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Vlad Marginas

GEM-DIAMOND doctoral fellow

ESR 6 – The 'resistance’ social movement: towards a re-politicisation of the European public sphere

Historian and European affairs generalist.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) GEM-DIAMOND Research Fellow and joint PoliSci Ph.D. student at UBB (Cluj), UNIGE (Geneva) & ULB (Brussels).

Host Institutions

The "resistance" social movement: toward a repoliticisation of the European public sphere

Supervisors

  • Sergiu Miscoiu
  • Sandro Cattacin
  • Ramona Coman

Research abstract

This thesis embarks on an in-depth comparative investigation of anti-gender movements in Romania and Greece, with the objective of elucidating their contribution to the development of dissensus as a phenomenon within liberal democracies. Utilising an extensive methodological apparatus that synthesises semi-structured interviews, content and discourse analysis, process tracing, and comparative historical analysis, this study delves into the complex interplay between anti-gender sentiments and the broader socio-political phenomena of populism, Europeanisation, and transnationalism. Focused on the nuanced landscapes of Romania and Greece, the analysis seeks to uncover how these movements capitalise on populist narratives, navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by European integration, and draw upon transnational networks to bolster their ideological and operational capacities. The research critically examines the capacity of anti-gender movements to disrupt traditional consensus-building processes, thereby challenging the foundational principles of gender equality and human rights that underpin liberal democratic societies. Through rigorous empirical and theoretical exploration, this thesis aims to contribute significantly to the political science discourse, offering a comprehensive account of the mechanisms through which anti-gender movements engender political dissensus. It situates this phenomenon within the wider context of contemporary political dynamics, highlighting the critical role of such movements in the ongoing debates surrounding the resilience and adaptability of liberal democracy in the face of emerging societal cleavages. In doing so, the study not only enhances our understanding of the specificities of political contestation in the age of gender politics but also provides a scholarly foundation for future research on the interrelations between democracy, dissensus, and the politics of gender. Through its detailed case studies and methodological diversity, the thesis underscores the importance of examining the multifaceted nature of political dissensus, thereby contributing to a more nuanced comprehension of the challenges confronting liberal democracies today.

Keywords: dissensus; anti-gender; populism; europeanisation; euroscepticism; identity politics; norm entrepreneurship; transnationalisation.

Research Question(s)

1. How have LGBTQ+ rights, as a politically divisive topic, contributed to the development of dissensus in social movements in predominantly Orthodox South-Eastern European states?
2. What are the specificities and commonalities of these regional anti-gender campaigns?
a) How do these transpose and localise?
3. Is there a transnational dissensus coalition fuelled by anti-gender movements active in the public sphere?
a) And if so, what are its processes of coagulation and dissemination?

Research Hypothesis(es)

The core hypothesis of this thesis is intricately woven around the concept of dissensus, positing that patriarchal populist norm entrepreneurs play a pivotal role in instigating and perpetuating transnational anti-gender sentiment, thereby generating dissensus within the liberal democratic contexts of Romania and Greece. This hypothesis critically examines the strategic mobilisation of anti-gender narratives by these actors, who leverage both local cultural-political landscapes and transnational networks to disseminate and reinforce their opposition to gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights. It suggests that through their concerted efforts, these norm entrepreneurs not only challenge the prevailing liberal democratic values but also foster a climate of political and social contestation, undermining the consensus necessary for democratic stability and progress. By drawing attention to the transnational dimensions of anti-gender sentiment, the study underscores the interconnectedness of these movements across borders, highlighting the complex global-local dynamics at play. This approach provides a nuanced understanding of how dissensus is engineered and maintained, offering insights into the broader implications for policy-making, social cohesion, and the future trajectory of liberal democracies facing the challenge of anti-gender movements.

