Right-wing extremist groups have traditionally rejected democratic values, particularly equality. They have, however, used the democratic process to gain strength across Europe in recent years. Last year, right-wing extremist political parties received record votes in the EU Parliament and made important gains in a number of national legislative bodies.
Right-wing extremism is characterized by strong ethno-nationalism and the belief in a homogenous nation. Minorities are viewed as outsiders and become scapegoats responsible for society’s problems. This has led to anti-immigration political platforms, rallies, and acts of violence across the continent.
Marine Le Pen, head of France’s National Front, scored Islamist extremism in a recent New York Times op-ed. On its own, the piece could be interpreted as being reasonable. Contextually, it is important to know that Le Pen heads a xenophobic, anti-immigration, and historically anti-Semitic organization. National Front won a third of France’s 74 seats in the 751-member European Parliament last year, which French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called “an earthquake.” The National Front’s win is indicative of a crisis of confidence in the EU, he said.
Greece’s neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, advocates National Socialism, racism, and anti-Semitism. It considers the United States and liberalism to be Greece’s absolute enemies. Golden Dawn supports the Arabs “oppressed by Zionism,” but also fights against what it sees as the “Islamification” of Greece and the rest of Europe. Its popularity spurred by the global financial crisis and opposition to economic austerity measures, Golden Dawn won 6.9 percent of the vote in Greece’s 2012 parliamentary elections. Since then, members of the party have been implicated in hundreds of attacks and racist incidents against immigrants, including the 2013 fatal stabbing of a left-wing musician. Greece moved to ban Golden Dawn after the murder, and its party leadership and prominent lawmakers are in pre-trial detention for belonging to a criminal organization. Despite this, Golden Dawn won 17 seats in Greece’s 300-seat parliament in January, making it the third largest party in Greece.
The Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) claims to protect Hungarian values and describes itself as a “radically patriotic Christian party.” A 2014 Hungarian court ruling said Jobbik may be described as neo-Nazi. It has argued that Jews represent a national security risk, while calling for detention camps for Roma “deviants.” It became Hungary’s third largest political party after the country’s elections last year.
In Germany, a group called Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident (Pegida) held several rallies in January that drew upwards of 25,000 people protesting the “Islamization” of the West. Pegida’s leaders insist they are not racist and are exercising their rights to free speech and assembly. German Chancellor Angela Merkel accused the group of having “hatred in their hearts” but defended their right to speak freely.
The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom head Geert Wilders is known for extreme anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views. Dutch authorities said in December they would charge Wilders with anti-immigrant hate speech for remarks he made during a March 2014 rally against Moroccans in the country. He was previously charged with hate speech in 2011 after he compared the Quran to Mein Kampf and called for the holy book to be banned. He was acquitted of the charges.
Right-wing extremism may appear synonymous with hatred against immigrants, but the growing popularity of the movement is more complex. European austerity measures stemming from the global financial crisis have angered citizens in a number of countries and many are looking for someone to blame. Eighty years ago, Jews represented “the other” in otherwise largely homogenous European societies. Today, the failure of Muslim immigrants to assimilate into Europe has given right-wing extremists a new scapegoat; and the rise of Islamist extremism has allowed right-wing extremists to disguise their ideology as a defense of traditional values and a shared history against a violent ideology bent on conquest.