By: Katya Bohdan

Analysis: The rise of Europe’s far right

February 13, 2017

The Brexit, the terrorist attacks, the uncontrollable influx of immigrants from war-torn countries, the unthinkable victory of Donald Trump in U.S. presidential elections and a meager economic growth. The tumultuous situation of today’s Europe is not to be underestimated and serves as the foundation for populist and strongly nationalistic, anti-migrant and anti-EU parties that are slowly gaining ground on the European political sphere amid a growing disillusionment with the European Union.

The European far-right movement is hardly a new phenomenon. It’s even older than the Second World War, contrary to popular belief. Even in ancient times, this has been a consistent tendency. The Roman Empire, one of the cradles of modern democracy, has steadily evolved into an imperialistic empire under the leadership of an absolute dictator.

The term “nationalism” is strongly bound to historical context and most importantly, the overall mentality of a nation at a particular time, and exists within a spectrum of interpretations. We know fascism and Nazism as the most extreme forms of nationalism or as the far-right movement that emerged ahead of the Second World War in countries all across the European continent. Not only did Germany prevail in the newly defined world order, but parties and factions in other countries like Italy, U.K. and Spain, grew, as well. 

After the war, Europe seemed to have learned its lesson. It established the first union among European countries, to stand strong against a new potential threat of fascism and strongly condemned the actions of Germany, systematically stripping it of the power to ever initiate something like World War II ever again. 

And so it lasted for several decades; Europe proved it had the spine to deal with huge flows of immigrants, that it was tolerant and open-minded, frantically trying to distance itself from the stinging wounds of World War II. However, the more the EU kept imposing rules and regulations, “forcing” European countries to take in refugees, to accept the euro, to do this and refrain from that, nationalism grew and established itself on the ruins of the 2008 economic crisis. A growing dissatisfaction with the EU surfaced amid nationalists. 

Populist and anti-EU parties slowly went from being frowned upon to receiving growing support from their fed-up fellow countrymen. “Why do I have to pay taxes to accommodate refugees? Why would I open my borders to a potential threat? Why would we share our country with those who do not share our values?” This mentality echoes louder and louder all through the continent like a silent protest. 

The far-right parties know how to sell it. They are in fact talented and cunning salesmen that creep up into your subconsciousness and channel your inner nationalistic tendencies. They know how to bring their point across logically, sensibly, passionately. They strategically use (radical) Islam as the “Number One Enemy”. They campaign for gender equality and equal rights, for religious freedom and freedom of expression. How can an average European possibly disagree with this?

However, it is crucial to read between the lines of these seemingly righteous speeches. While they campaign for equality among their nations, they systematically marginalize an entire subdivision of the European population. After World War II migrant workers from North-African countries were invited to help reconstruct Europe, particularly by France, which in the past had colonized Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and whose migrant workers settled in Europe to do the “dirty job”. 

But these migrant workers, they came to believe, did not share the same norms and values as the average European. What norms and values these are exactly, no one ever cared to specify. Add to that the radical Islamic terrorism and the equation speaks for itself. They feast on the fear of the unknown and the threat of terrorism to get their message across, without making any kind of division between actual terrorists and the average European Muslim. 

The Party for Freedom in The Netherlands might be the prime example of the nationalistic radicalism that sees a rise in Europe. Under the leadership of Geert Wilders, one of Europe’s most prominent far-right politicians, it campaigns for closing all Islamic schools and recording the ethnicity of all Dutch citizens. Currently, the party is leading in polls ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections. 

France’s National Front might not be as anti-Islamic as the Dutch Party for Freedom, but its populist rhetoric nevertheless promotes anti-immigration and anti-European Union positions. The party favors protectionist and economic policies and strives to drastically reduce the number of immigrants allowed into France. In addition Marine Le Pen, the party’s leader, advocates bringing jobs back to France (in line with the rhetoric of Donald Trump).

Greece’s Golden Dawn party, that is infamous for its neo-fascist ideology, came to international attention in 2012 when it won 18 seats in the Greek Parliament and became the country’s third-largest party. The election results came amid the country’s crippling debt crisis and resulting austerity measures. It holds extreme anti-immigration views and considers the euro to be “destructive”. Since the refugee crisis, the party’s position has been undeviating. 

After the horrors of World War II, Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD), might have started as a protest movement against the euro currency, but is currently leaning towards the far right as never before. The party’s policy platform says, “Islam does not belong in Germany” and calls for a ban on the construction of mosques. Some would call this disgraceful; some would call this “anti-establishment”. After the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne, support for the party shot up significantly. 

The Sweden Democrats party, which is rooted in the white supremacist movement, calls for heavily restricting immigration, opposes allowing Turkey to join the EU and seeks a referendum on EU membership. The leader of the party Jimmie Akesson, said after Mr. Trump’s victory: “there’s a movement in both Europe and the United States where the establishment is being challenged. It is clearly happening here as well.”

The establishment is without a doubt being challenged, if populist parties with minor support in the past are slowly becoming the biggest parties in countries all across Europe. Belgium is governed by two right-wing political parties (though not far-right), the left’s position in France’s presidential election has never been this weak, the U.K. has voted to leave the European Union and its Conservative Party has the most seats in the British Parliament.

Amid chaotic EU policies, growing economic tensions, the unseen refugee crisis, and an increasing dissatisfaction with the establishment; populist parties gain unsettling support, dividing the people of Europe. It is time for the governing powers of the EU to pay attention to these symptoms, which indicate a developing illness in European politics. Something seems to be rotten in the state of Europe.

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