A Brief Overview Of Some Populist Right Parties In Europe

Editor’s Note: This Article Was Written In December 2015 For The Fall 2015 Issue Of The Consul. This Article Is Being Republished.

The past decade has seen a massive increase in migration and refugees within Europe. The Syrian Civil War, the disintegration of order in Libya, and the crisis brought about by the Islamic State. This had led to a degree of upheaval within parts of Europe. Within the Mediterranean, thousands have died trying to cross to Southern Europe in over packed, shoddily-built boats. For the countries that do accept refugees, the process has been an arduous and messy one.

            Although countries like France and Germany have made a valiant effort in accepting refugees, and massive groups of people – like the majority of Iceland’s population – have expressed desire to come together and help the throngs of refugees, countless groups of people and political parties have risen against the rise of immigration and refugees. For the most part, they are heavily right-wing, favoring the promotion of Christian values and strict immigration. They have also proven themselves to be at best xenophobic and at worst outright racist, preferring a system where natives (which can and generally is defined on ethnic terms) receive all the benefits their nation has to offer, while every immigrant gets close to nothing. Although around for decades, many of the far-right parties have grown in popularity (in some cases being part of ruling coalitions). Here are three of those parties.

GREECE – GOLDEN DAWN

            One of the best known cases is within contemporary Europe of this disturbing trend is Greece’s Golden Dawn party. Formed after the collapse of the Greek economy in the late 2000s, Golden Dawn has shown itself to be the political manifestation of lingering right-wing sentiment in Greece.

            Simply put, Golden Dawn has been, is, and probably will be, a neo-Nazi party (or at least one that follows the lead of former fascist leader Ioannis Metaxas). Since the party’s founding in 1985, the party has harbored a genocidal hatred towards Muslims, so much so that party members were involved in the Srebrenica Massacre. At the same time, they’ve adopted a strong anti-leftist streak, leading to vigilante violence against liberals and leftists. Despite of the Islamophobia, anti-leftism, and homophobia (they gained some notoriety for handing out homophobic leaflets during Athens’ first pride parade), they’ve gained a decent level of support with their promise to restore jobs and order in an increasingly jobless and order-less state.

            The rhetoric and race-baiting have had an effect in Greece.  Throughout 2013 and 2014, there were countless attacks against immigrants. Immigrants are not alone. Members of the LGBT community – whether ethnically Greek or not – have been beaten by members and sympathizers of the fascist party. Immigrant-owned businesses have been burned down by sympathizers. To make matters worse, there have been allegations that Golden Dawn have connections with Greek police forces, and allegations that the government, especially before Syriza took power, turned a blind eye to Golden Dawn’s actions.

            Thankfully, politically, Golden Dawn have lost significant power since elections in 2015 gave Syriza a near-absolute majority in Parliament. The chances for improvement of the lives of immigrants in Greece are now much higher than before, with some debate over whether or not the policy proposals Syriza has regarding immigration will actually come into fruition. However, much like the early 2010s, Golden Dawn still remains a known force in Greece.

SWEDEN – SWEDEN DEMOCRATS

            One of the most surprising aspects of European political culture is that all three Scandinavian nations – known for their general inclusiveness and left-leaning welfare states – all had far-right anti-immigrant parties take a considerable role in the government. After snap elections in late 2014, the far-right party became the third largest party in the Swedish Parliament, after some estimates had them as the primary political force in Sweden.

            Although party leader Jimmie Åkesson has claimed that the racists and fascists within the party had been purged in his efforts to turn the party into a viable enough political party to double its vote every four years, the party’s policies have shown that it has not purged all of those elements. Their immigration platform – which involved cutting immigration rates by up to 90% — is based on a level of race-baiting akin to Donald Trump. In regards to age-old ethnic minorities (Jews and Sami primarily), the Sweden Democrats have proven to be just as reactionary. The former party secretary Bjorn Soder had said in a 2014 interview that Swedish Jews cannot be Swedish unless they abandon their Jewish identity, and the party program wants to restrict age-old Sami cultural practices (for example, reindeer husbandry). The party also has a tendency towards homophobia and transphobia, only coming to protect sexual minorities when it gives them an excuse to bash Muslims.

            The sentiment from the party’s supporters in Sweden is typical for most supporters of European far-right parties: the few jobs made available since the 2008 global economic crisis and the tepid recovery have been taken by immigrants, and there’s a fear that they’re taking over the country and culture. On the bright side, statistically, the number of Swedes in favor of the Sweden Democrats’ immigration policies are actually decreasing. Unfortunately, the party members that have been elected into Parliament have not moderated their position upon being elected, meaning that if they become part of a ruling coalition, Swedish politics could take a turn towards the right.

FRANCE – NATIONAL FRONT

            Overall, the best known far-right party in Europe has been and is France’s National Front. Headed by the Le Pen family – first by Jean Marie, and now by his slightly less insane (and politically savvier) daughter Marine – the National Front has been an ever-growing staple in French politics since its founding.

            Since its founding in 1972, much of the National Front’s policies have been centered on three things: neoliberalism, Euroscepticism, and racism. Both Le Pen and her father are in favor of backing out of the European community as a whole (oddly enough, she is a member of the European parliament) for nationalist reasons. As for the racism, it primarily comes from the party’s anti-Semitic and Islamophobic streaks. Previously, Jean-Marie le Pen has frequently downplayed both the Nazi occupation of France and the Holocaust, and for decades, race-baiting against non-ethically-French immigrants (most from former French colonies) has been a staple of the National Front’s party platform.

            As of now, much of their support is within the north of France, primarily in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, where Le Pen is a member of the legislature. People within the northern regions of France have been more willing to support the far-right party for two reasons. First, Le Pen’s promise to boost the economy in these regions have galvanized a part of France that never recovered from an economic shift that rendered many of its coal and steel mills obsolete. Second, many refugees desire to make the United Kingdom their final destination in their trek through Europe. The northern regions of France, already densely populated, have become tenser as more refugees travel there. This level of support will probably act as the primary base for Le Pen’s presidential ambitions in 2017.

            Those plans might not pan out. After Le Pen ousted her father from the party in her attempt to make the party more moderate, the party is at risk of a split. Still, although Le Pen has little chance of becoming president, the weakening support for the Socialist Party and the Republicans (formerly the Union for a Popular Movement) gives Le Pen a chance to become a greater power in French politics.

            Right now, almost all of Europe faces a strange situation. As the refugee crisis intensifies, there will be increasing popularity in right-wing, anti-immigrant parties. What makes matters worse is that these three parties are not the only major right-wing parties that are popular in Europe. Only time will tell how powerful these parties can become.

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