'Europe' and the Extreme Right: Comparing Partidul Romania Mare and Vlaams Belang
Hartleb, Florian, Romanian Journal of Political Science
Extreme right strategies are focused above all else on the construction of a stark division between the included and the excluded, but the formulation of such a division is often taken to be between a narrowly defined 'nation' versus 'outsiders'. This might lead some to conclude that extreme right parties (ERPs) are opposed to each other, based as they are on competing nationalisms. However, the short formation of a parliamentary group of extreme right MEPs in 2007, under the name of Independence, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS), and featuring members of both the PRM and the VB, casts serious doubt on the notion that the ideologies of extreme right parties are so mutually antagonistic. That still leaves the question of what these parties have in common ideologically, and this is the question explored in our study. I draw upon research on the Vlaams Belang and the PRM--using party manifestos and other public documents (2)--and show that the European context of this new cooperation is all-important. To put it simply, the PRM and VB share a positive orientation towards 'Europe', but deep suspicion of--if not outright antagonism towards--the European Union. These standpoints are derived from the parties' overriding commitment to the nation, and their historical understanding thereof.
I begin by exploring the context of extreme right European cooperation, and then present the two cases for comparison. In the main part of the study, I examine three key features of PRM and VB ideology--the centrality of 'the nation', the relationship between the nation and 'Europe', and the view of the European Union--and demonstrate the important similarities between the two parties. This examination is facilitated by the deployment of some of the conceptual tools of discourse theory, (3) which allow us more easily to come to grips with the 'political grammar' (4) according to which the ideology of these parties is organised.
The cases for comparison: the PRM and VB
In this section, I provide a brief overview of each of the parties under discussion, emphasising what unites and what divides them. Both similarities and differences are relevant in their selection as case studies for this research.
The Partidul Romania Mare emerged in 1991 following the collapse in 1989 of the Ceau?escu regime. Some critics have labelled it a neo-communist party, and there is debate as to whether it can be categorised as far left or far right. Given its ultra-nationalism, racism, history of antisemitism and its similarity to other parties of the extreme right in Europe, we classify it as extreme right. Although the party leader is an erstwhile follower of the Ceau?escus, the ideological links are scarce. The only common feature is an evident nostalgia for the pro-national policies of the late leader, and the party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor's personality cult. PRM advocates a number of 'pro-Romanian' measures, and has identified in the past and the present a number of enemies of the Romanian nation, including the political class /(establishment), corruption, Gypsies, Hungarians, and Jews (5). Its fortunes took off around 2000 when it merged with the Partidul Unitatii Nationale Romane (6), allowing it to break out of its limited support base in the South of Romania and to become a national party. (7) In that year it took second place in the parliamentary elections, winning 23% of the vote, and Tudor made it through the run-off in the presidential contest. As Andrei Tiut has pointed out, the PRM has undergone a series of ideological transformations since it was formed in 1991. (8) Most notably, it has adopted key elements of western European extreme right discourse, combining a dislike of outsiders with a critique of the political establishment and corruption. Now, in the national election (December 2008), the PRM failed after some great struggles to get in national parliament (only 3 per cent of the votes). …