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world wide wednesdays :: behind europe's right face

i'm doubtless late to the party commenting on the rise of "new right" parties in europe, but i figured that with a u.k. election being decided within the next twenty-four hours and with the united kingdom independence party very much in the mix, it's as good a time as any to inject my thoughts into the debate.

my thoughts, for this post, are less about the british election and more about the surprising [to me] rise of the right in europe, which always looks so progressive from these shores. virtually every country is producing their own strain of highly nationalist, protectionist and, to varying degrees, racist politician and their movements appear to be gaining momentum. so i thought we'd take a very cursory look at who these groups are and, more importantly, why they're currently riding a wave of popularity.

golden dawn has no idea why you think they're neo-nazis
a lot of press focuses on fascist groups who have made inroads, and, indeed, there are a number of them. to make us all a little more uncomfortable, germany elected its first ever member of the national democratic party, a party that has more or less embraced the national socialist ideology and that campaigned in 2011 with the slogan "step on the gas". [even if i could make that up, i wouldn't.] in that vein, there is also jobbik, hungary's not-in-any-way-nazi party which floated the idea that hungarian jews should have to register somehow and tried to pass laws about "sexual deviancy" similar to those that earned russia such widespread condemnation; there's also the british national party, who lost their lone seat in the european parliament in the 2014 elections; the friendly-sounding bulgarian party attack, who dislike jews, muslims, turks [muslim or not], roma and masons; and the greek golden dawn, who saw their star rise in both the european parliament and in the last two greek elections. golden dawn have a flat-out scary reputation, with numerous party members having been convicted of violent offenses and allegations of ties to the police that protected them from more legal troubles. although they have been adamant that they are not a neo-nazi, anti-semitic or racist organisation, their party spokesperson ilias kasidiaris did quote the protocols of the elders of zion in an address to parliament, which seems a bit suspect. [side note :: kasidiaris was also once locked in a "time out" room during a television appearance after he physically attacked a member of parliament from the greek communist party. that violent streak may prove to be the party's undoing, since every single one of their members of parliament, along with many other party figures are currently standing trial as conspirators in the murder of antifascist rapper pavlos fyssas in 2013.]

those are the types of people that most north americans associate with the term "far right", but those groups are gradually being supplanted by a new wave of parties who are a little cannier and more modern in their approach. the anti-immigration focus, with its underlying racial implications, remains, but the language is more carefully chosen. tied to that is an emphasis on security, law and order [with lawlessness being linked to ethnic minorities] and what's broadly termed euro-skepticism, meaning a mistrust of the whole pan-european project.

someone thought this was the least creepy picture
the most successful of these parties is the austrian freedom party, who caused a brief global moment of "wtf?!" in 2000, when the governing austrian people's party was forced to invite them into a coalition government. but when nothing blew up and no one invaded poland, most people lost interest. the afp did go through internal upheaval, but has emerged revitalized, holding almost a quarter of the seats in the austrian national parliament and four seats [up from two] in the european parliament. the afp emphasizes the importance of "homeland" and cultural identity and raises the spectre of immigration, particularly muslim immigration, as being dangerous to the maintenance of austrian identity and to the social welfare state. [side note :: although they might not have wanted muslims in austria, the austrian freedom party wasn't so averse to certain muslim regimes. former party leader and carinthian governor jörg haider has been accused of accepting money- via transfer or, in some cases, stuffed into suitcases- from muammar gaddafi and the sons of saddam hussein. this money was to be invested on their behalf, in violation of the sanctions against both regimes.]

marine le pen has no idea who that crazy old man is
building on the afp model, other parties such as the dutch party for freedom [whose head, geert wilders was the featured speaker at the "draw a cartoon of mohammed" event where two isis-aligned men were killed as they tried to mount an attack], the danish people's party and the aforementioned united kingdom independence party have found some measure of success. also, france's national front, probably the most notorious extreme right wing political party of the 80s and 90s has been "rebranded" by marine lepen, daughter of the party's founder, so that it falls more in line with other, more mainstream right wing parties. [side note :: one of the more contentious points between far right parties has been the issue of israel. in ye olden days, the national front's jean marie lepen said that the holocaust had been exaggerated and the austrian freedom party's haider praised hitler for his efficient state administration. however, many of the "new new right" leaders, particularly geert wilders, have been supportive of the israeli government, seeing them as allies in the fight against islam. this is one marked point of difference between this group and the more traditionally fascist ones mentioned earlier. another notable difference is that the fascist groups also tend to be vitriolic in their homophobia. the new vanguard of the right wing generally keeps silent on that issue.]

so that's a look at who these new[ish] political parties are. so what's behind the apparent rise in popularity?

geert wilders white roots run very, very deep
well, first and foremost, there is the issue of the european union. as much as having dozens of currencies, national trade groups, and multiple bureaucracies might have been a nightmare in such a small and closely linked area, no one seems to be benefiting from the current state of the union. wealthier countries object to the influx of people from poorer countries in search of work. poorer countries feel exploited for their cheaper workforce without seeing any benefits. the nearly stagnant economy has caused turmoil and e.u. membership has prevented national governments from adjusting to compensate, while austerity programs have been imposed at the behest of the continent. [side note :: there is also the feeling that "the continent" really just refers to germany, which is by far the e.u.'s most dominant force. that's kind of ironic, given that one of the reasons the e.u. project was undertaken was specifically to block germany from becoming too powerful compared to its neighbours.]

the success of these parties in european parliamentary elections is likely reflective of a general unease with the european project and represents a protest vote for many rather than a wholehearted endorsement of a party's policies. after all, the european parliament doesn't make a lot of decisions that affect people's everyday lives, so the impact of a protest vote appears less serious. [unless you consider people thinking you're racist and possibly fascist to be serious. because, yes, we're all thinking that about you, europe.]

then there is the still effective tactic of scapegoating. governments in trouble often try to distract from their shortcomings or failed policies by getting their citizens to turn on one another. to touch on another of my weird fields of interest, when the police were struggling to locate the murderer known as "jack the ripper" in 1888, there was an inordinate effort made to identify him as a foreigner, most likely a jew. infamously, hitler blamed the jews for the horrific economic conditions in germany after the first world war. the vilification of immigrants and muslims is the same sort of rhetoric, just updated. that's not to say that these politicians don't genuinely believe what they're saying- i think most of them absolutely do. but their arguments ultimately end up serving the needs of those in power: by turning up the volume on anti-immigrant, anti-muslim views, they make political debates solely about whether one blames foreigners for national problems or not, and discussion goes no further.

i'll be watching the u.k. election results tomorrow because, yes, i am that much of a political geek. [i stayed up until two in the morning last night watching alberta election results. at least with the u.k., the time change is on my side.] among the parties of the new right, u.k.i.p. is the one that has yet to gain a firm foothold in its national parliament. [as of tonight, the party holds only two seats, as opposed to the twenty-three it has in the european parliament.] at the moment, the party is sitting in third, well behind the two principal parties, but well ahead of everyone else. their support may turn out to be a mile wide and an inch thick, meaning that they'll end up with fewer seats than the [nationally] less popular scottish national party, who are focused in one area. that said, with the two main parties in a statistical dead heat, whoever does get elected for u.k.i.p. could determine the shape of a coalition government, or exert considerable influence on what bills are able to pass. we live in interesting times.

p.s. :: if you're in the u.k. and you're not sure if you're going to vote, please allow me to try to convince you to do so.

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