The Nationalist International: Europe's Far Right Surge
“Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying, ‘Our interests first, who cares about the others,’ we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace and what is essential: its moral values,” said French President Emmanuel Macron at a ceremony commemorating WWI in November. Macron warned against the divisiveness that nationalist sentiment and policies created between nations directly opposed to previous comments made by President Trump.
Claims superiority of one culture over another that nationalists often use to their political advantage are what makes nationalist ideologies divisive. At a Houston rally for Ted Cruz, President Trump said, “I am a nationalist. It’s a word that hasn’t been used too much. Some people use it, but I’m very proud. I think it should be brought back.” Far-right, nationalist candidates throughout Europe share Trump’s populist and anti-immigration rhetoric. The President’s recent hostile rhetoric toward the migrant caravan has helped him energize his base, but as a consequence, it prompted racism and anti-semitism. For example, Robert Bowers killed 11 Jews at the Tree Life Synagogue because he believed a conspiracy that Jews were bringing an invasion of non-white immigrants to the country.
Throughout history and today, many associate nationalist with an ideology that encourages loyalty and devotion to a nation-state that surpasses individual or group interests. Although nationalism fosters a patriotic feeling, it is a dangerous ideology when it prompts ethno-nationalism. In Europe specifically, the word is often associated with an ideology that supports ethno-nationalist principles and strict cultural association. Nationalist parties often gain power in political eras where a majority in a nation feel like their culture, race, and language are threatened. In extreme forms, nationalist sentiment has historically led to ethnic nationalist policies or national-ethnic genocide.
Where America clashes with nationalism, is that Americans pride themselves in a country that accepts different cultures and national diplomacy. Such pride in diversity coexists with the melting pot theory teachers tell students in school when learning about the Statue of Liberty. Today, the political climate across Europe and in the United States leans toward a rejection of the poor and huddled masses for they bring with them a stigma of violence and terrorism that many political candidates around the world use to energize voters.
Marine Le Pen (photo credit Claude Truong Ngoc, Creative Commons)
In the 2017 presidential election, nationalist candidate Marie Le Pen secured 33.9 percent of the vote despite losing to liberal centrist Emmanuel Macron. Le Pen won 10.6 million votes, a record for her party. Successfully distancing the party platform and herself from her father's anti-semitic rhetoric and positions, Le Pen made history, vastly surpassing her father’s attempt to run for president in 2002, winning roughly 17.9 percent of the vote.
It was the first time in the history of France that a National Front, now called the National Rally, candidate secured a place in the runoff election. Le Pen’s 114-point manifesto includes promises to reduce immigration almost completely reducing it by roughly ten times, make it harder for immigrants to be naturalized, end globalization, tax the hiring of foreign work, and take the country out of the EU and NATO. Although Le Pen had a large percent of the vote in the first round, Macron received the majority of votes that rejected him the first round. Le Pen’s ability to gain support still remains shocking to many. Similar to Britain and the Brexit vote, immigration proved an essential issue in this presidential election and Le Pen’s platform. Why is it the perfect time for Le Pen and the National Front to gain support? The answer is nationalist policies involving immigration and the promise of securing jobs.
Le Pen’s populist approach to politics, similar to that used by Trump, swayed many French voters. According to the Financial Times, Le Pen and the National Rally received “34 percent of the vote among 18-24” year-olds. In August of 2018, the youth unemployment rate was 20 percent, reaching 26 percent in 2012. It can be speculated, based on support, that French youth feel threatened by immigrant labor and feel disillusioned by the French system. A clash of Islamic and French identity also strengthened the far-right party.
Not only is there a large anti-immigration sentiment in France, but specifically an anti-Muslim sentiment. Currently, besides Cyprus, France has the largest Muslim population of any European country: 5.7 million or 8.8 percent of the population in 2017. In 2015, a series of the most deadly extremist terrorist attacks in French history, increased anti-Muslim sentiment and increased policing in areas with large immigrant populations. Since 2005, many acts have been passed that conflict with Muslim identity. For example, a burqa ban, burkini ban, and most recently, Macron’s recent National Security Bill that vastly increases police powers to search homes and detain people “without judicial oversight”. Anti-immigration sentiment and the perceived threat of French values and culture has supported the rise of far-right parties in France, not just Le Pen but Laurent Wauquiez and the French Republicans as well. Marie Le Pen has claimed many times that the election of President Trump represents a rise in right-wing populism and Trump expressed what many speculate is indirect support of Le Pen.
Right-wing protesters in Germany in September march with photos of Germans killed by immigrants
The Alternative for Germany party (AFD), a party that critics claim is anti-semitic and whose promise to “restore law and order and a sense of national pride” is similar to Nazi propaganda, is now the third largest party in the German parliament with 92 seats out of 709. It is the head opposition party to Angela Merkel's government of her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). In the recent parliamentary election, 6 million, or 12.6 percent of the electorate, voted for the populist, far-right party. What’s unique about the 2017 election is that the AFD drew 500,000 voters from the Social Democrats and 400,000 from the aptly named Left Party. The AFD even captured 20 percent of the vote in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Merkel’s home state. Their party platform preaches anti-immigration, separation from the European Union, abandon the Euro, and stronger law and order at the borders and eradication Islam and Muslim influence in Germany. In their election manifesto, they explain that “Islam does not belong in Germany” and suggest banning foreign funding to mosques, banning burqas and Muslim prayer, and changing vetting procedures for immigrants. Some members, like former party leader Frauke Petry, controversially suggested shooting illegal migrants at the border if necessary.
