Music researchers and educators who deal critically with right-wing populism and extremism in their work experience a considerable degree of negative pressure. Insults and defamatory campaigns in “social” networks, hate mail, lawsuit threats, and classroom disturbances are typical intimidation strategies. But now, the mdw is hosting a workshop that aims to provide courageous scholars and teachers with moral support.
In an interview with German radio station Deutschlandfunk in February of this year, the renowned Bielefeld-based sociologist Wilhelm Heitmeyer criticised the all-too-lax and frequently insecure way in which many academies and universities deal with right-wing populist and extremist tendencies. All in all, his diagnosis was that the current “authoritarian temptations in society evidently aren’t being treated as a serious matter”¹ by a great number of individuals in positions of responsibility. Heitmeyer went on to point out how this is problematic due not least to the fact that today’s “authoritarian and nationalist radicalism” has taken aim “at our society’s institutions”² —i.e., that the objective is to destabilise places of education such as schools and universities. The fact that this strategy has begun bearing fruit here and there can be seen in the popularity enjoyed for several years now by “alternative facts”—it’s not for nothing that the Association for the German Language made “postfactual” it’s word of the year in 2016—and in the associated increase in hostility towards intellectualism and the sciences, an undercurrent that is growing increasingly palpable. In actual teaching and research, insecurities can be made out especially among students and doctoral candidates. A frequently expressed concern is whether it’s actually still possible these days to do work on themes having do with the politics of music without suffering serious psychological and financial damage. As one person put it: “What do I do if a band or a concert promoter sues me because my study comes to the conclusion that a group that’s performing somewhere propagates right-wing ideology?” This individual was quick to add: “After all, I’m no Matthias Naske!”³
It’s a fact that people who research and teach about right-wing extremist and populist tendencies in past and/or present-day culture, convey their findings to the public, and take part in the associated societal debates have recently been confronted with extraordinary stress factors about which they can seldom talk openly, even if they’re forced to cope with them day in and day out. Insults and defamatory campaigns in “social” networks, hate mail, lawsuit threats, disturbances of classroom work, and experiences of exclusion are common strategies of intimidation meant to silence critical individuals. And it goes without saying that to an increasing degree, researchers and educators in the field of music are among those affected by such strategies.
This has to do with the current political climate—which does, one might say, entail less favourable socio-political circumstances for research and teaching. But these conditions are also—and this is the good news—evoking a backlash that’s gradual but all the stronger for it: one sees that current research on music, particularly popular music studies, is placing a comparatively strong focus on present-day socio-political developments and issues. In 2017, the journal Österreichische Musikzeitschrift, for instance, devoted an entire issue to a focus entitled Musik in Zeiten des Populismus [Music in Populist Times].⁴ And the Gesellschaft für Popularmusikforschung e.V. [German Society for Popular Music Studies] will be holding a conference at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in November 2019 entitled One Nation under a Groove – ‚Nation‘ als Kategorie populärer Musik? […‘Nation’ as a Category of Popular Music?] that aims to critically examine various popular musics in terms of (imagined) nation-related constructs. Finally, Mario Dunkel of the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg is currently conducting a large-scale research project together with colleagues from Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, and Hungary that explores the role of popular music in the mass dissemination and anchoring of right-wing populist ideas—an idea that the (private) Volkswagen Group is sponsoring with nearly one million Euros.⁵
Courageous steps like these should be supported internationally. Heitmeyer is a vehement advocate for the establishment of structurally anchored teaching, continuing education, and informational offerings at academies and universities that should be made available on the most permanent possible basis to members of their communities.⁶ The mdw, as a university of music and performing arts where over 4,000 individuals from more than different 70 countries currently study, teach, learn, work, and research, conceives of itself as a place of open and curious encounters, of transcultural cooperation, and of respectful interaction.
In order to strengthen the positions of courageous researchers (regardless of their levels of qualification) and educators, the mdw’s Centre for Further Education has teamed up with the hmdw and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music – German-Speaking Branch (IASPM-D-A-CH) to hold a workshop entitled Positionen! Kompetent umgehen mit rechtspopulistischen und -extremen Provokationen [Positions! Dealing Competently with Right-Wing Populist and Extremist Provocations] in October of this year. This workshop will offer its participants a protected setting in which to engage in exchange regarding their experiences. Furthermore, two outside experts on right-wing extremism will be introducing strategies that will enable the course participants to respond calmly and competently to verbal attacks and provocations. And finally, a legal advice session will inform its attendees about whether and to what extent university-connected individuals enjoy legal protection should they be sued, and/or on whether it makes sense to take individual legal precautions when teaching and researching (or planning to teach and research) on right-wing populism and right-wing extremism. POP/ULIS/M/USIC/RESEARCH? Take heart!
- Deutschlandfunk: “Right-wing movements at postsecondary institutions. Universities aren’t taking the situation seriously”. Wilhelm Heitmeyer interviewed by Benedikt Schulz. Broadcast on 6 Feb. 2019. Online: https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/rechte-bewegungen-an-hochschulen-universitaeten-nehmen-die.680.de.html?dram:article_id=440346 (Accessed: 10 Jul. 2019).
- Current Vienna Konzerthaus head Matthias Naske stated in a May 2017 interview with Judith Hecht of the newspaper Die Presse that he considered the Vienna Musikverein’s decision to allow the politically controversial Austrian pop star Andreas Gabalier to perform in its Golden Hall in April of that year to have been a “mistake”, “[b]ecause things like that send out a signal. You have to be clear on who Gabalier is and what he stands for, and then you need to think about that” (online: https://diepresse.com/home/wirtschaft/uebergeld/5213660/KonzerthausChef-Naske_Man-muss-wissen-wofuer-Gabalier-steht, accessed: 11 Jul. 2019). Subsequently, Naske not only received an anonymous death threat (see https://diepresse.com/home/kultur/medien/5229863/GabalierKlage_Morddrohung-gegen-Naske) but was also (unsuccessfully) sued for his statements by Gabalier himself, who proceeded to appeal the rulings in Naske’s favour all the way to Austria’s Supreme Court of Justice (see, for instance: https://diepresse.com/home/kultur/popco/5378258/Hymne-MachoSprueche_Gabalier-verliert-Prozess-weil-er-selbst-oft, accessed: 11 July 2019).
- Europäische Musikforschungsvereinigung Wien (ed.): “Great again? Musik in Zeiten des Populismus”. Österreichische Musikzeitschrift, vol. 72, no. 6, 2017. Vienna: Hollitzer.
- One source of more detailed information on this project would be https://uol.de/news-detail/wenn-musik-politisch-wird-2441/ (Accessed: 18 Jul. 2019)
- See endnote 1.