The ascension of the Extreme Right in Europe - Should people worry about it referat

The ascension of the Extreme Right in Europe: Should people            worry about it?

-Research paper-



Instructor: Tanya Beserra

Europe, throughout its history, has had a very tumultuous evolution of nationalist and xenophobic movements. Every one of the major countries on the old continent has had a history filled with wars for survival or expansion with the other major European powers, and the suffering each country has been through has caused strong feelings of national identity.

After the Second World War, which was by far the highpoint of all the racism-based conflicts in the world, Western Europe has tried to leave nationalism, extremism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism behind it. And it seemed to have succeeded in doing so until the last few years, when xenophobia has started to come back in the spotlight of the European political and social scene. However, the recent racism in Europe is not caused by an involution of the Europeans mentality, but by significant changes that have occurred in the society, the increased number of immigrants, phenomenon that is seen by many people as the root of the growing crime-rates throughout the continent, the high unemployment rates and, very importantly, the large number of immigrants has caused many people to feel insecure about their national identity.

Racism has been brought back to public attention this year when, in the French presidential elections, the leader of the French National Front Party, Jean-Marie Le Pen has entered the second round of the elections along with the current President, Jacques Chirac, shocking the entire world with the victory over the Socialist Party’s candidate, current Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin. This has raised huge debates all around Europe and in the US over what has changed in Europe’s mentality, in its openness towards people of all races and religions.

Jean-Marie Le Pen was by no means a new figure on the French political scene. Actually, he first ran for President in the 70s, but, until now, he has never had such an impact on the people’s votes. His speech has always been a very strong one, with powerful racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic connotations. He actually referred once to the Nazi gas chambers as “a detail of history” (Associated Press: “Analysis: Europe’s steady shift to the right” p.2).

But it is actually the political leaders that have given him the opportunity to go this far, because they have ignored the immigrant issue, an issue that is frustrating for many of the French people, and Le Pen was the only one to address it; this has brought him huge electoral benefits.

France has a very large immigrant community, mostly composed of people from Africa, the former French colonies, and from the Middle East. These immigrant communities have not blended into the French society so they live somehow segregated from the rest of the people, situation that has caused lots of discontent in the communities, a high crime-rate that has expanded beyond the communities into the entire French society and a lot of unspoken tension between different groups of people. Also, because of the segregation, these people, lacking other options, will work for less money than the native French, and this causes lots of resentment from the rest of the society, because people feel like they have an unfair competition for their jobs. By being the only one that has addressed these issues, even if he did it in an extreme and tough manner, Le Pen has managed to draw huge support from people that are more exposed to these issues.

Also, because President Francois Mitterand has tried to destabilize the right-oriented parties in the late 80s and early 90s, he has given the opportunity to LePen’s

far-right National Front to gain votes from the people who were unsatisfied with the other two major parties, the Socialist and the Center-Right parties, parties that have dominated the French political scene for a long time (The Independent- “It is not enough to heave a sigh of relief and say Mr Le Pen will never win” p.2). This has caused people to take the path of a negative vote in the elections, a vote that is not given in order to support one or another ideology, but in order to show discontentment with the major parties’ politics. And Le Pen was the one who took advantage of this situation too

Another major political issue that Le Pen has benefited from is the current globalization trend that is active all over Europe, not just France. Michael Elliot states, when talking about the French society, that “for many of its elite, the people who work for Vivendi and Airbus, have Harvard M.B.A.s and speak perfect English – globalization and a free-market economy offer glittering opportunities. But for others – and this is true elsewhere in Europe – the modern world is a threat” (Michael Elliot - “Why Le Pen polled so well” p.2). The shifting of the executive powers from Paris to Strasbourg, where the European Union’s Parliament is located, frightens the French people. And in consequence they have chosen Le Pen because he is the only candidate that has promised “to turn back the clock, to rebuild a world where to live in France means that you speak, eat and buy French” (Elliot, p.2)

The events that have followed the shocking results of the First Round of this year’s Presidential elections have proven nonetheless that France isn’t turning towards racism. The impressive public campaign that the entire political class and civil society have launched against Le Pen and the support this campaign has received, combined with the devastating victory in the Second Round of President Jacques Chirac, with 82% of the votes, have proven beyond doubt that it isn’t the fact that the French people are racist that has caused this surprise, but the unspoken immigration issue that is frustrating for lots of people aswell as the strong competition between the main parties which has allowed a third party to rise(Anne AppleBaum, “Lessons of politics”). Also, in the legislative elections that have followed the Presidential elections, Le Pen’s National Front has suffered a huge defeat, not winning any seats in the French Parliament. So the people have realized the risks of having an extremist party gaining ground and they have voted accordingly in the second round of the elections.

