Saturday, 27 April 2013

The rise of Europe's far-right

Has a shift on the fringes of politics to far-right and populist conservative parties
in Europe been a recent phenomenon? Or is it more complicated than that?
(Pic : The Guardian)

Back in January, Human Rights Watch warned that far-right politics in Europe were becoming more mainstream. No specific causes were outlined, however this has – in my opinion – inevitably come about as a result of the European economic crisis, as well as more localised problems which haven't been properly dealt with since the end of the Cold War.

Goose steps over Europe

It's worth pointing out that shifts to far-right, or populist hard right politics in Europe aren't recent. Since the threat of Islamic fundamentalism was brought to the fore post-9/11 attacks, countries in Europe with small, unintergrated minorities have seen a noticeable shift to the right, perhaps in a panicked attempt to "protect themselves" through limiting things like immigration.

The first major shift in modern times was probably the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs [FP
Ö]) under the leadership Jörg Haider, who was killed in a car accident in 2008. The Freedom Party won 27% of the vote in the Austrian federal elections in 1999, winning 52 seats, and eventually formed a governing coalition with the conservative Austrian People's Party.

Did the success of  the FPO in 1999 "legitimise"
the far-right in European politics?
(Pic : Der Standard)

Although the FPÖ at the time were more populist that outright fascist, Jörg Haider had expressed sympathy for select Nazi policies, was accused of anti-semitism as well as having links with Holocaust deniers. The election of the FPÖ shocked Europe so much, that 14 nations introduced temporary diplomatic sanctions against Austria via the European Union. Eventually, the EU was forced into a rather humilating climb-down, but the precedent has been set, and it more than likely played a role in Haider stepping down from his role as party leader.

Despite an ongoing "professionalisation" of far-right parties like the French Front National and the BNP, this was probably the first time the far-right had been "legitimised" in Europe since the 1920s and 30s. This will, in my opinion, have had a knock on impact on other nations too.

Between 1998 and 2001, the populist anti-immigration Danish People's Party (Dansk Folkeparti) made a major breakthrough in the Folketing, winning 22 seats – a rise of 9. That's roughly the level of support they've remained at since, peaking at 25 seats following the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoon controversy. They played ”kingmaker” in 2001, offering their support to enable a right-wing coalition government to be formed, in exchange for changes to Denmark's immigration rules – now amongst the strictest in Europe.

The right-wing Flemish nationalist Vlaams Blok (now Vlaams Belang) were effectively disbanded. They breached Belgian anti-racism laws, once proposing a form of segregation in parts of public life and expulsion of non-European immigrants. They peaked at 32 seats – near enough a quarter of all seats - in the Flemish Parliament in 2004.

The populist anti-immigration PVV played "kingmaker" following
the 2010 Dutch general election. A trend seen in other European countries.
(Pic : BBC)

Further north, in the Netherlands, the Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid [PVV]) managed to win 24 seats in the lower house Dutch general election of 2010. Under the leadership of the charismatic Geert Wilders – something of a hard line spiritual successor to the assassinated right-libertarian Pim Fortuyn - they adopted a strong stance on Europe, Islam and immigration. Like the Danish People's Party, they were instrumental in government formation through something akin to a confidence and supply agreement.

The hilariously-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia – whose policies, which are neither really democratic or liberal, hint that they would try to hunt down and eat our Lib Dems – somehow have 56 seats in the Duma. They want the Russian Empire back, and they wouldn't be afraid to use nuclear weapons to get it back either.

In the present, however, two of the more significant far-right movements are perhaps the most worrying.

Golden Dawn - the first Nazis freely-elected in Europe since the 30s?
(Pic : The Guardian)

Between 2006 and 2010, Jobbik of Hungary came from nowhere to win 47 seats in the Hungarian Parliament. They once had a ”uniformed group” that probably fell short of an outward paramilitary organisation, though they were disbanded by the Hungarian courts. Although they strongly deny any racism against minority groups – including the Roma - in 2012, a Jobbik MP called for the creation of a list of dangerous Jews who ”pose a threat to Hungarian national security.”

In Greece, since the torturous collapse of the country's economy, Golden Dawn won 18 seats in the Greek Parliament. They have links to hooliganism, and have been implicated in violent attacks against political opponents and ethnic minorities. Their election slogan in 2012 was, "Rid this land of filth." They're probably the closest Europe has come to freely-elected Nazi's since 1933.

