Peter Goodspeed: Flirting with fascism, why Europe can’t shake its weakness for Nazism (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) 05/12/12)
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Like vermin in a time of pestilence, neo-Nazi groups appear to be
enjoying a resurgence in a Europe plagued by increasing financial
chaos and uncertainty. As Europe celebrated the 67th anniversary of
V.E. Day and the defeat of Hitler’s Nazis this week, it also reeled
in disbelief as an angry Greek electorate gave 7% of their votes to
the neo-Nazi, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party.
Boasting an “army of brave boys in black,” who strut the streets of
rundown Greek neighbourhoods, flicking off Hitler-esque salutes and
staging anti-immigration rallies around a swastika-like flag that is
based on an ancient Greek decorative border called a meandros, Golden
Dawn became the first far-right party to enter the Greek parliament
since the collapse of a military dictatorship in 1974.
In an echo of Europe’s tortured past, Nazism, with its association
with the Holocaust and horrors of the Second World War, not only
survives, but in some instances is thriving.
In Greece, extremists have united the marginalized, the disenchanted
and the disempowered with promises to turn the clock back to an
idyllic “pure” past.
“Europe has seen a boost in right-wing extremism,” says Nora
Langenbacher, head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s, Combating
Right-Wing Extremism project, in Berlin.
“Particularly in times of crisis, right-wing extremists and right-
wing populists in many places are trying to use the fears of European
citizens to promote their ‘cause’ by providing simple answers to
complex social challenges.”
Neo-Nazis, almost by definition, are anti-democratic and
confrontational. They seek to create a new world order based on
extreme provocation and, in some cases, far-right terror. They dream
of the day when society and the state will collapse and a “Fourth
Reich” can be built on the rubble.
They advocate turning the clock back – ending the European Union and
returning to nation states centred on ethnic or cultural “purity,”
dropping out of NATO, and abandoning the global economic order.
A sub-culture that is frequently associated with skinheads and
violent thugs, neo-Nazis wallow in shocking symbols of the past –
swastikas, jackboots, stiff-armed salutes, racial violence, and
genocidal threats made against Jews, blacks, Muslims and gays.
Neo-Nazis pop up everywhere, from anti-Roma attacks in the Czech
Republic to violence at gay pride parades in Sweden; from punk bands
with names like Angry Aryans or the SS Bootboys to soccer thugs who
revel in Nazi regalia.
There is a complex subculture of websites, magazines, blogs, CDs,
books, radio stations, clothing companies and music stores that
promote neo-Nazi ideals on an international scale.
“The radical right subculture in Germany is seething,” says Britta
Schellenberg, a research analyst at the University of Munich.
“After 1989 [the fall of East Germany], the number of radical-right
offences and crimes of violence increased dramatically.”
Radical right-wing extremism remained dormant under communism, but it
has come out of the shadows and flourishes in what used to be East
Germany boasts Europe’s largest and strongest extra-parliamentary neo-
Nazi movement, with an estimated 50,000 active members.
“Every day in the Federal Republic of Germany there are at least two
or three violent attacks by radical-right wingers,” Ms. Schellenberg
But opinions once limited to Germany’s extreme far-right seem to be
spreading into mainstream politics. A survey released last year by
the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a left-of-centre think tank linked to
Germany’s opposition Social Democrats, claimed that 13% of Germans
say they want a new “fuhrer” to lead the country and 14.9% agreed
with the statement: “There is something special about Jews, something
peculiar. They don’t really fit in with us.”
Neo-Nazis also continue to thrive around the world. In Russia, gangs
like the White Wolves specialize in stabbing Central Asians; in
Mongolia’s capital of Ulan Bator neo-Nazis frequent a club called
Tsagaan Khass or the White Swastika; in India, Hitler memorabilia has
become so popular one publisher claims to have sold more than 100,000
copies of Mein Kampf in the last decade.
Neo-Nazis have even surfaced in Israel. A gang of eight teenagers —
Russian immigrants who had Jewish grandparents — were jailed in 2008
for assaulting religious Jews and desecrating synagogues with
Most studies suggest neo-Nazis and far-right extremists are “angry
white men” who share a distinct social profile. They are generally
drawn from the working class, are poorly educated, gather information
from xenophobic tabloid newspapers and are deeply pessimistic about
their financial prospects.
Matthew Goodwin, a political scientist at the University of
Nottingham, who has studied backers of the far-right British National
Party, says supporters are “driven to the far-right by their
dissatisfaction with existing political options: they are far more
distrustful than other voters of national and local politicians.”
Jamie Bartlett, a researcher with the British think tank Demos,
recently surveyed 13,000 Facebook supporters of populist far-right
parties in Europe and concluded they are generally defined by their
opposition to immigration and a concern for protecting national and
European culture, especially against a perceived threat from Islam.
“Our results suggest there is a new generation of populists that are
not the racist, xenophobic reactionaries they are sometimes portrayed
as,” Mr. Bartlett says. “They are young, angry, and disillusioned
with the current crop of automaton political elites, who they do not
think are responding to the concerns and worries they face in their
“The patronizing account of populists is that they are the ‘losers’
of economic liberalism, cornered animals lashing out at mainstream
politicians by voting for a tub-thumping demagogue. This is wrong.
They are not particularly more likely to be unemployed than the
national average, according to our survey. Their worries about
immigration are driven by the threat they believe it poses to
national and cultural identity, rather than economic considerations.”
Far-right parties tend to lash out against immigrants, globalization,
the EU and multiculturalism and, like the far-left, rail against
liberal democracy, liberal capitalism and national political elites.
Liz Fekete, executive director of Britain’s Institute of Race
Relations, warns of “a revitalized neo-Nazi and far right terrorist
underground” across Europe.
“Today we are witnessing the resurgence of old hatreds, with the
Roma, particularly in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, again
scapegoated for the economic crisis.
“Another stain on Europe’s conscience is the constant barrage of
attacks on ‘visible Islam’ — the promotion of enemy images of Muslims
against the backdrop of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
But Mr. Goodwin suggests violent neo-Nazi parties are not enjoying a
resurgence. Golden Dawn’s gains in Greece are “very much the
“Reports from Greece suggest that many voters were not aware of the
party’s ideological program, and that these supporters tended to be
young, working-class men aged 25-34 and who lack educational
“But, that said, across Europe more sophisticated radical right-wing
populist parties continue to rally significant and relatively durable
bases of support, as witnessed most recently at elections in France
and in polls in countries such as Austria, that suggest the far right
is now the most popular force among 18-25 year olds.”
That growth is reflected in the success of far-right parties, which
were formerly on the fringes but now command significant political
weight in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands,
Sweden, Latvia and Slovakia, as well as the European Parliament.
In some countries, they are the second or third largest party and are
seen as essential to the survival of conservative coalition
In Greece, Golden Dawn’s seizure of 21 seats in the 300 seat
parliament, hasn’t been translated into political power. That hasn’t
prevented Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos from talking
about “cleaning up Athens” “taking the dirt [immigrants] out of the
country” and calling for land mines to be placed along the border to
stop illegal immigrants.
“The Europe of the nations returns,” he crowed on election
night. “Greece is only the beginning.” (© 2012 National Post, a
division of Postmedia Network Inc. 05/12/12)
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