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
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
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. …