Instead of open racial attacks, they play up a threat to nationalidentity and criticize multiculturalism, particularly as it relatesto Islam, Feldman said. On the campaign trail, National Front leader Le Pen called forFrance to leave the eurozone and restore its currency, the franc,as well as criticizing its political integration into the EuropeanUnion. But her rhetoric also drew on an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslimsentiment that has deep roots in France and elsewhere. Thatdiscourse was likely also a factor in Sarkozy turning the labelingof halal meat into an election issue and his comments that thereare "too many foreigners" in France. |
The more research he does, Feldman said, the more it seems that"the lowest common denominator of this entire far-right narrativeis that Islam is barbaric and a threat to European stability andpeace." A report by rights group Amnesty International last monthhighlighted the issue, saying Muslims in Europe face discriminationin education, employment and religious freedom. Feldman draws a parallel with the anti-Semitism of the 20th centuryand earlier. "We are still seeing 'Europe for the Europeans,' and that'ssomething we could have seen 80 years ago," he said. "Historydoesn't give us perfect examples of replaying the past, but I thinkthere's a lesson to take away.
"In times of uncertainty and great change, finding scapegoats hasalways been a populist vote winner, and the scapegoat in thiscentury is Muslims in Europe." Michael Minkenberg, a professor of political science at Germany'sEuropean University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) who has alsotaught at New York, Cornell and Columbia universities, said he seesconcern over immigration, law and order "and the feeling thatthings aren't what they used to be any more" as being at the heartof support for Europe's radical right. Euroscepticism, as resistance to greater European politicalintegration is known, is also on the increase, he said, and"there's this anxiety about what will happen, a growing complexityand not much reassurance from either national governments or theEuropean Union." Coupled with a mistrust of the political elite, this has also ledto a swell of support for the far right in Austria, Belgium andScandinavian countries, Minkenberg said, while in Hungary, thefar-right Jobbik party won a significant chunk of the vote in 2010. Despite that trend, analysts caution against drawing sweepingconclusions from the far right's gains in France and Greece. The National Front has been well-entrenched in France's politicallife for decades under Jean-Marie Le Pen before his daughter Marinetook charge last year, said Thomas Klau of the European Council onForeign Relations. As such, its achievement in taking a fifth of the votes in thefirst round of voting, while notable, did not indicate a suddenrise to prominence for the far right, he said.
Hollande told the daily Liberation newspaper ahead of the runoffthat he saw the strong showing for the National Front as anexpression of people's "social anger" rather than a firm adherenceto the party's more extremist views. It revealed a discontentparticularly in rural areas and among working-class voters, hesaid, with many feeling abandoned by the government. Perhaps reflecting that disillusionment, 2 million French votersdeliberately spoiled their ballot papers after Marine Le Pen saidthat was what she would do. Nonetheless, Klau argues that a feature of recent ballots in Europehas been the readiness of voters to change their governmentswithout turning to the political extremes, as seen in Spain'selection in November. "Voters have been single-minded across the eurozone in terms ofexpressing their dissatisfaction at how the crisis has been run bythe government in charge, whatever their political hue," he said."But at the same time, they have sufficient confidence in their ownpolitical system to replace their governments with the mainstreampolitical opposition." In Britain, local elections last week saw big losses for thecoalition government of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats,blamed for unpopular austerity measures.
But there was no accompanying swing to the radical fringe, Feldmansaid. The far-right British National Party in fact lost all six ofthe seats it was defending in local councils and failed to win anynew ones. The opposition center-left Labour Party was the mainbeneficiary of the coalition's losses. In the Netherlands, Klau said the impact of Dutch politician GeertWilders' decision to withdraw his Freedom Party's support for thegovernment, triggering its collapse, would have only a temporarydestabilizing effect.
The economy will be central to the election of a new government,with elections due in September, but the far right does not attractthe same level of support as in France. Wilders, who wants a referendum on the euro, preferred to exit thecoalition than lose political credibility by backing the painfulcuts demanded by Europe, said Kostas Gemenis at the University ofTwente in the Netherlands. Those demands from Europe are also at the heart of Greece'spolitical turmoil as voters in the heavily indebted nation revoltagainst the harsh budget-cutting medicine doled out by the EuropeanUnion and International Monetary Fund. The success of Golden Dawn, with its unprecedented 7% share of thevote, is a manifestation of what could be described as economicmeltdown, Feldman said. But at the same time, he said, "7% is too much, but it's not 27% or37%.
I'm not sure now is the time to panic about the rise of thefar right. Golden Dawn is not something that is replicable acrossEurope." And while Golden Dawn gained strength, another far-right party,LAOS, lost its small presence in the 300-seat parliament as voterspunished it for its support for Greece's austerity program, Gemenispointed out. Gemenis said the profile of the Golden Dawn voter -- revealedthrough the Choose4Greece website he jointly set up to help voterswork out their political affiliation amid a welter of parties --was typically male, aged under 50 and from a lower educationalbackground. Some 45% of those who said they intended to vote for Golden Dawnthis time around had backed one of the two mainstream parties,PASOK and New Democracy, in 2009, while a fifth had backed LAOS,Gemenis said.
If the far-left Syriza group fails to form a workable coalition, itseems likely a new Greek election will be called next month. But whether this will mean further gains for Golden Dawn is hard topredict, Gemenis said. "The framing of the issue by the media might play a role, but it isimpossible to say what will be the consequences of the mediaattacking the far right versus tacitly ignoring it," he said,referring to the approach taken by Greek media so far. So, does the far right present a broader threat to Europeanfreedoms? How extreme the anti-immigration debate becomes depends very muchon the individual country, Minkenberg said.
Farther east, a different strand of far-right thinking dominates incountries such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, he said.There, far-right groups poll around 10% but tend to be morenationalistic in tone, he said, with anti-Semitism and anti-Romaviews seen as more legitimate than elsewhere in Europe. Feldman highlights the far right's recent apparent moves toestablish a pan-European cultural movement that has Islam in itssights as the biggest risk. Far-right groups from Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Germany andEastern Europe gathered last month in the Danish city of Aarhus forwhat they said was a rally to make their governments aware of thethreat of Islamic extremism. Although it was dwarfed by a left-wing counterdemonstration, theprotest was significant as an attempt by the far-right groups tocreate a common trajectory, he said.
Less clear is how muchtraction their extreme views can gain. "It's clear that a large minority across Europe isn't comfortablewith these things -- demographic change and multiculturalism,"Feldman said. "But what the far right offers is not something thatmany can accept.".
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