The rise of the far-right is causing grave concern in the corridors of Brussels, where it is feared, neo-fascists could be elected in sufficient numbers to form a political group after next May’s elections.
With declining numbers voting in the European parliament elections, the extreme groups could find themselves over-represented.
Forming a group would not only give the appearance of legitimacy, it would also give positions in parliamentary committees, guaranteed speaking time in the plenary and, of course, access to large amounts of taxpayer’s money.
The news that police in Athens arrested six MPs of Greece’s neo-nazi Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi) party on September 28 made headlines across the globe. The suspects are accused of being members of a criminal organisation.
In a similar vein, the members of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party have been accused of orchestrating violent attacks against Roma (Gypsies).
Today, Europe faces a number of challenges. Immigration is one of them. And, in conjunction with the financial crisis which has led to the widespread impoverishment of Europe, it has fuelled the resurgence of right-wing movements.
From the fusion of nationalism and populism to the extra-parliamentarian organisations rallying in the name of Nazism, the map of Europe’s far-right shows a great amount of diversity. It is united, however, along the lines of nationalism, populism and xenophobia (hostility and a hatred towards immigrants and ethnic minorities), as well as anti-Semitism.
Europe’s far-right is not homogeneous. But it all comes together as one – as the ugly face of Europe. The governments of many countries have passed laws against the far-right. Some have even banned them. No government, however, has managed to solve the social problems that nourish the far-right.
Greece’s Golden Dawn party, for instance, has its his roots in the neo-Nazi group of the 1980s and until recently was in the margins of political life. The country’s economic crisis (the worst crisis since the post-war years), however, marked a turning point. A rise in illegal immigration, crime and a high-level of political corruption (and impunity) sent a strong and solid electoral base to this far-right party.
In last year’s elections, Golden Dawn managed to win enough votes to secure 19 seats in the parliament. The party’s campaign rhetoric focussed on the preservation of the true Greeks and the deportation (read elimination) of foreigners (read sub-humans). This is the rhetoric that characterises Golden Dawn. The reality is far worse as the party’s actions have allegedly included violent attacks against immigrants. According to reports in the media, Golden Dawn has even gone so far as forming so-called assault brigades made up of young bodybuilder-types dressed all in black.
Golden Dawn’s electoral win gave rise to an increase in violent assaults, which not only became more and more frequent, but bloodier. Last month, a young Greek rapper was murdered in Athens. He was allegedly knifed to death by a member of Golden Dawn.
The far-right across Europe
In Cyprus, the small island state devastated by a military coup in 1973 which resulted in the Turkish occupation of almost 40% of the country, has it’s own far-right story. The National Popular Front (ELAM) is reportedly a direct relation to Greece’s Golden Dawn. Founded in 2008, ELAM organised a massive demonstration against the Turkish Cypriots and immigrants in December 2010.
A year later, it won 4,354 votes (1.08%) in the parliamentary elections. ELAM, which celebrated Golden Dawn’s parliamentary seat-gain last year, is widely accused of promoting racism.
In Hungary, the far-right nationalist Jobbik Party has a similar story. The party’s National Guard, banned since 2008, had a strict dressing code for members (just like Golden Dawn’s black-clad groups of youth). They can still be seen today at party rallies. Jobbik’s members have been accused of attacking Roma and Jews and inciting intolerance and racism.
The rise of the far-right made headlines several years ago when three men were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of six Roma, including one child. Even though those convicted were not directly associated with Jobbik, critics accused the party’s leader Gabor Vona of inciting the violence. “A movement created by Mr. Vona’s association had led to demonstrations conveying a message of racial division, which, reminiscent of the Hungarian Nazi Movement (Arrow Cross), had an intimidating effect on the Roma minority,” the European Court of Human Rights said in a press release. In 2009, Jobbik won three seats in the parliament. In 2010, the party sent 47 of its members to the parliament.
In Sweden, the 2010 elections saw the far-right populist party of the Sweden Democrats rally to a remarkable success and enter mainstream politics with 20 MPs. Though not (officially) a neo-Nazi party, it is anti-immigration and has numerous violent groups at his core. The Party of Swedes, however, is more to the point with members publicly describing themselves as nationalists and superior on the grounds of genetics.
The Party of Swedes is an offshoot of the now-dissolved National Socialist Front which was formed on 20 April 1999, the 110th birthday of Adolf Hitler. Another group, the Swedish Resistance Movement, is widely known for its attacks against immigrants and has been described as one of the biggest threats to the country’s domestic security.
In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party is described as right-wing populist and far right by the international media. An even more radical party is the Danskernes Parti (Party of Dans) which advocates an end to all non-Western immigration. The head of the party is 23-year-old Daniel Carlsen, who has denied the Holocaust.
