Tuesday, May 01, 2012

European crisis: A resurgence of the extreme right - history repeating?

The European Union has been agitated by economic turmoil for several years now, and the panorama does not seem to be improving greatly as time evolves. In fact, it is all the opposite: After Greece, Ireland and Portugal received generous (but insufficient) bailout packages to avoid defaulting, the European Union feared that the worse might still be coming: Italy and Spain are aching financially too, and a package to rescue either of them would be much more expensive than any other bailout conceded to a European nation before.

The social symptoms of this crisis are persistent and increasing. In Spain, for example, the unemployment rate has reached record levels, topping at 24% - higher than any other European country. In Greece, social unrest is a daily happening, and a worrying spike on the suicide rate has been detected in that country. And other traditionally-strong economies, such as Germany and the Netherlands, are considering austerity measures that could not have been foreseen a few years ago.

The immediate unhappiness and frustration showed by Europeans are issues to worry about. But perhaps even more worrisome is the potential effect that this frustration is having in the political landscape of Europe, where frustrated citizens are considering far and extreme right as options to overcome their difficulties. Old and new far and extreme right movements and parties are gaining political presence and influence in Europe.

One of the best examples of this trend is France, where the current presidential elections are dominated by two political figures: On the one hand, the current president, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy. On the other hand, socialist Francois Hollande. According to previous polls, this does not come as a surprise - it was expected that both Hollande and Sarkozy would face each other on the second round of the elections. What did come as a surprise was that the extreme-right National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, came as a sounding third political force as shown by the first-round results - gathering almost 18% of votes.

Photo by globalnetwork.com
Although Le Pen did not reach the second-round of elections, the popularity of her movement (founded by her father and notorious xenophobe Jean-Marie Le Pen) reflects that people in France are looking at regretful options to overcome the social discontent. The party represented by Le Pen, the National Front, advocates for radical ultra-nationalist measures to preserve the integrity of France. These proposed measures include, among others, to cease France's membership to the European Union, to leave the Euro and restore the Franc as the national currency, to reduce immigration to 5% of its current level, and create a new ministry of the interior, immigration and secularism. 

Le Pen's rising popularity, her strong criticism against immigrants in general, her ultra-nationalist policies and ideals, and her ties to her father's ideas (let's not forget that Jean-Marie Le Pen has actively denied the Jewish holocaust during World War II and has blamed other minorities for certain problems in France) reminds a bit the unfortunate times in the first half of the 20th century, where Germany was sunk in crisis and debt, and people were looking turning to blaming their problems to minorities. The result: A rise in popularity of the Nazi party, to the extent that they became the leading political force of Germany in the late 1930's and became the official party of the country, leading Europe into a series of atrocities against minorities (Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, and virtually any person not fitting an 'aryan' profile). These massacres, in turn, led to a full blown war of global proportions that left Europe and the world as a whole scarred for generations to come, in what became later known as World War II. 

It is also worrisome that these far right extremism is also gaining political support outside of France, in other regions of Europe. Countries like Netherlands, Greece, and Finland have also experiences a surge of ultra-nationalism and radical political entities who slowly but surely are conquering terrain in a continent where multiculturalism has been openly admitted to be a failure, and where unhappiness is threatening to shape a whole new mentality that, hopefully, will not fall again in the mistakes from the past.