Public Perception of International Crises: Identity, Ontological Security and Self-Affirmation 1786610035, 9781786610034

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Public Perception of International Crises

Frontiers of the Political Series Editor: Engin Isin is Professor of International Politics, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP). He is a leading scholar of citizenship studies and is a Chief Editor of the journal Citizenship Studies. He is author and editor of eleven books in the field, including Being Political and Citizens Without Frontiers. This series aims to contribute to our understanding of transversal political struggles beyond and across the borders of the nation-state, and its institutions and mechanisms, which have become influential and effective means of both contentious politics and political subjectivity. The series features titles that eschew and even disavow interpreting these transversal political struggles with categories and concepts. Titles in the Series Postcolonial Transitions in Europe: Contexts, Practices and Politics, edited by Sandra Ponzanesi and Gianmaria Colpani Citizenship and Place: Case Studies on the Borders of Citizenship, edited by Cherstin M. Lyon and Allison F. Goebel The Question of Political Community: Sameness, Logos, Space, by Jonna Pettersson Postcolonial Intellectuals in Europe: Critics, Artists, Movements, and Their Publics, edited by Sandra Ponzanesi and Adriano José Habed Citizen Journalism as Conceptual Practice: Postcolonial Archives and Embodied Political Acts of New Media, by Bolette B. Blaagaard Governing Affective Citizenship: Denaturalization, Belonging and Repression, by Marie Beauchamps Public Perception of International Crises: Identity, Ontological Security and Self-Affirmation, by Dmitry Chernobrov

Public Perception of International Crises Identity, Ontological Security and Self-Affirmation Dmitry Chernobrov

London • New York

Published by Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd. 6 Tinworth Street, London SE11 5AL Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd. is an affiliate of Rowman & Littlefield 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706, USA With additional offices in Boulder, New York, Toronto (Canada), and London (UK) Copyright © 2019 by Dmitry Chernobrov All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: HB 978-1-7866-1003-4 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available ISBN 978-1-78661-003-4 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-78661-004-1 (electronic) TM The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.

For mama, papa and my brother Pavel

Don’t blame the mirror if your own face is crooked. – Nikolai Gogol, The Inspector General










I: The Drawing Self 1 Perception and Collective Identity 2 Anxiety of the Unknown and (Mis)Recognition 3 A Positive Self

13 33 57

II: The Portraits of Others 4 Imagining Others as Different or Similar 5 Drawing from Memory

79 103

III: Encountering Crises 6 Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings 7 Wider Narratives: From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine

135 169

Epilogue: Perception as a Relation






About the Author

241 vii



British Broadcasting Corporation


Columbia Broadcasting System


China Global Television Network


Central Intelligence Agency


Cable News Network


European Union


Federal Bureau of Investigation


International Criminal Court


International Monetary Fund


Islamic State of Iraq and Syria


Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Member of Parliament


Member of the European Parliament


Military Intelligence, Section 6


North Atlantic Treaty Organization


National Broadcasting Company


Non-governmental organisation


National Public Radio


National Transitional Council of Libya

RFE/RL Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty ix




Russian Information Agency (Rossijskoe Informatsionnoe Agentstvo)


Rwandan Patriotic Front


Russia Today


Information Telegraph Agency of Russia (formerly Soviet Union)


United Nations

UNICEF United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund US / USA

United States of America


Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

WCIOM Russia Public Opinion Research Centre (Wserossijski Centr Issledovaniy Obshestvennogo Mnenia)


Figure 3.1. The drawing self and perception as a balance. Figure 4.1. Relational narratives of difference or similarity, the accompanying positive or negative reactions, and the dynamics of exclusivity and recognition. Figure 7.1. Arab Spring in relation to Western identity narratives. Figure 7.2. Arab uprisings in relation to the Russian stability narrative.



We had been talking for half an hour and the interview was almost over, when he leaned forward and said: ‘Look, the Arab Spring was done by the Americans – they wanted to create a league of allies to destabilise us. They already started doing it with gay rights in Europe. They finance these movements and spoil our demography in the long run, like fewer babies every year . . . Europe doesn’t understand it yet. What they worry about is that Gaddafi sponsored the electoral campaigns of Sarkozy, and Berlusconi also borrowed a lot of money from him. So, they did not want to pay back their debts and had Gaddafi killed.’ The interviewee, a Moscow student, clearly wished me to share at least one of the conspiracies on offer. Instead I asked more questions. The interviewee was telling me information about the ‘other’ that he considered important – a purpose that can easily be assumed behind sharing views on politics that could take the form of ideology, stereotype, conspiracy, or myth. The listener often focuses on the object of the story, agreeing with or doubting the accuracy of the claim: such as whether the US is as devious; or whether, for example, Israel or Palestine should be blamed for the latest escalation. In doing so, we often overlook the speaking subject, as the speaker’s claim seems to be about the other and shaped by the other’s qualities. And yet, the student told me no less about himself and his conceptions of his identity in these few sentences. These included a clear association with a national collective, the desire for it to be strong and stable, a selfpleasing assumption of superior knowledge to a European other, and the other-denigrating hint at impurity (Sarkozy ‘took’ Gaddafi’s money). If I agreed, sharing this vision could signal common belonging and draw the boundaries of identification and trust between us differently. Later, in many more interviews, I saw international speakers similarly draw self-portraits of xiii



their own identity in their vision of distant ‘others’. This has led me to suggest that certain representations may be accepted not for their perceived accuracy in reflecting the object’s properties, but because of a complex and not always consciously acknowledged relation they form with the speaking subject. This book is about the ‘drawing self’ who stands behind its portraits of ‘others’. Perception of international others, emotion and identity are closely intertwined, as are the painter and the painting. Looking at the latter, we often entertain the question ‘what does this painting tell us?’, seeking the intended meaningful object and responding to it. I will look for the subject: the feelings that certain portraits of international others allow the ‘drawing selves’ to enjoy and the (un)conscious motivations in one’s memory, anxiety or identity that make these visions appealing.


How do people make sense of distant but disturbing international events, and why are some representations more appealing than others? International crises are typically accompanied by a rush to provide an explanation that would reimagine uncertain events as familiar and predictable. The past several years alone have seen widespread references to a ‘new Cold War’, the ‘rise of populism’ in European and US politics, the appearance of ‘global terrorism’, and descriptions of the mass protests and uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East as an ‘Arab Spring’ or ‘awakening’. Events that underlie these labels are usually complex and dynamic; however, certain simple and seemingly final explanations become widely accepted and reproduced, with significant consequences for both society and policy. In the time of increased political participation, new and complex conflicts, global media, citizen journalism, and mass protest movements, public perception of international crises is particularly important. This book confronts one of the common assumptions in international relations, that perception describes the object. International representations, images of countries and communities, and political memories are almost exclusively questioned at the level of accuracy. In politics, perceptions can result in decision-making errors, over- or underestimations of threat, and even conflict. They seem to be poor descriptions of events and objects in question, but there is a common expectation that negative consequences could be at least partially rectified if only better or fuller information were




available. 1 For media, verification, the avoidance of bias and the pursuit of balance and accuracy are some of the key issues in international crisis reporting. At the societal level, inaccurate perceptions tend to be blamed as stereotypical or prejudiced – in other words, misrepresenting the true nature of the people they are describing. Or recent societal divisions over Brexit and Trump, for example, have been widely attributed to deception, lies, and manipulation – in other words, misleading descriptions of reality. But what would it mean for our understanding of popular attitudes if public perception of international events is based not so much on the information about them but on the anxieties, self-understandings, memories, and values that are important to the perceiver? This book uses the case of the Western and Russian popular explanations of the Arab uprisings to rethink public perception of turbulent international events. The uprisings drew wide international attention and were initially viewed with strong sympathy by Western politicians, media, and publics, and with almost equal suspicion in Russia – a contrast with consequences for global politics, considering the on-going Syrian crisis. In 2011–2012, the rhetoric of hope, opportunity, and democracy was prevalent in British and American political and media representations of the Arab Spring. Meanwhile, Russia accused the West of dangerously destabilising the region. By the end of 2011, 67 per cent of Britons and only 31 per cent of Russians viewed the Arab Spring favourably (GlobeScan 2011). How did the societies behind these numbers understand, imagine, and remember these events? And was the difference in public attitudes simply the result of opposite national interests, political rhetoric, and media effect? Public Perception of International Crises offers a new and widely applicable framework that explains popular interpretations of international crises through their relation to the societal self-definitions and identity processes. I argue that societies seek to maintain positive and continuous self-conceptions in their political imagining of distant others and use this imagining as a source of security and empowerment. In doing so, they may interpret international events in ways that depart significantly from complex reality. I compare the British and Russian public perception of the Arab uprisings and show how it was shaped by more than the events themselves. This book contends that both in and beyond this case, international public perceptions are unconsciously introverted and cannot break free of the perceiver’s own identity, presenting a psychosocial ‘unfreedom’ of how societies at large – or

1. For example, the ‘hearts and minds’ strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan proclaimed to correct the inaccuracies in the locals’ knowledge and perception of the allies (US Congress 2004), while policy failures are often portrayed as misinformed. Some of the key works on perception in international politics, for instance by Jervis (1976), connect inaccuracies to overestimating influence and misreading the opponent.



those we could consider the general public – understand international politics. The ultimate aim of the book is therefore to lay bare the presence of a drawing self in the imagining of distant others by the general public and demonstrate the dependence between perception, identity security, and selfconceptions in a new and comprehensive way. Questioning the assumption that perception describes the object, this book explores the role and motivation of the subject in upholding certain visions of the international. To justify this approach, I provide an account of how identity interacts with the uncertainty of unexpected international events and the insecurities that accompany them. I define crises as events that disrupt predictable and therefore controllable routines. They question what is normal and expected and, besides often presenting a physical threat, challenge our understandings of the world and ourselves in it. In other words, crises present situations of instability, uncertainty, and disempowerment as the inability to fully control one’s circumstances. I focus on crises that are international in two main aspects. First, these are crises that involve different states, communities or groups and their physical or symbolic boundaries. In international politics – which itself is an organising vision of the world that already defines some of its actors – these are often nations. 2 However, the argument of this book stretches beyond perception of nations or by nations and allows for multi-layered, flexible, and constantly renegotiated understandings of selves and others in the space we call international. Second, international crises are those that are distant – they happen beyond the immediate vicinity of our geographical and cultural areas, social and political knowledge, or confidence of established practices. Because they are distant, these are crises that tend to be imagined rather than directly experienced by the general public. For analysts of public perception, this creates an expectation that media and political representations of distant events act as a principal source of information about them and, therefore, shape their popular interpretation. I see my task in questioning the presence and role of our own identity and self-conceptions in how we imagine unexpected and distant events. They are, in many respects, the unknown which is made known through relating distant events to familiar experiences. The book suggests that consequently, the perceiver’s self-conceptions are unconsciously but centrally present in judgements and perceptions of international others. Ever since Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion (1922), the analysis of societal attitudes to political events has been a rich scholarly field. And yet, 2. A point made by Campbell (1998) about how the political has become synonymous with the state and by Barkawi (2017) that representations of events through the prism of national identities sustain the world of nation-states.



most studies have considered public opinion in the context of elections and particular policies or explained it by attributing its source to political or media framing and major demographic factors. There is now a breadth of knowledge about how event representations are constructed or how political and media framing is meant by its communicators. There is much less understanding beyond the faceless or generalised data of opinion trends of how these representations are actually heard by the crowd, or how the general public interprets international crises in its own, original ways. In this book, I observe how societies follow, reject, or rework dominant media and political representations and, most importantly, how they come up with self-informed explanations for the crises that make the distant other close and familiar. Collective identities – or the communities of people united by the subjective sense of common belonging and inner imagining 3 – are central to public perception of international events. Making sense of complex international crises is a process in which self and other identities are constructed, and multiple others become idealised, repelled, accepted, or rejected. Vast literature has illustrated how self-identity develops through contrast with otherness, 4 making both self and other present in the representations of the international. Identities are an inherent part of describing international events and their agents, while news about these events is received in complex social contexts. Belonging involves constructing a narrative about the self, and societies and states alike pursue continuity of these narratives in clear preference for what some political studies have theorised as ontological security and routines. 5 The unexpectedness and uncertainty of international crises have the power to disrupt, or at least to question these narratives. The stability and security of identity become dependent on the ability to ‘know’ the unknown – or, rather, to create an illusion of recognising the new events as familiar within our established systems of meaning – a process that this book proposes to call (mis)recognition. With few exceptions, identities tend to ground themselves in positive narratives, leading communities to defend idealised self-definitions when faced with alternative practices or uncertainty. A virtuous vision of the self is 3. In this book, I build on Anderson’s (1983) and Volkan’s (1988) approach to collective identities as subjectively imagined communities. I further combine this approach with ontological security theory, which connects the security of identity to continuity and routines. In detail, the role of identity in perception is discussed in chapter 1. 4. See, for example, Todorov (1984), Campbell (1998), Giddens (1991), Connolly (1991), Neumann (1996), Rumelili (2007). 5. Some key texts include: Giddens (1991), Hall (1992), Steele (2008), Mitzen (2006), Berenskoetter (2014), Subotić (2016), Kinnvall (2004), Rumelili (2015). Ontological security denotes continuity and wholeness of identity over time – the stability of the subjective sense of who one is, rather than the physical security of the body. For example, while military confrontation can threaten physical and material harm, the disruption of our accepted meanings and narratives about ourselves can challenge the stability of identity and present ontological insecurity. In detail, ontological security theory is discussed in chapter 2.



upheld through the selective remembering and forgetting of the past and through the construction of discourses about the present, where such positive self-conceptions enable empowerment. Notable examples of such discourses include Orientalism with its positive and modern identity of the Westerner (Said 1979), the discourse of international development that affirms the model of Western progress (Escobar 1995), and a multitude of cases when conflicts and crises have been selectively remembered to portray nations and other communities in the best possible light (Todorov 2003). Drawing on Bourdieu’s (1984) Distinction, I demonstrate how communities wish not only to appear positive, but also to inspire imitation while remaining unreachable. I argue that public perception of international crises, which happens in a collective identity context, is a challenge of both relating to the actual event and affirming the continuous and positive narrative about the self. The key contribution of this book is that societies imagine distant events as affirming and validating their self-concepts, instead of pursuing accuracy in event descriptions. This argument draws on an interdisciplinary combination of international relations, social psychology, media and audience studies, and psychosocial approaches. Public Perception of International Crises is not alone in the application of a psychosocial lens to aspects of politics. 6 Yet, it is original in its inclusion of psychosocial insights to argue the relational nature of international perceptions. The book applies psychosocial theory in two main aspects: to explain the role of anxiety in identity and perception, and to connect perceptions to memories and emotions. 7 The book argues that perception, as the process of interpreting information in a meaningful fashion, involves dealing with varying levels of anxiety caused by uncertainty. Anxiety is also inherent to collective identity constructions as their boundaries and continuity in time are constantly questioned. In psychoanalysis, attaching anxiety to a specific object confines the threat to a situation that can then be controlled. In public perception of international crises, (mis)recognising uncertainty as something familiar and predictable preserves the stability and continuity of social and political meanings and enables action. Inaccurate, but self-affirming and familiar representations can present appealing sources of empowerment and security. Psychoanalysis also suggests that the present is deeply rooted in the past. Remembering and working through past troubling experiences is the starting point of psychoanalytic inquiry. This does not only apply to individuals: 6. See, for example, Solomon (2015), Millar (2006), Sucharov (2005), Auestad (2012), Volkan (1988), Žižek (1989), LaCapra (2001). 7. A number of scholars in recent years have emphasised the importance of emotion and anxiety in identity, its security and political behaviours. For example, see Ahmed (2004), Solomon (2015), Rumelili (2015), Huysmans (1998), Gentry (2015), Crawford (2000), Koschut (2018), among others.



communities also create narratives, preserve memories, and transmit traumas – that is, they share emotions of selective past interactions. Perception reflects how the object exists through the eyes of the subject and involves imagining or stressing some of its qualities over others. Perception distorts and reworks the object through our own selective and subjective experiences, where the past is inherently present in the anticipation of its reoccurrence. This book aims to provide an analysis of public perception centred on the drawing self, which by means of imagining others relates them to itself and to its own past-present. Methodologically, this book builds on over 50 original semi-structured interviews with the communities in the UK and Russia about their understanding of the Arab uprisings. These interviews were conducted at the time of the crises and are further situated into the wider social and political narratives and public opinion trends in the two countries. I combine interview analysis with public comments to online news stories, survey data, and a variety of media materials and political statements. I also look beyond one crisis – to the public interpretations of disturbing international events both before and after the Arab uprisings. Public perception of these events and their agents were framed in the language and memories about the self. Interviewees focused on elements of the crisis that touched, imitated, or contradicted their own histories and identity choices, and these histories filled in any uncertain gaps in the other. (Mis)recognising the rebels as either prodemocracy fighters or terrorists destabilising the region with the support of the West reflected societal anxieties about particular experiences and offered familiar explanations of uncertain but troubling events. I explain the initial popular Western approval of the Arab Spring rebel and the opposite public opinion in Russia through the prism of how these societies related these largely unexpected events to their key identity narratives of democracy and stability and protected their continuous and positive self-conceptions. Public Perception of International Crises offers detailed evidence of a drawing self behind its portraits of others. This approach is novel to theories of political and international perception. With few exceptions, the existing analysis of international perceptions tends to explain public understanding of crises through the qualities of the event itself and treats perception as the event’s description. I show political imagining to be shaped by the insecurities, anxieties, and histories of the perceiver’s own identity, rather than by the distant other and its qualities. The book argues that images and narratives about others cannot be understood by mere focusing on these others or treating the perceivers’ own identity as fixed: understanding the dynamic inner motivation of the drawing self in political imagining should be an inherent part of a comprehensive analysis of public perception. This argument opens the way for a rethinking of public perception of international crises and international politics more broadly. The book sheds



new light on the origins and appeal of particular narratives and the psychosocial dynamics of collective identity, with potential applications to international relations, political communication, campaigning, social reconciliation strategies, and combatting prejudice or conspiracies. Opportunities for anticipating or changing popular attitudes without taking into account the (un)conscious societal need for positive and continuous self-conceptions are severely limited. Narratives that fail to do so will either be rejected or will evolve away from the intended message to accommodate these motivations, as the book demonstrates on several examples. On the other hand, those representations of international events that help maintain positive and stable self-concepts may be particularly convincing, even if inaccurate or conspiratorial. Public Perception of International Crises aims to open new debates about the forms and motivations of popular political imagining that would rethink perception as a relation rather than a description. Public opinion, nationalism, post-conflict societies, and broadly viewed international encounters can be understood more effectively if the societal need for continuous and positive self-definitions is recognised. BOOK OUTLINE The book comes in three parts. Part I (‘The Drawing Self’) connects perception to collective identity and demonstrates how anxiety, uncertainty, and the need for continuous and positive self-definitions are central to the societal imagining of distant crises. This part formulates the concept of a drawing self that unites the inner motivations and insecurities of a subject that lead it to perceive unfolding events and their agents in particular ways. Part II (‘The Portraits of Others’) explores the specific forms this perception may take so that a positive vision of the self is upheld. It approaches the perceived similarity and difference of others as means to protect and affirm one’s distinction and establish hierarchies. I demonstrate how the processes of imagining, remembering, and forgetting are not simply about the events themselves, but are shaped by the inner needs of a drawing self that stands behind its portraits of others. Finally, Part III (‘Encountering Crises’) explores public perception of a particular crisis. I draw on original interviews, media materials, political statements, and online comments to news articles to argue that Russian and British public perceptions of the Arab uprisings (also known as the Arab Spring) were both self-informed and self-affirming. This part also shows how dominant perceptions of the Arab uprisings later served as a source of certainty for understanding subsequent international events. I begin the argument in Chapter 1 by establishing a link between perception and collective identity. Is there an international without the intra-national, spaces that belong? How does identity influence perception? The chapter



demonstrates that through the creation of meaning and power, belonging influences both the impression (how events are understood) and the expression (how perception translates into behaviour and the reproduction of certain discourses about crises). Collective identities play a crucial role in public perception of the international, from how communities imagine themselves to how they perform their boundaries in relation to others. Information about international politics is socially placed, produced, understood, and remembered, and individuals regard international events by identities and from the position of identities. The chapter begins the discussion of the internal sources of perception where we not only see ourselves in others but are at the same time motivated to affirm particular interpretations of ourselves. Chapter 2 connects perception to the unstable inner world of collective identities where anxiety, uncertainty, and self-doubt are a constantly present challenge. Drawing on ontological security theory, I explain how societies pursue the continuity and stability of meanings. New and unexpected international events present a crisis as they may jeopardise perceived or actual security, signal indeterminacy and lack of meaning, contain otherness as an alternative to established practices, challenge identity boundaries and power to control one’s circumstances, and threaten self-examination. This chapter puts forward new concepts of anxiety of the unknown and (mis)recognition. Anxiety of the unknown presents the disempowering uncertainty of not knowing and not being able to act that produces an urge to allocate the unknown and troubling events to familiar (even if inaccurate) frames and routinise relationships. (Mis)recognition involves such an illusion of knowing or recognising an unexpected event, which in gaining familiar contours becomes less troublesome. Public perception of international others, as I argue, does not seek to imagine others accurately, but protects the continuity of self-conceptions and meanings as sources of security and empowerment. Chapter 3 continues to explore the relationship between public perception of international events and societal self-conceptions. International crises are narrated in relation to familiar histories, values, and memories, making selfconceptions and stories about the self centrally present in societal understandings, judgements, and portrayals of international others. I demonstrate that communities maintain idealised self-definitions and engage in selfaffirming behaviours and discourses. This chapter combines ontological security approaches with the theory of self-affirmation and extends them both. I argue that societies protect positive, as well as continuous, visions of themselves in their (mis)recognition of unexpected crises and apply self-affirmation theory to collective identity contexts. Concluding Part I of the book, I argue that public perception is influenced by the balancing of two ontological needs – to reduce the anxiety of the unknown and to protect the continuous and positive self-conceptions. Both of these needs prevent communities from acknowledging complex realities and stimulate securitised and narcissistic



visions of others. This is an important argument for understanding how public perceptions of unexpected events create certainty and form lasting (mis)recognitions, why the other’s relationship to the self becomes a matter of (in)security, and how people’s understanding of international crises is shaped by their own identity presence. What does it mean to be similar or different to ‘I’ in how the general public interprets distant others? This is the key question in Chapter 4, which opens Part II of the book. Perception of international events and others is often expressed in the language of (un)likeness to self, while politics is full of divisions formulated as similarity or difference. This chapter questions these narratives and their perceptual interplay with sympathy, respect, envy, or dislike. I challenge the traditional approaches that attribute negative attitudes to difference or connect positive attitudes to similarity between communities. I suggest that narratives of difference and similarity may convey both negative and positive attitudes where difference may be welcome, and sameness feared. I propose to regard the narratives of difference and similarity as protective mechanisms through which societies defend their position of positive distinction against what they see as the others’ imitating or rejecting responses. In other words, similarity and difference are discursive forms of relating to others through which groups establish power and hierarchies. The chapter uses a wide range of examples from the discourses of international development to migration and nationalism. In Chapter 5, I examine the relationship between perception and memory. Self-conceptions and the perception of others are wrapped in available and usable memories. The chapter focuses on two key aspects: how memories shape the (mis)recognition of new events as familiar and predictable, and how new political memories are formed and become part of the nation’s selective history. This chapter traces the journey from the initial reactions to unexpected international crises to the appearance of dominant representations and new memories. It asks why some representations are accepted and remembered, while others become rejected and forgotten. The proposed answer lies beyond conventional theories of narrative organisation and framing, in the usability of memories and representations for collective self-affirmation. I demonstrate how, through perceiving the present, we come to reimagine the past, transmit meanings and emotions from one event to another, and reaffirm our identities. The chapter sets the stage for Part III with examples of political imagining and memory politics ranging from the Anglo-Zulu war and Italy’s defeat in Ethiopia to the Rwandan genocide, the war in Iraq, and the remembrance of problematic histories in the Baltic states and Russia. Chapter 6 opens a case-focused discussion of public perception of international crises. This chapter presents evidence from over 50 semi-structured individual interviews on the perception of the Arab uprisings in 2011–2013 (and particularly Libya and Syria) among the general public in the UK and



Russia at the time. Following the explanation of the principal methodological choices in this study, I demonstrate how most British participants explained the events as a Western-inspired struggle of democracy against oppression, while most Russian interviewees described them as a dangerous destabilisation. Yet although the British and the Russian public arrived at opposite opinions about the events, their ways of imagining the crises were strikingly similar. Both groups of interviewees related distant events closely to their own sense of identity by interpreting them through familiar or troubling experiences, producing (mis)recognitions, and affirming positive self-conceptions. Their overall descriptions of the uprisings and nuanced remarks betrayed the presence of the drawing self and their inner identity motivations to imagine the uprisings accordingly. Chapter 7 looks beyond individual interviews, to the wider societal, political, and media narratives of the Arab uprisings in Russia, the UK, and more generally, the West. Drawing on political statements, media coverage, readers’ online news comments, and available public opinion data, I observe how the dominant perceptions of the Arab uprisings changed with time. I witness the construction and the gradual downfall of the ‘good rebel’ in British public discourse as a Westerner fighting for democracy in an Arab street. In Russia, the political and media representations evolved from (mis)recognising the first uprisings as familiar economic crises to explaining them as a rejection of stability forced by Western strategic interference. For both Russia and the West, this imagining of the Arab Spring touched deeply on their self-understandings, memories, and societal insecurities. The chapter also observes how the resulting (mis)recognitions later informed the perception of subsequent international crises, such as the Ukrainian revolution of 2014. Finally, in the Epilogue, I explain the new approach to public perception and political imagining as a relation through which we bring distant events and others close to ourselves and indicate its significance for policymaking.


The Drawing Self

Chapter One

Perception and Collective Identity

The essential dilemma of my life is between my deep desire to belong and my suspicion of belonging. – Jhumpa Lahiri

Is there an international and where are its boundaries? This question has fascinated political scientists, who explained foreign policy through domestic contexts, pressures, and structures (see Rosenau 1967; Smith 1998; McCormick 2012) or, on the contrary, stressed the international sources of both foreign and domestic politics (Gourevitch 1978). But leaving the primordial question aside, there is barely any international free from the intra-national and vice versa. And if we take a step away from foreign policy at the structural or decision-making level, or how politics is done, to the popular conceptions of world politics, or how politics is imagined, the question gains an entirely new dimension. Governmental policies, economic realities, political figures and organisations are part of this imagining, but so are the histories, societal values, cultures and prejudices, borders and migration flows, media representations, rumours, issues of trust and selective interest in political affairs, among many other things. As a space that is populated and imagined by communities with diverse beliefs, backgrounds, and practices, the international becomes the Imaginary – ‘the realm of opposition, domination, oppression, alienation, images, mirrors, paranoia, perception, identifications with others, and identity’ (Millar 2006, 14–15). But most importantly, the transformation of the inter-national into inter-group reintroduces belonging, making it a claimed, even if symbolically, space. The international has traditionally been conceptualised as the arena of collective entities and contexts (states, nations, structures, elites, interest groups, and the consequences of their actions) rather than individuals. With the constructivist turn, it has been rethought as a space where most notions 13


Chapter 1

(such as sovereignty, human rights, progress, etc.) are collectively agreed and constructed – in other words, given meaning and power through social and political recognition, practice, and discourse. Not denying the value of the systemic or actor-based analysis of international politics, in this book, I take the vision of the international as a reservoir of individually and collectively experienced anxiety, desire, symbolic and interest-driven conflict, and unstable identity boundaries – as a collectively populated and closely interrelated psychosocial space. The dynamism of this space begins with establishing and categorising the inside and outside of I – in other words, drawing a fluid self/other boundary which is in constant need of being reproduced. In this chapter, I argue that individuals tend to judge the international by identities and from the position of identities and that consequently, collective identity is central to public perception of international politics. In any political event, there are multiple ‘Je Suis’ 1 as people assume and assign to others the various collective positions that are easier to understand and relate to. Political events become the arena of minorities and majorities, migrants and locals, liberals and conservatives, Muslims and Christians, Brexiteers and Remainers, Roma and French. The list of collective identities and their judging positions is endless as anything can be given meaning as a boundary marker (Neumann 1996; Barth 1998). Paraphrasing Voltaire’s famous quote about God, if identity did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. Starting with the discussion of collective identities and the need to belong, this chapter explains how individuals gain recognition, meaning, empowerment, and security through multiple and overlapping identities. Bound together by shared imagining, these groups are based on the illusion of inner homogeneity – or being same. This imagined sameness and flattened complexity facilitate the creation of boundaries against others and the simplification of international political realities to recognisable symbols and performances of identity. Belonging, or seeing oneself and being recognised as a member of a collective identity, influences perception and behaviour in multiple, often unconscious ways. At the same time, it is not only the opinion and action that are shaped by collective contexts: people’s learning about international political events is itself a social process. Facts, interpretations, and rumours about international politics are socially (re)produced and placed as they typically reach the general public through various mediums (media representations, political rhetoric, social networks). Together, these processes ensure that collective, identity-related contexts are central to popular understanding of international events. This chapter begins to question the 1. ‘Je Suis’ (‘I am’ in French) is reference to a number of memes that spread after the terrorist attack on the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015 (such as ‘Je suis Charlie’, ‘Je suis Paris’) and were widely used as a unifying slogan in later instances of political and terrorist violence. More generally, it has come to signify collective identification with a specific social and political group or viewpoint.

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drawing self at its symbolic surface – the identity boundaries and their role in political imagining and perception – while Chapters 2 and 3 explore the deeper unconscious motivations that stimulate communities to seek certainty and positive self-conceptions. IDENTITY AND THE NEED TO BE(LONG) Identity, as emotional and subjectively felt attachment to a group, is experienced simultaneously as being and becoming, belonging and wishing to belong. Social psychology speaks of belonging as ‘a profound need to connect with others and gain acceptance into social groups’ (Steger and Kashdan 2009, 289; Deci and Ryan 2000). In his famous hierarchy of human needs, Maslow (1943) places belonging in the middle, preceded only by the more basic physiological needs and safety. Interestingly, belonging, followed by esteem, is the first mental need on the list. As a human need, it reflects the desire for social interactions in which individuals can receive and give affection (Baumeister and Leary 1995). If this need is not satisfied, the consequences may include loss of confidence, loneliness, and the increased need for self-validation (Cockshaw and Shochet 2010), which in turn could stimulate aggressive behaviour. Speaking of belonging as a need that requires satisfaction, social psychology mostly suggests a desiring subject who is reaching out to the satisfying object or known goal which gives pleasure, thus regarding belonging as gain-oriented. This popular approach overlooks the other side of belonging, when the person attempts both to gain/pursue goals (positive condition) and to avoid the contrary (negative) condition – to escape the lack/loss. Though closely linked, the first conceives the enjoyment and comfort of belonging as the motivation behind it, while the frustration and loneliness present consequences of failure to satisfy the need and abnormal behaviour. The alternative, to the contrary, assumes motivation in the frustration itself – the lack and anxiety that the threat of non-being and non-belonging produces in a lone subject. This explanation is closer to the psychoanalytic reading of desire and identity formation as characterised by lack and constant incompleteness. 2 Belonging involves the desire for attachment, a feeling of home and safety (Yuval-Davis 2006) and is the object of unrelenting yearning rather than stable having (see Probyn 1996). Through associating with a group and experiencing belonging, individuals are not only reaching for a positive aim, but also seek protection from the frustration and loneliness that frighten them; an individual I is highly vulnerable. 2. Psychoanalytic approaches to identity, particularly the presence of anxiety and the Lacanian incompleteness of a subject are discussed in Chapter 2. As Laclau (1994, 3) puts this, the ‘explicit assertion of a lack [is] at the root of any identity: one needs to identify with something because there is an originary and insurmountable lack of identity’.


Chapter 1

As subjectively experienced and externally recognised membership in a group, belonging provides meaning and confidence: ‘Knowing that you are a Catholic, or a Communist, or a Scotsman, or a longshoreman allows your own existence to be recognized, it tells you that you are . . . not in danger of being swallowed up by the void’ (Todorov 2003, 165). Belonging protects an individual from the fear of doing something wrong or on one’s own or appearing ridiculous and outcast. Recognised belonging manifests the journey from the depressive and vulnerable position (I do not fit in) to the position of membership and assurance (There are others like me). Not confident in their behaviour, individuals seek themselves in others, establishing a similarity, being like: in multiple forms of belonging, from cultural identifications to the international, individuals prefer to form bonds with people they perceive as similar, rather than with strangers or opposites (Baumeister and Leary 1995). Within groups, members denote preferential treatment for ingroup members rather than outsiders (Brewer and Silver 1978; Tajfel and Billic 1974) – a tendency that enables intergroup prejudice and stereotyping. So far, similarity is comforting 3 as it allows the pleasure of self-confidence and confirms the righteousness of one’s behaviour. It is also a mutual likeness: an individual I is conceived as similar to other group members, and simultaneously their thoughts, concerns, and behaviour are imagined as identical to the individual I’s or at least known to him or her. In everyday situations, we often find ourselves (in)voluntarily speaking for our communities to outsiders: What do you and other Americans think about Trump? Do Russians really like Putin? How do students feel about University strike action? The pleasure of belonging then extends beyond the self-validating affiliation with a collective into the affiliation of the collective with the individual I. Belonging is the power to be part of the group, to gain meaning, but at the same time to define it and to mean. Through the experience of similarity with other group members, an individual’s values and behaviour can be validated and recognised, turning collective identity into a source of empowerment. Belonging is also instrumental in the construction of meaning, normative expectations, and orientation in time and space. Social identity theory explains identities as the result of cognitive categorisation that simplifies perception (otherwise our surroundings would be too complex and chaotic to comprehend). Categorisation involves seeing both oneself and other people and objects around as part of categories and social groups in order to understand them: ‘Just as we categorize objects, experiences and other people, we also categorize ourselves’ (Hogg and Abrams 1988, 21). Perception and the formation of positive or negative attitudes happen towards an object rather 3. Chapter 4 will demonstrate how similarity is not always seen as positive or welcome in self-other relations.

Perception and Collective Identity


than a borderless void, and categories and identities provide the necessary coordinates to orientate our thoughts. Self-categorisation and the categorisation of others ‘prescribes behaviour and renders social interaction predictable’ (Hogg 2007, 88). Likewise, in international politics, identities enable predictability and order instead of chaos and uncertainty (Hopf 1998). Approaching identities as a source of order and simplicity, social identity and constructivist theorists share the understanding that people and objects gain meaning and predictability through the contrast of identity boundaries – the inevitable comparison between groups. For example, belonging to a social group can serve as a source of self-esteem (which is both meaning and status) through favourable comparison with other groups (Tajfel 1978; Tajfel and Turner 1986). Individuals identify with their group and, in doing so, conform to its accepted behaviours and treat them as a norm in relating to others, establishing a view of the right and wrong practices. Belonging creates ‘normative expectations about what is taboo to say, do, think, or feel in the relationship [with others]’ (Shapiro 2010, 637). Defining themselves as part of a collective identity (a collectivity or group that is in a relation with others) becomes the individual’s imaginary extension of themselves and at the same time provides intention and meaning – in other words, designates the group as the possessor of a certain quality or behaviour that unites it and gives it meaning (Castoriadis 1987, 148). As these meanings become incorporated into the shared historical and cultural narratives and symbolic attributes that explain the group’s past and present, belonging fulfils the need for orientation and creates ‘lasting spatio-temporal structures . . . [that] give meaning to their contingent existence’ and situate the individual in the community and the world (Berenskoetter 2014, 269–70). Besides empowerment and meaning, belonging provides both real and symbolic protection: ‘Belonging to a group that will defend you is paramount and is the deepest cultural identification’ (Millar 2006, 59). Identity and (in)security are mutually constitutive as they emerge from the representations and imaginaries of the self and others (Weldes et al. 1999, 11–14). Based on original interviews in Northern Ireland, Millar concludes that the desire for group protection is a major motivation behind the existing identity divides, but the perception of the other as a threat is largely driven by the traumatic memories, narratives, and inner anxieties and much less by the other’s real potential to be a threat. In another example, West (2014) demonstrates that the feeling of empowerment and the plain availability of help may underlie the appeal of the far-right British National Party (BNP) to vulnerable Britons, despite their conscious disagreement with the party’s politics. Nationalism, and fundamentalism more generally, offer a combination of empowerment, validation, and confidence that are particularly seductive in the atmosphere of anxiety and isolation, such as in societies experiencing economic problems or traumatised by recent violence. Radical ideology can provide a sense


Chapter 1

of purpose instead of the dreaded loss and neglect and restore the confidence of recognition and protection (see Honneth 1995; 2007). Attention to belonging and identity politics in international relations scholarship in recent decades has mainly focused on larger and more stable groups along national, religious, racial, and ethnic divides, often in the contexts of nationalism, conflict, or trauma. Anderson’s (1983) concept of ‘imagined communities’ has had a defining influence on how national and other identities have been understood. Anderson suggested that since most members of a nation would not meet or know each other in a lifetime, nations are held together by imagining – the shared vision of the qualities, myths, behaviours, and cultural attributes that, in Barth’s (1998) words, serve as the criteria of membership and ‘signals of belonging’ that represent being part of the community. Through imagining, community members experience belonging, share interests, and draw boundaries. But even more importantly, boundaries establish relationships of power and inequality through the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion that come to shape the self/other interaction. Anderson’s concept of imagined communities has been further developed by Volkan (2009a), who described large-group (or collective) identities as the subjective experiences of sameness and belonging, held together by the performance and transmission of shared memories. Being subjective, these experiences may overlook objective differences within the group but exaggerate them against outsiders. Difference is essential for the construction of the inside/outside and self/ other boundaries (Rumelili 2004; 2007; Neumann 1996; Appadurai 2006), making identity relational, or created in and dependent on social interactions and contrast. The existence of a self is made possible by the availability of an other – a stranger, an opposite to self, against whom sameness within the group can be felt and expressed: ‘self-knowledge develops through the knowledge of the Other’ (Todorov 1984, 254), or as put by Anthony Giddens (1991, 42), ‘the origin of self-identity [is] through the learning of what is notme’. Group identities remain meaningful and significant only if they contain marked difference through a continuous relationship with each other (Barth 1998, 15). However, mere availability of difference does not in itself create the experience of belonging or construct a boundary. This difference does not have to be real (objective) but needs to be imagined and constructed discursively, through narrative structures (see Campbell 1998; Epstein 2010). To become an intergroup boundary that delineates identities and establishes power relations between them, differences need to be socially constructed, expressed, and performed (reproduced). Given that many traits could potentially become articulated as a boundary, communities rely on the fluctuating choice of the principal difference – the factors that the ‘actors themselves regard as significant’ (Barth 1998, 14). For instance, religion is a major identity marker in Kashmir, but in southern

Perception and Collective Identity


India, it is language differences. Yet this has not always been the case: the current priorities given to religion and language in these two regions are the outcome of India’s long history, colonialism, migration patterns, war, and the particular political and societal contexts. In other words, they are the result of multiple interactions that have led to the (re)negotiation of these differences as the major identity attributes there today. In international politics, identities are therefore temporal experiences of a boundary, which can be (re)drawn through (re)imagining the attributes that constitute it. Or consider another example: diversity is inherent to both multicultural and less tolerant societies: but while in the former, it is noticed and valued, the latter regard it as threatening and deserving of hostile attitudes. The second example illustrates what Connolly (1991) called the ‘paradox of difference’ – differences constitute identity, but at the same time threaten it. However, constitutive difference does not always translate into othering, or the conception of the other as threatening or inferior (see Mälksoo 2010, 9). Availability of difference alone is not divisive unless it becomes socially constructed into a boundary and through this, establishes relationships of power. Making the trait important to the point of othering must therefore be driven by something else beyond mere availability of difference – as this book argues, the inner anxieties and desires of a drawing self. As various differences matter and are made to matter in various contexts, individuals may experience multiple identities simultaneously, even if they are not consciously aware of it. The very first collective identities are formed in childhood and shaped by social backgrounds, ethnicity, and religious and cultural heritage (see Volkan 1988). The multi-layered nature of identity is a point that finds agreement among most critical theorists (Fierke 2001). Individual and collective identities are interweaving and interdependent as are the subject and society (Solomon 2015, 63), and their relative weight is dependent on context and priming and reflective of the political and psychological needs (Lebow 2016, 53). For example, the identity experiences of a young Pakistani student in London may differ in various situations: he or she may cheer for Pakistan in a cricket game against England, criticise cultural conservatism or politics in Pakistan and produce diverging visions of the homeland in diasporic social media groups, or feel a religious, ethnic, or migrant identity imposed on them by Londoners in the wake of terrorist attacks. The focus of most identity studies is on what Mitchell (2015, 104) calls the ‘primary self-other relationship’ – the directly conflicting or otherwise interacting parties – ignoring the presence of other ‘others’ around and other, dissident and fragmented selves within. Indeed, there is often an assumption that people live in ‘only one world at a time’ (Kinnvall 2004, 761; Calhoun 1997), which is also characteristic of the attempts to break down an intergroup relationship to the elements that constitute it. But while conflict, constructions of threat, or hostile attitudes may seem to be confined to a


Chapter 1

particular self/other relationship, the transformation of the I and the outside of I into collective selves and others continues into overlapping and multiple smaller spaces, with an individual being able to feel included in and gain meaning through multiple identities. Moreover, I propose to read the outside of I here beyond merely ‘not-I’ or in-group/out-group (as both suggest as if one knows who the other is), but in the broader sense that includes the unknown, the ambiguous, as well as multiple others. The outside is that which is beyond the subject but not always defined, and which can act as a source of both self-definitions and anxiety. These two points (the dependence of identity boundaries and othering on the inner anxieties of a subject and the extended understanding of the outside of I) are where the psychosocial approach to identity formation principally departs from some of the international relations, social psychology, and anthropological accounts that presume state or social identities as a priori given, 4 relatively stable, or determined by traits over which individuals have limited power (for example, ethnicity or race). As Giddens (1991, 75) concludes, ‘we are, not what we are, but what we make of ourselves’ as identities do not have a fixed and unchanging core or essence but are constantly (re)negotiated and (re)filled with existential meaning. Identity is therefore not a fixed or natural condition of having something and being someone, but a continuous ‘process of becoming’ (Kinnvall 2004, 748) in which boundaries and inequalities are made. Considering the active role of the subject in constructing, modifying, navigating and (re)inventing multiple identities, identities may best be described through the dynamic process of identification rather than belonging alone (which orients identity towards the more passive possession of a quality and membership). Belonging, however, should not be dismissed: while it may not be the best term to capture the subject’s agency in its ontological construction, it accurately conveys the subject’s longing to be, to mean, and to exist in a social world – to be-long. The step from the individual I to a collective We is largely necessitated by the eagerness of the comprising individual subjects to belong and the inner tensions caused by the threat of vulnerability, self-doubt, and the possibility of self-loss in the case of nonbelonging. (Be)longing provides safety, meaning, and empowerment, while identity boundaries transform these into relations of inequality with external others. Theories of identity do indeed leave room for a more active subject. For example, from a Lacanian perspective, the self makes itself through a narrative act as it speaks, makes meaning, and exists through discourse (Epstein 2010). Or in analysing national identities, Lebow (2016, 179) sees self-iden4. For a detailed critique of the early constructivist approaches to state identities as pregiven and having an essence, see Epstein (2010) and Zehfuss (2001).

Perception and Collective Identity


tifications as introducing the ‘expression of interiority that allows us to . . . reshape [identities]’. The internal sources of identity formation, or the possibility of self-fashioning, in addition to realising the self through the focus on not-I, remain under-theorised (see Berenskoetter 2014), although identity has long been understood as formed through both internal (personal) and external (social) dimensions as captured in Mead’s (1934) distinction between ‘I’ and ‘Me’. The concept of the drawing self proposed in this book rectifies precisely that by highlighting the inner motivations, insecurities, and desires of a subject that lead it to perceive others in a certain light, while both are shaped in interaction and established in relation to one another. At first glance, the internal and external understandings of identity formation seem difficult to reconcile: if identity is self-fashioned, then it must already exist in some form or have boundaries before meeting the other and realising itself externally. If identity is realised through learning what one is not and is therefore dependent on the other’s presence, then how can it exist or make itself outside of this encounter? The answer, I suggest, lies in the multitude of interactions and identifications, and in the subject’s ontological need for certainty, which is typical of any social identity. If identities are produced through discourse and interaction, then at the point of a new discursive relationship (new self/other encounter) subjects are not in an entirely borderless void. They have multiple other interactions going on and may, even if unconsciously, desire to see them as similar, or linked, in order to create certainty, understand and ‘control’ the new events. The final point of identity formation is never complete, but the starting point is never entirely bare. In suggesting this, I am not proposing pre-existing fixed identities or roles but multiple fluid and concurrent identities, which can cross-populate each other in similar interactions as subjects seek to establish certainty in the new circumstances. For example, in relating to new international events, the public draws on some of the familiar discursive representations of other ongoing or past interactions, partially rebuilding or even retroactively renegotiating the vision of the self as it was experienced and practiced in those contexts. A national identity, for example, is likely to be (re)constructed and experienced in relation to a new international crisis. As perception of the international is not free from the intra-national, or spaces that belong, subjects may seek certainty in the aspects of the nation that have already been defined elsewhere. An American person may self-identify along national lines when speaking about 9/11, the Arab Spring revolutions, or the trade war with China (all of which seem to present interactions with various others), employing some of the similar mobilising attributes, symbols, and lines of belonging. However, the discursive construction of the American nation (the contents of this identity) behind the seemingly same national self-identification may be different in all three cases: an insecure nation in need of tighter


Chapter 1

governmental regulation of society and neoconservative control, a liberal view of the nation as people empowered by democratic rights and a model for imitation by Arab protesters, or a bitterly divided nation unable to agree on Trump, migration, the economy, and much else, but envisaging that a righteous half will prevail in the next election. These national identity constructions coexist at the same time, and elements of them are interdependent (meaningful and constructed beyond the immediate self-other interaction to which they belong). For example, the neoconservative view of migration as a threat stands behind electoral support for Trump and contributes to societal divisions, while the liberal view of the democratically empowered American people sustains Trump opponents’ hope of the nation’s return to the rightful path through popular activism, elections, and free media. The (re)negotiation of the idea of the nation between different international interactions may also be complicated by different members imagining the same identity differently as their imagining is imprecise. At the same time, new circumstances and encounters provide the opportunity to reformulate the self as the self wants it (and needs it 5) to be, populating the other and the self’s own past with suitably imagined qualities. This book’s focus is on an active subject that constructs and relates to others in certain ways in order to resolve inner tensions and insecurities. Belonging to collective identities helps individuals make sense of themselves, their social contexts, and the international and provides meaning, empowerment, and self-validation. It creates complex in-group relations of interdependence, meaning, protection, shared memories, symbols, and experiences and is an inseparable part of political imagining. Perception of new international events happens amid multiple interactions and overlapping experiences of identity that inform the new other, while also being informed by it. FROM I TO WE: IMPRESSION, EXPRESSION, AND FLATTENED COMPLEXITY Collective identity involves transformation of how people imagine and speak of their social and political surroundings. An individual ‘I’ gains company and changes into the symbolic ‘We’ in many facets: from the conception of political spaces (countries, homelands, neighbourhoods, and districts in the case of national, diasporic, ethnic, or other identities) to shared histories (‘our’ glories, heroes, victims) and collective possessions (‘our’ values, culture, natural resources). The experience of collective identity becomes internalised as an inherent part of a person’s outlook on the world: ‘The sense of 5. Later chapters in this part of the book further explain the need for certainty and the unconscious desire for collective identities to appear positive.

Perception and Collective Identity


self is intertwined at a primitive level with the identity of the group’ (Volkan et al. 1990, 36). Belonging and the experience of collective identity influence public perception of international events and political behaviour. This section examines this influence in two of its principal dimensions – the impression, or how an individual sees his or her surroundings and interprets new events, and the expression, or how perception translates into behaviour and the societal reproduction or prohibition of certain discourses about crises. I argue that in both impression and expression, the self’s perception and attitude towards the other are not motivated by accuracy, but by the pressures, performance, and inner dynamics of collective identity. Identities act as a source of meaning, but this meaning constructs the world as much as reflects it. Groups of people, objects, and categories are defined through the boundaries that separate one from another and create contrast. Boundaries become part of perceiving oneself and others and draw them further apart, altering the way things and groups are imagined: ‘We tend to perceive those within [the self and the other] as more similar than they actually are, and we tend perceptually to exaggerate the differences between the groupings so that they seem more different than they actually are’ (Dalal 2009, 78). This distortion, which is inherent to identity construction, facilitates the feelings of trust and affection to ‘our’ group members and creates grounds for suspicion of non-close outsiders. Importantly, it focuses perception of the world and other people in it on the collective identities and groups they are seen to represent. Behaviour and perception may be directed at the other as a collective identity without seeing the individual subject behind: individuals participating in conflict, protest movements, or other aspects of the intra- and international are often taken for the identity they represent. Included in the collective other, the individual becomes both faceless and facefull – deprived of individuality, but easily recognisable as belonging to that group. For instance, some of the worst crimes against humanity, such as the mass killings of Jews during World War II or of Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, or the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki because their populations were Japanese, ‘involve killing people not for what they have done but for what they are’ (Todorov 2003, 212). Judgements based on identity enter domestic, as well as international politics when people of a certain background are assumed to support certain policies. Before the Brexit vote, there was a widespread assumption in the British media and particularly among the Leave camp that all Europeans living in the UK would support Remain just because they are European, the same as English people living in Scotland had been expected to object to Scotland’s independence at the 2014 referendum. Migrants who have settled in the West are often assumed by the parties and voters on the right to be ardent supporters of relaxed immigration laws because they would benefit from them, while those on the left expect migrants


Chapter 1

to be victims of racism from locals rather than perpetrators of racism or xenophobia themselves (for example, towards other migrant groups). Reality, however, is more complex as these groups and their political stances are more diverse. 6 Instances of national, ethnic, or religious stereotyping (for example, stereotypes about Polish migrants in the UK or the regular outbursts of anti-Muslim sentiments immediately after terrorist attacks in Europe), too, present such substitution of individuals’ value with a group image. In turn, individuals may come to symbolise groups or behaviours, such as Hitler and Nazism, Gandhi and nonviolent resistance, George W. Bush and the American ‘war on terror’. In any of these situations, perception of the other as an individual or as a member of a collective identity is interconnected, and the I-to-We transition is metaphorical, meaning that one is experienced in terms of another (Lakoff 1980, 5), and meaning is derived from a comparison with other objects and groups (Ringmar 1996, 451). An individual is equated with a group and becomes depersonalised – seen in light of the group’s positive and negative qualities, attracting attitudes and behaviours directed at that group. Seeing individuals through the identity they represent may be unconscious and unnoticed, or conscious and rationalised according to the values that are normalised within the group. For example, there is general agreement among social psychologists that various manifestations of prejudice present a social orientation towards groups of people (Brown 2010). Based on an ‘inflexible generalisation’ (Allport 1954, 10), prejudice involves a negative or positive 7 attitude towards other people because of their group membership (Samson 1999). These do not even need to be groups with which these people identify – rather, the identities that are imposed on them by the perceiving subject in the ‘dirty work of boundary maintenance’ (Crowley 1999, 30). Different societies have different views on what constitutes prejudice and acceptable norms of behaviour, and these views and norms are (re)negotiated with time (for example, if we consider the changes in relation to women’s rights and attitudes to disabled people and sexual minorities in recent decades). Individual behaviour is (re)adjusted to the socially accepted (collective) norms, in reality or in appearance. For example, racism and xenophobia are widely denounced in Western countries, and overall there has been a considerable progression to multiculturalism, equality, and tolerance, but several generations ago, these were rationalised and justified practices 6. Identity, among other factors, did contribute to how people voted in the EU referendum, but different groups were far from uniform in their choices, and their actual political behaviour differed from how it was imagined by the wide public. For a detailed analysis of the main divisions behind the referendum result, see Hobolt (2016). For examples of how migrant groups in the UK express racism towards other migrant groups, see Fox (2012). 7. Prejudice is typically viewed as a negative, antipathic, or hostile attitude towards a group of people; however, prejudiced or stereotypical views can be positive. For examples of prejudice that is favourable, see Glick et al (2000) and LaCapra (2001, 123).

Perception and Collective Identity


(Taras 2012). Although the norms have changed, inequalities are also rationalised 8 through a view that racism is no longer a societal issue, enabling prejudice to remain unnoticed (Meghji and Saini 2017). Yet multiple instances of overt or, more often, implicit racism still exist. Individual members of the society ‘at a conscious and overt level . . . are well intentioned. Nevertheless, they express racial bias in subtle but systematic ways’ (Dovidio et al. 2008, 51). Empirical studies reveal that racial prejudice and stereotyping can still translate into negative attitudes and hostile behaviour, even if the stereotype is consciously rejected (Berinsky and Mendelberg 2005; Arkes and Tetlock 2004). The difference between conscious rejection and the hidden or unconscious belief demonstrates the adjustment of individual behaviour to group values (I should appear tolerant despite my true feelings so that the group sees me as a member). To understand the change in expression resulting from the I-to-We transition, let us turn again to the inner world of collective identities. Identities are maintained through performance, or the continuous reproduction of the ‘ways of signaling inclusion and exclusion’ (Barth 1998, 15), which constitute the ‘group ideal’ – the fluid and (re)negotiated behaviours and symbolic attributes of belonging promoted by a group (Hinshelwood 2007). The aim of identity performance is to produce particular impressions and images to others (Goffman 1959) in social interactions: it demonstrates membership to other in-group members and at the same time constructs outsiders and communicates their otherness. Performance takes the form of ritualised ‘repertoires of action’ (Hetherington 1998), which are familiar, well rehearsed and expected (for example, sharing key memories, upholding symbols of belonging, or reacting to events in similar ways, which are normative to the group). In times when groups feel threatened or otherwise vulnerable and uncertain, performance (re)creates order as a reminder of self/other divisions and protective boundaries. As a public enactment of identity in response to endangerment (Murer 2010), performance ensures that an individual is continuously recognised by other members as a member of the group. Collectives maintain the boundary by continuing to expel: the constant process of identity validation is ‘the act of inclusion [that] necessitates a simultaneous act of expulsion’ (Dalal 2009, 79). The failure of a group member to timely signal belonging in times when boundaries are reaffirmed suggests contamination by the other and triggers expulsion. To avoid exclusion and the return to the vulnerable position of non-belonging, individual members (un)consciously adjust their behaviour to appear loyal to the group.

8. Rationalisations help protect positive self-conceptions by creating explanations that make certain behaviours or viewpoints acceptable. From a Lacanian perspective, all language is prejudiced as it involves rationalisation of experience (for a detailed discussion, see Millar 2006, 60).


Chapter 1

The pressure and the wish to appear loyal to other members of the collective identity mean that perception and behaviour are not always caused by or even directed at the other. For example, in the case of Northern Ireland, locals who identified as members of the Catholic or Protestant communities acknowledged considerable in-group pressure for certain behaviours (Millar 2006). The pressure to perform identity was particularly strong during protests or unrest, when the identity boundary needed to be reaffirmed. Eruptions of violence and occasional escalations can be interpreted as the performance of identity directed at other in-group members, as a demonstration of loyalty and belonging. Millar suggests that when Northern Irish protesters throw bottles and stones at the riot police, this symbolic behaviour is not so much directed at the other but demonstrates belonging to other members of their own group. This is important: identities are constructed and maintained through the presence of an other, but some of their behaviours and performances are inward looking as they follow the inner dynamics of the group. Inner competition within the group for validation as a member is an important driving force behind the escalation and, more generally, aggressive behaviour. Aggression is often used to reaffirm identity and its boundary in times of perceived threat. Performing the group ideal can also translate into the reproduction of socially accepted and valued behaviours even if they contradict individual wishes. For example, in areas of India, considerable social esteem is placed on early marriage, putting pressure on the families with unmarried girls in their early twenties. India is the world leader for very early marriages with 40 per cent of global child marriages happening there (Jenkins 2013). Unmarried girls and their families fear symbolic expulsion from the community in the form of social stigmatisation, gossip, and harassment. Although child marriage has been made illegal, and the vast majority of parents agree on its negative effects, it is still practiced out of social and peer pressure (Jenkins 2013; Niles 2010). This is a clear case of group identity and its normative behaviours being prioritised over individual beliefs. Members become so emotionally invested in the group ideal that they are willing (and often required by the group norms) to put aside self-interests and sacrifice for the group (Shapiro 2010, 638). Identity performance as the reaffirmation of a boundary and generalisation as the substitution of an individual value with a group image both suggest flattened identities devoid of inner complexity. Collective identity is based on an illusion of homogeneity and inner coherence: inclusion and exclusion involve the simplification of being to key elements that signal the boundary and that all members share. Identity is relational and constructed through contrast with otherness (what one is not), making it difficult to describe what constitutes this identity outside of this relationship. For example, instances of xenophobic attitudes to foreigners or the commonplace anti-

Perception and Collective Identity


migration accusations of migrants ‘stealing our jobs’ are based on the generalised and seemingly homogeneous conceptions of self and other: migrants as all non-locals and locals as all non-migrants. Both groups are in fact highly diverse 9 and can be constructed as identities only through the focus on the other (who the self is not). This is what Dalal calls the ‘paradox of belonging’ – ‘as soon as one tries to get hold of an identity, it disintegrates in one’s hand even as one grasps it’ (Dalal 2009, 79). If scrutinised, a seemingly homogeneous identity disintegrates into diversity, leaving the possibility to see and describe it only through the focus on not-them. Being not not-I – the exclusion of the other and the inclusion of those remaining – is the only element fully shared by the collective, as exclusion based on common agreement about who ‘they’ are is the basis for self-unity. By emphasising or constructing difference from others, groups create a boundary and develop the illusion of similarity within. 10 As a result, identity enters into an uneasy relationship with complexity: acknowledging inner diversity and contradictions can erode the boundary and suggest weakness or penetration by the other. The complexity and diversity of those within collective identity become associated with instability and present a truth that is obscured in the process of identity construction. Besides flattening their own inner complexity, groups make others similarly generalised and homogeneous. Complex surroundings are simplified and fitted into self/other frames, however truly diverse they might be. ‘People, government and state fuse into one image’ (Bloom 1990, 1) in international perceptions, as the public condemns, admires, or ridicules actions of the generalised Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, or Russians, who seem to act as one. Both the inside and the outside of I are attributed to homogeneous and flattened identities, as this is the only way for a boundary to exist. For example, anti-governmental and economic protests, in general, temporarily unite diverse groups of people: major protests usually include people from a mixture of age groups, social, and economic backgrounds, and a range of political beliefs beyond agreement on a few key demands. However, protesters quickly develop symbolic boundaries that enable them to perform a shared identity. This can involve the creation of symbolic shared spaces (Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Egyptian protests in 2011; Maidan Neza9. Interestingly, the rhetoric of ‘our jobs’ would not exist outside of the local-migrant contrast. Bitterly contested within the community as mine-yours in periods of high unemployment, jobs become ‘ours’ with the appearance of the migrant other and the construction of an identity boundary. Perceiving unemployment through identity lines helps blame economic hardships on the other and not the self. ‘Our jobs’ exist as long as ‘migrants’ exist as an identity that defines localness and helps construct a self who is not to blame for its problems. 10. The entities of the ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’, as the most basic to international politics, can also be explained this way, as the totalities that are ‘never really present’ (Ashley 1989, 303) but are born through the discourses of danger, in which foreign becomes the unruly and feared external side of the boundary (Campbell 1998).


