An Overview of Far Right Politics in Europe
By Martin A. Lee
Editor's Note: The fact that a part of former Klansman David Duke's latest anti-Semitic book has been translated into Russian — complete with an introduction by a former top aide to Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first post-Soviet president — highlights the growing number of international connections within the radical right.
To help readers understand the counterparts of American right-wing extremists across the Atlantic, the Intelligence Report presents this overview of recent far-right politics in Europe.
When the Berlin Wall crumbled in November 1989, few anticipated how quickly and how virulently the extreme right would assert itself in Europe.
The sudden demise of Soviet-bloc Communism demagnetized everyone's compass and provided fresh opportunities for a spectrum of far-right organizations, which range from violent, neo-Nazi youth groups and underground terrorist cells to sizeable electoral movements.
The rise of the Austrian Freedom Party, Italy's National Alliance, the French National Front, Vlaams Blok in Belgium, and other mass-based, right-wing extremist parties, has coincided with a sharp increase in hate crimes against ethnic minorities throughout the continent.
According to the European Parliament, a racial assault occurs once every three minutes in Western Europe, where a large influx of refugees and migrants has spawned diverse cultures and magnified tensions in societies that are neither used to, nor comfortable with, pluralism.
The continent as a whole has been going through huge economic and demographic changes since the end of the Cold War, not the least of which entails the unprecedented introduction of the "euro," the new single currency.
In addition, the collapse of communism has triggered a mass migration from Eastern Europe toward the more prosperous West, which also has attracted refugees from the Third World. Although Western governments had previously condemned the pharaohs of the Soviet bloc for refusing to let their people go, since travel has finally been permitted the welcome mat in Western Europe has been removed.
Right-wing extremists have also benefited from foraging on a political terrain where the ideological distance between the mainstream parties has shrunk. This has propelled the growth of the far right, which appeals to disillusioned voters by assuming the mantle of the opposition and stoking resentment against remote and unresponsive governing elites.
Since the end of the Cold War, far-right parties have polled more than 15% nationwide in Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Norway, Switzer-land and Turkey, while also making significant inroads in Sweden and Denmark.
Although 15% of the total vote may seem inconsequential in terms of the U.S. two-party system, it can carry great weight in a parliamentary election and determine the political make-up of a European government.
"Racism is a serious problem on our continent," says Graham Watson, chairman of the European Parliament's citizens' freedoms and rights committee. "Forces on the political right, playing on popular prejudice, are in the ascendant."
Globalization, Identity and Exclusion
In Western Europe today, there are 50 million poor, 18 million without jobs, and 3 million homeless. By every measure, post-communist Eastern Europe is faring much worse. Such conditions are ripe for exploitation by neofascist demagogues who have successfully tapped into widespread post-Cold War uncertainties by scapegoating foreigners and denouncing economic globalization.
Immigrants and asylum-seekers are routinely depicted as a threat to national identity and financial stability at a time when the European work force is reeling from high unemployment, stagnating wages and cutbacks in social services.
"Neofascism and neo-Nazism are gaining ground in many countries — especially in Europe," warns Maurice Glele-Ahanhanzo, special rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Of particular concern, Glele-Ahanhanzo noted in a recent report to the U.N. General Assembly, is the "increase in the power of the extreme right-wing parties," which are thriving in "an economic and social climate characterized by fear and despair" due to "the combined effects of globalization, identity crises, and social exclusion."
While easily recognizable Skinhead gangs may function as shock troops of the far right's march through Europe, the more successful of the mass-based neofascist organizations have "made changes," according to Glele-Ahanhanzo, "designed to make them look like radical right-wing democratic parties, softening their image while enabling them to conceal an unchanged preference for racism and xenophobia."
Appealing for Votes
The current resurgence of fascism in Europe is not orchestrated by a sieg-heiling dictator flanked by men in brown shirts and swastika armbands. Rather, a slick new breed of right-wing extremists, epitomized by Austrian Freedom Party führer Jörg Haider, has tailored its message and manner to suit the moment.
A charismatic, Porsche-driving populist, Haider does not conform to the stereotype of a Hollywood Nazi. And he is far too cagey to advertise an explicit allegiance to the fascist creed.
Peddling a politics readymade for the economically insecure, Haider's party muscled its way into Austria's national governing coalition in February 2000 after winning 27% of the vote.
The Freedom Party emerged as the top choice among the Austrian working class and people under 30 in what proved to be the strongest showing of a right-wing extremist movement in Europe since World War II. The Freedom Party claimed half of all cabinet ministries and set the tone inside the new government.
Appalled by Haider's power-sharing deal with the conservative People's Party in Austria, the 14 other European Union (EU) countries launched an unprecedented diplomatic boycott against Vienna that lasted nine months.
If the EU sanctions were supposed to tame Haider, they didn't work. Seeking to disarm his critics, he stepped down as official leader of the Freedom Party. But he remained its main force while serving as governor of the state of Carinthia.
Although Haider himself has tried to steer clear of overt anti-Semitism, he has praised Adolf Hitler's employment policies without mentioning slave labor in concentration camps, which the Freedom Party chief called "punishment camps," as if inmates deserved to be there.
Haider also expressed admiration for the "decency" of former members of the notoriously brutal Nazi SS, which had been condemned in its entirety as a criminal organization by the Nuremberg Tribunal.
According to Haider, all soldiers, no matter which side they were on, "fought for peace and freedom" during the Second World War.
Haider's repeated attempts to downplay Nazi crimes are in keeping with the Freedom Party's origins in the mid-1950s as a catch basin for numerous Third Reich veterans and other Nazis.
Today the party remains a haven for hard-core extremists such as Andreas Moelzer, Haider's advisor on cultural affairs and co-publisher of Zur Zeit, a Vienna weekly. This shrill, racist newspaper has run articles raving about "the myth of the 6 million" murdered Jews and the "epoch-making economic and political success of the great social revolutionary" — Adolf Hitler.