80 years after 1939, Europe's far right scents power again

By Peter Apps

Last week, as Europe commemorated the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two, the far-right Alternative for Germany became the most popular choice for young voters in the east German state of Saxony.

Along with a strong performance in local elections the same day in Brandenburg, the results were a reminder of just how dramatically far right political parties have resurrected themselves in modern Europe. Trading off economic frustration and disquiet over migration, they are weaponising technology and social media, international networks and widespread frustration with the political status quo.

Such parties do not necessarily need outright power to achieve their goals – as shown by Italian right-winger Matteo Salvini when he became interior minister, turning away migrant rescue ships and arresting one of the captains.

Italy's example, however, also points to the challenges faced by such groups. After bringing down the government earlier this year, Salvini was widely expected to become prime minister. Instead, he has found himself kept out by an alliance of more moderate parties.

The lesson of the thirties, however - another era of dislocation, change and paranoia - remains stark. Adolf Hitler's Nazis never won more than a third of the votes in a democratic election, but that was enough to give them a stranglehold on power, given the proportional representation-based German constitution.

Some far-right leaders continue to be plagued by scandal and ineptitude. Austria's Freedom Party was forced from government in May after its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, was filmed in a video sting known as the Ibiza tapes, promising government contracts to a woman he believed to be a Russian oligarch's niece. Nevertheless, the party looks set for a strong showing in the resulting Sept. 29 election.

France's far right appears similarly resilient. Having lost to President Emmanuel Macron in 2017 presidential elections, Marine Le Pen's National Front rebranded itself last summer as the National Rally - and won European parliamentary elections this May with a ticket fronted by 23-year-old Jordan Bardella.

Le Pen - whose father founded the party in 1972 and lost a presidential runoff against Jacques Chirac 30 years later - remains firmly in control, with another chance of seizing the Elysée Palace at the next opportunity in 2022.

"The point is that they are going mainstream," says Julia Ebner, a research fellow specialising in the far right at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue think-tank in London. "They are playing a very long game, and targeting the next generation."

As in France, it's a strategy that has seen right-wing political parties in Spain, Denmark and elsewhere field candidates in their late twenties high on the slate, seeing young white male voters in particular as their path to greater power. Figures such as 26-year-old Belgian Dries Van Langenhove helped Belgium's right-wing Vlaams Belang to its best-ever showing in simultaneous May regional, national and European elections.

There are limits to the trend. Even amongst young men, far right parties still often struggle to get much more than a third of the vote. Geographical support remains patchy. As they become more radical, parties can shed moderate followers even as they gain new ones - Alternative for Germany may be rising in the country's more economically marginalized east, but it appears losing support in richer western areas. Female voters remain particularly skeptical – prompting growing discussion in right-wing circles over how to win them over.

Van Langenhove, Bardella and others are part of an increasingly sophisticated continent-wide movement, tying together social media, real-world demonstrations and rallies and a single-minded determination to seize political office. Well- resourced campaigns include "Generation Identity", a largely youth-facing movement that began in France but has also seen its popularity grow in Austria, Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

It's a sign of how increasingly coordinated such movements are – perhaps ironic, given their often nationalist agendas.

Many take explicit encouragement from both U.S. right-wingers and white supremacists as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin, seen by many on the right as what a national leader should be – ruthless, macho and untroubled by principles such as human rights or political correctness. Such groups and their leaders are also often the main beneficiaries of suspected Russian hacking, trolling and other online activity, supporting the suggestion that the Kremlin would like to see a more fragmented, right-wing dominated West.

Far-right messaging - which includes online videos - is widespread and varied, not all of it branded to associate with the far right. Behind talk of the need to confront Islamist fundamentalism and protect women's rights, however, is a wider message – that mass migration and multicultural liberalism are destroying Europe, and only the right can stop it.

Right-wing governments in Hungary and Poland shine a light on what the far right might look like in office – more state media control, rhetoric against not just migrants and foreigners but other minorities such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Many supporters, however, would like to go further – online discussion of "re-migration" includes not just repatriating new arrivals, but deporting families who have spent generations in Europe.

