Right Wing Resurgence Essay, Research Paper
Right Wing Resurgence:
Short Term Trend or Long Term Turmoil?
In the mist of a disgruntled working class, one Austrian born man rose to power, playing on their fears of immigrants, unemployment and globalization. By mixing social populism, xenophobia, German nationalism with personal charisma, he was able to make his political party one of the strongest in his nation. Many would believe that this would be a description of the infamous dictator Adolph Hitler. Rather, it is a description of Jorg Haider, recent governor of the Austrian state of Carinthia and former leader of the Austrian Freedom Party.
Austria’s freedom party has increased it’s power significantly in the last few years. No other party in Austria has more workers among its voters. Also the Austrian Freedom party is the strongest party among male voters. In the Austrian Parliament, the party currently occupies 53 of the 183 seats in the Nationalrat, and 14 of the 64 seats in the Bundesrat (Stas). In Carinthia, the Freedom Party won a majority with 42 percent of the vote, causing the Israel to recall it’s ambassador to Austria. The European Union threatened to cut off ties as well (The Economist).
Traditionally, radical right wing parties in Europe have not been seen as serious competitors in European elections. However, recently a new resurgence in the radical right has been spreading across Europe. In some European nations like Austria and Switzerland, these right wing parties have become key players in government. While in other countries like France and Italy, right wing parties are essentially powerless and divided among factions. Whatever the case may be, the popularity of ultra conservatism is growing and becoming more visible throughout Europe.
While there are radical right wing political parties in almost every country in Europe, none have achieved more political power than the Freedom Party of Austria, and the Swiss People’s Party of Switzerland. Both of these parties have been able to obtain much political recognition in their countries. They also share many of the same characteristics, as well as tactics that have allowed them to become successful. First, both parties are lead by very charismatic leaders. The Swiss People’s Party is lead by the industrialist Christoph Blocher, while the Freedom Party is lead by Jorg Haider. Both men are extremely charismatic and energetic. Secondly, these two parties carry much of the same policy, like incoherent economic policies, a rejection of European integration, and ugly attacks on immigrants. Oddly, both leaders also have similar views on WWII and the Holocaust. Christoph Blocher once praised a book that claimed that the Holocaust never took place, while Jorg Haider has publicly praised Hitler’s employment practices, and called SS veterans “patriots” (UPI).
Similar leaders is not the only thing that the Freedom Party and the Swiss People’s Party have in common. Both parties gain power by playing on people’s fear of losing what they have. For example, both parties claim that immigration is taking jobs away from citizens. Austria however has 4 percent unemployment, which is less than half of the European Average. Despite an economic downturn, Switzerland continues to be one of the world’s wealthiest nations. (UPI)
While Austria and Switzerland currently have the strongest radical right wing political parties, almost every European nation has it’s own smaller right wing groups. Many of these parties are not as successful, because they lack charismatic leadership, or are to busy fighting over factions. However, the number of radical right wing groups have increased, and are becoming increasingly more mainstream.
In France, the National Front is the largest right wing movement. It was formed by Jean-Marie Le Pen 25 years ago. France’s two round system of voting excludes National Front candidates from the National Assembly, however the party does have many deputies on local and regional councils, as well as 12 deputies in the European Parliament (Heneghan).
In Italy, the modern right wing party called the National Alliance was founded in 1995 by Gianfranco Fini. Also popular for its anti-immigrant rhetoric, which helped it win 14 percent of the vote in the 1996 general election. The National Alliance party is now widely considered part of the mainstream (Heneghan).
In Germany there are numerous right wing movements. However, there are really three main far right parties- the German People’ Union, the Republicans and the National Democrats. The German right wing movements have very little power, scoring only a combined 3.3 percent in Germany’s general election last September. They got better scores in the state elections, like a surprise 12.9 percent they won last April in the small eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. However, although they have experienced small success, they have failed to produce a charismatic figure like Haider of Austria and Blocher of Switzerland (Heneghan).
In Spain, the far right pretty much collapsed after holding power for decades under fascist Francisco Franco, who died in 1975. Hopes of regaining power were shattered when King Juan Carlos failed a coup in 1981. Now, there are far right groups in Spain are very insignificant, and their electoral backing is minute (Cava).
The far right Centrum Democraten party of the Netherlands lost its three seats in parliament in a general election last may and almost was entirely wiped out in the last local council elections. A smaller group which split off from the Centrum Democraten party was recently banned as a criminal organization (Cava).
The ultra-nationalist Danish People’s Party of Denmark won 13 of the 179 seats in parliament in a general election. Many said that this was because of voter concern about immigration and the cost of supporting refugees. In Belgium the far right is actually split along the country’s linguistic lines. The Dutch speaking Vlaams Blok holds 11 seats in the 150 seat chamber of deputies. On of Vlaams Blok’s major issues is independence for Flanders. Also in Belgium, the French speaking National Front received 2.3 percent of the vote and holds two seats (Heneghan).
This phenomenon of increased right wing activity have many asking the same question, why? Why is there a surge in right wing activity across Europe? More importantly, why are some of these groups actually being taken seriously? There are a number of reasons for this. First the tactics used by right wing parties to recruit voters is particularly appealing to blue collar workers. These usually are male traditional semi-skilled laborers who fear losing their jobs to new technology. The right wing parties will play off of the laborers fear of losing jobs to cheaper immigrant labor. Most of these right wing parties have an anti-immigration platform, much like the know-nothings of America (The Economist).
Another possible reason that radical right wing parties have become more appealing is because of the current social and economic climate in some parts of Europe. For example some compare the current climate to that of the Weimar Republic, established after imperial Germany was beaten in World War I. The Weimar Republic became notoriously known for the political instability and popular dissent that may have pave the way for Hitler’s rise to power. During Weimar, one third of the population voted for radical, right wing parties (Fleck). While this description may not be totally accurate of the current atmosphere, it’s parallels with the Weimar republic are none the less interesting.
Another possible reason why the far-right has become increasingly popular is because the injection of new younger voters. While right wing movements declined in the 70’s that have now recieved a new lease on life from younger voters. In the past, right wing supporters were older middle class people. Today, the majority of radical right wing supporters are younger, working class men who are affraid of losing their jobs. For the first time there is a far right voter potential among the young now more young people are voting for right wing parties than older people (Fleck).
What is the future of far right wing movements in Europe? Will they continue to gain voters and influence, or is this only a temporary trend? This is a difficult question to answer, and will only be known with time. However, these groups all have very similar attributes: highly centralized organization, vicious rhetoric, tactical flexibility, and reliance on a charismatic leader. But, of all these characteristics, none mark right wing populist parties closer than the pitting of in-group against an out-group. Between parties enemies may vary, but what remains common throughout the radical right is a need for enemies. Right wing movements will blame everyone from intellectuals, bureaucrats, the existing governing class, and above all foreigners and immigrants (The Economist).
While the impact of the radical right wing parties have been felt across Europe, one thing remains to be unseen: their longevity. As Jorg Haider’s party comes to power, he must increasingly depend on younger, inexperienced loyalists. The new politics of the right have no track record, and have yet to be proven. These are the challenges that right wing parties will have to face in order to survive.
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