In Finland, the True Finns is the third largest party counting 39 seats in the parliament. Though officially describing itself as a centrist nationalist party, its members are known for racist rhetoric. Further to the right is the Freedom Party – Finland’s Future. And even further to the right is the Finnish Resistance Movement, a militant organisation that propagates white supremacy, racism, anti-multiculturalism and anti-semitism.
Among the Baltic countries, Lithuania stands out. The Lithuanian National Union, though not officially recognised as a political party, is active in local politics with members cooperating with other far-right parties in Europe.
One of the most significant neo-Nazi parties in Europe is in Germany. The National Democratic Party of Germany was founded in 1964 as a successor to the German Reich Party. German officials have tried to outlaw this party. In March, however, the government said it would not ban the party, which now has elected officials in the regional parliaments of two German states, both of which are in the former East Germany. Another movement is the Autonomous Nationalists, which emerged in 2003. This group is more violent than any other and its members are openly inspired by the so-called “left Nazism” of the interwar period.
In Poland, the RN (National Movement) is planning to campaign in next year’s European Parliamentary Elections. “We are Poles and not Europeans or citizens of the world,” say the group’s leaders who believe Poland “is and must remain a Slavic and Christian country”. There is also a violent side to the rise of the far-right in Poland. Last April, a group of 50 young men wearing masks and armed with balaclavas stormed the University of Warsaw during a lecture by Magdalena Sroda, a well-known Polish feminist. As reported by Reuters, the invasion by “flash mobs” of liberal lectures and conferences marks a new battleground in a years-long struggle between Poles seeking to embrace liberal, western European values and those who say phenomena like feminism and gay partnerships are a corruption of traditional Polish values.
In Austria, the far-right is represented by the anti-immigration and anti-Islam Freedom Party of Austria. The Carinthian Homeland Service, a nationalist advocacy group of the German-speaking majority in the Austrian state of Carinthia reportedly boasts a membership of about 20,000.
Belgium, the seat of the EU’s headquarters, is struggling with deep divisions between its Flemish community, its French community in the Walloon region, and Brussels (the international city!). The Flemish Interest party advocates for the independence of Flanders and strict limits on immigration, whereby immigrants would have to adopt Flemish culture and language.
There is also the Bloed, Bodem, Eer en Trouw (Blood, Soil, Honour and Loyalty) – a party founded in 2004 from a splinter of the Flemish branch of the international Nazi skinhead organisation Blood & Honour. The group made headlines in 2006 when 17 members, including 11 soldiers, were arrested under the 2003 anti-terrorist laws and laws against racism and anti-semitism.
In the Netherlands there are groups calling for the rehabilitation of convicted World War Two war criminals. At demonstrations, supports don Nazi uniforms.
The United Kingdom had its own (though unsuccessful) fascist movement in the pre-War period. But in the 1980s, a new face of British far-right reared its ugly head under the name British National Party. Its first leader, John Tyndall, openly admired Hitler and the Nazis. When Nick Griffin, a former member of the right-extremist Third Position group, replaced Tyndall as BNP leader in 1999,he introduced several policies to make the party electable.
The 2006 local elections brought the BNP the most successful results of any far-right party in British history. In the 2009 European Parliament elections, the BNP gained two MPs.
However, the party has fragmented and barely exists, competing with the English Defence League for support, the BNP is expected to lose their European seats in 2014.
In France, Marie Le Pen has unsuccessfully tried to convince voters her National Front Party has moved from the extreme right to one more moderate. Three years ago, she compared Muslims praying in the streets to Nazi Germany’s occupation of France.
There is a suspicion that the party will continue to develop links with UKIP, having ditched their support of the BNP
In Spain, supporters of far-right nationalist groups attacked a bookshop in the Catalan Cultural Centre in Madrid on the same day as Catalonia’s National Day celebration when a huge crowd of people took to the streets to demand independence for Catalonia. There is also the National Alliance (AN) Party. It is a neo-Nazi party founded in 2005.
AN, according to its own statements, declares itself the ideological heir of European fascism and argues that the jus sanguinis (right of blood) should be used to determine a person’s nationality.
Italy is the only European country where former members of the fascist regime managed to form a parliamentary party – the Italian Social Movement – after World War Two.
Although the majority of party structures were transformed into the conservative National Alliance and then merged into Silvio Berlusconi’s The People of Freedom party, there are still neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups active in Italy. The New Force (Forza Nuova or FN) is probably the most active. The party has often been criticised for its radical positions especially against homosexuals and immigrants.