Workshop on “The Politics and Discourse of Fifth Columns in Eurasia”
Call for Proposals

The Workshop is convened by Scott Radnitz (University of Washington) and Harris Mylonas (George Washington University) and will be held on March 1, 2019, at the University of Washington, Seattle. The workshop will bring together a small interdisciplinary group of social scientists to exchange ideas, brainstorm, and provide constructive criticism of each other’s work. See below for a brief description.

We seek applications from junior social scientists (Ph.D. candidates near completion or recent graduates) whose work: (a) demonstrates substantial theoretical innovation grounded in empirical research; (b) has politics relating to claims of fifth columns as a central focus (or “dependent variable”); (c) want to publish the work they present in an anticipated edited volume or special issue of a journal.

Interested researchers should submit a CV and a one-page description of the research project idea they would like to present at the workshop. Submit the materials here by August 1, 2018. The organizers may request writing samples of interested candidates. Applicants will be notified of decisions by September 1. UW’s Simpson Center for the Humanities, the main sponsor of this workshop, in collaboration with GWU, will cover all travel and accommodation expenses for the selected participants.

Scott Radnitz, UW
Harris Mylonas, GW

The Politics and Discourse of Fifth Columns in Eurasia

Harris Mylonas & Scott Radnitz

We define fifth columns as distrusted domestic groups suspected of acting nefariously against the "national interest," in cooperation with external rivals of the state. Historical episodes involving purported fifth columns stemmed from state formation and the collapse of empires. The rise of nationalism and incomplete assimilation within a consolidating territory gave rise to the concept of “minorities”. In some cases, the alienation of insecure minorities accused of subversive activity could have a self-fulfilling effect by pushing them into the arms of an external adversary for protection.

The term "fifth column," though originating in the ideological context of the Spanish Civil War, has been used most often to describe perceived ethnic sympathizers of external enemies, but claims of fifth columns can also emerge as a byproduct of geopolitical rivalries. Most recently, far right parties in Europe have depicted immigrants and refugees from Muslim majority countries as fifth columns against Christian civilization, and Trump Administration officials have made similar insinuations about American Muslims.

We focus the workshop on Eurasia—for these purposes, the area stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Russia, and including Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East, though several papers may address other cases. These regions saw the collapse of empires and the emergence of nation-states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, they are increasingly characterized by populism, authoritarianism, ethnic nationalism, scapegoating of minorities and political dissidents, and intermittent geopolitical tensions. Seeing these phenomena through the lens of fifth columns and applying a historical and comparative perspective will contribute to ongoing debates about political developments in the region, while advancing our theoretical understanding of the conditions under which fifth column allegations appear, endure, and wane.

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