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Right-wing sentiments are re-emerging, says new guest professor


Old nationalist ideologies are on the rise across Europe, says the new guest professor at the Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare (MIM).

Ruth Wodak

Ruth Wodak is an emerita distinguished professor previously based in the UK’s Lancaster University. Now living in her home country of Vienna, she will make regular visits to Malmö University to undertake her professorship role.

She explains that the rhetoric which is used against migrants today by the right-wing has similar patterns to the discourse used when the Iron Curtain fell against immigrants coming from Eastern Europe. 

The newly appointed Guest Professor in Memory of Willy Brandt, who is still affiliated to her Alma Mater, the University of Vienna, recently published her book, ‘Politics of Fear’.

History repeating

“In this book I attempt explaining the rise of right-wing populist movements across Europe. Very similar rhetorical patterns are used nowadays against the Syrians as were used against eastern Europeans after the fall of the Iron curtain. Xenophobic discriminatory attitudes have been part and parcel of European identity politics for a long time.

“Currently we observe the coming together of various complex phenomena: the financial crisis, the Eurozone crisis, the Greek crisis, plus disenchantment with politics, and on top of all of that, the flow of refugees escaping from war zones in Syria, Iraq, and so forth.

“We can observe the renationalisation tendencies across Europe, the discourse about protecting our borders and retreating to the nation state in spite of the transnational European Union and all the diverse benefits - apart from sustainable peace - that has brought to many, many people.”

Ruth, who trained as a sociolinguist before moving into discourse studies and communication studies, has a strong interest in identity politics and the phenomena of inclusion and exclusion. During her time at Malmö University she will be teaching and giving a public lecture, ‘Language of Walls’.

Retreating to old nationalistic tendencies

“Walls have become a symbolic icon of Europe; the building of walls and defending the so-called ‘fortress Europe’. I am also exploring the new kind of body politics, the focus on geographical national territory as a body, which one has to protect and preserve. It is an old nationalist sentiment, which goes back to the 19th century, where nation states were perceived –  metaphorically – as human bodies. Thus, one encounters sentiments of disease and penetration linked to migrants, which refer to the conceptual metaphor that nations can be perceived as physical bodies. 

“There is a clear change of public opinion of late, which was at first very welcoming, before it shifted suddenly. Now we are confronted with the closing of the Balkan route, the closing of the Austrian borders, the closing of the Swedish borders. This is also linked to the huge pressure, which comes from the extreme right-wing. This is part of my research agenda right now."

Alongside her role at Malmö University, she is also the principal investigator for the research project, ‘Discursive Construction of National Identity - Austria 2015’  at the University of Vienna.

“It is wonderful to be here and a big honour, Willy Brandt was one of my big political heroes. It is a very prestigious appointment for me.”

Text: Adrian Grist

Last updated by Amanda Malmquist