Friday, November 12, 2004

European Far-Right

The Vlaams Blok in the Flemish half of Belgium gets 25%, Le Pen in France gets more than 15%, Haider in Austria once almost got 30% and his party is junior party in government. Pim Fortuyn's party in The Netherlands got more than 10%, and was junior party in government. BNP and UKIP in the UK also get much. Two parties of the up until now splintered German far-right entered two regional parliaments in East Germany and forged an alliance for a common list in 2006, with 7% of Germans considering a vote. Far-right parties in Norway, Denmark and Portugal ensure the existence of right-wing minority governments in respective parliaments. In Italy, the far-right Bossi and the reformed far-right ex-fascists are coalitioneers of Berlusconi.

Now that's the story as seen from far away. For example as seen by Steve Gilliard, who has the strange misbeliefs that it was the German leftists who didn't saw the danger and didn't oppose the Nazis strong enough, and that the same is true with the current European left vs. far-right. Now the latter might to some extent be true about Dutch leftists, after all theirs is a country where the principle of gedoog let too many things be swept under the rug for too long. (I see a very dark irony in the situation after a right-wing film-maker - who mixed justified criticisms of fundie practices with deliberate insults against Muslims in general as f.e. goatfuckers - was murdered by an even nuttier young Muslim fundamentalist: Just after people began to talk about Muslim fundamentalists as 'walking time-bombs', they had to see that there were a lot of other walking time-bombs just waiting to blow up - by planting bombs at Muslim shrines or cultural houses or anything connected to Muslims; see timeline.) But the larger pattern is of course the Left constantly protesting, while the Centre-Right sinks in uncomfortable silence or mutters about a paranoid Left.

However, what I want to get at is how and when the far-right is more dangerous, and to whom. First of all, the far-right in any shape and size is always dangerous to whatever group they focus their hate on. This is something those who have never been in such a group rarely understand, so let me explain as someone in the know (I was a foreigner in Germany for two years): even if the outright racists/xenophobes are less than 5% of the population, chances are there will be one among the dozens of people you meet on every single day - worse, you don't know in advance who it will be. That is, abuse will be a fact of your daily life, even if you have no problem with, or even like, most people from the unaffected majority.

But when, and to what extent is the far-right a danger to democracy? Well, for a start, you should ask yourself, what is worse: when a racist minority has a fairly large but minority party with an open agenda, but it is kept from power by coalitions of the parties representing the majority; or when a a similar racist minority forms a major part of the base (and some part of the leaders) of a majority party in government, but practises self-censorship in public? I would say certainly the latter. I think the latter is much worse than even when a centre-right party accepts a far-right one as junior coalitioneer: for the major coalition parties tend to sideline coalitioneers to insignificant posts, and at the same time attempt to ruin them by directing all the blame the government gets at them. See Austria and The Netherlands for examples where this worked, Italy as counter-example. Consequently, from the list in the first paragraph, I see the greatest danger to democracy in Italy, not Flemish Belgium. Where the unfortunately existing racist right is represented, but is kept out and fought. (And, as can be guessed, I see the US Republican Party in a worse light than even Berlusconi's governing coalition.)

However, I see greater dangers elsewhere. One is a far-right theme that is spread well beyond the actual far-right, and seen as a justifiable populist tool by the centre-right and also some centre-left (f.e. Bliar): the fear of immigrants and immigration. This is a paranoid fear. While I argued that immigration is no solution to the Western problem of exploding retirement, jobless and social budgets; it is not really worsening the problem either: immigrants mean both new workforce and new consumers, while many of them find jobs in fields not liked by the indigenous population. (Both at the low end and the high end - when I was in Germany, my father was an engineer in a firm that simply coudn't find enough qualified engineers, even with the foreigners in.) Most immigrants do integrate, and what increases the numbers of those who don't is ghettoisation forced by blind government policies. However, this fear of immigration is alive and widespread, and could undermine the EU's unique characteristics that its neighbours are more willng to get into it than fearing takeover.

A second great danger, I am sad to say, emanates from the new members of the EU here in Central-Eastern Europe. The problem is that some racist-ethnic-national stereotypes are spread through the whole mainstream political spectrum here, and in more aggressive forms than in Western Europe. This is partly down to the tunnel vision of agoraphobic worldviews, best showcased by public discourse about and school teaching of history: rather nationalist and almost lacking of self-criticisms alike to, for example, what one finds in Germany, or to reflections upon a colonial past one finds in at least large parts of the French or British population. But in another part down to a, ehm, let's call it collective mental development missed out during communism, when the conclusions West Europe drew from WWII weren't coming while people were preoccupied with relating to the incumbent dictature.

And thus the racist policies and hates which I think poison Europe most from our quarters aren't even the neighbour hates (Polish-German, Hungarian-Romanian etc.), but (1) hate of Gypsies (a high-joblessness, blamed-for-crime, practically ghettoised large minority), (2) anti-semitism (real old-style hardcore anti-semitism, not just widespread criticism of Israel blasted by Likudnik hacks), and (3) the stateless Russian minorities in the Baltic states (having to live as officially secondary citizens due to a similarly insane 'counter-policy' to Stalin's and his successors' assimilation policies).

While I try to do my part against it, I'd hope my Western European counterparts to become aware of the problem before it seeps over as our politicians will exert their influence in European institutions. (I.e., it would be good if some 'group pressure' would be applied in the EP and elsewhere.)


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