Chapter 1

lezhnosti in Kiev during the Ukrainian revolution of 2004 and the Euromaidan protests in 2013–2014 to which the square gave its name; Bolotnaya Square in Moscow during mass protests in 2011–2012), symbolic attributes (umbrellas in 2014 Hong Kong protests, also named the Umbrella Revolution; white ribbons in Russian protests), or symbolic names that emphasise unity (the international Occupy movement). Adhering to these behaviours (for example, wearing white ribbons) signals membership and is encouraged within the group. Diverse, but wishing to appear unified, protesters who only exist in a position of ‘not-them’ (for example, against the government) value and perform these elements of similarity, as they can claim few other unifying traits. Representations, too, become imbued with identity lines: major protests see a battle fought over who comes to represent ‘the people’. It is hard to imagine a more blurred or diverse collective identity: in any country, ‘the people’ experience multiple inequalities, compete in numerous spheres from jobs to education, and disagree on politics on a daily basis. In recent years, for example, societies around the world report feeling increasingly divided (Ipsos Mori 2018). Yet during major unrest, various but mutually exclusive versions of the ‘people’ come to exist and speak for all with one voice. For example, during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the protesters actively described themselves as ‘the people of Egypt’ or ‘Egyptian people’ – a representation that constructed a unified nation, dismissed and expelled Mubarak supporters as paid traitors, and was contested by the Egyptian government and picked up in a number of official statements from other countries. Selfidentifications as ‘the people of Egypt’ who are ‘coming together’ could be observed in interviews with the protesters in Tahrir Square, 11 but references to the ‘people’ were also made in counterdemonstrations by Mubarak supporters. Protesters accused the latter of being ‘paid’ agents and ‘not normal citizens’ (see Sherwood 2011), thus symbolically excluding them. The Egyptian government initially blamed the unrest on the Muslim Brotherhood, while the Egyptian definition of terrorism could lead to the prosecution of protesters for terrorism (see Chiha 2013). In some of the other Arab uprisings, governments directly labelled the protesters ‘terrorists’ and contrasted them against ‘the people’ who were sitting at home and upheld order. Proclaiming the opposition and protesters as traitors and an existential threat serves as a securitising move as it transforms political competition into the rhetoric of national survival, equates national identity with support for the incumbent authorities, and affirms legitimacy in a crisis (Chernobrov 2018a). The contested identity of the ‘people’ was also recognised or rejected by external actors. In the Egyptian case, multiple foreign governments called for dialogue and restraint between the government and ‘the people’, while on 31 11. For example, see

Perception and Collective Identity


January 2011, the White House recommended that the Egyptian government ‘address the freedoms that the people of Egypt seek’ (Al Jazeera 2011), recognising protesters as ‘the people’. Following the resignation of the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, US president Barack Obama remarked, ‘The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard’ (White House 2011b), while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a transition that would meet ‘the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people’ (UN 2011). As a discursively constructed collective identity, ‘the people’ represented a nation temporarily purified of its inner disagreements and divisions and acting as the ultimate source of the legitimate political authority. Yet with the disappearance of the other against whom the unity is constructed (in this case, Mubarak’s government), the opposition as ‘the people’ often disintegrates into competing groups with competing interests and thus vividly demonstrates Dalal’s ‘paradox of belonging’. The performance of a homogeneous identity therefore does not only involve symbolic acts or behaviours but can also stimulate the acceptance and reproduction of certain discourses about crises. For example, the discursive construction of the ‘war on terror’ included a clear boundary – you are ‘either with us or against us’ (Bush 2001) – reorienting national belonging towards support for a specific policy. The discourse of the war on terror and the identities it created became embedded in many aspects of American life as a ‘particular form of common sense’ that was reproduced in the media, church, films, music, humour, and culture (Croft 2006). The ‘with us or against us’ construction is typical of conflict situations when questioning the patriotic narrative becomes seen as a sign of treachery – in other words, when dissenting members of the group are expelled as the ‘enemy within’. Critical events more generally stimulate the (re)affirmation of a unified, homogeneous identity. In statements following terrorist attacks, political leaders typically construct a unified national identity in the past, present, and future, as the people who stand together, uphold their values, and refuse to bend to terrorists. 12 Likewise, in the aftermath of civil unrest or deep inner divisions, the nation is discursively reunited: for example, following the recent post-election violence in Zimbabwe, the new president suggested that violence ‘should be alien to our nature as Zimbabweans’ (BBC 2018), thus setting the boundaries of acceptable national behaviour. Groups create the illusion of coherence 12. For example, after the 7/7 attacks in London, British prime minister Tony Blair constructed the nation as the people who ‘will hold true to the British way of life’ and whose ‘values will long outlast theirs [terrorists]’ (BBC 2005). After the 2015 Paris attacks, French president François Hollande described a nation ‘at war’ and described ‘France that the assassins wanted to kill’ as the people who ‘do not resign themselves’ (Hollande 2015). The tendency to discursively unite the nation and prescribe a trajectory of national behaviour is typical beyond Western political reactions to terrorism. For instance, Christian Kabore, the president of Burkina Faso, spoke of a consolidated nation ‘who never retreat’ (CGTN Africa 2016) following attacks in the capital, Ouagadougou.


Chapter 1

through constructing the acceptable and unacceptable discourses about important events and symbolically excluding dissent. Desiring acceptance into groups, individuals internalise the We and are changed by it, with the individual fear of loneliness and invalidation succeeded by the need to retain belonging through the performance and reproduction of behaviours and discourses normalised within a group. The imagined sameness and flattened complexity within collective identities further change the ways in which the I and the outside of I are imagined. These needs, which are inherent to collective identities as social constructions based on the (re)production of a boundary, underlie the impression and expression of how one relates to other communities and the international. Selfidentifications and the perceived or imposed collective identities of others present the coordinates within which political imagining, perception, and behaviour take place. In these coordinates, there is little room for an individual presence or meaning; instead, people, objects, and structures are generalised into collective identities and groups. CONCLUSION: NEVER ALONE In the perception of the international, an individual is never alone. From the moment of learning about an event, individuals are involved in communication and representation and develop opinions in social contexts. Information about international political events is socially placed and (re)produced as people learn about them through various mediums. These include the mass media, social media, political rhetoric, discussions with friends, and cultural representations such as movies and storytelling. For most people, the media are the main source of information about foreign affairs as personal experiences can provide limited insight into international events (Soroka 2003). Media are generally successful in setting agendas and therefore shaping political realities (McCombs and Shaw 1972; Cohen 1963), and there is a dependence between the amount and tone of coverage and public perception of foreign countries (Wanta, Golan, and Lee 2004). While the news media have the power to influence public opinion, they are often associated with particular political stances and are often read by readers with a similar political outlook (see Ladd and Lenz 2009). Partisan media can deepen the divides in a society (Levendusky 2013), associating particular representations of events with political positions and identities. In other words, the production and reception of information about international events already involves collective contexts in which the news source is seen as trustworthy or biased because of its political identity and affiliation. Other members of the community are also invisibly present in how a person perceives media news and its influence: for example, people tend to overestimate the influence of news on

Perception and Collective Identity


others and undermine its influence on themselves (Davison 1983; Perloff 1999). The transition from news as information about the international to meaning-making and policy as the reaction to it only strengthens the public’s collective presence. Beliefs, opinions, and behaviours that seem personal are in fact social, as they contain the impact of multiple identities. In policy planning and implementation, the public is expected to behave in collective ways: to vote, protest, migrate, spend money, express or attract prejudice, even fall ill and feel (un)happy along complex demographic lines. Public behaviours and opinions about international events and foreign policy are widely seen as influenced by party preferences, ideology, gender, age, race, and other collective identities within a nation (Holsti 2004). Politics is a social process in which collective selves and others are made and gain meaning and power. If belonging creates meanings, norms, recognition, and empowerment within groups, then groups establish inequalities, dominant meanings, and power relations in politics. As I have argued in this chapter, collective identities play a central role in public perception of the international. The individual I is accompanied, pressured, and protected by a collective We in understanding itself and the outside world, in learning about international events, in making sense of them, and finally, in reacting to and remembering them. Collective identities in many ways influence behaviour and perception; therefore attitudes to international events are determined by more than these events themselves. Public perception of the international can be regarded as an interaction with the other in which fluid identities are constructed and (re)negotiated. Yet not all attitudes, behaviours, and beliefs about the other are shaped by it, as the inner pressures, ideals, performances, and expectations of subjectively imagined groups contribute to the worldview of their members. This is what the following chapters turn to in greater detail – the unstable inner world behind the boundary, in which the self, as well as the other, is (re)drawn in answer to its pressures.

Chapter Two

Anxiety of the Unknown and (Mis)Recognition

‘How can you walk down the street with all this stuff going on inside you?’ I said, ‘I don't know how you can walk down the street with nothing going on inside you’. – Nelson Algren

‘Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK. One airline has even doubled number of flights’ (Mail Online 2013). The article with this headline was shared online over 58,000 times in the first week since publication and attracted almost 2,000 comments on the newspaper website, the highest rated of which was: ‘Shame – on our government – shame – on our once great nation – shame on “us” to allow this!! it churns my stomach to be invaded like this – we must take action’ (sic). The article with the opposite view – ‘Romanians and Bulgarians completely fail to flood the UK’ (Metro 2014) – was also popular, with a tweet quoted in the article and shared over 8,500 times saying: ‘Heard a rumbling outside and thought it was the stampede of Romanians and Bulgarians. Turned out it was someone moving a bin. #FalseAlarm’. Discussions about immigration and its likely economic and social pressures on the country’s resources became increasingly heated in the UK at that time. The UK was preparing for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and considering a referendum on the possible exit from the EU, with national divisions and the question of migration becoming more and more central to the domestic political debate. On 1 January 2014, Bulgarians and Romanians gained the same rights to work in the UK as other EU citizens, as the UK and several other European states dropped previous restrictions that had been held for a maximum of seven 33


Chapter 2

years. This political decision caused a wave of media and public comments about a potential ‘influx’ of unskilled migrants into the country. British public attitudes towards the new rules for the Bulgarians and Romanians ranged from nationalist to xenophobia-ridiculing views. Yet the examples above allow little substantial engagement between the opposing camps: one group is distinctly protective of the national boundary against the ‘invading’ migrant and the other defiantly inclusive to migrants. Through condemnation of the government’s policy or sarcasm over the exaggerated migration threat, both are insistent in their desire not to be confused with one another. But even more importantly, both comments above display absolute certainty about the consequences of this change in immigration rules and about what was or was not going to happen, just hours after the new rules came into force. Romanians and Bulgarians have either already ‘invaded’ or failed to invade. The outcome is not simply anticipated, but already known and decided, and the speakers feel certain enough to make a judgement and call for action. In this chapter, I argue that transforming the unknown and uncertain into something familiar and recognisable so that one can act is inherent to public perception of the international. History is full of examples when anxiety was provoked by distant or close events and groups. Anxiety is fear that cannot be pinned down and lacks an object of reference (Furtado 2017) but which threatens the self with dissolution, disintegration, and ceasing to be (Emanuel 2000). Anxiety is therefore closely linked with uncertainty – the state of not knowing and not being able to act. Both present vulnerable and unstable conditions that a subject attempts to overcome as soon as possible. Feeling anxiety, groups judge, express aggression, and expel in an attempt to connect discomfort to a particular source and therefore to know and control it. Nationalism, religious fundamentalism, intergroup hate, prejudice, and violence are responses to anxiety that, at their core, are attempts to allocate discomfort to familiar objects that can be expelled, humiliated, or destroyed. As I argue in this chapter, international crises lead individuals and groups to experience anxiety as a general feeling of uncertainty and not knowing. They are not only crises in the sense of external military or physical threat but also internal crises of identity as the self needs to relate to the unknown – that which does not clearly belong, and which is not predictable. The intuitive desire to reduce uncertainty leads, at best, to inaccuracies and illusions in political imagining, and at worst, to protective hostile responses that help restore a clear boundary and re-create order and meaning. This chapter puts forward the concepts of anxiety of the unknown and (mis)recognition in public perception of the international – the moment of uncertainty when subjects experience the urge to allocate the unknown to familiar, even if inaccurate, and feared frames. This urge is ontological, or born from within, as the unknown is the realm of the impure, threatening, and

Anxiety of the Unknown and (Mis)Recognition


disempowering. Transforming the anxiety of the unknown into the security of the known (recognisable, even if illusory) affirms the identity of the perceiving subject and enables it to confidently interact with the international other. ANXIETY OF THE UNKNOWN International crises and the uncertainty they contain question the self and its power to know and control its circumstances. New events and multiple others necessitate relations outside the known and secure coordinates of established meanings and boundaries. The path to securing identity involves the reduction of uncertainty, in which unclear developments and yet unknown objects need to be reimagined as familiar. Starting with the interrelationships between anxiety and identity, and anxiety and fear, this section places the pursuit of certainty (or rather, the reduction of uncertainty) at the core of political imagining and identity construction. Through fear and aggressive responses, communities do not simply react to others but regain confidence and reconstruct their own identities at the same time. Anxiety and Identity I feel anxiety, therefore I am – the philosophical principle about doubt, thought, and existence could equally apply to the experience of anxiety that this existence brings. As a threat of non-being (not necessarily death, but ceasing to be, dissolution of identity as one knows it), anxiety is inherent to how identity is felt and constituted. Anxiety is existential in the sense that it is caused by the ‘awareness that nonbeing is a part of one’s own being . . . experienced as one’s own finitude’ (Tillich 2000, 35). Identities, interactions, and established meanings involve boundaries that are constantly questioned and (re)constructed, although actors that operate within them would prefer to see them as continuous and fixed. Being and belonging are constantly overshadowed by the anxiety of non-being and non-belonging and are experienced through it. The continuity and wholeness of identity over time is what Laing (1960) and, following him, Giddens (1991) call ontological security. This is the security of identity, of the subjective sense of who one is, rather than the physical security of the body. Individually and as members of collective identities, we experience existential anxiety – the awareness of the fragility and temporal nature of being and belonging. Ontological security involves the suppression or ‘forgetting’ of this awareness, trying to pass the temporary for the continuous, the fragile for the stable, the subjectively experienced for the objectively existing. The ability to retain a sense of identity and ‘biographical continuity’ – to ‘keep a particular narrative going’ (Giddens 1991,


Chapter 2

54) – underlies the stability and confidence of one’s existence and social interactions. This continuity creates what Giddens, following Erikson (1950), calls ‘the protective cocoon of basic trust’ – the routine, day-to-day ‘normal’ life that avoids chaos and self-doubt. Our daily actions are conventional, and we tend not to question them or give them constant thought. The illusion of coherence and continuity provides a feeling of security, while the possibility of these narratives becoming disrupted or questioned causes anxiety: that which is not normal, is a threat. Unconsciously, we ‘bracket out questions about ourselves, others and the object-world which have to be taken for granted in order to keep on with everyday activity’ (Giddens 1991, 37), and from this unquestioning stability of meanings we draw, what Tillich (2000) calls, the ‘everyday courage to be’. Ontological security suggests a feeling of continuity, through which a subject creates a stable understanding of itself and its surroundings and can act and anticipate the behaviours of others. Meanings, attached to oneself and to the various objects around us, become real and can be acted upon – they form, as Kinnvall (2004) aptly draws the comparison, the appealing sense of ‘home’ where one can rely on these meanings as permanent and continuous. It is in the safety of this home that we can hide from anxiety, regain confidence, and make sense of the unexpected. For example, ideology can provide ontological security as a continuous explanation of reality in ways that do not contradict our beliefs, although one may be rationally aware of this being a distortion of reality (see Žižek 1989). Unexpected events that disrupt our self-conceptions can cause a crisis, when ‘the edifice of familiar everyday patterns of perception and behaviour collapses and gives way to a [feeling of] “not-at-home”’ (Han 2018, 27). Originating in psychoanalysis and sociology, ontological security approaches have been increasingly applied to the study of international relations in the last decade. Most of these applications have focused on state actions underwritten by identity needs (see Steele 2005; 2008; Mitzen 2006; Zarakol 2010; Browning 2015; Subotić 2016; Lupovici 2012) and argue that the pursuit of ontological security leads states to escape into well-rehearsed, routinised relationships and maintain continuous identity narratives, even when these actions contradict their material interests or considerations of physical security. 1 For example, despite significant material costs and inter1. The application of ontological security to states has attracted critique for extrapolating individual insecurities to state level (Krolikowski 2008), assuming that states have single identities and psychological needs (Lebow 2016) and reinventing the older concept of identity security. However, it opens new ways of understanding routines and the connection of behaviour to inner motivations, particularly when the pursuit of ontological security happens at the expense of the physical. For a detailed discussion of the added value of ontological security vs. security of identity, see the final chapter in Rumelili (2015). In this book, I draw on ontological security approaches to explain individual and societal motivations to protect identity selfconcepts and, consequently, the appeal of some representations of international events over others.

Anxiety of the Unknown and (Mis)Recognition


national pressures, Turkey still refuses to recognise the Armenian genocide, 2 as this would disrupt its self-definition as modern and inherently European (Zarakol 2010); likewise, Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo, as the latter is critically significant for Serbian identity narratives (Ejdus 2017). Ontological security can motivate states to go to war or to avoid war, although material and security interests may demand the opposite (Steele 2005). Others have stressed the societal need for continuous and secure identities (Kinnvall 2004; 2007; Chernobrov 2016; Croft 2012; Skey 2010) and its role in nationalism, social exclusion, the appeal of populism, and (re)production of political memories. State and society as ontological security-seeking entities are not mutually exclusive: after all, the state is one of the structures through which societies produce and sustain meanings. Identity narratives promoted by states are echoed in the societal need for them and reflect local cultural contexts. The state plays an important role in how national biographies are formulated and reproduced, and people often identify with states and are mobilised around it in the face of external threat or criticism. The pursuit of ontological security by individuals and communities is largely unconscious 3 as we only become aware of insecurity when the stability of our world and its meanings is threatened. Anxiety about the destabilisation of one’s identity and the fear of being changed by outside agents lead people to identify more strongly with closed, bounded groups (Hogg 2007), such as national or religious communities. Nationalism and religion, although not the only ‘secure’ identities, offer ‘answers’ to the existential questions and convey a sense of unity, security, meaning, and continuous biography, which is particularly appealing as a response to the insecurities brought about by globalisation (Kinnvall 2004). They affirm a clear boundary, enabling the allocation of threatening or abnormal situations to external others. Collective identities on the whole seek to establish security in a continuous sense of self and their external environments, although they are in fact socially constructed, subjective, temporal, and fluid unities which may lack real ‘foundational roots’ (Croft 2012). Existential anxiety and the fear of self-doubt and dissolution of identity are therefore connected to the suppressed awareness of one’s finitude and the absence of strong material foundations behind the subjective experiences of belonging. Subjectivity, as the stories we tell about ourselves, is expressed through language, which itself is the site of power, social construction, and 2. The Armenian genocide involved systematic extermination and deportation of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from April 1915 and throughout World War I. It left approximately 1.5 million people dead and caused many to flee. Most Armenian diasporas around the world appeared as the result of the genocide. 3. Mitzen and Larson (2017) emphasise that this is one of the principal differences of ontological security from physical security as the latter is generally a matter of intentional, ongoing, and conscious choices.


Chapter 2

constant change. For example, the notions of democracy and human rights are central to EU narratives of a common European identity. Yet they did not exist with the same meaning a hundred years ago and are dependent on the continuous reproduction and recognition in public discourse. Because of the instability of any discourse, a fixed and incontestable identity is impossible (Solomon 2015). Lacanian approaches to identity suggest that identities are not simply questioned and therefore unstable, but are never fully complete in the first place. For Lacan, identity is always already unstable because it exists through discourse and is based on the elusive connections between existence and language. 4 The subject will never be complete; yet being a subject means always trying to overcome this lack of whole and secure identity. Anxiety and insecurity are core aspects of identity and are therefore unavoidable. Likewise, ontological security is an on-going project: the subject is never fully secure as its identity is never fully whole. Security, as continuity that enables agency, stretches beyond stories that we tell about ourselves. As the previous chapter suggested, collective identities are based on the illusion of inner coherence, which overlooks complexity and attempts to establish identity as homogeneous. Symbolic attributes of belonging, the creation of ‘norms’ as acceptable and meaningful behaviours, and their reproduction and performance in times of threat help affirm the boundary and establish a continuous sense of self. Groups deny their own fluidity at all costs – they ‘will invent in order to appear complete and coherent to [themselves] and others’ (Millar 2006, 20). Ontological security provides further explanations for this ability and readiness to invent the other’s qualities: to avoid the anxiety of self-doubt, our imagining of others reproduces and reinforces our self-conceptions. Ontological security therefore connects the images and beliefs that we hold about others to our inner need for the stability of being and belonging. As I argue in this book, people defend continuous (and positive) self-conceptions when faced with a crisis, along collective identity lines that are important to them. The protection of our self-conceptions is central to the representations, meanings, and images of others that we produce. This protection – the unconscious pursuit of ontological security or, rather, the avoidance of insecurity – is the response to anxiety, which is existential and inherent to identity constitution and which is further aggravated by uncertain and unexpected international events that threaten to disrupt continuity and question our self-concepts.

4. For a detailed discussion of the Lacanian notions of anxiety, desire, and identity incompleteness, see Solomon (2015) and Burgess (2017).

Anxiety of the Unknown and (Mis)Recognition


Anxiety and Fear In international relations literature, anxiety and fear are often used interchangeably to denote the feelings of insecurity, instability, or threat. They are frequently associated with a position of weakness or dependence: fear is regarded as the tool of power and domination, be it in realist understandings of international hegemony or war and survival, Marxist conceptions of class and cultural hierarchies, constructivist explanations of identity and the connection of fear to collective memories of the past, or the view of the mobilising potential of fear for political and social action shared across a range of theoretical approaches. 5 Fear is central to many aspects of international politics and to the internal dynamics of societies. Conceptions of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety are instrumental to explanations of the behaviour of international and domestic political actors, decision-making, policy and attitude change, among other things. Yet while both anxiety and fear produce vulnerability and motivate behaviour, the two concepts are principally different. Anxiety involves a general feeling of insecurity and threat to being, while fear connects this troubling insecurity to specific objects and threats. In other words, a subject experiencing anxiety and a subject experiencing fear differ in the degree of certainty about what causes their concern. This distinction is important as, paradoxically, fear can be a more welcome and comfortable condition, despite weakness that is often associated with it. Fear of specific objects enables self-protective behaviour (for example, knowing what to avoid, to be safe) and predictability (the feared object is negative and therefore should not be trusted), creates a boundary between oneself and the object of fear (the latter becomes expelled as external), and gives purpose (the feared object must be isolated, destroyed, or somehow overcome). Confining general anxiety to a feared object or phobia binds ‘a more generalised anxiety to a specific situation that can then be controlled to some extent’ (Emanuel 2000, 20). Identifying, naming, or altogether inventing the troubling object restores confidence by enabling a protective response: for example, anxiety about non-being or death can be confined to the fear of darkness, and to avoid it, one keeps the light on to remain safe. Naming the experience of anxiety and connecting it to specific objects therefore has a binding effect on the feeling of frustration (Bion 1962). In societal interactions, abstract anxiety about death and non-being can become connected to specific fears, such as the fear of unemployment or disease, and objectified through enemy construction (Huysmans 1998, 242) of external forces threatening to take a job away or to contaminate the subject. Anxiety 5. This is by far not an exhaustive list of how fear appears in international political theory. For a detailed discussion of how fear stands behind international politics, see Tang (2008), van Rythoven (2018), and Crawford (2014).


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is therefore a precursor to the appearance of an enemy other (also see Fornari 1966; Volkan 1988) who acts as an external container for one’s fears and troubling experiences. Enemy constructions are widely used in politics to mobilise the public and direct their anxiety and anger towards specific, mostly external targets. Migrants, asylum seekers, other races, foreign nationals, and organisations can become identified as enemies who, even if territorially inside, are externalised (despised, regarded as inferior, repelled as impure, denied entry, proclaimed to be ‘foreign agents’, and otherwise fenced off, both physically and symbolically) in the process of securitisation. Enemies as opposite others who are feared or despised are therefore needed because they act as ‘external stabilizers of [one’s] sense of identity and inner control’ (Volkan 1988, ix). By comparison, anxiety that is not yet confined to an object, involves a constant search for a disturbing and often internal cause that questions and disempowers the self in its own boundaries instead of protecting it. As Freud (1926) put it, anxiety ‘has the quality of indefiniteness and lack of object’. Unlike fear, anxiety is ‘unconsciously organized and experienced internally, rather than projected externally’ (Rumelili 2015, 12) and through constant self-doubt, incapacitates the subject. In explaining the distinction between anxiety and fear, Rumelili gives an example of the anxiety and fear of death: while general anxiety about dying involves concern about non-being and the unknown after death, fear of death presents the disturbing anticipation of its specific causes, such as being killed by illness or in an airplane accident, and can be countered by certain protective measures. This leads individuals to channel their anxieties into fears as much as possible because fear presents manageable threats. Behaviour of groups experiencing anxiety is similarly dictated by the necessity to cope with it: when a large group is humiliated or threatened, it becomes ‘obsessed with repairing, protecting, and maintaining their largegroup identity’ (Volkan 2009a). Fear can be regarded as a step towards confining and controlling anxiety as it helps establish known dangers and appropriate responsive behaviours. This knowledge, however, is imprecise: protection against anxiety takes priority over concerns for the other (Emanuel 2000, 34–35), which means that in an attempt to escape the discomfort of anxiety, a subject can imagine and invent threats as well as discover real ones. Anxiety triggers defensive responses, which are ‘adaptations aimed at ameliorating threats to self-integrity’ that lead people to ‘distort, deny, and misrepresent reality’ (Sherman and Cohen 2006). Feeling insecure, actors seek to fulfil immediate needs (Mitzen 2006, 345) and in their need to reduce anxiety by identifying enemies, societies often create scapegoats and justify violence against them (Gentry 2015). Many objects that societies fear and to which they feel hostile are therefore illusory targets that serve the purpose of anxiety reduction, but which are perceived as ‘true’ enemies. Fear therefore

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has the power to ‘enforce a particular reading of a threat according to which people and groups are defined’ (Kinnvall 2004, 745; Foucault 1980, 201). The imposition of such readings that assign certain and hardly questioned collective identities to individual acts or diverse groups of people can be seen, for example, in the public reactions to the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and 2017 attacks in London. These terrorist acts were followed by revenge attacks on mosques, a surge in Islamophobic crimes, 6 and public calls for French and British Muslims to condemn terrorism and apologise, suggesting that violence was extrapolated by many into an identity trait of religious and ethnic minorities within these countries. The official political rhetoric, although for the most part more cautious in connecting the attacks to domestic ethnic and religious minorities, constructed a vision of ‘enemies out there’ who did not share national values and opposed the principles of democracy and life itself. Politically, the attacks were explained as the outcome of radicalisation brought about by hostile ideological actors (for example, radical imams and social media groups) or penetration of the state boundary by foreign terrorists recruited by the Islamic State or other extremist organisations. Experiencing anxiety, the French and British communities needed the threat to belong as well, to have a recognisable boundary and origin, even if it would point at a frightening other such as Islamism and terrorism. Attempts to confine anxiety to particular threats can also be seen in the current political discourse of threats, which creates an impression of anxious times and an endless security war. Furtado (2017) aptly summarises the post9/11 discourse of security as ‘Say something if [you] see something’ – the phrase from the US Department of Homeland Security campaign, which is in many forms echoed in regular announcements in airports, subways, and other public spaces throughout the world: stay alert, report suspicious activity or unattended luggage, watch out. Anxiety about individual life or the political and social order being somehow disrupted is constantly (re)produced: recent political discourse has seen the proliferation of claims that ‘there is a disaster about to happen’ (Neocleous 2017, 64). The public is worried about crime, terrorism, migration and refugees, the economy, austerity, climate change, Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, Russian or Chinese power and influence, and foreign cyber attacks, among major concerns. 7 Populations are increasingly portrayed as deliberate targets of political manipulation, deceit, foreign interference, propaganda, and ‘fake news’, reinforcing the impression that threats surround us in any political activity, from elections to every6. For example, see Bulman (2017) for public opinion data and Travis (2017) for hate crime statistics. 7. The perception of major threats facing society today differs by region and country, reflecting how these threats are constructed in local political and media discourse. For a comparison of top concerns throughout the world and how they have changed in the last several years, see Pew Research Center (2015; 2017a).


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day political opinions. 8 Not surprisingly, public trust in established political and media institutions in North America and Western Europe has substantially declined (see Foa and Mounk 2016; Gallup 2016). Media sensationalism – the tendency to report breaking, often negative news – further aggravates the build-up of anxiety: for example, intensive media coverage of terrorism leads to a heightened perception of the terror threat (Nacos et al. 2011). Uncertainty is key to this, as the threat of terrorism is often perceived as random: ‘If nobody is chosen, nobody is safe’ (Richardson 2015). For example, although life in the European Union is now safer than it has ever been, EU citizens express fear about becoming victims of terrorism and crime, and the demand for private security is higher than ever before (Krahmann 2018). The buildup of anxiety around issues such as migration and terrorism leads the public to considerably overestimate the presence of migrants: for example, British people think that immigrants make up twice the proportion of the population as is really the case and overestimate the proportion of Muslims by four times (Ipsos Mori 2013). The discourse of constant insecurity and the attempts to channel general anxiety towards specific threats legitimise policy responses, from counterterrorism legislation to tougher migration rules and media regulation. Threat perception mobilises defensive resources and leads to particular forms of action (Cohen 1978), which are seen as the solution to the crisis. Securitisation, or the connection of anxieties to concrete threats, establishes objects of fear that can be managed, endured, or attacked (Rumelili 2015). In the discourse of security, ‘an issue is dramatized and presented as an issue of supreme priority; thus, by labelling it as security, an agent claims a need for and a right to treat it by extraordinary means’ (Buzan et al. 1998, 26). Fear, which most international relations studies treat as the incapacitating feeling caused in the subject by the powers and qualities of an external agent, can therefore be the exact opposite – a construction of an external object, which is dictated by the internal needs of a subject, such as the need to reduce anxiety by finding (or inventing) its cause. Fear and its social and political manifestation in the creation of enemy others restores certainty of a subject who knows the source of its troubles. It also helps restore distance between oneself and the troubling object. Security, as the ability to act and control one’s circumstances, therefore does not necessarily involve an other who is weaker than oneself, but begins with an other who is known and 8. For example, following claims of interference into the 2016 US presidential election, Russia has been accused of using social media and bot accounts to influence public opinion globally in its national interests, for example, meddle in the UK Brexit vote and Catalan independence referendum in Spain, encourage rallies to oppose the Macedonian name deal, stoke white supremacist marches and protests against police violence in the US, and fuel violent yellow vest (gilets jaunes) protests across France. Media and political representations of these activities portray propaganda threats as omnipresent and imagine audiences as uncritical and disempowered recipients of information.

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externalised, even if this knowledge is little more than imagining and constructing the other for one’s own identity needs. The Unknown and the Interweaving of Past and Future It is proverbial that generals always prepare to fight the last war. The new enemies are unknown, their tactics unexpected, and the outcomes uncertain, so the confidence of new decisions can only be drawn from the past. Everything the generals know may be erroneous and useless in the new reality, but to look forward, we always look backward. Indeterminacy of the future accompanies international events and everyday life in multiple situations beyond war, yet the wisdom about the generals holds true. Education, for example, helps pass on previous experience to new generations – in other words, it transmits knowledge that has been assembled over time. Knowledge, certainty, and anxiety have a close connection with time. Anxiety is about the unknowable present and future of the subject, while knowledge includes that which has already been encountered, lived through, and therefore is not troubling or unexpected in the same way as new events. Even if feared, the known is still manageable. We try to relate the unknown and unexpected to the known and familiar in order to make sense of it and reduce anxiety. In doing so, we often turn to what we remember and recognise from our own past. The process happens intuitively in everyday situations: often we mistake strangers for people we know or unfamiliar objects for the ones we could expect to find. Imagining new events as familiar maintains the illusion of continuity: the past continues, repeats itself in the present. A continuous subject can situate itself in time: it has existed and will continue to exist. However, known does not mean real or accurate. Since knowledge is subjective and conveyed through language, it is built on meanings that already form part of our identities and therefore contain a particular view on the world. Knowledge and meaning are associated, but ‘it is the feeling of uncertainty that motivates us, rather than the knowledge that something has little meaning’ (Hogg 2007, 76); and likewise, it is the feeling of knowing that gives us security and increases our ability to act, rather than the true resemblance between the new and previous events. Anxiety, which is connected to indeterminacy, unknown and uncontrollable threats, and the inability to know the future, is therefore reduced by invoking familiar, even if feared or unequal experiences. There is no unknown object in psychoanalysis: acknowledging the unknown would suggest impotence of a self in controlling its circumstances (and the self is desperate to resume control) and the presence of other, external agents. The figure of the stranger and more generally, the (re)drawing of identity lines are closely connected to the self’s limited powers: that which is unknown is uncontrollable. Psychoanalytic approaches to belonging trace the


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need to belong and form relations with external others to disturbances of early infancy. Though Freud had attributed belonging and affection from their early stages to sexual desires, Klein suggested ‘an anxiety of a persecutory nature’ connected to the disturbance by objects outside of an infant’s control (Klein 1960, 4). The unconscious discomfort caused by this inability to control or possess external objects leads to the discovery of their external agency and independent subjectivity. This is a stranger whose power is unknown, but who is ‘sensed as a bad presence’ (Fornari 1966, 161). Forces beyond the infant’s control are associated with discomfort and attract a negative response. They become ‘hostile forces’, while the comfort of the mother’s presence, protection, and the happy state of being fed present ‘good forces’ and form a first loving relation and a first boundary. The division into good and hostile forces, related to the self’s feeling of wholeness and (in)ability to control its circumstances, underlies its subsequent relationships and is reproduced in new situations of anxiety. For both Klein and Fornari, anxiety is inevitable as it signifies the subject’s adaptation to disturbing reality over which it has limited power (Klein 1948, 140). The stranger becomes externalised, as the reason for discomfort is placed outside the self. The stranger is still unknown, and yet, locating the ‘bad presence’ to a confined external object and populating it with negative or even feared qualities enables the self to imagine the stranger and to build a more predictable relationship. Locating the source of discomfort in external objects becomes a regular practice and leads the subject to resolve later experiences of anxiety by identifying, regarding as hostile, and expelling particular objects. In its extreme, deep anxiety may lead the self to adopt what Klein (1946) calls a ‘paranoid-schizoid’ position that involves splitting, or separating all-good and all-bad objects. Black-and-white visions of the I and the outside of I are characteristic of such responses to anxiety and are similar to the polarised ‘us’ versus ‘them’ collective visions of the international in times of threat. They, too, are a form of violence – the symbolic mutilation of the other through which a subject copes with anxiety. 9 Both anxiety and the search for security are therefore based on the anticipation of reoccurrence, the interweaving of past and future. An anxious subject anticipates ‘the worst to come’ (see Derrida 2003, 97; Lacan 2006) and is preoccupied with a constant search for the trigger, or in Freud’s (1926) words, the ‘signal’ that will cause the troubling situation to happen. The troubling future is ‘unknowable, but imaginable’ (Neocleous 2017, 70). For example, death is the only certainty we have, but it is uncertain how and when it will occur, presenting an unknown that is certainly coming. Anxiety involves the imagining of it and the search for its trigger, which casts both 9. Both Klein (1946) and Lacan (2006) observe the development of physical and symbolic aggression in response to anxiety.

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future and present into doubt. A secure subject, on the other hand, expects the normal and everyday to continue. So, the same future can also contain the promise of security and wholeness – what the subject has not yet become (Solomon 2014) – but what it knows it wishes to attain. In public perception of the international, the reality and nature of new events is not yet known but is imaginable. In interpreting new events, people unconsciously build defences against elements they know they do not wish to encounter (such as self-doubt, disruption to identity, and inability to act) and welcome explanations that describe the unexpected as continuous and familiar. Meaning-making and public interpretation of disturbing international events are therefore closely connected to anxiety reduction and past-future. The latter contains both the troubling unknown and the familiar repetition of previous experiences. The unknown is a condition of the subject itself, rather than the external object – the position of uncertainty as the self is not sure what to expect of the new: the exact boundary and inclusion or exclusion of the newcomer are not clear. A similar process seems to happen in public perception of international events within collective identity contexts. The unknown is something against which there is no boundary and for which there is no meaning, while certainty of a boundary leaves the self unquestioned. The unknown creates the momentary anxiety of being out of control; and one quickly escapes into defensive (mis)recognition. (MIS)RECOGNITION I define (mis)recognition as an illusion of ‘knowing’ or ‘recognising’ an unexpected event, which in gaining familiar contours becomes less troublesome. (Mis)recognising the new as familiar resumes the illusion of control over one’s circumstances, helps avoid self-examination, and preserves continuous self-conceptions. The immediate aftermath of any international event sees a battle fought over its representation as a variety of interpretations emerge. Naming an event allows an illusion of understanding and relating to it, expressing emotional reactions and moral judgements, and enables a policy response. Once an interpretation becomes accepted and reproduced, it becomes ‘normal’, routine, and helps devise a course of action in new situations. For example, the ‘collapse of the Soviet Union’, the ‘Cold War’, the faceless ‘global terrorist’, and the ‘Arab Spring’ became widely accepted interpretations of major international disturbances and have shown significant rigidity since. The labels have been used to ‘recognise’ subsequent situations, for example, to explain the new crisis in the Russia-West relationship, allocate responsibility for new terror attacks and devise prevent strategies, or describe mass protests in other countries. The application of these


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labels has often been inaccurate or misleading, but they have nonetheless guided public perception of international politics in recent years. The essence of (mis)recognition is in the moment of ‘recognising’ the unknown as familiar and the feeling of security and continuity this gives to the subject. (Mis)recognition is therefore not about inaccuracy, misunderstanding, or distortion, but about the underlying need to reduce anxiety and uncertainty, to ‘know’ in order to be able to act and protect one’s identity boundaries. Others may be reimagined over time, but the security of the self lies in the seeming sense of the finality and precision of this imagining at any given moment. (Mis)recognition is therefore about the illusory and protective nature of perception and, only secondly, about the imprecise or erroneous images that result from it. The security of imagining others rests not in the other itself (in which case it would have been a matter of the other’s qualities and their in/accurate representations), but within the self (the self ‘knows’, ‘recognises’, and ‘controls’ its circumstances). The previous section explained how anxiety is inherent to identity and intertwines present, past, and future, leading us to treat the past as the source of certainty and externalise the experience of discomfort. In this section, I focus on (mis)recognition as an intuitive response to the anxiety of the unknown. I approach this illusion of knowledge and recognition as a routine that underlies ontological security. Establishing cognitive, as well as behavioural, routines permits predictability of meanings and actions, and creates social and political knowledge within which collective identities develop narratives about themselves. Uncertainty and the Appeal of Routines Can you remember a situation, a moment in your life when you were uncertain? I am sure you did not enjoy the feeling. Uncertainty is a pause in action, a failure of confidence, a gap in knowledge, an interruption of regular practice. Uncertainty reduction is one of the key motivations for human behaviour, which is closely linked to self-definition and identification with social groups (Hogg 2007). Seeing the world through the prism of identities reduces uncertainty by providing structure and meaning to ourselves and our surroundings, although as discussed earlier, identities themselves are insecure. As Weldes (1999, 221) writes, ‘securing an identity . . . [is] establishing the certainty of identity’ – the process that ontological security theory describes as continuity and the establishment of routines. Routines present sequences of actions and continuous beliefs that become accepted and reproduced and form an integral part of daily life. Routines maintain meanings and provide a sense of certainty: one action leads to another without interruption or doubt, and the chain of reactions is predictable and well rehearsed. The establishment of routines is a way to reduce

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uncertainty and enable action for both individual and collective entities such as states. Routine is conservative: unwilling to recognise the new as new (what ‘I do not know’), it helps reimagine the new as familiar and predictable. In some ways, the idea of uncertainty reduction through routines resembles theories of ‘cognitive consistency’ or ‘consistency-seeking’ (Jervis 1976; Gawronski and Strack 2012), which suggest that actors process new information through existing beliefs and can rethink or reimagine their surroundings to fit and justify their behaviours as commendable and consistent, resulting in some degree of distortion and self-deception (see Beasley 2016; Heine et al. 2006). However, while cognitive consistency theories explain the attraction of consistency through the discomfort of holding contradictory or dissonant views and behaviours at the same time, ontological security theory attributes the appeal of continuity and routines more specifically to the everpresent anxiety of identity instability. It is in the safety of routines that actors hide from uncertainty and change. Routine is a highly irreflexive state that prohibits self-examination, enables the subject to react to new events in familiar and predictable patterns, and associates ‘normality’ with the self and any threats to it – with external others. General agreement on the attraction of routine, balance, and other stable and certain conditions over uncertainty is found across international relations theories (see Rathbun 2007). Uncertainty is associated with destabilisation as it may hamper decision-making and increase risk, disrupt norms and reduce predictability of the other’s intentions, jeopardise perceived or actual security, or signal indeterminacy and lack of meaning. Uncertain and unexpected events produce anxiety, which decision-makers and societies alike attempt to escape. Certainty is often presented as a solution, a positive outcome, although it too can lead to negative consequences. For example, there have been multiple cases when uncritical confidence about the opponent’s capabilities or intentions led to war (Mitzen and Schweller 2011), while the inflexible implementation of routines denotes failure to recognise the complexity of a crisis (Levy 1986). Such ambiguity in the outcomes of certainty results from the different types of security that international agents (both states and societies) aim to pursue. Ontological security may contradict physical security when the preference of routines leads to unnecessary escalation. As a result, the pursuit of certainty and continuous identity through well-rehearsed, routinised behaviours can reproduce physical conflict instead of resolving it. The stability of even harmful or feared routines can be more appealing than the uncertainty of changing the entire relationship, leading states and societies to become attached to conflict (see Mitzen 2006; Rumelili 2015). Rumelili demonstrates how friend/enemy distinctions can become embedded in self-definitions of the conflicting sides, so that the prospect of peace can generate anxieties at the individual, group, or state level, and set in motion processes that repro-


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duce conflict. The only way out of conflict, she suggests, may be in the reformulation of identity narratives – the establishment of alternative meanings with comparable certainty. Still, ontological and physical security are not necessarily divergent: for example, identity narratives influence how the other’s intentions and military capabilities are interpreted and may exacerbate security dilemmas or lead states to avoid open conflict (see Gustafsson 2016); while ontological security in the form of nation branding can contribute to positive reputations and lead to economic and political benefits (Browning 2015). Routines can guide the way a situation or crisis is understood and acted on. For example, the current relationship between Russia on the one side and the US and the EU on the other has been increasingly portrayed by political leaders, media, and think tanks on both sides as a ‘new Cold War’. Some have even suggested that the new situation is more dangerous than the ‘old’ Cold War or that Russia is ‘ahead’ in this confrontation. 10 Relations between Russia and the West had faced a number of problems in recent years (for example, they supported different sides in the Russian-Georgian conflict of 2008 and in the ‘Colour revolutions’ in a number of post-Soviet states in mid-2000s). However, their relationship rapidly deteriorated after the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, followed by the crisis in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s military involvement in the Syrian civil war since 2015. The situation, as stated by multiple political figures, is fraught with high degrees of uncertainty and instability. The ‘new Cold War’ label replaces the uncertainty and complexity of this relationship with a more knowable routine of old Cold War threats and policy responses. Ukraine and Syria become familiar Cold War crises, accompanied by reports of regular interceptions of Russian aircraft or sightings of Russian ships and submarines close to NATO borders; the rhetoric of a Russian ‘threat to the Baltics’ and a Russian ‘fifth column’ set to undermine the EU; accusations of Russia using chemical weapons in the UK (the Salisbury poisoning) and launching cyber attacks; and suspicions of Kremlin propaganda through the RT television network and social media. The familiarity of the ‘new Cold War’ threat is both attractive and dangerous. It creates an illusion of predictability and certainty (even though a new Cold War may be feared) and leads to a wellrehearsed routine of escalating policy statements, defence spending and military exercises, withdrawal from arms-control treaties, arms supplies to the Ukrainian government and the Syrian opposition, economic and political 10. Statements about the new Cold War with Russia being even more dangerous than the last have been made by, among others, the former German foreign minister and now president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, US president Donald Trump, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and former head of MI6 Sir John Sawers. For examples of media coverage, see Cadwalladr (2018), Wintour et al. (2016) and Heuvel (2018).

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sanctions, and negative media representations of the opponent. This routine is the more appealing since the old Cold War seems to have been won with similar steps. It helps overcome policy uncertainty and the presence of divisions within Europe about appropriate measures, by constructing a unified front of the forces of peace and freedom against the return of an aggressive authoritarian power. Yet seeing the new crises as nothing more than the resurfacing of an old problem overlooks their other dimensions and causes, as well as the important differences from the ‘old’ Cold War, which happened in a bipolar system and had an ideological confrontation at its core. The rhetoric of a ‘new Cold War’ leads to escalation as it limits political and military dialogue between the opposing sides, prioritises military containment strategies, and increases the risk of direct, even if accidental, armed confrontation. It also encourages popular suspicion on both sides: 71 per cent of Americans now view Russia as a threat to the US, and about half describe it as a serious or imminent threat (Reuters/Ipsos 2018), while 80 per cent of Russians view NATO as a military threat to their country (Pew Research Center 2018). Western favourable attitudes to Russia plummeted after 2014, and unfavourable views are substantially more popular now than in the last years of the Cold War (Gallup 2018). This suggests a clear connection between the deteriorating political relationship, negative media coverage, and public opinion. Besides shaping the behaviour of multiple actors in international politics, routines underlie social, cultural, and political knowledge on the whole and are an integral part of societal self-conceptions and public views of the international. In this sense, we can understand all this knowledge as a routine – the repetition of facts and interpretations that has become normal and accepted and provides a source of certainty when they are invoked. Yet this does not mean that routines are accurate or that their change is impossible. Routines reflect an established intersubjective relationship, which provides the feeling of security but can still possess dynamism. Take cultural conservatism for example: new cultural choices from modern art to music are typically met with resistance and criticised for poor taste or departure from accepted cultural traditions. The new and radical is seen as a threat and is symbolically dismissed as abnormal, ugly, or incomprehensible. Yet with time and repetition, that which had been disruptive and revolutionary becomes familiar and no longer troubling, and can even present an object of nostalgia when compared to the newly emerging artistic forms. Is this because tastes have really changed, and we believe these changes are valuable? Or has the new become more acceptable because it is now familiar, while other, even more radical artistic forms have emerged? Or perhaps it is the generations who changed, not tastes? Here I agree with Morrison (2003, 278) who suggests that ‘the crucial point is not that the subject, who internalizes . . . discourse, is necessarily intellectually convinced by it, but that


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this subject desires to believe this discourse in order to achieve certainty’. In this case, our conceptions of good art (the narrative about oneself) may have changed and embraced new forms, but not least due to their now certain and familiar nature. This does not necessarily mean liking it, for even when saying ‘I do not really like modern art’, most of us would display a reaction that rethinks the unknown as familiar: we do not follow modern art developments or understand some of its meanings (i.e., we do not really know it), but we feel that we know we do not like it, thus we are able to transform uncertainty into a feeling of knowledge, and that – into action. In other words, although routines are conservative by their nature, they can still possess dynamism because the identities they protect are themselves fluid and renegotiated, and their certainty of action is wrapped in the feeling of knowledge and permanence rather than in objective facts and the absence of change. As a routine, our cultural, social, and political knowledge succeeds in providing us with stable and continuous coordinates of meaning and enables us to control our circumstances. Redrawing routines would mean redrawing identity narratives (what we know and value about ourselves and others), opening possibilities for channelling anxieties towards different objects and therefore altering behaviour patterns that may be harmful. Routines, however, are not altogether avoidable: states and societies rely on them for security and predictability, which enable action, and new identity definitions must have new routines. Behaviour and perception therefore need routines for the security they provide, but not for the exact motions and beliefs that constitute them. The Illusions of Knowing (Mis)recognition, or the illusion of knowing and recognising new events that provides certainty and empowerment, involves a subject who is unconsciously more concerned about protecting the consistency of self-conceptions than imagining others accurately. The reason for our opinions of international others, as I suggest, is not so much in these others or their qualities but in the ontological anxiety and insecurity that lead us to situate events into familiar routines and identity contexts and to imagine others accordingly. This approach opens new ways to explain the common tendency to imagine unexpected events as familiar or predictable, even if this escalates, distorts, or overlooks the complexity of a situation. It can also help re-evaluate the appeal of the simplistic views of many events that paint communities, countries, and even continents with a broad and undistinguishing brush. Political and media representations and public opinion are not merely, as Walter Lippmann (1922) famously put it, simplifications for a ‘citizenry unable to govern itself’. These simplifications also display (mis)recognition by individuals and groups who are unable to act and protect their sense of identity without the

Anxiety of the Unknown and (Mis)Recognition


illusion of knowing. ‘Recognising’ the new and unexpected empowers us, restores identity boundaries, and transforms the anxiety of the unknown into the relative certainty, continuity, and security of the known. With this approach, we can also see in a new light the problem with the popular explanation that conflict is caused by misinterpretation or poor ‘knowledge’ of the other and could be remedied by closer contact or better information. Can the other be really known, and what is this knowledge? Which knowledge would be true and not conflict-causing, and which misleading? If we rethink knowledge not as a set of beliefs and images that we hold of the other, but as a routine which places the other on the familiar and continuous ground of self-related interpretations, the core of the problem would shift, too. It would no longer be the (in)accuracy of knowledge that is problematic and conflict-causing but would be how the feeling of knowledge and certainty enables us to experience ourselves and others. 11 For example, imagining refugee and migrant communities informs public attitudes to these groups and consequently, government policies that get or fail to get public support. Most British people encounter migrants regularly but would be less familiar with refugees in everyday life. Attitudes to both groups are largely based on imagining them as ‘known’ and recognisable through the extrapolation of personal encounters or mediatised images on the overall community of migrants and refugees. Ahead of the Brexit vote, The Economist (2016) wrote about a striking contrast between how people in two neighbouring English cities, Cambridge and Peterborough, expressed opposite views on migration. While Cambridge was overwhelmingly in support of staying in the EU, Peterborough was no less decidedly going to vote Out, with migration being a principal concern. Both cities are in the same county and had a near-identical proportion of residents from other EU countries. The explanation that the authors offer is that, besides different educational levels and demographic factors, there was an important cultural difference: Many in Cambridge see incomers as highly educated Germans and Swedes bringing their expertise to research projects, startups and product-development meetings, in Peterborough they are Lithuanian potato-pickers who, if not competing with locals for unskilled work, are at least nipping at their heels.

Extrapolating different personal experiences led the two communities to imagine migrants in general in opposite ways. But once again, as was the case with the Romanians and Bulgarians at the beginning of this chapter, there was clear certainty and an illusion of knowing the migrant ‘other’ in both communities. The familiar migrant helped inform the fantasy of migrants, in general, and, consequently, people’s political behaviour. 11. I provide further critique of explaining conflict through lack of knowledge or contact in chapters 4 and 5.


Chapter 2

The refugee, while less familiar, could still be imagined as no less knowable and recognisable. During the 2015 European refugee crisis, the refugee and migrant encampment near Calais in northern France, called the ‘Calais Jungle’, gained wide media attention. People in the camp were typically represented as illegal migrants trying to enter the UK, with multiple media stories of them jumping on lorries and ferries heading for Britain. The subsequent clearing of the Calais camp by the French authorities was closely followed by the British media and public: for those against migration, the evictions were a welcomed operation that would help protect British borders and national integrity, while for migration supporters, the treatment of Calais refugees became synonymous with human rights abuse and European governments’ lack of will to help vulnerable communities. Although few people have actually been to a refugee camp, many can imagine it with relative certainty, as a place with large numbers of people, disease, poor sanitation, starvation, and violence. Media representations are instrumental in creating these images, as, through cultural symbols and signs, they make ‘the absent present, which is the essence of imagining’ (Orgad 2012, 41). Yet this is not true presence: most media representations of the Calais camp spoke for the refugees rather than gave voice to them (Godin et al. 2017). The substitution of the refugees’ voice and presence is typical for media portrayal of emergencies, in general: affected communities are often represented as passive victims waiting for aid to come in (Chernobrov 2018b, 939). The previous familiar imagery of people escaping the Ethiopian famine, Middle Eastern violence, or destruction caused by natural disasters in various parts of the developing world are already familiar and well rehearsed and help make the new crisis ‘known’ and recognisable through routinised representations. As a routine application of familiar images to understand the new and unexpected, (mis)recognition helps avoid questioning the complex and produces misleading political responses. For example, the England riots of 2011 12 were initially interpreted as a criminal outburst and evidence of the youth ‘gone bad’ – which was both a wishful and deliberate simplification invoked by the British political elites, media, and the public, at least initially, to avoid questioning national policies and acknowledging failures in how the British society understands and treats its own youth and minorities (see Murer 2015). In another example, recent conflicts in Nigeria were interpreted, both socially and politically, through a familiar but misleading frame of 12. The August 2011 England riots took place after the police shot a young black British man suspected of possessing a gun (in 2014 it was recognised by a court as a lawful killing). This sparked protests which were initially peaceful, but later turned into riots, looting, and violence and led to mass deployment of police and hundreds of arrests. Initially treated as purely criminal activity, the riots were later widely debated as a consequence of other factors as well, such as social exclusion, racial tensions, unemployment, and government spending cuts.

Anxiety of the Unknown and (Mis)Recognition


Christians against Muslims, although they could be better explained as economic in nature and caused by urban-rural divides and resource competition (Murer 2012). Complex conflicts in Africa are frequently (mis)recognised through routine representations, as was the case in 1994 with the Rwandan genocide and its initial interpretation as just another civil or tribal war and humanitarian crisis. In Western public domains, Africa has long been represented as a ‘hopeless continent’ – the place of wars, coups, terrorist attacks, refugees, corruption, disease, and generous Western aid (see de Beer 2010), which through contrast, helps construct the virtuous identity of a European (see Harrison 2013). Finally, the illusion of knowing and recognising enables action towards objects that are not directly experienced or even seen. For example, the controversial 2005 Danish cartoons that depicted Prophet Mohammed and the 2012 anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims sparked worldwide mass protests in which hundreds of thousands of people took part. Some of these protests escalated into violence (attacks on embassies and churches) leading to multiple deaths (particularly during the Danish cartoon crisis) and adversely affected the political relations between the West and the Islamic world. The cartoons and the film exerted a strong mobilising effect; yet how many of the hundreds of thousands who protested or the millions who expressed strong opinions on the issue saw the cartoons themselves or watched the film? And did they really need to? Many Muslim countries banned the publication of cartoons, and the story was largely propelled and further distorted by imams, Islamic organisations, and governments who used the issue for political purposes (Blom 2008). Major media in several other countries (including the UK and Canada) reported the story but did not reprint the cartoons, as this could anger domestic and global Muslim audiences amid the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of the protesters were engaging the unseen, but not the unknowable. The offensive materials came to symbolise and channel multiple grievances beyond their immediate content. In a sense, it was the idea that such cartoons could have been drawn and published, rather than the exact invisible object, that mattered. They were recognised as a familiar part in a long chain of offending Western behaviours in the Middle East, the disruption and casualties brought by the ‘global war on terror’, racism and stereotyping towards Muslim and ethnic minorities within Western countries, and other well-familiar and long-standing issues. Both the protesters and the supporters of the cartoons’ publication were securitising their identities and expressing them through the continuous narratives of religious belonging and unacceptable behaviours or the construction of a progressive democratic identity based on the freedom of speech. They were making sense of the crisis through establishing and affirming identity boundaries. This case demonstrates how public opinion and behaviour are largely


Chapter 2

based on the illusion of knowing or ‘recognising’ the other through familiar, routinised concerns and representations. CONCLUSION: NEVER SECURE Introducing anxiety and ontological security into the analysis of public perception brings to the forefront two important questions with far-reaching considerations for politics. Can we relate to new and unexpected international events outside familiar routines? And can we perceive other communities without securitising them? The approach formulated in this chapter suggests that the answers may lie in the more nuanced formulations of anxiety and security that ontological, identity-oriented perspectives can offer. This chapter has demonstrated that security, like identity, is a constant and always incomplete project. The causes of insecurity are not only in one’s surroundings (for example, an external physical threat) but also in the instability and temporality of identity and meaning as social constructions. In other words, insecurity is always already within the subject and presents a major motivation for its behaviour. New and unexpected events threaten to unleash it by disrupting the continuity of identity and established meanings and creating uncertainty – the position of not knowing and not being able to act. This feeling of being out of control, unable to protect the identity boundary and one’s worth, present, as I have suggested, the anxiety of the unknown. Trying to escape it, individuals and groups transform the unknown into the familiar by attaching threats to real and imagined objects, retreating to the safety of routines, and creating the illusions of (mis)recognising, or knowing the other. These responses enable them to maintain stable and continuous identities, act, and avoid self-doubt. Importantly, these responses are directed at securing the self through imagining others accordingly and demonstrate the central role that identity needs play in political imagining and perception. Perception of the outside of I is therefore largely dependent on its inside and the depth of inner anxiety revived by the stranger or the unknown. Instead of accuracy, a self is motivated by anxiety avoidance: it understands uncertainty as self-doubt. For politics, this means that hostile or escalating responses, traditionally regarded as reactions to the other’s behaviour or located in the interrelationship between two or more sides, can be approached as a manifestation of an ontological crisis within one. Perception and behaviour involve defensive mechanisms of a subject who seeks to reestablish certainty and ‘know’ the other within familiar, even if feared, frames of reference. Approaching social and political knowledge as a routine – a source of continuity and confidence rather than accuracy and fact –

Anxiety of the Unknown and (Mis)Recognition


begs the question whether the other can be known at all, or if subjects seek the feeling of knowing as the source of their own identity and empowerment. (Mis)recognising the other to reduce anxiety of the unknown binds opinions and images that we hold of international others closely to our own identity. In an attempt to fit unexpected events into familiar and continuous meanings, most curious and unexpected parallels between the other and the self can be drawn, in which the self’s past helps explain the other’s present. Parts II and III of this book will speak at length about the particular portraits of others that result from (mis)recognition; but at this point, it is worth noting how others become seen through one’s previous experience and the interweaving of the past/future. This tendency is driven by the unconscious need to reduce anxiety and retain identity continuity and not necessarily by the actual similarity between the past and present events. Finally, I have argued that societies have a need for stable and continuous self-conceptions and pursue this need in relating to international events. Uncertainty that accompanies the unknown and unexpected is both a threat and a chance: it can cause a crisis in the identity narrative or become imagined in ways that reaffirm it. The security of identity lies in the feeling of its unquestioned continuity and permanence. The next chapter further develops this argument by suggesting the societal need for idealised as well continuous self-conceptions. Instead of an unchanging narrative, I suggest that the most valued continuity of identity rests in the continuously positive version of the self.

