Stockholm International ForumForum On The HolocaustCombating IntoleranceTruth, Justice and ReconciliationPreventing Genocide
You are here: 2001 / Other Activities / Preparatory Seminar / Presentation by Mr. Jeffrey Kaplan

Countries and organizations

Conference documentation

Conference programme

Presentation by Mr. Jeffrey Kaplan

Presentation by Mr. Jeffrey Kaplan
Kaplan, Jeffrey

Report from Research Seminar in Stockholm 18-19 October 2000

Mr. Prime Minister, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to begin this report with a quote which will perhaps illuminate much of the discussion which took place at the preparatory seminar held in Stockholm on 18 and 19 October 2000. American politicians are, as you know, frequently quotable, and some, on occasion, are quite perceptive as well. One consummate politician of yore, former speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O’Neal, brought together both of these qualities with his observation that “all politics are local.”

Even in this age of globalization, this observation rings more true than ever, for if there was one major point of agreement at the October seminar, it was this: in the area of racism, anti-Semitism and violence, no single event, no seemingly isolated act of racist, anti-semitic, homophobic or ethnically motivated violence, is truly local. All have implications for, and all have an impact on, the wider contexts of national, regional and international political culture.

This seminar’s primary concern was with public scholarship–scholarship undertaken as an important component of the policy process and intended for application in the service of society as a whole. This focus was implicit in the invitation issued by the Stockholm Forum: Combating Intolerance. If I may quote briefly the wording of the invitation which was delivered to scholars from Europe, the United States and the Middle East: The purpose of the seminar, which will gather a number of distinguished scholars who specialize in the field of racism, anti-semitism and right wing extremism, is to isolate and explore some of the crucial questions and problems that need to be addressed by policy makers and others responsible for counter strategies and preventive work. Participants are asked to help deepen the understanding of present-day racism, anti-semitism and right wing extremism and to draw attention to important problems that are often neglected or misconceived. Secondarily, participants are asked to discuss areas in which new applied research could be beneficial in bringing to light particular aspects of the issues … which have hitherto been given too little attention or overlooked altogether in the academic literature.

In all of these areas a major focus of the proposed research is to bring to light the complex interactions of the local, national and international levels of activity within the context of the cross-fertilization of oppositional belief systems, as well as to consider in some depth the lessons which can be learned from previous attempts to address problems of racism, anti-semitism and violence on the local level.

The findings of the October Seminar are discussed in detail in the document entitled “The Stockholm International Forum: A Research Proposal,” which is included in the package of information given to each of the delegates to this conference. In the brief time available to me now, therefore, I would like to highlight only a few of the ideas that emerged from the seminar discussions.

Of these observations, perhaps none is more important than the finding, asserted by scholars who have done fieldwork among extremists groups, that extremism emerges among young people based on local attitudes. Young people do not as a rule enter the world of right wing extremism through a conscious process of ideological choice. Rather, what primarily influences young people are what parents, other adults from the local community, the media, and their friends say about issues such as refugees or racial or ethnic minorities. Eventually, these young people will find a supportive peer group and will act in accordance with what they perceive to be popular approval. When acts of violence do take place, their repercussions are felt far beyond a single locality.

Implicit in this observation are the myriad issues inherent in the process of globalization. The increasing interaction of radical movements of the far right across national frontiers is but one manifestation of this process. More interesting, and perhaps more ominous for civil society, is the increasing convergence of far right movements and individual actors with other radical movements from the far left, from radical environmental and animal rights groups, and from the numerous single issue constituencies which, ironically enough, are in the forefront of violent opposition to the very process of globalization which they collectively have come to personify.

Accelerating this process of convergence is of course the Internet–a subject that occasioned much debate at the October seminar over such issues as the regulation and control of offensive or hateful material versus freedom of public expression, and the sovereignty of national laws on protected speech versus the determination of many states to proscribe public expressions of racism, anti-semitism, homophobia or ethnic hatred.

While the October seminar could not report complete accord over such contentious issues as Internet regulation, it could certainly identify key areas in which further focused, policyoriented research could be undertaken. From these discussions we have extracted some twenty individual recommendations. Taken together, the recommendations could be grouped into five distinct yet overlapping categories; process issues which focus primarily on methodological questions; globalisation issues; cultural factors; and the role of the Internet that cuts across all of these categories.

The key process issue that researchers face is the problem of developing a common conceptual language. Simply put, can we find common definitions of terms such as right wing extremism, so as to facilitate communication within the international research community, and between researchers and policy makers. Moreover, we must create an international standard for the identification and recording of racist, homophobic or anti-semitic incidents.

