Far right well placed to exploit Europe’s crises


Far right well placed to exploit Europe’s crises

Far right well placed to exploit Europe’s crises
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses a business conference in Budapest, Hungary, June 9, 2021. (Reuters)
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Two things in the last few days merit a closer look — a reminder to check up on the progress of the far right in Europe. In Italy, the third-largest economy of the eurozone, the fascist Brothers of Italy party has taken the lead in the polls ahead of next month’s snap election. Meanwhile, Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, who is no stranger to racist comments, vented that Western Europe was a “mixed-race world,” in contrast to Hungary. One of Orban’s aides resigned, calling his speech “a pure Nazi text.” The trouble is Orban is fast becoming the darling of the far right and will even be addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas this week.
All of this comes against a backdrop that might be seen as conducive to the fortunes of the far right, and not just in Europe. The global economic crisis, food insecurity and rising fuel prices might play into their hands. Migration has become one of the greatest issues of concern to many in Europe. But perhaps above all, there is a clear dissatisfaction with existing political systems and leaders. People do not see them as delivering results. They are no longer trusted. This was a major theme in this year’s French presidential election, in which the far left and far right prospered.
So, is the far right on the march once again? Well, it certainly is in Italy. The right has, in recent years, been dominated by the Northern League and the populist Five Star Movement. But Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Brothers of Italy, may now be on course to become the country’s first female prime minister. The latest polls have the party on about 24 percent. A post-fascist outfit with direct links to the embers of Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, it has benefited from being the sole opponent to Mario Draghi’s grand coalition government, picking up on the broad discontent that permeates much of the continent.
A counter to this is that far-right parties in power have not fared so well. In Poland, the Law and Justice party is hemorrhaging support, with Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform now ahead in the polls. In Greece, the fascist Golden Dawn party that won 18 seats in 2018 was last year ruled by judges to be a criminal organization in disguise.
So, the far right is very much alive in terms of political parties. Nearly every parliament in the EU has far-right representation, giving legitimacy to views that should never be mainstreamed.
What has really changed is the largely online ecosystem the far right occupies. In the cyberworld, a large number of leaderless transnational networks of individuals are flourishing. These are the information warriors of hate. As well as spreading hate, they also promote damaging, fact-free conspiracy theories. These circulate until amplified by super-sharers and major influencers.
These global far-right groups share their experiences on their own online networks. Many have been kicked off Facebook and Twitter so have been using the services of voice chat services like Discord and, increasingly for privacy purposes, Telegram and Signal.
What might all this mean?
Firstly, anti-immigrant sentiment has escalated in recent years, with many on the extreme right craving a “white-only” society. Ukrainian refugees have largely been welcomed, but this generosity is no longer extended to Afghan or Syrian refugees, for example. In a poll at the back end of 2020, an alarming 39 percent of Italians believed that immigration was deliberately designed to weaken Europe and the European identity.
Racism is on full display. If a far-right government seizes power in Rome, one can only imagine the horrific impact it would have on policies, not least toward migration across the Central Mediterranean route. Britain is in the process of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, something both candidates to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson have insisted they will continue.
Secondly, anti-Muslim sentiment continues to escalate. Support for the far right is emblematic of that but, as with immigration, it lures the more centrist parties to take harsher positions on these issues. With respect to attitudes toward Muslims, a 2020 poll found Hungarians (52 percent) are the most negative, followed by Sweden (47 percent) and Poland (43 percent).
Thirdly, the success of such ideologies heightens fears of far-right violence and terrorism. The number of far-right attacks has increased in recent years. One study recorded a 320 percent rise in far-right terrorism incidents in the West, including in Europe, between 2013 and 2018. Back in 2020, a far-right extremist killed 11 people in a mass shooting at two shisha lounges in Hanau, Germany. In Italy last week, a disabled Black man was killed in broad daylight by a man inspired by racist manifestos.

Putin will be hoping his far-right admirers help to dilute the EU and NATO’s stance on Ukraine.

Chris Doyle

Fourthly, many should be asking to what extent the far right is in hock to the Kremlin. The Russian leadership has courted Marine Le Pen in France, Matteo Salvini in Italy and the Freedom Party in Austria, among others. Orban has effectively acted as President Vladimir Putin’s man in the EU throughout the Ukraine crisis.
Far-right leaders admire Putin. They love his so-called strongman credentials and his uber-nationalist stance. Putin will be hoping his far-right admirers help to dilute the EU and NATO’s stance on Ukraine.
As the global economic crisis kicks in, the dangers are clear. Far-right movements are poised to seize every opportunity to market their hate and exploit the growing climate of despair. The traditional political forces will have to up their game.

  • Chris Doyle is director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, in London. Twitter: @Doylech
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