Chapter Three

A Positive Self

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance. – Oscar Wilde

On the evening of 5 August 1965, the American television network CBS broadcast one of the most controversial reports of the Vietnam War. Two days earlier, Morley Safer, a Canadian American journalist and CBS correspondent, accompanied US marines on a search-and-destroy mission to the village of Cam Ne in South Vietnam and reported on what later became known as the ‘Cam Ne Incident’. In multiple interviews after the war, Safer would recall his surprise when on the way there, one of the officers told him the unit had orders to ‘take out’ this complex of villages. Safer’s CBS report showed US marines systematically destroying the village: torching huts with cigarette lighters, holding civilians at gunpoint, and ignoring the pleas of the old Vietnamese men and women. Several people were wounded, a baby killed, and four old men arrested, although no enemy fighters were found. Following the report, CBS was overwhelmed with phone calls and letters from outraged American viewers 1 who refused to believe the report was true and accused CBS of being run by communists. The CBS report contradicted everything the American audience knew about the war and the US military from popular culture, political statements, or news. In Westerns, it was always the Indians who tortured women and children and burned down settlements, while American troops would appear in the last minute to save them. The next morning after the report, US president Lyndon Johnson called CBS president Frank Stanton to complain that the broadcast insulted the American flag. US security services investigated the military officer in charge of the 1. It is also worth noting that at the time, the American public strongly supported the war in Vietnam: 61 per cent in support to 21 per cent against (Gallup 2000).



Chapter 3

Cam Ne operation, suspecting that Safer must have bribed him to stage the video. Safer too was investigated by the FBI, CIA, and even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but to no avail. Informed that Safer was a Canadian and not a communist, President Lyndon Johnson remarked: ‘Well, I knew he wasn’t an American’. 2 Public reactions to the CBS report vividly demonstrate how popular perceptions and representations of international crises are closely linked to established self-conceptions in which the self is expected to play a positive, even idealised role. The discovery of shameful and unpleasant behaviours that question the core of our identity is highly traumatic and may be met with disbelief, as it disrupts these idealised visions. The CBS report example is far from being solitary: for instance, the acknowledgement of colonial crimes was traumatic for European societies (and in some cases, has not been complete and has stimulated racism), as colonialism had been previously regarded as the civilising mission and duty of a modern and progressive West. In 1990, the official admission of Soviet responsibility for the 1940 Katyn massacre, which had cost the lives of more than twenty thousand Poles, was met with disbelief by many Russians, as in the post–World War II imaginary, it was always the Nazis who massacred people. In 2004, during the Iraq War, NBC correspondent Kevin Sites filmed a US marine shooting in the head a wounded, but unarmed, Iraqi insurgent in a Falluja mosque. After the full episode had been broadcast, he received a torrent of hate mail and death threats, and without full factual context, many American viewers concluded that the marine was justified in his actions. 3 Many embarrassing or shameful episodes of national histories remain unacknowledged as political and social acknowledgement of wrongdoing tends to be rare. This chapter contends that in perceiving international events, societies either already uphold or strive towards positive self-conceptions and therefore imagine others in ways that unconsciously reaffirm the self. I mean positive self-conceptions here as the view of oneself and one’s group as good, virtuous, and right. I further develop the argument that people seek to maintain continuous identity narratives but situate it in a new light. I suggest the societal need for positive, as well as continuous self-conceptions. Collective identities are typically based around virtuous and idealised self-definitions, maintained through everyday political, cultural, and historical representations and reaffirmed in times of threat. Positive self-conceptions are not limited to national identities but are characteristic of any group with which we identify ourselves. Communities based on shared political beliefs, social 2. For a detailed account of the report and its aftermath, see Engelhardt (2007, 187–92). 3. For a full account of the Falluja mosque incident, see Matheson and Alan (2009), Chapter 1. NBC News and other American news media initially broadcast a shorter version, which did not include the moment of the shooting. The video was repeatedly shown in full by many international media, including Al Jazeera.

A Positive Self


activism, professional affiliations, geographical spaces, even sport team preferences all develop a sense of self-worth, righteousness, or positive distinctiveness from others that they wish to protect in further encounters. This chapter combines the ontological security approach with the theory of self-affirmation and extends them both. I argue that societal identity security rests in a continuously positive version of the self, in addition to the safety and certainty of familiar routines. I also expand the application of self-affirmation theory to collective identity contexts, which has been considerably underexplored (see Sherman and Cohen 2006; Cohen and Sherman 2014). Through contrast with otherness, which is reaffirmed in situations of uncertainty or threat, positive and idealised self-conceptions provide an appealing source of confidence and empowerment and establish a self that is not simply able to act but feels right to act in the particular way it does. IDENTITY AND POSITIVE SELF-CONCEPTIONS In his account of the first meeting between the Spanish and the American Indians, Tzvetan Todorov (1984, 76) concludes that imagining the stranger as inferior or wrong is a spontaneous reaction. Todorov’s conclusion is based on a particular encounter, yet prompt evaluative interpretation of others and the self’s assumption of itself as a positive anchoring point have clear ontological roots. Most personal and collective identities are based around a positive view of themselves: both individuals and groups tend to believe that ‘they are good people who generally engage in positively valued behaviors’ (Hafer et al. 2008, 29). In turn, positive self-definitions create relationships of power where the other’s difference is easily transformed into evaluative judgements. This has principal significance for how people relate to others: positive self-definitions, or self-conceptions, shape how the outside of I is imagined and consequently, how the ‘I’ is upheld and empowered through contrast. The exact images that we hold of others are determined through interaction, but the process of imagining others reflects the self’s desire to remain positive in the new relationship. Self-enhancement is a key motivation for social identity processes (Tajfel and Turner 1986; Luhtanen and Crocker 1992), which involves dwelling on, elaborating, and exaggerating positive aspects of oneself relative to one’s weaknesses (Heine 2005, 96). Social identity theory suggests that people seek to enhance their group’s standing, compare favourably with others, and join high-status groups. People tend to associate themselves with positive traits and distance themselves from negative outcomes: for example, they identify more readily with their favourite sport team in victory by saying ‘we won’, but often distance themselves from the same team and are more likely to switch allegiances if ‘they lost’ (Cialdini et al. 1976). People are likely to


Chapter 3

take credit for positive rather than negative outcomes, see themselves as more positive than the average person, define success in ways that play to their strengths, overestimate their competence and ability to control various situations, and downplay the importance of what they do not know or control (see Langer 1975; Kruger and Dunning 1999; Dunning 2005). To enhance the image of the group, its members may also engage in discriminating or prejudicial treatment of others (Rubin and Hewstone 1998), contributing to conceptions of national pride and everyday othering along multiple identity lines. Protecting ‘our’ positive standing influences how we see ‘them’ and the self/other boundary altogether: a notable example is how Moroccan-born long-distance runner Mohammed Mourhit, who gained Belgian citizenship in 1997, was perceived by the Belgian public as a Belgian or a Moroccan depending on his most recent successes or failures. When he was winning competitions and setting European records, he was readily recognised as a Belgian, but when he was later caught with drugs he was widely seen as a Moroccan (Saeys and Devroe 2010). Cultures influence the expressions of self-enhancement, but it has been argued that the pursuit of good self-conceptions is a universal motive (Brown and Kobayashi 2003). In multiple aspects of social and political life and both as individuals and members of social groups, people assert claims of superiority, protect these claims by excluding non-performing members, and attempt to get them recognised by others. Positive self-conceptions are at the core of collective identity constructions. Few groups base their belonging on a trait that is not positive or selfboosting like national pride or a glorious history. For example, some ethnic and national identities are founded on the notions of loss or victimhood, including the post-Holocaust Jewish identity or the Armenian diasporic identity, which has a strong connection to the 1915 genocide in the Ottoman Empire. A group’s self-definition may revolve around memories of trauma or deprivation, such as the importance of the 1389 lost Battle of Kosovo for the Serbian national identity and the political relationship with Kosovo today, or the history of mass deportation of Crimean Tatars in Soviet times, 4 which is central to their current self-definition as an oppressed ethnic and religious group. The memories of loss, exodus, and deprivation do not rule out positive self-conceptions, even though such outcomes may suggest a weak or defeated self. Through narratives of undeserved suffering, groups portray them4. Approximately 191,000 Crimean Tatars were deported within three days in May 1944 to the Soviet republics of Central Asia (primarily Uzbekistan), in collective punishment for the collaboration of some of the Tatar population with Nazi Germany during the Nazi occupation of the Crimea. In 1989, Crimean Tatars were allowed to return and were politically rehabilitated. The mass return in the 1990s triggered multiple land disputes, as in the 45 years of forced absence, the population makeup of the Crimea had considerably changed. Issues of political representation and education in the Tatar language have remained central to the political life of the returned Tatar community for years.

A Positive Self


selves as unfair victims and reconstruct a positive and even heroic vision of their resilience. Such representations appeal to what Honneth (2007) calls the ‘intuitive notions of justice’ – the always present expectation of respect for one’s dignity and honour that underlies social interactions. The political life of communities that define themselves through the histories of loss or victimhood is often focused on sacralising memory and pursuing external recognition for their sufferings, through which their dignity and honour can be restored. 5 Even within societies, in systems of social inequality, both dominant and dominated classes manage to regard themselves in a positive light: the dominant groups claim spiritual and intellectual superiority and attribute ‘brute strength, passion and instinct’ to the masses, while the dominated claim such positive qualities as courage, resilience, and strength of character (Bourdieu 1984, 481). Even fewer communities, such as post-war Germany, admit historical guilt as part of their identity. And yet, acknowledgement of past guilt does not preclude positive self-conceptions today, as even by acknowledging their responsibility for the past, communities often emphasise the drastic changes that have happened since. Moreover, such acknowledgement is often possible precisely because of these changes: Germany recognising responsibility for World War II and the Holocaust after the defeat of Nazism, post-communist Russia acknowledging the massive scale of Soviet repressions, or postapartheid South Africa denouncing the policies of the past. The guilty past is often rethought as the result of coercion, unavoidable external circumstances, or inner treason, while the potential to reform and right oneself was always already there. For example, Lebow (2016, 135–36) describes how in countries with a record of collaboration with Nazi Germany, resistance became the principal frame of reference for wartime memories, while neutral countries stressed their assistance to the victims: ‘Everyone blamed the Germans for the Holocaust, the Germans blamed the Nazis, and the Nazis blamed Hitler’. By celebrating victory over Nazi Germany, the Allies forgot their own anti-Semitism before the war or repressive responses to decolonisation. 6 Similarly, Eastern European, Baltic, and some of the post-Soviet states forget the domestic popularity of communist ideals by emphasising occupation or 5. For example, the Armenian diasporic community has been characterised by preoccupation with loss and pursuit of genocide recognition. Subsequent events, such as the 1990s war against Azerbaijan, which resulted in the mutually disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh being de facto controlled by Armenia, are widely seen as important for their sense of identity because of the previous experience of the genocide – it is a symbolic victory that has been denied for too long (Chernobrov and Wilmers 2019). 6. The decades before 1939 represent a high point of anti-Semitism in Western societies, ranging from violent attacks on Jews to media or political hostility and everyday prejudice (see Brustein and King 2004). The politics of remembering World War II often overlooks the role of colonial soldiers and the parallel European resistance to decolonisation. For example, May 8, 1945 is remembered in France as Victory Day, while the Sétif massacre by the French police in Algeria on the very same day is forgotten.


Chapter 3

pressure from the Soviet Union. A better present, compared to the imperfect past, becomes foundational to collective self-definitions. Major historical events are not the only opportunity for national groups or other collective identities to formulate idealised self-conceptions. Positive views of one’s own identity are maintained through everyday behaviours and interactions with others, popular culture and media representations, language symbolism, and political rhetoric. Self-conceptions are maintained and made secure through what we could call banal positivity – everyday reminders of one’s own virtuousness, in parallel to Billig’s (1995) notion of banal nationalism as everyday and less visible forms of reaffirming the nation. The nation, as one of the most important collective identities in the political process, is fundamentally ‘a matter of dignity’, where membership in the nation, or ‘nationality itself, [gives people] an honorable elevated status, thereby tying one’s sense of dignity and self-respect to one’s national identity’ (Greenfeld 2005). There is an expectation that people need to achieve, or fulfil certain criteria, in order to qualify for membership. Migration laws make citizenship a privilege, and societies construct an image of unique and virtuous national values, which become a shared reference point in multiple everyday circumstances and not just crises. For example, favourable references to what it means to be British accompany a wide spectrum of social and political situations, from taking pride in Britain as one of the oldest democracies to regarding respectful behaviours in long queues as a distinctive national trait, and from exuberant media coverage of the events in the royal family to the ‘100% British’ labels on Tesco products that denote high quality and encourage customers to buy national produce. International crises have traditionally been interpreted through the prism of positive self-conceptions and used to reaffirm them. A notable example can be observed in how Western societies have historically understood and related to war. Up to World War I and in the absence of realistic war reporting, there was a widely romanticised vision of war as the place of bravery and valour celebrated in poetry and the emerging press. Wars would cause patriotic fervour and attract volunteers from across social classes, with particular respect for military careers among the aristocracy. War was a major element in the reproduction of ‘the virtuous self, a way (for men) to achieve an ideal form of subjectivity’ (see Shapiro 1992). For instance, in June 1815, after Napoleon’s defeat from the British and Prussian forces in the Battle of Waterloo, a leading British newspaper, The Observer, declared: Every incident relating to the late battle is so interesting and honourable to the national character, and the source of so much commendable pride and exultation to every Englishman . . . Our pages are emblazoned with fresh proud records of British valour. Heaven has, indeed, smiled on the good cause of freedom and of loyalty . . . We may confidently anticipate the speedy destruc-

A Positive Self


tion of the cause of all the evils which have desolated the Continent for so many years, and the restoration of peace to Europe . . . It was a battle, therefore, which was ably conducted as it was gallantly fought: and must ever greatly redound to the fame of the British in arms. (Nelsson 2015)

It was not until the unprecedented destruction of World War I, the evolution of media, and the appearance of war correspondents who documented the war in its horror that the popular image of war started to change. But although the technological means of reporting changed, and the European public was appalled by the destruction of World War I, subsequent conflicts of the 20th century produced a no less heroic imaginary of a nation on the defence from invasion, nuclear annihilation, enemy propaganda, espionage, communist/capitalist infiltration, and terrorism. The Gulf War of 1990–1991, Kosovo, and the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s, offered unprecedented proximity of war on television screens, with war increasingly turning into a spectacle of good, modern, and progressive forces against evil, with audiences captivated by what they saw. 7 War became not only virtual, but also virtuous – combining the digitally advanced representation of a high-precision, minimal-casualty conflict on an almost hygienic battlefield with the ethos of killing for compulsion, liberation, and humanitarianism (Der Derian 2001). Representations of soldiers willing to die for national identities and the righteous cause sustain the world of nation-states (Barkawi 2017, 12) and construct an idealised vision of nations ‘worth dying for’. Like in 1815, the rhetoric of ‘freedom’, ‘liberation’, and ‘good cause’ is still pervasive in the media and popular interpretations of the military and non-military political confrontations today. In armed conflicts and in other crises, such as disasters, people prioritise their national groups – they are most interested in whether or how the situation could affect them and their compatriots. Tributes to ‘fallen heroes’ and ‘true Americans/Brits/etc.’ are offset against the faceless statistics of the opponent’s casualties in Iraq and Syria as ‘collateral damage’. Likewise, in humanitarian crises, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, stories about their effect on Western nationals dominated Western media coverage. 8 In multiple international emergencies, Western publics ‘gaze at distant others in poor, unstable, and violent places’ (Cohen 2001), as imagin7. For example, during the 2003 Iraq War, CNN and NBC audiences grew by 300 per cent, Fox News by 288 per cent (Seib 2004). 8. Here I am referring to how the two crises were covered by mainstream Western media. For example, 40 per cent of media articles that reported the impact of the 2004 tsunami on people looked at Western tourists, who accounted for only about 1 per cent of the casualties (CARMA International 2006). The coverage of Ebola in the British media focused predominantly on whether the disease was a threat to the British public and on the ‘Ebola nurse’ – the Scottish nurse who survived the disease – and left invisible much of the crisis itself. For a detailed discussion of how media routinely regionalise and ‘bring back home’ reports of crises, see Cottle and Nolan (2007).


Chapter 3

ing those places helps construct the positive image of the stable and prosperous Western societies. If we look at popular representations of war and armed conflict in film, positive self-conceptions are maintained through underlying cultural symbolism, as well as through portraying the nation as brave or heroic. Often this involves explaining the national presence in distant and unstable places in the first place as peaceful and defensive rather than aggressive and interfering. For example, the acclaimed 2016 biographical war film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi depicts events in Libya in September 2012 when Islamist militants attacked the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi and killed US ambassador Chris Stevens and another member of staff. The film follows a small security team who disregard orders from their CIA Chief of Station and move to defend the compound against repeated attacks in a country where friend is indistinguishable from foe. As the film posters proclaimed, ‘When everything went wrong six men had the courage to do what was right’. Leaving aside the pre-history of foreign involvement in the Libyan and other Arab Spring revolutions, the film propels the viewer straight into post–Arab Spring Libya as a failed state and one of the most dangerous places in the world. The depiction of events is highly symbolic: Libyans attack the diplomatic compound and murder the US ambassador (the political symbols of peace and dialogue), necessitate a military response, and heavily outnumber the American defenders. The ‘intuitive notions of justice’, to use Honneth’s phrase, are with the American side. The defenders and the American staff eventually evacuate, but their heroic actions turn these traumatic events into a symbolic victory of undefeated resilience. While questioning the political wisdom of leaving diplomatic security depleted in post–Arab Spring Libya, 9 the film does not question the virtuous national character or the overall purpose of the American presence in the country. Public opinion, of course, is never unified and does not only follow national lines, meaning that members of the same national group may evaluate the same events and popular representations differently. Not all the American viewers agreed with the 13 Hours political take on events, have been uncritical of the recent US military interventions, or were outraged and surprised by Morley Safer’s Vietnam report in 1965. Their reactions and behaviours are not limited to national belonging, but also reflect multiple identity divides in complex political contexts where events inform one another and identities 9. It is worth noting that, with the release date ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, the film had domestic political significance. The Benghazi attack had been the source of strong criticism of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State at the time, as they were blamed for reducing US security on the ground before the attack and never deploying full military resources to rescue the mission during the attack. In the pre-election rhetoric, the Republicans compared Benghazi to Watergate and lauded the movie (for a detailed discussion of 13 Hours in the context of the election, see Rose 2016).

A Positive Self


overlap. Yet although the specific political opinions may be different, the desire to see one’s views as positive and correct cuts across these disagreements. For anti-war campaigners, the CBS report and the Benghazi attack proved the righteousness of their position about what the US should or should not have been doing. They envisaged a different, but no less positive national identity purified of the current mistakes or injustice. When the government is wrong, ‘dissent is the highest form of patriotism’. This phrase, generally attributed to Thomas Jefferson, was widely invoked during the Vietnam War and by multiple opposition campaigners since. Additionally, oppositions, particularly in authoritarian states, develop a no less idealised image of themselves and their supporters than the nationalist patriotism encouraged by the governments. Or to take another example: almost any economic forecast or new political development regarding the long Brexit negotiations seemed to boost the sense of righteousness of both Remainers and Brexiteers and emphasise the naivety of their opponents. What to one side appeared to be the final proof of the long-predicted Brexit doom and the loss of European identity, 10 was to the other the necessary price of independence, restored nationhood, and future economic growth. The Brexit campaign and its aftermath involved different sides dreaming but fearing for a better Britain, and their political disagreement on how to achieve it involved a positively, albeit differently, imagined community. Neither do we always speak positively of our own homeland and nation. For example, emigrants often criticise their country of origin and suggest that things there are not as good as in their new place of residence. These criticisms tend to focus on political corruption, conservative cultural traditions, lack of trust within the society at home, or lower levels of economic prosperity and education. I have frequently observed how educated and middle-class people from Russia, Ukraine, and other post-Soviet states, when visiting or moving to Western Europe and the US, constantly compare life there to life in their home country, mostly to the latter’s disadvantage. They are often oppositional to their government’s policies and insistent on drawing the line between themselves as good and educated citizens and their homeland’s patriotic or nationalist constructions of identity. They affirm and secure a different but no less positive identity of a ‘good’, ‘liberal’, and ‘progressive’ Russian, Ukrainian, or Estonian, and emphasise the contrast from the political or cultural conservatism back at home in order to justify their leaving. Positive self-conceptions, therefore, closely follow the flexible boundaries of identity that we draw in various situations. International crises bring 10. Before the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, 70 per cent of EU citizens were proud to be European in addition to their national belonging, although they disagreed on what European identity meant (Risse 2010). It is interesting to see how this layer of identity, although less clearly defined than national citizenship, developed positive self-conceptions and a sense of pride.


Chapter 3

national identities to the forefront: for example, following terrorist attacks, politicians and media speak of national unity, national values, and shared national pain. The state is central to crisis representations and the provision of security, and popular perception of crises often reproduces the boundaries of national belonging. However, these are not the only collective identities that are protected and idealised. We tend to imagine ourselves and the communities to which we feel attachment in a positive light, and embed these positive self-definitions in everyday situations, cultural symbolism, and societal values. Yet positive self-conceptions do not just exist unchallenged but depend on the continuous affirmation and protection through interpreting new events and others in particular ways. SELF-AFFIRMATION AND ONTOLOGICAL SECURITY The key premise of self-affirmation theory is that individuals and groups seek to protect their perceived integrity and sense of self-worth. Having integrity is understood as being a ‘good and appropriate person’, although the standards for what is good and appropriate differ across cultures (Sherman and Cohen 2006; Heine 2005). Threats to integrity and self-worth lead people to engage in defensive and distorting representations of reality and in activities that remind them of ‘who they are’ – in other words, acts that restore and demonstrate one’s adequate and positive nature (see Sherman and Cohen 2006). Self-affirmation happens mostly unconsciously, as an intuitive reaction to a perceived threat to self-conceptions. The application of selfaffirmation theory to public perception of the international highlights two principal points: first, our understanding of the outside of I is fundamentally about ourselves and not others; and second, this understanding is guided by the desire to conceive ourselves in the best possible light – in other words, retain positive self-conceptions. The origins of self-affirmation theory are in the exploration of how people’s personal identity and self-image are threatened by various situations. The protection of a good self, to which other needs are subordinate, and the self as the focus of knowledge are present in Allport’s (1943) concept ‘egoenhancement’ and Greenwald’s (1980) ‘totalitarian ego’, but become central in Claude Steele’s (1988, 262–67) formulation of self-affirmation theory: I propose the existence of a self-system that essentially explains ourselves, and the world at large, to ourselves. The purpose of these constant explanations (and rationalizations) is to maintain a phenomenal experience of the self – selfconceptions and images – as adaptively and morally adequate, that is, as competent, good, coherent, unitary, stable, capable of free choice, capable of controlling important outcomes, and so on . . . This self-affirmation system . . . is activated whenever information threatens the perceived integrity of the self

A Positive Self


and pressures for adaptation, behavioral or cognitive, until this perception is restored.

Steele regarded self-affirmation as a response to situations when personal self-conceptions had been threatened. More recent studies (most notably, Sherman and Cohen, 2006, and Cohen and Sherman, 2014) have argued that people cope in a similar way with threats to their social, or collective, identities. Social identities serve as important sources of self-esteem; and communities develop collective notions of integrity and self-worth. Patriotism and pride in one’s nation, as Sherman and Cohen suggest, present examples of how people try to defend their collective sense of self-worth when their country is threatened or criticised. Self-affirmation studies increasingly apply the theory to collective identity contexts, yet these applications remain mostly limited to national belonging and experimental evidence. There needs to be an acknowledgement that the need for integrity, continuity, and positive self-conceptions is inherent to collective identity construction in general, regardless of whether the group’s boundaries are drawn along national or other identity lines. Self-affirmation presents a mechanism of protecting positive self-conceptions from perceived threats and can be better understood if we situate it within the wider debates on identity and ontological security. Positive self-conceptions enter cognitive and behavioural routines, in the sense that the familiar and cherished ‘life as we know it’ revolves around the identity of the ‘self as we know it’. Protecting and leaving the self unquestioned becomes intertwined with conceiving one’s identity as the ‘extremely perfect’ object (Klein 1935, 123), where the alternatives are regarded as wrong or bad, and bad people or objects are seen to deserve bad outcomes (Hafer et al. 2008). In this context, self-affirmation can be viewed as the insistence that the individual or group deserves good outcomes and is worthy of its self-conceived positive image. 11 People’s behaviour towards others and the perception of these others are egocentric, as collective identity involves the ‘identification of our own values with values in general, of our I with the universe’ (Todorov 1984, 43). Our practices, beliefs, traditions, preferences, and judgements seem to be the right ones not because they have rationally been proven so, but because they are ours and fill our existence with confidence. Large communities, which rely increasingly on the performance of shared signals of belonging, develop a sense of moral authority – the association of their practices and values with ‘normality’ and their identity with the ‘true identity’, which creates the possibility of the other as a threat (see Lebow 2016; Campbell 1998). In the previous chapter, I suggested that the 11. Interestingly, this insistence is outward, as well as inward: while empowering the self and giving it the confidence of righteousness, self-affirmation at the same time seems to empower the other who can recognise or reject the self’s claim. The role of recognition in the self/other relationship is discussed in detail in Chapter 4.


Chapter 3

discomforting and troubling aspects of life tend to be externalised – portrayed as something beyond ‘normal’, as a threat or an enemy who is external to the good self. A ‘model’ identity, if threatened, can become intolerant to what it sees as difference, and is reaffirmed in response. Self-affirmation can therefore be regarded as an element of the ontological security process, as a way of maintaining the continuity of self-conceptions, or identity as the self formulates it. Self-affirmation involves recourse to familiar and known coordinates where the self is positive and capable and, like ontological security, restores the feeling of confidence and empowerment. Ontological security suggests that a subject’s identity is always already unstable, and self-affirmation, too, is an on-going project connected to the integrity of identity. But where the two can principally enrich one another, I believe, is in how self-affirmation and ontological security approaches ultimately understand continuity, which they aim to protect, and the purpose of routines in this protection. Ontological security involves routines as the source of safety and certainty that leaves the self and its behaviours unquestioned and thus removes the threat to one’s sense of identity. An ontologically secure self can exist, act, and relate to others confidently, both in times of singular threats and at the everyday level where threats may not even be clearly defined and present a general feeling of anxiety. By regarding the societal need for ontological security through the prism of self-affirmation, we can achieve a more nuanced vision into how routines contribute to continuity. We can reconsider the desired ‘secure’ identity not just as routinely unchanging/familiar, but as routinely positive – in other words, unchanging/familiar at the emotional, rather than factual/narrative level, where the latter means reliant on the specific elements and events that constitute one’s identity story. These, we could say, are routines of feeling, as well as routines of knowing or acting. This continuity is not the repeated story about oneself and one’s surroundings or the familiar behaviours that do not change (new events, encounters, and disturbances produce new relationships and memories that must be accounted for), but the unwaveringly positive role of the self in this on-going story. This proposed expansion in the interpretation of ontological continuity and routines can provide an explanation for why new events and developments that characterise individual or collective identities as positive, virtuous, or capable can quickly become part of these identities’ self-definitions: identity narratives would evolve and add new positive elements without the threat of insecurity, instability, or identity disintegration. It can also provide an additional explanation for why some changes are particularly threatening and are continuously resisted. Individuals and communities who experience defeats, failures, and embarrassing revelations often remain insistent on those identity stories that deny or ignore such happenings. Turkey’s staunch un-

A Positive Self


willingness to recognise the Armenian genocide is a case in point where, as Zarakol (2010) suggests, identity considerations overrule the material costs of genocide denial. Yet this does not mean that Turks are entirely unaware of these events: in fact, the international attention surrounding these issues keeps them far from being forgotten. There are certain identity, as well as material, costs to denial, for by remaining unmoved, the nation attracts negative traits in the eyes of others. The governmental and popular lack of acknowledgement demonstrates the inability to reconcile the alternative (acceptance of wrongdoing) with national pride and self-conceptions of the nation as virtuous and progressive. In other words, the narrative does not change not because it cannot, and not because Turkish national self-understandings depend on this particular event, but because the need to experience identity as being the ‘good people’, together with the cultural discourse and values in which this experience is rooted, do not leave room for genocide acknowledgement as a way to remain positive. The societal need for ontological security involves retaining a continuously stable self-concept unperturbed by new encounters, unexpected events, or disturbances. Stability and certainty can be provided even by feared routines that are nonetheless familiar; but it is the continuously positive identity selfdefinitions that can be dynamic and stable at the same time. Self-affirmation enables the inclusion of new events and characters into one’s identity story by interpreting them in ways that retain the presence of, or at least the possibility of, a good self. This way, identity can remain positive and be experienced as continuous (leaving the self unquestioned and confident) even when some of the elements of the identity story have evolved. A continuously positive self is ontologically secure and empowered because it can both act and feel right to act at the same time. NARCISSISM AND SECURITISATION Self-affirmation and ontological security speak of what motivates the self in the moment of relating to others. The other is the object which is manipulated, distorted, populated with particular qualities, and altogether imagined in order for the self to reduce insecurity and protect its positive self-concept. What characterises this relationship is self-love – the prioritisation of one’s own concerns, anxieties, and needs over those of the other, which is more acute when one’s identity continuity seems threatened. International crises often produce narcissistic illusions – perceptions that events in the world seem to be revolving around our own identities and values. The key example in this book, which I analyse in detail in later chapters, is the initially popular Western explanation of the Arab uprisings as the imitation of the ideal self: ‘we’ as democracies seem to have inspired ‘them’. Remedies, as well as


Chapter 3

causes for the crisis, are also self-related. As one of my interviewees (surprised that the solution was so simple, yet the Arab peoples were ignorant of it) put it, ‘Why don’t they do the same thing we do – vote?’ This relationship between the self and its surroundings is therefore characterised by narcissism, or the bending of the other into shape ‘until the ego recognizes itself in them’ (Han 2018, 21). The other is imagined for the self’s own purposes, instead of being recognised for what it really is or what it claims itself to be. Contrary to the popular view of narcissism as an ‘abnormal’ degree of vanity and as intrinsic selfishness of particular people, narcissism as selfesteem and a celebration of self in response to anxiety is a regular and oftenoccurring defensive process (see Horney 1951). Narcissism aims to restore security, yet the security it offers is fragile, for it depends on the other for recognition: I take [narcissism] in its original descriptive sense of being in love with one’s idealized image. More precisely: the person is his idealized self and seems to adore it. This basic attitude . . . gives him a seeming abundance of selfconfidence. . . . Yet clearly, his gifts notwithstanding, he stands on precarious ground. He may speak incessantly of his exploits or of his wonderful qualities and needs endless confirmation of his estimate of himself in the form of admiration and devotion. (Horney 1951)

The dependence of narcissism on external recognition leads Horney to differentiate between self-idealisation (the experience of oneself as good) and narcissism as ‘feeling identified with one’s idealized self’. Narcissism therefore characterises a relationship, the presence of an (suitably imagined) other who validates the self as the ideal. Narcissism is typical of how individuals and groups react to threats and events that seem to disrupt their positive self-conceptions. As an emotional investment in the belief about a group’s greatness, narcissism can be collective, or characteristic of how people think about their social identities and how they relate to others (Golec de Zavala et al. 2009). Nationalism, for example, is an extreme form of righteousness and self-love. At the same time, the need for positive self-conceptions does not mean that all identities are in a perpetual narcissistic state. Narcissism is a temporary, defensive form of group positivity, an inflated manifestation of self-love, which is strongest when other people seem not to recognise the community’s positive view of itself, when the group is engaged in conflict, or when there are other threats to one’s integrity and sense of self-worth. Narcissism (re)produces the world of binary oppositions, where only the self and the other are present, and every element of the other emphasises its difference from the self. It leads to biased, denigrating, and prohibiting views of others and often results in aggressive behaviours towards them (Lacan 2006; Golec de Zavala et al. 2009). The intensity of narcissism is generally linked to the perceived inten-

A Positive Self


sity of the threat: more favourable and complex perception of others is possible when one’s own identity is more secure (Cichocka et al. 2016). Such non-narcissistic, but positive self-conceptions would be close to Todorov’s ideal of healthy self-other relations: ‘equality without its compelling us to accept identity; but also difference without its degenerating into superiority/ inferiority’ (Todorov 1984, 249). In situations that challenge identity continuity and positive self-conceptions, self-affirmation and narcissism become the only way to survive for collective identities that flatten inner complexity. As discussed in previous chapters, the flattening of inner complexity is typical of collective identity constructions and is particularly evident when groups are under threat and reaffirm their boundaries through performance. Self-idealisation and narcissism restore the feeling of significance and superiority by lifting one community above others, while compensating for its inner divisions (Horney 1951). Collective identity is held together by idealised self-conceptions and the boundary from lesser others, and the collapse of this boundary would mean the collapse of the self. Narcissism reflects what a self wants to be rather than what it is and means that in pursuit of identity security, it is easier to change what one is seeing rather than to reform. This situation contains the appealing promise of a rigid, unwavering, stable identity that does not change and continues through time – a vision of identity that is deceitfully secure in situations of anxiety. Positive self-conceptions that are affirmed in times of threat and lead to narcissistic illusions do not allow substantive insights into others because the other is a manipulatable object, imagined suitably for the ontological security of the self. For the self to be secure, the relationship with the other needs to be securitised – related to the framework of meaning we call ‘security’ that organises our life (Huysmans 1998) and that limits our understanding of the elements within this framework to the dichotomy of safety/threats to the self and, consequently, friends/enemies. Securitisation confines the other to an imaginary scale of how threatening this other is to our survival, identity continuity, and feeling of stability; experiencing the other outside of the security scale is impossible. The opposite – desecuritisation, or the moving of an issue out of the sphere of security 12 (Hansen 2012) – could potentially lead the self to shift its perception from evaluating/knowing the other to exploring the other. The latter, I suggest, would presume embracing the 12. Most scholars of desecuritisation, including Hansen, focus the debate predominantly on whether and how political actors, such as governments and politicians, can ‘do’ politics outside threat construction or desecuritise some of its areas. For example, desecuritisation can be achieved through the rearticulation of threats in political rhetoric and the framing of alternative issues in security terms (cf. Bilgin 2007). I discuss (de)securitisation at the level of public perception of politics and the ontology of collective identities, and some of these suggestions are specific to this level. Importantly, desecuritisation heightens anxiety as it removes known objects of fear (also see Rumelili 2015).


Chapter 3

unknown – an admission that we do not and perhaps cannot really know the other and therefore have no power over them. The unknown reintroduces anxiety and reorients perception back to the need to protect identity security in order to act, and to defend positive self-conceptions in order to feel right. The following chapter will argue that there exists only a very limited opportunity for the other to be tolerated as unthreatening – a moment when the relationship with such an other can be desecuritised, at no expense to positive self-conceptions and the feeling of stability. Narcissism limits our understanding of unfolding events and others in a manner akin to securitisation. If the latter confines events to a framework of threats and (in)securities, narcissism structures our perception of others according to our notions of perfection and success. Where we see ourselves as achieving, we notice the others as lacking; and where we see ourselves as ideal, the others unite all the qualities that we repel. Moving beyond narcissistic perceptions to the more complex understandings of events and communities involves desecuritising them – or simultaneously moving beyond the framework of insecurity, because identity stability and positive self-conceptions are closely linked and defending one means defending the other. This leads me to suggest that (mis)recognition of the unknown within familiar and self-affirming coordinates pursues ontological security both as the security of certainty/the feeling of knowing and as the reassurance of one’s own positivity. (Mis)recognition deems the other familiar through memories, experiences, and values that we ourselves possess – meaning that the other is closely related to the self until the other is ‘recognised’ as the self’s own reflection. The self is at the centre of this relationship, and the relationship needs to accommodate self-love. In these aspects then, (mis)recognition stimulates the appearance of narcissistic illusions, that events in the world at large are about ourselves or relatable and understandable to us. Seeking the empowerment and confidence that self-affirmation can provide, individuals and communities unconsciously place themselves at the centre of social knowledge, political imagining, and evaluative judgements. CONCLUSION: THE DRAWING SELF If we summarise the argument of this book so far, perception of turbulent international events involves a constant balancing of two needs, both of which are ontological to collective identities: the reduction of the anxiety of the unknown and the protection of continuous and positive self-conceptions. These needs are unidirectional, meaning that they both push the perceiving subject away from acknowledging what we could call complex ‘reality’ – the uncomfortable but inevitable aspects of life that render identity insecure.

A Positive Self


These include the finitude of life and the inherent instability of identity and of all social knowledge and meanings; the inner diversity of collective identities that is suppressed through the performance of homogeneity and exclusion; the unavoidability of multiple unknowns and uncertainties; the limitations of one’s power to control one’s circumstances; and the impossibility of all-perfect and all-achieving subjects. Forgetting these aspects of life becomes a matter of security, the motivation for which is within the self rather than in external objects or others. Unexpected and turbulent events remind us of these hidden truths and can develop into a crisis of identity and challenge our established self-conceptions. Consequently, the perception and construction of others become securitised – oriented towards protecting the identity of the self – and are therefore linked closely to its inner needs. To achieve security, self-identities and their surroundings are reimagined as stable, knowable, controllable, and continuously positive. This imagined stability is a fantasy – an illusory, even if secure and appealing, version of the self and its world, which is shaped by its ontological needs and the pursuit of continuity through time. This dynamic is what I have called the drawing self behind its portraits of others – the internal sources of our political imagining and conceptions of ourselves and others, which include the inner motivations, insecurities, and needs of a subject that lead it to perceive unfolding events and their agents in a certain light. International events, and particularly turbulent and unexpected events such as crises, become narrated in relation to self’s own histories, values, and memories, making self-conceptions and identity invisibly but centrally present in societal perceptions, judgements, and portrayals of international others. Most identity theorists speak of a self-identity as a constantly renegotiated subject whose boundary is largely defined through the realisation of what one is not – in other words, whose self-knowledge develops through the knowledge of the other. The centrality of interaction to identity, its flexibility, and the on-going renegotiation are certainly true, and our self-understandings are indeed maintained and (re)formulated through the presence of others, and yet I speak of a subject who creates, invents, and reworks its own multiple others and imagines them suitably in answer to its inner identity needs, in addition to being shaped and maintained by them. I interpret self-knowledge and the knowledge of others as a routine – the (re)production of familiar and practiced meanings and behaviours – which with time and repetition feels recognisable, establishes continuity, and enables confident action. To be secure, we do not need to know: (mis)recognising the other as familiar creates the feeling of knowledge, promises certainty, and alleviates our anxiety. Inner identity needs therefore do not necessitate the discovery of the other for what it really is or claims to be, but only reaching a point of comfort where events and others appear no longer troubling, no longer uncertain. This is also the point where the self’s


Chapter 3

identity and feeling of self-worth are no longer questioned by uncertainty and the possibility of being wrong or imperfect that comes with it. Everyday positive self-conceptions that justify our actions and affirm our identities can remain undoubted and continuous. This point of comfort is precarious because new events and developments need to be constantly accommodated into the (mis)recognised version, and there are always multiple relationships with multiple others at any one time. Yet we wish to see (mis)recognition as the final knowledge, proof of our mastery of the world and its happenings. This is why I regard perception of international events within collective identity contexts as a matter of balance, as shown in Figure 3.1. (Mis)recognition is this very point of comfort that leads both individuals and groups to feel confident, continuous, empowered, and stable – it presents an equilibrium of certainty, self-positivity, and existence through time. It is most appealing, and our perceptions and behaviours tend towards this point. Before this point, there is a vast space of complexity and insecurity, with multiple troubling unknowns, anxiety that lacks an object of reference, and the threat of identity disintegration and collapse of meanings. That space is unwelcoming for collective identities. Experiencing the need to belong, to form and join imagined communities that empower us and give us meaning, we also experience the need to avoid that space where such communities cannot successfully protect us and structure the world around us. Yet the brief opportunity for desecuritised understandings of ourselves and others only exists here, as this would involve acknowledging complexity and recognising others outside the reflective mirror of our own experiences and desires and without connection to our identity (in)security. This brief gap in securitised perception would present the tolerated unknown and the non-threatening otherness, the conditions for which are discussed in the next chapter, and which is generally understood as the ideal of ‘healthy’ – or not conflictcausing – imagining.

Figure 3.1. The drawing self and perception as a balance. Source: Author's own.

A Positive Self


Beyond (mis)recognition as the comfort point, there is narcissistic security, which is characterised by the continuous defence of our (mis)recognitions in case they fail to protect us or are challenged by parallel events and developments. The more the self has to defend its (mis)recognitions and to affirm itself, the further it is pushed into a narcissistic type of security where self-love dominates its behaviours. This security is more illusory and precarious than that of the initial (mis)recognition: the self is not just the centre of the universe, it is all alone in it. Narcissism eliminates others as independent entities and bends them fully to the self’s mirror reflections. This is the realm of binary oppositions, where others are either our replicas or the exact opposites of the ideal us. Narcissistic security is dubious as it is likely to cause aggressive responses and self-affirmations, and to damage the physical and identity security in the long run. The exact point where balance can be found depends on how threatening the new events are to self-conceptions, how quickly they can be (mis)recognised as familiar, and how lasting and contested that (mis)recognition is going to be. In terms of time, there is typically a rush to establish an interpretation of unexpected events as predictable, familiar, or otherwise recognisable within our routine knowledge – in other words, a rush to escape the space of uncertainty and to dwell on the point of comfort as the final truth. The location of the balancing point is also where cultural differences may surface: for example, some communities may be more accustomed to uncertainties because they have been living through turbulent times, while for others, even small uncertainties would revive existential anxieties. The forms of self-affirmation, too, may vary across identities and cultures: for instance, communities that maintain positive self-conceptions through an image of undeserved suffering and resilience may find a similarity of new events with past traumas and fears, while societies that regard themselves as models of good behaviours and values may establish parallels to chosen glories and seek to inspire the other’s imitation. This leads me to the particular portraits of others that the drawing self is motivated to produce, which is the focus of Part II of this book. The next two chapters will discuss what it means for our self-identities to imagine others as similar or different, and how collective memory harbours meanings and enables us to draw convincing, contested, or failing representations of events. I place inner identity needs and the protection of continuous and positive selfconceptions at the core of these discussions and further elaborate on the concept of the positive self as being distinct and unreachable to others and being on top of recognised and desired hierarchies. Additionally, I discuss memories themselves as the potential source of anxiety where remembering, forgetting, and repression sit alongside one another, and some memories are bursting to the surface, determining the shape that our (mis)recognition of new events is going to take. Together, these elements complete the concept


Chapter 3

of the drawing self, which is invisibly, but centrally, present behind public perception of international events.


The Portraits of Others

Chapter Four

Imagining Others as Different or Similar

I object to that object that’s made of bronze and shaped like my clone. It should be made of gold, and shaped like me. – Jarod Kintz

What are we looking for when positive or negative attitudes to international others are formed? The answer to this may seem clear: evaluations are guided by perceived differences and similarities. All identities have ‘criteria of membership’ (Barth 1998, 15), and it may seem logical that to be accepted or to win sympathy, the stranger needs to ‘tick the list’ on culture, ideology, politics, or religion. Perception of new and existing others is often expressed in the language of (un)likeness to self. Others seem often wrong because they do something differently, as speakers assume their own practices to be right. International politics is full of divisions that are formulated as similarity or difference: developed and developing countries, democracies and authoritarian states, conservative and liberal governments, Sunni and Shia. These divisions establish power, inform policies, direct migrant flows, and underlie conflicts. Difference and similarity appear important, but what does it mean to be similar or different to ‘I’ in how the general public interprets distant others? And what do these representations mean for the perceiver’s own sense of self? In this chapter, I discuss the more unconscious meanings of similarity and difference as the language through which societies construct themselves and imagine others. I propose a psychosocial reading of political imagining, combined with Bourdieu’s (1984) notion of distinction. I suggest that instead of just describing the other, political imagining is the product of the self’s inner identity processes and their relation to outside threats. Unexpected events are 79


Chapter 4

disturbing as they remind the self of the availability of others, as a possibility of an alternative identity beyond one’s control or knowledge. Disturbed by the unknown, the self is involved in a crisis of hierarchy, power, and space, and each of these domains it would like to claim for its own. Others become seen through qualities that a self does or does not possess, and can therefore be affirming or threatening. The language of difference or similarity is invoked to draw boundaries, maintain distance, and protect the self. This part of the book continues the argument from Part I, that in their perception of distant others, societies seek to preserve continuous and positive self-concepts, but situates it in a new light. In this chapter, I take a closer look at the range of emotional responses that are expressed through the language of difference or similarity, such as the feelings of respect, recognition, envy, aggressiveness and (dis)like. I trace the origins of these feelings to the protection of one’s distinction, understood as the identity-founding positive trait that makes the self distinct from others. The next chapter will look into memories of international events, and the remembering and forgetting processes that only help political imagining to be (in)accurate. DISTINCTION AND THE HIERARCHY OF DESIRE Identity is often regarded as the power of drawing and negotiating differences (Campbell 1998; Todorov 1984; Volkan 1988; Connolly 1991; Weldes 1999; Neumann 1996; Fierke 2007; Rumelili 2004). Difference is discursively produced and established through social recognition. Constructivist literature approaches identity and difference as co-constitutive and generally agrees that ‘identity requires difference in order to be, and it converts difference into otherness in order to secure its own self-certainty’ (Connolly 1991, 64). Difference manifests a boundary, which demarcates the inside and outside, domestic and foreign, orderly and threatening (Campbell 1998, Mälksoo 2010), but this boundary is more than a mere container for the qualities of the objects outside or within. It establishes power in the relationship between these objects and expresses the desire to draw these objects apart. As Spears and Leach (2008, 95) note, ‘we make evaluative social comparisons with other social groups, and try to . . . differentiate ourselves from these groups, providing a valued source of group distinctiveness for our social identities’. Difference helps create an independent identity: it is not only the other who is different from self (‘they are unlike us’ and difference is a fault with the other), but most principally, the self is different from all others (‘we’ are different from all of ‘them’, with all the impure or wrong variations of ‘them’, and difference is a virtue). Virtuous difference from all others is the ideal of individuation and becomes distinction. Here I propose to draw a parallel between the creation of

Imagining Others as Different or Similar


identity boundaries and Bourdieu’s theory of social economic positioning. In his earlier sociology, Bourdieu principally discussed distinction as the creation of cultural capital and the power of social classes; however, the argument can be expanded to include other forms of collective identities, too. Bourdieu saw the appeal of class attributes in the exclusivity and rarity of their occurrence. For example, today’s popular games of football or rugby started as ‘the delight of aristocrats, but in becoming popular, have ceased to be what they were, [and] combine all the features that repel the dominant class’ (Bourdieu 1984, 212). The very fact of these sports becoming popular meant that masses were captivated by the aristocratic games and tried to imitate them; when they succeeded, the upper class switched to new exclusive sports. Similarly, precious gems are treasured because of their rarity, while the more common stones have little or no social value. The social value therefore is not determined by the object itself or its physical qualities but by the social context, which includes groups that possess them and their competition for status. Exclusivity and rarity are crucial to the enjoyment of distinction, and societal relations are influenced by the hierarchies that these relationships produce. 1 Bourdieu traces these hierarchies to art, lifestyle, and political choices. Distinction creates social value in the rare, refined, and sublimated, as opposed to the popular, vulgar, and commonplace. Successful possession of distinction depends on the appropriate responses from the surrounding others. ‘Who am I for the Other?’ is a key concern for identity construction (see Millar 2006, 56; Han 2018, 20–23; Rumelili 2004), as seeking distinction involves a constant comparison with others. Bourdieu notes that ‘explicit choices are in fact often constituted in opposition to the choices of the groups closest in social space’ (Bourdieu 1984, 53) and serve to establish one’s identity as independent and distinct. In seeking to attach social value to their practices, groups are trying to remain exclusive and unreachable from a possible outsider’s perspective. At the same time, groups need the other’s recognition to position their qualities and attributes as unique and desired possessions. Collectives assert their distinction by performing it in front of the other and stimulating the other’s imitation of ‘cheap substitutes for chic objects’ (Bourdieu 1984, 50), at the same time rejecting the claimed distinctions of others (a refusal to admire ‘them’). At the emotional level, the social value of rarity can be translated as the agitation of the other’s real or imagined envy for the object or trait in the self’s possession: the other wants to be like ‘us’ and to have what ‘we’ have. Effectively, this means that groups do not possess distinction on their own or 1. There is a strong overlap here between Bourdieu’s conceptions of rarity and exclusivity in the production of distinction and the Weberian and neo-Weberian argument about the role of social closure in the production of status and hierarchy, where distance and exclusion enabled the creation and monopolization of privileges and opportunities (see Weber 1968; Murphy 1988).


Chapter 4

simply by claiming it, but only in a relationship where recognition comes from the outside and is maintained by keeping distance from multiple others. This transforms distinction in a performance directed at the other: groups display their distinction in order to ‘distance themselves still further from the dispossessed, who . . . are suspected of being possessed by the desire for possession, and so potentially possessed by the possessions they do not, or do not yet, possess’ (Bourdieu 1984, 254). The possessor of distinction expects the other to recognise it by wishing for its quality. This is desire as Hegel understands it: ‘that the value that I am or that I “represent” be the value desired by the other: I want him to “recognize” my value as his value’ (Kojève 1969, 7). 2 This is precisely the condition that gives Bourdieu’s distinction power over the dispossessed. By excluding, we become desirable, as desires are often ‘based on nothing more than the fact that the thing in question has been forbidden to you’ (Miller 1994, 243). Through recognition and prohibition, distinction creates power as control over the other, and hierarchy as ‘vertical relations of super- and subordination’ (Zarakol 2017, 1). Hierarchies, as Zarakol suggests, are created and renegotiated through the discursive practices of bordering, which inscribe inside (superior) and outside (inferior) spaces and populate them with suitably ‘made’ others. Hierarchies, therefore, can be made with both real and, in Campbell’s (1998) words, ‘imprecisely imagined’ others. In Bourdieu’s theory, the two are inseparable: the practices that underlie the social power of distinction are based on imagining and performance, but the resulting relationship between the possessor and the dispossessed creates real power and recognised societal inequalities. A boundary keeps inferior others separate from the self and presents the site of power and inequality (also see Weldes et al. 1999). This boundary is safe as long as the hierarchies are maintained through desire and the groups at the bottom aspire to move closer to the ‘elite’. In this sense, hierarchy has a dual relationship with self-esteem: on the one hand, being at the bottom undermines self-esteem; on the other, imitation of elites creates pride and respect among others on the hierarchical ladder (see Lebow 2016, 202). Recognition by the other therefore comes to play a new function: it not only validates identities but also establishes distinction – a hierarchical boundary that empowers the self and disempowers others. The boundary ensures that ‘we’ are rare, exclusive, and unreachable, turning otherness into the other’s own fault. This means that the other’s difference from the self is 2. The Hegelian interpretation of desire is dialectical: self is established through recognition by the other. Lacan’s vision involves the desire of the other’s desire, which includes both the will to be desired, and ‘affirmation of the self by desiring what the other desires’ (for a detailed comparison, see Burgess 2017, 25). Bourdieu’s distinction is primarily born out of desire of the self by the other. Yet its social power rests in the ability to inspire imitation but deny its full success.

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turned into his own crisis, reassuring the self of the value of its own practices. At this point, there is nothing that the self desires in the outsider’s otherness, yet it wishes for the other as a conforming void, as it is needed to maintain self. An imitating other affirms the self as the model but appears as a failure (backward, inferior) in return. If it becomes too similar, the possessor of distinction increases distance to remain unreachable, and here again, difference is no longer challenging as it becomes a means to maintain safe distance from recognising (imitating) others. The opposite of recognition – rejection – has the potential to cause a crisis by forcing self-examination and making others seem threatening and invalidating. The discursive construction of the other as threatening may, in turn, produce conflict and legitimise violence (see Rumelili 2004). Rejection by the other (where the other refuses to imitate the self) can be understood through Lacan’s ‘deadly negations’ that accompany outbursts of aggression. Lacan suggests that if an identity boundary (in this case distinction) collapses, the self is negated: ‘What happens to me has nothing to do with what I am’ (Lacan 2006, 93). This is a highly traumatic position of helplessness and being stripped of previously claimed achievement in the face of a rejecting other. If the self is to survive, it has no choice but to escape into a responsive negation: ‘There is nothing about you that is worthwhile’. This response stimulates aggressiveness and resentment directed at the other (Lacan 2006, 92–93) and makes the rejecting other’s presence particularly intolerable. These negations shed light on aggression as the coping mechanism in the crisis of a rejecting other. But even in this case, through the responsive negation, difference is transformed into the other’s fault. What is important in both cases is that the confidence and wholeness of the self are dependent on interpreting the other’s inner world for evidence of possession. The other can either desire self and be possessed (the ultimate self-affirming position that eliminates self-doubt) or reject the self as the ideal and present a crisis. Either response plays a pivotal role in perception, as the self is obsessed with the other’s recognition or rejection. Recognition becomes an exercise of power and hierarchy in a self/other relation and the basis for accepting otherness; rejection leads to aggressive responses. In either case, the self is seeking its own reflection in the other rather than seeing the other for what it really is. The language of difference helps maintain a boundary, which is not caused by the other’s actual qualities (objective difference) – rather by the interpretation of the other’s response to one’s distinction. As desire and recognition are very unstable, distinction is dependent on continuous performance, meaning that the boundary is constantly reaffirmed. Bourdieu’s notion of distinction can help understand collectives beyond class: individuals and groups alike seek distinction as distance and power over others. An identity boundary is exclusivity in which groups employ the


Chapter 4

language of difference or similarity to erect distinction and maintain distance. Bourdieu himself notes the functionality of distinction as a boundary: it unites all those similar ‘while distinguishing them from all others’ (Bourdieu 1984, 49). From this perspective, combining Bourdieu’s notion of distinction with psychosocial approaches to identity can help conjoin the pursuit of exclusivity as a response to available others with the societal need for positive self-concepts and self-affirming others theorised in Part I. The social, political, and international realms are full of the guarded regalia of distinction, as identity boundaries are based on constructed notions and their recognition by international agents. Groups project images of their distinction outside and wish to be associated with it, thus establishing models and undermining alternatives. For example, the EU has constructed a ‘distinctive identity and lifestyle . . . that underpins its special status in international relations by lending it distance and exclusivity from other actors’ and ‘attract[ing] so much prestige as to encourage emulation’ (Keene 2013, 950). Recognition through emulative practices and exclusivity (or, in Weberian terms, social closure) provides the foundation for the EU’s normative power as a political and social model. The EU’s and, more generally, Western claims of good democratic governance, human rights progress, and liberty become available only with the parallel construction of a non-democratic Rest-other attempting to correct its faults. This hierarchy is discursively maintained, as Western Europe and the US make democratic principles central to their political and media rhetoric and draw a boundary by condemning human rights abuse, drawing international ratings of political freedoms, or supporting multiple NGOs that advise on democracy as a Western project. In asserting their distinction, virtuous selves do not only claim social and political power of being the model, but also exclude alternative choices as ‘backward’ and failing. In doing so, the Western ideal of democracy becomes hegemonic, if we understand hegemony as the attempt to present a particular practice or value as universal, to pass part for whole in a process of political contestation, to the point when the particularism on offer becomes established as common sense (Solomon 2015, 68; Laclau 1996). The other does not have such normative status and is typically portrayed as subordinate (Seidman 2013, 4). Hegemony, as the power to set the boundaries of the normal and commonsense for both self and others, at the same time delegitimates alternatives and is an inherent part of the subject’s attempt to affirm distinction, in which the other’s own desires or values become ignored. The concept of ‘international development’ and the policies that advance it are another example of the global political hierarchies produced by distinction. Arguably, development replaced colonialism as the concept that oriented the emerging nations after World War II (Sachs 1990). In recognising the aims, policies, and models of international development, two-thirds of the world had to define themselves as underdeveloped, asserting the hegemony

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of a modern West (Escobar 1995). Escobar (1995, 9) speaks of hegemony as the ‘production of discourse under conditions of unequal power’, adding a layer of economic and political dominance to the discursive construction of the West-Rest hierarchy. In Foucauldian terms, discourse involves constructing permissible modes of being and thinking while disqualifying others. Formulated in Western countries and by Western financial institutions, 3 international development created ‘an extremely efficient apparatus for producing knowledge about, and the exercise of power over, the Third World’ (Escobar 1995, 9), not unlike Said’s Orientalism. By prescribing the Western liberal economic model to other countries with minimal variation, the strategies and policies of international development allowed little value in alternative solutions or contexts. The hierarchy of this distinction resides in the power of the widely accepted discourse of international development, and not only in the differences of some economies being larger than others. Distinction is equally employed to maintain social and cultural hierarchies within communities. For example, speaking Hinglish (a combination of Hindi and English) in today’s India is a sign of higher social status, which elevates the more educated and wealthy over the majority who speak the common language or the speakers of minority languages. Or the social value attributed to whiter skin in India or Thailand, where it is considered more beautiful, is another example of difference as distinction. On the one hand, this is a rarely occurring trait (a difference); on the other, its true significance is in the discourse of power inherited from the colonial times. Both cases are demonstrations of power and hierarchy instilled into identity over time. The meanings of difference and similarity thus surpass the more traditional expectations (including those found in liberal constructivist literature 4) that the other’s likeness to self leads to acceptance or that variation causes exclusion. Difference is not the cause of exclusion, but a constructed outcome of the more unconscious factors of relating. The language of similarity or difference is relational: as Dalal (2009) notes, an anxious self is capable of 3. In 1949, US president Truman set out a ‘program of development’ that drew a divide between the ‘more prosperous areas’ and ‘more than half the people of the world living in conditions approaching misery’. Later the same year, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development sent a mission to Colombia to formulate a general development programme, which became the first mission of its kind. The UN shortly turned attention to economic conditions of ‘underdeveloped countries’ (Escobar 1995, 24). Advanced industrial countries have had disproportionate decision-making and financial power in shaping globalization and development through a number of mechanisms, from Western-dominated economic institutions to the policies prescribed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (see Stiglitz 2006). 4. Bahar Rumelili (2004) provides an excellent comparison of how liberal and critical constructivists approach the role of difference in the construction of identity and self-other relations. She argues that critical constructivism provides closer insight into the discursive constructions of difference in the making of identities, but that it still understates that difference does not always lead to negative othering.


