised, mapped space, but emphasises too its agency and dynamism.
Others emphasised the brotherly harmony between the formerly-oppressed nationalities and the Russian proletariat, striding Together, As Friends, to Elections, to Work, and to the Soviets! [Fig.5]. Predictably, this image of a peaceful utopia glosses over real resentments and conflicts between workers of different nationalities. In Central Asia, conditions for local workers were often worse than for Russians, who nonetheless often expressed resentment at the preferential treatment afforded non-Europeans under the state’s affirmative action policies [korenizatsiia]. They expressed their mutual hostility in direct fashion on the shop floor: ‘in one Tashkent factory, European workers taunted Uzbeks by calling them women’s names, and Uzbeks dropped crowbars and bolts on Europeans as a “joke”.’ (It is interesting to note that, unusually, this poster is captioned only in Russian, perhaps indicating an intended audience among the predominantly-Russian industrial workers, and perhaps suggesting that the Russian workforce was thought to be the main cause of interethnic conflict).
Images of the “Soviet East,” as created in posters of the 1920s and early 30s, were therefore utopian in more ways than one. The Soviet East was depicted as a beacon, a sunbeam, a ray of light; a model of postcolonial transformation, industrialisation, and interethnic friendship; and a paragon of freedom in vivid colour. Propaganda images hinted at some of the problems faced by Soviet nationalities policy in practice, such as in the reference to interethnic conflict, but largely present images of a postcolonial paradise. These posters show the diversity of Soviet propaganda images in the 1920s, before the ‘friendship of the peoples,’ an array of nationalities gathered around Stalin, became the defining metaphor of the Soviet body politic.
Mollie Arbuthnot is a PhD candidate in Russian Studies at the University of Manchester. Her dissertation focuses on propaganda posters in Soviet Uzbekistan, c.1920-1936, and examines propaganda images in the context of Soviet nationalities policy and contemporaneous theories about national identity, artistic heritage, and visual propaganda. Previously, she studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art and the University of Cambridge.
 Terry Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939(Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001),9.
 Michael Kemper, ‘Red Orientalism: Mikhail Pavlovich and Marxist Oriental Studies in Early Soviet Russia’ in Die Welt des Islams, vol.50 no.3/4, A Muslim Interwar Soviet Union(2010), 435-476 (476).
 Shoshana Keller, To Moscow, Not Mecca: The Soviet Campaign Against Islam in Central Asia, 1917-1941(Westport CA and London: Praeger, 2001), 213-214.
The fifth of March 1926 marked an important day for Spanish civil and agricultural engineering. The government of dictator General Miguel Primo de Rivera published two Royal Decrees comprehensively reforming water management and irrigation administration. Primo had come to power following his coup of 13 September 1923, denouncing ‘immorality’ in Spain’s politics and ‘social indiscipline’ on the streets, and promising ‘rapid and radical remedies’ to the country’s multiple economic, social, political and military crises.[I] His new government, composed mostly of civilians, appointed in January 1926, was now turning its attention to developing such remedies in agricultural policy.
The first Decree described anew kind of organisation responsible for planning and implementing water management works. The Syndical Hydrographic Confederations (Confederaciones sindicales hidrográficas; CSH) would take responsibility for agricultural planning in each of Spain’s river basins.[ii] This marked a departure from the previous system, both by taking entire river basins as the administrative unit, and by making the Confederations simultaneously responsible for agricultural policy and planning beyond the construction of dams, canals and similar.
The second Decree established the first Confederation in the Ebro river basin.[iii] The country’s largest river system, the Ebro drains one seventh of Spain’s landmass, and covers – among others – the vast majority of the region of Aragon, which had a long history of campaigning for new irrigation works.[iv] Manuel Lorenzo Pardo, the first technical director of the CSH of the Ebro (CSHE), was a prominent figure in Aragonese society and – like Primo de Rivera’s Minister of Development, the Count of Guadalhorce – a great proponent of the Confederations.
