There is this old favourite journalistic credo that dictates that one occurrence is labelled a phenomenon, two make a trend and three become a law of nature. How about 15?
Because, at the moment, 15 European countries have seen Far Right parties (some of which are outright Nazis) make a resurgence. The latest one to join the club is the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is about to enter the country’s parliament for the first time after taking 12.6 per cent of the vote in Monday’s election. This turn of events came as a wake up call for Europe, which sees Far Right parties make their way to the centre stage, seeking significant representation.
The term ‘significant’ is vague, of course; actual election percentages vary from the meagre 1.8 per cent (UKIP’S euro-sceptic populists in the 2017 UK elections) to the alarming 46.2 per cent that Geer Wilders’s bid for the Austrian presidency got (his party subsequently settled for a 13.1 per cent in the recent election, held in March).
In between, there’s a whole range of parties of different dynamics, mandates and appeal to the public: Marine Le Pen, leader of the antisemitic, xenophobic Front National became a contender for the French Presidency herself, getting 33.9 per cent of the votes; in Eastern Europe, 20.2 per cent of the Hungarians voted for the far right in April 2014, as did 8.9 per cent of the Polish people in 2015 and 8.6 per cent of the Slovakians last March; in the ‘model countries’ of the Scandinavian peninsula the far right parties account for 12.9 per cent (Sweden, September 2014), 17.8 per cent (Finland, April 2015), 21.1 per cent (Denmark, June 2015); and of course, one cannot overlook that almost one in three people in Switzerland, a country famous for chocolate, cheese, ski, banks, cuckoo clocks and staying out of wars, voted for the xenophobic Swiss People’s Party, giving it 29.4 per cent in 2016. All in all, no less that 27 million people throughout Europe are supporting political entities that are hateful, intolerant, racist – if not outright Nazi. Of course, among these countries, only Greece has the privilege of featuring a criminal organisation of Nazi thugs (currently on trial for a series of horrible offences, including murder, assaults and extortion) in the Parliament. Yet, despite the evidence presented in court – and a series of former members leaving ship, telling tales of violence and hypocrisy – Golden Dawn is still the third party in the public opinion polls; the party even has a franchise in Cyprus, the National People’s Front, which describes its ideology as “popular and social nationalism” (i.e. Nazism), getting 3.7 per cent of the votes last May.
How did this happen? How did Europe, birthplace of the Enlightenment, get under the spell of the darkest forces in politics today? What does this mean for the continent, for the European Union, for Democracy, for the free world? Who is to blame? Strangely enough, the first analysis to come out of Germany blamed the leftist reflexes of the Eastern Germans – drawing a line that unites them with the former communist regime subjects in Eastern European countries now gradually but steadily turning to the extreme right. So, it’s their communist background that turned voters to the other side, many say. This analysis overlooks the fact that communism has been irrelevant for next to three decades in Europe (and the rest of the world), which has since produced a couple of generations of voters and workers trying (and often failing) to make it under the neo-liberal dogma. It was not the leftists who dismantled the welfare state, suppressed the middle class and made employment security a thing of the past.
With the blame game going on, all eyes are on Angela Merkel at the moment, who is about to form a government – her fourth. Having risen to the rank of the ‘de facto leader of the free world’ (which seems reluctant to follow Donald Trump – himself a product of KKK endorsed right-wing populism, who recently stood by while white supremacists led violent protests in Virginia, culminating to the death of a woman), Angela Merkel will have to respond to the message sent by German voters. She took responsibility for her party losing votes, admitting that it was due to her policy on the Refugee issue, which is the focal point of AfD’s attacks. Will this see Germany turning its back to the refugees, despite being praised for its humanitarian leadership? It remains to be seen. As is the country’s future economic policy. The first casualty of last weekend’s elections was Wolfgang Schauble, the powerful Finance Minister who all but dictated the EU’s fiscal policies. An ardent advocate of austerity, Schauble was seen as Greece’s nemesis, but his ousting should not be followed by sighs of relief. If Angela Merkel chooses to appease the AfD voters, then this would mean a policy which will be focused on the German people, relieving them from Austertiy. After all, AfD’s claim to fame was its opposition to the bailout programs that supposedly left Germans with the bill of ‘irresponsible’ nations (i.e. Greece et al) spending. If anything, Schauble was eurocentric, albeit often overpowering the EU institutions. With him out of the way, things are more uncertain.
So, on one hand Europe is eroding; on the other, we have the US, currently under the rule of an erratic, trigger-happy president who recently had to fire the man behind his policies (and his far-right affiliations), Steve Bannon, only to taste his revenge this week, when at the Alabama primaries, the Trump-supported candidate Luther Strange, lost to gun-slinging, bible-quoting, conspiracy-theory-spreading Judge Roy Moore, backed by Steve Bannon.
Where does this leave Australia? At the moment, the country is still tangled up in a heated debate over Same Sex marriage, a debate which has allowed for the far-right forces of intolerance to dominate public discourse, all while playing the victim. While Tony Abbott slams “political correctness” and calls for rapper Macklemore to be silenced, in the name of Freedom of Speech, Peter Dutton attacks the refugees the country holds prisoners in offshore concentration camps, calling them ‘economic refugees who own “Armani jeans and handbags”. And in the Senate, Pauline Hanson stages a protest performance piece, dressed in a burqua, as a way to call for the garments ban. Okay, the last part is a bit dated, but it is the point where an Australian Senator – and party leader – meets the antisemitic xenophobes of Germany’s AfD; they too, want to ban the burqa. Of course, their campaign was led by a Alice Weidel, a 38-year-old Mandarin-speaking lesbian who has lived in China and has worked for Goldman Sachs. Which means that the current Far Right movement is harder to pinpoint than its predecessors. To make things more complicated, she is part of the hardest faction of the party, whose moderate leader, Frauke Petry, publicly stated that the party is divided ideologically. Let’s hope they start fighting each other to elimination, because if we wait for the Left to respond, step up and inspire the underprivileged (and uneducated) people who fall victim to the modern far-right’s dangerous rhetoric, we may have to wait. Facing a wake-up call, the progressive forces around the world seem to have hit the snooze button.