How and Why the Radical Right is making huge gains across Europe
By Leah Ching
In 1848, Karl Marx proclaimed that a spectre was haunting Europe—the spectre of communism. Marx’s famous phrase served as a rallying call for the downtrodden and disenfranchised left, who today are facing the harsh reality that Europe may be abuzz with a returning spectre, one that Marx would be less jubilant about.
In the midst of widespread economic and social turmoil, whispers in the shadows about the resurgent far right are getting harder to ignore. Although the matter is still under-reported and not fully accounted for in the media, people are slowly becoming aware that the right wing is re-emerging across Europe, resilient, and with a vengeance.
For the readers that aren’t political science majors, the term “radical right” may conjure up images of the Westboro Baptist Church or U.S. Republican front runner candidate Donald Trump, much like the term “far left” is used interchangeably to describe socialism and communism.
‘Far right’ politics involve social and political ideals that are to the far right of the traditional left-right political spectrum. Not always, but often, right wing politics focuses on traditions and customs opposed to any policy associated with modernism, liberalism, or egalitarianism. In the past, the far right has been used to describe fascism, neo-fascism, and most famously, the Nazi party. These radical right parties often feature views that are strongly nationalist, racist, and reactionary. Some far right groups have pursued warfare against others on the basis of perceived racial superiority.
The explanations for this phenomenon are manifold, interconnected and complex. As hundreds of thousands of people seek refuge fleeing from war torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan, far right parties in Europe are speaking to and intensifying voter fears of what the influx of people will mean for locals.
There’s a “not enough to go around” rhetoric surrounding resources, jobs, money, and housing. Simultaneously, Europeans are bombarded with the conflicting ideas that refugees will somehow simultaneously steal their jobs and live off the nation’s benefits program. The sentiments are typically Islamophobic and filled with fear mongering tactics linking Islam to terrorism. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon.
In Poland, former PM Jaroslaw Kacynski stated that Muslim refugees would bring parasites and diseases into Poland. Jimmie Akesson, leader of Sweden’s right wing party, Sweden Democrats, is quoted with saying that “Islamism is the Nazism and Communism of our time.” Drawing on nationalist sentiments, Hungary’s Viktor Orban said that, “we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country.”
What started as an oddity in Europe is surging into a full blown phenomenon, with right wing parties slowly capturing the attention of the public and gaining large portions of the vote. With economic troubles plaguing many European nations and the threat of Britain and Greece leaving the EU, there are many fears for politicians to capitalize on that do not include immigration policy. Right-wing populist parties are also strengthening their anti-EU stance, attacking the European Union as being ineffective and domineering due to its inability to mitigate the crisis while insisting states accept more refugees.
While it may be tempting to view this startling reality as a unique episode of European delusion, right wing populism and scapegoating of society’s vulnerable is cropping up all across the west. Donald Trump throughout his campaign has insulted women, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled persons, the Chinese, and Jewish, which only seems to have improved his poll ratings. Guardian writer Gary Younge has said, “Most nations have their own Trump, a racist, xenophobic, Islamaphobic demagogue appealing to a mix of nationalist nostalgia, patriotic myth, class grievance and economic insecurity. He follows up by saying, “its not Syrian refugees who slashed funding for libraries, education, youth services, welfare and tax credits,” arguing that it’s the state of global economics that shapes the narrative.
Canada is beginning to see its own share of Right-wing extremism as well. The Facebook page “Never Again Canada” has faced increasing criticism over their Anti-Liberal and anti-Islamic rhetoric. Death threats to Canadian politicians and Syrian refugees, along with a shocking number of calls for attacks and armed confrontations against not only the Federal government but the recently elected NDP government in Alberta have plagued the page in recent months. Many Canadians tend to think they are safe from this sort rhetoric, and for a time they were, but it seems with the increasing number of Canadians wanting a more progressive and open country those who oppose it are out for a fight.
Extreme politics have been around for a long time. For a while they were marginalized, their ideologies discredited due to the defeat and embarrassment caused by Nazism and Fascism preceding World War II, and the communist revolutions that rose post-war. As a result, during the post-war period, the radical right was severely minimalized, but we are approaching a moment in history where the increasing tension and fear rising again in the Western world can allow a foothold for extremist views to grow among discontented and increasingly uncertain populations. As liberal democracy is coming under criticism and the future of politics is in flux, it looks like the radical right is here to stay for the time being. Only time will tell if these polarizing views will be tempered by more balanced political movements, but if we are minutes to midnight and about to witness another era defined by fear and hostility above compassion and consideration… Well, as the saying goes; ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.’