Latest examples: Fighting Nationalism with Comedy or Science

Many current Nationalist movements base their ideas on ethnic, religious, geographic or linguistic commonalities. Simple considerations can debunk many of them. However, in the discussion each party has become more and more creative in defending their ideas. Here are two intriguing ways to put Nationalism on the spot: comedy and science.

The Polish Independence Day is celebrated only two days after the International Day Against Fascism and Antisemitism (11 and 9 November respectively). As an estimated 3 Million Polish Jews had died through the Shoah, the country could have strong reasons to commemorate this historic loss of richness. Instead, Media report a ‘grotesque procession of militant nationalists, white supremacists, and radical Islamophobes’ on this year’s Polish Independence Day, including banners showing ‘Pure Poland, white Poland!’, ‘Pure blood, Clear mind’ or ‘God, honour, country’. While in many countries or regions Nationalist movements or subgroup within these movements focus on different ‘issues’, they share the recurring theme of proclaimed, constructed or even invented commonalities.

Data show DNA variation and debunk ethnic purity as a myth

A new analysis of International DNA data shows which genetic purity – or rather diversity – exists within Europe. Based on data collected by the Eupedia project, researchers calculated the Simpson’s diversity index (SDI) for twelve European societies with notable right-wing campaigns. Hungary shows the highest genetic Diversity (0.84) in this list, France the lowest (0.64). Of the four Visegrád countries, two more show up in the upper half of the DNA-Diversity ranking (Czech Republic 0.8 and Slovakia 0.78). France reached the lowest SDI (0.64). To put this figure in context: In a group that contains 50% men and 50% women, the SDI is 0.5.

The SDI measures both richness and evenness of species present in a system and is a standard formula to quantify diversity; its value can range from 0 to 1. Data for the latest study came from genealogists who cluster Human Y-chromosome DNA in groups sharing a common ancestor (so-called haplogroups). In the twelve European countries initially analysed, the most prevalent (genetic) ethnicities, in this case by paternal lines, include at least of the R1a or R1b haplogroups (R1a being Balto-Slavic, Germanic, Indo-Iranian and R1b Italo-Celtic, Germanic, Hittite, Armenian, Tocharian). Each of the 12 countries also has one of the I1 or I2a haplogroups in their top three ethnicities (I1 being pre-Germanic / Nordic I2 including I2a Sardinian, Iberian and I2b Dinaric, Danubian).

Nationality as a modern construct of power or a sociological phenomenon?

This is not the first time that scientific evidence bursts the myth of homogeneous nations. Researchers from various disciplines argue consistently, yet from different perspectives, that Nationalities are constructed – mostly based on ethnic, geographical, religious or linguistic criteria. The Mexican historian, Edmundo O’Gorman, even spoke about the ‘invention of America’, drawing a line between the construction of that Nationality and the more ‘organically developed’ nations (that developed shared cultural elements in the course of history). Other scientists, however, challenge the notion that Nations developed organically at any time, insisting on the construction or invention paradigm. At a recent conference in Wroclaw (Poland), the Czech scientist Miroslav Hroch reflected that Nations have become weaker as abstract communities of cultural values but remain strong as social groups. His earlier work described the creation of Nations – including the third and final phase of a societal majority creating a mass movement – as well as common myths that are used to maintain the idea (or ideal) of a Nation – including

  • Specific (usually selective and interpreted) ‘memory’ of the past,
  • Dense linguistic or cultural bonds (usually defined by shared characteristics or customs) and
  • Conception of equality of all members of the group (again reinforcing the paradigm of sameness).

