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Barton Hronešová, Jessie. “The uses of victimhood as a hegemonic meta-narrative in eastern Europe.” Journal of Contemporary European Studies (2022): 1-17.


Narratives of wartime suffering, communist evils, and maltreatment by the ‘West’ have started featuring prominently in the political discourse across eastern Europe in the past decade and half. Permeating the public sphere, such narratives imply complex victimhood and often gain a hegemonic status. Why have such victimhood narratives become so pervasive? And what has been their purpose across eastern Europe? This interdisciplinary article provides a conceptual and empirical explanation of how hegemonic narratives of victimhood have been used to enhance ontological security and as an instrument of power-seeking political leaders, especially (but not exclusively) right-wing populists. It shows that although the local attachment to memory and history is often portrayed as irrational, victimhood as a narrative has clear benefits regarding national ontological security as the self-understanding of a state and a tool to justify policies. Using concrete examples, the articles identify three main sub-narratives of direct, historical and structural victimhood linked to World War II, communism and the precarious relationship with the ‘West’, arguing that the combination of historical traumas and the post-1989 transformations explain the pan-regional proliferation of victimhood.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.