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The Rise of European Nationalism (Again)

Staff Writer

By Will Kirsch ‘18

· Will Kirsch

The distant specter of European nationalism that so many in the United States have shrugged off as “their” problem recently became an unavoidable threat in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote. As a result of the referendum, Great Britain has begun its slow departure from the European Union, the supranational organization that has come to define Europe as more of a country than a continent. However, the successful effort to leave the Union, led by the nationalist right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) represents a larger trend towards nationalist fervor across Europe.  

UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, co-chairs a European parliamentary group called Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), which is largely composed of eurosceptic political parties from a number of countries including the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and Sweden. Several of the constituent parties are affiliated with far-right, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant sentiments. One of the groups, Alternative for Germany (AdF) recently upset Chancellor Angela Merkel in her district’s local elections, sending a palpable message that nationalist interests are no mere fringe element. Indeed, the group as a whole currently holds 46 seats in the European Parliament. This is far from a majority but taken with the number of other eurosceptic and nationalist political groups represented in the Parliament one can see that far-right interests are a significant force.

Parties such as UKIP are relatively moderate in terms of European nationalist movements, political movements in Hungary, Slovakia, and Sweden lean much further right. Slovakia’s “Our Slovakia” is unabashed in its ties to the country’s history of collaboration with Nazis, even holding rallies dressed in World War II paraphernalia. While such parties are far from a new invention, their polling numbers are freshly disturbing; The Financial Times reported that Our Slovakia drew 200,000 votes in this year’s parliamentary election. Similarly, in Hungary, nationalist party Jobbik won 20% of the vote in 2014. Jobbik is known for anti-Semitism as well as discrimination against the Romani people. Parties such as these, as well as more mainstream parties like the National Front in France and the Sweden Democrats, which both find their roots in white supremacy, gain more and more traction throughout Europe every day.

Moreover, the trend towards nationalism across Europe has never been more relevant to American politics and the current presidential election. Donald Trump’s platform has been built largely off of his populist appeal and his anti-immigration stance. He has railed against Mexican immigrants, Muslim immigrants, and Muslim Americans, and has brought white, Christian, nativist fervor out of the woodwork. One would think this, along with a slew of other questionable comments, might doom Trump, but this has not been the case; his supporters stand by him faithfully. Recently, the BBC compared Trump to the National Front’s Marine Le Pen and, despite Le Pen’s protests, and the similarities are undeniable. Not so long ago, figures like Le Pen seemed ridiculous and marginal politicians symptomatic of a brand of intolerance that had no place in mainstream American politics. Today, however, the story is far different.

Polling demographics for European nationalist parties are similar as well. The BBC reported that in the recent Austrian presidential election, over 80% of the votes for Norbert Hofer, who represents the Freedom Party (FPOe), were cast by manual laborers. Similarly, Trump’s base consists of White, lower-middle class men. Hofer notably said, “Islam has no place in Austria,” and while Trump has never overtly said anything of that nature, his early campaign policies regarding Muslim immigration are hardly a far cry.

The rise of nationalism in Europe is no longer a deplorable issue that the United States can hold at arm’s length; it has officially become a domestic problem. The rhetoric of Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign bears similarities to some of the more accepted far-right parties across Europe. It is easy to classify Trump as an anomaly, but perhaps he is something more than that. Perhaps he is representative of a trend towards intolerance, an acceptance and even support of discrimination and white supremacy in our political system. Trump may be far more than a passing illness; he may be symptomatic of a much larger disease, one which has permeated Europe with varying severity. Perhaps Trump’s garden-variety intolerance is a gateway into something far more wicked, such as the discriminatory Jobbik, the white supremacist Swedish Democrats, or even the Neo-Nazi Our Slovakia.

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