One innovation of the CSHE was the publication, starting in July 1927, of a monthly magazine through which the Confederation aimed to promote the regime’s rural policy and contribute to the education of the ruralpopulation, a priority for the regime.[v] Notably, the magazine also articulated a new kind of regional identity, defined by geography rather than political boundaries, based on the supposedly shared economic interests of all inhabitants of the Ebro basin. This was located firmly within the bounds of primorriverista Spanish nationalism, which considered Spanish unity to be non-negotiable, but was also underpinned by the mobilisation of the ‘respectable’, conservative ‘vital forces’ (fuerzas vivas) of municipal and provincial life.[vi]
The Confederation of the Ebro held particular significance in this regard. Although centred on Aragon, it also covered significant parts of the two regions which had, since the second half of the nineteenth century, posed the greatest challenges to integrative Spanish nationalism: the Basque Country and Catalonia. Both regions had experienced a greater degree of industrialisation than the rest of the predominantly agrarian country, and regional nationalist movements had emerged in both, among the industrial bourgeoisie in Catalonia and primarily in smaller towns in the Basque Country.[vii] Just as visceral opposition to the Catalan independence movement has been a factor in the remobilisation of Spain’s extreme right since October 2017, so Primo had justified his coup with reference to rising nationalist agitation in Barcelona.[viii]
The Confederation associated parts of these regions with Aragon, and publications such as the CSHE magazine could use this to develop an ‘imagined community’ which rendered them self-evidently Spanish and neutralised the challenge they posed to centralist nationalism.[ix] The union of the crowns of Aragon and Castile in the late fifteenth century had been key to the formation of the kingdom of Spain, and regime rhetoric strongly identified Aragon with Spanish national feeling. In a speech during Primo de Rivera’s visit to the works at the La Violada canal in the Gállego valley in August 1926, the CSHE’s Royal Delegate reminded his audience that the region was the ‘cradle of Spanish citizenry’.[x] In the summer of 1928, Lorenzo Pardo made a speech in Santander, in which he argued – in a prolific display of dubious reasoning – that ‘The movement [in favour of the Confederations] was born in Aragon, because Aragon is the heart of Spain’.[xi]
The Ebro itself could also be used as a byword for Spanish-ness. The Latin name of the river – ‘Hiber’ or ‘Iberus’ – is also the root of the modern Spanish and English names for the Iberian peninsula. Trading on this, the CSHE’s publications identified it as ‘the national river par excellence’.[xii] They likened the river to a ‘father’, taken to ‘incarnate and represent Spanish nationality’.[xiii] The customs and traditions of the river basin’s inhabitants were described as ‘typically national’.[xiv]
One means by which the CSHE magazine imagined a regional community incorporating Aragon, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Navarre and parts of Castile was through its cover illustrations. Early issues featured illustrations of hydrological works on the Ebro and its tributaries. Yet the canals, dams and reservoirs are not the sole feature – the reader’s eye is drawn at least as much to the impressive scenery of the Ebro basin.[xv]
These landscapes functioned as ‘visual encapsulations’ of and naturalised the unity of the people who lived in the Ebro valley, and their engineering of the countryside through the CSHE.[xvi] They presented what John Agnew, in connection with ‘typically’ English landscapes, has called ‘the “invented” ideal of a created and ordered landscape, with deep roots in a past in which everyone also knew their places’.[xvii]
Later issues adopted anthropomorphised allegories of the different rivers managed by the CSHE, sometimes represented in the style of classical deities, but more often as men and women in traditional peasant garb, going about their business as shepherds, fruit-pickers or wood-cutters.[xviii] The magazine expanded on these with (often poetic) descriptions of the river valleys and their population, the public works planned for them, and their scenery, explaining their place within the Ebro river system and the Confederation’s plans.
In representing the different communities of the river basin in this way, the magazine created a sense of familiarity between them, emphasising what they had in common (the Ebro, the Confederation, and the national government which had given them the Confederation) and allowing readers to locate themselves and their localities within this wider community. By presenting an idealised version of the population’s everyday lives in this way, it created a sense within the region of the ‘deep, horizontal comradeship’ which Benedict Anderson has identified with nationalising discourses.[xix]
The use of geographic rather than political boundaries in defining the Confederation’s area of responsibility meant that this community could be presented as more natural than the division of the Ebro basin between political regions. As the magazine’s first issue put it, they would unite ‘all the representatives of the basin for a common goal and a general harmonious interest’.[xx] Elsewhere, the Confederation was portrayed as an attempt to make Spain’s ‘economic and political constitutions’ ‘coincide’ for the first time in its history – the ‘economic constitution’ being embodied by rivers and watercourses.[xxi]
Furthermore, the CSHE made much of the notion that ‘Basques, Navarrese, Aragonese, and Catalans are united around the desire’ to make the Confederation’s vision reality.[xxii] Pursuing this desire meant that the inhabitants of the Ebro basin would have to act as one community. Minister for Development Guadalhorce claimed that the Confederations would prevent ‘villages with no cooperative spirit’ from campaigning for reservoirs where they would most benefit themselves. Instead, the Confederations would ‘distribute [resources], harmonise and coordinate [economic interests]’, and ‘the water will go where it is needed, without depriving others’.[xxiii]
If all citizens’ economic interests were as mutually compatible as Guadalhorce maintained (however implausible the assertion), then this new regional division could be presented as a natural and harmonious community, free of the ‘destabilising’ socio-economic and political conflicts – strikes, Catalan nationalist mobilisation, and street violence between anarcho-syndicalists and state-sponsored blackleg unions – which Primo de Rivera claimed to have taken over government to prevent.[xxiv]
Public works under Primo de Rivera were no merely technical affair. The CSHs extended primorriveristaeconomic corporatism into the countryside, encouraging citizens to imagine themselves within pliant, apolitical communities. They created new ways in which citizens could identify with their region and, by extension, the Spanish nation whose collective will the dictatorship claimed to represent.
