Dealing with the increasing support for the far-right in Europe
by Morvary Samaré
Shifting the debate from relentless finger pointing to focusing on developing dialogue may be one way of defeating many of the fear-based arguments of the far-right parties - claims Morvary Samaré
Last year - British think-tank Demos examined the attitudes among online supporters of far-right parties and movements, in 11 European countries. The results of the study show that the online support for the far-right is increasing and that it is more widespread among young men, who often blame immigration for the problems facing Europe. As most Europeans are aware, far-right parties and movements in the region have in recent years gained more popular support. This support is no longer restricted to a few countries, but has also come to encompass nations that were previously deemed as being liberal and inclusive such as the Northern European countries Finland and Sweden.
At present, 14 of the 27 members of the European Union have far-right parties in their parliaments. This number would is higher if one includes European states that are not formal members of the EU, such as Norway and Switzerland. These parties have no doubt benefited from the deteriorating socio-economic environment in Europe with rising unemployment and an uncertain financial future for many on the continent. Although, this may have played a role in further fanning these sentiments. But is that a sufficient explanation? Current research suggests that the answer is far more nuanced and complex than we would think, and one which may have more to do with questions relating to cultural identity as opposed to blatant racism or purely financial concerns.
Why then are so many young people across Europe finding these arguments appealing? There are no clear answers to this question at this time and the issue begs the attention of researchers and observers. One thing is clear though, some of the far-right parties have their largest support base among the young. For example, 63 per cent of the online supporters of the Sweden Democrats - which is the far-right party in Sweden – are aged between 16 and 20. Of course, there are many variations depending on the national context of each European country - but according to Demos there are, nevertheless, some common traits between the far-right parties. These include opposition to immigration, multiculturalism and concern for the protection of national and European culture.
Other common traits are that they express scepticism towards the EU, globalisation and disillusionment with mainstream political parties. It may be important to note that the face of the far-right in Europe has changed dramatically in the last decade and their rhetoric is more sophisticated and up to date. These parties do not consider themselves as having racist philosophies. They focus instead on what they perceive as being an erosion of national identity, cultural heritage and traditions; often viewing immigration and Islam as being at the root of this perceived decay of values.
''They're expressing extreme positions but in a far more polished way and there's a danger of such views becoming more socially acceptable,'' as one commentator puts it. Also, the leaders of these groups are often young and charismatic. One example among many is Marine Le Pen of Front National, born in 1968, who has an image of being a working and modern woman. She is currently leading among French voters in the age category 18-24. Also, these parties are often tuned in to social media tools and online communications. They use Facebook, Twitter and other forums to appeal to the public and attract support. One example of this is the Hungarian Jobbik party, which has a growing number of young supporters and is also very much up to date with online communications. It has an active presence on, for example, Facebook. These parties are technology savvy and, consequently, able to present their ideas to generations that scarcely remember - and many were not even born - before the advance of the internet.
Another noteworthy point is that far-right arguments against immigration and multiculturalism may have greater resonance in a Europe, where there is currently a widespread perception that integration of Muslims into European society has largely failed. A survey conducted by Ifop last year in Germany and France showed that 40 per cent of Germans and 42 per cent of the French surveyed believed that the presence of a Muslim community was a threat to their national identity. These numbers are twice as high as those who viewed the presence of Muslim communities as enriching in each country. This perception is easy to capitalise on and has surely not passed unnoticed among the leaders of far-right parties.
There is definitely reason to be concerned about this trend and to try to find a means of understanding and dealing with the increasing support for the far-right, in a more constructive way. One way of looking at the issue is that this tendency shows that a growing number of Europeans, many of them young, are expressing discontent with the current political discourse and it is apparent that an increase in dialogue is needed. It has been suggested that one way of trying to contain the far-right support would be for mainstream politicians and political movements to take the view that many of the supporters have seriously - and to address their concerns constructively, as opposed to excluding them or dismissing them as mere ''racists''.
In other words, it may be important to focus more on the concerns that supporters have regarding their national and cultural identity, as this seems to have a far greater role in why supporters feel aligned with these parties and their philosophies than previously thought. Shifting the debate from relentless finger pointing to focusing on developing dialogue, which to a higher degree comprises issues revolving around identity, may be one way of not only enriching the discussion - but also defeating many of the fear-based arguments of the far-right parties and movements, in this continent.
Morvary Samaré is the co-founder of Ramz Media, a documentary production company which focuses on human rights issues globally
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