Europe’s rising radical right conjures spector of violance

Zeke Rosenberg Mar 20, 2016
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Last Sunday, Germany held regional elections in Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wurttemburg, and Saxony-Anhalt. Frauke Petry’s far-Right party, Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), made resounding gains in all three elections at the expense of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the center-Left Social Democratic Party. This news is worrisome for several reasons. The first is that it comes on the heels of Merkel’s open door policy to Syrian refugees and shows significant xenophobia within the the German electorate. The second is that Germany has been Europe’s strongest economy for a long time and has significant sway over Europe as a whole. Movement toward the far right in Germany would have an outsized effect.

The third reason is a little more chilling. While that previous paragraph may have felt at home in 1932, there are key differences between AfD and the Nazis. The first is that AfD is a much less violent group and less prone to genocide (although this seems like an increasingly frail argument as their policy platform leaks further). The second difference is the powers surrounding the rising AfD. England, France, and other nations resisted the genocidal drive of the Nazi Party. If Germany does succumb to nativist forces, there might not be a similar power in their path this time. The far-Right in Europe has been on the rise for a few years. Countries like Hungary and Switzerland have been ruled by far-Right parties for years, while countries like Finland and Norway have had far-Right movements as part of ruling coalitions. Poland joined those nations in having a far-Right party in power, while in nearly every country across Europe, groups like Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party have been increasing their strength in European governments and even threaten to take prime minister titles. Germany has broadly resisted the far-Right to this point, but AfD’s rapid rise to becoming a legitimate political player indicates that those days are over.

The far-Right parties in Europe are somewhat different from America’s political parties. Economic liberalism is pretty much the standard in European politics and their economic policy is rarely subject to major change. However, their Right and Left leaning parties tend to be decided on scales such as foreign policy (Euroscepticism, an opposition to the EU, is a common buzzword here, as is interventionalism) and cultural politics appeals to national identities (read: white supremacy) are at the core of this branch of policy. This makes the far right in Europe much scarier. To create a parallel to American politics, the far-Right in Europe is not similar to the Republicans; it is similar to short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump.

The rise of the far right in Europe has been a complicated phenomenon. While the Great Recession absolutely slammed Europe (some countries such as Denmark are still facing negative growth and nearly all of them are peaking close to 0 percent), it is not the only struggle the continent has faced. Several horrific policy failures from the North American Trade Orginization (NATO) (notably America’s decision to ignore Iraq in 2009 before we were certain the government was stable and NATO’s bombing campaign in Libya that led to the death of Libyan leader Muammar al-Ghaddafi) led to massive numbers of people becoming displaced and fleeing to Europe. Suddenly, many of those people who identify with the right felt their “national identity” was being threatened by the economic hardship and the influx of migrants.

Europe’s response to this is not surprising, but it’s incredibly disheartening. When economic anxieties rise, we ought to band together. Countries that initially resisted these blatant politics of racial resentment like Germany and America are now crumbling in the face of mounting fear that’s being fostered by demagogues like Petry and Trump.

Sure, current events threaten us economically, but the economy is only good for measuring utility on a large scale. If our response to fear is to cut some people from our moral consideration, then talking of things in terms of economics and national security is moot. Slamming our doors in fear and playing hot potato with the migrant crisis gets us no closer to a global solution, but a lot closer to a violent and fractured world order.