Such arguments risk becoming not just a constant feature of European politics, but its defining theme for years or decades. That's a truly terrifying prospect - and it is likely no coincidence that it has only become possible now that many fewer people have lived experience of the lessons of 1939.

Peter Apps is a writer on international affairs, globalisation, conflict and other issues. He is the founder and executive director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century; PS21, a non-national, non-partisan, non-ideological think tank. Paralyzed by a war-zone car crash in 2006, he also blogs about his disability and other topics. He was previously a reporter for Reuters and continues to be paid by Thomson Reuters. Since 2016, he has been a member of the British Army Reserve and the UK Labour Party, and is an active fundraiser for the party.

© Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Putin has been working very diligently to destabilize everything he can, but especially the U.S. and Europe. Without his meddling, the Brexit vote would have failed, and Trump would be nothing more than a bad joke.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Europeans having been ruled by centre or left wing governments for decades, voters are now waking up to the facts - high taxes, rising unemployment especially youth unemployment, the welfare state causing rising deficits, open border policies and the attached crime wave that has followed.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Europeans having been ruled by centre or left wing governments for decades....

Now there's a phony generalization

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Noting the original author is "a member of the UK Labour Party and is an active fundraiser for the party", such parties appear to have adopted a cynical strategy of bundling in, appealing to, and prioritizing of all sorts of minorities as the only manner - albeit generally unreliable and inefficient - by which they might be elected to power.

Meaning that it is all really just about them being elected, and yet it still does not reliably work.

One thing I disagree about with them is the labeling of any dissent as being "far right" and playing the Reductio ad Hitlerum form of association fallacy.

And that's a critique from a position further left than them.

The truth is, their positions are more correctly set as Center Right, the bizarre fact being that even avowedly nationalistic parties, like the British National Party, have positions that place them further to the left of Labour.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

This is a propaganda piece. To the these globalists propaganda peddlers, anyone who is against the globalist agenda is "far right". I am so tired of this.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

This is a propaganda piece. To the these globalists propaganda peddlers, anyone who is against the globalist agenda is "far right". I am so tired of this.

I'm not clear on who 'these globalists' are, or what the 'globalist agenda' is. Unfortunately I don't read the same, um, media, as you. Can you please enlighten us? Who are the globalists, and what is their agenda?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I always thought the most obvious "globalist" were the Right Wing free market capitalists ... but in other circles it's taken on a meaning akin to the old "reds under the beds", for whom "socialism" is the new "satanism" and who believe the Nazi were Left Wingers.

Yup, it's confusing.

I'll be interested to read any response you get.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I always thought the most obvious "globalist" were the Right Wing free market capitalists

The "right" and "left" wing labels do not make sense in a world, where neocon and neolib interests have converged on a globalist agenda that benefits large corporations and bankers and destroys the nation states of the world. Those who are still stuck in that paradigm are sad victims of media propaganda.

Anybody who wants to read up on the ideological underpinnings of modern corrupt globalism might start by reading Thomas Barnetts "The Pentagons New Map", which pretty much lays it out. I don´t think the average consumer of CNN or NYT has even heard of the name though. Alas.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Can you not just lay it out for us that don’t have the time to read the book? Who are the globalists? What is their agenda? If they truly are evil, we should be spreading the word and exposing them right? So why the secrecy about who they are and what their objectives are. Let’s expose them.

Whomever they are.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

So no one will explain who the globalists are, or what their agenda is?

People go on and on about globalists on this board - and others seem to react strongly to this. I realized the other day that I don't know who these globalists are, or what they are trying to do. When I was younger, I was avidly anti-establishment, and the globalists sound like they might be the drivers of the establishment, based on how some talk about them, so I'd really like to know more.

Can someone tell me who the globalists are, and what their agenda is?

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   Anybody who wants to read up on the ideological underpinnings of modern corrupt globalism might start by reading Thomas Barnetts "The Pentagons New Map",

Had a quick scan of the author's site. It's obviously a lot more real that the usual "Jews/Rothschild/Soros" conspiracy theories I guess others were expecting. It's more about the practicalities of the "New American Century" and US world domination.

I found the analysis of the Leviathan versus the SysAdmin strategy interesting and, of course, it matters to Japan as its included.

Seems like the military overview from a credible insider.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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