The Rise of the Far Right in Europe
For decades in our world, the far-right and Nazism have been almost synonymous. Horrific visuals of trains carrying naked Jews (or for the pop-culture loving generation of ours: the red jacket from Schindler’s List) are nothing but absolute reminders of the terrible turns things can take if propaganda and falsehoods are left unchecked. Such ideologies are malignant tumours and deserve nothing but condemnation. While this has been the norm of moral and ethical conduct (even legal in the case of Eastern Europe), the world also has seen words like Neo-Nazism come into existence. The worst part is that it is not just Germany but the entire world, and particularly Europe, that is witnessing a rise in far-right activities.
Starting with the basics, what exactly is the political representation of the ‘far-right’? Far-right ideologies are political philosophies that call for unification, ultra-nationalism and nativist cultures and seek the exodus of migrants, they are against inter-racial unions and believe in the supremacy of their people against others. When the Allied powers annihilated the Axis powers and their unjust crimes came to light, everyone believed that the re-occurrence of such a strong belief in the far-right would be unlikely. However, smaller far-right units have existed ever since the end of the Second World War. Recently, such parties have seen a huge rise in their popularity and have gained a foothold in legislatures.
Central to this issue is the spilling out of migrants from the Middle East. “Europe is becoming another Islamic Caliphate”, claimed the then Interior Minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini, in a rally with thousands of people back in 2019. Soon, we saw the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban claiming in public that “Islamic invaders have reached Europe”. More prominent problems can be seen in the patterns of how such groups have reached decision-making bodies. One such example is the Golden Dawn, a political outfit based out of Greece. In the 2019 elections, it was the seventh largest political party and once had around 7.0% acceptance around Greece, setting a very dangerous precedent. Fortunately enough, the outfit was banned, and its leadership was imprisoned in 2020.
This has been a trend in Europe as political parties such as PEGIDA and AfD (Germany), the British National Party, Jobbik (Hungary), National Rally (France) have seen massive crowds being drawn to their events, their candidates have become lead runners to key positions in governments and policy formulation platforms, and access to social media has further intensified their anti-migration, anti-Islamic and, in general, fascist overtones and increased their reach multiple times. Apart from outfits openly cheering fascist literature, one can also observe a shift in preference for far-right politics in the general mindset of people, possibly due to higher unemployment (due to COVID-19) and rapidly rising anti-establishment thoughts. The COVID-19 pandemic has also provoked the general population to align themselves with far-right ideologies due to anti-lockdown sentiment, protests, and mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
Numerous studies and surveys have positively concluded that most people who associate with this violent form of right-wing politics are unemployed, anti-vaxxers and generally have shown idealisation of the Nazi Party. It is very concerning to note that many people have openly praised Adolf Hitler during anti-lockdown protests.
Governments have not been mute spectators in this either. The German government recently cracked down on Alternative for Germany (AfD), a political outfit known for its Euro-scepticism, anti-Islamic positions and anti-migrant stances. Interestingly, AfD has 82 seats in the Federal Parliament of Germany, so one can imagine the political opposition and accusations that the German government faced as it placed a prominent political opposition under strict surveillance for being an extremist outfit. Shortly after major media outlets reported the surveillance, courts blocked the move. Likewise, governments across Europe are taking significant actions to destroy these movements and preserve their cultural balance.
One can see how the rhetoric of ultra-nationalism is on the rise and how elections are becoming an affair of migrant scepticism and a centre-stage show where migrants are the bait. Policies of selectively leaving Muslims out, changing the way they live by forcing them to integrate into western society and trying to change their religious texts institutionally are more spillovers of the entire crises that probably started with an inflammatory speech. Policymaking and such discourses in public light are intimately connected.
The European Union needs to accept the multiple changes that have led to the rise in far-right movements of Europe and decisively work with constituent governments to take corrective action. The threat of the far-right resurgence is evolving as many outfits are gaining a stronghold in rural and ill-kept areas of Europe. This transitional shift is very similar to how Hitler brainwashed millions: by giving them hope for a better and more equal future. The COVID-19 pandemic is easily comparable to World War I in this situation, where it feeds the people of the republic anti-establishment thoughts which they seek through far-right extremist outfits who champion themselves as their saviours and have a common enemy to pin the blame on (Jews back then, Muslims and migrants now). The political landscape is very volatile right now and a back-slide of Europe into its darkest age will only lead to spillovers to other countries in both political and economic ways.
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