It isn't all rosy

Despite all this, far-right parties and populist right-wing parties very rarely get into "power". They generally, at best, end up as small players in coalitions. Or – as in the Netherlands and Denmark – remain outside of government entirely, only popping up to get a few concessions to prevent centre-right governments collapsing. So, I think there is a natural "glass ceiling" when it comes to the far-right or populist conservatives.

Many of the parties I've mentioned have fallen back in recent elections. The PVV lost 9 seats in the last Dutch elections in 2012 for example. They were also responsible for that early election by withdrawing support for the ruling coalition, after a disagreement over austerity measures. Geert Wilders was blamed by the coalition partners and, ultimately it seems, the Dutch public for it.

Despite grabbing headlines, the overall performance of far-right
parties in many European nations states is poor.
(Pic : The Guardian)

Germany's National Democratic Party (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands [NPD]) have never performed well at all levels of government in Germany - perhaps understandably - with only a dozen or so elected representatives in state legislatures. In France, despite high-profile, highly-visible successes in Presidential and European elections, the Front National perform poorly at local, regional and national level, with only two Deputies. In Austria, the Freedom Party have never really attained the heights they did under Haider.

That's before mentioning the abject electoral performances of far-right parties closer to home.

I don't think there's anything more damning for liberal politicians than for the public to turn around and choose a far-right candidate over them. Barring legitimate concerns over some policy areas, it's the ultimate protest vote, boiling down to, "I'd rather vote for a Nazi(ish politician) than you." But I don't think many people voting for them really want a far-right (or in many cases far-left) politician to represent them, more give the "usual lot" a very big kick up the backside.

The far-right in Wales and the UK

Have the EDL been and gone?
(Pic : The Telegraph)
Naturally, I've got to position Wales in this somehow. Because we have a right-wing government in Westminster, the far-right in the UK, Wales included, is perhaps neutered. We've already seen a tightening of immigration rules - with negative effects on the Welsh NHS - and a level of right-euroscepticism from Tory backbenchers in Westminster.

Something both far-left and far-right parties and organisations share is a lack of ideological unity, or splits in support by people seeking an "ever purer" version of their politics.

Internal problems within the BNP have led to them suffering said splits in support. Some joined or forming new parties, with the National Front seeing a teeny-weeny resurgence, and the English Defence League probably stealing the BNP's thunder as the most vocal "far-right" organisation on the island of Great Britain. Even the EDL have probably come and gone, as attendances at their rallies - which once mobilised thousands - have been reduced to a hardcore.

The performance of far-right parties in Wales has been historically atrocious – though not quite as bad as Scotland – and I don't see that changing any time soon. There was a poorly-attended "White Pride" march in Swansea a few weeks ago, which is absolutely hilarious in context. Swansea is 94% white and that's one of the lowest percentages.

However, in terms of the "populist hard right", things might be changing and it would threaten the Welsh Conservatives more than any of the other parties.

With UKIP presenting a - you could almost say "secular" - non-racist way to express disapproval over policy areas like Europe and immigration, as well as a strident British Nationalism, I don't think the future of the far-right in Wales or the UK is rosy at all. Beyond Nigel Farage, UKIP don't really have much, though that could change. However, Nigel Farage could well be the BNP's executioner if he can convince enough people concerned over policy areas like immigration that he presents a creditable and socially-acceptable voice for them. That's probably the reason why there may be ex-BNP in UKIP.

The BNP's executioner? Do UKIP offer a "softer", "secular"
more socially-acceptable voice for those concerned about
immigration and Europe?
(Pic : BBC)
Those ex-BNP were probably sold a lemon "we're not racist" schtick when selected as paper candidates by the BNP, and some people's opinions will change over time. Some don't, and they'll probably embarrass UKIP. Opposing high levels of immigration or the EU - even if I don't agree with that - doesn't mean you're a racist as long as you present a reasonable argument. I do believe parties like UKIP have failed to do that, and they're far too reactionary.

But in my opinion, all that would be is a shift to a "populist hard right" similar to Denmark and the Netherlands. That would be much more preferable than a move to neo-fascist organisations seen in parts of eastern and southern Europe.

Again though, I don't think there's any chance of UKIP being in position to run anything larger than a rural English district council. Their aim will likely be to drag the Conservatives to the right, and the rest of us out of the EU.

The EU : A last defence against fascism?

This is the first major economic downturn parts of Europe
will have faced since the end of the Cold War....and they're struggling.
(Pic : Wall street Journal)
Many self-styled rebels in western Europe might wear Che Guevara t-shirts as a reaction to a free-market orthodoxy.
Many younger people in eastern Europe of voting age, will not have grown up under the iron jackboot of Soviet Communism, which was nothing more than fascism with a heart. They'll have probably been told stories of how brutal and repressive it was, and how its collapse left their newly-emerging nation states in a weak position.