Joel Baker is about to start his third year as a PhD student at the University of Sheffield’s Department of History. His thesis studies public works and housing policy under the Primo de Rivera dictatorship (1923-1930) as a locus for debates about and changing conceptions of the role of the state in Spanish society during the 1920s. His research is funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities. You can follow him on Twitter at @joelrbaker.
[I] See Primo’s ‘Manifesto to the Country and the Army’ of 13 September 1923, Leandro Álvarez Rey (ed.), Bajo el fuero militar: La Dictadura de Primo de Rivera en sus documentos (1923-1930), (Seville, 2006), pp. 56-58.
[viii] In his first week in office, Primo published a decree outlawing regional nationalist symbols and protests, restricting the use of regional and minority languages, and bringing these offences under the jurisdiction of the military courts. See Álvarez Rey (ed.), Bajo el fuero militar, pp. 65-66.
[ix] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Spread of Nationalism, (third edition, London, 2006).
[x] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 1.3 (September 1927), p. 8.
[xi] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 2.13 (July 1928), p. 3.
[xii] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 1.5 (November 1927), p. 19.
[xiii] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 2.8 (February 1928), p. 4.
Moving towards popular experiences of Communism, Arnos Chapple constructs a similar photo archive which conveys everyday life in Hungary from the 1940s through to the 1980s. From bears visiting delis to divers on the Danube, we get a very broad picture of how ordinary citizens (and animals) laboured, loved and lived in Hungary during these years. Finding creative outlets in song and dance, the population was nevertheless subject to relentless state surveillance throughout.
Indeed, authorities in communist Eastern Europe did not just monitor citizens but sometimes stole their stuff. Writing in The Art Newspaper, Catherine Hickley reports on a pilot project by the German Lost Art Foundation which considered the acquisitions of several Brandenburg museums between 1945 and 1989. It transpires that ‘between 1% and 8% of their inventories’ may have been ‘unethically acquired’ – books, sculptures, paintings and furniture which had often been taken from the homes of people who fled East Germany in the late 1950s subsequently found their way into local museums.
Considering the hit new historical dramatisation Chernobyl, The University of York’s Sam Wetherell asks why the bureaucratic doublespeak of the post-war Soviet Union sounds so familiar in a British accent. Though, as he suggests, the comparison should not be pushed too far, the authoritarianism of a state or social system can often be discerned through studying its use of empty abstraction and failed formulae. Wetherell draws interesting parallels between Soviet industrialisation – with its efficiency units and 5-year plans – and what cultural theorist Mark Fisher calls the ‘market Stalinism’ of the contemporary British state, with its relentless and stultifying resort to a complex of measures and metrics with which to evaluate university, school, and hospital performance.
Indeed, such moments frequently presage episodes of popular mobilisation and grassroots creativity. Once upon a time, before news of Stalin’s purges among other atrocities spread, the Soviet Union provided hope and inspiration to oppressed groups worldwide in its apparently progressive and inclusive political credentials. Owen Walsh describes how a significant group of African American writers, activists and journalists, frustrated with ‘white creative control and racial stereotyping’ in Hollywood, took up an invitation in 1932 to travel to the Soviet Union and produce a film about US racism. Unfortunately for the group, the plan failed – largely due to the governmental cynicism and economic rationalism discussed above. The Soviets needed American materials for their infrastructure projects and feared the geopolitical consequences of such a film being released.
Vigorous civil societies provide one of the means by which oppressed groups can mobilise – even in dire social and political conditions. Harry Merritt, writing for Peripheral Histories, investigates Latvian Jews who served in the Red Army during the Second World War as part of the 201st Latvian Rifle Division. Facing hostility from gentiles who feared their presence, and soon to encounter horrific German atrocities against Jews upon retaking their homeland in 1944, a ‘diverse and engaged civil society’ offered hope to Latvian Jews, even as the horrors of war took their toll. Among the ideas that moved them were socialism, Zionism, and fusions of the two ideologies.
If you have written a blog which pertains to any of the above themes and would like to be included in a future round-up, please tag us @authlanguage or me @tomshillam! Comments, advice and feedback all welcome. Thanks for reading!
Tom Shillam is PhD student at the University of York who holds a Departmental Scholarship from the Department of History. His research considers how mid-20th century South Asian intellectuals synthesised anti-authoritarian ideas of their own with those of writers elsewhere to propose a different decolonising politics to the dominant developmentalist dogmas of the time. Catch him on Twitter @tomshillam.