Europe in Crisis?

Currently, Europe is facing the growing success of populist and extremist right-wing movements. By using people’s prejudices, concerns and fears in a time of crisis, populist and extreme-right groups are succeeding in most European countries with exclusionist slogans and simple “solutions”.

The report “Intolerance, Prejudice and Discrimination” (Friedrich Ebert Foundation), documents widespread prejudiced opinions in Europe, mistrust in the current political system and hostile discriminatory intentions toward migrants and minority groups. Half of the European survey respondents believe that there are too many immigrants in their country, which correlates with a strong willingness to support immigration restrictions and the exclusion of migrants.

When it comes to political participation, Europeans seem disinterested and detached. Many feel a sense of powerlessness because politicians fail to hear their fears and concerns about different issues, including immigration. This leads to a negative attitude toward the European Union, low political interest and a desire for a strong leader.

This mood plays a role in political discourse. Populists and right-wing extremist groups are able to appeal to people’s general sense of dissatisfaction and build their discourse on prejudices, nationalist and anti-Europe arguments as well as hostility towards migrants. Thus exploiting the openness of citizens, as the mainstream political opinion quickly becomes that of the extremists. Incidents of hate speech and hate crime targeting migrants and minority groups are happening more frequently across Europe, leading to more fear and concerns.

Europe today is experiencing a resurgence in far-right politics on a scale not seen since the 1930s. The seriousness of far-right parties entering parliaments in Europe does not need to be imagined, history shows the consequences. The far-right party Golden Dawn in Greece has risen rapidly with recent polls positioning it as Greece’s third, and fastest growing, political force. In the 2012 elections Golden Dawn had 18 members (6%) elected to the Parliament of Greece. Parliamentary seats however are not the only reason to be alarmed by their growing strength because the party uses physical violence to intimidate minorities and its “enemies”. According to Spiegel Online International in some areas of Athens small groups of extremists calling themselves “Storm Troopers” are patrolling the streets attacking “foreigners” – using clubs, baseball bats, knives and even guns. Human rights organisations have recorded hundreds of such attacks which have been described by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as “systematic and organised” and unquestionably “racially motivated”. The speed of Golden Dawn’s rise is alarming, as recently as Greece’s October 2009 parliamentary election the party received ‘only’ 0.29% of votes, an unnerving figure when you remember that in 1928 the nazis won less than 3% of the vote in Germany…

The situation is Hungary is fast becoming just as grave. The far-right party Jobbik now holds the third largest fraction in Hungarian politics, with 47 democratically elected members in the National Assembly of Hungary (12%). However, racism and hate speech has not been restricted to far-right political parties. Zsolt Bayer, one of the founders of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party and personal friend of prime minister Viktor Orbán, has been quoted in a recent Hungarian newspaper saying:

“Most Gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation. They are not suitable for being among people. Most are animals, and behave like animals. They shouldn’t be tolerated or understood, but stamped out. Animals should not exist. In no way.” Zsolt Bayer, Magyar Hirlap, 5 January 2013.

The fact that Bayer has been making similar comments in public for many years raises serious questions about how it is possible for such comments to be acceptable in a European country and especially one that was so prominently effected by the Holocaust, with an estimated 400,000 Hungarian Jews murdered in Auschwitz.

“A global financial crisis, rapidly rising cost of living, unemployment and job insecurity, erosion of the welfare state, against the backcloth of nationalism, war, and militarisation – do we even need to ask the question, why campaign against fascism today? Extreme-Right electoral parties search for scapegoats, encourage us to hate our neighbour. Centre-Right parties dismantle welfare and attack civil rights. Centre-Left parties are weak; some even follow the Right agenda. Antifascism is not a dogma, but a simple human response to injustice based on solidarity – and in Europe today that means solidarity with Muslims, Roma, Black people and Jews, with migrant workers, refugees, with the other vulnerable communities the neo-nazis attack. We do not want to see young people indoctrinated into a culture of hate. Who else can resist but us – the ordinary decent citizens of Europe?”

Liz, Institute of Race Relations (UK)