BRUSSELS — Europe is in danger of seeing its extreme-right parties move into the mainstream. The message has changed. Anti-Semitism has metamorphosed into “Islamophobia” since 9/11, finding a popular resonance with those bearing the consequences of the war on terror. Islamophobia has become the prejudice of the day, but the threat from the extreme right is real and it is found across the European Union.
The big shock was in France in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front Party (who believes the Nazi occupation of was “essentially benign” despite the deaths of 70,000 French Jews in the concentration camps) came second in the presidential elections.
Le Pen has announced his candidacy for 2007, but first he must gather the 500 signatures from elected officials required to stand, a task that he only just managed to accomplish last time round.
If he fails, another potentially more dangerous candidate is waiting in the wings. Philippe De Villiers represents the Mouvemente pour la France, a deeply conservative party that he led in a viciously racist campaign against Turkey’s application for EU membership during the referendum on the EU constitution. He would be a natural successor to pick up Le Pen’s votes in his absence.
Last Sunday in Belgium, voters went to the poll to elect their local councils. An extreme-right party, recently renamed Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), was hoping to make a breakthrough that would give it control of Antwerp, Belgium’s second city.
The party’s leader and candidate for mayor, Filip De Winter, recently proudly announced that the Vlaams Belang was an Islamophobic party to court the votes of his traditional enemy — Antwerp’s large Jewish community.
It was defeat in victory. The party gained a spectacular six percent rise in votes in the rural areas, but in Antwerp finished behind the Socialist Party. The agreement among all the other parties to not form a coalition with Vlaams Belang would have been under severe strain had it finished first.
In Italy, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who called the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament a “Nazi,” was prepared to incorporate Italy’s fascist and extreme-right parties into his electoral coalition in his desperation to hold on to power in April. In March, Alessandra Mussolini, “Il Duce’s” granddaughter, was measuring herself up for a Cabinet post, which would have allowed the neofascist Roberto Fiore to take her place in the European Parliament.
Micko Tremaglia, who had proudly fought with the “Repubblica Sociale Italiana” — the fascist Salo Republic’s equivalent of the Waffen SS — was already a minister. Romano Prodi squeaked in by 26,000 votes out of more than 30 million to beat Berlusconi by less than 0.1 percent.
In Austria the split in Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party was supposed to spell its demise, however, the party’s members have defied expectations. Despite a sharp reverse last month, both “halves” made it into Parliament with 15 percent of the vote between them.
The swing to the right is not limited to “old Europe.” “New Europe” has its share of extreme-right parties that have gained a foothold in government. The Slovak government sworn in last July includes in its three-party coalition the Slovak National Party (SNS), whose leader Jan Slota is xenophobic and would like to expel the Hungarian minority — which comprises 10 percent of the population — from Slovakia.
Hungary has Istvan Csurka, leader of the ultranationalist Hungarian Truth and Life Party (MIEP), which is anti-Jewish, anti-Roma and xenophobic. Csurka is not in government, but has been included in the conservative mainstream opposition.
In Poland the ruling Law and Justice Party has since last year’s elections formed an informal coalition with the League of Polish Families, infecting the whole government with their Catholic fundamentalism and extreme nationalism.
The government is now using the infamous Radio Maryja with its ultra-nationalism, homophobia and anti-Semitism reputation, as its semi-official mouthpiece. The Law and Justice Party has some pretty unsavory characters of its own. Michal Kaminski, a member of the European Parliament (MEP), was a former member of the fascist National Rebirth of Poland Party and is now part of Roberto Fiore’s European National Front, while Marcin Libicki, also a MEP and former member of the fascist National Right and a sister party of Le Pen’s party, recently called for Poznan’s synagogue to be demolished.
Those who suspect that the EU expansion to include Romania and Bulgaria should have been delayed until democratic consolidation and tackling of corruption took place had their worries reinforced last week when Dimitar Stoyanov, a Bulgarian observer in the European Parliament, had to be censured by the president of the Parliament for his racist remarks. Addressing the first MEP from the Romani minority, Stoyanov claimed that it was part of gypsy traditions for parents to sell their daughters.
In Britain there are 46 British National Party (BNP) counselors, and there exists a possibility they may gain seats in the next London Assembly and European Parliament elections.
While one has to welcome any condemnation of the BNP that Conservative leader David Cameron is prepared to make, one has to wonder when he’s going to join up the dots. For it is this collection of mad, bad and sad politicians that Cameron will be forcing the Conservatives to join after the next election when he removes out his MEPs from the centrist Christian Democrats, which is too European for his skeptic tastes, and join forces with many of the fascists, light or right.
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