Europe has been the scene of great political change in the past few years, as many European countries are witnessing the troubling rise of far-right parties. In Hungary, the radical nationalist party Jobbik holds an alarmingly large percentage (12.18%) of seats in parliament. Support for the Golden Dawn Party, in Greece, currently sits at around 11%. The French Le Front National and the Dutch Freedom party are likewise gaining favour in their respective countries. While the platforms of these parties do vary, they are united by an anti-globalisation, anti-European, and anti-immigration stance.
What factors can explain this shift in political values? Quantdary sits down with Professor Tassos Anastassiadis, Professor of History at McGill and the Phrixos B. Papachristidis Chair in Modern Greek Studies, to discuss the troubling rise of far-right parties in Europe.
Professor Anastassiadis situates the rise of right-wing parties within the current economic situation in Europe. After the crisis hit in 2008, dissatisfied voters quickly became disgruntled with the incumbent party. Opposition mainstream parties, elected on illustrious promises of reviving the economy and creating jobs, instead implemented severe austerity packages. As a result, political support began to drift away from the accepted centre and move towards the radical extremes. Professor Anastassiadis stresses that such a trend is not isolated to Central or Eastern Europe, but Europe as a whole.
But the right-wing parties did not gain momentum from the economic crisis alone. International institutions like the European Union and the International Monetary Fund threatened national sovereignty, and were popularly blamed for imposing austerity during times of economic hardship. Citizens further fear that their governments are no longer able to protect national industries and are therefore becoming increasingly adverse towards globalisation. All across Europe, popular opinion blame European integration and economic globalization as the cause of increased social dumping, and as detrimental to the welfare state and to cultural homogeneity. To capitalize on this wave of anti-European sentiment, the FN and the Dutch Freedom party decided to reunite in anticipation of the upcoming European Parliament elections in the hope of being able to dismantle European policymaking and strengthen Eurospecticism.
In our previous issue, Professor Anastassiadis expounded on how other mainstream political parties have responded to the rise of popularity of the far right and their own corresponding loss in popularity. Briefly, these parties have resorted to two strategies. The first is to bind the far-right to the same fascism of the 1930s that created Hitler and Mussolini. This approach is particularly cogent given the nature of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn and the anti-Semitic Jobbik. The second strategy to win back voters is to borrow rhetoric from the right. In terms of economic issues, mainstream parties (for instance, the UMP in France) are now leaning towards more protectionist policies. In addition, these parties are adopting an increasingly anti-immigration stance. Professor Anastassiadis warns of the dangers involved in the second strategy: it leads to the normalization, and even the trivialization, of nativism and anti-immigration discourse.
The transformation of political values in Europe is undoubtedly very unsettling and the European Parliament elections in May will give a clear indication of just how influential these new right-wing parties have become. At a time like this, it is crucial for all citizens, European or not, to hold true to the fundamental values of human equality and freedom and to fight for these values whenever their validity is called into question.