Personal Research Bibliography (So Far)

• Aggleton, P., Cover, R., Logie, C.H., Newman, C.E. & Parker, R. (eds.) (2023). Routledge handbook of sexuality, gender, health and rights (2nd ed.). Routledge.
• Anastasiadou, M. & Samara, J. (2022). “Where are the equal rights?”: Far-right women challenging gender equality and human rights in Greece. DiGeSt - Journal of Diversity and Gender Studies 9(2), 8–25. https://doi.org/10.21825/digest.81849
• Ayoub, P.M. & Stoeckl, K. (2024). The global resistance to LGBTIQ rights. Journal of Democracy, 35(1), 59-73. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2024.a915349
• Băluță, O. (2020). Egalitatea de gen. Politici publice sau un câmp de luptă discursiv și politico-religios? [Gender equality. Public policies or discursive and politico-religious battlefield?]. Transilvania, 11-12, 18-33. https://doi.org/10.51391/trva.2020.12.03.
• Băluță, I. & Tufiş, C. (2023). Preaching the ‘traditional family’ in the Romanian Parliament: The political stakes and meanings of a hegemonic narrative. European Politics and Societies, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/08883254231181069
• Bego, I. (2015). Gender equality in the European Union: A fast track to parity for new member states. Palgrave Macmillan.
• Buhuceanu, F. (2022). Homoistorii: Ieşirea din invizibilitate [Homohistories: Exit from invisibility]. Humanitas.
• Coman, R. & Brack, N. (2023). Understanding dissensus in the age of crises: Theoretical reflexions. RED-SPINEL.
• Chalkidou, A. (2020). Vanilla democracy: Sexuality, parenthood, and kinship in Greece. Sexualities, 25(5-6). https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460720978611
• della Porta, D. & Caiani, M. (2009). Social movements and Europeanization. Oxford University Press.
• Graff, A. & Korolczuk, E. (2021). Anti-gender politics in the populist moment. Routledge.
• ———. (2023). Gender and illiberal politics. In The Oxford handbook of illiberalism, Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780197639108.013.12
• Korolczuk, E. & Graff, A. (2018). Gender as “Ebola from Brussels“: The anticolonial frame and the rise of illiberal populism. Signs, 43(4), 797-821. https://doi.org/10.1086/696691
• Kuhar, R. & Paternotte, D. (eds.) (2017). Anti-gender campaigns in Europe: Mobilizing against equality. Rowman & Littlefield.
• Miscoiu, S., Gherghina, S. & Samsudean, D. (2022). Religion, homosexuality, and the EU: Grasping the beliefs of Romanian Orthodox priests. Sexuality, Gender and Policy, 6(2), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1002/sgp2.12050
• Miscoiu, S. & Gherghina, S. (2023). Dissensus over liberal democracy: Political parties at the national and European levels. RED-SPINEL.
• Norocel, O.C. & Băluță, I. (2021). Retrogessive mobilization in the 2018 ‘referendum for family’ in Romania. Problems of Post-Communism, 70(2): 153-62. https://doi.org/10.1080/10758216.2021.1987270
• Norocel, O.C. (2023). Gendering the far-right continuum in Europe. In The Routledge handbook of extremism in Europe. Routledge.
• Sakellariou, A. (2022). Investigating fundamentalist trends in the Orthodox Church of Greece: Balancing between traditionalism and fundamentalism. Journal for Religion, Society and Politics, 7, 59-79. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41682-022-00110-7
• ———. (2022). Young people and the process of secularisation in contemporary Greek society. Religions, 13(10), 999. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13100999
• Sanders, R. & Dudley Jenkins, L. (2023). Patriarchal populism: The Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC) and the transnational politics of authoritarian anti-feminism. The International Spectator. https://doi.org/10.1080/03932729.2023.2225660
• Schmitt, O.J. (2022). Balcanii în secolul XX: O istorie postimperială [The Balkans in the twentieth century: A postimperial history]. Humanitas.
• ———. (2023). Biserica de stat sau biserica în stat? O istorie a Bisericii Ortodoxe Române, 1918-2023 [The church of state or the church-in-state? A history of the Romanian Orthodox Church, 1918-2023]. Humanitas.
• Slootmaeckers, K. (2023). Coming in: Sexual politics and EU accession in Serbia. Manchester University Press.
• Snegovaya, M. (2024). When left moves right: The decline of the left and the rise of populist right parties in postcommunist Europe. Oxford University Press.
• Soare, S. & Tufiș, C.D. (2023). No populism’s land? Religion and gender in Romanian politics. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 30(1), 112-130. https://doi.org/10.1080/1070289X.2021.1953784
• Stoeckl, K. & Uzlaner, D. (2022). The moralist international: Russia in the global culture wars. Fordham University Press.

