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  • Countering Right-Wing Populism:Transgressive Cosmopolitanism and Solidarity Movements in Europe
  • Kim Rygiel (bio) and Feyzi Baban (bio)

Over the past several years, right-wing populist movements have emerged and strengthened across Europe and North America. Yet, at the same time, in response to growing xenophobia and racism, political mobilizations by refugees and migrants, as well as citizens working in solidarity with them, have also emerged, demanding human and labor rights, fair asylum processes, and mobility rights. We examine the emergence of grassroots solidarity initiatives in cities and towns such as Berlin, Copenhagen, Riace, Istanbul, and Gaziantep, which include arts and museum projects, kitchen hubs, and flat-sharing that foster pluralism and open community to newcomers. This essay examines these as transnational forms of solidarity, informed by notions of "transgressive cosmopolitanisms."1 It investigates these alternative sites as disruptive of hierarchical borders of belonging between newcomers (recently arrived migrants and refugees) and locals (nonmigrant residents), which thereby foster more inclusionary ways of living together. In the European context (e.g., Denmark, Germany, Italy, and Turkey), these movements are significant because they challenge the rigidity of thinking about national identities and belonging, coupled with restrictive immigration and refugee policies, both of which make it difficult for newcomers to establish themselves as members of the larger society. These movements provide much-needed social and cultural spaces where newcomers can establish networks with nonmigrant residents. The radical impact of these movements stems, first, from their resistance to the idea of homogeneous national identities, championed by right-wing movements but also prevalent in mainstream understandings about what it means to be German, Danish, Italian, or Turkish; and second, their ability to provide spaces and activities through which newcomers and locals can create new understandings of belonging. [End Page 1069]

Countering Right-Wing Populism through Solidarity across Borders

The "long summer of migration" to Europe in 20152—which included the arrival of over 3.5 million Syrians in Turkey and almost 1 million asylum seekers in Germany, many of whom were Syrian—has spurred two opposing movements. The first is the rise of right-wing populism fueling xenophobia and racism across Europe, and the second, the emergence of transnational solidarity movements with refugees and migrants that demand greater social justice and freedom of movement.

In the first case, right-wing populist parties and movements across Europe have contributed to racism, antimigrant and refugee discourse, and xenophobia more broadly. The March 2018 Italian election saw the populist Five Star Movement win 32 percent of the vote, while the hard-right, antimigrant, Eurosceptic Northern League won another 18 percent.3 This election follows the ascendance of other far-right parties and movements, including France's Front National, Hungary's Fidesz Party, Austria's Freedom Party, and in Germany, the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and PEGIDA (the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West). Confronted with shocking images of thousands of refugees and migrants marching through the Balkan countries of Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia in 2015, Hungary erected a barbed wire fence along its southern border with Serbia. The rise of antirefugee/antimigrant right-wing populism is not limited to Europe, however, as far-right groups are creating linkages between transnational white supremacy4 and "radical Europeanism."5 Ironically, however, despite making transnational linkages, such networks call for maintaining borders, whether national, racial, cultural, or religious. This ideology has led to violent attacks against others perceived to be different for reasons of race, religion, or sexuality, as seen, for example, in the nearly daily attacks on refugee shelters in response to German chancellor Angela Merkel's welcoming of refugees into Germany in 2015.6 Such movements can, therefore, no longer be dismissed as simply local or as existing on the margins of society; rather, this is a phenomenon we must contend with as activists, academics, and progressive citizens committed to fostering open and pluralistic communities.

The second counter, cross-border movement is a strengthening of political mobilization by refugees and migrants, as well as citizens organizing in solidarity, demanding human rights and social justice, whether labor rights, housing, health care, and freedom of mobility, including the right to asylum.7 As part of...


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pp. 1069-1076
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