Only then, having fashioned such a research lingua franca, can we develop better and more efficient mechanisms through which to share research findings on an international basis. The research questions grouped under the heading of globalisation are quite diverse, clustering around three primary subsets; political issues, cultural issues, and legal issues. Chief among the political questions is how local issues reflect, and how are they affected by, developments on the national, regional and international levels. Secondarily, the need for further research into contemporary populist parties in Europe was emphasized.

On a cultural level, we must learn more about the globalisation process now taking place within the extreme right. Specifically, is what we are seeing in this area indicative of a process leading to the creation of post-nationalist forms of identity? If so, what are the components of this identity, what are its ideological tenets, and to what degree and in what forms do older patterns of nationalism and localism survive?

Finally in the area of globalisation issues, we come to the all-important question of legislation. Perhaps the most important question to be asked in this regard focuses on the creation of mechanisms for the facilitation of international cooperation regarding the implementation and enforcement of laws. Of what benefit after all is legislation adopted by European states to curb expressions of racial or ethnic hatred when such speech is protected by First Amendment guarantees in the United states and disseminated from Internet sites located in the US?

The problem of political violence occupied much of the discussion in the October seminar, and so it is not surprising that the majority of research questions emerging from the meeting would focus in one way or another on the question of violence. At the apex of issues surrounding the catalization of violence is the role of the state. Seminar participants examined the role of states in facilitating or preventing violence before it occurs through the use of language, symbols, policies, responses, or other means as being near the top of the agenda for future research.

Further, participants posed the question of the actual impact of immigration on party politics, on extra-parliamentary violence, and on the rise of populism. What is the impact of mainstream politicians and parties who use immigration as a political issue? And following this line of inquiry, do right wing parties encourage violence; or does their electoral success channel violence into democratic processes as a method of deradicalization. Conversely, does electoral success encourage more confrontations?
On the social level, the needs for further research on the reaction of society toward hate crime, on the effect of violence on the groups themselves, and on the state responses toward individual victim groups were stressed. As media impacts so much of our lives, and is so influential in forming popular opinion, the role and impact of the media on the processes of radicalisation, deradicalisation and violence must be better understood. Or put more simply, how do movements, groups or individuals rejoin the cultural and political mainstream?

In the discussion of cultural factors, the remarkable degree of interaction between seemingly irreconcilable oppositional belief systems occupied much of the discussion. Given the increasing convergence of the international extreme right groups and individuals and the emergence of ‘red and black’ alliance patterns in Europe, participants urged future research into the dynamics of how oppositional milieus interact, and what are the policy implications of this kind of convergence? This includes questions involving the convergence of members of the racist right with the far left over anti-globalisation actions, the interactions of the far right with the radical environmental and animal rights subculture, and the like.

Again on the cultural level, participants suggested further research into the real world impact of Holocaust denial on contemporary racist and anti-semitic discourse, and on a more global level, on the popular historical memory of the event.

Finally, the impact of the Internet was much discussed throughout the seminar. From this discussion, a single question emerged again and again; what is the real world impact of expressions of racism, anti-semitism, ethnic hatred and homophobia on the net? This is the primary question that must be answered if policies are to be developed which can counter expressions of bigotry without unduly restricting the freedom of public expression. Beyond this core question of impact, areas for productive research would include; whether the net encourages or inhibits violence; can policy approaches be fashioned that would allow for coordinated, international cooperation; and what ethical standards may be suggested to Internet providers?

On a more specialized level, too little is known of the ‘invisible’ areas of the Internet– particularly the prevalence of secure communications made possible by the availability of hard encryption technology can be freely downloaded from sources in the US. How does this technology impact the movements and what is the impact of this technology on law enforcement?

To conclude, the recommendations of the October 2000 seminar are very much in accord with the ideas expressed by the Prime Minister in his welcoming speech. The challenge before us is to create a mechanism for cutting edge academic research that can be utilized in the process of policy formation. The October seminar produced a number of challenging questions, and aspires to be a first step toward the creation of an international program of focused, policyoriented research. The meeting however, was conceived as only a first step. It is our hope that the attending national delegations, and the academic specialists assembled in Stockholm on this day, will agree to take up this challenge, and to join together with us in the effort to better understand, and thus to eradicate, the immemorial evils of racism, anti-semitism, ethnic hatred, homophobia and violence.

Thank you.

>> Back to top


Opening Session

Plenary Sessions: Messages and Presentations

Workshops, Panels and Seminars

Closing Plenary Session and Declaration

Other Activities

For information about this production and the Stockholm International Forum Conference Series please go to or contact Information Rosenbad, SE-103 33 Stockholm, Sweden