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Where do negative emotions in the political debate come from? And how can they be combated? The director of the Villa Decius in Cracow, Dominika Kasprowicz, and the Viennese historian Philipp Ther, in conversation with Matthias Krupa.


Dominika, Philipp, you both support the European Alliance of Academies. This alliance sees itself as a Europe-wide campaign for the freedom of the arts, and as against any form of social division. In many countries, this division has been accompanied by an increasing emotionalisation of public debate. How is it that emotions have become so important in politics today? DOMINIKA KASPROWICZ  Theoretical notions of how feelings are used by political powers to exercise influence go back to the 16th century. Today, it is not only populist or radical right-wing governments that try to gain control of the population by appealing to emotions. And this is a fundamental trend that has been reinforced by the pandemic. In this context, extreme emotions such as fear and hatred are paramount. There is, in addition, a deepening gulf between politics and ethics. Noble motives, such as selflessness, respect, and tolerance, have thus lost currency. PHILIPP THER   In my view, we’re confronted with a confused, contradictory situation. On the one hand, factual information with substance is in big demand. One need only look at the growing proportion of non-fiction literature on the book market. On the other hand, our socie-


ties are increasingly being driven by emotions, and politicians are trying harder and harder to operate with emotional messages. This is also because our public sphere is divided. We have the old public sphere in the Habermasian sense – which is committed to enlightenment and rationality – but alongside it, there is a new segment of the public sphere that has constituted itself above all on social media. Here, we can firstly see the domination of capitalist interests and secondly, the emergence of self-reinforcing, public-sphere bubbles – niches for people with a similar view. Emotional messages are important in luring people into these niches and keeping them there.

50 per cent of adult Poles has deteriorated lastingly over the past two years. They not only feel tired and exhausted, but often powerless, intimidated, and, in some cases, paralysed by fear. To some extent, this is a consequence of the pandemic, and obviously, it is not without consequences for the political and public spheres.

Obviously, it is predominantly negative emotions that are stirred up and appealed to; fear and hatred have already been mentioned. Why is that?

DK  At that time, anger and rage culminated in a huge upheaval in freedom, democracy, and pluralism. But what are the prerequisites for such an upheaval? First, it is not enough for someone to have strong convictions and for him or her to take to the streets. Rather, it is essential that the values underlying these convictions are shared by other people. Additionally, a certain social threshold has to be breached. One must be willing to be nudged, swept along, and inspired by others in order to commit to actions like protesting and demonstrating. Now, when I compare the situation thirty years ago with today, I am not sure there is a coherent corpus of values

DK  Politicians take the same shortcuts that people do in their everyday lives. Those who appeal to negative emotions often accomplish their aims faster. It is a way to achieve spectacular effects, even if they do not often last long. We can get an impression of the typical state of mind in our divided societies if we take a look at current surveys. A study by the University of Warsaw at the end of 2020 found that the general mental state of about

Of course, negative feelings do not necessarily ­have to have negative consequences. At the beginning of the peaceful revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe, there was also anger, rage, and frustration – very similar feelings to those we experience to­ day. What is the difference between 1989 and 2021?

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