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Far-Right Narratives

The Victimhood Narrative: Justifying Racism and Gaining Supporters

How do you effectively legitimise the exclusion, suppression and discrimination of others based merely on racial features? The far right has an easy answer – paint yourself as the innocent one.

This blog entry aims at providing you with an understanding of yet another argumentation scheme that far-right political actors have adopted to their benefit. By repeating a story motivated by a false sense of imperilment over and over again, the so-called victimhood narrative.

What is the victimhood narrative?

It might seem puzzling at a first glance. Let’s untangle this idea. Building on initial victimhood studies and transitioning to the far-right domain, the most compelling scholarly writing from the early 2000s investigates how the victim ideology is used strategically to put forward racialist arguments. Five claims of white supremacists are identified: (1) white supremacists experience discrimination themselves as a result of civil rights movements, (2) their rights are being abrogated – take free speech, for example, (3) stigmatization and the denial of pride, (4) short-term harm as a loss of self-esteem, and (5) long-term harm as the racial elimination or a perceived extinction of the white race. These beliefs might sound absurd at times but turn out to be powerful for gathering support.

The predominant group of supporters for the far-right are driven by a sense that they are adversely affected by a multiracial society and (!) will be wiped away somehow. Some scholars researching violence prevention believe that arguments prepare for an emotional preparation for aggressively proactive actions with a finish line at inciting fear and dehumanizing the other. While other scholars contribute to the topic by focusing on the individual aspects of the victimization narrative. It appeals to far-right supporters simply because it paints the image of somebody to blame. However, there doesn’t seem to be a heated debate within the academic community on this narrative’s objective. 

Let’s apply this theoretical pattern to a practical example of an under-researched area – the Bulgarian far right with the aim of shedding light on a societal issue too important to be neglected.

The case in focus: United Patriots

Who are they and why are they important? United Patriots (UP) was an electoral alliance formed by three radical right political parties: the IMRO – Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO), the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB) and Ataka. All parties are well-known for their racist ideologies with Ataka being the most radical. In 2017, they formed a government coalition with the populist right-wing party GERB. From that moment onwards, the far-right officially had a seat in the highest state authority. The marginalization of the Roma people and the significant rise in the crime rate within their community based on multiple reasons saw an expansion in anti-Roma discourse.

It appears that UP representatives rely on constructing their image as the victims. Two examples of vocal racism by high-end politicians against the Roma minority in the country justified by reverse victimhood illustrate this.

Vocal racism but justified?!

The first example is former Deputy Prime Minister Karakachanov’s racist statements in 2019. The situation was not out-of-the-ordinary. The news read that following a criminal act, the two perpetrators were caught and sent to trial. However, from another perspective, the problem was that two men of Roma background attacked an ethnic Bulgarian. The Deputy PM at the time, Karakachanov, took this opportunity to address the media by referring to Roma people as “gypsies” and declaring that “Bulgaria’s patience with the community was running out”. Going back to the victimhood narrative characteristics – the situation was twisted in a way that portrayed the whole Bulgarian Roma minority as associated with and guilty of the said crime. It was enough to incite fear and to spark a reaction that resulted in the raiding of many homes of the Roma community in the region and continuous threats.

Another illustrative example is again an action initiated by Karakachanov. Namely, his proposal for “solving the gypsy problem”.

Valeri Simeonov, leader of the NFSB (left) and
Krasimir Karakachanov, leader of the VMRO (right)
Photo by V. Angelov on Capital‘s official website

What is the purpose you might wonder? The highly discriminatory text that thankfully was never adopted discusses birth control based on ethnicity, for instance, which is a textbook example of the long-term threat of racial elimination. It aims at turning the electorate against people who are already marginalized by society. It turns out that the biggest enemy of Bulgarians is not a corrupt politician misappropriating public funds but a single mother who robs the state intentionally by receiving a minimal social benefit for her children with an income of less than BGN 400 per month!

Why could this narrative be appealing?

In different societies, as examined in the academic backbone of this post, this victimhood narrative exists in similar ways. From far-right movements to political parties, one can observe at least one of the aspects above. Victimhood is a powerful mechanism for mobilising support on a psychological level even. As if looking at one issue through the same lens – there is one enemy, the other, and you are the innocent victim. That’s why it is important to identify how political actors construct realities in order to fit any contemporary problem into the same box. A question arises on how to counter such narratives effectively? Possible avenues for future research could trace the influence of far-right actors on mainstream political parties and how they tackle minority issues in response.