Personal Methods-Specific Bibliography (So Far)

• Ashe, S.D., Busher, J., Macklin, G. & Winter, A. (eds.) (2021). Researching the far-right: Theory, method and practice. Routledge.
• Ayoub, P.M. & Stoeckl, K. (2024). The global fight against LGBTI rights: How transnational conservative networks target sexual and gender minorities. NYU Press.
• Carlson, J., & Ramo, E. (2023). “I’m Not a Conspiracy Theorist, But…”: Knowledge and Conservative Politics in Unsettled Times. Social Forces, 101(4), 1658-1681. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/soac082
• Cyr, J. & Wallace Goodman, S. (2024). Doing good qualitative research. Oxford University Press.
• della Porta, D. (ed.) (2014). Methodological practices in social movement research. Oxford University Press.
• Filep, B. (2009). Interview and translation strategies: coping with multilingual settings and data. Social Geography, 4(1), 59-70. https://doi.org/10.5194/sg-4-59-2009
• Kern, F.G. & Mustasilta, K. (2023). Beyond replication: Secondary qualitative data analysis in political science. Comparative Political Studies, 56(8), 1224-1256. https://doi.org/10.1177/001041402211393
• Mahoney, J. & Rueschmeyer, D. (eds.) (2014). Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences. Cambridge University Press.
• Morse, Y. L. (2019). Elite interviews in the developing world: finding anchors in weak institutional environments. Qualitative Research, 19(3), 277-291. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794118773245
• Walgrave, S., & Joly, J. K. (2018). Surveying individual political elites: a comparative three-country study. Quality & Quantity, 52(5), 2221-2237. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-017-0658-5

Selected Case Studies

• Romania Case Study

Romania presents a complex terrain for examining anti-gender movements, with significant activity marked by the convergence of religious orthodoxy, nationalism, and resistance to gender equality initiatives. The country's conservative backlash against gender policies is exemplified by the 2015 formation of the "Coaliția pentru Familie" (Coalition for the Family), which garnered substantial support from the Romanian Orthodox Church and US evangelical groups. This coalition spearheaded a citizen's initiative aiming to constitutionally redefine marriage explicitly as a union between a man and a woman, collecting over three million signatures. Despite the failure of the 2018 "Referendum for the Family" due to low voter turnout, the campaign underscores the potency of anti-gender sentiment in Romania. The Romanian Orthodox Church plays a pivotal role in shaping public opinion and policy regarding gender and sexuality, often positioning itself against what it perceives as Western liberal values, including LGBT rights and gender equality. This stance is reinforced by the church's support for political entities that align with its ideological views, further entrenching conservative perspectives within the political landscape. The recent European Court of Human Rights ruling (May 2023), which mandates Romania to recognize same-sex partnerships, sets the stage for significant societal and political contention, highlighting the ongoing struggle between traditionalist forces and human rights advancements. In 2024, Romania is poised to undergo a significant political juncture with four scheduled rounds of elections: European, local, presidential, and legislative. Amidst this electoral marathon, radical right-wing populist parties are strategically resurrecting the idea of the referendum on the family as a pivotal issue. This move is anticipated to galvanize their base by leveraging anti-gender sentiment, emphasizing traditional family values as a counterpoint to liberal democratic principles. The prospect of these referendums serves not only as a political strategy for these parties but also as a litmus test for Romania's democratic resilience and its commitment to human rights and gender equality. The implications of these electoral manoeuvres extend beyond national borders, reflecting broader European and transnational trends in the politicization of gender and family issues. This context underscores the timeliness and societal relevance of examining anti-gender movements in Romania, offering insights into the dynamics of political contestation and the challenges of sustaining democratic values in the face of populist and anti-gender agendas.