Those in eastern, and perhaps southern Europe, look to relics of long-dead glorious empires and the social order that used to "exist" under ultra-nationalist dictatorships. Remember that the Axis in WWII consisted of more than Germany, Italy and Japan; it included plenty of puppet regimes in eastern Europe and the Balkans too.

This resurgence of the European far-right is not only the fault of the global financial sector, but the   mainstream, technocratic Christian and social democrats who dominate European politics.

In the west and south, they've failed to get a grip on issues like the high cost of living, they helped to prop up and create housing bubbles and in some circumstances they've mortgaged the future of their younger generations to pay off the mistakes of the present.

In the east, while the cost of living remains low compared to the west, they're just getting through the first major economic downturn since the fall of Communism. In some countries like Latvia, it's caused property bubbles to burst, while elsewhere they're experiencing double digit unemployment rates and high levels of poverty, used to exploit inter-ethnic tensions.

Meanwhile, EU institutions have become cumbersome and wasteful – perhaps in some circumstances causing more problems than they're supposed to solve.

The trouble is that as soon as mainstream politicians and parties are seen to be failing to address issues like those, at a time when things are tough and people are scared, charismatic individuals come to the fore offering simple soundbite solutions to complex issues. Sometimes they only offer a closed fist and a jackboot. When you've exhausted all avenues with "traditional" parties, what else have you got to turn to?

There's one firewall though. All those nations, by and large, still want to be "part of the club" when it comes to the EU, even if levels of scepticism and uncertainty about the EU itself are on the rise. If they shift towards fascism rather than a populist, UKIP-style "tough on crime and immigration" stance, it would generate enough disgust within the EU to trigger sanctions – be they economic or social – and that would play a role in bringing them back into line.

This is going to sound ridiculous, but for all its faults, we should start to position the EU in terms of it being the last line of defence for European liberal democracy.


  1. I don't know if you've read much about Mosley's post-war Union Movement and its European allies. I'd say that the centrist, supra-nationalist, corporatist EU is more or less what they were advocating. There's a reason why Turkey will never be accepted into membership of the EU.

    A neo-Nazi party like Golden Dawn would be nowhere if Greece would drop out of the Euro. A devalued currency would certainly get the country back to work and the same goes for Spain, where 70% of young people are workless in much of the country.

    Now the point you seem to be making is that if a country voted in a government that pursued fascist policies it would be brought back into line by the EU. But I would contend that the EU is already pursuing fascist policies - support of big business against the individual and the small firm, European nationalism directed against the US and Russia, a nascent imperialism such as the overthrow of Gadaffi and the Serbs and, no doubt, Assad, the disregard for elected governments and the rule of unelected apparatchiks despatched from Brussels.

    Far more likely is that the EU will use sanctions against democratically elected governments pursuing populist, nationalist policies. We've already seen some signs of that in Austria, Ireland, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary and Spain.

    Eurofascism is what Mosley advocated as long ago as 1945 and it seems to me we're well on the way to that now.

  2. Thanks, Anon.

    Winston Churchill is famously quoted as wanting a "United States of Europe" too, it's just he probably enviseged the then British Empire staying out of it. It was a logical development - regardless of who was advocating it - luckily it was the liberal democracies that won out.

    You make a good point about a devalued Greek currency. The same could probably be said for Spain, Ireland and Portugal too. However, unless things have dramatically changed the vast majority of Greeks seem to want to keep the euro, but lose the austerity. You can't entirely blame them, but they're stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    I don't think EU policies come anywhere near to a definition of fascism. The things you list could be used to describe a whole host of political regimes which we would consider free democracies. Wales has plenty of "unelected apparatchiks despatched from London" for example working in the civil service or local government. Imperialists also - especially ambitious nascent ones - usually want to expand. So why would the EU not accept Turkey as a member? Why did they turn down Morocco's application?

    The EU isn't a nation and it isn't a nationality - it probably never will be either. It's probably in a category of its own as an entity. Though I definitely believe it needs significant reform, even if the overbearing nature of it is perhaps what keeps it from falling apart.

    And I don't see what's wrong with overthrowing the likes of Gadaffi. Those decisions are ultimately taken by nation-states though or military alliance like NATO. There were no "EU" fighter jets bombing Tripoli under the control of an "EU command"; they were Italian, French, British etc being directed by NATO. Most EUFOR missions seem to be very small deployments, usually to do with building capacity in civilian policing or peace-keeping.