Chapter 4

seeing only difference in the face of hundreds of similarities or only similarity in the face of hundreds of differences. I suggest that political attitudes and imagining are (un)consciously protective of the distinction of the speaker’s collective identity, while the language of difference or similarity helps draw suitable boundaries to maintain a positive self. Being not-I is not enough to make groups repel or hate the other, and neither is it the primary cause for exclusion or the basis for any variation to be wrong or threatening. In the form of distinction, difference may be desired rather than repelled, which makes the relationship between identity and difference much more complex. OTHER-OBJECT OR OTHER-SUBJECT: POSSESSION AND OMNIPOTENCE If we view Bourdieu’s possession and imitation through the prism of agency (the ability to act independently and legitimise what is normal and valued), the possessor of distinction has ‘destroyed’ the dispossessed as a subject and turned it into a controllable and recognising object. To break free, the object needs to recapture agency – an act that would in turn ‘destroy’ the possessor. The difference between the possessor and the dispossessed is in the construction and acceptance of distinction that translates into agency and power. Describing the other as different or similar assumes the potency to imagine qualities of the other, and the power to erect and dismantle borders and others. In this section, I review possession from the perspective of agency and psychosocial subject-object relations. Discussing the transformation of an object into a subject and largely drawing on Kleinian notions, 5 Jessica Benjamin (1995) suggests that every subject initially develops an illusion of its own omnipotence – the ability to control everything around it. The self’s attitude to new relations is narcissist in the Freudian sense: as Benjamin very well puts it, one’s fantasy of omnipotence and wholeness is ‘the insistence on being one (everyone is identical to me) and all alone (there is nothing outside me that I do not control)’ (Benjamin 1995, 36). A whole and omnipotent self attempts to manipulate the other by ‘attributing to the other . . . some of one’s own qualities’ (Klein 1960, 6–7). In a sense, imagining oneself in the other is the only possible position of seeing: from a psychoanalytic viewpoint, your qualities are part of my fantasy and I am you, as it is only through my eyes that you exist as you are. Independent existence and agency of the surrounding others become undeniable only if the attempt to manipulate them fails: ‘the assertion of omnipo5. Benjamin draws on Kleinian psychoanalysis to describe infant-(m)other relations and the discovery of (m)other’s external agency through the infant’s failure to control her or to imagine her as controllable (see Klein 1960; Bion 1962). This failure forms a bond of identification – aspiring to be like – and signals love for the omnipotent (m)other-subject.

Imagining Others as Different or Similar


tence in the form of aggression or negation of the other collides with the barrier of the [other’s] continuing existence’ (Benjamin 1995, 194–95). This failure to control the other destroys the omnipotent vision of oneself and can create a wishful fantasy of their (the other’s) omnipotence, as a self becomes ‘possessed’ and wishes for the other’s quality. The discovery of uncontrollable external agency brings about the possibility of an ideal other-subject. For both Klein and Benjamin, if the denying object survives the attempt at manipulative destruction, it becomes a subject with individual agency who exists outside the self. This is the other whom the self cannot yet manipulate, leading the self to recognise this other as omnipotent. This is the only way for the idea of omnipotence to survive – by finding home in ideal others-subjects. The self constantly attempts to recapture the other’s quality through imitation – an act that will result in the ideal other being ‘destroyed’ if surpassed. This psychoanalytic situation is very similar to the mechanism by which Bourdieu’s possessor of distinction inspires imitation in the dispossessed. Klein’s and Benjamin’s notion of omnipotence can tell us a lot about possession and identification with desired traits. Being able to understand, to ‘know’ distant others is the desire of an ‘I’ to be able to manipulate and make ‘not-Is’, so that the self alone defines what form ‘I’ takes in the relationship. Distinction offers such supreme agency: the possessor of distinction can do what the other cannot and can ‘destroy’, or turn others-subjects into othersobjects. Effectively, destruction is an attempt at making the other usable, as well as subordinate. Usability suggests that the other’s existence no longer belongs to or is shaped by that other – instead, it becomes meaningful for the self’s identity purposes. Recognition by the other establishes possession and is understood as the other’s fascination (Benjamin’s ‘identificatory love’) with the self’s distinction. Fascination rather than frustration with the other-subject beyond one’s possession (recognition of the other’s distinction) can be observed in how post-Soviet countries related to the post–Cold War West. While during the Cold War, ‘Western’ was portrayed in the Soviet bloc as immoral, oppressed by corrupt elites and failing, in the 1990s, ‘Western’ or ‘European’ became synonymous with high living standards and prosperity. Popular admiration of Western and European achievements transcended political, cultural, and symbolic spaces. For example, post-Soviet Russian, Georgian, and Ukrainian governments labelled their reforms as ‘Western’ to make them more popular with the public. The prefix ‘evro-’ (European) became widely associated with higher quality yet unreachable to self and signalled the direction of self’s future development (‘evro-integration’, ‘evro-standards’). Even everyday language reflected the new hierarchies: for example, ‘evro-remont’ (‘European-style renovation’ in Russian) was the distinction of particularly expensive and elite housing. ‘Love’ for the ideal other in the form of desire and


Chapter 4

recognition entered language and political imagining, as only through imitating the other’s omnipotence, the self had a chance of becoming omnipotent again. Experiencing a period of symbolic impotence and external stigmatisation, post-Soviet societies assigned temporality to their own vulnerable circumstances by projecting the dreamed omnipotence on the other in admiration and imitation for the desired quality of the West. The self could also be purified of many internal weaknesses: for example, the hardships of the late Soviet Union, such as economic stagnation, high corruption, and growing nationalisms, could be justified by losing to the overpowering omnipotence of the other. Imitation of the West was a ‘delayed’ and displaced self-conception – an identificatory vision of what the post-Soviet nations could possess once they recaptured agency over their troubling objects. Later, public perception of the West started to change in the attempt to recapture agency. Another narrative was emerging – that Russia had been deceived to become impotent (for example, by the Eastern expansions of NATO in 1999 and 2004 after the Warsaw Pact had been disbanded 6). The popular dream was that the West would once again ‘reckon with Russia’s wishes’ and Russia would ‘rise from its knees’. Both phrases became idiomatic expressions in political and media rhetoric and entered the language of electoral campaigns. When on 24 March 1999, the US launched Kosovo airstrikes, Russian prime minister Primakov was on his way to the US for an official visit. He turned the plane around over the Atlantic in protest – the symbolic move that is still widely remembered and respected among the Russian people. This and other more recent signs of Russia returning to its former power (such as the ‘return of Crimea’ narrative and the resulting surge in Vladimir Putin’s domestic popularity 7) are widely praised by the general public as they defy the other’s distinction and recapture agency from the symbolic West. Of course, national interests, particular situations and responses to them, economic environments, domestic politics, and diplomatic manoeuvres informed and determined the complex dynamic in Russia-West relations. Yet these are largely invisible or incomprehensible to the general public. Political rhetoric and public opinion simplify these events into broader and more selective interpretations. These interpretations often explain complex political realities in the simple terms of partnership or aggression, respect or dishonesty, recognition or rejection that underlie positive or negative public 6. In 1999, NATO admitted Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic as new members; in 2004, they were followed by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Russia strongly criticised the enlargement as it considered it as breaking the US promise of not expanding NATO to Eastern Europe, made in 1990. 7. According to Russian public opinion research centres, Putin’s approval ratings shot up after the March 2014 referendum in the Crimea (RIA Novosti 2014a). Later the ‘return of the Crimea’ caused Putin’s approval rating to exceed 85 per cent in May 2014, the highest since the beginning of his presidency (WCIOM 2014a).

Imagining Others as Different or Similar


attitudes. For example, Russia’s post-Soviet relations with Europe and the US were largely interpreted through the traditional question of its own identity: Is Russia West or East or does it have its own independent way? 8 Rapprochement and escalation, imitation and the recapturing of agency in the relations with the West were deeply significant for the rethinking of Russia’s own national identity and omnipotence. The other was therefore imagined and interpreted through its relation to self, while the constructions of power, distinction, and identity were expressed in the language of difference or similarity with the West or the East. RELATIONAL NARRATIVES OF DIFFERENCE AND SIMILARITY To be different or similar suggests a comparison – a relation, in which one object is contrasted with another. It is not, however, simply a comparison of the two surfaces: imagining the other is relative because perceived differences or similarities are related to the conception of one’s own self and are complemented with its dynamic protective impulses. The other’s image seems to be the result of the anxiety of meeting the stranger, coping with his continuing existence/agency and relating the other to one’s own distinction. Figure 4.1 (following page) shows a pattern of how others are imagined as negative or positive, depending on the other’s perceived responses to the self’s distinction. The accompanying language of variation (similarity or difference) is used to support both negative and positive attitudes as a way of maintaining suitable distance from the other to protect the boundary. Certain narratives of variation can then serve as indicators of internal anxiety when the other is seen to threaten one’s narrative about the self by rejecting it or by becoming too close. The pattern suggests that negative conceptions of the other and intense inner anxiety coincide with the portrayal of the other as too different or too similar. This is because political imagining balances recognition and exclusivity (the two elements that protect distinction), and negative perceptions mount when either is unsatisfied. If the other is rejecting the self (is not recognising it as the model) – it becomes expelled as too different. If the other is imitating, exclusivity may become threatened as the self can be surpassed or risks disappearing into the borderless void in which there is no difference between self and other, and difference is reaffirmed. In the first case, difference prohibits the other as the opposite and expresses negative attitudes. In the second, substantial similarity coincides with a negative response. Neither difference nor similarity are then exclusively linked with negative political imagining. In the discussion below, I focus on how these 8. See Gorodetsky (2003), Clowes (2011) and Zarakol (2011) for a discussion of Russian foreign policy and identity self-definitions as East and West after the end of the Cold War.


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Figure 4.1. Relational narratives of difference or similarity, the accompanying positive or negative reactions, and the dynamics of exclusivity and recognition. Source: Author's own.

two positions can lead us to rethink the role of difference and similarity in negative and positive attitudes to distant others. Rejection and Extreme Difference In his account of the first encounter between Columbus and the American Indians, Todorov (1984, 17–30) suggests that the Spanish saw what they were ready and eager to see: the ‘unknown’ became familiar as its signs had been foretold (largely in religious texts), and Columbus was seeking the ideal self in the other. Columbus had unconsciously desired and expected this new other to be like the Spanish, but the failure to find signs of them being ‘civilised’, Spanish-like people (as demonstrated by their lack of clothing and inability to speak the ‘proper’ language) led to the denigration of their otherness. In Bourdieu’s and Kleinian terms, the Spanish needed to possess the other and thus subjugate their otherness to become whole and omnipotent. Unable to see the American Indians as imitating, the Spanish constructed them as inferior and prohibitively different – a typical narrative of extreme difference that protects and affirms the ideal self in a situation of the other’s rejection. Rejection suggests that the other is not attempting to be like the self and takes pride in its independence, implying distinctive external agency. Representing lack of the other’s imitative desire as oppositeness or extreme difference attempts to prohibit critical self-examination: What if the other possesses value, and this rejection is a fault with the self? 9 In the fierce ideological confrontation of the Cold War, neither Americans nor the Soviets could 9. In the form of Lacanian negations discussed earlier in the chapter, this would be the position of: ‘What happens to me has nothing to do with what I am’, which leads to aggression and negation of the other.

Imagining Others as Different or Similar


admit even a fraction of value in the other – a position that protected their self-conceptions in mutually prohibiting images. Acceptance of even a small part of the other’s ideology equalled weakness and infiltration by the enemy other. The ‘borderland’ as the site of potential ‘exchange or flow between [the] two symbolic orders’ created by containment (Seidman 2013, 15) imposed a morally suspect status on those too close to it, who were seen at risk of becoming contaminated by close ideological contact. In the politics of today, the image of a global terrorist is no less prohibiting and frightening, as this other openly repels the Western ideals. ‘Terrorism’ becomes prohibited in its facelessness (see Mitchell 2011), disregard for life, and ruthless capability to inflict unexpected and undeserved violence. Again, contamination is feared in the form of radicalisation by those too close to the boundary, for example, those sharing certain religious, social, or economic backgrounds. Politically, the terrorism label serves to prohibit the undesirable object and to contain it to identifiable external traits and reasons for radicalisation, which often ignore the domestic conditions that contribute to it, some of which may lie in Western societies’ own failures. As Murer (2010) points out, collective identities derive a certain comfort from hating the other’s difference as immutable and constant, as this makes the self’s identity stable. 10 Caught in a crisis of coping with the other’s lack of recognition and continuous independence, which it reimagines as irreconcilable difference, the self can neither let go nor rid itself of the rejecting subject. The only way to make this other usable is to turn it into an ‘abject’ – an opposite, whose essence is in ‘being opposed to I’, as it exists ‘in order to uphold “I”’ (Kristeva 1982, 1). The rejecting other is lost to self but is ostracised to restore the self-affirming idea that all ‘proper’ others desire the self to some extent. The abject becomes the prohibited and defiled opposite into which the self projects all its negative traits and bad objects in an attempt to cleanse and heal through contrast. Projection involves the attribution of one’s own undesirable qualities and uncomfortable thoughts to the other in an effort to get rid of them (see Volkan 2006; Sandler 1989, 16; LaCapra 2001, 58; Esses and Vernon 2008, 6). There may be an unconscious acknowledgement that the negativity of the other in fact originates from within the self, binding self and other even more closely: ‘We must, in some way, be aware that what we have projected is our own in order to feel the relief of being rid of it’ (Sandler 1989, 26). An abject unites everything hated or feared and is expelled, but at the same time it is always kept close at hand to remind the self of its purity and integrity. To lose sight of an abject would mean to lose the boundary and allow negative traits to penetrate. Filth projected into the abject is not a 10. Seidman (2013, 18) further demonstrates that the illusion of unchanging, immutable, and non-arbitrary otherness is often constructed by invoking God or ‘natural law’ in cementing societal hierarchies, for example, to sustain ‘hetero-normative or white-supremacist or Christian-European hegemonic order’.


Chapter 4

purpose in itself, neither does it reflect the objective qualities of the devalued object (see Kristeva 1982; Kinnvall 2004). It is triggered from within, as disgust presents an ‘acute crisis of self-preservation in the face of an unassimilable otherness’ (Menninghaus 2003, 1), only this otherness is in truth a reflection of one’s own repelled traits that are expelled onto the abject. For example, the Western image of post-9/11 terrorists, according to Žižek (2002, 387), presents them as simultaneously ‘self-sacrificing and cowards, cunningly intelligent and primitive barbarians. Whenever we encounter such a purely evil Outside, we should gather the courage to . . . recognize the distilled version of our own essence’. Abjection establishes a protective boundary which represents the abject-other as the self’s ‘other side, a margin’ (Kristeva 1982, 69). Any signs of the other’s worth are destroyed in the imagined fierceness of difference, but a self does not admit to it: it masks the ‘wish to contaminate the object’ behind the ‘phantasy of contamination by the object’ (Figlio 2012, 21). An abject becomes an extremely devalued opposite that maintains one’s identity through continuous contrast. Showing disgust for the abject becomes part of the self-definition, as groups who construct abject-others are in an ‘obsessive fear of collapsing into the self-created other’ (Murer 2009, 118; Spurr 1993, 78). Volkan, Montville, and Julius (1990, 32) give a vivid example of Armenian-Azerbaijani tensions and differences being reinforced even in the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, when Armenian victims refused blood transfusions from Azerbaijani donors as contamination, despite obvious medical need. The association of defilement with a body as its container creates fear of contamination by close contact or seduction (Seidman 2013), leading the subject to reaffirm its purity by demonstrating moral resilience and impregnability – a boundary that divides the pure from the defiled. Claims of being pure and clean (uncontaminated by the negative other) can take the form of various symbolic affirmations, such as expressing disgust at unacceptable social behaviours, dirty jokes, thoughts, or gestures. Purity is the performance of signalling disgust, a dismissal without hearing out, dictated by the fear of being confused with the dirty other. To stay clean, one needs their rejection of the other to be noticed. To create an abject means to maintain the fear of slipping into it, necessitating a constant reinforcement of the boundary by continuous affirmation of difference. By drawing a boundary, a self ‘explicitly precludes any possibility of engaging the other’ (Murer 2009, 117) and assures itself as pure and distinct with constructions of extreme difference. Abjection and narratives of extreme, prohibiting difference underlie many instances of social and political exclusion. For example, nationalism, racism, and xenophobia signal the desire to expel the seemingly contaminating other – the ‘enemy within’. In their repulsion of impurity, nationalist or xenophobic movements obsessively see these traits in immigrants and neighbours

Imagining Others as Different or Similar


who retain elements of other cultures, and construct pure and secure identities through exclusion. 11 Abjection can also transform into everyday prejudice as defilement supports separation and hierarchical ordering (Seidman 2013), for example, when minority groups, such as British Muslims, become portrayed ‘alongside (rather than as a constituent part of) Britain’ (see Croft 2012). More broadly, the political rhetoric and the popular search for ‘traitors’, ‘fifth columns’ and ‘enemies within’ serves as the prohibition to engage the opponent, who is seen as rejecting the values, political views, or other important elements of the self. In these situations, the opponent is portrayed as both extremely different (outside of the identity of the self, an ‘other’ within) and a threat. For example, in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher often called miners ‘the enemy within’, representing their protest as unpatriotic and villainous. More recently, political opposition in authoritarian states has been widely represented by their governments and seen by the public as ‘traitors’ and ‘fifth columnists’ in the pay of foreign agents trying to destabilise these countries (see Chernobrov 2018a). Narratives of such devaluing and repelled difference signal exclusion, prohibit engaging or listening to the abject as dangerous and unworthy, and affirm a self who is pure from its undesired objects. Finally, different political systems may defile each other for self-affirmation through contrast. Cuba under Fidel Castro, Iran under Ahmadinejad, or Venezuela under Chavez insisted on the imperial and violent about-face of the West, while Western governments projected negative traits of injustice, irrationality, oppression, and evil into these authoritarian regimes. On both sides, the positive view on one’s own political identity was affirmed through making the other its prohibited margin, so that the question ‘Why don’t they do the same thing we do?’ signals a fault with the other and not with the self. Abjection turns the other usable for self-affirmation through contrast; however, I also suggest that it becomes a way to recapture agency over the rejecting other. Devaluing the other achieves more than mere self-cleansing: it restores the power to manipulate the other and resumes the illusion of an omnipotent self. Transforming the other-subject with independent and defying agency into an expelled and devalued other-abject conforms to the need ‘to internalize [bad objects] in an effort to control them’ (Fairbairn 1952, 67). The crisis of a rejecting other is solved as abjection prohibits seeing the other’s rejection as rational and symbolically destroys the other as impotent. For example, demonisation of the enemy-other during war is relatively common across conflicts, cultural contexts, or political systems. Such an other gains a typical set of inhuman qualities, including being ruthless, irrational, deceitful, and ethnically inferior. Demonised and dehumanised enemies are 11. For a discussion of nationalism, abjection, and secure identities see Kinnvall (2004).


Chapter 4

easily blurred across conflicts: for instance, the images of the Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese in conflicts with the US shared similar characteristics in the way they were represented in the American media and popular culture. 12 Demonising the enemy eliminated doubt in the necessity of violence, as the inhuman abject deserved to be killed for the negative values it represented. Yet, from the perspective of agency, these representations of the enemy portrayed deceitfulness or irrationality as weaknesses (as opposed to the courageous and rational self) and made them predictable – in other words, familiar. Through these representations, the enemy other was no longer an ‘unknown’ independent agent, but a manipulatable abject deprived of any power to respond or surprise the self. Narratives of extreme difference are thus tied closely to the imagined or real rejection of the self that represents the inability to control the other through desire. If we compare these cases to narratives of less significant difference (middle of Figure 4.1), the latter narratives apply to others who are not openly rejecting or doubting the self’s distinction. Their presence is not significant as it leaves the self uncontested. Objective difference may well be available; however, it is not transformed into antagonism, allowing the self to tolerate the other’s presence. This is typical of non-conflict, desecuritised relations when cooperation exists despite objective difference. For example, despite variation in the religious composition of European societies, Protestant or Catholic faith is no longer a divide that would lead to enemy constructions (except perhaps in Northern Ireland where the religious divide is a proxy for class and unionist politics). Europe’s secular democratic narrative is not rejected by this variation: on the contrary, it is affirmed through it. Containing religious divides to the past allows Western Europe to claim secular democratic distinction and condemn religious tensions elsewhere: for example, the Danish cartoon crisis and the riots in a number of Muslim countries in 2005 were widely represented as ‘barbarism’ in the face of a more modern and progressive European identity (see Agius 2013). The EU is also more likely to condemn gender inequalities or maltreatment of minorities elsewhere than countries with no claim to liberal democratic distinction. When communities seek no distinction on the subject, that is, when the trait is unimportant for their identity construction and is not sought in others, difference does not need to be constantly re-enacted to maintain distance. If its distinction is unchallenged, a self can treat others with indifference, as there is no clash between its performance of distinction and an other’s reply.

12. For example, see Jeffords (1989) for detailed analysis of Vietnam War representations in film, literature, and history.

Imagining Others as Different or Similar


Imitation and Sameness Colonial and postcolonial understandings of ethnicity, race, class, and culture were largely formulated through the constructions of difference. The boundaries of otherness seemed to be based on difference, yet the prominent anthropologist, Abner Cohen, observed how in the case of the Sierra Leone Creoles, ‘British writers and officials ridiculed the attempts by Creoles to “ape” the British style of life and poured scorn on Creole “rubbish culture”’ (Cohen 1981, 312). Creoles, who themselves had some degree of British and European ancestry, were clearly recognising and imitating the British identity – trying to be similar – and yet attracted negative responses. This case is not unique. The colonial order generally built on hierarchical practices that encouraged particular forms of collective identity as non-Westerners ‘re-invented themselves to work their way up the “civilizational ladder”’ and tried to emulate Western values of modernity (Phillips 2017; Zarakol 2011). Imperial elites were successful in ‘generating forms of symbolic capital that draw local intermediaries into active participation within imperial hierarchies as they seek to win social recognition and advancement within these hierarchies’ (Phillips 2017, 48). European empires established a strong preference for Western-like appearance, taste, behaviour, and other aesthetic and symbolic choices in the colonies. For example, in India, the British encouraged European education and dress for the elites and promoted elements of the European culture and technologies of modernity (railways, telegraph, new trade methods) that, besides their use in colonial governance, were expected to establish Western distinction and inspire imitation. In creating and imagining the Orient, colonial powers at the same time constructed and affirmed the identity of the Westerner (Said 1979; also see Neumann 1999 for the use of the ‘East’ in European identity construction beyond colonialism). Rejection of the Western distinction and practices of modernity was often interpreted as revolt and barbarism (as was the case with the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 13); but even imitating local elites were still regarded as inferior. Similarly, in colonial Rwanda the Belgians believed that Tutsi elites had Caucasian features and were therefore superior to the Hutu, albeit inferior to the proper Europeans (Buckley-Zistel 2006; Cameron 2013). While stimulating allegiance through imitation of the European culture and values among the locals, imperial elites still reassured the boundary between the ‘proper’ and the ‘aping’ subjects. The colonial imitating other was the ‘better’ other with whom Westerners preferred to communicate and share power, 13. The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 started when Indian regiments received new cartridges that were greased with animal fat, and which the soldiers needed to bite in order to load. This was incompatible with both Muslim and Hindu religious beliefs. Although other issues and grievances also contributed to anti-colonial sentiments, this neglect of local traditions and cultures in favour of Western culture demonstrates the (un)conscious hierarchy in the treatment of colonial peoples.


Chapter 4

and yet even this other was accused of ‘aping’ its betters and ‘riding to the pinnacle of civilization on the coattails of its real producers’ (Williams 1989, 435). The ‘stigma of comparative backwardness’ in colonialism and in other hierarchies of modernity or prosperity often consumed these societies and produced long-term echoes: for example, Zarakol (2011) demonstrates how in modern Turkey, the narrative of failure to modernise and become Western is still a painful but widespread explanation of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Both positive and negative attitudes to the imitating other can be understood if we regard the language of difference as the means of maintaining distance and protecting the distinction of the self. When the other is rejecting, the self is coping with the lack of recognition and the threat of self-examination; when the other is too similar, the self has to increase its efforts to maintain a boundary. Otherwise the boundary becomes blurred. Initially, imitation contains the pleasure of a self being reproduced and validated: seeing itself in the other brings ‘satisfaction’ (Sanchez-Pardo 2003, 181) and encourages favourable attitudes. The imagining of fascinated recognising others has given rise to a significant number of linear development theories, from the Bolshevik dream of universal proletariat revolutions to the widespread Western expectation of gradual and global democratisation. In both these cases, imitation by others formed an important part of narratives about the self that would place it at the top of a hierarchy. Imitation by multiple others allowed the self-proper to enjoy a distinctive lead: the Soviet Union positioned itself as the socialist model and the highest authority on MarxistLeninist texts, while the US and Western Europe presented the oldest democracies that were ‘further ahead’. In much the same way, the denigrating and hierarchical narrative of colonial ‘aping’ in the examples above made the self-proper unreachable and ever distinct, while keeping the other desiring and submissive. Positive attitudes exist when the other is seen to imitate (recognise and aspire to) the self, but without becoming the same. The self then retains the exclusive and superior position of the model for copies that cannot match the original. The transition from similarity to sameness contains the troubling change from hierarchical recognition to a claim of equality. The self-affirming pleasure of seeing oneself reproduced is upset by the challenge to one’s exclusive position: the self is no longer above or alone in its distinction. In sameness, there is no longer a clear self and other, and any uncomfortable traits that exist in the shared space can belong to and question both. This is the position of ‘catastrophic indifferentiation’ (Figlio 2012) – the situation when sameness deletes the clear boundary between self and other and leads to their collapse into each other that destroys both. In a situation of sameness, the key identity question, ‘Who am I for the other?’ can no longer be answered: the self becomes invisible, indistinguishable in its mediocrity, as its distinction

Imagining Others as Different or Similar


has become commonplace in the presence of same others. The other has to be either included into the self or expelled in the process of reinstating the boundary. This means that the cause for imagining others in a negative way may also rest in the others being too similar (imitating and threatening to surpass the self), as well as too different (rejecting the self). Here I agree with Karl Figlio that ‘consciously, we exclude others who are different, but unconsciously, we hate sameness, and avoid it by creating delusional differences’ (Figlio 2012, 7). Figlio situates his argument within Mitchell’s psychoanalytic discussion of sibling ambivalence when the love for a sibling is offset by the threat of a twin 14 who depletes the self’s narcissism (Mitchell 2003). While a close sibling affirms self-love, a twin causes rivalry and competition, resulting in attempts to draw borders and destroy the other. Discussing narcissism of the subject and building on Mitchell’s psychoanalytic framework, Figlio concludes that ‘the subject is always threatened by the very existence of an object, because the object is its replica – the self, itself, stolen and displaced into the other’ (Figlio 2012, 16). This idea is a reference to Lacan’s work where the connection between sameness and aggression was explained through the replica causing ‘uncontrollable anxiety’ and violence (Lacan 2006, 89). Faced with the threat of sameness, identities reinstate difference to remain stable. However, unlike narratives of extreme difference where the rejecting other needs to be disgraced, the threat of sameness may be resolved by reintroducing minimal difference that is still enough to maintain the hierarchies of distinction and desire. Identities defend from the threat of sameness through what Freud first described as the ‘narcissism of minor differences’ – the minor variations between otherwise very similar subjects that re-establish otherness and difference. Observing the reaffirmation of difference between similar groups, Freud notes: Communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well . . . are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other – like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch, and so on . . . That is a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction . . . , by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier. (Freud 1930, 114)

Freud’s idea agrees with Bourdieu’s view that difference is affirmed against communities and groups who are closest in social space. Difference restores distance, but while abjection expels the other as drastically different and

14. The discussion of brother/twin struggle in its application to tensions between groups and communities is also developed in the writings of Girard (1979) and Blok (1998).


Chapter 4

contaminated, narcissism of minor differences can lead to violence in the presence of many similarities. In international politics and public imagining of distant others, minor differences underlie many conflicts (see Blok 1998). Blok notes that civil wars and other conflicts between very similar groups are usually portrayed as more merciless and draws on Girard (1979, 51) in saying that ‘it is not the differences but the loss of them that gives rise to violence and chaos’. Blok argues that violence in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Northern Ireland could be understood through the prism of minor differences as the conflicting parties were objectively very similar, and violence served to affirm difference between them: The Catholics of Northern Ireland are physically indistinguishable from the Protestants; they speak one common language with the Protestants, and generally no other language; they live in the same sorts of houses and watch the same television shows. A stranger could walk through any working-class area of Belfast without having any idea of whether he was in Protestant or Catholic territory – until he looked at slogans on walls, testifying to the abiding politico-sectarian hostility of the two look-alike communities. (O’Brien 1986, 442–43; quoted in Blok 1998, 47)

A similar view is voiced by Millar (2006) and McKay (2000), who also argue that collective violence in Northern Ireland was happening in a context where local communities were much more similar than they were different. In fact, they suggest that it was because the differences were minor that they had to be expressed with such aggression. Outbursts of aggression were frequently triggered by minor differences between communities who knew each other intimately, and therefore conflict could not be blamed on the lack of contact or misunderstanding between cultures. In reinstating difference, communities reconstruct a boundary that restores the exclusivity of distinction and brackets out possible questions to the self. Anti-Semitism, racism, or nationalism in mixed communities where people from different backgrounds have lived alongside each other for years can illustrate this. Sameness between locals and former migrants would be unconsciously known by both (both dream the same dreams and have the same needs); however, this truth is repressed through the reinvention of difference as a purifying boundary. For example, when the then leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, 15 blamed millions of immigrants for taking away British jobs during the 2015 UK general election (and when similar statements were made by others), this narrative

15. UKIP is a right-wing populist party in the UK, which advocated Brexit and sparked many controversies by its anti-immigration and racist statements. It won the 2014 European Parliament election in the UK and gained the third-largest vote in the 2015 general election.

Imagining Others as Different or Similar


facilitated the forgetting of the self’s own imperfections (policies and conditions that led to unemployment) and reaffirmed societal divisions as difference. By expelling the other as different, a community attaches insecurity and threats to external objects so that the cause for the discomfort appears external, too. The focus of the resulting narrative is then not only on the other as different, but on the remaining self as whole, positive, and relieved of its internal controversies and external contamination. Historically, assimilation of newcomers has frequently been challenged by the narcissism of minor differences. The word itself, which originates from Latin assimilāre – to be made/to become like – suggests taking in, absorbing the boundary, becoming same. However, despite newcomers’ imitation of the local ways of life, which validates them, local communities frequently remember and, in times of threat, revive the old attributes of otherness. Such was the case during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s: Bax (2002) writes about the Ostojici clan, one of the wealthiest clans by the time of the Bosnian war, who initially came to the Medjugorie region in the late 17th century as Serb refugees. Later, they converted to Catholicism and after World War II, declared themselves in the censuses as Croats. However, during the recent war, a Serb identity was forced upon them by the other Croat clans, as the 300-year-old history of assimilation was replaced by a narrative of betrayal and otherness. Another anthropologist observed a similar instance when assimilation was prevented by the reintroduction of difference in Ethiopia: ‘Despite assimilation into an other group’s economic style and ways of life . . . the transition of Arsi cattle herdsmen to Amharalike farmers has not made them Amhara. Instead the boundary maintaining mechanism [was] transferred to another sector of their socio-cultural universe’ (Knutsson 1969, 93). The politically dominant Amhara ethnic group considered its cultural values superior and reintroduced difference to maintain distance from the imitating other. Political rhetoric may also serve to reintroduce difference as distance among communities that share the same values. For example, French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to deport thousands of the Roma to Romania and Bulgaria in 2010 was met with critical and condemning reactions from other EU member-states. The European Commission, among others, called the policy disgraceful and compared it to actions during World War II (European Commission 2010). Aimed as a statement of common European identity (although the Left and the Right saw this identity differently, and some European right-wing political movements supported the deportations), these reactions reintroduced difference to protect tolerance as a European distinction: if ‘we’ are the same, then Sarkozy’s ‘injustice’ becomes ‘our’ violence. The expression of condemnation prevented the boundary from becoming blurred.


Chapter 4

Reintroduction of difference in the face of sameness is another situation when perception and behaviour towards the other seem to be about that other, but in fact signal a deeper crisis within the self. Sameness as the loss of boundary makes the other’s presence threatening for the self’s own cohesion and presents the challenge of indifferentiation. Still, the threat of sameness as the equality of character is not the only motivation for reintroducing difference: the equality of power contained in the other’s sameness also motivates the self to possess its replica. Sameness suggests availability of others as subjects outside the self’s control. Through reintroducing difference or ridiculing the other as ‘aping’, communities (re)construct hierarchies, mock the agency of the other, and turn the other into a controllable object. Viewed this way, the narcissism of minor differences, like abjection and narratives of extreme difference, is a defensive mechanism of a self that protects its distinction and asserts omnipotence. CONCLUSION: UNDERSTANDING DIFFERENCE In one context or another, we have all come across the phrase, ‘We are much more similar than we are different’. From humanitarian aid advertisements to the political debates on migration and from movies to Twitter, this short wisdom widely associates similarity with peace, and difference with the threat of rejection, violence, stereotyping, inequality, or neglect. Historically, highlighting difference has served to construct identities, draw boundaries, and exclude others in politics, religion, and nation. Unsurprisingly, difference is often associated with negative attitudes. International organisations and policy experts tend to stress the importance of mutual dialogue for resolving conflicts or overcoming hostility. Antipathies between communities and nations are assumed to be the result of difference, misunderstanding, or poor knowledge of each other that could be overcome by closer contact and the discovery of similarities. In turn, similarity is assumed to hold communities together – an assumption behind a range of policies and theoretical frameworks, from making it illegal to discuss ethnic differences in post-genocide Rwanda to the democratic peace theory that suggests that democracies are less likely to go to war with other democracies. In other words, they are protected by their similarity. However, the effectiveness of closer contact or similarity for peace has been questioned. They do not eradicate prejudice (see Rumelili 2015). In explaining public perception of distant international events and crises, the role of differences and misunderstandings seems even more central, as the general public has very limited knowledge of distant events, and there is plenty of room for misinterpretation. However, to view perception in this way is to reduce it to processing information about the other, while one’s

Imagining Others as Different or Similar


own identity and narratives about the self are missing. In the previous chapters, I have argued that societies do not seek accuracy in imagining distant others; instead, political imagining is the product of one’s own identity context and ontological insecurities. This chapter has explored in greater detail the boundaries between identities that are often expressed in the language of (un)likeness to self, and observed the self’s presence and motivation in its constructions of different and similar others. The relationship between sympathy/antipathy and similarity/difference in intergroup relations and political imagining is best understood as non-linear: similarity is not always greeted, and neither is difference always unwelcome, as both can be feared or desired. This relationship is more complex and ontologically significant than is often assumed. Difference and similarity are constructed by and for the perceiving subject: groups experience anxiety of the unknown, seek security of the recognised, and share positive self-conceptions, which they wish to maintain in relations with others. (Dis)like towards a distant other can largely be explained by how this other is seen to relate to these self-conceptions; therefore, the identity of the self, its anxieties, and defences are deeply significant. Difference and similarity, good and bad others-objects, or even omnipotent others-subjects may all be usable as they help purify and maintain a positive ‘I’. This chapter has questioned the more unconscious meanings of difference and similarity for the identity of the perceiving self and theorised difference in self/other relations through the prism of distinction and agency. I have argued that in their perception of others, communities interpret the little information they have as the other’s accepting or rejecting relation to their own ideals and seek to protect their worth. Communities want to see elements of their own identity recognised, validated, and reproduced, but unreachable for exact imitation. The narratives of difference, then, act as distance: imagining others as different or similar allows identities to maintain distinction and assert omnipotence and control over others-objects. A rejecting other is devalued and imagined as extremely different – the usable opposite of a self; while an imitating other can be positive and validating as long as it does not threaten to become the same. Devaluing the other as extremely different or reintroducing difference to avoid sameness represent protective reactions when the other is seen as defying or rivalling the positive and omnipotent self. Both the defier and the double have to be destroyed to maintain the self-conception of being exclusive and recognised. Narratives of similarity or difference therefore act as constructions of distance and hierarchy in the imagining of others, where self is always present. Conflict and hostile attitudes are not truly caused by difference – rather, they are framed in it. Todorov argues that the Spanish Conquistadors eventually realised the equality or even superiority of American Indians’ knowledge and skills in certain areas (such as architecture, merchandise, fabrics or jew-


Chapter 4

ellery) and destroyed the civilisation precisely because of this knowledge and the emotions it raised (Todorov 1984, 127–29). The language of difference and hierarchy accompanied the destruction of a seemingly un-Spanish other and the repossession of the objects that fascinated the self. In our perception of distant others, we are not so much relating to objective differences but are unconsciously guarding our own conceptions of ourselves and the power to control our circumstances. Difference should then be taken as a language of relating to an other whose presence is turned usable for the identity of the self. Groups signal distinction and omnipotence and seek response in the other, deeming it similar or different – a conflict-causing but inevitable practice. As selves need others in the form of both good and bad objects and ideal subjects, there will always be some other occupying that space, and the narratives of difference and similarity act as the language which justifies the choice.

Chapter Five

Drawing from Memory

What is the past but what we choose to remember? – Amy Tan

In 1896, Italy was in a crisis. The Italian government had sent a large expeditionary force to conquer Ethiopia, but unexpectedly for them, the imperial army was destroyed by the Ethiopians in the battle of Adwa. This defeat marked a major military disaster in European colonial history and led to the downfall of Prime Minister Francesco Crispi’s government (Barkawi 2006). Italy had expected to win: misled by a small victory at the start of the campaign, Italian commanders underestimated the opponent and were under pressure from the government ‘to attack for the sake of Italian grandeur’ (Marcus 1994, 99). Italy was demoralised by the defeat and sought peace, signing a treaty that recognised Ethiopia’s sovereign independence. Yet this was not simply a political crisis or military miscalculation: the defeat upturned the established European self-conception as superior over backward ‘natives’, questioning the core of the Western imperial identity. This was, in Barkawi’s (2004) terms, a ‘small war with big consequences’, for a small war going wrong could shake the foundational narratives of hierarchical identity constructions. To preserve its identity narrative, Europe reimagined the Ethiopian other in a new light, as an equal rather than an inferior other: Since racism did not permit Westerners to acknowledge that black men could vanquish whites, Europeans suddenly discovered that Ethiopians were Caucasians darkened by exposure to the equatorial sun. Whereas previously Ethiopians shared sloth, ignorance, and degradation with their African brothers, they suddenly became energetic, enlightened, and progressive. The Orthodox church, often reviled by visiting white clerics as debased and corrupt, now was seen as a proper vehicle of the Holy Spirit . . . The Ethiopian army, hitherto 103


Chapter 5 composed of a cowardly rabble, was suddenly pictured as a magnificent force of heroic marksmen. (Marcus 1994, 100–101)

In formulating this new vision of Ethiopia (which was also taken up by most other European powers), Italy was reinventing the past, as well as the present. Its previous knowledge of the Ethiopian other, shaped by Orientalist imagining, was replaced with new ‘facts’ that went as far back as reinventing the other’s racial background and religious standing. Collective memory as the shared, selective, and subjective representation of past events that holds a community together (see Volkan 1988) was redrawn to escape the contradiction between the traumatic defeat in Ethiopia and the narratives that claimed Italian imperial identity as superior and progressive. In other words, the coherence of the self-identity narrative was upheld in a crisis through the change in how the other was remembered and conceived. A different conflict over a century later demonstrates how familiar symbols and memories serve as an important part of representing and imagining crises. As Todorov (2003, 261) aptly notes, ‘there have rarely been so many valiant soldiers fighting Hitler as in 1999’, referring to the use of Hitler metaphors by all sides in the Kosovo crisis. For instance, the US president Bill Clinton was portrayed as Hitler in Serbian statements, while Slobodan Milosevic became Hitler in Clinton’s speeches and US media. Hitler, Nazism, and Holocaust as the symbols of absolute evil were used to justify the American-European military intervention against Serbian ethnic violence (Alexander 2012, 80). Multiple other ‘Hitlers’ and ‘Holocausts’ emerged in the representations of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and many others in Western politics and media (see Todorov 2003; Carruthers 2011) and were invoked by minority campaigns in the US and antinuclear ecological movements in the 1980s (Alexander 2012). The framing of military, political, and societal crises as the struggle of good against evil through invoking memories of recognised heroes and villains is an important part of sense making. It situates events within a clear emotional and biographical context and helps reimagine the distant as close and the uncertain as familiar. Memory is often mistaken as describing the past and shaped by past events, leading us to ignore its constructive function in the judgements and perceptions of the present and its ability to adapt to present needs. Collective memory, however, is not history, if the latter is understood as an accuracyoriented, albeit elite-produced, factology of the past. 1 This chapter specifically takes up memory as a lens to discover how societies construct and defend their consistent and positive autobiographies in the present. Collective identities exist in the present but frequently draw on the past in their self-concep1. See Macdonald (2013) for a critical comparison of collective memory and history.

Drawing from Memory


tions and imagining of others. I argue that memory enables individuals and groups to create the sought illusion of existence through time and space, as it forms a coherent narrative and supplies familiar frames to recognise and manage uncertainty and to construct boundaries. Both consciously and unconsciously, self-conceptions and the perception of others are wrapped in available and usable memories. Memory, therefore, advances the subject’s desire for wholeness and coherence and creates a validating sense of meaningful, certain, and stable existence. Starting with the question of why some narratives are more appealing than others and eventually become memories, the chapter seeks common ground between the theories of narrative organisation, memory and emotion, and the creation of meaning. I then move on to discuss how memories interact with identity and reflect the (un)conscious choices in how communities come to represent themselves and others. Finally, the chapter reconstructs the shadow of forgotten events behind attitudes to new ones, connecting public perception to the revisiting of a seemingly unconnected, but disturbing past that needs to be fixed. Throughout these sections, I illustrate how memories and meanings can be retroactively revisited and reimagined to fulfil the identity needs of the present, as subjects draw on memory to produce self-oriented, protective, or affirming representations, instead of seeking accurate historical parallels. FROM NARRATIVE TO MEMORY To possess and reproduce a memory, a subject must be both able and willing to remember. In other words, stories about important events are structured in a particular way to facilitate recall, but their acceptance and reproduction as memory are also the result of their relation to the subject’s identity, anxiety, and self-conceptions. A considerable body of interdisciplinary literature on public perception of political events, from cognitive and memory research to media and political communication studies, focuses on the first aspect – how information needs to be organised and presented to become remembered and reproduced. Any international event presents a complex web of preceding and consequent happenings that are further complicated by contested representations in which different actors and groups produce different accounts of the same past (Wertsch 2008, 120). These narratives – or stories, with meaning and a plotline, that interpret political realities, provide a sense of purpose and place, and contain the interests of the actors that offer them – serve as sources for collective memory (Subotić 2016; Patterson and Monroe 1998). The public generally gets information about international events from external actors, such as the media, political elites, and personal networks, and the formation of memories about an event involves acceptance, rejection, or


Chapter 5

reworking of a number of narratives. As dominant representations emerge and become remembered, memories help create stable systems of meaning and stimulate the appearance of routines (Rumelili 2015; Berenskoetter 2014). But before exploring the interaction between memory and identity, it is important to explore how events become simplified into memorable, albeit (in)accurate stories. Narrative Organisation, Framing, and Recall Much of the cognitive research on narrative organisation and framing is experimental or retroactive, as it attempts to recreate and model perception of artificial or real past crises. It is successful in identifying certain patterns and dependencies, for example the influence of media framing on public opinion and political behaviour (Ladd and Lenz 2009). However, it is less effective in capturing the impact of identity, anxiety, uncertainty, emotion, and desire on why some of the competing representations are more appealing than others. 2 Neither does it fully account for the dynamism of public perception when attitudes to events have evolved, or for the complex contexts in which groups relate to a number of simultaneous events and to more than one other. Later in this chapter, I will demonstrate how some of the well-organised narratives may still fall flat or be reworked by audiences as they fail to resonate with their conceptions of identity or feelings of (in)security. However, there are several important insights that experimental social psychology and psychosocial approaches share, although they arrive at these conclusions differently. These include the role of narratives and memories in the creation of coherence and certainty, the departure of remembering from accuracy, and the ability of the subjects to alter their memories. In their study of media frames and the Kosovo crisis, Berinsky and Kinder (2006) demonstrate that ‘people understand complicated event sequences by organizing information in a manner that conforms to the structure of a good story’. ‘Good story’ is meant as a consistent narrative that provides structure for interpreting and recalling events. Noting the dependence of opinion on narrative organisation, Berinsky and Kinder speak of ‘good stories’ as the ones which become accepted and reproduced. The key in the transition from poorly organised information to an easily remembered representation is a frame – ‘a central organizing idea or story line that provides meaning to an unfolding strip of events, weaving a connection among them’ (Gamson and Modigliani 1989, 143). A frame helps create meaning and 2. For example, experimental research based on made-up events is effectively sanitised of real anxiety and feelings, while most studies of real crises explore perception retroactively, when events and opinions have already evolved. For a detailed discussion of the methodological limitations of exploring public opinion about past or artificial crises, see Chernobrov (2019).

Drawing from Memory


informs future behaviour since it promotes a ‘particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation’ (Entman 1993, 52). Frames, as Entman suggests, are rooted in culture and shape communication (political statements, media news) and the audience’s understanding and memory of an event. ‘Framing’, therefore, refers at the same time to communication frames, or how an event is rhetorically presented, and to frames in thought, or how events are perceived and cognitively structured (Chong and Druckman 2007; Nelson and Kinder 1996). A successful frame leads people to organise the existing or new information about the event around it and increases their ‘ability to remember facts pertinent to that frame’ (Berinsky and Kinder 2006, 646). A coherent frame or narrative has greater impact on public perception than controversial or chaotic stories, since it meaningfully connects different facts and produces a selective but easily recallable interpretation. A successful frame can create an expectation that events that are yet to come will conform to it, and such an expectation is welcome because it increases certainty in the face of the unknown. For example, accepting that one side is the aggressor in a conflict or the perpetrator in a war crime means that information about subsequent developments is likely to be interpreted within this frame. This makes it possible to allocate blame and identify threats: if the Syrian government is believed to be responsible for chemical attacks, it will be more easily suspected of new ones; or if a country is viewed as authoritarian and oppressive, then anti-governmental protests are likely to be seen as positive. This creates conditions for certain stability of opinion until the frame is replaced or disproved. Stereotypes and metaphors present examples of such organising and simplifying frames (Spears and Haslam, 1997, 174) that can structure perception and reduce the complexity of events to a value judgement or familiar comparison. Stereotypes facilitate the recall of information (Macrae, Milne, and Bodenhausen 1994) and can underlie long-term prejudice, for example, when members of a particular group, such as Muslim minorities, attract differential treatment (see Blackwood, Hopkins, and Reicher 2013; Poynting and Mason 2006). While from a psychosocial perspective, xenophobia is the fear of contamination by the other that hides the self’s own negative traits, from the cognitive perspective, it is the sign of simplified frames and pre-existing schema about ethnicity or race being recalled in times of threat (Glick 2008; Higgins and Bargh 1987; Graber, 1988). For the latter approach, too, the process is partly (un)conscious as even consciously rejected stereotypes and narratives of prejudice may still implicitly influence judgement and behaviour (Devine 1989). Yet, as I will argue, mere availability of memories does not explain successful activation of some and continuous latency of others. Framing involves acceptance of some facts and explanations over others and therefore opens the way for selective interpretations and inaccuracy. To


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be convincing, a narrative may flatten complexity and avoid uncomfortable truths, as structural coherence of a narrative is more important for the ability to remember than the need to present strong arguments for one side or the other (Berinsky and Kinder 2006, 654). Similarly, the consistency of people’s political beliefs and decisions (their accepted frames of thought) is often unshaken and even facilitated by exposure to the opposite arguments (Sniderman and Theriault 2004), as people tend to interpret new information in a way that reinforces their beliefs (Sherman and Cohen 2006, 190). Frames and stereotypes present selective interpretations, as they inhibit alternative stories (Spears and Haslam 1997) and focus on some interpretations and relationships and not others, which has consequences for political behaviour (Domke, McCoy, and Torres 1999). For example, demonisation of the enemy-other in war creates a simplified, easily recalled, but highly selective, image of the opponent that distorts reality but is politically and strategically usable. In the previous chapter, I discussed projection of unwanted traits, defilement and abjection as a defence of a whole and omnipotent self. The extremely negative and demonised image of the other can also be regarded as an effectively structured narrative that reduces the other to a few simple frames and gives meaning to its future, as well as present actions. The potential inaccuracy of a frame is compensated by its simplicity and ability to maintain coherence. While helping to recall information, successful frames may also lead people to misremember. Once a simple and coherent frame has been accepted, the subject fills in the gaps in memory to make the story whole. For example, jurors organise evidence into coherent but potentially inaccurate stories as they ‘recognize facts that belong to the story line associated with the verdict they choose and then falsely “remember” facts not actually present in the trial but that support their verdict’s corresponding story line’ (Berinsky and Kinder 2006, 642-43; Pennington and Hastie 1986). In psychoanalysis, too, subjects can revisit past events and reinvest them with new meanings. Applied to social and political history, this means ‘“rewriting history”, retroactively giving the elements their symbolic weight by including them in new textures – it is this elaboration which decides retroactively what they “will have been”’ (Žižek 1989, 59). An example of the repopulation of past memory with new narratives that are affirmed as if they had always been there can be found in Noel Ignatiev’s (1995) argument on the changing attitudes to the Irish migrants in the 19thcentury US. Initially seen on the East Coast of the US as the Catholic enemyother in an inferior and poor migrant space, the Irish were reimagined as supporting the racial segregation that forced African Americans into factories and ghettoes. From religious and migrant antagonism, the self-other divide shifted to racial contrast, bringing the Irish within the ‘white’ community and opposing the African American other. A similar shift was observed by Linda

Drawing from Memory


Gordon (1999): in 1904, a group of Irish orphans was brought from New York down to the Mexican border and placed with Mexican Catholic families – a move that quickly sparked racial tension and outrage for placing white children with non-white families. The Irish orphans were reimagined from being Catholic (other) to being white (self). This shift was later cemented with the inflow of other migrants (Italians and Germans), when the Irish were rediscovered as English speakers with similar cultural traditions, presenting an alteration of identity (Murer 2010) through framing and misremembering. This capability to (un)consciously twist one’s memory and recall events that never happened suggests that self-deception is unconsciously desirable, as such false memories make it possible to escape complexity in favour of coherence. Thus, from the perspective of both cognitive and psychosocial studies, memory can be manipulated and redrawn to achieve coherence in the present. Memories include accepted and reproduced narratives that frame events in a coherent and easily recallable form. However, narrative organisation alone is not enough to explain the acceptance or rejection of available interpretations. Contested and Failed Narratives of the Past Any major international event is accompanied by competing representations offered by multiple political and societal actors. These actors manipulate representations for political ends (Subotić 2016; Payne 2001), as the creation of meaning through language, symbols, and frames can justify policies and contribute to political mobilisation towards particular outcomes (Entman 2004; Bloch-Elkon 2007; Barnett 1999; Soroka 2003). In an environment where a variety of actors compete to define political problems and solutions to them, framing plays a particularly powerful political role. Any crisis is now communicated through global media and social networks, providing a variety of chaotic, emotional, and interest-driven narratives. The state makes the biggest effort to manage memory by promoting particular interpretations of the past and present, with varying results (Todorov 2003; Wertsch 2002). Political reports and statements, state holidays and commemorations, monuments, and history textbooks present examples of memory management by the state, which Lebow (2016, 48) describes as ‘official memory’ as opposed to the more pluralistic collective memory in which the society may not uphold the official interpretations (or in Foucauldian terms, produce counter-memory). For example, the ‘war on terror’, which was politically framed by the US administration in 2001 as ‘liberation’ and ‘civilization’s fight’ (Bush 2001), is not least remembered for the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, the lie about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, the increased frequency of global terrorist attacks, and numerous


Chapter 5

civilian casualties. Political elites gain a disproportionate voice in the media, meaning that news coverage across different media systems frequently reflects the agenda of government officials and specific policy interests (see Herman and Chomsky 1988; Zaller 1992; Livingston and Eachus 1995; Entman 2004; Robinson 1999). Through public statements and media, political elites take an active role in the meaning-making of the present, often by establishing a connection between current events and the familiar symbols from the past. As Khong (1992, 252) observes, ‘policy makers routinely turn to the past for guidance’ and frame new events or justify policies through familiar ‘lessons of history’, for example, by drawing analogies to Hitler, Munich, Korea, or Vietnam. Politicians frequently employ metaphors as persuasion devices in order to influence public opinion and (re)define policy goals (Paris 2002). The general public, too, frequently use historical analogies to speak of new crises: in the case of Kosovo, comparisons to Vietnam, Hitler, and the Holocaust helped explain their understanding of the crisis and express the feelings of anger, danger, and sorrow (Berinsky and Kinder 2006). As symbols, metaphors ‘tell us what images to look for in our culturally encoded experience in order to determine how we should feel about the thing represented’ (White 1978, 91). Political framing of events through familiar and well-rehearsed rather than novel and widely unknown articulations and historical comparisons is an effective way for legitimising policy visions (Jackson 2006; Krebs and Jackson 2007). This means that events are frequently framed in historical comparisons and metaphors that are relevant and make sense to the target audience but may bear little resemblance or meaning for the group that is being described. Instead of pursuing accuracy in representing events and distant others, the aim of political framing is in establishing a policy-oriented hegemonic (accepted) interpretation among other competing and interestdriven narratives. Jackson describes how political elites can create political illusions and redraw identities through the persistent deployment of ‘rhetorical commonplaces’: the post–World War II rhetorical invention of the ‘West’ provides an example of how political narratives can create ‘something almost unquestionable, because it was knitted into the fabric of everyday life in a fairly comprehensive manner’ (Jackson 2006, 99). Political narratives of the past and present are contested from outside national boundaries, as well as from within. For example, in 2006, Estonia, followed by Lithuania in 2008 and Latvia in 2013, banned the display of Soviet and Nazi symbols, equating Nazi and Soviet regimes in responsibility for occupying the Baltic region. This came as the political culmination of the long debate on the Baltic states’ recent history and post-Soviet trajectory. As Todorov (2003, 76) notes, some Soviet dissidents and European opponents of Communism found the comparison natural before the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the equation drew strong opposition from other national

Drawing from Memory


collectives protecting their own narratives, such as Russia and Israel. The victory over Nazi Germany is a major identity narrative in contemporary Russia, and the comparison with Nazism challenges its very foundations. For Israel, the equation could erode its identity-founding focus on Nazi crimes and blur the central role of the Holocaust in remembering World War II (Todorov 2003). For the Baltic states, the new interpretation externalises the experience of communism in the construction of a new European identity, overlooking that communist ideals and practices had been shared by some of their own people. It also signals insecurity about their sense of ‘liminal Europeanness in the enlarged EU’, where the insistence on the ‘Western betrayal of Eastern Europe’ challenges the monopoly of Western Europe on setting the rules of remembrance and the meaning of being European (Mälksoo 2009). In a no less political treatment of history, Turkey still denies mass killings of Armenians in 1915 as a genocide, while some countries (France, for example) have made Armenian genocide denial illegal. Despite significant material costs, Turkey’s reluctance to apologise protects its national self-definition as modern and inherently European in all but appearance, while Western states build their national narratives on the importance of human rights (Zarakol 2010). Both cases triggered accusations of ‘rewriting history’ that some political actors would prefer to see as agreed and fixed. Reframing the past or the refusal to accept the new narratives present the arena of intense contestation by multiple interest groups, elites, and external actors, where each of them desires their narrative to become hegemonic. Neither all state narratives, nor all narratives from other actors become widely accepted by the general public even if they seemingly present memorable information in a ‘good story’ form. Simple and well-structured narratives and frames may still fall flat, as audiences may reject or rework their meaning (see Hall 2001). Consider this example: The US-led coalition devoted significant efforts to building new media in the Middle East in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War. However, attempts to promote a favourable pro-Western interpretation of events in the region were largely unsuccessful despite a coherent narrative that could offer a simplified and easily available memory. Such was the case of the US-funded FM radio station Sawa (meaning ‘together’ in Arabic) that had been broadcasting music and news in the Middle East since 2002. Although tuning in to its music, locals mistrusted its news, especially the insistent use of the ‘extremist’ frame: Samir: I listen to the music . . . I turn to another station once the news starts . . . It’s like listening to Israeli radio. It’s biased. I feel like it’s propaganda. Dina: When you listen to what they say on the news, like they say Arab extremists, or Palestinian extremists, that is not fair at all. Basically, they’re like, you know, a mouthpiece for the Americans.