• Greece Case Study

Greece's approach to gender and sexuality rights presents a contrasting case to Romania, particularly with its recent legalisation of same-sex marriage (February 2024), positioning it as a forerunner among Orthodox-majority countries in embracing LGBT rights. The concept of "symphonia," a theological and political notion advocating harmony between church and state, plays a central role in Greek society's navigation of these issues. Despite the Orthodox Church's significant influence, Greece has made considerable strides in LGBT inclusivity, reflecting a complex interplay between religious traditions and state policies aimed at ensuring equal rights. The legalisation of same-sex marriage marks a critical milestone in Greece's commitment to gender equality and LGBT rights despite facing considerable opposition from both religious institutions and conservative political factions. This advancement showcases the potential for Orthodox societies to reconcile religious beliefs with the demands of contemporary human rights norms. However, societal tensions and resistance persist, as highlighted by the tragic case of LGBT activist Zak Kostopolous and the subsequent legal controversies, underscoring the challenges that lie ahead in fully realizing LGBT rights and acceptance within the Greek context. Furthermore, despite the success of the implementation of marriage equality, political cleavages have deepened within the centre-right and centre-left, with numerous MPs openly hostile to marriage equality. The Greek Orthodox Church has renewed its efforts to openly contest the new political reality it finds itself in regarding its weaning position to influence political debate.

These case studies illuminate the multifaceted dynamics at play in Romania and Greece, reflecting broader regional and transnational influences on anti-gender movements and the contestation of liberal democratic values.

Key Findings (So Far)

The preliminary findings of my thesis, which focuses on a comparative study of anti-gender social movements in South-Eastern Europe, highlight the intricate interplay between religious figures, political actors, and social movement organisations (SMOs). The research methodology encompasses a diverse range of data collection techniques, including structured and unstructured interviews with both anti-gender proponents and LGBTQ+ rights activists, alongside participation in significant events such as the 2023 Bálványos Summer Free University. So far, the interviews conducted reveal a complex landscape of opinions and strategies employed by anti-gender movements, underscored by a notable engagement with transnational networks and a pronounced resistance to European liberal values. Conversely, discussions with LGBTQ+ rights NGOs illuminate the challenges and resilience of pro-rights advocates in navigating this contentious socio-political terrain. My observations at events like Tusványos, featuring prominent figures such as Viktor Orbán, have provided valuable insights into the rhetorical and mobilization strategies of anti-gender movements, offering a direct window into the discourse that shapes public opinion and policy on these issues. The ongoing and planned series of semi-structured interviews in both Greece and Romania are expected to further enrich this analysis, aiming to deliver a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics at play. Continuous dialogue with gender scholars also contributes to a deepening of the theoretical framework, ensuring a nuanced interpretation of the findings. These preliminary results underscore the pivotal role of ideological, religious, and political factors in the manifestation of anti-gender movements, setting the stage for an in-depth exploration of their implications for democracy, European integration, and the broader fight for gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights.

