As Europe struggles with the recession, more and more people have lost confidence in the mainstream ideas and policies. The neo-liberal thought that is the current orthodoxy consists of what Nietzsche calls ‘modern ideas’ – equality, democracy and other secular humanist ideas that are a hangover from the Age of Enlightenment. The world today stands astounded by Europe’s swing towards the right, as voters flee traditional conservative, socialist and liberal democratic parties. Although communist parties too have seen a small resurgence, it is the far-right parties which have suddenly become all too visible and making headlines.
These far-right parties have very fascist and Nazi overtones, and sometimes, openly admire Hitler and his policies. Racism has re-emerged, and although there is a traditional hatred for it due to the Nazi past, a lot of voters are getting attracted to this message, fueling a large dosage of xenophobia. Immigration has become an inevitable bone of contention in almost every European nation, with a lot of migrants arriving from Muslim countries of North Africa and the Middle East. Thus, anti-immigration is coupled with Islamophobia, leading to quite a few violent scuffles between the native Europeans and the immigrant populace.
There is also a very explicit dislike, and even disgust, for liberal politics and thought, and democracy is openly reviled with many far-right parties rooting for a more authoritarian state. The policies that they support are ultra-nationalistic, and at the same time socialistic. They promote protectionist trade policies, subsidies for national industries, syndicalistic union between labor and capital moderated by the state, elimination of large corporations and development of small businesses, preference of the countryside over urban conglomerates, a disciplined and united society with patronage of ‘good’ culture and conservative values like family and tradition, ruthless elimination of corruption and crony corporate capitalism, etc.
Although these ideas fall way out of the mainstream, people don’t care. The common folk have lost their livelihoods, with unemployment touching 24% in Spain and 21% in Greece. Most countries are practicing austerity, thus leading to a slow-down of growth, if not a shrinkage of the economy. Pensions have been reduced, the retirement age has been raised, small businesses are being thrown off the market, taxes have been increased dramatically, and large banks are being bailed out for their failures while smaller success stories are forced to file for bankruptcy.
Such policies have led to widespread disgust at the mainstream politicians who seem to work for corporate interests and not for the people. In fact, anger against them has exploded to such a level that mainstream Greek politicians were afraid to even hold public meetings for fear of being beaten up by onlookers. As crime rates have increased and the police finding it difficult to handle the number of cases that land on their laps, the auxiliary forces of the far-right parties have started patrolling the streets, pulling up criminals and assisting the elderly and the needy. This is most visible in Greece, as members of the far-right party Golden Dawn distribute flyers with names of the members along with their phone numbers in case of any (and I repeat, “any”) emergency.
So who vote for these parties? The youth who pass out of schools and colleges and find no jobs; the poor and the needy who live in shantytowns and ghettos in overcrowded urban localities; owners of small businesses who have been eliminated by large retail giants; and the by far largest voting bloc – those who vote for these parties in protest against the politicians who have been bought by large and powerful lobbies, banks and corporations.
2012 really seems to be the year of achievement for these parties after a lot of slow and steady success. In France, Marine Le Pen of the National Front has garnered almost 18% of the votes, amounting to as many as 6.4 million French voters. This drastic rise has confounded many political analysts who thought that the party’s almost overt support of Nazi policies would make it hated by the population which still remembers the tramp of German boots. In the Netherlands, the Freedom Party under Geert Wilders, a large and important coalition partner of the ruling party, pulled the carpet from beneath the government by refusing to support austerity measures. As the government toppled, the party is expected to increase its margin of victory in the coming polls. In Austria, another Freedom Party has arisen with strong Nazi tones, evoking a lot of criticism from the media but a fair bit of tacit support from the population. The Golden Dawn party in Greece has shown its strongest polling in the elections yesterday, winning almost 7% of the popular vote and 21 seats in the Parliament. The True Finns Party is almost in the mainstream in the Finnish Parliament, and Umberto Bossi’s Italian Northern League has also made considerable gains. The nationalist, conservative Fidesz party came to power in Hungary with two-thirds majority and the far-right Jobbik party came third with 17% of the vote.
So what is happening in Europe? We are seeing a repeat of the 1920s when fascist forces gained by large margins all over the continent. As the upward trend continues for these parties, will the next decade be a repeat of the 1930s? We can only wait and watch.