Luiza Bialasiewicz, Hanna L. Muehlenhoff:
‘Personal sovereignty’ in pandemics: or, why do today’s ‘sovereignists’ reject state sovereignty?

The focus on individual agency and responsibility comes, indeed, with the denial of public health as a collective good (and responsibility).

From the AfD and Pegida in Germany, to the FPÖ and Identitarian groups in Austria, to a range of far-right groups in Italy and Poland, over the past months self-declared right-wing ‘sovereignist’ movements have been forcefully contesting the attempts of state officials to enforce any sort of limitations on individual behavior or mobility in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As Richard Seymour wrote in the New Statesman recently, “it is not the obvious position for authoritarian, anti-immigrant nationalists to take. The pandemic demands unprecedented restrictions, border controls and surveillance. It offers popularity to any government that takes control of the situation”.

Yet in their protests against the “sanitary dictatorship” of the state [i], far- and populist-right groups have been joined by other political forces that could be characterized as more of the populist-left variety – from some gilet jaunes in France, to the gilet arancioni in Italy (loosely connected to fringes of the Five Star Movement). Indeed, opposition to the sovereign powers of states in attempting to govern the spread of the pandemic has created the most unlikely of coalitions: from anarchists and natural health proponents, to anti-vaxxers and right-nativists, all mobilizing around a purported defense of personal and bodily freedoms.

Read the article on Open Democracy.

Luiza Bialasiewicz is Professor of European Governance in the Department of European Studies at the University of Amsterdam and the co-director of the Amsterdam Centre for European Studies (ACES). As a political geographer, her work has focused on the making of European borders within and outside of the EU and, most recently, on anti-migrant movements in European cities. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the IWM several times, most recently in 2019.

Hanna Muehlenhoff is Lecturer in European Policy and European Integration at the Department of European Studies at the University of Amsterdam and researcher at the Amsterdam Centre for European Studies (ACES). Her research focuses on the European Union’s external relations from a feminist perspective, focusing on the EU’s women’s and LGBTQ rights promotion in Turkey and the EU’s security and defence policy. She currently studies how new initiatives of the EU’s security and defence policy produce ideas of sovereignty and legitimate intervention.


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