Social Relevance of your Research

The social relevance of this research is profound, offering critical insights into the contemporary challenges facing liberal democracies amid rising anti-gender movements. By examining the cases of Romania and Greece, this study sheds light on the intricate ways in which patriarchal populist norm entrepreneurs catalyze dissensus, leveraging anti-gender rhetoric to contest and undermine the foundational principles of gender equality and human rights. This investigation not only contributes to the academic discourse but also has significant implications for policymakers, activists, and society at large. Understanding the mechanisms through which anti-gender sentiment is propagated and legitimized reveals the broader societal tensions and divisions that threaten social cohesion and democratic stability. The findings of this research highlight the urgent need for inclusive dialogue and policy interventions that address the root causes of dissensus, promoting a more tolerant and equitable society. Moreover, this study underscores the importance of strengthening democratic institutions and processes to withstand the challenges posed by such movements, ensuring that the rights and dignities of all individuals are protected and upheld. In a time when liberal democracies are increasingly confronted with the rise of illiberal ideologies, this research offers a timely and valuable perspective on the strategies required to foster a resilient and inclusive public sphere, making a vital contribution to the ongoing efforts to safeguard democracy and human rights in the face of divisive anti-gender movements.
Vlad is a Marie Skłodowska Curie Doctoral Fellow (MSCA) at Babeş-Bolyai University (Cluj-Napoca, Romania), Université de Genève (Geneva, Switzerland) & Université libre de Bruxelles (Brussels, Belgium) within the Horizon Europe GEM-DIAMOND project (Globalisation, Europe, and Multilateralism: Democratic Institutions, the rise of Alternative Models and mounting Normative Dissensus). His doctoral project, jointly supervised by Sergiu Mişcoiu (UBB), Sandro Cattacin (UNIGE) & Ramona Coman (ULB), examines anti-gender movements in Romania and Greece through the framework of Europeanisation. His original research will argue that interpretations of so-called "gender ideology" and patriarchal right-wing populism are two sides of the same coin and plead for a more complex understanding of the way in which seemingly distinct political forces can converge in a specific setting, producing dissensus (understood here as a contestation of liberal democracy) as a general outcome.

Trained as a historian, Vlad is a graduate of two universities in a pre-Brexit United Kingdom. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts in History (with Honours and a First Class degree) at Canterbury Christ Church University in 2012. His individual study focused on Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu's state visit to the United Kingdom in 1978. Afterwards, based on solid advice from professors, he was accepted and subsequently obtained a Master of Arts degree in Modern History (with Merit Honours) in 2014 at the University of Kent, labelled 'The UK's European University.' His thesis narratively explored the political history of British Euroscepticism since 1945. During his studies, his main interests covered modern European issues, the Cold War, and transatlantic historical studies, with an inclination towards (but not exclusive to) diplomatic and political history.

After graduation, he considered pursuing an academic career. However, mainly due to the lack of viable funding opportunities in the UK, he relocated to London and worked as a copywriter and analyst in the technology sector. After becoming disillusioned with the fever of the incoming Brexit referendum, he decamped and moved to Brussels to be closer to the European institutions, the many other international companies, NGOs, and to be in the thick of it in the Eurobubble. He worked as an independent consultant, a technology data analyst, and most importantly to him, as a political advisor in the European Parliament (for an MEP in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats political group) during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. There he contributed to committee meetings in our Brussels office, wrote reports, letters, and opinion pieces for MEPs, drafted briefs and speeches, and witnessed firsthand the highly complex European legislative process. He gained insider knowledge of the European institutions and focused on honing his political operative skills, which were crucial in obtaining compromises and consensus after informal, party, and technical negotiations.

Notably, he witnessed the strict enforcement of the cordon sanitaire established by the four mainstream political groups (EPP, S&D, Renew, and Greens-EFA) in dealing with what had been marked as 'troublemakers and extremists' found in the ECR and especially in ID. The mainstream political actors most often worked collegially and achieved their aims through consensus after hammering out their differences, while the invariably dissenting members from nationalistic, extremist, or anti-European political wings were forced into a legislative wilderness. Advisers were not allowed to take into account any amendments, recitals, or draft proposals from these 'actors of dissensus' and this directive was strictly enforced. And while there were frequent voicings about the lack of flexibility and pragmatism, the overall philosophy was that we (meaning pro-Europeans) could not be tolerant of intolerance, in the most obvious political display of the paradox of tolerance.

Conversely, during organised social events in or around European institutions, the political actors and their staff mingled indiscriminately. This he found fascinating: the ability to separate the issues from the person in a limited capacity, and the fact that they were all together in the same place truly made them all feel they were in it together, no matter which direction each of them tried to steer their own solo political vessels. He realised the dissensus actors were oftentimes adept at embracing different personas based on whether or not the national spotlight was shining on them at that very instance. The theatrics deployed in the plenary made many of them unrecognisable from their private selves. That personal political pressure, which is unique to the individual, could make the difference between dissent and consensus, or belligerence and amenability.