The French presidential campaign has been preceded by other such cases throughout Europe. The best-known case, a case that has got lots of media coverage of its own, was the success of Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party in the 1999 Austrian elections. This case was analyzed very thoroughly by the European Union and Austria had to face some international sanctions because of the entrance of this extremist party in the Austrian Government as part of a political coalition formed in order to give the parties a majority in the Austrian Parliament.

The Austrian Freedom Party (FPO), with its leader, Jorg Haider, is an extreme-right party and it has a very bad reputation among the other European chancelleries for its strong extreme message, a message that has caught very well with the Austrian electorate. This party’s success was mostly caused by people’s discontent of the existing bipolarization of the Austrian political scene, between the Social Democratic and the Conservative Parties and because of its strong and clear messages and slogans, slogans that focus on the power and strong ideas. “Haider’s success is based on an extremely demagogic speech and exploitation of people’s fears” of globalization and losing their way of life (Magali Perrault – “Trouble on the Island of the Blessed”, p.2)

The fact that Austrians have proven to the entire Europe in a couple of years that they are not returning no nazism, through political decisions and popular support proves once again that these people are open-minded people and also that the ascension of right-wing parties in the spotlight of Europe’s political scene is unrelated to a major shift in Europeans’ mentalities. Haider’s Freedom Party’s support has diminished from 27.22% in the 1999 October elections to around 16% in the latest poles. But Haider is still governor of the Carinthia province and he “continues to push for a pan-European network of right-wing politicians” AP, p.2). So the issue is still present in the “island of the blessed” and it must be faced, otherwise, just like in France, these movements might have even bigger success in the next elections.

No European society is immune to racism. Germany, who has had the darkest chapter of anti-Semitism and racism in the world’s history, is now facing a new growth of racism movements, especially in the former Communist Democratic Republic of Germany (GDR). This fact is due to differences in the way the two separate German countries treated the historical Nazi issue and how they coped with foreigners. West German teens were educated in such a manner that extremist ideas were not allowed to grow. And by having many foreigners in the country for a long time, West Germans got used to this situation so the xenophobic attitude towards foreigners has diminished there. On the other side, the GDR “celebrated a ritualized anti-fascism instead of honestly debating and dealing with the past. As a result, east German youth are far less immunized against Nazi symbols and slogans than their counterparts in the west.” (Hans-Georg Betz, “Perspectives on Right-Wing Extremism”, p.2). Hans-Georg Betz also looks into the foreigner issue in the GDR. Here, unlike in the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany) there very few people from other countries, they were mostly from other Communist countries, and these people were in the country for work and were isolated from the rest of the society. And “because of East Germany’s economic problems, foreign workers were often also seen as competitors for scarce resources and consumer products”(Betz, p.2). So the people from the former GDR have a much more powerful national identity feeling than their Western counterparts.

The solution the German political class has proposed to cut this growing phenomenon is to outlaw the National Democratic Party of Germany, which is the most important right-wing extremist party in Germany. This Party “promotes itself not only as an uncompromising defender of German interests, but as an aggressive fighter for a new social order against the forces of capitalism and especially globalization”(Betz, p.2). So, just like in France and Austria, globalization is a cause for the growing of the right-wing movements in Germany too.

The racism issue cannot be solved only through political measures like banning the parties because this will only cut the surface of the problem, the ideology will still exist and its supporters will still fight for the promotion of these ideals. The fight against extremism in Germany can be successful only if the established political parties can provide people with credible options to cushion the impact of economic development, which means more competition, more risks and more insecurity (Betz, p.3).

