Rise of the European Far Right (Article For Affairs Today)

Here’s an article I wrote for the student journal Affairs Today. Having done so much reading on the subject, I figured I’d make my next article about the rise of the Far Right:

 

Governments around the world have had their difficulties dealing with the recession in recent years. It is almost considered a miracle nowadays if a government in Europe manages to be reelected. Over the past two years, in addition to economic issues, European governments have had to deal with a whole new issue; the rise of the political Far Right.

It is an issue the world has had to deal with before and one we would expect to have learned from. Unfortunately similarly to the 1930s, governments around Europe are having to deal with a re-emergence of the Far Right. With the extremist parties such as Greece’s Golden Dawn (~7%), Hungary’s Jobbik (~17%), Bulgaria’s Ataka (~10) and Belgium’s Vlaams Blok (~12% before their indictment) achieving significant electoral successes, the rise of the Far Right has become a real issue that cannot be ignored. Many have drawn parallels with the emergence of fascism experienced in the 1920’s after the Great War and especially the 1930’s following the Great Depression but while there are some similarities, the rise of the ‘Modern Far Right’ has its own complex and unique causes.

The first trigger for Far Right support is the major parallel drawn with the 1930s. The recession has crippled economies around Europe leading to high inflation and unemployment. Desperate voters in Greece and Hungary turn towards radical alternatives, as their disillusion with the mainstream parties grows. Corruption and economic mismanagement has angered the electorate leading to low turnouts and an increase in protest votes, both of which bode well for Far Right parties whose loyal followers never fail to cast their vote. Hungary’s last election saw a disappointing turnout of 46.5% in the second round.

Another important reason for this success is the rebranding and reorganization of the Far Right movement. The modern Far Right in Europe has distanced itself from the brutish racist and xenophobic image of past fascist parties, focusing on patriotism and the protection of national identity and culture instead. Parties such as the French Front National have chosen a rhetoric that promotes the protection of French culture, work and integrity rather than blatant racism. This has made these parties more socially acceptable in the eyes of the people, gaining them significant support. Similarly to France, far right parties in Belgium and Switzerland address the dangers of immigration, focusing especially on the ‘threat’ of Muslim immigration to Europe. As a whole, the far right parties of Europe are better organized, focusing on policies that appeal to specific demographics such as strict immigration laws and the implementation of nationalist welfare. Parties such as Jobbik have a strong online and public presence and have created international links with the likes of Iran’s government and other like-minded parties such as the BNP. This new presentation has allowed these parties to capitalize on the void left behind by the failing governments of the past years.

 While anti-Muslim rhetoric has garnered support for far right parties in Switzerland and France, a very different type of movement is even more successful in Central-Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria and especially Hungary, the Far Right has become an anti-Roma and anti-Semitic movement, which similarly to Golden Dawn is more aggressive than the movements in Western Europe.

 Hungary’s situation is a delicate one as the strong success of the Jobbik is starting to become worrying. Viktor Orbán’s governing Fidesz party not only dabbles in nationalistic rhetoric itself but refuses to clamp down on the Far Right out of fear of alienating its electorate, which only strengthens Jobbik’s position. Fidesz hopes to poach Jobbik’s more moderate voters and as a result has failed to properly address the most serious issues. Such issues include the anti-Jewish rally in Budapest during the World Jewish Conference in May, the killing of 6 Roma Hungarians by Neo-Nazis in 2008, the illegal regrouping of the banned Hungarian Guard and a Jobbik MP’s proposal to create a list of all Hungarian Jewish figures who pose a national security threat. While speaking out against the Far Right internationally, Orbán’s government has been mute in Hungary, creating a climate in which xenophobia and other discrimination has become acceptable. Jobbik’s efficient organization and the political atmosphere under the Fidesz government is why the Far Right is stronger in Hungary than in similar countries such as Romania or the Czech Republic.

 How does one counter this new wave of far right movements? Some advocate the banning of extremist parties but while this might stop them from spreading their xenophobic rhetoric, it doesn’t address the root of the problem. The issue is corruption, economic mismanagement, disillusionment with the mainstream parties and even the mildest tolerance of discrimination. If it is a combination of factors that allows the Far Right to flourish, then governments will have to put aside their political agendas to tackle each issue individually in order to pave the way for a brighter future, free from political discrimination.

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Why There Has Been a Rise of the Far Right

After skimming through over 30 articles on the Far Right and its rise throughout Europe, I have put together a list of what I’ve understood are the main reasons for the Rise of Europe’s Far Right:

  1. The Economy: the recession, the Eurocrisis, general economic crisis has pushed some voters into desperation. This as a result has led some to look for a scapegoat, others for a political alternative and many to cast a protest vote. All three benefit parties such as the Jobbik, who capitalise on the desperation of certain Hungarians in the lower classes.
  2. Disillusionment: Corruption, economic mismanagement and general failure on many governments parts to satisfy its electorate has disillusioned the people in countries such as Greece and Hungary. As a result, not only do voters sway to the extremes through either desperation or protest, but many simply refuse to vote, causing low turnout. Low turnout always bodes well for extremists as their voters are loyal and continue to go to the polls regardless of the turnout. 
  3. Re-branding and Re-organisation of the Far Right: The Far Right is no longer a blatantly racist and openly hateful movement as it was in the 1930s. In many countries, the Far Right parties have managed to change their image and views from being a racist movement to one that rather protects national and cultural identity. Far Right parties focus on rhetoric about protecting their nation’s economy, pushing back the ‘threat of immigration’ and raising patriotic sentiments. Parties like the Jobbik have successfully created international ties with other Far Right movements (e.g. BNP) and a rapprochement towards countries like Iran. Jobbik presents itself as a well-organised party with an English webpage, the support of numerous intellectuals and a strong online as well as public presence.
  4. The Political Climate: The initial successes of parties like Jobbik and Golden Dawn have brought Far Right rhetoric into parliament, making it seemingly acceptable to use xenophobic, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic language to the public. A strong establishment of staunchly conservative governments such as Fidesz, whose leader Orbán Victor also has a tendency to dabble in nationalistic and overly-patriotic (though not xenophobic or anti-Semitic)  rhetoric, has only helped create a political and cultural climate where nationalism and xenophobia are tolerated.
  5. Failure to Crackdown: Due to their desire to court the Far Right electorate, Fidesz has voided cracking down on the Far Right movements and has done little to denounce anti-Semitism, xenophobia and anti-Roma crimes. The interests of the governing party has made them idle on the key topics, which only legitimises the presence and rise of Jobbik and Far Right culture. Fidesz speaks out against these issues internationally, but little is said in Hungary (nothing about the Roma Killing Sprees of 2008 and 2009, nothing on the reformation of the banned Hungarian Guard etc).
  6. Culture: Culture plays an important part in the establishment of Far Right parties. This explains the success of anti-Semitic and anti-Roma movements in Eastern Europe, especially Hungary where history has shown an acceptance of the Far Right (under Horthy) and polls repeatedly report of above-average levels of intolerance towards Gypsies, Jews and Foreigners. Furthermore, as very ethnically monotonous country, Hungary has not adapted to the presence of non-Hungarian ethnics (or at least nationals).

While there seem to be counter-arguments to each of the above points, it seems that Hungary is affected by every single one of them, which would explain the success of Jobbik. It is however important to note that there have been increased efforts to change the situation and an improvement of election results for the outspoken anti-fascist parties such as MSZP, LMP and 2014 could make a difference.