    I think it's much better to co-ordinate these things through a continental alliance than through piddling wannabe "global powers" banging their fists on the table of the UN Security Council.

  3. Is there a right-wing or far-right Welsh nationalist scene as can be found in Brittany and other stateless nations in Europe? You've already mentioned Vlaams Belang I see.

  4. Thanks, Fulub.

    Officially, no. But there are unofficial Welsh nationalist movements that could be considered "right-wing" in terms of opposition to immigration (usually English) along with a more strident cultural nationalism. Jac o' the North and Miserable Old Fart are probably the most prominent "right-wing nationalists" on the blogosphere. Welsh Not British probably straddles the line too. So right-wing Welsh nationalists definitely exist and are quite vocal.

    Plaid Cymru are constitutionally committed to decentralised socialism. But I have heard a term - named after a hotel I think - used to describe a "right wing sub-sect", though by right-wing that probably means a Lib Dem style centralism. I can't remember was it was though.

    But there's no far-right/right-wing Welsh nationalist movement like Vlaams Belang.

  5. "Many younger people in eastern Europe of voting age, will not have grown up under the iron jackboot of Soviet Communism, which was nothing more than fascism with a heart". With a heart! Care to explain?

    I'm not sure I like being mentioned in what is a discussion on fascism. The question, "Is there a right-wing or far-right Welsh nationalist scene?" could easily have been answered with 'No'. And should have been. The colonisation by the country that rules us that I (and others) oppose is completely different to the opposition to immigration dealt with in your post. Colonisation, not immigration.

    In fact, I suggest that the post itself is founded on a misnomer. There is little or no fascism in Europe today. There may be many groups and parties opposing 'islamification', immigration and God knows what else, but that's fundamentally racism. Whereas pre-war Europe knew something approaching a fascist ideology which, in Italy, had little racist, and no anti-semitic, content. That is largely gone, replaced by a crude populism.

  6. I think Jac hit the nail on the head there. Most Welsh nationalists are anti-colonialist, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum.

  7. Thanks Jac & Anon 09:35.

    I was just pointing out to Fulub that there were (centre) right Welsh nationalists out there. No offence intended.

    As for "fascism with a heart". Set out with what could be considered "good intentions" - brotherhood of workers, collective means of production and all that stuff - but it developed into full-blown totalitarianism because it was fatally flawed. So it's still a cold heart.

    I consider the English in Wales foreign immigrants using freedom of movement within the EU, as that's what they would be if Wales were an independent nation-state. I don't consider it colonialism because the definition of people moving from England to Wales wouldn't suddenly change post-independence, other than the inclusion of an international border.

    My opposition to "colonialism" would be institutional. That includes Westminster's primacy, aspects of how the civil service is run, the soft cultural colonialism of things like the BBC and the UK print press, managed decline along the northern coast and valleys, patronising portrayals of the Welsh - and, as you've pointed out several times Jac - the cronyism/corruption/high-handedness in all tiers of Welsh government and the third sector.

    I did make a distinction between the far-right parties - which in many cases like Jobbik and Golden Dawn would be categorised as fascist - and parties who are as you put it Jac, "crude populists" and perhaps deep down, just closet xenophobes.

  8. Owen mentioned a right-wing sub-sect of Plaid named after a hotel, he's talking about the Hydro Group. They were active within the party in the 1970s. However beware of what "right-wing" means in a Plaid context! They were mostly liberals and social democrats. They ultimately weren't as charismatic as the National Left which was their rival faction and involved people like Dafydd El and Emrys Roberts. Most of the party was in the middle of these two camps. The right wing of Plaid is largely centre-left or liberal. Which makes complete sense seeing as Plaid's main constituency was once Welsh Liberal territory.

    There are right-wing nationalists outside of Plaid. But I've never heard of far-right/fascist Welsh nationalists.

  9. I think it's crude to suggest Golden Dawn would be out on a limb if Greece left the Euro. Fascism has a significant role in Greek society, remember the regime of the colonels? As does communism, from opposing that regime. I happen to sympathise with the Greek left (not centre-left) who basically want an independent Greece. But they couldn't win. Most Greeks want to stick with the Euro.

    Owen is also right to call eastern bloc communism "fascism with a human heart". There can be no denying that the intentions of the founders of those ideals were honourable. That is why it's a tragedy that it failed. Some of our greatest intellectuals , Brecht stands out, gave it the benefit of the doubt because it was supposed to be the end of fascism and the opposite of it. It's interesting how most or all communist countries end up relying on nationalism and patriotism to bolster their identities.