Featured illustration by Rudall30 on Adobe Stock

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13 thoughts on “The Victimhood Narrative: Justifying Racism and Gaining Supporters

  1. We are excited to see how this blog post will evolve, as the topic seems extremely interesting! We have a few suggestions for the future. First, the article would look even better if you added one more picture. Moreover, even if we know that this is just an initial draft, we suggest that you transform the various bullet points in a more fluent text. As a last thing, it would be useful if you could add hyperlinks to the “United Patriots” part!

    1. Dear @rginepro for your suggestions on how to improve my blog post both visually and content-wise are taken into account. Thank you for your feedback!

  2. We are aware that this is still a draft, however we like the use of headings and the structure. The language is very formal but not consistent with the other blogposts of this topic, maybe try to make this more consistent. Overall, good start!

    1. Dear @scancinocorral thank you for pointing this inconsistency in the writing styles of my teammates and me – in the final version of the text this is taken into account.

  3. Hi Emili,
    This is such an interesting topic and the examples you picked really make the post more vivid. Also the title picture is very well-chosen.
    Apart from that, you describe, in the second section of the post, far-right supporters as working-class members. To us, that was interesting since Kilian concludes in his own post (Globalization, post 3) that the electorate of the German far-right AfD cannot be categorised as such. We thought maybe our data-sets draw different results or the AfD is simply an exception. So we are curious about your perspective. Why do you think we have different conclusions in this regard?

    1. Dear @kilian thank you for your feedback! In regard to your remark about the predominant electoral support – it is indeed valuable that you pointed it out. In my final version of the post, I have tried to make this point clearer to avoid confusion.

      We have different findings because of the areas that are under the spotlight. In the draft text at the time of your comment, I had based my argument on the journal article by Mitch Berbrier (2000) who had examined white supremacist media appearances and publications in the United States between 1993-1995. The author outlines the core pattern of my post, namely the victimhood narrative. This is a link to the study: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20832074

      Therefore, I took into account your remark and retrieve this statement about “working-class” attributes as it indeed confuses.

      I traced the aspects of the narrative in the Bulgarian example of the UP. Unfortunately, the statistical data on the electorate of the far right in Bulgaria is scarce. This could be a good avenue for future research perhaps. However, in a report from 2015 that I used for reference, it is stated that the social and educational status of the voters of Ataka (from whom the other two parties involved are believed to “borrow” support) are different. What is known concrete is that they are from different age groups (prevailing those between 41 and 50 years of age) and who live predominantly in the regional cities and in Sofia (a total of 60%). Take a look at Chapter 3 (page 63): https://csd.bg/publications/publication/radicalisation-in-bulgaria-threats-and-trends/

      On the European level, the lower-middle classes and skilled or unskilled working-class men, citizens who lack formal qualifications and are economically insecure are stated to be the majority of the far-right support. Reference: https://www.chathamhouse.org/2011/09/right-response-understanding-and-countering-populist-extremism-europe

      I found Kilian’s post insightful and if we were to compare the Bulgarian and German far-right supporters, there are a plethora of differences on background level. Perhaps, another post in the future on the comparison could be interesting.

      1. Dear Emili,
        Thanks for your elaborative and insightful answer as well as we are delighted that our comment could help your writing process! We also agree in this regard that the complexity of far-right voting patterns demands a multi-faceted answer, as you already alluded to. Eventually, the future research avenues you suggest sound very promising. A comparison of the different European far-right voting patterns would be very interesting!

  4. Very interesting and contemporary choice of topic!
    We are aware of the fact that this is still a draft, but so far you are doing a very good job.
    There is however room for more visuals in your post, to make it more intriguing for the readers, maybe add a quote or one more picture.
    In addition to this, the “…” at the end of some paragraphs was a bit unclear, but maybe it’s just a mnemonic for you to remember where you have to still work on the post, as it is still a draft.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Dear @ibastings thank you for your constructive remarks! I have taken into account your suggestions on how to make my post blog more visually appealing and included a second image. Once the final draft is uploaded the paragraphs, I hope that you find the text structure clearer.

      Also, I am pleased that you find the topic interesting. Perhaps, you will find this other blog entry insightful: https://eeradicalization.com/how-the-far-right-uses-victimization-narratives-to-justify-violence/

  5. I found this post extremely interesting! It’s written very well and in an accessible way. I think the topic and information that you give are very captivating for the reader. Well done!
    The only thing that I would suggest is to maybe work on the last paragraph which is a bit confusing and still looks like a draft. Overall, it is definitely a great post!

    1. Dear @alaplaca thank you for your positive feedback! The version at the time of the comment was indeed a draft and the final paragraph is transformed into a discussion of the findings after having traced the characteristics of the victimhood narrative in the two practical examples.

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