The biggest risk with extremism is that is gives birth to a chain of extremism that can expand very fast. This is what has happened in the Netherlands this year with the right-wing extremist Pim Fortuyn. Before the elections in Holland, the whole European media and political scene was paying attention to Pim Fortuyn and his Leefbar Nederland (Livable Netherlands) party because of its extreme right orientation and success in the pre-election poles.

What made this case special is the fact that Holland was seen all over Europe as the most liberal country, and Fortuyn’s party was promoting less liberal ideas, like closing the country’s borders and obliging immigrants to integrate. He was expected to gain about 19% of all votes, which, for such a liberal society, is a huge percentage and it shows that something has shifted in people’s mentality. Fortuyn has gained so much ground because “in the congested Netherlands, where roughly 2 million of the 16 million inhabitants are not native Dutch, it’s become almost taboo to discuss sensitive issues such as immigration and a spike in street crime many quietly blame on young toughs from Morocco and Suriname” and many people were discontent about the fact that the Government was “paralyzed by political correctness”(AP, p.2) The Leefbar Nederland Party was the only party that had raised these issues openly, so it drew lots of support from people that were feeling uneasy with the current situation.

However, people from outside the extremist party created the major escalation of extremism in Holland. Pim Fortuyn was shot dead on the 5th of May “outside a Hilversum radio station after giving an interview there” (Reuters News Agency, “Shock, protests and celebrations after Fortuyn’s death” p.1). And this unfortunate event brought up lots of different reactions from people in Holland. Most of the Dutch people were stunned, shocked by the news, while some communities celebrated the assassination. Hans Dijkstal, a member of another political party in Holland, said: “Dutch democracy has lost its innocence. I did not think this was possible in the Netherlands”. And this was the general perception among the Dutch and European political class. Everybody was shocked of the way in which extremism has given birth to extremism. A clear indication of this reaction of the people is the words of a 30 year-old man from Amsterdam, Robert van Gast: “I am as saddened by the way Fortuyn died as I was about the things he said. The person who did this is no better than Fortuyn was”. This event has shown everybody what is in stake in the battle against extremism and xenophobia. If the political class will continue to ignore these issues, the issues will grow and attract more and more people to its ideals and goals, and then it will bring more extremism from people who are against those ideas, and this situation will create a vicious circle that can easily burst into violence. And, considering Europe’s relatively recent history, this is too big a risk for any country to afford.

By gathering all these examples of countries where extremism has evolved in recent years, one can come to the conclusion that this phenomenon is not correlated that much with an involution in people’s mentalities, but it is more related to current world trends like the evolving of the international free market and, most importantly, globalization, which, in such a historical place, is something that creates a feeling of insecurity and of losing the national identity for many people. Therefore, in order to control this dangerous trend in European politics and social life, politicians must confront them publicly and try to find solutions that would prevent people from taking the paths of such extreme ideologies. People must not blow this phenomenon out of proportion because “We’re not about to relive the 1930s in Europe. […]Europe has never been more democratic, never more prosperous, never more secure than it is today” (AP, p.3)


Applebaun, Anne – “Lessons of Politics” , May 6, 2002, Newsweek Magazine Online Version,

Associated Press – “Analysis: Europe’s steady shift to the right”, April 23, 2002,

Betz, Hans-Georg – “Perspectives on Right-Wing Extremism”, March 15, 2002 American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, John Hopkins Institute, Online edition,

Elliot, Michael – “Why Le Pen Polled so Well” April 29, 2002, Time Magazine Online,

European Commission Online – “How Europeans see themselves”

The Independent – “It is not enough to heave a sigh of relief and say Mr Le Pen will never win”, May 6, 2002, https://www.

Kamins, Toni L. – “Behind the anti-Jewish violence”, The Sarasota Herald Tribune Online Version, May 1, 2002

Laurence, Peter – “Dutch defend liberal tradition” , May 14, 2002, BBC News online in Rotterdam,

Perrault, Magali – “Trouble on the Island of the Blessed”, October 8, 1999, Central Europe Review,

Reuters News Agency – “Shock, protests and celebrations after Pim Fortuyn’s death”, May 6, 2002,

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