  10. GeertWilderForPresident28 April 2013 at 17:31

    Muslims refuse to integrate, some of them refuse to learn local language, don't respect our laws, our value and get offended about everything. I'm not talking about immigrants (because most non-muslim immigrants are respectuf people), i'm talking abot islam, because even converted-to-islam-native stop to respect the local law and want only shariah lav for everybody (In my country there is a muslim web forum, yf you read it you will understand why we fear islam).
    Muslims don't recognize nations as they look on geographic maps. For them there are only the nation of peace (that is the middle east) and the nation of war (that is the rest of the world).

  11. Anon 15:20 - Hydro Group - that's the one. Ta! :) I think though that "right" on the Welsh political spectrum means something different compared to the rest of the UK. I've blogged on that before here (Where's the centre ground in Welsh politics?).

    Anon 15:28 - I would consider myself, in the past, to have held "utopian" beliefs that could've been considered Communist, or (ironically) "Owenite", that would've made the left of Plaid seem moderate. But I've grown out of that down the years. I'd say that I'm probably more socially liberal than the Plaid mainstream and falling into a "syndicalist" category on the economy. I might not be as openly ideological as Welsh Ramblings was, but I'm just better at hiding it.

    I think the reality of having finite resources means that trying to create a top-down collectivised state requires very strong leadership at the top. That leaves the door open to dictatorship and a curbing of civil liberties if the people as a whole cede too much power to the state. I suppose you could say that it "works" in Cuba, but they're hardly squaky clean and they'll eventually have to adopt some market reforms. That'll probably happen when the Castro brothers are gone, I'd expect.

    GeertWilderForPresident - The Netherlands are a monarchy, aren't they? Geert Wilders can't become president of anything ;) And there are extremists in all walks of life, in all religions, in all nations, of all colours. It's just Muslims are under a bigger magnifying glass.

  12. Interesting points Owen, Slavoj Zizek in one of his latest articles has said that collectivist structures, ironically, usually "work" to any extent only if they're led or inspired by a big figure. He calls for a 'Thatcher of the left' in a 'tribute' to her. .

    The same is true with nationalism although like it or loathe it (i'm not in the "like it" camp) Carwyn Jones is seen by most people as being a nationalist-lite figure defending Wales. I know! But that's how people see him. To an extent they associated Rhodri Morgan with soft nationalism too.

  13. Thanks, Anon 21:05. That was a good read.

    I think we've had our "Thatcher of the left" though - a certain Tony Blair. I'm too young to have strong feelings on Thatcher really, even if they're mainly negative. But for people my age, Blair is probably going to be our Thatcher figure. Now, he might not have been "left wing", but he certainly managed to push through some rather progressive things in his time in office which could be considered such - minimum wage, tax credits etc. He was also rather authoritarian and presidential, I don't think you can say he was a weak leader.

    If you're talking about a "left wing Thatcher" in terms of a strong left-wing leader, I think the chances of that happening in the UK are zero simply because of how UK elections are fought. It's based on marginal seats in England and fighting over a centre that shifted to the right since 1979. It's different in Wales and Scotland though, not that it makes much of an impact at UK level. That's probably why my nationalism is more pragmatic than emotional/cultural.

    I agree re. Carwyn & Rhodri. I think the big plus point for both is that they are/were, generally, seen as "safe pairs of hands". Rhodri probably more so than Carwyn I would say though. But beyond Carwyn, I can't think of anyone else in Welsh Labour who fits the bill. Maybe Leighton Andrews at a push.

    So that means someone else will fill that vacuum, and it'll probably be Leanne Wood. Welsh Labour might adopt nationalism-lite to good effect, but Plaid pretty much are Welsh nationalism. So yes, it helps the cause when Labour dance to Plaid's tune. :) Probably to both party's mutual benefit to be honest.

  14. I think people in Wales don't want transformative change. Which is bad news for those of us that watch Welsh politics. The most popular agenda in electoral Welsh politics is social democracy (socialism at a push) with a Welsh accent. People will vote for further devolution off the back of that. But what I can't see is Labour making the same mistakes they've made in Scotland. Carwyn Jones could be in power for decades. People say 'we're a one party state' but the fact is the other parties aren't offering anything as safe or comfortable as he is. Both the Tories and Plaid seem to offer the prospect of drastic change. Which may well be needed, but is unpopular.

    The same realities also prevent the far-right from existing in Wales in any numerous form.