Across Europe, the Far Right Rises ; Today's Dutch Elections Are the Latest Evidence of Europeans Looking Right on Crime and Immigration

By Peter Ford writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 2002 | Go to article overview

Across Europe, the Far Right Rises ; Today's Dutch Elections Are the Latest Evidence of Europeans Looking Right on Crime and Immigration


Peter Ford writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In life, Dutch populist leader Pim Fortuyn was an upstart maverick, playing on xenophobic fears no traditional politician had dared to tap.

In death, following his murder, Mr. Fortuyn drew almost the entire Dutch cabinet to his funeral, amid an outpouring of public sympathy. After parliamentary elections today, his party could hold the balance of power.

Across Europe, in a violent wake-up call to ruling elites, far- right parties beating the anti-immigrant drum have seized on people's concerns about crime and foreigners to shape a new political agenda.

And as they move Europe's political center of gravity to the right, they are prompting governments from one end of the continent to the other to toughen their stance against outsiders. Especially after Sept. 11, with security a top priority, Europe's multicultural vision of itself seems to be in doubt.

"Opinions that were seen as far-right 10 years ago are now voiced in the middle of the political spectrum," says Philipp Sonderegger, spokesman for the Austrian anti-racist group Mitmensch. Austria, where Jorg Haider's extremist Freedom Party blazed a trail into coalition government two years ago, is about to put a virtual stop to new immigration.

It was Jean-Marie Le Pen's shock success in the first round of French presidential elections this month that threw the new mood into relief. At the head of the anti-immigrant, anti-establishment National Front, Mr. Le Pen won 17 percent of the vote and the right to challenge President Jacques Chirac in a run-off election.

But resentments against foreigners have been bubbling just below the surface of European politics for several years. Yiannis Kolodos, an Athens university student, speaks for millions of Europeans when he blames immigrants for taking jobs from Greeks and making the streets of his city unsafe at night.

"I used to vote Socialist, to tell you the truth," he confides. "But now the mainstream parties just can't bring themselves to admit that immigration is the main cause of our problems." People like him, who have turned to the extreme nationalist Hellenic Front "are not Nazis or fascists," he says. "They just have problems and they think that immigration has something to do with them."

That is a message that the leaders of Europe's dominant centrist parties have been reluctant to hear, or to counter. Fortuyn and his counterparts elsewhere "articulated problems with immigration that other politicians refused to address," explains Hans Wansink, a commentator with the liberal Dutch daily De Volkskrant.

"The problem of immigration and minority criminality have been ignored for too long" and became taboo, he adds.

Traditional parties of both left and right feared that if they raised such issues they would play into the hands of extremists. But that reticence has backfired.

"Right-wing parties have a chance only when the politicians don't do enough to win over the understanding of the majority population," argues Klaus Bade, head of the Migration Research Institute at the University of Osnabruck in Germany. "This has been missing in Germany."

The German parliament passed the country's first ever legislation to regulate immigration only two months ago, although more than 7 million foreigners live in Germany. "The faster the law is instituted and the more pragmatically it is applied, the more right- wing propaganda will lose ground," predicts Dr. Bade.

Elsewhere in Europe, several governments have found themselves boxed into a corner by anti-immigrant parties, and obliged by electoral politics to borrow aspects of their approach.

In Denmark, for example, the government depends on parliamentary support from the Danish Peoples Party. That was forthcoming only because it promised last week to tighten up its immigration policy, making it harder to claim refugee status, cutting back on financial aid to new immigrants, and denying foreigners a "green card" for seven years. …

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