In 2015, Germany accepted the largest number of refugees and is projected to exceed one million. In 2018, Germany’s foreign population reached 10.6 million. The AFD capitalized on negative sentiment towards immigrants and gained the vote of many who felt that their influence dissolved family values and threatened their communities safety and culture. In 2016, for example, there were nearly ten attacks on migrants every day including grenades thrown in hostels, clashes in Bautzen, and crimes committed by other far-right party members, like the Nazi-influenced National Democratic Party of Germany. Anti-immigration sentiment has driven support for many nationalist parties in the European Union.
Angela Merkel recently announced that she is relinquishing her position as CDU leader and will not run for chancellor in 2021. She took full responsibility for her parties poor performance in the polls. Both parties suffered a loss in voters. The CDU had its “worst result since 1949” and the SPD had its worst result ever. The rise of the AfD put Germany in its longest coalition period since the end of the war. When the parties did reach a deal for a coalition government, there was still chaos and discontent. Merkel was arguably the most important actor in Europe and defender of Western democracy.
Nigel Farage (Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons)
Although UKIP’s (UK Independence Party) influence on British politics has dissipated almost completely after the Brexit referendum, it is important to acknowledge their brief and large influence on British politics during the referendum. The party had one main policy goal: leave the European Union. In 2014, UKIP received 42.1 percent in Westminster elections and membership grew from 9,000 to 32,447. UKIP’s focus on immigration, allowed it to grow and create political upsets in local elections. UKIP’s ability to use fear to rally support against the European Union succeeded in the Brexit referendum. A small party that David Cameron called and dismissed as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” in 2006, was able to sway Britain to leave the European Union.
Switzerland and Sweden
The Swiss People’s Party, a far right party that capitalizes on a anti-immigration sentiment, a rejection of change and globalization, isolationism, and use of referendums in all decision making platform. It is the largest and most influential party in Switzerland with 65 seats in the lower house. The party dominates the Swiss House of Representatives (elected by proportional representation) and is the majority party. Unlike other European countries like France and Austria, Switzerland does not have a pre-existing subculture of nationalist policy or right-leaning politics.
In the 2018 election, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats secured roughly 17.6 percent of the vote, previously securing just 12.9 percent. They secured 62 seats of 349, a large jump from their previous 49. Since the 1980’s, the party has been associated with neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs. It’s new face, Jimmie Akesson, has broadened and softened the party’s image to gain a broader voting base despite its fascist past. Their platform rejects Muslim immigration and opposes multiculturalism. Due to the rise of the Sweden Democrats, the two main parties of the country, including the Swedish Social Democrats and the Moderate Party, could not reach a majority. With 62 seats, the far-right Sweden Democrats have a large sway in the process of forming a coalition government. The Swedish government is currently incapable of forming a government. For months, Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has been struggling with coalition negotiations. Löfven recently abandoned his efforts after increased deadlock. Neither the Moderates nor the Social Democrats are willing to give the far-right, populist Sweden Democrats party a say in parliament due to their white supremacy roots. Delay in coalition and government could decrease support and belief in the competence of mainstream parties. A snap election is likely to be the only option for the Sweden Democrats, and that risks both a decline in seats for the “majority” party or a possible increase in seats for the far-right Sweden Democrats.
The Freedom Party of Austria created a coalition government with the center-right People's Party in 2017 after winning 27 percent of the vote. They have taken charge of defense, the interior ministry, and foreign affairs. The Freedom Party promised to scale back immigration during the campaign and have close ties to United Russia, the party of Vladimir Putin. The party is known for its link to Nazism and German nationalists. They called to lift “damaging and pointless sanctions” approved by the EU against Russia after the annexation of Crimea.
The rise of nationalistic, far-right parties is apparent in more places than mentioned such as Poland, Greece, and the Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, and Slovenia. Far-right nationalist parties are not only evident in Europe. Recently, the people of Brazil elected far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro as their president. Known for his misogynistic, homophobic, and racist remarks, he plans on opening the rainforests for development with Amazon, does not support Brazil’s Black and mixed-race community, and has expressed favorable views toward a military dictatorship (he referred to the former dictatorship as “glorious”). The rise of racism in Europe is also significant. In Ireland, a group of KKK members waved crosses and threatened an Islamic prayer center. Britain jailed Britain first leaders in England for harassing Muslims, and racial riots in eastern Germany caused chaos and violence. The far-right’s connecting force, a hatred for the immigration and diversity caused by globalization, is apparent through continued racial violence.
The rise of white nationalist supporters during Trump’s presidency is no coincidence. After Trump was elected, the rise of far-right parties emerged including a threat of right-wing terror attacks. His “very fine people on both sides” comment after Charlottesville left many shocked that he even remotely supported neo-Nazism and white supremacy. Both perpetrators in the series of pipe bombs sent to the press and shooting at the Tree Life Synagogue were by far-right extremists. It is essential to recognize the role words can play in politics. Dangerous rhetoric can cause hatred and division. The rise of right-wing nationalist parties upset democracies in Germany and will continue to play a significant role in national relations. In the future, diplomacy and peace may be at stake as divisiveness, and racist tendencies loom of European politics.