Nationalism needs anti-diversity dynamics to create enemy images

It is precisely these elements that create and foster the current hostile climate against different minority groups. Depending on the location (country or region) and the respective situation, populist groups pick and address topics that correspond to their agenda as well as their audience, e.g. anti-immigrant, anti-gender equality, anti-muslim, anti-gay, anti-semitic, anti-ziganism etc. This creates a continuum from extremist, radical right to right-wing conservative positions, which are now often represented by political parties. “The strong, negative enemy images mobilize the masses by blurring the boundaries between the mainstream right and the extremists,” Peter Kreko, director of the think tank Political Capital Institute in Budapest and an expert on Central Europe’s far right told the The rise of mass politics is often attributed to the reach of digital media and the specific filter bubble dynamics of social media, which are therefore criticised. Scientists have instead made the point that right-wing populists simply use these dynamics more effectively for their purposes. How easy it is to manipulate and divide a group of good friends or neighbours has already been shown in history and diversity practitioners know the stunning experiments of Jane Elliot who managed to reproduce this dynamic again and again over decades. Her lessons (e.g. the need to intervene at every incident that supports the emergence of stereotypes) have shown a number of effective ways to address the various dynamics of hatred politics.

Comedy as an unlikely tool to address Nationalism

Portraying radicals – no matter which ideology – as something funny has been, and still is, considered off-limits by many and in many places. In Germany, for example, addressing the Nazi past has always been complex and an emotionally charged issue. After Charlie Chaplin’s iconic film ‘The Great Dictator’, it took decades until comedians started to dare to make fun of that dark era, its leaders, dynamics and symbols. Initiatives, including ‘Obersalzberg’ or ‘Mein Führer’ came under scrutiny if they weren’t disrespectful about the victims of Nazi Germany nor if they created positive associations. Instead comedy is required to demystify even the biggest Horror and show the many absurd aspects of a given system – also to add to the morale ‘mind the beginnings’ messages. That the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate approaches varies for people and perspectives is exemplified by an uproar that film students created with a fictitious commercial for an intelligent pedestrian protection system that killed little Adolf Hitler (as a child) when driving through his home village Braunau (‘detecting dangers before they emerge’). Some comments – including Daimler – insisted that this was inappropriate while a large majority including experts considered it brilliant.

Award-winning comedy about Nationalistic purity ideals

In November 2017, a German short-form series about two neo-nazis having to care about a dark-skinned girl, won the prestigious International Emmy Award. In eight 60-minute episodes ‘Familie Braun’ (the Brown Family), tells the story of a neo-Nazi who finds himself in many bizarre situations after an Eritrean woman leaves their (coloured) daughter at his and his roommate’s doorstep. Some seven years before, he had a one-night stand with her and the next day she is going deported from Germany. The compressed format forced the producers to pack each film with strong symbols and harsh jokes, backed by drastic music and rapid cuts. The ingenious combination of Nazi stereotypes, children’s intelligence, reversed roles and a final human spirit drives home more messages than most educational programmes could. Surprisingly, the producers were not often recognised for the exceptionally bright selection of the main actor, Edin Hasanović, who, born in Bosnia-Hercegovina, came to Germany as a refugee together with his mother when he was a few months old.

It was particularly interesting and arguably political to pick that very production from Germany in the current geopolitical environment. “I’m especially excited that this miniseries has been recognized by such an internationally acclaimed body, as it so bravely and unconventionally takes on the subject of right-wing extremism,” said ZDF Program Director, Norbert Himmler, after hearing about the award.

Diversity cannot stay away from politics any longer – global alliances needed

Learning from these current examples and considerations include

  • As it is easier to divide a group than to bring it together, D&I needs to build up more strength and join forces with various kinds of allies to address hostile moves
  • In doing this, they should not blame social media for allowing populist messages to be spread – they should instead learn how to utilise the tools even better
  • Comedy should not be considered off-limits as it can be an effective tool to put all kinds of –isms and –phobias on the spot
  • Facts will continue to be the strongest resource in winning at least those parts of overall audience that is prepared and able to consider them


Here is more what D&I can do

About the role of media and corporations


References related to this article


The Eupedia Project


The Brown Family (all six episodes ‘Familie Braun’)