From a technical standpoint, Vlad has also participated in a Data Science bootcamp in Brussels at an organisation called DigitYser, which worked closely with start-ups and tech companies in and around Brussels. During his training, he learned numerous programming languages (Python, R, SQL, SAS), the concepts of data sorting, data analysis, data science, general artificial intelligence concepts, machine learning techniques, and deep learning principles. After completing the six-month bootcamp, he was offered the opportunity to stay on at the organisation and worked as a junior data scientist (Type II), participating in various projects with private companies that were data-nascent or data-curious.

Taking into account his experiences in London, Brussels, and Strasbourg, coupled with his experience in the data science commercial world, where the learning curve was steep and mistakes were strongly condemned, he is deeply stimulated by the opportunity to map and dissect the sociopolitical trends of these individual actors of dissensus in a thorough study that would analyse and clearly establish challenges to liberal democratic norms.
Publications (so far):

• Marginas, Vlad & Miscoiu, Sergiu (2024). From Nazi and Russian propaganda to fake news, post-truth, and the Trump effect: Language and political rhetoric in modern society. In Adebowale Akande (ed.). Propaganda and language. [forthcoming]
• Marginas, Vlad. (2014). A Political Perspective on British Euroscepticism since 1945 [Postgraduate dissertation, University of Kent, Canterbury], in the University of Kent Library collection.
• Marginas, Vlad. (2012). President Ceasescu's State Visit to the United Kingdom, June 1978 [Undergraduate individual study, Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury], in the Canterbury Christ Church University Library collection.

Conferences (so far):

• Special issue paper presentation at the 12th Biennial Conference of the Standing Group on the European Union (SGEU) 2024. Universidade Nova, Lisbon, Portugal (19-21.06.24). [upcoming]
• Panel presentation at the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES) 2024. Robinson College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom (05-07.04.24). [upcoming]
• Empirics presentation at the 2nd GEM-DIAMOND Annual Conference. LUISS, Rome, Italy (12-14.03.24). [upcoming]
• Observer at ECPR General Conference 2023. Charles University, Prague, Czechia (04-08.09.23).
• Updated thesis design presentation at the European Union in International Affairs (EUIA) 2023. Royal Belgian Academy, Brussels, Belgium (03-05.05.23).
• Thesis design presentation at the 1st GEM-DIAMOND Annual Conference. IEE-ULB, Brussels, Belgium (13-15.03.23).

Training (so far):

Local (at 1st host institution, UBB in Cluj-Napoca):
• Three individual courses and seminars (October '22 to February '23 / 12 weeks each) with final exams; each course was completed successfully, with certificates issued and a total of 30 transferrable credits.

Collective (ongoing at GEM-DIAMOND level):

A succession of collective training events, workshops and conferences within the GEM programme:
• Year 1 (2022–23) in order: IEE-ULB, Brussels (October '22), UBB+PATRIR, Cluj (January '23), IEE-ULB, Brussels (March '23), KU, Copenhagen (April '23), IEE-ULB, Brussels (May '23) & UvA, Amsterdam (June '23).
• Year 2 (2023–24) in order: IEE-ULB, Brussels (October '23), LUISS, Rome (March '24), IEE-ULB, Brussels (June '24), ULAval, Québec (October '24).
• Year 3 (2024-25) in order: TBC.
• Year 4 (2025-26) in order: TBC.

Individual (ongoing):

• Researcher Live webinar "The journey of a manuscript: From submission to publication" (10.10.22).
• Private Greek language course (May '23–Present).
• Sapienza Università di Roma webinar "Collaborative project writing and networking in the context of Horizon Europe: Services and tools for supporting researchers" (07.11.23).
• Sapienza Università di Roma webinar "Publications and research data: Open access" (13.11.23).
• Sapienza Università di Roma webinar "Evaluation processes in EU R&I funding programmes" (20.11.23).
• ECPR Methods School on "Interviews as method of data collection in times of polarisation" in association with KU Leuven (05-09.24) + post-course assignment (21-23.02.24).
• ECPR Methods School on Comparative Historical Analysis (CHA) starting in 2024.
• ECPR Methods School on Process Tracing (PT) starting in 2025.