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Elias: We don’t need advices and we don’t need their point of view. When you are launching a news, you have to tell news, not sending message to people. (US Congress 2004, 105–6)

Cognitive and media studies tend to explain the rejection of the intended narrative through lack of source credibility and audience trust in media and government (Miller and Krosnick 2000; Chanley et al. 2000); media fragmentation, partisanship, and multiple alternative interpretations (Morris 2007); ambiguous, ineffective, or culturally incongruent framing (Entman 2004; Boin et al. 2017); or ‘hostile media effect’ when respondents believe news to be biased in favour of the opposing side (Vallone, Ross, and Lepper 1985; Perloff 1999). Bias and credibility, however, tend to be articulated as a problem with particular media: the underlying assumption equates good journalism with unbiased and trustworthy coverage (Entman 1990 3). The 2004 US Congress Report that investigated the shortcomings of the ‘hearts and minds’ approach in Iraq draws a similar conclusion: US-funded media are unlikely to be trusted in the Arab world, while alternative public diplomacy methods may be more efficient. These explanations and policy recommendations treat narratives as information that may fail to convince because of problematic structure, source, or overwhelming competition. However, this is only part of the story. Cognitive studies reveal narrative organisation that makes memories possible and identify contexts in which some narratives are presented better than others. The interaction between narrative, memory, and identity can offer an additional explanation for why some narratives become memories while others fall flat. The Sawa frame of an ‘Arab or Palestinian extremist’ is a Western interpretation of instability in the Middle East, which is part of Western self-conceptions and policy narratives. It makes sense to the American audience, as it draws on the familiar and culturally significant memories of 9/11 and the ‘rhetorical commonplaces’ of the war on terror, but wrongly assumes their power beyond the national group in which it originates. As Barkawi (2008) notes, ‘In order for Americans to “liberate” Iraq, and hence conceive themselves as liberators, Iraqis must desire liberation. To conceive the Iraqis differently . . . requires abandoning the notion that Americans are liberators. That is, it requires abandoning a cherished and precious element of American self-understanding’. The narrative that explains the Arab world through the prism of ‘extremism’ is not easily transmittable to another collective as it contradicts its own identity narratives and makes positive self-conceptions impossible. To be 3. Entman shows this to be true in the case of the US, but does not elaborate on the global applicability of this value. However, the global professional journalistic ideal includes objectivity, accuracy, and avoidance of bias (Deuze 2005), suggesting that this assumption is extendable beyond the US to various media’s own understanding of their aims.

Drawing from Memory


successful, the narrative needs to take into account the identity needs, memories, and insecurities of the collective to which it is offered. The reworking, rather than outright rejection, of narratives, demonstrates not only narrative contestation, but also the presence of multiple others. There are multiple selves and others, as identities are not homogeneous (Mitchell 2015), and narratives of international crises often involve relationships which are seemingly external to them. In the Sawa case, it is interesting how the first speaker (Samir) reworks the intended pro-Western narrative to construct a very different boundary, bringing in an Israeli ‘other’. It is not clear whether Samir actually listened to Israeli radio or simply imagined it to be like this. In any case, his perception of Sawa news influences and was influenced by other identity boundaries that were significant to him, demonstrating how the interpretation of narratives exceeds a single self-other relationship and takes into account multiple others. This is when direct attempts at manipulating opinion may fail: the narrative may be intended one way, but the audience may give it an entirely different meaning and orientation. The instances when narratives fail to convince and establish the subsequently remembered meaning of events demonstrate the shortcomings of the approach that explains remembering purely as information processing, through the structure or presentation of narratives. Since narratives about the other are inseparable from narratives about the self, they need to be understood in the context of feelings that this relationship produces. In the examples above, subjects experienced anger, suspicion, or national pride; in other words, emotions are an important part of meaning-making. It may be more helpful to treat the transformation of narrative into memory, not as mere information processing but as socially constructed imagining. Narrative, Emotion, and the Self In the field of politics and international relations, narrative analysis in the last decades has seen a departure from narrative as mere representation and has increasingly addressed its ontological aspects, including social identities and contexts. Narratives are important elements of identity construction: belonging involves maintaining a ‘narrative of the self about ourselves’ (Hall 1992, 277). Those narratives that ‘anchor a constant notion of self in narrative structures’ become ‘secure’ (Andrews, Kinnvall, and Monroe 2015; emphasis added). A continuous and secure ‘narrative of the self’ gives stable meanings to self and others, and it is the safety of these meanings that individuals and groups turn to when faced with uncertainty or threat. This suggests that a narrative contains, and does, more than it overtly says, and particular elements of the language can transfer meaning from one situation to another. The possibility to create associated meanings or equate one object with another informs several theories of narrative organisation.


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Lacan and, following him, Žižek (1989) describe notions that carry instantly associated meanings as ‘signifiers’, with ‘master signifiers’ presenting a particularly strong bond with the subject’s identity (for example, by appealing to cultural values). Linking signifiers to the structure of speech, Lacan speaks of them as ultimate reductions to simple elements that occupy a superior position in a sentence and anticipate further meaning (Lacan 2006, 418–19). Master signifiers serve as anchors of meaning and affect and give the subject a sense of identity and direction (Solomon 2015; Bracher 1993). Repetition and recognition of master signifiers signals a boundary of a self. Somers (1994) takes associative power of the narrative further, beyond the boundaries of the self to suggest ‘narrative networks’. The term implies that a narrative does not exist in isolation, nor does it relate to a single object; instead, it becomes meaningful through a web of other interrelated meanings. Context is important, including meanings brought into it from other, seemingly irrelevant interactions. Narratives may link to one another, or ‘stick’ (Ahmed 2004), creating transmission of meanings and – even more importantly – transmission of emotions between situations. Emotions constitute ‘feelings, cognitive processes, and behavioral reactions, made in response to a situation perceived to be personally significant’ (Gerrig and Zimbardo 2002). Emotions are subjective experiences, which nonetheless closely interact with cultural contexts and memory: emotions are linked to particular memories and vice versa (Crawford 2000). The individual expression of emotions relies on language, narratives, culture, and moral value systems, and is therefore part of a social system (see Fierke 2004; Harre 1986), and people sharing the same social position or identity may experience what Hoggett (2009) calls ‘collective feelings’, such as humiliation, in certain historical moments. As part of a social system, emotions can underpin power structures and social hierarchies (Koschut 2018). For example, the word ‘Paki’, which signals ethnicity or nationality, at the same time invokes meanings of an ‘immigrant, outsider, dirty, and so on’ and memories of previous interactions, with a potential to carry moral judgements, establish hierarchies, and transfer emotions of disgust, fear, or pain from the past event to the present (Ahmed 2004, 92). For both Ahmed and Somers, emotion and memory interact through a ‘network’ of narratives which connect ‘Paki’ and ‘immigrant’ through association with other memories and narratives of other interactions. The centrality of emotions and interactions in creating attitudes to different events and others is a significant step beyond regarding narratives as merely well-organised, well-presented, and therefore convincing messages. Ahmed understands identities (the particular qualities associated with self and other) as ‘not simply something “I” or “we” have. Rather, it is through emotions, or how we respond to objects and others, that surfaces or boundaries are made’ (Ahmed 2004, 10). For Ahmed, identities are born through

Drawing from Memory


interaction, but this interaction is forgotten, and because of this, the qualities seem to exist in objects on their own. If a person accidentally hits a desk corner and cries out in pain, the desk corner is probably sharp – in other words, the desk becomes associated with a particular quality. However, it is the interaction between a soft body and a hard object that enables the experience of sharpness and pain: the quality is produced and hidden in the interaction. The subject (self) becomes aware of its body having a surface and a boundary only by feeling the discomfort of colliding with an external object, which is assigned the uncomfortable traits. 4 At this moment of ‘sticking’ the quality to an object, the subject ‘forgets’ its history of interaction, although the qualities and boundaries of both, in fact, existed in that interaction. In another example, a child runs away from a bear not because the bear is fearsome on its own but because the child already knows that it is. This knowledge is created and passed on through stories, myths, symbols, other cultural media, even language itself. So, ‘fear is not in the child, let alone in the bear, but is a matter of how child and bear come into contact. This contact is shaped by past histories of contact, unavailable in the present, which allow the bear to be apprehended as fearsome’ (Ahmed 2004, 7). Olick (1999, 342) puts forward a similar argument, that we create and experience identities in the moment of remembering, which takes place through language, narrative, and interaction. Meaning and emotion reside in the undeclared: objects seem to have qualities of their own only through ‘an erasure of the history of their production and circulation’ (Ahmed 2004, 11). This makes the sticking of qualities and emotions to ‘surfaces’, or identities of objects, operate as repression/externalisation in the Freudian sense: the self is unwilling to recognise that the object seems so not on its own, but because of interacting with the self and quite possibly, only in this relationship. The subject intuitively makes the assumption of its wholeness while attributing negative traits (sharpness, fearfulness in the examples above) to others, without questioning the role of the self in the production of these qualities. 5

4. In some respects, Ahmed’s argument bears strong resemblance to the Kleinian child(m)other relationship discussed in the previous chapter, where the discovery of the (m)other’s uncontrollable agency leads the child to realise her external nature. 5. Ahmed suggests that a body or a subject has no characteristics or emotions prior to or outside of contact with others, while my argument about the positive self may seem to contradict this view. However, subjects experience emotions from multiple simultaneous interactions and relationships that enable them to construct systems of meaning by regarding qualities that exist in interaction as an actual quality of the particular objects/others. A positive self is a stable and secure condition that a subject wants to routinise, to continue to enjoy in any new relation. In a way, a self ‘sticks’ self-love from previous interactions and relationships (which have so far assured a self’s survival and are therefore certain) to uncertain situations and new encounters as a defining notion of what this relationship should be. This assumption of an existing quality in the self makes it possible to assign discomfort to others and leave the self unquestioned and invisible in the production of this quality.


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The meaning of an object is therefore constructed through its relation to self and the previous memory of interactions. This brings Ahmed’s approach close to the Derridean theory that events have no intrinsic meanings but are made sense of through familiar representations and memories. Derrida suggests that events (and particularly traumatic events) ‘resist experience’ and come to: surprise and to suspend comprehension: the event is first of all that which I do not first of all comprehend . . . although the experience of an event . . . calls for a movement of appropriation (comprehension, recognition, identification, description, determination, interpretation on the basis of a horizon of anticipation, knowledge, naming, and so on). (Derrida 2003, 90)

There is an irresistible urge to comprehend the event through the existing frame of knowledge in order to make sense of it; however, in gaining meaning and creating a memory, the event becomes something else – an experience that has departed from the original. For example, the Holocaust did not have the same meaning immediately after the war compared to several decades later when it became symbolic trauma for the post-war audience by being dramatised as a major devastating event in history through various cultural media and canonical representations (Alexander 2012; LaCapra 1994). The shift in focus from narrative organisation and presentation (what is said/whether it is effective) to emotions (what is felt/which previous interactions are involved) makes the transmission of emotions from the past to the present important in analysing political and media narratives and public perception. In perceiving others, we selectively react to those elements of the other that are most meaningful to us. The latter are the result of previous interactions with multiple others, or ‘the effects of histories that have stayed open’ (Ahmed 2004, 59). Interaction is emotion: ‘What attaches us, what connects us to this other or that other is also what we find most touching; it is what makes us feel’ (Ahmed 2004, 28). At the same time, emotion is inseparable from memory: emotionally loaded events are better remembered than neutral ones (Paez, Basabe, and Gonzalez 1997, 150). A subject readily remembers the least or most troubling objects (the controllable object or devalued other), as they are important for identity construction (or the association of particular qualities with self and other). In the discussion of the (mis)recognition of the unknown, I suggested that a subject attempts to reimagine the new events as familiar, often by drawing on memory. This process of imagining equivalence with the past events and objects is a combination of imprecise remembering, simplification, and coherence. New events and others are related to one’s previous hating or loving experiences through creating unconscious expectations of similar experiences in future interactions

Drawing from Memory


(Klein 1960, 6–9). Drawing on past experiences is natural as it creates the comfort of pre-knowing, understanding the other. In this context, the competing political and media narratives that connect past and present by invoking comparisons and metaphors do not aim to establish accuracy, or the true similarity between events, but draw on the emotional aspects of memory which contain, and yet hide, previous interactions. To conclude, theories of narrative organisation enable us to deconstruct memory as a mechanism that turns information into a consistent narrative about the past. This narrative simplifies events for the ease of recall but, in doing so, offers a selective, imprecise, and contested interpretation that opens opportunities for collective manipulation of social memories for political and identity purposes. At the same time, public perception of international others contains memories and emotions of previous interactions, which stand behind the perceived qualities and identities of the present. A combined theoretical approach is more useful, as remembered information is in fact a fantasy – a chosen vision of self and other organised into simple stories, but reflecting the emotions, anxieties, and desires of the subject. We objectively can, and subjectively wish to remember simplified versions of a complex past, making imprecise and selective narratives a shared point in understanding memory in cognitive, social psychology, and psychodynamic contexts. Narratives as competing and organised representations of events are available, but memories are chosen, and to be chosen, they need to be usable for the subject’s identity processes. COLLECTIVES AND THEIR CHOSEN AND USABLE MEMORIES The notions of selectivity and choice of some narratives and memories over others appear even more prominent when we take the step from particular narratives as selective interpretations of events to the selectivity of all remembering within collective identity contexts. Collective identity is widely theorised as dependent on memory, the performance and transmission of which establishes the boundaries of a group and the vision of the world around it (Volkan 1988; Olick 1999; Weldes et al. 1999; Murer 2009; Mälksoo 2010). Selective memories underlie self-definitions (Gaskell and Wright 1997, 177), which are central to identity constructions and relationships with various others. Communities and even states are ‘nothing more and nothing less than the total collection of stories that we tell about ourselves’ (Ringmar 1996, 459). Together, these narratives form collective biographies that highlight the ‘experiences that matter’ and provide spatio-temporal orientation of where the group comes from and where it is going (Berenskoetter 2014). National groups, for example, tend to remember and study their history as a logical and coherent chain of events with established causes


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and consequences (rather than random happenings) and often transform individual artistic achievement into a claim of shared culture or distinction (this is ‘our’ culture, ‘our’ art, ‘our’ heritage). 6 By establishing a trajectory through time and space, biographical narratives lean towards simplified, schematic, and linear explanations of events and the social order. Trajectories involve ‘temporal movement through space’, characterised by the idea of succession, a sequence of points (de Certeau 1984, 35). Collective memory therefore exceeds mere provision of meaning to the past, but also involves the creation of order, continuity, and certainty in the group’s conception of its present and future. Additionally, its linear nature creates the necessary conditions for relating others as familiar, similar, or different to self at a particular moment in time, facilitating conceptions of the other’s backwardness or the model self’s unachievable progress on a linear trajectory. Through an imprecise and adaptable reconstruction of the past, collective memory adjusts the meaning of past events to the identity needs of the present. Groups ‘organize informal forgetting, reconstruction, and positive distortion of the past in order to defend group values and their own image’ (Paez, Basabe, and Gonzalez 1997, 161). As Kristeva (1991, 37) notes, ‘the very memory that guarantees our identity is . . . an ongoing metamorphosis, a polymorph’, as collective memory is fluid and (re)negotiated in social and identity contexts. To initially become and then remain part of collective memory, the interpretation of a past event must be constantly (re)negotiated to remain usable for the present. Usability shows in the central role these memories play in collective self-conceptions and in the effect of certainty and predictability that they produce when applied to self/other relations. Volkan (1988) divides collective memories into ‘chosen glories’ and ‘chosen traumas’ – the shared, selective, and subjective representations of historical events and figures which unite members of collective identity through the feelings of pride, humiliation, or mourning and are passed on from one generation to the next. Not all past victories or tragedies (available memories) become ‘chosen’, but those that can maintain and reaffirm collective identity through their cultural representations are. The choice itself is (un)conscious: it may be stimulated by political narratives and commemorations but ultimately depends on the interaction between the memory and the group’s identity needs. Communities and nations are shaped and distinguished from one another by these memories and the narratives they construct about themselves: for example, the chosen memories of Turkish or Greek Cypriots are their identity, as identity is shaped by what one remembers. In the form of chosen memories, shared historical and cultural experi6. Nationalist ideologies in particular demonstrate a wishfully continuous idea of a nation which ‘has always existed’ by asserting a glorified past or building on traumas as the search for a nation that ‘was lost’ (see Kinnvall 2004, 756).

Drawing from Memory


ences become established referents of identity as ‘different persons must be able to nourish their imagination from the same source’ (Boltanski 1999, 50). An example of selective collective memory, both unconsciously and deliberately chosen, can be observed in the way Britain remembered the AngloZulu War of 1879, particularly at the height of decolonisation in the 1960s. Underestimating Zulu military capabilities, a large British force suffered a humiliating defeat and was almost annihilated at Isandlwana by the main Zulu army at the start of the war (Morris 1965). Later the same day, a small British garrison of just over 150 soldiers fought a defensive and much less significant battle at Rorke’s Drift against a raid by a 4,000-strong Zulu reserve, and after several hours of hard fighting, managed to draw them off. However, it was this victory that was remembered. The British government at the time produced heroic narratives of this battle to obscure the larger defeat (Barkawi 2004, 133), and much later, in 1964, remembrance culminated with a cult British film Zulu (directed by Cy Endfield) starring Michael Caine. The film is dedicated to the Rorke’s Drift battle and is still considered ‘the greatest ever British war film’ (Heaven 2014). Its final scenes, in particular, where the Zulus honour the bravery of the British soldiers before withdrawing, restore the image of the potent and righteous British military. Not unlike the trauma of the Ethiopian defeat for Italy, the defeat of the progressive British colonial army by the African ‘savage’ in Zululand was reimagined as less traumatic through selective remembering. The smaller battle and later the overall victory in the war helped construct a chosen glory that overshadowed the bigger traumatic loss. The chosen narrative of glory offered in the accounts of the war was appealing, as it coincided with the unconscious need to escape the collapse of a positive self-conception. Remembering the war in this way created a myth that British soldiers were defending (positive) instead of invading (negative), turned loss into victory, and upheld the contrast of professional Western forces against the hordes of Zulu savages. This myth was later used to (mis)recognise new others in Western military interventions: the representations of a ‘small body of white men’ against savage waves ‘found their way into numerous Vietnam films, where the Vietnamese communist forces typically attack in human wave formation’ (Barkawi 2004, 133). The usability of chosen memories for identity needs is helpful in explaining cases when politically stimulated commemorative practices succeed or fail. An interesting case of such failure is in Russia’s replacement in 2005 of a politically irrelevant, but previously major, state holiday on 7 November (the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917) with a new Unity Day on 4 November. The Bolshevik Revolution is no longer needed as a national amplifier and is no longer celebrated by the majority (WCIOM 2010). The new holiday celebrates the victory of the national heroes Minin and Pozharsky over the Polish intervention in the early 17th century, which ended the


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so-called Time of Troubles when Moscow was occupied by the Polish-Lithuanian forces. Yet this narrative of a past glory is not effective as a source for identity mobilisation. The new holiday that highlighted the officially chosen glory from the Russian-Polish relations 400 years ago did not become widely celebrated by the Russian public. Several years after its introduction, Unity Day on 4 November was still a source of significant confusion: less than 20 per cent of Russians knew the name of the holiday, 7 per cent viewed it as a holiday, and only 2 per cent were aware of its historical context (WCIOM 2010), suggesting in comments that the holiday was ‘meaningless’ and ‘farfetched’. From a psychodynamic perspective, this is a crisis already mourned, a divide that is no longer substantial. The usability of the crisis for present identity needs is minimal, as national self-definitions have shifted to different and more significant others: Russia no longer defines itself against Poland, but as with/against the generalised West. Other chosen glories, such as the Victory Day in World War II, have come to symbolise this identity contrast more effectively. While chosen glories form a shared bond of identification based on pride and the feeling of omnipotence and superiority, chosen traumas bind the group together through mourning and defensive drives (Volkan 2009b). Traumas present extraordinary, disruptive social events (LaCapra 2001; Neal 1998), but their significance rests beyond mere physical pain or disaster, in the disruption of identity (Alexander 2012), the inability to fit them into existing frames of knowledge (Caruth 1996), the broken safety of previously accepted meanings and a betrayal of trust (Edkins 2003), the challenge to the nation’s coherent biographical narrative and self-conception (Steele 2008), and ‘the loss of control and powerlessness’ in relation to others, unresolved mourning, and revisionism (Fierke 2004). Importantly, chosen trauma also means overcoming the heterogeneity of a group as its members become oriented towards a shared emotional experience. Trauma’s identity-consolidating function can be observed in a wide spectrum of social and political phenomena: from ‘rallying ’round the flag’ in times of national peril (Innes and Steele 2014; Towle 2009) to the creation and mobilisation of diasporas through the focus on past traumatic events (Chernobrov and Wilmers 2019). Chosen trauma also provides a clear source for group membership and the boundary against non-members: Volkan (1997) gives the example of the devastating 1389 Battle of Kosovo as central to the Serbian identity narrative and ethnic divisions in the region. The ‘Kosovo myth’ of a sacred land is the memory of ‘suffering at the hands of great powers, and the desire to rectify the injustice and to make wrong right’, which is not only a myth about the past, but also a myth of ‘future action’ (Subotić 2016, 621). Unlike the original trauma itself that leads to the collapse of meaning through witnessing the unthinkable, chosen trauma as the discursive and identity-oriented representation restores meaning by implying a narrative of the future.

Drawing from Memory


It is a typical occurrence when chosen memories lose historical accuracy by replacing it with emotional and imprecise representations that are more usable for identity construction: ‘Once an event becomes a chosen trauma for the next generations, its historical truth is no longer the crucial issue for the group’ (Volkan 2006, 155). Sharing chosen memories becomes a means of signalling belonging, and the substitution of a historical event with symbolic meanings and emotions makes the actual object of glory or trauma unreachable and harder to disprove. Chosen memories present the past of an ‘ahistorical kind’ (Redclift 2017), as they can gain new or additional meanings and become reworked for the present. As such, the traumatism of Holodomor 7 that justifies Ukrainian anti-Russian nationalism or the revival of Banderas 8 in Russia’s imaginary of today’s Ukraine are no longer solely about the atrocity of the past events themselves. These chosen memories that support the boundary in this particular self-other antagonism combine narratives of the past traumatic events with the subsequent emotion of seeing them denied by the other and the responsive projections in which the self is enraged by the thoughts it attributes to the other. Imprecise and reworked memories make certain policies possible. For example, the rise of Ronald Reagan and the new conservatism in the US was largely accomplished through reimagining the Vietnam War in popular and political culture (Jeffords 1989) as the US retreat from Vietnam became interpreted as the consequence of betrayal by liberals and bureaucrats at home. After 9/11, neoconservatives drew on these depictions to portray America as ‘always victorious, and to mobilize support for “staying the distance” in Iraq and Afghanistan’ (Lebow 2016, 49). ‘Support Our Troops’ ribbons, popular in the US during the Iraq War, implicitly contained this reading of Vietnam: the US Army weakness is in the lack of will at home, and the path to victory lies in mobilising the domestic public. This narrative about the war on terror was politically effective, largely underpinning the US public support for launching the war against Iraq in 2003 (see Gallup 2003). The neoconservative reading of the nation’s problems and necessary action offered an appealing vision of a powerful and whole nation with which people were willing to identify (Solomon 2015). In other words, it resonated

7. Holodomor translates as ‘death by hunger’ in both Russian and Ukrainian and refers to the 1932–1933 famine in Soviet Ukraine that killed several million Ukrainians. Russia insists that the famine was indiscriminate and spread over Russian regions as well, though mostly affecting Ukraine. Ukraine recognises it as a genocide, accusing Stalin of punishing the rise of Ukrainian nationalism in this way. 8. Stepan Bandera led a Ukrainian nationalist group in western Ukraine who fought against Soviet rule during World War II, often deliberately or unintentionally aiding Nazi Germany. Today he is depicted as a national hero in Ukraine and as a collaborationist in eastern Ukraine and Russia. Russian politicians and audiences compared the events in post-2014 Ukraine to the revival of the Bandera movement, suggesting betrayal and treachery.


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with the public at the emotional level and involved reimagining the past and present for their identity needs. Subsequent transmission of memories to new generations through commemorative practices, repeated stories, narratives and myths, and language itself maintains identities and their systems of meaning over time. This way, chosen glories and traumas can become sources of identity even for those who did not directly experience them and form what Hirsch terms ‘postmemory’ – experiences transmitted to the ‘“generation after” . . . by means of the stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up . . . so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right’ (Hirsch 2012, 5). Transgenerational transmission of trauma can also maintain violent tensions in post-conflict communities through unresolved mourning and enemy constructions (Volkan 2009b; Murer 2009). It demonstrates a clash between the ontological security of stable meanings (the confinement of anxiety to specific objects, such as continuous remembering of ethnic or religious groups as the enemy-other) and the physical insecurity of unresolved threats that this identification entails. The memories of war and violence remain a troubling object for years, potentially resulting in periodic escalations and revengeful outbursts. Such, for example, is the case of post-war tensions between Croats and Serbs in Vukovar, where transmitted memories of conflict have produced suspicion and distrust among the young generation towards the other community and created a major challenge for reconciliation (Kosic and Tauber 2010). Obsession with chosen traumas may lead to the inability of the new generations to move on and produce their own identity story (see Hirsch 2012). From the cognitive perspective, chosen glories and traumas are a culmination of the organising and structuring process that confines core identity narratives to select event/object representations and makes them easy to transmit. Transmission involves emotional simplification of events to good/bad others and objects. For example, the complexity of trauma is often confined to a detail that is much smaller in scale than the event itself – a symbol, taboo, or stereotype that can take over the role of the feared object for future generations. Such, for instance, is the symbolic prohibition of the swastika, the taboo on Soviet symbols in the Baltic states, or the fear of wearing eyeglasses in Cambodia even after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. 9 Chosen memories are transmitted across generations (i.e., time), but a similar argument can also be made about their transmission across space/ context, also with the purpose of maintaining identity. As memories establish a stable system of meanings for both individual and collective selves by 9. Eyeglasses are a symbol of political repression in Cambodia: under the Khmer Rouge in 1975–1979 ‘people who wore eyeglasses . . . were considered politically suspect and summarily executed’ (Open Society Institute 2003, 110), as eyeglasses were associated with literacy and intellectualism.

Drawing from Memory


explaining their past-future trajectory, new and uncertain events become related to well-known identity stories. The new event/other becomes related to another, familiar one, enabling the transmission of meaning and emotion between seemingly unrelated events and interactions. Such, for example, is Todorov’s case of the Spanish encounter with the American Indians: ‘To describe the Indians, the conquistadors seek comparisons they find immediately either in their own . . . past, or among others geographically closer and already familiar, such as the Muslims’ (Todorov 1984, 108). The other is fit to comply with these chosen memories to avoid self-doubt, making perception inaccurate, but self-affirming. Trans-event transmission of meaning and emotion is an element of sensemaking for the group that possesses these memories, but they may appear largely incomprehensible or unreasonable to outsiders (other national groups for example) who structure their identity around different stories. In international politics, attempts to cross this divide can be observed in the widespread, although often crude efforts to represent an event to external target audiences by framing it in the memories and language that would resonate with them, in order to win their support. Examples can be seen in the widespread English-language slogans during Arab Spring protests that targeted Western media and audiences or in the frequent framing of recent conflicts in ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘genocide’ terms, which urge action through familiar representations and seek to activate international legal frameworks established in the wake of such historical experiences. A most successful case of framing a crisis for an external audience in their familiar memories and symbols is the Biafran propaganda campaign during the Nigerian civil war of 1967–1970. The secessionist Biafran government engaged public relations agencies in the US and Europe to represent the crisis as an ‘African Auschwitz’ and a Holocaust of the mostly Christian Biafrans perpetrated by the Nigerian Muslims, flooding the Western media with the symbolically familiar images of starving children and turning the crisis into the first major televised disaster (Heerten 2015). The ‘genocide’ representation, also taken up by the Jewish organisations and Christian missionaries, internationalised the crisis by producing strong public support for a relief operation and pressure on Western governments to act. It was later acknowledged that international media, humanitarian agencies, and governments were misled by the propaganda campaign, and their humanitarian interference needlessly extended the war for 18 months (Heerten 2015; Foley 2007). The approach to collective memory as chosen and usable leads to several conclusions. First, collective memories need not be a reflection of an actual event or the other’s true character but involve the distortion and substitution of historical accuracy for the identity needs of the present. While crises are frequently analysed through the prism of strategic interest and security, their remembering should be situated in the context of ontological insecurities and


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anxieties. This distortion is self-driven by the remembering subject as it attempts to maintain stability of meaning and attribute discomfort to external objects. Second, meaning-making is relational (it relates the other to self and creates emotion through interaction) but monological, as groups defend the stability of their meanings by (re)imagining others and assert the hegemony of their interpretation. The world lives the same history but has different memories; and this is not just a matter of different groups possessing different truths, but a consequence of their (un)conscious choices of stories for identity construction and the dissonance between them. Third, by creating linear visions of the group’s existence in time and space and offering the stability of meanings, collective memory contributes to (mis)recognition of new events as familiar and already encountered at some point on this trajectory. Finally, the (un)conscious manipulation or choice of memory allows the groups to retain positive and omnipotent self-conceptions, reimagining meaning retroactively across time and space. The stability of meaning does not necessarily lie in the fixed and unchanging interpretations of an event (as events can be reimagined and forgotten), but in the stable interpretations of the self as positive, omnipotent, or deserving, achieved through selective memories. Choice in collective remembering can therefore be regarded as the reflection on the usability of certain symbolic and organised memories for creating/maintaining identity and relating to the unknown/uncertain others. FORGOTTEN AND FORGIVEN SPACES The focus in analysing public perception of politics is often on what is remembered – in other words, the consistently reproduced narratives and the most resonating or the most recallable selective representations of new events. However, the forgotten is no less important in understanding the anxieties and motivations of the drawing self. The forgotten forms the reservoir containing the uncomfortable, repressed, troublesome, or reconciled memories that must not or need not be remembered. As de Certeau (1986, 3–4) famously noted, ‘memory becomes the closed arena of conflict between two contradictory operations: forgetting, which is not something passive, a loss, but an action directed against the past; and . . . the return of what was forgotten, in other words, an action by a past’. Forgetting involves the subject’s active relationship with its concealed or even troubling memories and their repression or acceptance. In relating to new events and others, the subject is not only matching them to the familiar (remembered) past but is also struggling with its own (resurfacing) forgotten. In this section, I will focus on two principal manifestations of this process. First, a new event may act as a reminder that revives the forgotten, resulting in a subject’s inner crisis. The return of the forgotten may lead to the reaffirmation of self/other

Drawing from Memory


boundaries, defensive or aggressive reactions, and misremembering in order to cope. Second, in imagining the new events accordingly, the drawing self can revisit and try to repair its own uncomfortable past, in an attempt to reconcile with it. This produces a strong connection between the new event and the seemingly unrelated past experiences of the perceiver. Both instances demonstrate how the drawing self is preoccupied with its own memories and troublesome objects in perceiving others, and the resulting representations are guided by its inner identity and memory processes rather than by the considerations of accuracy in reflecting the new events. The mechanisms of forgetting vary from repression or externalisation of one’s past to the acknowledgement of memory in which it loses its troubling potential. The symbolic prohibition and repression of memories against their acceptance and working through form two distinct modes of the troublesome forgetting by repressing/expelling or the ‘healthy’ forgetting by forgiving. Freud explains repression as the process of pushing memories back into the unconscious, which allows keeping them at a distance (Freud 1915, 147). Repression acts as the intentional forgetting of distressing experiences and presents a universal psychiatric defence (Laplanche and Pontalis 1973, 392). The subject attempts to forget disagreeable wishes, memories, or events and make them non-existent by repression. However, repressed experiences may resurface in some form (for example, triggered by an unintentional reminder) and only deepen the anxiety of the subject, presenting the ‘return of the repressed’. Freudian repression involves the purification of the conscious by pushing unacceptable memories into the unconscious, and in some respects, it is similar to the expulsion of unacceptable traits and memories onto surrounding objects (externalisation). In both cases, a subject feels the need to get rid of uncomfortable truths and may push them into the unconscious (repress) or expel them outside. Both instances are fraught with the fear of becoming re-contaminated – through the ‘return of the repressed’ (Freud 1915), or the projection bouncing back (Bion 1962). This motivates the subject to continuously or even violently reaffirm the boundary as it represses or externalises bad thoughts and memories. The link between forgetting and repression as the elimination of undesired memories is well explored in psychoanalytic and psychological literature. Rapaport (1946, 89) defines repression as ‘the submergence in the unconscious of information or knowledge possessed, because of the danger hidden in that knowledge for the psychological equilibrium of the individual’. Repression helps rule out questions to the self and avoid the collapse of established systems of meaning and, by doing so, may create an illusion of ontological security. Forgetting becomes ‘motivated’ as subjects consciously or unconsciously block the retrieval of memories in a defensive reaction to the anxiety or frustration that these memories cause (Weiner 1968; Davis 1987). An extreme form of repression, when the subject is prohibited to


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speak/think in a certain way, may become a taboo. Various taboos are common in post-conflict societies, ranging from the prohibition of certain memories and symbols or the rejection of violent reality (such as the denial of genocide) to the centrally prescribed narratives of events that prohibit alternative interpretations. With time, acceptance of responsibility becomes more problematic as the new generations see the crimes of past generations as nothing to do with them, while the victim group experiences frustration, humiliation, and anger at the lack of acknowledgement or outright denial. 10 Instead of releasing the subject from the traumas of the past, institutionalised forgetting often defers and even intensifies their effects (Muldoon 2017). In an attempt to forcefully forget, the subject is intensely aware of the past, even if prevented from speaking or learning about it. In preventing discussion and acceptance of the past, repression is ‘an always, already authoritarian form of subjectivity’ (Furtado 2017, 49). On the contrary, acceptance, mourning, and working through remove the troubling potential of memories: while the past is not fully forgotten, its escalating, victimising, or defiling usability is. LaCapra (2001, 148) sums up the difference the following way: in repression and ‘acting out, one relives the past as if one were the other, including oneself as another in the past – one is fully possessed by the other or the other’s ghost;[ 11] and in working through, one tries to acquire some critical distance that allows one to engage in life in the present, to assume responsibility – but that doesn’t mean that you utterly transcend the past.’ However, working through is counterintuitive to anxiety avoidance, and here lies the challenge. If the drawing self admits to wilful and self-motivated bending of its own and the other’s images, it acknowledges that what it knows is an illusion. This, in turn, invites renewed uncertainty and is the knowledge that a self attempts to repress. The repressed is the domain of the unsayable, incomprehensible, and unthinkable, while the worked through represents the openly discussed, uncertain, but eventually the no longer troubling – the point of taking responsibility and moving on to new behaviours and systems of meaning. 12 Mourning, as a way of working through traumatic memories, frees the group from obsession about the past, helps move away from the polarised bad versus good images of the other and the self, and opens the possibility of a new identity narrative and a revised self/other relationship (Murer 2009). This form of forgetting can lead to forgiving – helping the subject come to terms with its own 10. For the examples of how humiliation can (re)produce conflict, see Lindner (2006). 11. The other’s ‘ghost’ may include the self’s memories, projections, and troubling imagining of the other more generally that continue to be haunting as the threat of the ‘return of the repressed’. 12. While the divide between working through and acting out is discussed here in its application to inter-group reconciliation after conflict, essentially it is similar to the individual, clinical psychoanalysis: instead of repressing memories, the subject needs to recall and accept past traumas in order to understand, accept, and minimise their effects.

Drawing from Memory


troubling past and reconcile with the previously hated or feared objects and the violent or aggressive practices of their containment. If conceptualised as self’s relationship with time, forgetting as reconciliation can reorient the subject towards the present and future. Typical policy responses to post-conflict reconciliation attempt to stimulate forgetting in various forms. They assume that forgetting automatically implies resolution of tension. Such responses vary from the prohibition to remember or speak of the troubling object and the introduction of taboos, to the prosecution of perpetrators and to programmes of community dialogue and representation that aim to boost confidence and trust. 13 There has been growing attention to post-war reconciliation and reconstruction policies in the last decades, following events in Rwanda, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and more recently, Libya, and Syria. Adopted measures, however, produce mixed results, as amid evidence of some reconciliation in small communities and individual cases, the greater collective trauma tends to remain. The reason for this lies partly in the confusion between forgetting and forgiving in policy response. Policy effectively calls for forgetting (stop mourning as remembering once the perpetrator has been punished or the victim restored), while the underlying social purpose is to reconcile (forgive through mourning). Forgiven violence will become forgotten (i.e., non-troubling, not influencing new behaviours) in cases of successful reconciliation; but forgetting alone may still present a troubling object and maintain tension through the ‘return of the repressed’. However, there has been a global tendency among policymakers to dismiss the psychosocial component of post-conflict trauma as irrelevant to the reality of peace making (Rasmussen 2001, 119). A combination of repression, legal prosecution, and mourning as an attempt to ‘forget’ can be found in post-genocide Rwanda. In a policy of national reconciliation, the government and international organisations have set limits to what is remembered and what is forgotten in the interpretation of the genocide. The incumbent party Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has pushed for a simplified ‘RPF-politically correct view of the genocide and Rwandan history’ (Cameron 2013, 116). The UN Security Council (2014) set the only ‘correct’ name for the violence in Rwanda as ‘the genocide against the Tutsis’. Popular culture has represented the genocide in the same way. Yet, this definition has been criticised for overlooking the events’ complexity (for example, the murder of moderate Hutus and mixed families) and orienting the reconciliation policy towards a specific victim group rather than the more general survivor (Mamdani 2001; Lambourne 2004). In Rwanda itself, it is illegal to ask whether the person is a Hutu or Tutsi, as ethnic divides are 13. These measures are typically recommended by NGOs, intergovernmental organisations, and policy research institutes: for example, see Policy Summary by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (2003).


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forcefully ‘forgotten’ and replaced by the unifying term ‘Rwandans’. History textbooks avoid the genocide topic. Repression of traumatic memory at the political and societal levels produces an absence of a narrative, which becomes silence – an unresolved, troubling narrative in and of itself. Historically, silencing has supported power asymmetries and the imposition of hegemonic (although not always stable 14) discourses and modes of remembering. Legal prosecution and reconstruction of justice also fail to address the complexity of the genocide’s consequences. The dilemmas of reconciliation are ‘complicated by the divisions evident in the community, not only between Hutu and Tutsi, but also within each population: between the Hutus who killed and those who didn’t; between Hutu extremists and moderates; between Tutsi who lived in Rwanda their whole lives and those who returned after the genocide; between Francophones and Anglophones; and so on’ (Lambourne 2004, 16). Moreover, legal prosecution does not always coincide with popular conceptions of justice that stem from religious beliefs, while economic hardships keep reminding survivors of the violence that destroyed their properties. Some post-genocide policies have tried to stimulate community building through closer contact between the opposing sides that would stimulate them to overcome past trauma (for example, the ‘peace baskets’ initiative 15). However, such interpersonal interventions do not always lead to changes at the group or community level (see Rumelili 2015; Ҫuhadar and Dayton, 2011) and therefore have limited effect. Policies that address post-conflict trauma, hostile attitudes between communities, or societies that are undergoing significant ideological or political transformations mostly assume that communities are unable to move on because they dwell on remembering events the way they happened. However, the resurfacing of a memory, particularly in the ‘return of the repressed’, but also in some instances of mourning, may be accompanied by a change in what one re-remembers: ‘While trying to retell it, we fill in the blanks created by forgetting using new material arbitrarily chosen’ (Freud 1900). Like misremembering the past to conform to the accepted organising frame, reremembering the forgotten in psychoanalysis involves its reconstruction anew. This opens significant room for bending the resurfacing memories to 14. Like repressed memories, silences too can backfire on the hierarchies they sustain by channelling resistance and defiance: see Scott (1990) and Clair (1997). Fivush (2010) further distinguishes between the two types of silence – being silenced (imposed voicelessness as the loss of power that underpins hierarchies) and being silent (a form of power that contains shared understandings that need not be voiced and provides space for the narratives of resistance). 15. Rwanda is famous for its traditional hand-woven baskets (agaseke), which after the genocide have become an example of how disrupted communities are reconciled through shared work and space. Women from the previously warring sides overcome past differences to work together and produce hand-woven baskets, which are now internationally famous. These measures reintegrate societies through values of work, communication, and culture, and, besides post-genocide reconciliation, reduce domestic violence by giving women some income.

Drawing from Memory


the needs and desires of the subject. This process may be observed in how societies reimagine their past, for example, in the nostalgic attitudes of many Russians towards the Soviet Union. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 was accompanied by distancing from the communist ideology and the traumatic discovery and condemnation of uncomfortable and previously repressed truths (a step towards working through), such as the extent of inner repressions, Communist Party corruption, and Soviet (rather than Nazi) responsibility for the 1940 Katyn massacre. The mid-2000s saw the lowest levels of nostalgia, but since 2012, regrets about the USSR dissolution have increased while negative attitudes towards Stalin have diminished (Levada Centre 2016; Levada Centre 2018a). Current economic troubles in Russia contribute to its popular reimagining of the USSR as economically and socially successful, while the crisis in Ukraine and the revival of anti-Western sentiments make Cold War policies seem more justified. Unresolved traumas that are wilfully forgotten (repressed) may produce a solipsist self, ‘who must replay the past to do it differently’ (Fierke 2004, 489). Triggered by a reminder in the present, ‘the subject is confronted with the scene from the past that he wants to change, to meddle with, to intervene in; he takes a journey into the past: intervenes in the scene, and . . . only through his intervention does the scene from the past become what it always was’ (Žižek 1989, 60). Key troubling events from the past may become redrawn and reimagined through application to the present, and this intervention is forgotten as the new meaning takes hold. Like George Orwell’s forgetfully repressive ‘We have always been at war with Eastasia’, the subject accepts the new meaning, wishfully forgetting the truth of its recent change. Thus, regularly surfacing references to Hitler in the political or media representations of contemporary conflicts contain traumas of the past that are being repaired. By drawing Hitler references, the (mostly Western) political rhetoric (mis)recognises new events, but also signals that there would be no appeasement and undecidedness this time. The uncomfortable memory of one’s past is symbolically revisited and repaired. This capability of memory for retroactive change and selective forgetting opens possibilities to shift self/other boundaries altogether. In this case, the enemy-other can be regarded as a role, a void to be populated by some other who need not be the exact particular group. Forgetting and reconciliation can happen via redrawing self/other space – the collapse or diversion of the boundary that eliminates the threat or fear of contamination, as anxiety has focused on a new object. In post-war trauma contexts, aggression as behavioural and symbolic diversion of inner anxiety outside (Lacan 2006) can be diverted (displaced) to less vulnerable objects. For example, post-war trauma increases levels of domestic violence, which can in turn be diverted to violence towards inanimate or symbolic objects (see Kosic and Tauber 2010). Chosen memories and traits that underlie belonging in collective contexts are


Chapter 5

constantly renegotiated and are therefore temporal referents of identity which may be redrawn with the emergence of new others or conflicts. The ‘rallying ’round the flag’ phenomenon, for example, consolidates nations in times of external conflict, when the boundaries within, such as economic interests, political disagreements, and other distinctions and inequalities, are temporarily ‘forgotten’, and identity boundaries refocus on the more significant other. Similarly, the diversion of self/other boundaries and the ability to focus anxiety on new objects stand behind America’s blurred and almost identical representations of the communist enemy other in Vietnam, Korea, or less remembered Third World conflicts (see Westad 2007) and the rethinking of Germany after World War II as a member of the West as opposed to the Eastern, Soviet other (Jackson 2006). More recently, the perception of Georgia as the enemy in Russian public opinion fell from 62 per cent in 2009 (less than a year after the conflict) to only 8 per cent in 2018 (Levada Centre 2018b) and was replaced by Ukraine. Intergroup reconciliation requires change in societal beliefs about itself, the adversary, and their relationship (Bar-Tal 2000) and the formulation of alternative narratives and meanings (Rumelili 2015) which can restore certainty. Redrawing self/other space or diverting anxiety is another way out of conflict: through focusing on new others and new threats, the subject ‘forgets’ what it was – or rather what it knew itself to be – and accepts a new system of meanings. Public perception of international crises is therefore dependent on the dynamics of remembering and forgetting/forgiving past troubling objects and the consequences of this process for the self/other space. New events are crucial for the remaking of the meanings of the past. In perceiving new events, the subject relates them to ‘histories that have stayed open’ (Ahmed 2004) because they need to be repaired to be ‘closed’ and forgotten. Remembering and forgetting can serve as the container of conflict and hostile attitudes or the way out towards forgiving, peace, and a new future relationship. Through reimagining the past, the drawing self may come to terms with the previously troubling objects that dictated violent or aggressive behaviour and may revise self/other spaces and the accompanying securitisation and construction of threats. The next chapter shall demonstrate how the public explained a new international crisis through seemingly unrelated ‘open histories’ from their own past. These histories were troubling (and the participants tried to relive them and revise their meaning through applying them to new events) or self-affirming (thus providing certainty and stability of established meanings). In the act of (mis)recognition – or relating the present to the familiar memories of the past – the drawing self addresses its troubling objects, as well as the uncertainty of the unknown.

Drawing from Memory


CONCLUSION: PERCEPTION AND MEMORY In this chapter, I have shown that collective memory, as the selective remembering of events and others and their structuring into a coherent and emotional narrative form, plays a significant role in the construction, maintenance, and transmission of identity and is connected to the subject’s ontological security. In their perception of events and others, communities are driven by the (un)conscious choices that form their accepted systems of meaning and self/other spaces. An interaction may be constructed differently if these meanings and spaces are redrawn, but this process requires openness towards one’s own troubling past and readiness to experience uncertainty until new stable meanings are agreed upon. Until that happens, collectives manipulate the images of others and reimagine them if necessary to protect the desired self-conception. By drawing on memory, the self remembers not what really happened but what must have happened for the self to exist in a coherent and stable form. By using memory as an identity-supporting pillar, communities prioritise self-conceptions over accuracy: a positive self resists change at all costs, but if a crisis is inevitable – alters the other first. This is how we can explain the sudden reimagining of the Ethiopian savage, the selective remembering and forgetting of the Anglo-Zulu War, the rethinking and acceptance of the American Irish, or the narcissistic images of the defending, liberating, and righteous sides in the more recent crises and military interventions. Chosen memories become chosen for the usability and inner significance they can offer for identity construction and the reduction of anxiety. Remembering creates a boundary between selves and others, while forgetting can prevent the self from perceiving the other for what it is, outside the self’s own troubling past and the need to revisit and reconcile with it. The significance of memory is in the seeming totality of all that we know (including selfknowledge) and the creation of stable systems of meaning and time/space trajectories on which the others are placed; yet this totality in truth contains only a limited selection of chosen and usable memories driven by the inner anxieties and desires of the drawing self.


Encountering Crises

Chapter Six

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings

Methinks the human method of expression by sound of tongue is very elementary, and ought to be substituted for some ingenious invention which should be able to give vent to at least six coherent sentences at once. – Virginia Woolf

This chapter opens a case-oriented discussion of public perception of international crises. I observe (mis)recognition and the presence of the drawing self behind how the public in the United Kingdom and Russia understood and related to the series of Arab uprisings generally known as the ‘Arab Spring’. This series of popular revolts began in Tunisia in December 2010, spread to several other countries in the region, and received wide international attention. Politically, the United Kingdom and Russia produced opposite evaluations of events: the UK welcomed the uprisings as a wave of democratisation and later supported the rebel groups in Libya and Syria, while Russia was critical about what it saw as dangerous destabilisation of the region and openly supported the Syrian president Bashar Assad in the subsequent civil war. Public opinion in both countries generally agreed with their government’s stance: by the end of 2011, 67 per cent of Britons and only 31 per cent of Russians viewed the Arab uprisings favourably 1 (GlobeScan 2011). In this and the next chapter, I draw on original interviews with the public, media materials, online news comments, and political statements from the time when Libya and Syria were going through the early stages of what later

1. The average out of the 22 countries surveyed stood at 55 per cent positive to 28 per cent negative, with Germans having the most positive attitudes to the uprisings (78 per cent) and Russians the only nation where negative views dominated.



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turned into much longer crises – and analyse public perception of events as they were unravelling. My purpose was to see whether the general public in the UK and Russia interpreted these distant crises through similar (un)conscious mechanisms, even if their express opinions about the uprisings were different. In other words, I was looking beyond their political stance, to the implicit presence of their collective identity, memory, and culture in their understanding of these uncertain and turbulent events. I demonstrate that the Russian and British public related to the Arab Spring events through multiple (mis)recognitions, which aimed to protect their own continuous and positive self-conceptions rather than describe these events accurately. Some of these (mis)recognitions were initiated by political elites and media frames, and some involved original and even dissenting interpretations voiced by the interview participants themselves and rooted in their imagining of their own collective identities, their past and present. I conclude that the British and Russian public were seeing events differently but employed the same methods of looking – in other words, their imagining of the Arab uprisings similarly involved (mis)recognitions, protection of positive self-conceptions, and application of familiar memories. These (un)conscious mechanisms of relating to what seemed uncertain and unknown betrayed the presence of the drawing self. Objectively, Arab Spring events carry significant differences and can be regarded as Arab Spring(s) in the plural, or the name can be challenged altogether. The term has been criticised for limiting the phenomenon to the Arab countries and mixing together events that are too diverse in their social and economic dynamics and in their outcomes. 2 In Tunisia, the revolution led to the ousting of the long-time president Ben Ali and democratic elections; in Egypt, the protests resulted in the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and the electoral victory of the Muslim Brotherhood and later led to new protests and a military overthrow of the elected president, Mohamed Morsi. In Libya, the crisis developed into a civil war, a NATO-led air bombing campaign, the killing of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and a long-term conflict between rival factions and Islamist groups. In Syria, where President Bashar Assad is still in power, the uprising turned into a civil war, which is still on-going and has been complicated by the military involvement of multiple foreign states (including Russia and the UK) and the activities of the Islamic State. The ‘Arab Spring’ label has also been criticised for portraying the uprisings in an overly positive light. A post-Saidian critique, for example, by Susser (2012), has pointed out that the term ‘Spring’ has ‘typically European connotations’ as it refers to the Spring of Nations of 1848 or the Prague Spring of 1968. In doing so, it forms part of the European2. For a detailed discussion of the similarities and differences between the Arab uprisings, see Anderson (2011) and Brownlee et al. (2015).

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


American political representation of events as a liberal and secular democratisation, an ‘awakening’ which does not reflect the events’ true complexity. In this chapter, I use the ‘Arab Spring’ label when it was invoked by my interviewees – and was therefore part of their perception of events. The discussion below starts with an explanation of the principal methodological choices of this study. I then go on to observe the dominant interpretations of the Libyan and Syrian uprisings among the Russian and British interviewees, along with their use of memories, familiar narratives, (mis)recognitions, and self-affirmations. I highlight the elements of self-presence, or constant relation of the other to self, in how the interviewees described the events. This discussion illustrates the theoretical argument of this book that connects perception to the insecurities and anxieties of the drawing self. The next chapter is going to situate this discussion into the wider Western and Russian societal, political, and media narratives about the Arab uprisings and suggest an impact of popular (mis)recognitions on how subsequent crises, such as the Ukrainian revolution of 2014, were commonly understood. METHOD In 2012–2013, I conducted over 50 in-depth semi-structured individual interviews with university students of diverse fields in Russia and the UK about their understanding of the events in Libya and Syria unfolding at the time. Choosing a concurrent event with significant media, political, and public exposure (including live timeline reporting on major media) meant that participants were aware of the crisis 3 and were not recreating or misremembering their opinions retrospectively. Retrospective analysis of public perception, which is typical of many studies, is problematic: people know what happened next, and their opinions would have evolved and would not be remembered correctly. For example, twelve years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, only 37 per cent of the British public said they had supported the war at the time, while in fact it had been 54 per cent (YouGov 2015). By the time of the Moscow interviews in 2012, public discussion of the Libyan crisis and Gaddafi’s death in October 2011 was still on-going in Russia, especially amid the growing disagreement between Russia and the US over the appropriate course of action in Libya and Syria. Interviews in the UK in September–October 2013 took place right after British public attention had been stirred up by the Syrian chemical attack in Ghouta on 21 August and the British parliamentary debate on a possible intervention, and mainly focused 3. Among the broader Russian population in 2011, for example, 86 per cent were aware of events in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya (based on WCIOM data), and 35 per cent admitted actively following updates on the situation (Mtiulishvili 2011).


Chapter 6

on Syria. Occasionally, interviewees also touched on the events in Egypt: the electoral victory of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi’s first months in office in 2012, and his overthrow and a new Egyptian crisis a year later. It is important to note that by the time of the interviews, the Islamic State had not yet gained prominence, neither Russia nor the US-led coalition had as yet interfered militarily in Syria, and the situation in Libya had not yet deteriorated into a second civil war. From today’s standpoint, these were opinions about the earlier stages of the Libyan and Syrian crises that would continue to evolve. The choice of Russia and the United Kingdom allowed comparison of public perception in political, media, and historical contexts that were opposite in many respects. The UK was among the first to call for international recognition of the rebel-led National Transitional Council (NTC) as the only legitimate government of Libya, cosponsored the UN Security Council resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya in March 2011, and took an active part in enforcing it. Russia condemned the Libyan government’s use of violence against civilians but did not break off relations with Gaddafi, abstained in the UN Security Council vote on the no-fly zone, and did not recognise NTC until September 2011 when the Libyan capital Tripoli was lost to the rebels. In the Syrian crisis, Russia and the UK supported different sides: Russia continued to supply arms to the Syrian government and repeatedly blocked UN Security Council resolution drafts condemning the violence, while the UK cosponsored some of these drafts, urged Assad to step down, and later took part in the airstrikes in Syria. The differences between the British and Russian representations of the uprisings were not limited to the pursuit of opposite strategic interests. Russia’s media system has been described as ‘neo-authoritarian’ (Becker 2004), where formally or informally, the state remains the major actor (Vartanova 2015) in shaping how major political events are reported. The legacy of Soviet ideology and repressions and Russia’s turbulent 1990s contributed to popular mistrust of protests and instability, in general, and suspicion towards the Western rhetoric of democracy. The political and media rhetoric about the Arab uprisings differed significantly between the two countries, and Russian and British interviewees could therefore be expected to evaluate these events differently, but the bigger question for me was whether their ways of forming and expressing these opinions and relating them to their own self-conceptions were different at all. The choice of Russia and the UK was also driven by considerations of effective linguistic and cultural interpretation: interviews were conducted directly in English in the UK and in Russian in Moscow. Interviewees were British and Russian nationals respectively, shared a common national and cultural identity, and were primarily following their national media. Sharing knowledge of the language, culture, and history with the study participants

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


was important for better contextualising their responses. Having lived in both countries, I was able to relate their opinions to dominant media and political representations, and both groups were open to me as I was not a stranger to their cultural world. Most participants were aged 18 to 30 and came from urban working- and middle-class families. Gender balance was maintained among both Russian and British interviewees. My aim was not to seek a representative sample of the population or suggest quantifiable conclusions, but to explore how an ongoing international crisis was interpreted by young people from similar social, age, and educational backgrounds. Interviewees had no professional knowledge of the Arab uprisings and had no relation to the political or media elites and, in that sense, were of the general public. The relationship between personal political opinions and the overall public opinion (which indicates a consensus or majority on certain issues within social groups) has been thoroughly explored in the now classic Opinion and Personality by Smith, Bruner, and White (1956) and in Robert Lane’s Political Ideology (1962). Contrary to large-scale quantitative sociopolitical research, both employ in-depth interviews with a limited number of members of the general public to question the relationship between social structures and personality in how political opinions are produced and understood. Smith and colleagues (1956) analyse the opinions of ten men on Russia and communism and conclude that people’s political attitudes are more complex than is commonly recognised. Lane (1962) similarly explores the views of fifteen working- and middle-class Americans and reveals the ‘live’ person behind the often faceless ‘public opinion’. They make the case that the personal setting of public opinion matters, and it is worth looking at the private, individual level, behind the façade of public opinion, which is often stereotyped and assumed. Of course, interviewing individual members of the public cannot confidently establish representative conclusions on the overall public attitudes to a given event, but it can shed valuable light on the individual political view and identity experiences and their interconnections with the dominant social, political, and media interpretations. The 51 interviewees in this book are some of the people behind the silent statistical numbers of the British and Russian public opinion about the Arab uprisings. Throughout this and the next chapter, their political imagining is related to available polling data and offers further insight into understanding it. Interviews were conducted individually, each lasting for up to one and a half hours. They were recorded, transcribed, anonymised, and later analysed thematically. At the start of the interview, I collected basic demographic data and asked participants to evaluate their knowledge of events on a 1-to-10


Chapter 6

scale, 4 enabling me to understand their level of interest in the crisis and account for the inaccuracies and generalisations in their responses. The interviews were semi-structured and focused on several key themes: 1. What sources do you normally use to get information about international politics? 2. Imagine I have not heard about the recent crises in a number of Arab countries. How would you describe what is happening? 3. In your opinion, are these events a negative or a positive development, and why? 4. What do you think is happening in Libya/Syria? 5. What do you think of Gaddafi/Assad? 6. How do you see the situation developing next? 7. What should the international response to the crisis be? Throughout the conversation, I was careful to describe events in neutral language and give the participants the opportunity to first use the terms ‘Arab Spring’, ‘protester’, ‘rebel’, as they already contain positive or negative evaluations. The questions started at the general level (describe the events) and then narrowed down to specific cases (Libya and Syria) and their aspects and personalities (Gaddafi, Assad, international responses), enabling the interviewees to construct their own narrative, unconstrained by a particular frame. For example, if an interviewee blamed the violence on a particular figure (Gaddafi’s or Assad’s dictatorship) or connected it to stereotypes of national and religious groups (such as Arab societies as unstable and violent), starting the conversation at the general level enabled them to bring up any specific aspects of the crisis themselves. I used additional questions to clarify any historical parallels that came up, the perceived differences between the protester/rebel/insurgent labels, their views on the (im)permissibility of violence in the relationship between a government and the public, and their overall political beliefs and attitudes to their national governments. It was important to understand why they interpreted the crisis in a particular way: for instance, mistrust in their own government led some participants to doubt the official political and media representations of the Arab uprisings, while the experience of taking part in student protests led them to relate to the Arab protesters in a different way. As part of the interview, I conducted a keyword exercise which involved asking the participants to describe the crisis in a few words within 10–15 seconds. The tight time limit encouraged them to sum up their understanding of the crisis and provide instinctive reactions with no opportunity to antici4. Among the Russian participants, knowledge indication varied from 2–9 (mean 4.8); among the British, the range was 2–8 (mean 4.6).

