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An overview of the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe

In Europe, the Eastern bloc countries, which only adopted liberal democratic order after the fall of the Soviet Union, became the first few nations to embrace right-wing nationalism. In the last ten years, right-wing nationalism slowly penetrated from Eastern Europe to the Central and Western states. Liberal democratic values can easily be associated with Western Europe; the gradual but steady rise of ultra-nationalism in the most liberal democratic nations of the world

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Since the industrial revolution, the global community has gone through epochs of ideological leanings. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the ideas of imperialism and colonialism were raging. The twentieth century saw the rise of fascism, followed by competition between Communist ideology and capitalism. The first decade of the twenty-first century saw the dawn of the “War on Terror”. While in the last decade, the world is witnessed a rise in right-wing populism and far-right nationalism. Be it the United States of America, Brazil, India, or Europe, the previously dormant and silent right-wing and nativist ideologies are gaining momentum.

Ultra nationalism is the building block of far-right nationalism or the radical right. Merriam Webster defines ultra-nationalism as a“ radical loyalty or devotion to a nation” or “ extreme nationalism”.The far-right nationalism embraces exclusivity and “us versus others” ideals, opposes multiculturalism, pluralism and liberal values. Europe has witnessed a rise in hate crimes, the popularity of anti-immigration policies and growing Islamophobia. In the last five years, the center of liberal democratic order, the US and Europe have descended into right-wing nationalistic politics with far-right gaining popularity, while xenophobia has become fodder for far-right politicians, anti-immigration and Islamophobia have evolved as core issues in the electoral process.

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Going back to the origination of right-wing nationalism

In Europe, the Eastern bloc countries, which only adopted liberal democratic order after the fall of the Soviet Union, became the first few nations to embrace right-wing nationalism. In the last ten years, right-wing nationalism slowly penetrated from Eastern Europe to the Central and Western states. Liberal democratic values can easily be associated with Western Europe; the gradual but steady rise of ultra-nationalism in the most liberal democratic nations of the world is an indication that right-wing nationalism will prevail globally and might reach a point where “liberal values” could become extremely unpopular.

This premise is based on the electoral success of right-wing political parties, and the prevalence of far-right rhetoric in public spaces in Eastern Europe and the recent electoral success of right-wing parties in Western European nations such as France and Germany. The far-right nationalist forces are no longer contained to the fringes of the social and political life in Europe. In the majority of the European states, the far-right political parties have created space for themselves in the electoral process. Hungary and Poland are already under the rule of far-right nationalists, Austria is the only western European country where the far-right political party had government offices.

Right-wing nationalist political parties occupy 25% electoral votes in Switzerland, 8.7% in Denmark, 16% in Belgium, 17% in Estonia, 17.7% in Finland, 17% in Sweden, 13% in France, 17.4% in Italy, 15% in Spain, 13% in Netherland, 10.3% in Germany, 11% in the Czech Republic, 9% in Bulgaria,7.97% in Slovakia, 3.7% in Cyprus and 6.8% in Greece. The right-wing Vox Party of Spain has emerged as the third biggest parliamentary force in the country. The right-wing nationalist parties of Italy, Belgium, Finland, Austria and Denmark reached government ranks by entering into coalition governments.

The mainstreaming of far-right political parties in these countries legitimizes the radical position of these parties as well as right-wing groups on various issues. Estonia’s far-right political party has become the third-largest parliamentary force in recent elections. Germany’s far-right political party Alternativ fur Deutschland (AfD), bagged 94 seats from the 709 parliamentary seats in 2017. In 2021, AfD experienced losses on the national level, with electoral gains falling from 12%, though in the eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia, the party emerged as the single largest electoral force. In France, far-right nationalistMarie Le Pen lost the presidential elections, but she still secured 33.9% of the total votes cast.

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How does propaganda take place?

Far-right groups use online spaces to disseminate their anti-immigration, Eurosceptic and, in cases, anti-semantic rhetoric. The penetration of far-right political parties is just an indication of the support and popularity far-right nationalistic sentiments are beginning to garner in Europe. Right-wing groups and, in particular, right-wing parties are shaping up the narrative on immigration. In some cases, the center-right politicians have been forced to adopt the right-wing nationalistic narrative on immigration to sustain popularity with the masses. The inclusion of far-right parties into coalition governments created further space for far-right radical and neo-Nazi groups.

These groups and parties are prone to coordinate with each other regardless of nationality, which is quite ironic considering their ideology; nonetheless, the common objective of mainstreaming ultra-nationalistic ideas brings these far-right groups together. The movement is gaining momentum in Europe; anti lockdown protests have been carried out by far-right nationalists combined with counter-protests to Black Lives Matter demonstrations after the death of George Floyd. The reasons behind the rise of right-wing nationalism are quite complex.

Economic strains alone cannot be used to explain such a phenomenon as clear anomalies to this principle exist; for instance, in the Czech Republic and Poland, despite improvement in the economic situation, the support for right nationalism grew over the years. The unemployment rate in Hungary is 4%, in Poland it is 3.6%, in the Netherlands it is only 3.2%whileit is 4.8% in Slovenia and 3.7% in Germany. The low unemployment rates in these nations did not prevent the right-wing nationalist groups from popularizing anti-immigration and xenophobic policies. Right-wing groups generally cite the supposed shift of economic opportunities to immigrants and deterioration of the law and order situation and the erosion of majority culture as a rationale for their rhetoric.

One explanation could be that the War on Terror and terrorist acts committed by pan jihadists in Europe and elsewhere contributed towards the rise of ultra-nationalism in Europe. Opportunistic groups and politicians assessed the fear among the masses and stoked anti-immigration and ultra-nationalist rhetoric. The War on Terror and surveillance activities such as racial profiling and subsequent surveillance by governments made Xenophobic narratives acceptable in public. The online platforms gave an ample opportunity to fear mongers and ultra-nationalists.

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The previously latent population has been revived by the pan jihadist terrorist attacks as well as the governments’ responses to these attacks and the availability of social media. The forces against multi-culturalism, Euro-skepticism and radical nationalism have effectively utilized the fear and threats of the ”other” against ”us” to mainstream their message and gather social as well as political support.

 

The write is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan. He can be reached at op-ed@hafeezkhan.com. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy