Photo credit/ Joanna Piazza del Popolo via Flickr
Photo credit/ Joanna Piazza del Popolo via Flickr

Ultra-nationalist political parties are slowly but surely re-emerging in the European theatre, causing concern among the European Union’s political elites. Groups like Golden Dawn, in Greece, are flourishing as they spread hateful, violent, and xenophobic rhetoric to an increasingly attentive public.

The Great Recession has left a path of economic instability in its wake: increasing inequality (exemplified by a shrinking middle class), increasing unemployment—especially among youth—and seemingly unsuccessful economic austerity policies have fostered growing dissatisfaction with the continent’s political establishment.

European immigration policies have contributed to this mounting restlessness. Associated with waves of unwanted cultural change and the criminal element afflicting certain states, influxes of non-European migrants are demonized by a disaffected public.  Anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant polemics are becoming common in political discourse, as is the marginalization of minorities. Worst of all, some white Europeans are listening; populist partisan movements are benefiting from the uproar.

Dutch Party of Freedom leader, Geert Wilders, has openly asserted his anti-Islamic stance, one that has propelled the party’s steady rise to the third largest in the state.

Hungary’s Jobik party is openly anti-Semitic and uses scapegoat tactics to assign blame to immigrants and minorities.

By playing on the misfortunes that plague a country and exploiting the feelings of the public, these extremist parties easily appeal to a wide-demographic, subsequently gaining power and prestige. Unlike the disjointed leftist movements that wreaked havoc in Western Europe in the 1970s, these parties loom menacingly in EU politics; they are organized and backed by an air of legitimacy. As economic and social tensions flourish, so too does Euroscepticism—a body of criticism of the EU and European political integration—which in turn translates into support for extremist solutions.

There are now plenty of parties on the far right making their presence known in European politics. Many remain on the fringe, but some are garnering support and representation.

In France, the Front National party, which emphasizes the need for stricter immigration policies and bemoans the threat of Islam to French identity, led a national poll in October—a clear sign that it has entered mainstream politics. After that poll, the party won a by-election in a riding in Bringoles, with 53.9 per cent of the vote.  The town, with a large North African community, was severely impacted by high unemployment rates following the closure of the local aluminum plant in the 1990s.

Greece’s Golden Dawn party is similar in creed—although more notorious and less popular—to Front National. Increasing immigration and illegal immigration, a destabilized economic system, steep unemployment (especially among youth), and a disgruntled middle class have created a volatile atmosphere—one that the party is keen on exploiting.

Golden Dawn embodies the elements of pre-WWII ultra-nationalist fascism more than any other European political party. Led by Nikola Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn’s political stance is explicit: the twisting meander party symbol resembles the Nazi swastika.

Like other far-right parties, the Golden Dawn fosters violent behaviour. In September, a man claiming allegiance to the party murdered anti-fascist rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, known as MC Killah P. Golden Dawn denied any connection to the murder.

The party slithered its way into the Greek parliament with just under seven per cent of the total vote in June, 2012. It has 18 seats in parliament, but its popularity is declining. Michaloliakos and two senior MPs are imprisoned pending a trial, and the Greek government has cut funding to the party.

Until now, there has been limited reaction to this growing trend in far-right extremism, but some has begun to appear. The Swedish Ministry of Justice and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue have partnered in a pan-European effort to better understand this issue and find solutions to curb the problem by studying the growth and tenacity of these movements in one of 10 states.

Additionally, mainstream parties have begun to incorporate policies that appeal to a larger audience, such as reforming certain economic policies. In Greece, nevertheless, the only tried and true method to curb ultra-nationalism is to educate the masses, stress accountability, and improve the transparency of government activities.

Otherwise, one thing is certain: if these extremist parties are left unchecked, the EU will face more than it’s current economic and diplomatic headaches.

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