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


pate my possible views or adjust their response to appear more positive (knowledgeable, reasonable, etc.). Responses to this question were often accompanied by embarrassed laughter and other signs of inner anxiety, which indicated that the time pressure achieved its aim. Later, the comparison of the keywords across the interview transcripts helped me highlight key themes in crisis perception. This exercise is particularly useful when interviewing students: some of the participants later noted that the time pressure made them give direct responses and abandon the student habit of seeking ‘correct’ answers. My reading of the interviews involved three converging approaches to interview analysis. Lacanian understanding of language suggests that ‘all language is prejudiced in so far as [it] involves rationalisation of experience’ (Millar 2006, 60). For Lacan (2006, 206), an interview is an ‘attempted seduction [of the interviewer] by the means on which the subject has come compliantly to rely, and to which he will commit the monumental construct of his narcissism’. The interviewee wants the interviewer to agree and share their views and bias and to present themselves and their social group in a positive light. While seeming to be about particular events, the interview in fact contains the relationship between the speaker, these events, the speaker’s own histories and troubling objects, and the addressee. This necessitates analysis of both the said and the unsaid to understand these relationships, such as slips of tongue, gestures, pauses, laughter. The keywords exercise facilitated this task. Second, the speaker is attracted by secure narratives which would ‘anchor a constant notion of self in narrative structures’ (Andrews et al. 2015; emphasis added). I suggest that in discussing distant and ‘unknown’ violence, interviewees seek security in various forms of self-affirmation, projection, and self-presence in the other. They involve their own seemingly unrelated individual and collective histories in making sense of distant others. The relative security and certainty of these familiar histories helps them understand and transform the ‘unknown’. I demonstrate how both groups of interviewees explained the unknown through known, interpreted, distant events through familiar (even if troubling) histories, and maintained positive collective self-conceptions. Finally, I am convinced by Sara Ahmed’s (2004) deconstruction of narratives as emotional associations, evident in ‘sticky words’ that transmit emotions and create identities at the moment of speaking, while trying to preserve ‘life as we know it’ (Ahmed 2004, 64). In my analysis, I look beyond the (in)accuracies in the interviewees’ interpretations of distant events, to emotions as, in Ahmed’s words, their feelings of ‘towardness’ or ‘awayness’ from the distant other. Certain words in the interviews betray the presence of the speaker and his or her own histories, while the speaker seems focused on distant events. In nuance as well as in general descriptions, interviewees react


Chapter 6

to particular elements of distant events and connect them to their own identities. These connecting points are ‘what we find most touching; it is that which makes us feel’ (Ahmed 2004, 28). In identifying what the distant events are really about, and in reacting and relating to these chosen aspects of the distant events, the interviewees tell us what is ‘most touching’. They are constructing a self/other boundary at the moment of speaking, in which identities hide an interactive experience of ‘comfort’ or ‘discomfort’. I argue that the point of ‘comfort’ is in the moment of (mis)recognition, when the uncertainty of an unexpected international crisis is made familiar and controllable while a positive narrative about the self is preserved. In summary, I suggest deeper identity processes behind overt representations, as the speaker is seeking certainty in recognition, self-affirmation, and continuity. MAIN THEMES AND RELATING THE OTHER TO SELF Two consistent but different narratives explaining the Arab uprisings were dominant among the Russian and British participants. Most Russian interviewees regarded the Arab uprisings as an eruption of political (in)stability or an episode in the competition for dominance between Russia and the West in the Middle East. The latter view was particularly strong in relation to Syria, where Russia has maintained a naval base since Soviet times. Russian participants viewed the uprisings generally negatively and felt neutral or sympathetic about Gaddafi and Assad. Most British participants explained the same events as a struggle between democratic and oppressive forces and expressed positive encouragement of protests and condemnation of the Libyan and Syrian leaders. They often blamed the violence in both countries on Gaddafi and Assad personally, as dictators unable to listen to their own populations. The general attitudes towards the uprisings were therefore mostly opposite between the Russian and British interviewees and were formulated as ‘instability has caused many deaths’ (Russia), as opposed to ‘many have died for democracy’ (UK). Yet the way of reaching these conclusions was strikingly similar: distant events were interpreted through the histories, desires, and anxieties of the speakers, and the two crises were imagined suitably for the affirmation of the speakers’ own collective identity. Below I engage with these broad narratives more closely and also highlight a few dissenting voices in each group. Disagreement with the dominant interpretation did not involve greater knowledge or confidence about the Arab uprisings, but often coincided with oppositional views on their own country’s politics and a differently imagined identity. While political disagreements among interviewees are important, my principal focus is on the way opinions were reached, which reveals a deeper commonality in public perception of distant crises. I will observe the dynamics of anxiety, memory,

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


self-affirmation, and boundary construction – those elements of the drawing self that stimulate the speaker to view distant others in particular ways. Russian Interviews: The West Destabilised a Peaceful Region Stability became the key criteria in judging the events in Libya and Syria for the interviewees in Moscow. I persistently got the impression that stability was ‘what really mattered’, as a stable social and political environment symbolised the ideal that the speakers expected the distant Arab other to value most. These are the most typical responses, as references to the importance of stability were made in every interview: It is a region which destabilised. It used to be stable, but with a big potential for instability, which has now turned wild, because of both domestic and outside factors. (RUS, m/22) When the revolution started, I think Libya was a rather stable country, although with quite a Sultanic type of rule. (RUS, f/18) 5

For both of these speakers, the distant Arab world is a disorderly, ‘wild’ place where a certain degree of violence is normal; after all, sultans cut people’s heads off to maintain law and order. As sultans, the Libyan and Syrian leaders are immediately familiar and their actions explainable: there are multiple powerful, cruel, rich, but eventually fair and even admired sultans in Russian tales and literature, as the Russian and Ottoman Empires fought and traded for centuries. These tales are familiar to all Russians and are often their first childhood encounter with the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, stability was often associated with particular leaders and their policies. For example, in Libya it was seen as Muammar Gaddafi’s greatest achievement and a reason to respect him, despite violence: [in response to ‘Why do you say Gaddafi was a good leader?’] I would say he was a good leader because he made Libya stable for about 30 years, I think . . . [dead end] That is a huge success. (RUS, m/24)

Stability, however, carried a very specific meaning that did not involve democratic representation or a fair legal system. It was generally understood as physical safety and lack of political and social chaos. Interviewees who knew less about the country assumed that Libya was stable because it was not on the news until the uprising began. The eruption of protest and civil war brought precisely such chaos regardless of being justified or not. Uprisings increased risks to personal safety, disrupted established and predictable ways 5. Interviewees are identified here by nationality, gender, and age. For example, RUS, f/18 means Russian, female, 18 years old.


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of life, destroyed property, and threatened the future. For the Russian interviewees, such destabilisation outweighed any possible political gains from the revolutions and became the reason why the outcomes of the uprisings, including in Libya, were seen as negative: I think the outcome is negative. The living standards have worsened greatly. At least in Libya and Syria people’s lives had not been great, but decent. Not best, but still . . . [dead end] And now look – they are just sad! It’s not safe to live there any more. (RUS, f/22)

Russian participants were aware of the democracy/oppression approach to the ‘Arab Spring’ largely taken, for example, by the BBC and by the European and North American media and political rhetoric. Some occasionally watched BBC News or Euronews or subscribed to Western media such as the New York Times on social media. 6 Moreover, the words ‘democracy’ or ‘freedoms’/‘rights’ were mentioned frequently but did not carry the same weight or even mean the same thing as for UK interviewees. Uprisings challenged the rights of those who did not protest, meaning that protesters were often seen as perpetrators, while law-abiding civilians as victims. The seeming neglect of the peaceful majority by the protesting minority challenged the representations of the Arab uprisings as democratic and doubted the fairness of prioritising democracy over stability: Now there is destruction everywhere, people die there every day . . . This is just devastating. So, a lot of other innocent people in other beautiful places can die, because SOMEONE [stressed; accusing gesture directed outside – at an imagined protesting ‘other’] is discontent with their authorities. (RUS, m/22)

The speaker is clearly emotional, as he expresses anger and dismay, if not disgust, at the protesting other’s behaviour. ‘Someone’ in this fragment is clearly contrasted against the unsaid ‘everyone else’, emphasising that the protests are not fair to most Libyans (and Syrians) and cannot be regarded as positive. The speaker is relating to the behaviours of the other that are most disturbing: in fact, the other is discovered precisely because of the discomfort the other’s ‘surface’ has caused (Ahmed 2004). This is the discovery of external agency beyond the speaker’s command that makes the speaker realise the other as an independent agent. The other is not simply independent – it denies the (ideal) self because the protesters refuse to desire stability in the same way as the self. The speaker reaffirms the self by ‘sticking’ negative emotion to the other, regarding the other as unfair and selfish, and forgetting 6. According to polls, approximately 10–11 per cent of people in Moscow regularly watched Euronews in 2011–2014 and approximately 25 per cent used social networks as a major source of news. In the rest of Russia, these figures were 5 per cent and 15 per cent respectively (Levada Centre 2014).

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


that this experience is the result of interaction and not the true quality of the object. Such ‘sticking’ allows oneself to remain unquestioned (Is my own life fair? Would I be able to protest like this?) by eliminating all doubt as to whether protest should happen at all. 7 Many of the Russian interviewees saw democracy as impossible or unlikely in both Syria and Libya, even if the protesters claimed pro-democratic aspirations: The people in those countries do not know anything about democracy. They are used to living under tough rule, but that’s in their own interests. (RUS, f/ 20) These countries are not yet ready for such a [democratic] change. (RUS, f/18) We hear they [Libyans] are trying to protect their rights, which is to be expected. But what will come out of this – another dictator? What do they have now? Nothing. (RUS, m/18) In Iraq and Afghanistan, the US tried to introduce people to democracy. It didn’t work. And it won’t work here. (RUS, f/22)

On the one hand, these are stereotypical visions that paint Libyans and Syrians with an undistinguishing broad brush, while the speaker is able to evaluate ‘their own interests’ and judge their ‘readiness’ for democracy. A parallel can be drawn to how, historically, Russian people have positioned themselves as the ‘older brother’ to multiple ethnic groups within the country and in its near abroad and, during Soviet times, to all the nations within the socialist bloc. The echoes of these perceptions can still be heard in commonplace expressions of superiority to Central Asian migrants (Tajiks, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz) within the country, who are stereotyped as uneducated, secondclass, childlike, and generally naïve. On the other hand, the idea of ‘not being ready’ for democracy or other major political change is pervasive in how Russians describe different stages of their own history and justify authoritarian governance and economic hardships as temporary measures until the people are ‘ready’. Multiple examples of this can be found in history textbooks and in cultural narratives, where various popular wisdom recommends being ready before acting. 8 In this respect, ‘not yet ready’ is a familiar 7. Kleinian psychoanalysis would further see this as the expulsion and prohibition of self’s own disturbing inner object (impotence or fear to do the same) and therefore a crisis in the self. 8. I am referring to such popular sayings as ‘Making haste would only make other people laugh’ or ‘Measure seven times before cutting’. Of course, these are not unique to Russian culture, and various versions of the same wisdom can be found across the globe, but as a recommendation of caution and even inaction when the outcome is uncertain, these have entered political speech and are important cultural directives behind political behaviours and perceptions.


Chapter 6

condition that is easily recognised and restores certainty in how the distant events are understood. In a wider context, these interview fragments are also illustrative of the commonplace dismissal of the applicability of Western democracy to Eastern European, Asian, and Middle Eastern cultures, widely found in Russian public discourse. In 2006, Russia adopted the political concept of ‘sovereign democracy’, which reconciled democratic (elected) institutions with a dominant-party system and refused to bow to external models, claiming that Russian society should decide on its own political life. The world did not have to be democratic in the ‘Western way’ – this popular insistence, together with the view of Middle Eastern countries as not yet ready for democracy, rejects Western expectations of democratising Arab states as ‘mistaken’ and builds a hierarchy of righteousness, or ‘knowing better’. If the uprisings were not (and could not be) about democracy, but stability was still sacrificed, the reasons for that must have been more sinister. The main keywords, with which the Russian interviewees explained the Arab uprisings, included ‘instability’, ‘terrorism’, ‘West’, and ‘American influence’. Several interviewees suspected that destabilisation happened because Arab societies were Islamic and inherently radical. A negative Islamist other seemed to overpower secular stable regimes: There’s a reason why Arab countries usually have tough rulers, and people are not given enough freedom . . . [pause] I mean, look at elections in Egypt and Libya . . . [pause] Islamist parties are gaining or winning. This is worrying. These radicals will never ever be peaceful. (RUS, f/22) Actually, Muslims have been causing problems in the world for the last decade. (RUS, m/18)

Both speakers connect Islamism to the threat of terrorism, which is feared but clearly familiar. The uncertainty of the crisis falls into recognisable coordinates: Gaddafi and Assad were dictators, but they prevented the worst from happening. The Arab rebel-other becomes someone to whom the interviewees could easily relate: Russia has seen dozens of Islamist terrorist attacks since 1999, from the Moscow apartment bombings and the Nord-Ost theatre siege to attacks on public transport and the Beslan school. The Islamist turn of the revolutions may not yet be apparent, but both speakers predict a future trajectory that is clearly informed by familiar threats. An alternative and even dominant reading was that the West 9 was deeply involved with the Arab Spring crises (although for some interviewees, the 9. In Russian public discourse, the West tends to be synonymous with the US, but sometimes means US and NATO or US and major European powers (UK, Germany, France) or the EU.

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


uprisings were both Western driven and Islamist at the same time). This offered another justification for the protesters’ puzzling rejection of stability. Again, blaming the uprisings on the West was a familiar justification, not unlike the US-Soviet confrontation of the Cold War. The interviewees seemed to assume that local populations would not want to part with stable regimes – therefore revolutions must have been externally sponsored. After the widely reported disagreement between Russia and the US over the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (which authorised a no-fly zone over Libya) and NATO-led air strikes against Libyan targets, the symbolic ‘West’ became the major agent of disruption. The Arab uprisings, like the Colour revolutions of early 2000s in Georgia, Ukraine, and other strategically important post-Soviet states, were seen as Western power play that could only damage the region: For some reason, some European countries and the US decided to support the revolt. I see the main reason for this in like, in the desire to get a reduction in oil prices. But this wasn’t a wise decision because the conflict caused instability in the region, and many refugees fled the country. (RUS, f/18) Conditions in Libya were stable, and Gaddafi did many good things. The reasons for this conflict are not right. Something is wrong about it. It was a conflict created from the outside. I think the US made a bad decision here. (RUS, f/19) Personally, I’d say that this [uprising] is a trivial attempt by the US to boost its influence. The US is using various means to not to let us gain what Russia used to have and, roughly speaking, to make those it doesn’t like its colonies. (RUS, m/21)

These responses contain metaphorical references to the war in Iraq (‘to get a reduction in oil prices’), Cold War (proxy conflicts ‘created from outside’, American threat to Russia), and Western colonialism as the shameful history of domination. Many Russian interviewees saw these as the most plausible explanations for the Western support of the Libyan and Syrian uprisings. Again, these are referents to familiar histories that carry clear negative meanings and symbolically condemn Western motivations. By constructing the narrative of destabilisation and blaming it on the rise of Islamism and Western involvement, Russian interviewees were (mis)recognising the uncertain and troubling situation as familiar and left the value of stability unquestioned. British Interviews: Democracy Is on the Rise, but Will It Last? British interviewees offered a different dominant explanation for the uprisings, but one that made the events no less familiar. They widely saw the Arab


Chapter 6

uprisings as a pro-democratic project and debated its potential to last. In general, interviewees in the UK seemed to allow little doubt in the democratic motivation and nature of the uprisings and commonly employed the Arab Spring label. The notions of democracy, freedom, and awakening tended to come up in the first sentences of how they described the events. Being a democracy had a clear positive meaning closely associated with their own political beliefs and conceptions of an English, British, European, or Western identity. For example, one of the participants commented: I think [the uprisings are] a reaction of the general population [in Libya and Syria] against an oppressive regime. Well . . . They are more educated now, so they are looking for their freedom, liberty to express themselves. (UK, f/26)

The reference to education here points at the (un)conscious hierarchies in judging the other: democracy becomes the superior distinction of the more educated and progressive. It depicts the speaker’s own community as well as the other: by becoming educated, how can the other not want to be ‘like us’? The theme of oppression leading to revolution that can only be its opposite – democratisation – is recurrent in other responses, too. The distant and unknown Arab other is brought close and becomes familiar in the context of globalisation: They [protesters] were seeing everything in other parts of the world. And they were like: you know what, we should get this as well. So, they are all staging rallies and stuff, and the dictators, obviously, didn’t want any part of that, so . . . [pause] So, it’s basically just people wanting more democratic-ish ways of life, I suppose’. (UK, m/19)

The association between the Libyan and Syrian governments and oppression was clear. Each of these uprisings was regarded as a conflict between a dictator (singular) and his people (plural), where the people exercised a basic democratic right to protest and constituted a long-silenced majority that was now to be respected. Not surprisingly, most interviewees spoke negatively of Gaddafi and Assad and symbolically isolated them from the Libyan and Syrian populations: Was it not to do with an oppressive government and coup? A lot of it was to do with [Assad] lying to his people, I think, and using . . . [cut] some kind of debilitating gases that affected tons of his population, and that he denied using. So, I’d probably describe him [Assad] as a dictator. Militaristic. (UK, f/22) There seems to be . . . [dead end] I don’t know his title, their dictator, that person [Assad]. He is fighting against all the people. (UK, f/26)

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


The continuous use of ‘his’ in both these fragments and the contrast between the dictator and the people, which occurred in other interviews, too, further emphasised the vision of Libya and Syria as dictatorships and their populations as almost uniformly desiring democratisation. The contrast between ‘him’ (aggressor) and ‘them’ (victims) affirmed a vision of the Arab countries as split into a singular bad and a plural good other, where the moral choice between the two sides was clear. The Libyan and Syrian systems of governance were inherently faulty well before the uprisings, and therefore all the current injustices and violence were in fact an eruption of a long-term problem. The uprisings must have been political – and their economic and social complexity was flattened in this (mis)recognition. The democracy/oppression narrative did face some challenges, particularly when British interviewees noted continuing violence in Libya, turbulence in Egypt, and undecidedness in Syria (as of autumn 2013 when the British interviews took place). The Egyptian and Libyan revolutions were over, but the pro-democratic character of the new regimes was challenged by the emerging evidence of undemocratic behaviour. Post-revolutionary Egypt had just gone through a controversial change of constitution, new massive protests, a military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, and the massacre of pro-Morsi demonstrators in August 2013. Libya was descending into a new civil war, and the American ambassador to Libya had already been killed. This contradiction came across clearly in the keyword exercise as most keywords fell into two groups: aspiration/hope or complexity. Most typical among these included ‘hope’, ‘new beginnings’, ‘democracy’, ‘positive change’, or ‘complexity’ and ‘confusion’. Interestingly, the second group of keywords was not yet negative – the initial (mis)recognition of the uprisings as a wave of democratisation had not been entirely abandoned. The rebel other did not seem to fully share the values of a secular and peaceful democracy that were the valued traits of the speakers’ own identity. In Russian interviews, a similar challenge was solved by accusing Islamism and the West of the region’s forced destabilisation, with both these explanations invoking familiar narratives of Islamic terrorism and Cold War. British interviews demonstrated similar protective mechanisms that ruled out doubt in the genuine, although not unhampered, pro-democratic aspirations of the Arab Spring. One of these protective arguments was that these were democracies in the making and it would be naïve to expect immediate fully developed democratic systems to emerge overnight:


Chapter 6 It’s taken us a hundred years to get the democracy that we got [in the United Kingdom 10]. So, you can’t expect people who have been oppressed and stuff, to do it in one generation. (UK, m/26) They [the opposition/rebels] seem to have done things that were both extremely violent and entirely unnecessary. But I think . . . I hope they would get better when they are done with the war. (UK, m/26)

The second interview fragment is in stark contrast with the opinions of the Russian interviewees who predicted that the Libyan and Syrian revolutions could only radicalise and get worse. However, here too the speaker is rushing over the uncertainty of the present to construct a continuous trajectory in the future and maintain the vision of the Arab Spring as a pro-Western imitation. There were several (although few) dissenting voices among the British participants who offered an alternative explanation for the continuing violence. Three participants suggested links between opposition fighters and terrorists in Syria. By 2013, Western media had already started reporting on the disturbing or terrorism-related aspects of the war in Syria, and this connection could be expected. However, at the time, interviewees still regarded terrorists as a marginal faction within the opposition, while the overall attitude to the Arab Spring remained positive: Some of the rebels were Al-Qaeda based, weren’t they? So that’s not good. I think in the long run, after a few years they’ll be better off than they were. But like I said, this transitional period is not very good.(UK, m/19)

Even the terrorist explanation for the continuing violence, as in this quote, did not fully rule out the pro-democratic intent of the uprisings – in fact, it explained terrorism as a temporary complication. Libya and Syria were in transition – a familiar political term to describe countries that have recently joined the path of democratic reform or economic liberalisation. The reproduction of this political term in this interview fragment demonstrates a certain overlap between the person’s understanding of the events and their political and media representations. A more sceptical view on the future of Arab democracy was voiced by another interviewee, who compared Syria and Libya to the recent experience of Egypt and the unrest under President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood:

10. These interviews were conducted well before the Brexit vote in June 2016 which demonstrated a split within British society and a decline in popular trust in the UK democracy. Still, positive democratic self-conceptions are likely to remain important in relating to international others, as demonstrated more recently by the negative public perception of Russia in the UK and Europe, with Russia’s lack of democracy being one of the key criticisms (Pew Research Center 2017b).

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


I think because . . . [sighs heavily] the Islamists [stressed] got into [government], they are going to have the [oppressive] regime all over again – it would be similar [to past dictatorships]. (UK, f/26)

For this interviewee, the prospect of Islamist parties coming to power is not necessarily terrorism related. Islamism is seen as inherently undemocratic, even if its political rise happens through elections. The interviewee spoke about what she saw as the incompatibility between Islamism and human rights, and expected negative consequences for gender equality, education, and the bending of everyday life to Sharia law in Egypt and other Arab Spring countries. Both interpretations of the un-Western behaviours of the pro-democratic protester/rebel (either as a transitional period or the consequence of a terrorist/Islamist rise) helped affirm the speaker’s own collective identity: the first by suggesting that Western democracies are well ahead, and the second by blaming negative aspects of the revolutions on a small and alienated group and therefore purifying the overall purpose of the uprisings. Negative aspects of the other’s behaviour could be tolerated if the other recognised and imitated the self’s distinction: in the Russian interviews, stability justified some degree of authoritarianism; and for the British participants, temporary violence seemed acceptable in the name of a future democracy. The issue of stability, which was so dominant in the Russian interviews, was mentioned by some British participants, but stability was regarded as one of the eventual outcomes of democratisation: Let’s see. Good things [about the uprisings] – [they] give hope . . . Negative – breakdown of traditional cultures and norms that have kept stability and order. But, on the other hand . . . with these [regimes] going down, they now have an opportunity to rebuild new structures, so that there’s going to be a more open and equal society. And once you get a bit of equality, you get peace. (UK, f/ 26)

Another interviewee rejected the stability narrative outright: I wouldn’t say it [the region] was stable – it was never stable. And it’s always the playground of many powers. (UK, f/23)

While differing in their overall evaluation of events, Russian and British interviewees expressed similar concerns. Unpreparedness for significant change or the prospect of a long transition, the threat of terrorism or religious radicalism, and the potential of the new governments to last – these doubts were raised in both interview sessions but were interwoven into different overall evaluations of events.


Chapter 6

Media coverage and political representations contributed to these views. Evidence of media influence on perception has been well documented: for instance, Ladd and Lenz (2009, 405) illustrate how ‘the news media exert a strong influence on mass political behavior’. Interviewees primarily followed their national media, and Russian and British media differed significantly in their coverage of the uprisings. Russian media were generally sceptical of the Arab Spring, but the British were much more hopeful. Although some Russian participants watched the BBC and Euronews, most indicated Russian state TV as their main source of information, closely followed by online news websites. British participants named websites, mobile newspaper apps, and TV channels as their primary information sources, and a few also followed news in French. Both groups considered social networks, discussions with friends, and immediate family important for their news awareness. However, the interviews contained more than repeated media information about distant events. Participants reacted and related to this information, bringing their own political views, self-conceptions, and familiar collective memories into the conversation. Their understanding of the distant crisis lies deeper, in the unconscious protection of continuous and positive self-concepts. As the following sections will further demonstrate, identity, memory, and self-affirmation were important factors behind their acceptance, rejection, or reworking of media frames. USABLE MEMORIES AND (MIS)RECOGNITION One of the most interesting results of the study was the intensity of the self’s presence in the other’s crisis. Events and personalities of the Arab uprisings were largely viewed through the speakers’ own histories, and memories of the past were used to justify positive or negative attitudes. Participants made sense of the unknown via the known and via relating to the other by imagining their own likely behaviour in similar circumstances. Here I will look in more detail at the historical parallels and associations the interviewees drew in order to make their opinions convincing and create a confident illusion of pre-knowing the other. Like Columbus in Todorov’s (1984) account of the discovery of America, interviewees saw what they were ready to see in the Arab uprisings. The different political opinions about the Arab Spring between the Russian and British participants were closely connected to the context of their own political histories, which underlie their identity selfconcepts. Both groups drew on the valued or troubling aspects of these histories in an attempt to (mis)recognise the unknown and make it certain. The Russian narrative of stability is an important part of national selfdefinitions and is itself largely historical. The memory of the 1917 revolution and civil war, extensive Soviet repressions and the catastrophic destruction

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


of World War II, the political and economic crises of the 1990s that led to mass crime and insecurity, two wars in Chechnya, and multiple terrorist attacks since then – all these events made stability, as physical security and political and economic predictability, a greatly valued condition. In Russian public opinion, restoring stability and order and preventing further disintegration of the country are the most significant achievements of Vladimir Putin in his first two presidential terms and a source of national pride. According to a 2014 poll, 71 per cent of Russians prioritised stability over democratic principles, with only one in five rigorously in favour of democracy (WCIOM 2014b). At the same time, up to 90 per cent of Russians believe that Putin can ensure both stability and change (TASS 2017). This creates two popular expectations in how other international crises should be resolved: stability, not democracy, is the best way out of political turbulence, and stability requires a strong political leader. In this sense, the images of Gaddafi or Assad as the guardians of stability appealed to these widely shared expectations. A ‘tough ruler’ in Russian has become an idiom that suggests keeping the country whole at times of economic and social crises (positive meaning) rather than lack of freedoms or abuse of power (negative). In this context, most Russian interviewees for this study followed the overall national trend of prioritising stability and regarding it as a key value in national self-conceptions. Parallels to the wars in Chechnya and the insecurity of the early 2000s were explicitly drawn by several Russian interviewees when discussing the threat of Islamism and terrorism that the growing instability in the Arab states could bring. These troubling memories from the interviewees’ own collective identity context had a significant, even if (un)conscious, impact on perception. This influence speaks in favour of a ‘network of narratives’ being at play, rather than pure effect of media news about a particular crisis. In 2011–2013, Russia went through a surge in liberal anti-government protests, the largest since the Soviet Union collapse. Protesters believed that the 2011 parliamentary elections, which gave over 52 per cent of the Duma 11 seats, and therefore effective control to the ruling United Russia party, had been flawed. Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he was going to run again for president in the 2012 election, after two terms in office and another term as prime minister, added further controversy. Protesters demanded fair elections and new measures against corruption. Spreading rapidly to all major Russian cities at first, the protests were followed by wide public disappointment in lack of action and the absence of a clear agenda or central leading figure. The government responded with media stigmatisation of protests as unpatriotic activity and passed stricter legislation against unauthorised pro11. State Duma is the lower house of the Russian parliament; the upper house is the Council of the Federation.


Chapter 6

tests. Historically, protests and mass manifestations in Russia and the Soviet Union have been surrounded by suspicion; and in this case, too, there were public and media claims that protests had been staged and protesters paid. The Russian government accused the US of interfering and even sponsoring the protests, amid US statements that demonstrations in major Russian cities were a ‘positive sign’ (see the White House 2011a). By 2014–2015, major Russian polling organisations estimated that public disapproval of domestic protests was already twice as high as approval (Vedomosti 2017). At the time of this study, public disillusionment with the recent protest experience undermined the belief of many interviewees in the Libyans’ or Syrians’ genuine protesting spirit. The Arab uprisings seemed to have erupted too fast and been organised too well. Britain’s historical experiences of the last decades were significantly different. Democratic representation was the successful way out of the Northern Ireland crisis, and the British political system had been relatively stable. 12 Unlike Russia, the UK did not undergo a near total breakdown of social trust from civil war, mass repressions for political dissent, or rapid changes in dominant ideology in the last century. Moreover, the interviews took place amid the domestic debate on possible Scottish independence, in which the notions of political rights and self-determination were more acceptable than in Russia, where they were associated with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Based on these histories, the interviewees understood an acceptable relationship between a government and its people differently. Both groups spoke of violence as the discrediting behaviour of either the rebels or Gaddafi’s and Assad’s regimes. But while many Russian interviewees associated violence of the Arab uprisings with the protesters (‘they started it by destabilising’), British participants blamed Gaddafi and Assad for abusing the popular right to protest. This contrast was reflected in the interviews: I think the [military] response [of the Libyan and Syrian authorities] was reasonable. If somebody attacks the army or the police with guns, they should be eliminated. They had all the authority to fight an armed opposition. (RUS, m/22) Well, if the government uses weapons against the people, then the people should have a right to use weapons against the government . . . [pause] But ideally . . . [pause] ideally, neither would use weapons. But that’s kind of an ideal situation [laughs]. (UK, f/24)

12. Uncertainties have increased in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, but this is before then, as the interviews took place in 2013.

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


Neither group was entirely unanimous in these attitudes to government-people relations, and their personal political views played an important role in this, too. For the interviewees in Moscow, rejection of the right to protest tended to coincide with their acceptance of Russian patriotic self-definitions. However, four interviewees who described themselves as Russian opposition supporters viewed the right to protest more favourably, and two of them had participated in the recent anti-government protests in Moscow. The British participants were more likely to associate blame with the government in cases of protests gone violent. Yet those British interviewees who suspected the Syrian opposition of connections to terrorism or the use of chemical weapons as a tactic to urge the West into action had mixed opinions about who was to blame. However, the overall tendency to view Arab Spring protesters as either exercising a legitimate political right or causing instability became the basic difference behind the British and Russian dominant narratives. Both groups drew multiple historical parallels to make sense of the crises, and these often took an entirely different direction from mainstream media representations. The uncertain and distant events were related to the speakers’ own collective memories and judged on the possible resemblance of current events to the past traumas and glories. For instance, a comparison to past Soviet leaders helped a Russian interviewee ‘understand’ Gaddafi: I do not know much about Gaddafi and so, personally, I cannot say I am his admirer, but what impressed me about him was that he always stayed a Colonel. He did not award himself piles of medals. As he was Colonel during the war, he stayed Colonel until his death. Not Marshal, not Generalissimos like Brezhnev in Soviet times. (RUS, f/22)

In fact, it was Joseph Stalin for whom the highest military rank of Generalissimos was created. Brezhnev remained Marshal (one rank below) but was awarded four times Hero of the Soviet Union (the highest state decoration). Although these historical details are reimagined, the interviewee clearly alludes to the tradition of Soviet leaders for unlimited self-promotion and the encouragement of cults around their personalities. Gaddafi, who used to travel with a tent and stayed a Colonel, seems like a positive contrast, although in reality, he too enjoyed a strong cult of personality in Libya. At the same time, the comparison does not undermine the speaker’s positive selfdefinitions: by situating this embarrassing memory clearly in the past, in a country which no longer exists (‘Soviet times’), the speaker retains distance. Russian politics have moved on. Some of the metaphors in the interviews were less explicit, but still pointed to a clear positive or negative attitude to events:


Chapter 6 The conflict [in Libya] ended when all big cities were taken by the rebels, and I think . . . [pause] it was in October when Gaddafi was captured and officially shot under a tree or something. (RUS, m/22)

The wording ‘shot under a tree’ is particularly interesting as this is a common way of describing unfair deaths in the Russian civil war that followed the revolution of 1917. The idioms ‘shot under a tree’ or ‘shot under a fence’ refer to killing someone without a trial and, most likely, unjustly – and convey sympathy to the victim. This is another example of a ‘sticky’ narrative which ‘evokes a history that is not declared’ (Ahmed 2004, 47). Drawing the parallel between the two events transmits the emotional evaluation from a past event to the present. Gaddafi staying a Colonel or being ‘shot under a tree’ refers to the ‘histories that have stayed open’ (Ahmed 2004, 59), in other words, histories that have remained repressed, undiscussed, or otherwise troubling. For another interviewee, who described himself as a Russian opposition supporter, the uprising against Gaddafi was about corruption: [Speaking of Gaddafi’s rule] It reminds me of the situation with Russian corrupt authorities when Gaddafi cared more about his own benefit than the benefit of his country. And I’ve read about lists of his sons’ yearly expenses, and I’ve heard about their lifestyles and about the incidents with prostitutes in Switzerland or something like that. Everyone realises that something was paid to mass media to ignore this. And I feel it’s not right that the whole country should work for one person and this person’s family. (RUS, m/18)

The same interviewee further disagreed with the dominant ‘stability’ narrative: I don’t quite believe my friend [who has visited Libya] when he says that living in Libya [before the uprising] was OK. When everyone is satisfied, nobody is protesting. His stories about his life in Libya remind me of this whole Putin-and-stability thing which I also do not quite believe. If everything was stable in Libya, why was everyone dissatisfied? And why was there a queue to see Gaddafi’s dead body? (RUS, m/18)

These descriptions of Gaddafi and, consequently, the overall interpretation of the Libyan crisis in these examples point at the inner dynamics of the interviewees’ own identity. Familiar memories help them make sense of the unknown, but these are ‘open histories’ through which they (mis)recognise the other and which they also find troubling. Interpreting Gaddafi as a colonel, an innocent and unjustly killed victim, or a corrupt leader helps the speakers signal their own belonging and the boundaries of their self-definitions. Their own politics and values became present in what seemed to be the description of unrelated, distant events. In psychoanalysis, attaching one’s own troubling

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


histories and uncomfortable qualities to external objects constitutes projection that helps purify the self and draw a boundary. By relating the Arab uprisings to familiar memories, the speakers were not just (mis)recognising and gaining certainty but were at the same time signalling their political affiliation and distance from an uncomfortable past or present: ‘I do not approve of Brezhnev’s/Soviet leaders’ narcissism’; ‘I am critical of corruption and am pro-opposition’. A new, repaired state of identity could be affirmed, in which the nation on the whole or the nation’s oppositional youth could be imagined and secured as positive or working to become better. A major layer of historical references in the Russian interviews supported the participants’ explanation that the Arab uprisings were masterminded by the West. Among these, Cold War metaphors and the more recent evidence of Western failure (such as Iraq and Afghanistan) were the most frequent. The Arab other’s puzzling rejection of the ideal of stability could threaten the speakers’ own choices, which prioritised stability above democratisation, and therefore present identity insecurity. What if, indeed, the uprisings were genuinely supported by the Libyan and Syrian people? This would mean that the value of stability has been purposefully rejected. In order to restore continuity and avoid self-doubt, the speakers blamed a known other who had been negative in the past and whose involvement in this crisis would explain destabilisation. The US and the generalised West became a direct enemyother, as the Libyan and Syrian crises were compared to the Soviet war in Afghanistan: [Libya] is comparable to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, when the US sponsored Islamic terrorists against the Soviet Army. And then they took control over the country and committed terrorist attacks of 2001. Now, many external forces have also sponsored rebels in Libya and Syria. These Islamists there, who will eventually take control, will also attack the West. The recent killing of the US ambassador there is just one of the events in this chain. (RUS, m/22)

Several more recent conflicts were also mentioned, mainly as examples of Western expansion or intervention in regions imagined as otherwise stable. For example, there was widespread agreement among the Russian interviewees about the resemblance between the Libyan and Syrian crises and the war in Iraq. All three conflicts were thought to be about oil, and without oil there would have been no intervention: In Libya, there was an external factor too – the oil factor. (RUS, m/24) I believe that [Western involvement] was deliberate. Oil was a key Western interest in Iraq, and now the aim is again to redistribute access to oil. (RUS, m/20)


Chapter 6 Syria [confused with Libya, interviewee is in fact speaking about Libya and uses them interchangeably] is not Rwanda, it was in Rwanda where you could cut down a million people and Bill Clinton adopted a resolution forbidding the US to send in troops. (RUS, m/22)

The image of the American role in the Arab Spring became an aggregation of all recent conflicts defined as ‘against us’ – therefore, the Arab Spring must be ‘against us’. One of the most traumatic recent memories for the Russian people is the Western intervention in Kosovo in 1999 that happened without Russia’s consent and is widely viewed as humiliation of the previously strong superpower. Russia strongly condemned NATO intervention at the time and considers the 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence illegal. This trauma was revived in the interviews: I‘d say it [Libyan crisis] is similar to Yugoslavia and Kosovo. If we look at who [participated], it coincides. Of course, it was only part of NATO in Libya, but almost whole . . . [pause] well, not almost, but the whole NATO in Yugoslavia that were supportive or directly involved. The aim, or rather the officially proclaimed one, was freedom and liberation from an oppressive regime. And the form it took, I mean . . . [pause] like, bombings and air support, is very similar. (RUS, m/22)

The revived feeling of Russia-West antagonism led some participants to view the involvement of Western powers in Libya as competition for regional dominance, making Arab uprisings part of a larger geopolitical game. Once again, this put their own nation in a defensive position: The US tried to destroy the [Libyan] regime and kill Gaddafi and prepare a base for themselves to invade Iran . . . [cut] So, the US wants allies to prevent Russia from helping Iran. (RUS, f/21)

In all these examples, the Arab uprisings were not about the Libyan or Syrian people but about external forces beyond the Arab states’ own control. Stability was not rejected – it was snatched away from the Libyan and Syrian people, meaning that the identity and values of the drawing self could remain unquestioned. In the UK interviews, the Arab Spring crises were also frequently regarded through the prism of collective memories. The one-year gap between the Russian and British interviews meant that the Arab uprisings became less unexpected and urgent, and more familiar. Associative interpretation was still widely happening: the British participants drew frequent parallels to Afghanistan and Iraq (recent traumatic events) when discussing a possible Western intervention in Syria, regarded Syria in light of Libya, and took Arab Spring events as a sign of a global Rest trying to imitate the West.

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


There were mixed feelings about the appropriate international reaction to the Arab Spring crises, particularly after chemical attacks had been registered in Syria. Opinions among the study participants in the UK were split between following the Libyan scenario of a no-fly zone and sending aid or rejecting any international interference outright. The first viewpoint treated Libya as a success where the West had helped the other in its desire to be ‘like us’. The second doubted possible long-term benefits of an intervention and feared that it could cause radicalisation and backfire: [Remember] the disastrous things that have occurred because we decided we were going to join war in Afghanistan and then Iraq. (UK, f/22) I don’t think a population that’s just been gassed or whatever, as they [Syrian government] haven’t admitted using [chemical weapons], would be much better off by being struck on by the British and the Americans. I wouldn’t have supported strikes. (UK, f/31)

Another interviewee was even more direct, rejecting any intervention: You know, give war a chance – go and let people fight it out. Because if you don’t get everything out, it’s like good old sickness: if you don’t clean out the whole wound, it will just sit there and fester. (UK, f/26)

Comparisons to Iraq became the dividing line that brought the speakers’ own politics and the divides within Britain into imagining the distant crisis. Only days before the interviews, the House of Commons narrowly rejected the British government motion proposing military action in Syria. The Labour Party actively used the comparison to Iraq and suggested that ‘[the people] want us to learn the lessons of Iraq . . . they don’t want a rush to war. They want things done in the right way’ (BBC 2013; emphasis added). Some Liberal Democrats and Conservative MPs also voted against military action. Echoing the on-going political debates, those interview participants who were against UK military intervention in Syria expressly distanced themselves from intervention supporters, portraying them as wrong, irresponsible, or outright short-sighted, unlike the righteous ‘us’. For them, the Syrian crisis was a chance for the UK to right itself – to repair the trauma of Iraq by not repeating it. 13 On the other hand, those in favour of a stronger international response, including military strikes, preferred the comparison to Libya, where the air strikes seemed to have brought positive results (such as the downfall of Gaddafi) at the time.

13. By 2013, those in the UK who saw the Iraq War as a wrong decision far outweighed war supporters (53 per cent to 27 per cent) (YouGov 2015; also see Gribble et al. 2014).


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British interviewees drew on memories of other situations to emphasise that the Arab Spring events were not entirely surprising (unknown) and should have been expected. For some, their personal experiences of supporting protest explained distant events: I suspect it was going to University where suddenly I was made aware of the rest of the world rather than just my own personal little world of home and school [laughs] . . . [cut] And I suppose since protests that happened in England, so like, student protests against the fees, and the riots . . . [pause] like those kinds of things that are making you aware of what’s happening in your own political climate correspond, in some ways, to the events happening in other countries. (UK, f/22)

This vision made the Arab Spring familiar and no longer unique or troubling. The speaker is referring to the 2010 student protests across the United Kingdom, sparked by the government’s decision to raise the cap on tuition fees, meaning that universities could charge home students almost three times more. This decision was particularly controversial because Liberal Democrats, who formed the coalition government together with the Conservative Party and had a wide support base among students, had previously pledged to oppose any rise in tuition fees. The protests were unsuccessful in changing government policy and were criticised for instances of violence and vandalism; the police, too, were accused of excessive use of force. The interviewee is relating to the Arab uprisings through her own experience of student protest and feeling of political betrayal – she can recognise the Arab Spring protesters and empathise with them. Most British interviewees used the term Arab Spring, although they criticised it for confining the protests to the Arab world. For them, protests were a global democratic way to fight injustice, and therefore what seemed to be unexpected and unprecedented turbulence in the Middle East was in fact an old and familiar practice. Moments after expressing this criticism though, they would switch back to using the term, partly as a simple label that captures several events at the same time and partly because ‘Spring’ agreed with the perception of positive change – an ‘awakening’, a new beginning. They recognised the protests as a familiar and normal form of social interaction between people and governments: I have some friends from Syria who’d post things about Syria [on Facebook]. The same thing happened in Turkey, the protests . . . [dead end] And the recent things that have been happening in Bulgaria. Some kind of, I am not entirely sure . . . [cut] In this sense it no longer surprises me. It has become something that . . . [pause] not in the sense that ‘Oh, it’s just another protest’, but in the sense that ‘Of course, there would be another protest’ because there’s clear injustice happening . . . [cut] So because it is more in your vision a lot, then it becomes more normal, if that is the right word to use. (UK, f/22)

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


Social media has transformed protest movements and greatly increased awareness of them. Protest campaigns and political discussions have largely migrated online and crossed national borders: for example, today, it is easy to encounter online petitions for various political causes on social media, with a truly global geography. The interviewee speaks of this increased visibility as protests becoming more acceptable, and although she was unsure about the exact events in Turkey and Bulgaria, social media had made her aware of some popular discontent in those two countries. For another interviewee, whose parents had moved to Italy, the comparison to the Italian context enabled him to evaluate and dismiss some of the explanations for the uprisings: I wouldn’t say unemployment is the principal reason for the uprisings. Because, I mean, look at Italy, they don’t have . . . [dead end] There’s also high unemployment that doesn’t lead to such protest. So, I think it’s poverty, combined with tensions [between Islam and pro-democratic aspirations]. Also, [Syrian] people think they [the Syrian political elite who come from the Alawite minority] take no interest in the majority of the population, because they are so different. I would feel that way, at least. (UK, m/19)

For him, as for many other British interviewees, the causes for the uprisings were political (lack of representation; lack of democratic freedoms), rather than economic. Similar to the Russian interviewee, for whom the uprisings were about corruption; here too, the Libyan and Syrian protesters’ motivations were (mis)recognised through familiar grievances that were closer to home. Russian and British dominant opinions of the Arab Spring seem to be considerably different; yet there is a lot that unites them. Both Russian and British interviews demonstrate that the Arab Spring was reimagined as known, certain, and familiar, and therefore more predictable and less troubling. These were the illusions of recognising the Arab other’s present and knowing the future. This imagining was largely grounded in the speakers’ memories of familiar positive or negative events and communicated through historical associations and cultural symbolism, where some of the connections had been suggested by media and politicians, and some were clearly original interpretations. Perception of the uprisings became interwoven with the speakers’ own identity narratives of stability and democracy. The interviews drew on the past events and experiences that felt known (like the Cold War memories or the war in Iraq) and explained the other in ways that would avoid challenging self-worth. When the past embarrassing or traumatic experiences were projected onto the uprisings, the speakers emphasised their difference (for example, self-definitions as oppositional youth or the distance from Soviet times) and affirmed a repaired identity narrative. In this sense, these were routines of feeling as well as knowing: as the next section will


Chapter 6

continue to argue, the speakers protected positive self-conceptions in expecting the distant other to imitate stability or democracy. Although seeing the events differently, both groups employed the same ways of looking, as their imagining of distant events involved similar (un)conscious mechanisms. SELF-AFFIRMATION AND HIERARCHY Self-conceptions were present in the interviews from the beginning – in the general descriptions of the Arab uprisings that were judged against the selfideal of stability or democracy. Deviation from these ideals was explained in ways that avoided doubt in the self’s distinction or the other’s desire to imitate it: stability must have been undermined by external powers, or undemocratic behaviours were temporary or forced. And yet the speakers’ own positive identity was reiterated in the more banal details, too. Through slips of the tongue, implied meanings, and explicit statements, the drawing self was always looming behind its descriptions of distant others and used these descriptions for self-affirmation. The speakers’ positive vision of their own identity was beginning to form alongside their (mis)recognition of the Arab uprisings. In Chapter 3, I discussed self-idealisation as a condition for the survival of large and diverse ‘imagined communities’, such as a nation. It is a normal and frequent defence from doubt, self-examination, and inner divisions. As a defensive mechanism, it suggests the presence of uncertainty or anxiety. In the interviews, the speakers were relating to distant and uncertain events, and self-affirmation was particularly powerful in two situations. First, it was used to support the dominant narrative of stability or democracy and establish the speaker’s own identity as the model that is ‘further ahead’ and to which the distant other is aspiring. Second, self-affirmation deprived the other of agency if the values of the speakers’ identity seemed rejected. Consider this quote from a British interviewee: It kind of surprises me how . . . [pause] well, let’s just imagine instead of Arab Spring it was, say, Western Europe Spring. Let’s say the people of Britain, France, Portugal, whatever – instead of grasping at guns you know, arming yourselves and being terrorist-like, why not just say: ‘Listen, we are unhappy. Let’s do a vote, and if the majority thinks you should still be in power, you know, you stay. But if the vote says you are not wanted any more – you should leave.’ Why don’t they do the same thing we do? You know, they think that we dislike them because they are Middle Eastern, or African countries, or whatever – you know, it’s because they do things like this. It’s because they act so barbaric in their transition of powers, I mean there should be a democratic transition of powers. (UK, m/19)

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


The speaker’s repulsion could easily be explained as caused by difference (‘they are unlike us’). However, I tend to view it as a narrative of difference formed in self-defence because the valued practices of the speaker’s own identity got visibly rejected. Both self and other assume clearly collective identities in this fragment (we/them). The interviewee is expressly clear that it is the self who possesses the ideal for imitation. The other’s lack of such imitation (‘Why don’t they do the same thing we do?’) is potentially traumatic as it denies recognition of democratic practices as the ideal. In response, the other becomes ‘barbaric’ – a prohibition of the ‘other’ that at the same time highlights the progressive self. I find it interesting that the interviewee does not name the exact troubling object (‘they do things like this’), which could be violence, injustice, election rigging, suppression of protests, or any other element of undemocratic behaviour. ‘Things like this’ conveys the nameless dread of an independent other violating the self’s ideal. It is almost improper to voice – a symbolic prohibition to see the other’s face and engage the alternative practice. This is an abject-type relation: the lesser other is repelled but needed so that the self can escape self-examination (are we really that good?) and have a usable object to focus on. Expecting imitation formed part of the hierarchical West-Rest discourse in the British interviews, where the Rest was expected to gradually democratise, and the West had a ‘civilising’ mission: I think we are . . . [pause] that we have a duty to protect the people and that we should take as much responsibility for ensuring their safety. We have the resources and the political sway to make changes that other nations do not necessarily have. So I think that we are obligated [stressed] to help. (UK, f/22) The situation is always like Western people go in and like, make everything better – supposedly better. And it is supposedly Western burden of what a political system should look like. (UK, f/26)

The assumption of duty and responsibility to be the model denoted the position of symbolic power to judge and affirmed the democratic distinction of the West. The other could become like the self with time and guidance, but the self was definitely ahead: I can’t imagine there being a leader like him [Assad] in the UK for example, because . . . [laughs] I think because we think we are above, that kind of thing like we have a perspective of ourselves as we never stoop as low as to violence or to enforcing . . . [pause] effectively enslaving one’s people in order to serve one’s own ends . . . [cut] Many of our politicians do not serve the needs of our people either [but] it’s done in a very different way. (UK, f/22)


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The statement clearly denotes the presence of a superior, non-violent selfidentity in a hierarchical (‘above’/‘low’) relation with a violent other. Even the second part of the quote, which contains self-criticism, still suggests that political wrongdoing in the UK happens ‘in a very different [i.e., better] way’ from in Syria. In this criticism, ‘our politicians’ become separated from ‘our people’ as the interviewee makes a critical statement about British politics but retains a positive vision of the British society. On the surface, the monologue is about the Arab Spring, while underneath, it establishes boundaries and reaffirms a politically situated identity. Self-affirmation was also present in the more nuanced, less central, and almost banal elements of how the uprisings were described: Well, after watching that interview [with Assad on TV], my opinion was . . . [pause] it, sort of, improved, of him. Because he seemed . . . [dead end] He didn’t outright deny certain things and at the same time he seemed very measured and I think almost very Western in his thinking, non-extremist, pragmatic in a way. (UK, m/19)

This self-affirming reference ties the unknown and troubling (Assad’s rationale and clear rejection of democracy) to a familiar set of coordinates. Being Western is clearly associated with positive values (non-extremist, pragmatic), while being ‘almost Western’ creates a hierarchy of a self who is further ahead. A positive self who is unreachable but desirable to the other, could also be observed in another interview: If it was the Assad regime [using chemical weapons], it wouldn’t give us an idea about whether or not Assad, for example, knew. It could well be that some military commander had access to chemical weapons and thought it’s a good idea and then Tele sized it up. I guess that would not surprise me. I don’t imagine like there’s a normal chain of command there as you’d have in, like, West. (UK, m/26)

Once again, what is ‘normal’ is strongly associated with the identity of the speaker. Or rather, the ‘normality’ of the West is established through the contrast with the distant other. Similarly, regarding achievements of their own country as the good norm informed perception of Gaddafi’s politics in a Russian interviewee’s response: I know what he [Gaddafi] did, and most of those things are good: cheap oil, free education, free healthcare and stable life conditions in Libya. I cannot name them all, he did many good things. (RUS, f/19)

Effectively, the interviewee is naming the ‘good’ aspects that Russia and Libya have in common. Russia inherited all of the above from the Soviet Union, and Gaddafi’s legacy involves reproduction (and recognition) of the

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


self-ideal. Gaddafi is seen as a ‘follower’: the Soviet Union had achieved free education, healthcare, and cheap oil much earlier and inspired similar policies in socialist and other friendly states. This was yet another reason for the Russian interviewees to see destabilisation as a potential rejection of the values of their identity. Arab Spring protesters/rebels seemed to choose a different path, where stability is violated. Imagining the Arab uprisings as a scenario of Western geopolitical expansion helped the Russian interviewees reaffirm positive self-conceptions by stripping the protester/rebel of any independent agency. This was formulated most expressly in the following response: They [Libyan rebels] probably simply thought that revolution would bring better life. They heard democracy is good, so they fought for it. They could be told the same about feudalism, or whatever . . . [cut] They were told Gaddafi was a very bad person and wanted to oust him. And in Syria it’s the same. (RUS, f/21)

Here, the Libyan and Syrian protesters/rebels are placed in a position of dependency and impotence, while the bigger players – ‘the great powers’ (RUS, m/23) – are the true agents. These ‘great powers’ included Russia, the US, and Western Europe. On the one hand, the speaker has reaffirmed Russia as a member of this more powerful circle. On the other, the rebels/protesters have been made inferior and turned into impotent objects in the hands of the more cunning manipulators. They have lost independent agency – and their rejection of the speakers’ identity values was no longer threatening. Finally, the Russian interviewees’ own identity as the good and powerful opposite was the implied assumption in describing the Arab other, for example: The people in the Arab countries [who revolted] are much more easily motivated, even short-tempered [than us]. (RUS, f/22)

Libyan and Syrian rebels appear to have been seduced by stories about democracy and given way to emotions instead of rational judgement. The self is implicitly described as the good opposite, while protest, uprising, or revolution become the result of a ‘short temper’ rather than well-weighed decisions. In this quote, the rebels are not entirely impotent (they are still the agents), but they are clearly mistaken, and their mistake seems to be hidden in the national character and therefore impossible to resist. Besides establishing a hierarchy, this view makes the other more vulnerable to manipulation by outside agents and protects the self-ideal of stability. As these examples show, expressions of self-affirmation took a variety of forms. The other was suitably imagined so that positive and continuous selfconceptions could be maintained. In most instances, both British and Russian


Chapter 6

interviewees expressed (un)conscious pride in their identity or the assumption of their social behaviours as the good norm. In relating to distant events and the other’s puzzling behaviours, the speakers maintained a positive vision of themselves in nuance and in the overall interpretation of the uprisings. Finally, self-affirmation displayed a hierarchical relationship with the other: the speakers had the power to ‘know’, or (mis)recognise the Libyan and Syrian realities, through their positive understanding of themselves. BOUNDARY DYNAMICS: REIMAGINING SELF/OTHER SPACE The pervasive presence of the self/other categories in judging the Arab Spring eliminated the chance of non-belonging – the participants in the Arab uprisings were assigned to relatively homogeneous groups of being ‘like us’ or ‘against/opposite to us’. Where the self possessed the ideal to be imitated (stability or democracy), the other contained the respective frightening object in the uprisings, viewed homogeneously. For the Russian participants, there seemed to be undivided American, European, and Libyan-Syrian others, as well as a coherent and whole identity of the ‘West’. Some spoke of a ‘consolidated West’ (RUS, m/22), referring to the perceived sameness in the politics of the US and Western Europe in relation to the uprisings and to opposing Russia. The British interviewees drew the boundary between the all-democratic opposition and all-oppressive regimes and portrayed the events as if they had always known Gaddafi and Assad to be dictators. Frequent interchangeable use of Libya and Syria by both Russian and British participants implied similar flattening of complex and, in many respects, different societies. Flattening also affected how their own communities were understood: although some of the views expressed by the British and Russian interviewees (un)consciously related to their own politics and national divisions, they mostly assumed that other members of their collective identity (compatriots or other young opposition supporters) shared their views of the uprisings. They ‘forgot’ inner divisions while occasionally displaying them when discussing the distant crisis and constructed a unified self-identity positively offset against the distant events. Interpreting the distant crises through usable memories, self-conceptions, and self-affirming (mis)recognitions meant that the other was imagined, divided, and claimed as ‘like us’, or distanced as inferior. These dividing lines appear to be a self-informed and wishful projection: the speakers were making sense of others through imagining the self, and their imagining of the self reflected the need for continuity and positive self-conceptions. With rare exception, Russian interviewees discussed events from a national perspective, describing themselves as Russian and referring to national interests and achievements. It is therefore unsurprising that they assigned various agents

Public Perception of the Arab Uprisings


of the Arab uprisings to undivided national identities. Almost all British interviewees grounded the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ elements of the other in the selfdefinitions of being in a liberal democracy, though it became clear that they, too, were occupying a symbolically bounded space – that of the generalised democratic West. They articulated self/other boundaries in judging the Arab Spring through the language of resemblance to the self. Few interviewees knew what had been happening in Syria or Libya before the Arab Spring, except for the general perception of these countries as authoritarian. That boundary had been stable, unchanging, and much less noticeable, with established narratives of difference. The violence and unexpectedness of the Arab uprisings destroyed known frames, and at least two groups at odds with each other seemed to emerge – the protesters/rebels and the governmental forces/supporters. These were multiple others suddenly occupying a previously single and continuous space. Reality was even more complex, as there were smaller groups and factions within both opposition and government. At the time, however, most interviewees spoke of a good or bad government and good or bad protesters and drew overarching identity boundaries. In all interviews, I could trace the signs of boundary construction as the rebels/protesters were judged and related to the speakers’ self-definitions. Despite admitting little knowledge of events, the interviewees did not hesitate to evaluate the rebels or the government as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Negative (the other is not ‘like us’) or positive (the other is ‘like us’) spatial relations were never in doubt. Siding became a simplified way of reducing conflict to a good versus bad frame. There were many direct or implicit indications of siding with either the rebels or the Libyan and Syrian governments. For example, when in an earlier quote, a Russian interviewee approved punitive governmental action against armed rebels, he clearly sided with the government and rejected the protesting other. The dominant tendency for the British interviewees was to regard protesters as a follower – the other who aspires to be like the self. Most British participants supported the rebels: [I’d] support the rebels, but I don’t know why. I side more with their sort of . . . [dead end] In the end it’s a change for better things. (UK, f/31)

To conclude, the Russian and British interviewees, regardless of the almost opposite dominant opinions about the Arab Spring, employed similar means of relating to these distant events. The interviews displayed constant and (un)conscious presence of the drawing self behind its portraits of others. I have highlighted these inner dynamics of the drawing self throughout interview analysis – the dynamics that result in a particular portrait of the other. Interview participants (mis)recognised the ‘unknown’ within familiar memories and routines, affirmed their own identity and its values, and drew protec-


Chapter 6

tive self/other boundaries. These elements guided their imagining of the Arab uprisings and made them more predictable and less troubling. This chapter has suggested that public perception of distant crises is largely the outcome of the inner insecurities and dynamics of the speakers’ own identity, which stimulates them to interpret information about these events in particular ways. Interviews show that perception is about self as well as about the other and cannot be understood solely as the result of media framing. To complete this argument, Chapter 7 will look beyond individual interviews to the role of collective identities in the wider political and media narratives of the Arab Spring.

