Over the last number of decades, the European Political system has observed the growth in popularity of the extreme right-wing party. This is a hotly debated topic among many European politicians, as the rise of the Right-Wing echoes for many the forgettable era of Hitler and Mussolini. Right Wing Extremism generally preaches the following: agitation against the integration of foreigners or refugees and to curb immigration, rejection of social equality, the reestablishment of authoritarian hierarchies and traditional female roles and so on.
In the same way as the Nazis blamed the Jews as the cause of all evil, ‘foreigners’ are frequently referred to as ‘scapegoats’ and are held responsible for unemployment, crime and decay in society (Bailer, 1996). The majority of the extreme right wing conceals their xenophobic prejudices behind the harmless ideals of preserving their countries cultural inheritance and national identity. These parties also usually are presented as a vehicle for their leaders personal beliefs. In this essay, I intend to look at three countries – Austria, France and the Netherlands – and the unmitigated rise in support for their right-wing parties.
I intend to closely look at their party leaders and question is it ultimately their leadership skills and charisma that has led the meteoric rise of the right-wing? France One of the most prominent voices on the extreme far-right is the leader of the French National Front party, Jean Marie le Pen. Over the years, the National Front has made slow and steady victory in local balloting and polls, without having to moderate its messages of racism, xenophobia and bigotry. “In no major country has the resurgence of an ultra nationalist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic political party made more headway than France.
With a vote share of between 15 and 20 percent, Jean Marie Le Pen’s National Front has become a central element in French political life”. (ADL, 2002) Le Pen has used hateful phrases and egregious comments to espouse anti-Semitism, deny the Holocaust and create resentment among many of the countries minority groups. The vocal leader has accused President Jacque Chirac of being ‘in pay of Jewish organisations’ and called Nazi gas chambers a ‘mere detail’ in history (ADL, 2002). In 1990, he was convicted of spurring racial hatred and fined $233,000 when he questioned the Nazi persecution of Jews and Gypsies.
– Jean Marie Le Pen In 1998, Le Pen was also convicted for assaulting a Socialist politician, leading to his ban from public office and the European Parliament for one year. Le Pen therefore had never been considered a serious contender for high political office and thought of himself as an alternative to the status quo of public office. However, he scored a surprise victory in the 2002 Presidential elections when he gathered 17% of the vote coming in second behind Chirac and dashing the hopes of front-runner Lionel Jospin. “There are differences between the races…
there are differences in the genes… there are simply too many immigrants, and they make who knows how many children whom they send into the streets and then claim welfare… ” – Le Pen (ADL, 2002) Many public opinion polls express dissatisfaction with Le Pen’s bigoted language, but do show considerable support for his nationalist themes and his defending of traditional values. 26% supported his desire to control crime by introducing tougher judicial system and 25 % agreed with his anti-immigration demands and that immigrants conform to the French language and culture.
In contrast, when asked whether they agree with the Front National as a whole, distinct from his specific policies, there proves a definite public opposition to Le Pen. 76% opposed the Le Pen ideology, 75% said he was a danger to democracy, 50 % considered his policies ‘excessive’, 36% found them unacceptable and only 4% agreed with his opinions on anti-Semitism. (ADL, 2002) This shows that there is certain indecision among conservatives about how to respond to Le Pen, as there is a tendency among conservatives to sympathise with defending traditional values and cultural preservation, but reject his use of language and extreme values.
To say that Le Pen is a charismatic party leader is unjustifiable. His use of harsh xenophobic language, his extremist, blatant bigotry towards immigrants and not forgetting his assaulting of a fellow politician do not equate him with charisma or style. His success boils down to his ability to stir up controversy and appeal to people’s hidden resentment on immigration and subsequent unemployment. Austria Similar to the National Front, the Austrian Freedom Party led by Jorg Haider has achieved major success politically by employing policies that emphasise racial agitation against immigrants, and campaigning against nepotism and corruption.