European Democracy Dawns as Far-Right Rises


The far-right populism spreading across Europe represents a disturbing trend plaguing international politics. Where these groups used to represent the marginalized extreme, they have now gained considerate power and traction on the global center stage.

Over the past five years, right-wing populists have secured over 30 million Europeans voting in their favour. While this represents a minority of the electorate, these groups have been extremely successful at mobilizing voters to turn out for elections. In most European countries, the populist movement witnessed a significant increase in support over the last two comparable elections. In Austria, the populist vote comprised of 46% of the most recent election. That’s nearly half of the turn-out. In other countries, such as Hungary and Poland, the right-wing has already secured control over the government.

Recent elections continue to follow suit with this trend, with Italy’s elections giving rise to the Northern League, a populist group opposing immigration, and Austria’s government forming a coalition with the far-right Freedom party.

Almost a decade ago it would have been unimaginable to predict Western Europe’s movement towards xenophobic populism. But populism has become mainstream, as has the mentality fueling its success. The common thread unifying the movement towards the far-right remains the fear of immigration and the “other.” The countries that traditionally championed liberty and freedom have taken a turn in support of security and nationalism.

In France, the movement was streamlined after terrorist attacks intensified the fear-based narrative promoted by populists. Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, took advantage of these attacks using them to promote a xenophobic political agenda.

Other far-right leaders have capitalized off this wide-spread fear and public discontent with the status quo. These politicians promise change through their nationalistic policies, which consist of stronger borders, increased security, and tighter immigration restrictions. All across the globe, but especially in Europe, these ideologies have become frighteningly normalized.

The language represents a troubling foreshadowing of what a future under xenophobic populist rule could look like. In 2015 Viktor Orban, the leader of Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz party and the current prime minister, made a speech alluding to reinstating the death penalty and initiating immigrant work camps. The promotion of this type of xenophobic rhetoric and fervent nationalism hints at danger for ethnic minorities living within these borders. This past Independence Day, Poland saw one of the largest gatherings of fascists and white supremacists marching the streets. The event was organized by a prominent group called National Radical Camp and had a turnout of over 60,000 people. Attendees touted signs reading “pure blood, clear mind” and far worse.

Many of the far-right groups, in addition to being anti-immigration, also threaten the liberties of traditional democracy. In particular, religious freedom has come under attack. Austria’s Freedom Party called for an end to the legal recognition of Islam as a religion, while Hungary’s Jobbik party supports strongly anti-Semitic views.

History has brought us here before, and the parallels between then and now are staunch. To turn away from Europe’s political crisis now, is to allow history to repeat itself, possibly endangering the lives and safety of millions. A resurgence of Nazi ideology and xenophobic populism cannot be allowed to further infiltrate Europe’s politics. The opposition must stand strong and unified, mobilizing together to deter an overturn of democracy.

Cameron de Matteis