Chapter Seven

Wider Narratives From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine

Black and white, makes me sick. Gray, that's the only thing that's human. – Romain Gary

In 2011–2012, when you opened the BBC News website, major online Russian media, or national newspapers, the events in Egypt, Libya, and Syria regularly occupied the front pages. Many of the major media maintained live coverage of key developments, such as Tahrir Square protests and Hosni Mubarak’s resignation or the crucial moments in the fight between the Libyan opposition and pro-Gaddafi forces. Amid such intensive media attention and no less intensive political rhetoric, representations of the uprisings as a wave of democratisation or as dangerous destabilisation took centre stage. In Western media coverage, the Arab Spring represented ‘the first time since 9/11 (and largely extending to before 9/11) that Arabs weren’t systematically portrayed as barbarians, terrorists, or imbeciles’ (Salaita 2012, 134). The BBC, as its Head of News Helen Boaden admitted later, produced ‘overexcited’ coverage of the uprisings (BBC Trust 2012), which widely echoed optimistic statements from the UK Government. The BBC was not alone in its narrative of revolutionary liberal protests, as this viewpoint was commonly shared by other British and Western national media. On the other hand, Russian mainstream media generally spoke of riots rather than protests and reinforced the governmental evaluation of events as leading to more violence than development (see Etling 2011; Nikitina 2014). Although these representations helped reimagine the events as certain, they were never permanent, and neither were they only about the events themselves. New developments questioned or altered media reporting: for 169


Chapter 7

example, Russian media were more neutral about the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings than about Libya and Syria, while British media grew increasingly disappointed in the Arab Spring outcomes by 2014. Political denouncements of Gaddafi or Assad depended on the anticipated outcomes of the uprisings and should be understood within the context of state interests in the region. At the same time, as this chapter will demonstrate, political and media representations reproduced positive self-concepts, (mis)recognised the uncertain through the known, and imagined distant events through identity boundaries and routines. These broader narratives provide an important background to understanding the interviewees’ responses and highlight wider societal and political attitudes to these events. The gap between an individual interview response of a member of the general public and other, more noticeable speakers in a position of power is frequently deepened in the study of politics. We speak of elites and masses, disuniting their decisions, motivations, interests, and perceptions and endowing them with different and often structuralist positions of seeing. Social and political studies tend to focus on elites and, in doing so, flatten their inner complexities and treat them as a separate, almost homogeneous group. In a similar manner, media and political studies often limit the role of the general audience to mere exposure to and reproduction of media and political framing, and therefore overlook the (un)conscious dynamics of identity, ontological security, and self-affirmation in how the public translate and transform this framing at an everyday level. When analysing perception beyond the faceless numbers of survey data, we are faced with the dilemma of singling out a voice and a speaker. Can anyone – elites, media, or individual members of the public – truly speak for their communities? The ‘public’ involves numerous interwoven layers of identification beyond national boundaries, and there is always going to be variation, even within the same group, as its members imagine their shared identity somewhat differently. To demonstrate how the drawing self is present in perceptions and representations of international crises beyond individual interviewees, in this chapter I look at a combination of voices – state officials, the media, and the anonymous and detached word of the crowd present in the most popular online comments to news articles. Although speaking from different positions, these actors invoke, construct, and perform similarly described collective identities in relation to the Arab uprisings – the positive and continuous notions of Britain and the generalised Europe/West, or the Russian nation. In highlighting the wider societal and political narratives about the Arab uprisings, I leave aside some of the internal politics of these actors, such as the domestic or party pressures behind Western and Russian political statements, or the editorial policies and choices of the media. There is no escape in the international from the intra-national, and neither is there an escape in the intergroup from the intra-group. In any speech by David Cameron, Hil-

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


lary Clinton, or Barack Obama quoted in this chapter, there is a looming presence of their rival ‘other’ ready to step in: Labour or Republicans. In turn, media give a disproportionately powerful voice to political elites in representing international events, compete for audiences, experience ownership pressures, and have limited access to crisis zones. With these considerations in mind, I focus on the collective self-definitions they invoke and construct in their representations of the Arab uprisings, as well as on the presence of anxieties, narcissism, and (mis)recognition in these wider societal and political interpretations of events. Finally, I demonstrate how the dominant interpretations of the Arab uprisings, which reworked the unexpected and uncertain into predictable and familiar, themselves become the source of certainty in understanding other, subsequent international events. THE ARAB SPRING AND THE WEST In the British political and media rhetoric about the Arab uprisings, the ‘West’ and the ‘Arab Spring’ have been two key terms. The West, brought into symbolic existence in political and media discourse, is a generalised notion, a social and political identity that unites multiple smaller groups and is invoked against a suitable other – in this case, the Arab, Muslim and Restgeneralised other. As a marker of distinction in recent decades, European and North American societies that describe themselves as Western, have been affirming shared narratives of democratic achievement and economic prosperity, responsible and representative governance, and human rights. Although the West does not always abide by these norms and is often politically divided, the rhetoric of democracy and freedom has served as its shared boundary against others who are claimed to lack these traits. A contrast with these others has been instrumental to maintaining a Western identity and its claim of democratic distinction. A Western democratic identity (or in some cases, a European identity as a subdivision of the West) was commonly constructed and performed in relation to the Arab uprisings. Instead of facing the sweeping wave of unexpected revolutions as a single Britain, France, US, or Canada, these countries assumed a plural and empowering identity of the West as progressive democratic countries sharing approval of a no less flat and homogeneous Arab protester. Arab Spring became a self-affirming vision in which Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan, and Syrian protesters were aspiring Westerners fighting for democracy in an Arab street. This self-pleasing (mis)recognition of the other as a reproduction of the West was largely framed in familiar symbols and memories and was driven by the need for continuous and positive selfconceptions.


Chapter 7

When reconstructing Western public reactions to the Arab Spring, we are dealing with two identity constructions that create and depend on each other through interaction. They explain events and communities as continuous and affirm their (mis)recognitions as final but are in fact in constant motion. The first elected post-revolution government in Egypt was later ousted and prosecuted; the opposition that was initially fighting the Syrian government is no longer the same opposition today, while public opinion in the West has recently had to adjust to the changes in the relationship with Iran and to the rise and then the defeat of ISIS. Western politics, too, has undergone significant transformation: although European and American leaders invoked the image of a unified West, there had been multiple disagreements about the course of action in relation to individual uprisings both among and within Western governments; 1 the 2015 refugee crisis has deeply altered the European political landscape, while the relationship between the UK and the EU and British self-definitions as ‘European’ have been shaken by the Brexit vote. Objectively, both the West and the Arab Spring disintegrate into individual and dynamic cases; however, as collective identities created through media and political discourse about the uprisings, they are acted upon and exist. The initial and popular Western (mis)recognition of the Arab uprisings as uniformly pro-democratic was challenged when Islamist movements won the Egyptian elections and gained momentum in Libya and Syria, and when violence continued after the authoritarian regimes had been toppled. In the following sections, I observe how Western media and political representations of events slowly changed and distanced the positive Western democratic identity from the underperforming other in a no less narcissistic and (mis)recognising defence. I also demonstrate how the accepted representations of the Arab Spring informed the perception of new crises, such as the Ukrainian crisis of 2013–2014. I argue that Western political and media representations of the Arab Spring and subsequent events demonstrate what the West was ready and eager to see, making these representations not about ‘them’ (what happens with the Arab or Ukrainian other), but about ‘us’ and how ‘we’ create the illusion of recognition or alienation based on self-love. 1. For example, Germany opposed air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya and abstained in the vote on the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 imposing a no-fly zone. The US, the UK, and France pushed for the resolution, although in reaching this decision, also went through unexpected changes of course (see Brockmeier 2013). Opposing a military solution, the German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle still claimed ‘admiration’ for the Tunisian revolution and described the uprisings as ‘freedom movements’ (Harding 2011), clearly representing the events within a democratic frame. There were inner disagreements within individual Western governments, too: in her memoir Hard Choices, published ahead of the US presidential elections, Hillary Clinton (2014) described a split administration unsure of whom to support, for some of the corrupt and autocratic governments in the region were also long-time partners of the US.

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


(Mis)recognising the Uprisings as a Reproduction of the West Political and media representations of the Arab uprisings in the UK and the US in 2011–2012 widely employed the rhetoric of hope, chance, and democracy. British prime minister David Cameron’s description of the Arab Spring as a ‘massive opportunity’ when ‘people [are] standing up and giving voice to hopes for more open and democratic societies’ (BBC 2011a) agreed with US president Barack Obama’s view on the resignation of Mubarak as a historic moment when ‘the people of Egypt have spoken’ and ‘their voices have been heard ’ (White House 2011b). Starting with the Tunisian revolution, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the uprisings as an opportunity for positive change, while British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed them as a chance for Europe to bring more democracy to the region (see RFE/RL 2011). The political narratives of hope and democratisation implied the prospect for the new revolutionary governments to be like the West, to follow it, and were widely reproduced by the UK interviewees. Mainstream British and Western media were also largely sympathetic towards the protesters/rebels and depicted governmental suppression of popular unrest in negative terms. In a later review of the impartiality and accuracy of its coverage of the Arab uprisings, the BBC admitted giving a predominant voice to ‘regime opponents expressing their exhilaration and euphoria’ and representing them as ‘the people, pitted against brutal dictators’ (BBC Trust 2012, 88). The critical voices of Russia and China, who opposed NATO intervention, were almost absent, while Western governments accounted for 90 per cent of the international actors in BBC coverage of the uprisings (BBC Trust 2012, 52). For example, the BBC online live coverage of the Libyan uprising (BBC Live Report 2011a; 2011b; 2011c) was clearly supportive of the revolt, reported sympathetically on the rebels’ suffering, and attracted hundreds of public comments that expressed hostility towards Gaddafi and urged Western governments’ support for the Libyan people. In political statements and in media coverage alike, protesters and rebels became the ‘true’ people of Egypt, Libya, and Syria, oppressed by unpopular and therefore illegitimate governments whose duty was to step down amid such widespread discontent. This conclusion was a logical application of the Western understanding of democratic legitimacy. Politically, this became manifest when the US and European governments called for the Egyptian, Libyan, and Syrian leaders to ‘listen to the people’ or to resign, recognised Libya’s National Transitional Council as the legitimate authority, and withdrew from official contact with the government of Gaddafi. The uncertainty and unexpectedness of the crises were reimagined in media and political speech into a familiar explanation beyond questioning: oppression sparks revolution, and ‘we’ as democracies have inspired ‘them’.


Chapter 7

The political and media narrative of (mis)recognition was clear: we have seen this in the past – what is more, in our past. The US administration, for example, interpreted the uprisings as predictable and recognisable in the following way, directly relating the events to American national history: For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar. Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved . . . The United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights. (White House 2011c)

The protester was symbolically brought close to becoming ‘like us’ – a nonthreatening object that followed in the tracks of Western political history and affirmed the identity of the West through a linear vision of democratisation. This linear vision assigned a certain finality to the Western self-ideal 2 and interpreted the other’s motivation as imitative likeness: ‘they can become like us’ as the belief in the global applicability of democracy was constantly extended into the more pleasing ‘they want to be like us’ and ‘they will eventually become like us’. Unsurprisingly, this representation of the Arab Spring coincided with the popular belief in Western Europe that democracy could work well in Muslim countries (Pew Research Center 2006). Amid expectations that the Rest would eventually imitate the West, the Arab Spring was widely represented as an ‘upgrade’ towards democracy, with expectations of more countries to follow. The political and media representation of events presented a wave of democratisation sweeping North Africa and the Middle East – a critical moment that had been foretold and expected. Protesters were reported to be involved in behaviours that were both familiar and dear to Western democratic self-definitions: even through violence, they were expressing opposition; they were using social media for international outreach; they blogged, tweeted, and self-organised through Facebook; and they spoke the symbolic language of freedom, human rights, and democracy that appealed to the Western audiences. Video footage from the Tahrir Square, for example, showed Egyptians carrying posters in English, as well as in Arabic, saying ‘Human rights!’, ‘Mubarak Out!’, ‘Enough – 30 years of injustice’, ‘Egypt Diverse’, ‘We Have Had It!’, among many other pro-democracy slogans. The BBC transmitted these voices by integrating user-generated content such as tweets, emails, and texts into its live coverage. If we look at some of these public messages from Libya, we see that they appeal directly to the Western democratic narrative: 2. Besides expectations of gradual democratisation, this includes economic liberalisation and secularism.

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


2333: Eman Abdulhadi tweets: ‘Can’t wait to be standing on the shores of #Benghazi breathing in the smell of freedom!’ (BBC Live Report 2011a) 0027: Benghazi's bunny tweets: ‘When the regime just seems so unstoppable, when freedom feels like its impossible, the people rise & overcome every obstacle.’ 0034: Khalid, in Libya, emails: ‘I got back from Tripoli about an hour ago . . . [cut] As for the average person here, they welcome the rebels. They have been waiting for them for 40 years, 40 years of oppression.’ (BBC Live Report 2011b).

Protesters and their supporters are speaking in a familiar language, which relates closely to Western self-definitions, is heard, and becomes politically recognised and reproduced. For example, Barack Obama translated the uprisings to the Western publics as the ‘shouts of human dignity’: In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, ‘It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.’ In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, ‘The night must come to an end.’ In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, ‘Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.’ In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, ‘After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity’ (White House 2011c).

Protesters gained a human, familiar, and friendly face, as they seemed to share understandable and recognisable concerns and behave and feel in a way a ‘normal’ (Western) person could be expected to. The Arab Spring transformed the symbolic image of an Arab in Western public imaginary from an unknown clad figure or a potential terrorist to a familiar young person with a smartphone (not unlike the youth we see in Western cities every day) and who at the same time resembled the postcolonial and humanitarian representations of the Middle East and North Africa as ‘people in need’. The courage and modernity of the protesters were noted in some of the public comments about the Libyan uprising published by the BBC, which also explained the revolutions within familiar memories:


Chapter 7 So impressed by the almost Mandela like approach [ 3] by the transitional council in Libya, urging restraint not revenge etc. plus inclusiveness. (BBC Live Report 2011b)

From the American Civil War in Obama’s speech to the Mandela comment, Western political, media, and public (mis)recognition of the Arab Spring becomes a parade of familiar images, all of which seem to point to the protester’s aspiration to become democratic – to reproduce or imitate the West. And yet, the West interprets the protesters’ call for democracy in a self-informed way, understanding it to mean an elected government, human rights, inclusive societies, gender equality, and secular modernity – aspects where the West would have the symbolic lead. Strong majorities in the UK and Germany, for example, believed that there was a conflict between religion (being a devout Muslim) and living in a modern society (Pew Research Center 2006); therefore, to democratise, these countries needed to become more secular and progressive. Such a Western interpretation of democracy proclaims the particular as universal and presents a clear case of how groups treat their behaviours as the norm and assume the same aspirations in others. The Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan protesters widely used the language of democratisation; yet their meaning did not entirely coincide with the Western understanding of the concept. Majorities among those pushing for democratic reforms in the Arab Spring countries embraced some specific features of a democratic system (such as competitive elections, free speech, and less repression) but also wanted to see a larger role for Islam in political life (Pew Research Center 2012a). They also saw the US and Europe as promoting their own interests rather than democracy and peace in the region, therefore questioning the position of the West as the model. In other words, the interpretation of the uprisings as a reproduction of the Western democratic path was a flattening generalisation that helped reaffirm the identity of the Westerner rather than describe the events in their complexity. The West could not truly know the motivation of every protester or rebel, which was not limited to democratic demands, but also included calls for economic reforms, more immediate anger at unemployment and corruption, and religious, tribal, and factional agendas. In Western political and media representations, the protester became familiar at so many basic levels after the previous prohibiting negative images of the Arab world as marred by terrorism and oppression, in which an Arab or a Muslim would be sur-

3. Mandela is an interesting example of how the Western democratic identity narrative is based on shared performance and recognition of the ideal rather than a confined geographical space: although a South African, he was widely seen as sharing democratic values and respected by Western leaders. Similarly, in some contexts, the ‘West’ comes to include Australia or Japan, particularly in opposing North Korea, China, or Russia, or in the context of economic development.

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


rounded by suspicion. 4 The motivation of the Arab Spring protests/rebels was imagined in its totality as individuals were lost in the collective – and it was precisely a collective, as by relating events to the generalised identity of a democratic West, the media and the public assigned a common identity to diverse Arab Spring(s) and mixed them together from the beginning. Events were clearly blurred and grouped together as the Arab Spring expanded to new countries, while the American and European governments almost uniformly called to respect ‘the people’s will’ in response to the different uprisings. Such blurring and even interchangeable use of ‘Egypt’, ‘Libya’, and ‘Syria’ were also widespread in the interview responses. By recognising the uprisings as liberal and liberating revolutions, the European and American media and policymakers closely connect the crises to well-known experiences of their own past. They (mis)recognise the crises and reimagine their own identity as highly positive at the same time. How many bad, negative Western revolutions do we know? Few that are worth remembering. From the French revolutions to the American Civil War, revolutions are a largely heroic epic of the people’s struggle against oppression and the illegitimately powerful, remembered in literature, film, and art. Projection of the West’s revolutionary memories on the Arab Spring movements leads to their glorification: diverse as they were, they come to represent a similar heroic epic, which culminates in the labels of ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘Arab Awakening’, demonisation of the repressive regimes, and celebration of the protester as the Time’s Person of the Year in 2011. 5 This is a familiar and at the same time, self-affirming explanation of the crises. By drawing on chosen experiences that contribute to self-idealisation and glorification (Horney 1951), the West remembers its own revolutions and civil rights campaigns not as they were (violent, chaotic, suppressed, pursuing a particular interest, unjust to some, and, in fact, quite recent), but as they must have been – dressed in the contemporary non-violent, non-discriminatory, and often secular ideals. Obama speaks for the West and affirms a continuous and homogeneous Western democratic identity, which enables the forgetting of police crackdowns on Freedom Riders in the 1960s or the contemporary economic inequality and prejudice in Western societies. Politically, the glorification of the uprisings and the demonisation of dictatorships also helps 4. For example, Europeans mostly found Muslims disrespectful of women (59 per cent in the UK, 77 per cent in France, and 80 per cent in Germany) and fanatical (48 per cent in the UK, 50 per cent in France, and 78 per cent in Germany), and the majority of Westerners and Muslims believed that the relations between them were generally bad (see Pew Research Center 2006). 5. The Time (2011) cover read, ‘From the Arab Spring to Athens, from Occupy Wall Street to Moscow’, referring to a seemingly global rise in protests against political and economic injustice. The protester, depicted on the cover, appeared universal (dressed in a mixture of cultural attributes, even making it unclear if it was a man or a woman) and could be anyone, symbolically removing the identity boundary between the West and the Rest.


Chapter 7

revise the memory of Western states and social institutions only recently cooperating with Mubarak, Assad, or Gaddafi. 6 By (mis)recognising the other through the familiar memories and narratives of self-love, the constructed identity of the West becomes closely involved with the protester-other and internalises him. Not sharing the culture, language, or geography with the West, the ‘awoken’ Arab societies seem to follow (and therefore recognise the distinction of) the Western model and help advance the continuity and positivity of the Western identity narrative. Discursively, the West mirrors itself in the protesting other and sympathises with the reflection: engaged in revolution, the Arab protester seems to be defending ‘us’ – the Western democratic values and distinction. The protester is symbolically accepted within the protective circle of self-identity – for example, David Cameron addresses the symbolic Westerner in relation to the Arab Spring: ‘To fail to act is to fail those who need our help’ (BBC 2011a; emphasis added). Imagining the protesters/rebels as aiming to become Western-like created a hierarchy, a subject-object relationship characterised by the other’s submissive desire for the omnipotent self. Yet the other is not yet a full replica (sameness would threaten distinction) but an apprentice who is catching up and only confirms the self’s lead. The power of the West to include, expel, judge, and advise various agents in the uprisings helped reimagine them as fully known and predictable, reduced their independent agency, and put the West fully in control of its own collective identity narrative. Imagining the other in this way was reflected in the policy and media responses. Arab Spring opposition councils and later the new Egyptian and Libyan governments found themselves to be economically and politically dependent on Western support and advisors, which continued well into the after-fighting period. Armament supplies and air support to the Libyan rebels were replaced with IMF and EU loans for the reconstruction of an ‘inclusive Libya’ (see IMF 2012), Italian police advisers, and American and British policy guidance after Gaddafi’s overthrow. For instance, the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report British Foreign Policy and the ‘Arab Spring’: The Transition to Democracy (2011) that mainly focused on Libya, confirmed the presence of the British technical experts and policy and 6. An interesting case of such a performative rejection of recent dealings could be observed in the denouncement of the connections between the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Gaddafi’s family. LSE accepted a significant donation for a research centre from Gaddafi, secured a deal to train the Libyan elite, and in 2008 awarded a PhD to Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who later actively supported his father during the uprising. LSE came under significant public pressure, leading to student protests and the resignation of LSE Director Howard Davies. As a New York Times journalist reported, ‘It may be possible to sink to greater depths but right now I can’t think how’, calling the Arab Spring a ‘Western Winter’ (Cohen 2011). A popular public comment to this piece also condemned previous cooperation with the dictators as un-Western: ‘Many fellow Westerners will share my despair at the degree of iniquity’ and suggested that ‘we [should] learn and . . . mend our ways’.

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


civil society advisors in the country and effectively outlined the way that Libya should be run. A pro-Western model was proposed in the requirements for democratic elections and liberalisation of the economy and Libyan social institutions. The report made a recommendation: ‘If the West , especially the US and UK, can reach out to the Libyan periphery, that could simultaneously assuage local tensions and be good PR for the West's role in the new Libya’ (House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee 2011, 177; emphasis added). The report adopted the term ‘Arab Spring’, explained the crisis as a ‘transition to democracy’, and invoked the notion of the West, both as a group of countries united by similar policy aims and the possessor of democratic distinction. Similar documents and advising activities were put forward by other Western states. For example, in a public statement in February 2011, Barack Obama drew a clear roadmap for the Egyptian transition to ‘genuine democracy’, which included ‘protecting the rights of Egypt’s citizens’, ‘lifting the emergency law’, ‘revising the Constitution’, and pursuing ‘fair and free elections’ (White House 2011b). Assistance to the new regimes was driven by strategic interests, but the discourse surrounding it conveyed a particular relationship of power and hierarchy. Western media, too, encouraged the democratising Arab other to learn from the West: for example, CNN (2012a) suggested that ‘a new Egypt must learn political compromise’ and that in response to President Morsi’s Islamist reforms, ‘secular liberals need to get in the game’. The first months and even years after the Arab uprisings were therefore characterised by the widespread media and political expectations of an imitating, Western-like democratisation of the region. Representation and perception of the unexpected crises reimagined them as familiar, non-troubling and recognisable, and related specific events and agents to known narratives of the Western identity narrative. Captivated by the self-affirming image of an imitating other, the West dismissed the first signs of uncomfortable behaviours: rebels were violent because they had been made so by the government’s massacres, while instances of injustice were the result of criminal or extremist outliers to the mainstream rebels. In the post-revolutionary period, as time passed and the disturbing aspects in the Arab other’s behaviour remained, political and media representations of the Arab Spring slowly started to shift. And yet the new (mis)recognitions they produced, as I argue in the next section, were no less familiar and self-affirming than the first. New (Mis)recognitions and the Narrative of Betrayal It took The Guardian over three years from the first protests in Tunisia and the start of the Arab Spring to write:


Chapter 7 The supposed pan-Arab battle for freedom and democracy, as it was wishfully interpreted in the West, mutated into a string of separately defined conflicts involving violent coup and counter-coup in Egypt, national fracturing in Libya, harsh repression in Bahrain and catastrophic civil war in Syria. (Tisdall 2014)

The linguistic choices in this quote are of particular interest. The Guardian still interpreted the uprisings within the identity frame of the West and admitted previous flattening of the uprisings into one (‘pan-Arab battle’). However, the ‘Spring’ is gone: the revolutions become reimagined as coups (a more negative term), and each attracts a particular negative description (violent, fracturing, harsh, catastrophic). The self (West) remains unchallenged, but the other is reimagined to accommodate elements that contradicted the previous (mis)recognition. Similar disappointment was mirrored in other media across the political spectrum in both the UK and the US. The British conservative national newspaper The Telegraph called previous hopes of the Arab Spring countries turning into Western democracies ‘naïve’ (Coughlin 2012), while CNN (2014) mused, ‘It’s popular these days to say the Arab Spring has gone badly awry’. The previous democratising image of events was not altogether abandoned: as The Economist (2013) recommended, ‘Despite the chaos, the blood and the democratic setbacks, this is a long process. Do not give up hope’. The publics, too, grew more pessimistic about the uprisings: the British population felt increasingly negative or uncertain about the Arab Spring three years on (YouGov 2014). So, what has changed? The growing popularity of Islamist parties and leaders in the aftermath of the revolutions and the continuing violence caught Western countries largely unprepared. Several controversies (including changes to the Egyptian Constitution and fear of repression of the former elites in Libya) attracted wide media and political attention in Europe and the US. Although having relatively low significance for the overall bilateral state relationships between the West and the new governments, these issues led to the discovery of unWestern, negative traits in the Arab Spring that were highly problematic for the previous discursive constructions of the rebel as a Western follower. The dynamic nature of events that followed the uprisings challenged the rigidity of accepted (mis)recognitions that could no longer explain the uprisings as an imitation of the West. A moderate Islamist party Ennahdha won the Tunisian elections in October 2011, and in 2012 another Islamist movement – Muslim Brotherhood – triumphed in a democratic presidential election in Egypt. The subsequent Islamic turn of the post–Arab Spring politics contradicted the more secular and liberal ideals of a pro-Western revolution and provoked familiar associations with the frightening terrorist or jihadist other. As Islamist political

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


movements were strengthening their positions, Hillary Clinton warned of a potential ‘backsliding in the democratic transformations’ and called on the Tunisian and Egyptian people to protect their newly founded democracies (Lee 2012). The Egyptian Constitution of 2012 was widely reported by the Western media as a significant step away from the expected reproduction of a democratic ideal: it was criticised for excessive integration of Sharia norms that posed a threat to civil liberties, neglect of ethnic and religious rights, and poor protection of democratic freedoms and women’s rights. For instance, CNN was sceptical: ‘Whether a draft constitution approved by an assembly will move Egypt toward being a freer and more open society is still in question’ (CNN 2012b). Human Rights Watch noted that the Constitution leaned too much towards Islamic norms and institutions and offered ‘inadequate protections for minorities and personal freedoms’ (Bradley 2012). Forbes described it as ‘Forget Sharia, the New Egyptian Constitution Enshrines Socialism’ (Frezza 2012), indicating two symbolic adversaries of the Western ideal at the same time. Quoting statistics of 83 per cent of Egyptian women being sexually harassed during their lifetime, The Guardian (Kingsley 2013) built an unsettling picture of women’s abuse and lack of freedoms continuing into post–Arab Spring Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood rejected the draft UN declaration on ending violence against women as threatening ‘complete disintegration of society’ and the ‘intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries’ (Kingsley 2013). On the one hand, these representations further affirmed the Western claim of distinction in democracy, gender equality, and human rights. The imitating other was kept at a distance to avoid the collapse into sameness, and the West appeared pure from its own instances of rights abuse by pointing at the other’s deficiencies. On the other hand, the new Egyptian authorities seemed to display independent agency and openly reject the Western ideal. The initial (mis)recognition of the Arab Spring therefore began to fail in its self-affirming purpose and had to be adjusted. The fate of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was another point where Western public imagining of the Arab Spring became disrupted shortly after the new government had been formed in Libya. After his capture in November 2011, Libya fell under scrutiny over its treatment of the former government officials and the remaining Gaddafi supporters. Rebel accusations of Gaddafi loyalists and political opponents as ‘traitors’ were widely reported in the British and American media (see Chernobrov 2018a). The International Criminal Court (ICC) called on Libya to hand Saif al-Islam over for prosecution for crimes against humanity at the Hague Tribunal. 7 The UN Security Council had 7. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in June 2011. In July 2013, this was followed by the ruling of pre-trial judges that Saif-al-Islam had to be prosecuted in the Hague.


Chapter 7

previously granted jurisdiction over the 2011 Libyan crisis to the ICC, empowering it to make such a call and obliging Libya to comply (UN Security Council 2011). However, the new Libyan government insisted on domestic prosecution despite the UN and ICC pressure, claiming that handing over such a key figure in the violent suppression of the revolution could exacerbate domestic tensions. Saif al-Islam’s defence widely appealed to the Western media claiming that a Libyan trial would be motivated not ‘by a desire for justice but a desire for revenge, and there is no right to revenge under international law’ (BBC 2012). Western media widely reported fears of responsive repressions against former elites in Libya and doubted the ability of the new authorities to provide fair trials at home. For example, The Guardian concluded: ‘The refusal to co-operate with the [ICC] raises questions about the new regime’s commitment to the rule of law . . . A similar refusal to hand over ICC suspects by Sudan triggered sanctions against Khartoum’ (Stephen, 2012). ICC demands of a handover were also repeatedly backed by human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who reinforced the narrative of democracy and justice under threat from the new Libyan government. US and European government officials were barely visible in this largely mediatised debate so as not to damage the relationship with the Libyan government. Additionally, if handed over, Saif al-Islam may have faced other questions, such as over the alleged sponsorship of French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s electoral campaign in 2007 by Muammar Gaddafi. Politically, the issue was therefore largely side-lined, but close media attention contributed to the discovery of negative traits (revengefulness, injustice) in the previously idealised Arab Spring. There were multiple other cases, such as the desecration of the Commonwealth war graves by militants in Benghazi, when the initial and hopeful Western (mis)recognition of the uprisings seemed to clash with the discovery of the rebels’ fragmentation and un-Western behaviours. The killing of the US Ambassador to Libya in September 2012 was a particularly symbolic act of violence and defiance of the West. Still, in many of these cases, the perpetrator seemed detached from the mainstream Arab Spring rebels, representing militants outside the new Libyan government’s control or radical groups with connections to known terrorist organisations. Obama’s famous description of the post-revolutionary situation in the Arab Spring countries, including growing anti-American protests, as ‘bumps in the road’ in a CBS 60 Minutes interview (CBS 2012) caused a storm of criticism from the Republicans who saw this as an attempt to make excuses for failed policies ahead of the 2012 US presidential election. In this interview, Obama claimed that the difficulties on the path to democracy arise because ‘in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam. The one part of society that hasn't been controlled completely by the government’. Therefore, again,

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


the Islamist turn of the Arab Spring contradicted the initial (mis)recognition held and constructed by the Western media, publics, and governments. Another (mis)recognition that drew heavily on familiar and routine images of Islam and the Middle East, was beginning to emerge. Late 2012 was the time when European and US media started to report on the violence, connections to terrorism, and growing factionalism among the Libyan and Syrian rebels. The ideal pro-democratic other suddenly became involved in war crimes (Cumming-Bruce and Gladstone 2012), terrorism (Whitehead 2012; Alami 2013), disproportionate violence, atrocities, and revenge (Reuter 2012). These media reports in the New York Times, The Telegraph, USA Today, and Der Spiegel, respectively, were part of a much bigger wave of criticism emerging in hundreds of news stories. Der Spiegel bemoaned the previous optimistic promise of the uprisings as ‘Syrian rebels have lost their innocence’ and have ‘drifted into regime style violence’ (Reuter 2012). Interestingly, the atrocities, revenge, and war crimes were interpreted once again within the certain coordinates of familiar knowledge and memory: the rebels became like the old regimes, were led astray by the familiar enemies and threats of Islamism and terrorism and were increasingly unlike the West. These emerging negative representations recaptured the evolving other and situated events back into the comfort of routines. The emerging narrative of the Arab Spring gone wrong was effectively a narrative of betrayal of the ideal self: the Arab other had a historic chance, won Western sympathy and support, and then drifted off course. This narrative did not challenge the previous self-affirming (mis)recognition, but extended it, and even in some ways made it continuous: it was not the West who had been mistaken in its hopes, but the other who had failed to fulfil them. As CNN (2014) summed it up, ‘The “revolutionaries” in Tahrir Square and elsewhere were better at toppling governments than building new ones’. This change in how the uprisings were imagined should not be misunderstood for a genuine realisation of the other’s complexity that would acknowledge the other’s right to be independent and different (an external subject with the qualities and choices of its own). Arab Spring gone wrong still defends the Western ability to ‘know’ it and the perception of Arab peoples as secretly striving for democracy, even if their current attempt to achieve it has been inconclusive. In both the initial (mis)recognition of the uprisings as a reproduction of the West and in the following emerging criticisms of the rebels and Arab Spring outcomes, Western politicians, media, and public comments questioned the particular positive or negative elements of the other and the other’s symbolic proximity to the ideal self, but not the other as a perceivable and recognisable object. The discovery of negative traits in the Arab Spring aftermath restored a clear boundary and a hierarchy of distinction between the democratic Western identity and the Arab other (see Figure 7.1, following page). Initially, the


Chapter 7

Figure 7.1. Arab Spring in relation to Western identity narratives: Stage 1. Initial (mis)recognition of the new other reproducing the West. Stage 2. Subsequent (mis)recognition of the new other betraying the West. Source: Author's own.

Arab Spring protester was seen to be in sharp contrast to the old (oppressive) regimes – indeed, it was from this other that the protesters/rebels have violently detached themselves. The old authoritarian regimes had also served as a usable contrast for the construction of a progressive Western identity narrative in the past. Shared opposition to this oppressive other stimulated the illusion of proximity and mutual likeness: both the West and the rebels defined themselves against Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad, and the socio-political model they represented. As Freud (1921) suggested in his work on group psychology, the viability of affectionate bonds depends on the availability of others towards whom it is possible to express aggression. The shared other brought the Arab Spring and the West close, while inner homogeneity and coherence were actively sought and imagined for both these identity constructions to exist. The new, protesting Arab other was allowed an untainted start: stereotypical negative traits of the Arab world were largely confined to the old regimes that became truly demonised once the West had (mis)recognised the rebels as Western followers. However, once the old other had been eliminated through protest (Egypt) or civil war (Libya), it became clear that the rebels’ opposition to the regimes was the main source of their seeming coherence. The memory of Mubarak or Gaddafi could still play a role in the new Egypt’s or new Libya’s selfdefinitions, but this was no longer a narrative shared by the West: Gaddafi’s usability for the Western identity narrative as a self-affirming contrast died with him. Since the West still had a broad Rest-other against which it established its boundary, the role of the rebel was not so much to define what self is, but how positive it is. The continuing violence, growing Islamism, and unpredictability remained unattached to a threatening object, necessitating a

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


new boundary. Moreover, the new Egyptian and Libyan governments openly defied the West on several occasions, revealing independent agency and unWestern behaviours. This was the stage when (mis)recognition of the Arab Spring as a reproduction of the Western ideal had to be revised. Yet the revision, too, avoided questioning self-worth: the Arab Spring protester’s desire to reproduce Western democracy remained largely unchallenged, while their capability to do so was doubted. In this gradual turn in the wider political and societal narratives of the Arab Spring, we can see how the Western public, political elites, and media reconstruct certainty through alternative, but no less familiar, interpretations. Still, the emerging negative opinions of the Arab Spring closely coexisted with the positive (YouGov 2014), demonstrating the rigidity of (mis)recognition. The interviewees, for example, as late as September 2013, were hardly critical of the uprisings or defended the rebels’ un-Western behaviours as democratic ‘transition’. The relative decline in media attention must have contributed to this, too: although some of the controversies in the Arab Spring aftermath were widely publicised, there was still a big difference between the intensive and live media coverage of the uprisings themselves and the more pinpoint coverage of their longer-term aftermath. 8 Events that followed the revolutions became in some ways detached from the Arab Spring itself, and by the time of the Ukrainian crisis in 2013–2014, the Arab Spring would still be invoked as a symbol of positive and pro-democratic public empowerment. Self-Love and Repeated Encounters Both as a narrative of imitation and as imitation gone wrong, the Arab Spring reflected what the West wished to see and be, while the crisis events served as a usable object to affirm the positive self-concept. All stages of the Western political and media representations of the Arab uprisings involved continuous presence of the constructed identity of a Westerner. The encounter with the unknown and uncertain stimulated particular forms of imagining that created the illusion of certainty and reaffirmed the positive self. Moreover, the Arab Spring itself became a source of certainty for how subsequent events were understood. Seeing other instances of popular discontent, particularly in countries with an authoritarian past or present, led to a similar hope that the protesters in other places were about to imitate the Western model – just as the Arab protesters tried to do a few years before. I argue that this is not coincidental: while strategic interests may dictate the political framing of 8. In early 2011, 22 per cent and 27 per cent of the total American news coverage was devoted to the Egyptian and the Libyan uprisings, respectively. By the following year, these figures dropped to less than 1 per cent of the newshole every month (Pew Research Center 2012b).


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a specific crisis as a struggle for democracy against oppression, the representation and public perception of these crises also become inseparable from one’s identity self-definitions and, therefore, from the societal need to maintain continuously positive self-concepts. Following the Arab uprisings, the world experienced a sharp rise in protest activity, with major protests erupting in Turkey, Thailand, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Russia, and Ukraine (Leetaru 2014). The causes for each of these cases varied and were not directly connected to the Arab uprisings, but the Arab Spring became a (mis)recognising metaphor that was often invoked by Western media, politicians, and the public. The new crises around the world seemed to reflect the ‘yearning for democracy among the citizens’ awoken by the Arab Spring (Shveda and Park 2016, 88). If ‘we’ as democracies have inspired ‘them’, now ‘they’ as the newly liberated people must be inspiring multiple others in turn. For example, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of a ‘Moldovan spring’ in 2013, clearly alluding to the Arab Spring, and expressed hopes of a similar pro-Western ‘spring’ coming to Ukraine (US Department of State 2013). The Guardian reported, ‘In the modern interconnected world grassroots uprisings have similarities and cross-fertilise’ (Tisdall 2014). This effectively repeated the blurring of individual cases of protest in a UK interviewee’s response earlier: ‘It has become something . . . not in the sense that “Oh, it’s just another protest”, but in the sense that “Of course, there would be another protest” because there’s clear injustice happening’ (UK, f/22). By situating new and uncertain events within the already familiar narrative of the Arab Spring, Western media lumped together the urban pettybourgeois protests and class tensions in Thailand, anti-corruption and proEuropean Maidan protests in Ukraine, and electoral and economic protests in Russia. The widespread 2011–2012 protests in Russia that accompanied Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency were widely debated in Western Europe and the US as a potential Russian Spring: the temptation to explain events as an analogue of the then positive Arab ‘awakening’ produced frequent repetitions of the label. Some media readily drew the parallel (BBC 2011b); others noted the difficulties for a major protest movement in the Russian political context, with the readers’ impressions also being mixed. The Telegraph, for example, expressed expectations of the country’s eventual imitation of the West as Russia appeared to be swept by the same ‘tide of democracy’ that had engulfed the Middle East: ‘It is only a matter of time before Russia takes its rightful place among the other European democracies’ (Brenton 2011). Interestingly, while the West debated Russia’s protests as a possible ‘spring’, the protesters themselves vehemently denied Arab Spring inspiration, sharing suspicion of the Arab uprisings with the majority of the Russian population.

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


The Ukrainian crisis of 2013–2014, which led to the change of government, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and a major fallout between Russia and the West presented a major crisis where the Arab Spring seemed to provide at least the initial clues to understanding uncertainty. Similarities between Western public perception and representation of the Ukrainian crisis and the Arab uprisings could be observed both in the specific parallels to the ‘spring’ and ‘democratic awakening’ at the early stages of the Ukrainian protests (for example, see Verger 2013), and in the similar journey from seeing the revolution as a reproduction of the West to suspicion of the other’s deviation from the democratic ideal. This was not the first time that Ukraine raised hopes of pro-Western change. The Colour revolutions of the early 2000s in several post-Soviet countries demonstrated a similar turn from imitation to betrayal before the Arab Spring. The 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which brought a proWestern party alliance to power, and the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, which signalled a pro-Western and pro-NATO turn in Georgia’s foreign policy, were widely seen as a wave of democratisation and invited sympathy with their rhetoric of freedom, non-violence, and opposition to authoritarianism. For example, The Guardian initially admired Orange revolutionaries 9 in Ukraine, portraying them as ideal active Westerners: Where else was there a country whose citizens were free enough to have elections, but not free enough to have fair ones, and who felt strongly enough about it to stand up for their rights in the frost and snow and rain. (Meek 2004)

Both the Ukrainian and the Georgian democratic fronts initially seemed unified and homogeneous but started to break up soon after coming to power. The romantic view of the Colour revolutionary was to be replaced with suspicion and talk of failure. In 2006, the shift in tone was evident as the same newspaper The Guardian reported on the traumatic breakup of prodemocratic forces (Parfitt 2006) and observed how ‘Orange revolution turns blue’. ‘Turning blue’ in this context meant failure of the pro-Western coalition to make a difference, to last, and to avoid the same problems that had plagued the Ukrainian state for years, such as high levels of corruption and poor economy. Looking back at the Orange revolution five years later, the Huffington Post characterised this time as ‘years of in-fighting that plagued the ruling liberals’ and led to a severe economic crisis (Chalupa 2010). Likewise, Georgia’s revolution of 2003 that had brought hope of a new Georgia, ended with disillusioned reports of power abuse by the government 9. Orange and Blue were the symbolic colours of the opposing sides in the revolution. Orange was adopted by Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, who were the key pro-Western politicians. Blue was the colour of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, with the main electorate in eastern Ukraine, which supported closer ties with Russia.


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and plummeting domestic ratings for President Saakashvili (de Waal 2013). The outcomes of the Colour revolutions were called ‘terribly disappointing’ as they failed the dream of imitating the West: ‘Not one has produced a consolidated democracy’ (Haring and Cecire 2013). With new major protests in 2013–2014, the pro-European Ukrainian revolution (Euromaidan) attracted similar sympathy as the initial approval of the Colour revolutions and the Arab uprisings. The protests erupted when Ukrainian president Yanukovych refused to sign an association agreement with the EU which would set the country on a pro-European course. As protests gained pace, he signed a multibillion-dollar deal with Russia, which agreed to lower the price for natural gas and buy Ukrainian debt, while the Ukrainian parliament passed restrictive anti-protest laws. Attempts to suppress the protests were met with violent escalations, with several dozen people killed by unknown snipers. Yanukovych fled to Russia as protesters took control, and an interim government was established. Strategic interests aside, mainstream Western media provided an explanation of the crisis that portrayed Ukrainian democratic forces fighting a battle against a pro-Russian authoritarian other, with a clear aspiration to become closer to Europe (see BoydBarrett 2016). The Ukrainian protesters appeared uniformly pro-democratic, just like the already familiar youths who had mobilised online to bring down unpopular leaders in the Arab Spring. Yet after the new government had been formed in Ukraine, the continuing conflicts within the pro-European coalition and the emerging nationalism across the country 10 presented the first signs of un-Western behaviour. For example, the Washington Times reported on the demands for Jews to register in eastern Ukraine (Chasmar 2014), situating the rise of nationalism in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis within the familiar context of the Holocaust. One of the most popular readers’ comments to this article said: These are the very people Obama/Kerry are backing. Just like the so-called ‘rebels’ in Syria, who turned out to be Islamic cannibals hell bent on genociding Christians. (comment by Haphaestus)

This comment further connected the Ukrainian events to the Arab uprisings and to the unsaid metaphor of the Holocaust, where Islamists and the emerging ISIS became Nazis, and Christians (who are also Westerners) took the place of the Jews as the genocide victims. However, the continuing opposition between the pro-European Ukrainian forces, on the one hand, and Russia 10. Some visible signs of the on-going crisis included the continuing conflict between the far-right wing of the protesters (Right Sector) and the Home Ministry after the new government had been formed; Maidan’s continuous presence in Kiev city centre and its defiance of the new government’s calls to disband; the breakup of the freshly formed parliamentary coalition between the major revolutionary parties, Udar and Svoboda in July 2014.

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


and pro-Russian parts of eastern Ukraine, on the other, indicated the presence of the other, against whom both the Ukrainian protesters and Europeans increasingly defined themselves, and supported the image of a new Ukraine trying to reproduce the West. The annexation of Crimea by Russia in February–March 2014, the fighting in eastern Ukraine which erupted later that year, and the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 contributed to a sharp increase in global negative attitudes to Russia, which was particularly evident in the US and the UK (GlobeScan 2014; Pew Research Center 2014). We can therefore observe crises besides the Arab uprisings where Western media, governments, and publics establish self-affirming (mis)recognitions. The collective identity of the protesters in the Arab Spring, Ukraine, and other major cases of popular discontent seems to be strikingly the same – an aspiring democratic Westerner. Self-conceptions are an inseparable part of interpreting uncertain and unexpected events, and consequently, the identity of a democratic West became an important part of making sense of these crises. (Mis)recognition of new encounters is repetitively turned into an affirmation of self-love, as societies try to achieve certainty and defend positive self-conceptions at the same time. THE ARAB UPRISINGS AND RUSSIA The principal difference in Russia’s media and political narratives of the Arab uprisings was the focus on (in)stability as a key frame in explaining the events. When asked about their feelings towards the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain, over half of the respondents in a major Russia-wide poll admitted feeling anxiety, alarm, or fear (Levada Centre 2012, 205). Yet although Russia’s media, political, and public representations of the Arab uprisings were different from the British and Western more generally, they were no less self-informed and affirming than the Western (mis)recognitions of imitation and betrayal. They also changed over time: compared to the later uprisings in Libya and Syria, the Russian media showed relatively little interest in the Tunisian and Egyptian protests, apart from warning tourists of potential risks of travelling to the region and calling for peace and stability to be restored. The initial crises were recognisable: on the one hand, the protests seemed to reflect typical regional instability; on the other, some of the protesters’ demands were familiar to the liberal segment of Russia’s urban population. UN Security Council resolution 1973 in March 2011 and the following NATO-led air strikes on Libyan targets became the turning point, as well as the point of substitution: Russian public opinion recognised the Arab other to be in the familiar situation of being pressured by the West, and the seeming rejection of stability by the protesters was reimagined as the consequence


Chapter 7

of powerful Western involvement. With Libya, the Arab uprisings began to resemble an analogue of the Colour revolutions, which are largely interpreted in Russia as having been orchestrated by the West for geopolitical interests. The surviving Syrian regime came to symbolise the good other defending the ideal ‘us’ – a stable nation – against an externally sponsored crisis and terrorist-like rebels. Overall, the Russian wider societal and political interpretations of the Arab uprisings were considerably more nation-centric than the British or Western. The events were often described through the prism of national interest, national stability, and governmental action. Where the Western public was inclined to see shared democratic ideologies or unity against oppressive regimes, Russians saw the clash of national interests, a threat to national borders, or strengths and weaknesses of national character. I believe that this difference in the general framework of understanding the uprisings goes all the way down to self-understandings: while the West is a constructed identity that emphasises shared values (although it does not remove the nation entirely from this vision), Russia’s post-Soviet narrative of stability and its own, separate historical and cultural route confines its distinction to national boundaries, where the external space has traditionally been associated with challenges and threats. (Mis)recognising the Uprisings as a Forced Rejection of Stability Russia’s political and media reactions to the first uprisings were not negative. Commenting on the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev expressed hopes for a ‘strong democratic Egypt’ and the continuation of a ‘strategic partnership’ with the new government (President of Russia 2011a), signalling readiness to cooperate with Egypt’s new authorities. Later the same year, he remarked that some of the regimes in the Arab Spring countries had been ‘old and rotten’ and that people’s discontent with them was ‘understandable’, although civil war was an ‘unacceptable’ way out (President of Russia 2011b). Russia’s political reactions to the first revolutions were reserved, and it neither enthusiastically greeted the protesters nor openly condemned the old governments. Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gaddafi were clearly repressive and corrupt and were often called ‘dictators’ in the Russian media, but despite this, their regimes were also seen as stable partners who had preserved peace in the region. Destabilisation of the region, rather than the need for political liberalisation, appeared to be a clear and immediate concern. While calls to respect the people and their democratic aspirations were repetitive in Western political rhetoric, stability and order were the main language of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Russia criticised both the protesters and the Tunisian and Egyptian governments for pushing these countries towards destabil-

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


isation, and MFA statements called for order to be restored. Interestingly, while Western political statements mostly encouraged the Tunisian and Egyptian governments to move forward (listen to ‘the people’, implement change, and therefore alter the status quo), Russian political statements suggested falling backward, deescalating, and stabilising the situation by returning to the status quo. It is also worth noting that the term ‘the people’ was not always synonymous with the protesters in Russian official statements and instead often implied the nation as a whole, including governing institutions: We believe it in the best interest of the Tunisian people to turn the situation back to normal, restore stability and avoid confrontation. (MFA 2011a; emphasis added) We hope the Egyptian government and people will display national responsibility and do everything to stabilise the situation. (MFA 2011b; emphasis added) We are convinced in the necessity of doing everything possible to avoid deterioration of the situation into a violent confrontation. We call on the opposing sides – the legitimate Bahraini authorities and the opposition – to show restraint and resolve the issues through constructive national dialogue. (MFA 2011c; emphasis added)

Not unlike the West, the Russian political elites portrayed the crises as familiar and predictable. But where Western representations emphasised the prehistory of oppression, Russian political elites and media emphasised lack of economic and social change as the main reason for the uprisings. In February 2011, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt ‘an expected surprise’ (MFA 2011d). The speed with which the uprisings spread to new countries was surprising, but these countries’ need for social and economic modernisation was long overdue, and the crises were therefore predictable. Only two decades previously, in the early 1990s, Russia itself faced major economic stagnation and protests; therefore, the explanation of the Tunisian, Egyptian, and initially Libyan crises as economic discontent was highly familiar. References to democracy were occasionally repeated by key Russian politicians; however, the main explanation of the uprisings in the Russian political discourse was people’s demand for social and economic change. Russian media reported key developments in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions and particularly the protesters’ deaths, but largely explained the events as a typical eruption of regional instability and the consequence of long-amassed popular discontent. Indeed, the more alarming question for many media outlets was the effect of the uprisings on the thousands of Russian tourists, for whom Egypt had traditionally been a favourite destina-


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tion. In its live coverage of Hosni Mubarak stepping down as the president of Egypt, the major online news source (2011a) congratulated protesters on the victory, but its attitude towards Mubarak was not negative, either. The online live report included statements from Western and Russian leaders and from a range of other international voices including Iran, Israel, and Hamas, who were more critical of the change. Western military intervention into the Libyan crisis changed everything. Although the Russian government was concerned about the revolutions spreading to post-Soviet states, its negative political reaction to the Arab uprisings was largely driven by how the West reacted to them, and particularly by its military involvement to support one side in the conflict (Nikitina 2014, 93). Additionally, Russia’s strategic interests in Libya and Syria were greater than in Egypt or Tunisia (Demchenko 2012). This explains a considerable increase in media and political attention to the region with the start of the Western military operation. Still, a week before the UN Security resolution 1973 and the subsequent NATO-led air strikes on Libya, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov rejected the comparison of Egypt and Libya to Colour revolutions as externally sponsored, and explained the unrest through social and economic domestic problems, such as high unemployment among educated youth and regimes getting out of touch with reality (MFA 2011c). After the strikes, Russian political statements and media coverage would actively draw the parallel and point to the role of Western interference and social media in the uprisings. In a widely publicised statement in April 2011, President Medvedev directly accused the West of exceeding and freely interpreting the UN Security Council resolution mandate by launching a full-scale military operation with NATO support (Interfax 2011). The implicit popular message was that it was not the first time that the West started an intervention without UN approval (Iraq) or exceeded it, and not the first time such a war went wrong. Western ‘mishandling’ of the Libyan crisis would later be given as the reason for Russia’s opposition to a similar intervention in Syria. And although Russia did not openly oppose Western policy on Libya, and Medvedev eventually declared that Gaddafi should leave (Katz 2012), the crisis demonstrated disagreement in policy interests between Russia and the Western coalition. With Libya and particularly with the start of the Syrian crisis, where Moscow openly supported Assad, the Arab Spring gained a negative connotation in Russian political and media representations. The uprisings were portrayed as Western-made – a planned and deliberate strategy of regime change that could eventually threaten Russia itself – switching public attention to the West as Russia’s traditional identity contrast and relating the Arab uprisings more closely to Russia’s national boundaries. For the Russian general public, the representation of the Arab uprisings as Western manipulation was immediately familiar as it resonated with established identity narratives and the widely accepted interpretations of the recent

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


Colour revolutions. The Colour revolutions are understood in Russia as massive unrest that is sponsored and managed from abroad with the help of international NGOs, with the aim of regime change (Kyrilev 2014, 25). The Russian political establishment has described the Colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia as unlawful and destabilising coups d’état rather than revolutions (Nikitina 2014). Colour revolutions have even been labelled a ‘new form of warfare’ in the context of US-Russia relations (NPR 2014). For example, Vladimir Putin accused the US of encouraging Russian protests in 2011 (Elder 2011), building on a variety of previous statements about the Arab uprisings and Colour revolutions as Western scheming. And although Russian public opinion deemed the prospects of a Colour revolution in Russia unlikely (RIA Novosti 2012), 78 per cent of Russians believed that any revolution in the country needed to be avoided (WCIOM 2012), amid pervasive media debates about Western plans to instigate such massive unrest. The narrative of the West standing behind the Arab uprisings therefore bound the uprisings closely to the memories and experiences that have been key to Russian national self-definitions, such as the value of stability and the trauma of the Cold War. It was both familiar and self-affirming as it helped reimagine uncertainty as routine, closely related distant events to the security of one’s own identity, and explained the Arab protesters’ seeming rejection of stability as forced. By focusing on the Western role in the uprisings, Russia’s political and media representations situated the events within wellknown identity boundaries and rehearsed behaviours. Comparisons with the Middle East or a generalised Rest were not typical for the Russian national identity narratives, but a confrontation with the West, even if feared and unwelcome, was a well-known and certain condition. We can find ample evidence for the success of the anti-Western narrative in explaining the Arab Spring in Russian media and readers’ comments. For example, a major Russian business daily Vedomosti (2011) explained the victory of the Libyan opposition as ‘a victory of the [Western] intelligence agencies’ that bribed Gaddafi’s officials into disloyalty, isolated the regime, and trained rebel fighters. Some of the highest rated online public comments to this news piece observed: I don’t know how it was in Libya under Gaddafi – never been there and wouldn’t trust some of the opinions I’ve heard. But the way other governments with their intelligence agencies interfere into sovereign states, not giving a damn about Libyans except for access to oil, unfortunately seems to be the new norm of international behaviour. For me, the dictatorship of the US and NATO over other countries is as unacceptable as Gaddafi’s dictatorship.


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Going through a wide range of media and public comments, I could observe growing empathy with Gaddafi and Assad once they came under strong Western pressure. As the second comment above demonstrates, certain reservations about Gaddafi and Assad remained – the Libyan and Syrian regimes prior to the uprisings could be following the self’s distinction of stability, but they were not ideal followers with which the respondent could closely identify. By March 2012, most Russians described the Syrian crisis either as a civil war (29 per cent) or as Western-sponsored terrorists fighting the legitimate Syrian government (28 per cent), and only 6 per cent blamed Assad for massacring his own people (Levada Centre 2012, 205–6). The same poll also found that 45 per cent would not support a Libyan-style international military intervention into Syria, compared to only 12 per cent in favour. Despite Russia’s own recent protests in 2011 and growing domestic political divisions, the (mis)recognition of the Arab uprisings as destabilisation forced by the West dominated Russian public opinion as it resonated with the insecurities, memories, and key identity narratives of the people. The generalised West attracted condemnation for what many Russians saw as aggression, hypocrisy, disregard for the fate of the Libyan and Syrian populations, and even as the eventual threat to Russia’s own borders. The regular Gallup (2014) survey found a sharp fall in positive attitudes to the US and the EU leadership among Russians in 2011–2012 following the events in Libya and an even sharper fall in 2013–2014 when the Ukrainian crisis put Russia and the West into direct confrontation. The popularity of the US among Russians fell from 23 per cent in 2010 to 4 per cent in 2014, and the EU from 27 per cent to 6 per cent, coinciding with the turn towards China and the rise in Putin’s approval ratings as the country felt threatened. 11 Multiple negative public comments about the policies of the US and Western Europe could be observed even among the audiences of Western media in Russia, such as BBC News Russian (formerly BBC Russian Service). This is significant because these media outlets would typically attract a more urban, liberal, and oppositional audience than Russian national media (see Levada Centre 2014). For example, in a BBC Russia News Forum thread which asked Russians about their opinions about the Arab uprisings in December 2011 (Gaddafi had already been overthrown and killed by then), some of the highest rated comments read: I just can’t get it – where is democracy? I can see war, oil, blood, Western lies, grave vandals, treachery, a dictator’s death. But where is DEMOCRACY?

11. Some of the Western media would later criticise sanctions against Russia because they seemed to consolidate Russians around the government instead of producing popular pressure for policy change (for example, see Figes 2014).

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


Why negative [attitude]? All this ‘Arab Spring’ has been planned and carried out by NATO intelligence. They threw the dictators out, but who’s next? In XX century alone Russia had gone through four revolutions, and none brought happiness to the people. Maybe that’s why we are so suspicious of all these ‘springs’? (BBC News Forum 2011)

Several things are worth noting here. First, all three comments demonstrate clear mistrust of the West in its proclaimed aims in supporting the uprisings (where is democracy, who is next, people’s happiness as clearly not the objective, reference to oil). Second, both comments that used the Arab Spring label put it in quotes, clearly expressing doubt in what they saw as a misguided description of events. ‘Arab Spring’ has since become a widely accepted term in Russia to describe the uprisings of 2011–2012, but instead of positive connotations, it has become negative, similar to the interpretation of the Colour revolutions. Finally, the speakers’ own collective identity is (in)visibly present, either as a potential threatened object (we – Russia – could be the next Western target) or as the agent of superior knowledge and certainty (we know better that revolutions cannot bring happiness). Another highly rated public comment from 2011 further confirms how the Arab uprisings were seen in light of Russia’s domestic politics and helped create a sense of righteousness and knowing better in maintaining stability: These Middle Eastern ‘revolutions’ have showed the IQ of the people [there]. Thank God we haven’t yet turned stupid after 20 years of these ‘democrats’ rule. There is still hope that revolutions led by the likes of Nemtsov, Navalny and other paid agents will not happen – instead we shall have an orderly transition of power. (BBC News Forum 2011)

Boris Nemtsov and Alexei Navalny were two prominent Russian opposition figures in and after the 2011 Russian protests. Navalny gained popularity in Russia as the critic of corruption and ran in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election, coming in second, but was barred from running in the 2018 presidential election. Nemtsov was a liberal politician and critic of the government assassinated in February 2015 in Moscow. Both have been accused by the Russian state media of being ‘paid agents’ of the West and ‘traitors’ (see Chernobrov 2018a). This reader’s comment, which also puts ‘revolutions’ and ‘democrats’ in quotes to indicate doubt in the suitability of these terms, is clearly reminiscent of the interview fragments from the previous chapter that portrayed the Arab protesters as duped into believing that democracy was good and therefore explained their rejection of stability as the consequence of skilled external manipulation.


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The narrative of superior knowledge and one’s righteousness was an important part of how the Russian national identity and its value of stability were reaffirmed in relation to the uprisings. As early as February 2011, Russian officials warned that the uprisings could lead to the rise of extremism and Islamism that would destabilise the region, with consequences for Russia and Europe (see Katz 2012; White 2011). When European and American media discovered un-Western traits in the Arab Spring rebel, Russian media and political representations enjoyed the position of having always known the rebels to be bad. For example, a 2013 article in Forbes titled ‘Was Russia Right about the Arab Spring?’ (Adomanis 2013) was widely publicised in Russia and seen as the Western other’s pleasing acceptance of the self’s righteousness. The West was largely portrayed as not learning from its own mistakes and realising it too late. A major Russian daily, Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Kuptsova 2014) provided a summary of a Washington Post article that stated that Russia had warned the US of its likely failure in Iraq back in 2003. A Western expert was quoted in the article, quite symbolically saying that ‘perhaps the West should listen to Moscow more often?’ The article also described Moscow’s reaction to the killing of the US ambassador in Libya in 2012 as ‘we warned you this was coming’ – a position of superior knowledge and control over uncertainty, similar to the Lacanian self-affirming reimagining of the past (we have always known the object to be that). If the uprisings were the product of Western involvement and planning, then the growing Islamisation of the post–Arab Spring politics presented a West losing control over its creation. The major Russian newspaper Kommersant (2012), among other national media, spoke of the US Middle East strategy of setting up friendly democratic states and Obama’s attempts to distance his new policies from the ‘crusades’ of the Bush administration. These attempts, as the newspaper concludes, have proved futile, as the Arab Spring has led to an eruption of anti-American sentiments in the region, such as mass protests against the 2012 film Innocence of Muslims. As (2011b) noted, the revolutions were ‘drifting out of [Washington’s] control’ by turning Islamist. The US and the West, in general, were accused of pushing the region into instability without fully realising the consequences of their actions. An often-implicit element in these representations was that Russia had wisely kept clear of supporting the uprisings. The narrative of the Arab uprisings as a Western (or American) strategy gone wrong was yet another substitution of the Arab Spring subject (the protester as an independent agent) with a manipulatable object. The initial uprisings had been a destabilisation forced or planned by the West, and now the West, and not the Libyan or Syrian societies themselves, was responsible for the Islamisation of the region. Where the US and British media were discovering the independent, un-Western behaviours of the Libyan and Syrian rebels, Russian popular representations were placing agency with the

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


West and explaining new troubling developments as the consequence of collective Western action. The growing influence of Islamists in Egypt, Libya, and Syria was therefore unsurprising, as the West had made similar mistakes in the past in Iraq and Afghanistan. This explanation also avoided questioning self-worth (the preference of stability over democracy) as the image of the generalised West standing behind the Arab uprisings and their consequences meant that these countries’ rejection of stability had not been deliberate and, effectively, had not even been these peoples’ own choice. The changing dynamic in the relationship of the Arab uprisings to the Russian narrative of stability, which is key to national self-conceptions, can be summarised in Figure 7.2. In Russian political and media representations, the old other (the Egyptian, Libyan, and Syrian regimes) were stable – they seemed to recognise and imitate the value of stability but could not achieve the same level of distinction, for they were oppressive, unmodern, and ‘out of touch’ with the people. The emerging protester, too, was initially familiar through the history of shared economic grievances and discontent, but the spread and escalation of unrest indicated dangerous destabilisation – the seeming rejection of Russia’s own national choices. There was clear political interest in representing the uprisings as danger since Russia itself was facing unprecedented levels of protests, and discrediting the idea of a pro-democratic popular revolution could help contain them. However, political representations clearly struck a chord with public perception, to produce an overall negative evaluation of the uprisings, even amid Russia’s own spike in protest activity. National self-

Figure 7.2. Arab uprisings in relation to the Russian stability narrative: Stage 1. Initial reactions to the new other as familiar but increasingly rejecting stability. Stage 2. (Mis)recognition of the protester as Western-made. Source: Author's own.


Chapter 7

conceptions and identity narratives were instrumental in interpreting the uncertain and distant events, as Russian public opinion connected the uprisings to the familiar and certain symbols of Western involvement – Colour revolutions, Iraq, and the memories of Western pressures. Seeing the uprisings as an externally forced destabilisation became the dominant (mis)recognition once the West became directly involved in the Libyan crisis. Sharing a symbolic other with the rebels had pushed Western public opinion into accepting the rebels as positive, and likewise, Russian public opinion became more sympathetic towards Gaddafi’s and Assad’s regimes when people suspected that the protesters were contaminated by Western money, planning, and influence. Finally, just as the West affirmed its Arab Spring (mis)recognition by applying it to new situations, Russia’s (mis)recognition of the uprisings as destabilisation forced by the West influenced its rhetoric and perception in relation to subsequent crises, and particularly Ukraine’s. The (Arab) Spring and Repeated Encounters Prior to the 2013–2014 Euromaidan revolution, Ukraine was largely seen in Russia as a ‘brother nation’ (like us) with a long-shared history, similar cultural values, and a large proportion of Russian speakers. Scenes of violent protest in Kiev and the protesters’ rhetoric of turning away from the obsolete and authoritarian East towards progressive and democratic Europe were traumatic and led to an intensive public discussion as well as a strong political reaction in Russia. Although some of the initial public comments shared the protesters’ discontent with corrupt authorities, 12 Russian public opinion turned strongly against the revolution after the fall of the Ukrainian government. In 2014, 73 per cent of Russians evaluated Euromaidan negatively, and two years later, negative opinions increased to 81 per cent (WCIOM 2016). Russian society was almost unanimous (96 per cent) in wishing that these events would not repeat in their country. The poll showed that the most popular explanation for the causes of the revolution included multiple failures of the Ukrainian authorities, US provocation, and an anarchical and criminal outburst. Many of the public comments initially blamed the crisis and violence on western Ukrainians trying to undermine the government, which relied on

12. For example, prior to the ousting of the Ukrainian government, a highly rated comment on an article in the daily newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets (2014) expressed solidarity with the protesters: ‘Why can Ukrainians defend their rights openly and we – only in our kitchens?’ This is a reference to ‘kitchen talk’ – a widespread metaphor from the Soviet times when dissident thoughts and criticism of the government could only be discussed at home because of fear of repressions. Public opinion data suggests that despite high ratings of Putin, 83 per cent of Russians regularly criticise the government for poor economic conditions and corruption (Centre for Economic and Political Reforms 2016).

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


eastern Ukrainians for support. 13 One of the common arguments in favour of a crackdown on the protesters emphasised their destabilising behaviours as criminal: ‘What if they threw Molotov cocktails in Europe or in the US? They would go straight to jail!’ (reader’s comment to Moskovskiy Komsomolets 2014). Readers’ comments even on those Russian news websites that were considered liberal and critical of the government’s viewpoint frequently described violent protesters as ‘Banderas’ (nationalists and collaborationists with the Nazis), ‘fascists’, or ‘gayropeans’ 14 – the familiar frightening forces that symbolically defiled and prohibited the protesters. In other popular representations, the protesters themselves appeared to be corrupt (seduced and paid by the opposition, foreign governments, and NGOs to protest) or ‘brainwashed’ victims of external political manipulation. In both of these accusations, comparisons to the Arab uprisings featured strongly. The view of the protesters as paid agents united both those who trusted and reproduced Russian governmental representations of the Ukrainian unrest and those who were critical about Russia’s own authorities and social institutions as corrupt. In Russia, it is common to hear views that many social behaviours and representations (media coverage, praise or criticism of people and institutions, even disagreement with your views in online political discussions) are paid for behind the scenes by some interest groups and are therefore insincere. The popularity of this view largely contributes to low levels of support for political activism: there can be no genuine activism if activists are paid and corrupt. Russia’s popular understanding of its own protests in 2011–2012 contributed heavily to this view. Despite the popularity of political slogans, economic grievances were the main motivation for taking part in the protests, and most Russians felt that protests were futile and could even make things worse (Mamonov 2012; Centre for Economic and Political Reforms 2016). In other words, protests created unnecessary destabilisation and were not expected to lead to positive political change. As the head of the major Russian independent polling organisation Levada Centre (2015) remarked, the protest movement was discredited with a few simple connections: ‘West – human rights – all-permissiveness – homosexuality – pedophilia – and Russia as the keeper of orthodoxy, purity, and moral values’. The popular Russian attitudes to the Arab uprisings or the Ukrainian 13. While eastern Ukraine had a large proportion of Russian speakers and ethnic Russians, western Ukraine has historically and culturally been different from the rest of the country as most of it was never part of the Russian empire. Western Ukrainians have traditionally been considered in the Soviet Union and Russia as more nationalist, pro-independence, and antiRussian. President Yanukovych represented the Party of the Regions, whose main electoral base was in eastern Ukraine. 14. For example, see comments to (2014). was widely considered a liberal media outlet until its Chief Editor was fired in March 2014, followed voluntarily by half the journalistic team. In spring 2014, several online Russian liberal media sites were shut down or experienced pressure.


Chapter 7

protests demonstrate how self-understandings shape societal visions of events elsewhere: Libyan, Syrian, or Ukrainian societies were seen as no better and making the wrong choice by rejecting stability, while the protesters’ economic motivation was familiar. However, it was the Western other’s contaminating presence, rather than the protesters’ own claims and demands that seemed to drive the negative attitudes to the Euromaidan revolution. The appearance of some MEPs at Euromaidan protests in December 2013 and later the visit of CIA Director John Brennan to Kiev shortly before the Ukrainian government’s launch of a military operation against the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014 were widely publicised by the Russian media and connected the revolution to Western interference (for example, see RIA Novosti 2013; 2014). But the truly iconic image of the Ukrainian revolution in Russian public discourse was the top US diplomat Victoria Nuland, then Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, who was handing out cookies and sandwiches at the Euromaidan protests. ‘State Department cookies’ (pechenki Gosdepa in Russian) quickly became an internet meme and a symbol of helping, bribing, and directing the protesters, while references to the incident would resurface regularly in the Russian media for years after it happened (see RIA Novosti 2016; Echo of Moscow 2017). Similar to the Arab uprisings, the economic grievances behind Euromaidan were familiar; but the increasing destabilisation became symbolically prohibited through what was seen as the offending presence of American dollars on Ukrainian streets. The Russian use of the ‘Arab Spring’ label to suggest external interference in Ukraine demonstrates how the (mis)recognition of the Arab uprisings as a Western geopolitical strategy has itself become a certainty-providing routine. The Ukrainian crisis of 2013–2014 drew multiple parallels to the Arab Spring, just as the Arab uprisings themselves had earlier been interpreted in Russia in light of the Colour revolutions of the early 2000s. As the Russian Minister of Defence put it after massive Ukrainian protests had led to the ousting of President Yanukovych and the overthrow of the government, Western ‘technologies’ and ‘revolution scenarios’ tested in the Arab Spring ‘have been employed in Ukraine’ (RIA Novosti 2014b). Finally, the Arab Spring presence in the Ukrainian crisis took a more literal form. In a clear analogy to the pan-Arab ‘spring’ or ‘awakening’ and partly in mockery of the Western enthusiasm about the Arab uprisings, proRussian protesters and rebels in eastern and southern Ukraine who stood against Euromaidan were frequently described as a ‘Russian Spring’ in Russia’s media representations and readers’ comments. These protests erupted in February 2014 when the government in Kiev was overtaken by Euromaidan activists and later escalated into a pro-Russian separatist insurgency. The term was first introduced in Svobodnaya Pressa [Free Press] (2014) – a

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


major online Russian media outlet. Later it was picked up by the protesters themselves and by some of their supporters in Russia. For example, Russia’s popular online news media site Life quoted a leader of a major Russian biker movement: ‘[The West] wanted to pull off another Arab Spring there [in Ukraine]. They got a Russian Spring instead’ (Life 2014). While Arab Spring protesters claimed to be liberating their societies from oppressive regimes, the Russian Spring rebels were opposing the ‘enslaving’ West. The discourse of ‘enslavement’, ‘slave changing master’, or in even rougher terms, a ‘prostitute nation’ is a popular description of Ukrainian politics in Russia. 15 Later, a new media news website Russian Spring was founded, specialising in news from the Donbass region where the conflict is still on-going and more generally, in news with an anti-Western outlook. Russia’s popular (mis)recognitions of the Arab uprisings and later the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine are largely similar, and the accepted evaluations of the former resurfaced regularly in the latter. Both were represented and widely seen as the result of external, behind-the-scenes interference and destabilisation forced by the generalised West. These (mis)recognitions were simultaneously self-informed and self-affirming, as they were largely rooted in familiar experiences and defended the value of stability, which is key to Russian national self-definitions. Russia’s own economic problems, corruption, and traumatic experiences of the past (from World War II and Cold War memories to the recent disagreements with Europe over gay rights) and societal attitudes to protests and revolutions greatly shaped the way the distant others were imagined. Their choices were judged against Russia’s own, and imagined negatively if they seemed to reject or question stability as the ultimate political value. In Libya, Syria, and then Ukraine, Russia was, as some media statements put it, ‘defending itself’. 16 But while the government emphasised the immediacy of physical threats, popular representations largely translated these into the symbolic language of collective memories and identity that turned the unknown, uncertain, and self-questioning aspects of events into continuous and familiar.

15. Historically, Ukraine has been viewed in Russia as squeezed between and dependent on greater powers: Russia and Poland centuries ago, or Russia and Europe/West more recently. The claim is that, unable to pursue an independent policy, Ukraine would support the side where it saw greater profit. For example, today it is anti-Russian because it receives generous Western financial and military support, while Ukrainian president Poroshenko is portrayed as a Western puppet. Before Euromaidan, Ukraine’s pro-Russian course was also ‘bought’ by regular loans and natural gas discounts. As a narrative that involves identity constructions, this is an example of defilement and deprivation of agency that protects the speaker’s identity from acknowledging rejection and the other’s independence. 16. For example, see RIA Novosti (2015).


Chapter 7

CONCLUSION: POLITICAL AND POPULAR (MIS)RECOGNITIONS The wider British and Russian narratives about the Arab uprisings demonstrate that government officials, media, and the wider publics were often in agreement in their interpretations of the crises. Hopeful political statements in the UK coincided with excited media coverage and overwhelmingly positive public attitudes to the Arab Spring protesters, while in Russia, the political and media claims of Western interference resonated deeply with the perceptions of the majority. The dominant frames of democracy/oppression and (in)stability produced (mis)recognitions that explained the unexpected events as familiar and predictable and later informed public perception of subsequent crises. And although some of the readers’ comments were more original and disconnected from the political or media representations (such as the Mandela comparison or Russia’s own corruption), these more nuanced aspects of imagining further developed, rather than contradicted, the dominant narrative. Inevitably, this poses the question – is public perception of the Arab uprisings in both countries purely a reproduction of the political and media framing? And here, a curious tendency can be observed. General agreement of the public with the political and media representations coincided with low levels of trust in politicians in both countries. In the UK, politicians and journalists have long been among the least trusted professions to tell the truth (Ipsos Mori 2017). In Russia, most people describe politicians as ‘impudent crooks with no respect for the people’, although at the same time acknowledge that with Putin, their living standards have improved (Levada Centre 2015). The media-government relationship in Russia is considerably different from in the UK, and opportunities for democratic debate on policy are also unequal. And yet, both the Russian and British societies were in general agreement with the media and political representations of events. The Arab Spring was interpreted and imagined from a distance – and therefore media, which give a strong voice to government officials in times of crises, were the main source of information for the general public. Consequently, an overlap between how the events were represented and how they were understood could be expected. The resurfacing of some of the key explanations and parallels from the political and media representations of events in the opinions of the public provides further evidence to the theories of media effect. Yet we can also see how the public interpretation of the Arab uprisings involved much more than the specific events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, or Syria and became interwoven into a network of memories, experiences, emotions, and self-understandings (some seemingly unconnected to the uprisings) that brought the distant other close. They helped us make sense

From the Arab Uprisings to Ukraine


of what was happening, but at the same time and less visibly, they helped us make sense of ourselves. This is, I believe, a more important question we should be asking: What have these representations and perceptions meant for our own sense of self? The answer to this can help explain the appeal of some representations over others, their dynamism, and the reproduction or rejection of political narratives. Through (mis)recognising the Arab uprisings in particular ways, the Russian and the British public related distant events to their own identity self-conceptions to achieve certainty and turn unexpected events into familiar ones, and at the same time defended a positive and continuous view of the self in this relationship. Imagining the uprisings in self-informed and selfaffirming ways cut across the differences between the two nations’ governments and media systems, and across the political divisions within their societies. In other words, the question of international perceptions and their interplay with identity, uncertainty, and self-conceptions reveals greater complexity than in approaching people as mere audiences or political elites and media as the major sources of representations. This complexity includes a multitude of interconnections between the event in question and other memories and experiences, as well as inner insecurities, aspirations, and anxieties of the drawing self that motivate it to perceive international events in particular ways.

Epilogue Perception as a Relation

In George Orwell’s powerful allegorical novella Animal Farm, the animals’ revolution triumphs in the formulation of the Seven Commandments. Some of the commandments, like ‘Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy’, seem to describe the other but effectively formulate the ideal self and its boundaries. The rest, such as ‘No animal shall sleep in a bed’ or ‘No animal shall drink alcohol’, clearly relate otherness to known and hated experiences and define the ideal self through contrast to human practices. The human, though expelled, is forever present in the animals’ self-conceptions as a memory and a source of certainty or knowing what not to do. The memory of the expelled other comes to play a foundational role in the community’s existence, definitions of themselves and outsiders, and subsequent behaviours. Some time later, the re-emerging hierarchies and distinctions within the animals’ own community replicate and internalise the other’s former practices. The new oppressors are familiar, predictable, and recognisable, as they behave just like the humans. Masterfully drawing parallels to the repression and reappearance of class attributes in Soviet Russia and the wider politics of identity, memory, and oppression in the Communist Bloc, Orwell’s work suggests close connections between identity and memory, and between selfdefinitions and the perception of others. This book has argued that public perception of international crises should be regarded as a relation rather than a description of events. I have proposed to approach perception as a relation between the self and distant events, where instead of recognising the other as a separate and independent subject with qualities and choices of its own, we (un)consciously bring the other close to ourselves and turn it into a manipulatable and self-informed object in 205



many respects. This includes (mis)recognising the other through the specific memories from our past and eagerly judging the other for signs of imitation or rejection of our ideals. The first helps us make the unknown familiar and reduce uncertainty, the second supports the hierarchies of power and distinction according to which we have structured our view of the world. Societies create and use distant others in many ways that affirm their own views and practices, least of all observing the other’s complexity or independent agency in this manipulation. Perception creates a relationship with the other in which the self and its inner insecurities are centrally important. Moreover, this relationship is not only directed at the present, but stretches back to the past as collective identities project and repair traumas and mythologise their origins into continuous and coherent stories through imagining others accordingly. The central focus of this book has been on what I have called the drawing self – the internal sources and motivations for imagining others in particular ways. How do people make sense of distant but disturbing international events? Why are some representations more appealing than others? Throughout the book, I have sought answers to these questions in the meaning of certain representations and narratives of international crises for the perceiver’s own sense of self. Public interpretations and images of international crises cannot be fully understood only by focusing on the events themselves, questioning the accuracy or falsehood of their representations, or seeking the origin of public opinion almost exclusively in political and media framing. We need to look to the internal sources and motivations for perception, including the pursuit of ontological security, continuity, positive self-definitions, certainty, and empowerment. The drawing self stands behind its portraits of others – and we need to look for it and analyse the relationship between the self and its representations of others, as well as between these representations and the other. The first contribution of this book, then, is that the drawing self plays a central role in perception. Collective identities are always already present in how we receive information about international events and in the social and political meanings within which we interpret and remember them. In some ways, politics already treats the general public as a collective entity divided into multiple identity groups that share a common trait (age, education, nationality, migration status, political preferences, etc.). Public opinions on specific policies or people’s likelihood to vote for a particular candidate are evaluated in connection to these factors. In international politics, people’s collective identities also often come to the forefront: for example, antiAmerican sentiment in post–Arab Spring Egypt or Libya was largely explained as the rise of Islamist, religious, or nationalist behaviours. And yet, political analysis rarely looks beyond identity boundaries, at the inner world of the subject, or accounts for flexible and temporal identity definitions. The



boundary is not the cause – it is the symptom of the tensions and insecurities within. We need to look beyond the surface to the inner dynamics, pressures, and insecurities inherent to collective identities that result in particular forms of political imagining and behaviour. The second contribution, which extends the first, is that public perception of international crises is shaped by the societal need for positive and continuous self-conceptions. The preservation of a continuous and positive self takes precedence over reflecting the events’ true complexity. 1 Consequently, inaccurate but self-affirming representations of events and other communities can become widely accepted and reproduced. Since in perceiving events, we relate to them and bring them close to ourselves, perception is inevitably influenced by the contexts in which the perceiver finds or wishes to find himor herself. Among these, the need to remain secure and unquestioned in one’s own everyday choices is central. If one’s identity is to be stable, it cannot be questioned or shaken in its foundations by disruptive international events. Societies protect their established systems of meaning, affirm self-worth and the value of their historical choices, and reimagine those elements in the other that seem to contradict their self-conceptions or reject the ideal self. In their need to appear positive, they structure the world into symbolic hierarchies, claim distinction, and use narratives of similarity and difference from multiple others as means to remain unreachable. In the case of the British and Russian public perception of the Arab uprisings, this could be observed both in the overall explanations of the events and in the more nuanced descriptions of the protesters and the old oppressive regimes. Interviews with the British participants and the wider societal and political narratives about the uprisings conveyed a pleasing vision of the Arab Spring as a democratic imitation of the West. Russian participants and media largely saw the uprisings as a Western-sponsored destabilisation that could eventually threaten Russia itself. Both societies related to the distant Arab uprisings through what was important for their identity security and what they claimed to be their own positive distinction – democracy or stability. These distinctions did not just appear in relation to the Arab uprisings, but as Part III has evidenced, have informed a multitude of interactions before and since, turning positive self-conceptions into a routine source of certainty, a starting point in relating to the unexpected. The causes and the reality of the uprisings were much more complex, but the 1. In connecting perception to the security of identity, I am building on and extending the application of ontological security theory to international relations. Ontological security approaches suggest that states prefer routines and continuous identity narratives even if this contradicts their physical and material interests. By combining ontological security with the idea of a continuously positive self and applying it to societies rather than states, I argue that societies seek to maintain positive and continuous self-concepts, even if this leads them to distort reality and creates dangerous political illusions.



Egyptian, Libyan, and Syrian protesters and regimes were largely confined to imitating or rejecting the ideal self. In short, instead of aiming to describe the events accurately, public perception of the Arab uprisings in Russia and the UK presented a relation through which their own identity narratives were further defined and affirmed. Signs of imitation were welcome as they reinforced positive and continuous self-conceptions. Evidence of rejection (the puzzling preference of destabilisation or the emerging un-Western behaviours) led both the Russian and the British public to reimagine the protesters/ rebels as not truly in control of their choices but forced or tricked into instability by the West or seduced into a departure from democracy by the Islamist other. The presence of strategic political interests in the production of event representations, however, should not be underestimated. The Arab uprisings took place in the region that has long attracted global competition for resources and power, while uncertainty in these countries has had implications for regional and global security. The British and Russian governments pursued political and economic interests in representing the events to their domestic audiences in particular ways. My focus, however, has been on how these representations have been heard and understood by the general public, and how state and media representations have been interwoven into, reworked, or built upon in the popular interpretation of events. Despite differences in strategic interests, political framing, and media systems, the British and Russian public displayed similar mechanisms of relating to distant events, interpreting the unknown through the familiar, and affirming their own identity narratives. Both in and beyond this particular case, I have argued that only those representations and narratives of international crises that fulfil the identity needs of their audience can become widely accepted and reproduced. Those that fail to leave room for a positive and continuous self-conception become rejected or reworked to accommodate these needs. Importantly, the collective identities in question are not only national. They can be, yet they can also include other multiple forms of belonging, from the feelings of unity created by inner political divisions (for example, young opposition supporters in Russia or Remainers in the Brexit debate in the UK) to value-based identities that claim to exceed national boundaries, such as the identity of a democratic and progressive Westerner invoked by many British interviewees. They can also be highly temporal unities held together by a shared performance against a common other, as was the case of diverse Egyptian protesters defining themselves as ‘the people’ who were ‘coming together’. Regardless of the exact element that constitutes a group’s self-definition, collective identities are united by inner imagining, the performance of a boundary, and crucially, by the conception of one’s righteousness and positive standing in relation to others. We unconsciously defend and idealise collectives to which we feel belonging by assuming their practices



and viewpoints as the right ones, externalising threats, and sustaining the illusion of knowing, or recognising uncertainty. The third contribution is therefore the proposed view of public perception of international crises as a self-informed and self-affirming (mis)recognition. This line of argument has sought to highlight the relationship between identity security and uncertainty. Ontological security, as the security of identity and our vision of the I and the outside of I, is based on continuity and routines, while unexpected and uncertain events threaten to disrupt it. Since perception is a relation through which our own experiences and self-conceptions and the distant other are brought close together, the ability to maintain our own feeling of stability and security becomes dependent on the ability to fit unexpected events within our established routines and continuous narratives about ourselves. International crises need to be (mis)recognised within the familiar coordinates of stable meanings and turned from crises into routines, with any uncertainties allocated to clearly identifiable threatening objects. The more uncertain and troubling the event and the more unstable the identity of the self, the more self-affirming the (mis)recognition is likely to be. As an unexpected and uncertain event that may challenge our choices and self-definitions, an international crisis is therefore not only a crisis of the other, but potentially a crisis of the self and its own ontological foundations. In making this argument, I suggest that public perception of international crises is motivated by anxiety and uncertainty reduction rather than by the considerations of accuracy. Anxiety is inherent to how collective identity is experienced and constituted, since the latter is based on a flattening of inner complexity and the avoidance of self-doubt. Anxiety of the unknown is disempowering as it creates the state of not knowing and not being able to act. Imagining the other in particular ways restores the self’s power in an encounter. Imagining is the only way of relating to objects that are known to exist, but whose relation to the self is uncertain or who present competing and challenging alternatives. Anxiety reduction begins with the categorisation of the outside of I into named objects/others with whom one can build a controllable and ontologically secure relationship. The other’s existence needs to be explained as meaningful in order to cope with the crisis of this other’s existence at all. Populating the unknown with familiar qualities is the only way to control it and to create meaning in the other that would uphold the self. Distance encourages imagining because a direct experience of the other is absent, and the other can therefore accommodate expelled or projected traits more readily. Public perception of the international typically describes unseen events and communities. 2 In the case of the Arab uprisings, the inter2. This is particularly true of crisis zones that become sealed off to the wide public. I do, however, refer to the unseen here more generally, as any event, location, or community that has not been directly experienced or witnessed.



viewees and most of the people in Britain and Russia were interpreting events from a distance, which was loosely bridged by media representations, previous imagery of the Arab countries as exotic or extremist places, and the familiar experiences and memories produced outside of the immediate context of the uprisings (for example, memories of 9/11, the Iraq War, student protests in the UK, Russian civil war, Soviet leaders’ self-promotion, anticorruption protests in Moscow, etc.). These were perceptions over distance and time as past experiences were relived through the other’s present. Despite distance, perception also involved symbolic possessive claims over the other, as the protester seemed to be imitating or rejecting the ideal us. Imagining therefore disempowers the other by turning unexpected events and their agents into (mis)recognised and manipulatable entities that are limited in their ability to respond or resist these perceptions. Although boundaries and qualities are produced in interaction (Ahmed 2004), perception often takes the form of a monologue that describes what seem to be the qualities of the other, outside of this interaction. The uncertainty of unexpected events contributes to such a monological perception as speakers pursue their own identity security. Distance facilitates this, although imagining can take place in contexts of immediate proximity as well. Volkan (2006, 215) gives a good example of this in his observation of tensions between the Russian and Estonian communities within Estonia: [Russians] began to make long statements about how Estonians feel, think, and react, and what Estonians believe in, what they want and why, and so on. Estonians responded in turn with their summaries of what the Russians thought, felt, and wanted. While appearing to address each other, the two sides were really talking to themselves.

Thus, even when communities live side by side, they still imagine one another across an identity boundary. They empower the self and disempower the other by sustaining the illusion of knowing and understanding the other, even if this is in fact a (mis)recognition dictated by their own identity needs. The problem lies in one’s illusion that the good self is real (it desires to be so), and for that the imagined other must be real as well. Imagining enables security and empowerment, even if it sustains physical conflict or creates distortions. A key conclusion for policymaking, then, is that political representations, post-conflict reconciliation strategies, or attempts to oppose nationalistic, populist, prejudicial, stereotypical, or conspiratorial views must take into account the identity needs of their audiences. Among these, the need for a secure identity is crucial. This form of security involves a continuous and positive self who is capable of ‘knowing’, or (mis)recognising, its others. Only too often, politicians, activists, analysts, and communication profes-



sionals are baffled that sophisticated and detailed explanations, educational initiatives, and whole campaigns that draw on well-researched facts fail to convince. Trump supporters and opponents, Brexiteers and Remainers, Russian patriots and oppositional youth, and numerous other communities who find themselves divided, blame the other side for ignorance of the truths that seem obvious. They are trying to explain – but the opposing side, in the words of many online public comments, just does not get it. Consequently, to defend one’s feeling of righteousness, each side comes to denigrate its opponents as narrow-minded, backward, uneducated, or brainwashed, which further prevents meaningful engagement between them. Information about the events and policies in question is abundant – but perception, as this book has argued, is not a description that seeks accuracy, and therefore this abundance has little effect. The problem is that the sides are talking about and trying to change the other’s perception of the event or policy itself, while the roots of these perceptions spread well beyond the described object. Convincing narratives must provide no less attractive incentives for the drawing self to enjoy; otherwise they would not become accepted and reproduced. They should not deny the public an opportunity to establish continuous and positive self-conceptions and maintain certainty. Hierarchies and the conflicts and power inequalities they produce cannot be eliminated altogether, but they can be shifted to new domains. An interesting example of how changes in public discourse cannot break free of the need for positive selfconceptions can be found in the gradual transition in Western European societies from colonial discourses that empowered a superior modern European identity to claiming global distinction in social tolerance, equal opportunities, and human rights. Today, the ideal of Western democracy is cosmopolitan learning across difference (Biesta 2011) – the seeming opposite of the colonial worldviews that sustained particular relationships of power and inequality. Tolerance has been encouraged through European legal frameworks, education, and social institutions. A tolerant utopia would involve giving up idealised and aggrandising self-conceptions and acknowledging value in others. The hierarchy would be removed, and the others would no longer be threatening. These initiatives have alleviated some of the previously strong social conflicts and divisions, for example, concerning racial supremacy, sexual minorities, or some of the religious divides, although not without reservations. But even leaving aside regular instances of social intolerance such as racist incidents or the persisting inequalities within European societies, the ideal of tolerance has evolved into a collective distinction. Instead of dismantling hierarchies, it has created new ones, against underachieving or outright backward, intolerant Rest-others. The intolerance in China, Russia, Turkey, and the Middle East is criticised politically, becomes newsworthy in European media coverage, and itself forms a stereotype in how distant countries and communities are imagined. The other’s cultural



complexity is again confined to noticing those elements that underpin European self-definitions, making this a relationship in which perception of others is both self-informed and self-affirming. The discourse of tolerance has allowed societies that define themselves as tolerant, democratic, and free to revert to positive self-conceptions, claim distinction and empowerment, affirm themselves as a model, and seek imitation in others. Popular Western imagining of the Arab Spring protester as a pro-democracy fighter is, in some ways, an example of these self-conceptions informing the distant crisis. The protesters’ demands for democracy were heard and interpreted in the West through a Western understanding of democracy, without leaving room for an alternative reading of the same ideals. Public perception of international politics and even the domestic imagining of others therefore cannot break free of collective identity constructions and, consequently, the need for continuous and positive self-conceptions. In these aspects, people are more alike than they are different, despite variation in their countries’ political and media systems, strategic interests, or the exact boundaries of collective identities to which they feel belonging, be they national, ethnic, or based on political beliefs. In an age when politics and conflict increasingly penetrate the fabric of societies, the relationship between self-conceptions and the perception of others is in need of reflexive approaches. There is always a painter present in a painting, and not only the object of representation. Orwell’s grim finale of the Animal Farm is a familiar sight in international relations, where the positions of hierarchy, power, distinction, imitation/rejection, and similarity/difference are never left vacant, but the conflict they create is attributed elsewhere. Questioning public perceptions of the international for what they are and what they mean psychosocially may be the chance for matching them to the realities they have produced.


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13 Hours (film, 2016), 64–65

153–158, 160–161; as democratisation, 70, 135, 137, 142, 144, 147–152, 160–162, 169, 172–180; as destabilisation, 135, 143–147, 151, 154–155, 157–158, 162, 169, 190–198; discovery of un-Western traits in, 180–185; hierarchical perceptions of, 162–165, 178–179, 181, 183–185, 195; as homogeneous, 149, 166, 171, 176–177, 180, 184; as imitating West, 70, 150, 159, 162–164, 171, 173–180, 184; (mis)recognition of, 142–168, 169–203; as rise of Islamism/terrorism, 146, 149–151, 153, 155, 172, 180, 183, 194–196; Russian media coverage of, 152, 169–170, 189–193, 196; Russian political response to, 138, 146, 169–170, 173, 190–193, 196–197, 208; Russian public perception of, 135–137, 142–147, 151–158, 161, 164–168, 189–190, 192–198, 202–203, 207–208; self-affirming perception of, 142, 144, 151, 162–166, 174, 176–179, 183–185, 196; as sponsored by West, 146, 154, 157–158, 165, 190, 192–198, 200; subsequent crises compared to, 186–189, 199–201; UK/Western media coverage of, 144, 150, 152, 169–170, 173–183, 185n8; UK/Western political response to, 138, 159, 172–182, 208; UK/Western public perception of,

abjection, 90, 91–94, 97, 100 accuracy. See perception Adwa, battle of (1896), 103–104 Afghanistan, 2n1, 53, 63, 121 Africa, 63, 175; as hopeless continent, 53 agency: definition of, 86; discovery of, 44, 87, 90, 101; recapture of, 86, 88–89, 93–94. See also empowerment; subjectivity aggression: as defense against anxiety, 34–35, 44n9, 129; and fear of sameness, 97–98; and identity, 15, 26, 184; and narcissism, 70–71, 75; as omnipotence, 87; and rejection by others, 83; and repression of memory, 125. See also anxiety; conflict Anglo-Zulu War (1879), 119 anti-Semitism, 61 anxiety: defences against, 40–42, 45, 54, 66, 70, 83; existential, 35, 37; vs. fear, 34, 39–43, 71n12; and identity, 5, 15, 20, 35–38, 47, 68–71; of the unknown, 8, 34–35, 43–46, 54–55, 72–75, 101, 209 Arab Spring: critique of term, 136–137, 160, 172. See also Arab uprisings Arab uprisings: compared to Iraq/ Afghanistan, 145, 147, 157–159, 192, 196; compared to other events, 233



135–137, 142, 147–152, 154–155, 158–164, 166–168, 180, 185, 202–203, 207–208. See also Egypt; Libya; Tunisian revolution Armenian genocide (1915), 37, 60–61, 69, 111 Assad, Bashar, 136, 142, 148, 152, 164, 194 authoritarianism, 49, 65, 93, 107, 145 banal nationalism. See nationalism banal positivity, 62, 162–165 belonging, 8, 13, 15–18, 20–22, 26, 31, 35–37, 43–44, 74. See also identity Biafra. See Nigerian civil war bias, 2, 25, 30, 70, 112, 141 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 99 Bourdieu, Pierre, 5, 79–84, 86, 90, 97 Brexit. See United Kingdom Britain. See United Kingdom British National Party, 17 Bush, George W, 24, 29, 109, 196 Calais Jungle, 52 Cambodia, 122 Cameron, David, 170, 173, 178 Canada, 53 certainty, 21, 34, 39–55, 69, 73–75, 106–107, 118, 130, 171, 185, 193, 207; and security, 35, 72, 80. See also anxiety; (mis)recognition; uncertainty Charlie Hebdo attack, 14n1 Chechnya, 152 China, 41, 173, 194, 211 chosen glories/traumas. See memory Clinton, Hillary, 64n9, 171, 172n1, 173, 181 cognitive consistency theory, 47 Cold War, 45, 48–49, 87, 91, 129, 147, 157, 193 colonialism, 19, 58, 61, 84–85, 95–96, 103–104, 119, 147, 211 Colour revolutions, 48, 146, 189, 192–193, 195, 200; media coverage of, 187 conflict: attachment to, 47–48; causes of, 51, 75, 79, 83, 97–98, 100–101, 122, 125–126; and lack of contact/ knowledge, 51, 98, 100, 128; ways out of, 48, 94, 100, 122, 126–130, 210–212

conspiracy, 210 constructivism, 13–14, 17, 20n4, 39, 80, 85 contamination. See identity continuity. See ontological security Creoles, 95 Crimea, 48, 88, 187, 189 Crimean Tatars, 60 crisis, 3, 34. See also identity crisis Danish cartoon crisis (2005), 53, 94 democracy, 41, 96, 146; as European/ Western distinction, 84, 94, 171; interpretation in West vs. Middle East, 176; in transition, 150, 179. See also Arab uprisings; European identity; West democratic peace theory, 100 demonisation. See enemy desecuritisation, 71–72, 74, 94. See also securitisation desire, 80–83, 87–88. See also distinction; imitation difference: as distance to keep unreachable, 83–84, 89, 91–101; as language of relating, 101, 207; negative/repelled, 59, 80, 83, 89–94, 97; positive/welcome, 80, 83, 86, 89, 96–100. See also distinction; identity; sameness disaster. See humanitarian crisis discourse, 18, 20, 29–30, 38, 69, 84–85, 128 disempowerment: and distinction, 82–83; and trauma, 120; and uncertainty, 3, 35, 40–42, 54, 209–210. See also agency; empowerment; hierarchy distinction, 9, 79–86, 207; as boundary, 84, 89, 97; as cultural capital, 80–81; performance of, 82–83, 94; as power/ control over others, 82–84, 86–87, 101; recognised by others, 81–84, 87, 89, 95–101; rejected by others, 83, 89–94, 96, 101, 162–163. See also identity; imitation; sameness drawing self, xiv, 3, 6, 21, 72–75, 125–126, 130–131, 136–137, 162, 167–168, 203, 206–212 Ebola, 63

Index Egypt: 2011 protests and revolution, 27–29, 136, 169–170, 173–174, 190–191; 2012 Constitution controversy, 181; post-revolutionary, 149, 172, 178–180 emotion, 5n7, 68, 70, 106, 113–117, 120–122, 141; collective, 114; and similarity/difference, 80–81, 101. See also sticking empowerment: and distinction, 82; and identity, 16–17, 20–22, 171; and (mis)recognition, 45–51, 55, 72–74; and self-conceptions, 59, 67–69. See also agency; disempowerment; hierarchy enemy: construction, 29, 40–42, 68, 71, 94, 108, 122, 129, 157; demonisation, 93–94, 108. See also othering; traitor narratives Estonia: attitudes to Russians, 210; and ban of Soviet symbols, 110–111, 122 Ethiopia, 99, 103–104 European identity, 38, 53, 58, 65, 84, 94, 95–96, 99, 103–104, 111, 147, 171, 211 European Union, 38, 42, 48, 99, 188 exclusion. See identity boundary fantasy, 73, 117 Farage, Nigel, 98–99 fear. See anxiety forgetting, 61n6, 124–130; by forgiving, 125, 127; by repression, 124–129; by working through/mourning, 126. See also memory Foucault, Michel, 41, 85, 109 framing, 104, 106–113, 123, 136, 170, 202. See also perception Freud, Sigmund, 44, 86, 97, 125, 128, 184 Gaddafi, Muammar, xiii, 136, 142–143, 147–148, 152–156, 160, 164, 182, 184, 190 Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, 178n6, 181–182 Germany, 61 globalisation, 37, 85n3, 148 Gulf War (1990-1991), 63 hearts and minds campaign. See Iraq War Hegel, G.W.F, 82


hegemony, 84–85, 110 hierarchy: and distinction and imitation, 80–85, 87–88, 93–101, 206–207; inevitable, 211; and similarity/ difference, 9, 59–61, 71, 91n10; and specific superior imaginaries, 103–104, 114, 145, 148 Hitler metaphors, 104, 110, 129 Holocaust, 60–61, 104, 110–111, 116, 123, 188 Holodomor, 121 humanitarian crisis, 63–64 idealised self. See self-conceptions identity, 15–31; and anxiety. See anxiety; boundaries, 14, 18–27, 34–35, 43–45, 60, 65, 80–86, 92, 95–101, 108–109, 129, 207; collective, 4, 14, 16–25, 37, 40, 58–62, 65, 71–74, 208; contamination, 25, 91–92, 99, 107, 125, 129; crisis, 34, 36, 73, 83, 124, 209; criteria of membership, 18, 20, 25, 28, 62, 79; and group norms, 17, 24–26, 30, 47, 49, 67–68, 176; and external recognition, 16, 61, 70, 82n2, 96; incompleteness of, 15, 38, 44–45, 68; inner dynamics of, 6–7, 23, 26, 31, 54–55, 72–75, 79, 125, 156; and inner homogeneity/similarity, 14, 16, 26–30, 38, 71, 73, 166; and interaction, 114–116, 142, 172; internal vs. external sources of, 21; multi-layered, 19, 64–65; narrative, 37, 48–50, 68, 113, 162; national, 18, 20–22, 28–29, 60–67, 117–118, 208; and otherness, 4, 18–19, 25–27, 40, 64, 68–70, 73–74, 80–83; personal, 21, 59, 66; security, 4, 17, 35, 37, 46, 55, 68–75, 93, 210; and similarity/difference, 9, 23, 27, 59, 68, 71, 79–101, 163; social identity theory, 16–17, 59–60, 80. See also drawing self; ontological security; othering; perception; self-conceptions ideology, 36 imagined community, 18, 65 imagining. See perception imitation, 75, 81–84, 86–90, 95–101, 148, 150, 208. See also desire; distinction; sameness



inclusion. See identity boundary India, 19, 26, 85, 95 Indian Ocean tsunami (2004), 63 inequality, 18, 20, 25, 31, 82, 85. See also disempowerment; distinction; hierarchy Innocence of Muslims (film, 2012), 53, 196 International Criminal Court, 181–182 international crisis. See crisis international development, 5, 84–85 Iraq War (2003), 53, 63, 157; British public attitudes to, 137, 159n13; Falluja mosque incident, 58; hearts and minds campaign, 2n1, 111–112; US public attitudes to, 121 Islamic State, 41, 136, 138, 172 Islamophobia, 41, 53, 177n4 Israel, 111 Italy: defeat in Ethiopia, 103–104 Kashmir, 18 Katyn massacre (1940), 58, 129 Kerry, John, 186 Klein, Melanie, 44, 67, 86–87, 90, 115n4, 117, 145n7 Kosovo, 37, 60, 63, 88, 104, 106, 110, 120 Lacan, Jacques, 20, 25n8, 38, 38n4, 44n9, 71, 82–83, 97, 114, 129, 141, 196 Lavrov, Sergey, 48n10, 191–192 Libya: civil war, 136–138, 143, 149, 169, 173, 175–180; killing of US ambassador (2012), 64, 149, 157, 182, 196; National Transitional Council of, 138, 173, 176; no-fly zone, 146, 159–160, 172n1; repression of proGaddafi elites, 181–182 linear development theories, 96, 118, 174 Lippmann, Walter, 3, 50 Mandela, Nelson, 176 meaning: construction of, 16–17, 23–24, 38, 54, 71, 84, 106, 109–110, 114–116; (in)stability of, 8, 35–38, 43, 46–50, 54–55, 73–74, 106, 113, 120–125, 131; transmission of, 113–116. See also memory; ontological security; sticking media. See perception and mass media Medvedev, Dmitry, 190, 192

memory: and accuracy, 104, 106–108, 110, 118–119, 121, 123, 131; and behaviour, 108; chosen glories/traumas, 118–124, 130–131; collective, 104–105, 109, 117–124, 131; counter-memory, 109–112; as fantasy, 117; forgetting. See forgetting; formation/reproduction of, 105–106, 112; vs. history, 104, 124; and identity, 105, 112–113, 114–131; management by state, 109–111, 119–120, 127–128; and policy, 121, 127–129; postmemory, 122; and present needs, 104–105, 109, 118–120, 123, 129; re-imagined/altered, 103–106, 108–109, 119, 121–125, 128–131, 155, 177, 196; selective, 107–108, 117, 117–124, 131, 177; as source of meaning, 43, 114–117, 122–123, 125, 155–158, 177, 210; transmission of, 118, 122–123; traumatic, 60–61, 103–104, 119–122, 125–130; of World War II, 61. See also forgetting; narrative; perception metaphors, 104, 107, 110, 123, 155–161, 186 migration: attitudes to, 23–24, 27, 33–34, 40–42, 51–52, 93, 98–99, 108–109; and homeland, 19, 65. See also refugee (mis)recognition, 4, 5, 8, 34–35, 45–55, 72–75, 116, 142, 206–212; and memory, 72, 124, 130. See also anxiety; certainty; perception mobilisation, 53, 109, 120–121. See also rally ’round the flag effect Morsi, Mohamed, 136, 138, 149, 151, 179 Mubarak, Hosni, 28–29, 136, 169, 173, 190–191 Napoleonic wars, 62 narcissism, 69–72, 74–75, 86, 97; collective, 70; of minor differences, 90, 97–100. See also self-affirmation; selfconceptions; self-enhancement narrative, 105; accepted/rejected. See representations; networks of, 114, 153; structure for effective recall, 105–109, 112, 116–117. See also framing; memory

Index nation, 3, 18, 21, 28–29, 62–65, 69, 117–118, 190–191; branding, 48. See also identity nationalism, 17–18, 34, 37, 65, 70, 92–93, 98, 118n6, 210; banal, 62 NATO, 48–49, 88, 136, 146, 158, 173, 189, 192–193 Nigerian civil war, 123 Northern Ireland, 17, 26, 94, 98 Obama, Barack, 29, 64n9, 171, 173, 175, 177, 179, 182, 196 omnipotence, 86–88, 93, 100–101, 120, 124. See also agency; other ontological security, 4n5, 35–38, 101, 206–209; and continuity, 35–38, 43–47, 54–55, 59, 66–69, 71–75, 104–105, 122, 125, 157; critique of, 36n1; vs. identity security, 35–36; vs. physical security and material costs, 4n5, 35–37, 47–48, 54, 69, 122; and routines, 36, 46–55, 67–69, 73–75, 106, 209; at state/ society level, 36–37, 68–69, 207n1. See also drawing self; identity Orientalism, 5, 85, 95, 103–104 Orwell, George, 129, 205, 212 other: as controllable/suitably imagined object, 6, 42, 44–45, 69–75, 86–87, 93–94, 100–101, 123, 131, 183, 205–210; as idealised subject, 87–88; as independent subject, 44, 75, 86–87, 90, 100, 101, 114–116, 144; as positive or negative, 79, 82–83; as usable object, 87, 91–93, 101, 116, 184. See also agency; identity; subjectivity othering, 19, 40, 44, 60, 85n4. See also enemy construction paranoid-schizoid position, 44 past. See memory patriotism, 65, 67, 93 perception: and accuracy, xiv, 1, 2n1, 5, 23, 34, 43, 46–55, 66, 72–75, 83, 101, 105–106, 125, 131, 207–212; as balance of inner needs, 72–75, 79, 89–90; at a distance, 202, 209–210; and identity, 2, 14, 23–31, 46, 53, 58–75, 83, 100, 141–142, 156–157, 168, 205–212; as imagining, 3, 13, 22, 35,


45, 52–55, 59, 72–75, 79–80, 86–89, 97–101, 103–105, 108–109, 113, 125, 136, 142, 161, 205–212; and mass media, 30, 42, 49, 52–53, 62–65, 104–108, 110–112, 123, 152, 161, 202; and memory. See memory; personal vs. public opinion, 139, 170; as a relation, 7, 70, 85–86, 89–101, 167–168, 205–212; retrospective exploration of, 106, 137; self-informed and selforiented, xiii–xiv, 2, 6, 31, 46, 66, 72–75, 83–86, 89, 100–101, 105, 124–125, 166–168, 172, 176, 189–190, 202, 205–212; as simplification, 1, 14, 16, 26, 50, 52, 88, 106–107, 111, 116–118, 122, 167; of threats, 41–42; of war, 62–65. See also drawing self Poland, 119–120 populism, 37, 98, 210 positive self. See self-conceptions prejudice, 2, 16, 24, 34, 60, 93, 100, 107, 141, 210 projection, 91, 157, 166, 177 propaganda, 41, 111–112 psychoanalysis, 5, 15, 36, 43, 86, 97, 108, 157 psychosocial approach, 5, 14, 79, 84, 86, 106–107, 109, 212 public opinion. See perception Putin, Vladimir, 88, 152, 156, 186, 193–194, 202 racism, 24–25, 92–93, 98, 103, 211 radicalisation, 41, 91, 159 rally ’round the flag effect, 120, 130. See also mobilisation rationalisation, 24–25, 66, 141 refugee: crisis in Europe (2015), 51–52, 172. See also migration remembering and forgetting. See memory representations, 3; appealing/accepted, 45, 105, 106–109, 119, 203, 208, 211; contested/competing, 28, 105–106, 109–113, 117; of humanitarian crises, 63–64, 123; of protests, 28–29, 148, 154, 173–175, 177, 186; rejected, 111–113; of terrorism. See terrorism; of war, 62–65, 104, 130. See also memory; narrative; perception



repression. See forgetting rhetorical commonplace, 110, 112. See also narrative; discourse Rorke’s Drift, battle of (1879), 119 routines. See ontological security Russia, 2, 10, 41–42, 61; attitudes to Arab uprisings. See Arab uprisings; attitudes to democracy, 146, 152; attitudes to protest, 138, 154, 193, 198–199; attitudes to Ukraine, 121, 130, 146, 193, 198–201; attitudes to USSR, 129; attitudes to West, 49, 87–89, 138, 146, 166, 194–195; commemoration politics in, 119–120; imaginary of the Middle East, 143, 146, 165; media environment of, 138, 144n6, 194, 202; national selfdefinitions, 89, 111, 120, 152, 190, 193, 199; protests in (2011-2013), 28, 153–154, 186, 193, 195, 199; relations with the West, 2, 48–49, 88, 154, 158, 187–189, 192–193, 194, 200–201; as ‘sovereign democracy’, 146; stability narratives, 143, 152, 156, 190, 197. See also Soviet Union Rwandan genocide, 23, 53, 95, 100, 127–128, 158 Safer, Morley, 57–58, 64–65 sameness: as ‘aping’, 95–96; fear of, 9, 89, 95–101. See also difference; distinction; identity Sarkozy, Nicolas, xiii, 99, 182 Scottish independence referendum (2014), 23, 33, 154 securitisation, 28, 40–42, 53–55, 71–74, 130. See also desecuritisation security, 42; as discourse, 41–42; ontological. See ontological security. See also anxiety; certainty; identity self-affirmation, 59, 66–72, 75, 83–84, 91, 93, 141, 206–212; across cultures, 60, 66, 75. See also narcissism; selfenhancement self-conceptions: and behaviour, 3, 49, 67, 75; continuous, 2, 7, 38, 45, 50, 54–55, 58–59, 66–69, 72–75, 104, 113, 131, 141, 207–212; positive or idealised, 2, 7, 38, 55, 58–75, 83–84, 101, 115n5, 119, 124, 142, 207–212; threatened,

35–38, 54, 66–67, 73, 89, 97. See also drawing self; ontological security; selfexamination self-enhancement, 59–60, 66. See also narcissism; self-affirmation self-esteem, 17, 66–67, 70, 82 self-examination, 8, 45, 47, 83, 90, 96, 162, 207 self-love. See narcissism Serbia, 37, 60, 104, 120 signifier, 114 similarity. See identity simplification. See perception social identity theory. See identity sovereign democracy. See Russia Soviet Union, 58, 60–62, 87–88, 96, 154–155, 164; Soviet vs. Nazi regimes, 110–111. See also Russia spectacle. See war as spectacle Stalin, Joseph, 121n7, 129, 155 status, 62, 81–82, 85 stereotyping, 2, 16, 25, 107, 122, 140, 145, 210 ‘sticking’ (of meaning and emotion), 114–116, 141, 144–145, 156. See also meaning; memory subjectivity, 35, 37–38, 44–45, 62, 73, 206 Syria: chemical attacks, 137, 155, 159, 164; civil war, 9, 136, 150, 172, 194 taboo, 17, 122, 126 terrorism, 28–29, 41, 91–92, 176; London attacks (2007), 29n12; London attacks (2017), 41; Paris attacks (2015), 29n12, 41. See also war on terror Thatcher, Margaret, 93 third person effect, 30–31 threat perception. See perception Todorov, Tzvetan, 59, 71, 90, 101, 104, 110–111, 123, 152 tolerance, 19, 24, 99; as distinction, 211–212 traitor narratives, 28–29, 92–93, 99, 195. See also enemy construction trauma. See memory Trump, Donald, 2, 22, 48n10, 211 trust: in media, 30, 42, 112; in political institutions, 42, 112, 140, 202; within society or group, 23, 65, 150n10, 154,



211 Tunisian revolution, 136, 170, 172n1, 173, 180 Turkey, 37, 69, 96, 111, 160

unknown. See anxiety of the unknown UN Security Council: resolutions on Libya, 138, 146, 172n1, 181–182, 189, 192; on Rwanda, 127

Ukraine: 2004 revolution, 28, 187; 20132014 revolution and crisis, 28, 48, 186–189, 198–201; ‘Russian Spring’, 200–201; western and eastern, 198 uncertainty, 4, 5, 17, 34–35, 42–48, 55, 73–75, 105, 106, 113, 126, 142. See also anxiety; certainty United Kingdom, 9–10, 23, 42, 51–53; attitudes to Arab uprisings. See Arab uprisings; attitudes to migrants, 33–34, 42, 51–52, 98–99; attitudes to Muslims, 42, 93, 177n4; attitudes to Russia, 150n10, 186, 189; Brexit, 2, 14, 23, 24n6, 33, 51, 65, 150n10, 154n12, 172, 211; England riots (2011), 52; national self-definitions, 62, 150n10, 172; student protests (2010), 160. See also Northern Ireland; Russia; West United Kingdom Independence Party, 98 United States, 42, 57–58, 174, 182; 2016 presidential election, 64n9; attitudes to Irish migrants, 108–109; attitudes to Russia, 48–49, 189; national selfdefinitions, 21–22, 84, 112, 171; neoconservatism in, 22, 121; relations with Russia. See Russia. See also West

Vietnam War, 57–58, 64–65, 94, 119, 121, 130 Voltaire, 14 Vukovar, Croatia, 122 war as spectacle, 63 ‘war on terror’, 24, 29, 53, 109, 112. See also terrorism war reporting, 62–65 Waterloo, battle of (1815), 62–63 Weber, Max, 81n1, 84 West: disagreement within, 172; and discourse of modernity, 5, 58, 63, 85, 94–95, 119, 148, 164, 171, 176, 211; as generalised identity, 146n9, 167, 171, 177, 197; relations with Russia. See Russia; and Rest, 84–85, 159, 163, 174, 177n5, 184, 211; as rhetorical commonplace, 110, 130 World War I, 37n2, 62–63 World War II, 23, 58, 61, 84, 121n8 Zimbabwe, 29 Žižek, Slavoj, 36, 92, 108, 114 Zulu (film, 1964), 119

About the Author

Dmitry Chernobrov is Lecturer in Media and International Politics at the University of Sheffield, UK. He earned his PhD in international relations from the University of St Andrews and an MPhil from the University of Cambridge. He has published on issues of identity and perception, ontological security, social exclusion, diasporas and traumatic memories, media representation of politics, and humanitarian crisis communication.