The white terrorist of Europe and the threat to the open society
Irena Mihaylova, Ralitsa Kovacheva, 1 August 2011
The Norwegian nightmare has forced Europe into facing a dreadful aftermath. The attempt of the blond and blue-eyed Anders Breivik to “save the world” from Islam, immigrants and multiculturalism has opened a debate for the real threat of the so called far, radical or extreme right populism. A threat that manages to creep sneakily into the growing populist rhetoric of the political mainstream or what is called the traditional right/left political dimension. A threat that has already occupied the streets of Europe’s cities and the re-established borders of Schengen questioning thus one of the fundamentals upon which the western world has been built – the idea of open society.
Breivik’s deed, horrifying with its bloody cruelty, has made the far-right European political leaders as Marin Le Pen (leader of the French National Front), the ultra nationalist Dutch – Geert Wilders (an idol of Breivik) and the radical right English Defence League, renounce themselves from one of their ultimate ideological supporters. However, some of their colleagues as Mario Borghezio, a member of the Italian Northern League and the European Parliament, has greeted Breivik’s ideas at first, criticizing only his violent methods. Shortly afterwards, Borghezio and the other political admirers of Breivik had to apologise in public.
The ideas, cherished by Breivik, are long known to Europe’s populist rhetoric. The ideology of the far right, inspired by fascism, Nazism, ultra-nationalism and all other sorts of extremist concepts, includes racial superiority and xenophobia, a rejection of the concept of social equality, support of segregation – the division of people based on superiority, and authoritarianism.
Although the principles of the far right were thought to have been condemned by Europe after the second World War, they seem to experience a certain renaissance today. Their revival is quite noticeable in the voting trends from the last couple of years: the Dutch Freedom Party with its central anti-Islam doctrine of Geert Wilders, is the third largest party in Netherlands’ parliament, the French National Front led by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter - Marin Le Pen, has won 15% of the votes in the last regional election (in comparison President Nicolas Sarkozy's party only managed 2% better); the far right Danish People’s Party has 25 seats in the Danish parliament; the Swedish Democrats took 5.7% of the vote in 2010; in Finland the True Finns party gained 1 in every 5 votes in April’s elections. We should also mention the Bulgarian contribution to the far right in Europe in the face of the Ataka party, which has also made it to the European Parliament
The far-right slogans, courting the voter, preach openly hatred against Islam and Muslims, immigrants, Jews, gay people, Eastern Europeans, globalisation, the European Union and the politics of open borders. The ground for the ideas of the radical right is quite favourable today, as a logical consequence of the financial crisis that brought tough budget cuts, high unemployment and economic difficulties. If we add up to that the natural fear from things that are foreign and unknown to us the story becomes quite grim: the immigrant will take your job and marry his son to your daughter (or vice versa) and you would have to pay for the social benefits of his large family and tolerate his veiled wife.
In this aspect, the sociological prognoses that after 50 years the European would be black and the war against Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism would still be on, give radical populism a great boost. It’s messages act like a magnet to the confused conservative voter, the young unemployed nationalist, the disappointed from the traditional left or right citizen, the ordinary European scared by Islamic fundamentalism and the different identity of the foreigner that does not match the framework white/European/heterosexual/Christian …
The exciting opportunity to deal radically with all Europe’s problems sneaks paradoxically (and quite logically prior election time) in the rhetoric of mainstream politics when the centre and the far-right seem to lovingly touch each other. French President Nicola Sarkozy has successfully upgraded his electoral rating as a result of his decision to expel the illegal Roma immigrants from France and started an effective campaign banning the Muslim women’s religious symbol – the burqa. The burqa has also been banned in Belgium. Another example of contradictory politics in Europe has been the decision of the Danish government, pressured by the far-right Danish People’s Party, to re-establish unilaterally its border controls, claiming formally that it’s a measure against organised crime.
Although being in a sort of schizophrenic conflict with the core values and politics of the EU for diversity, equal rights, open borders, integration and tolerance, the rhetoric of the far-right has suddenly become quite popular among the traditional parties. The focus has shifted to the foreigner as a potential threat to security, to the identity of ‘the other’ as a threat to national identity. Thus, instead of integration we talk about security, instead of multiculturalism we talk about the threat of terrorism, instead of tolerance our societies ban religious clothing. According to this, the declarations of the EU for unity, solidarity and democracy, as an example for the eurozone and the Arab Spring, sound rather preposterous and insincere.
EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Maelstrom, has opted for a more honest response on the subject stating that “sadly there are too few leaders today who stand up for diversity and for the importance of having open, democratic and tolerant societies where everybody is welcome.”
Paradoxically, the white terrorist in the face of Anders Breivik, has shown that the return of border controls won’t solve Europe’s problems. It won’t give Europeans neither a sense of security, nor a sense of belonging to the society. It won’t solve the moral dilemmas of the political leaders or the real problems of the ordinary citizens. Breivik is neither an immigrant, nor a Muslim or an Eastern European worker. Sadly he is a member of our society. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to build borders in order to defend ourselves. And there is no other way to protect our values except to stand firmly behind them. That would be the ultimate challenge for politicians who are ready to trade the open and free society for a couple of seats more in parliament. On the other side if we accept the borders, real or imagined, the re-built barriers of Schengen or simply the fear and hatred, each and every one of us would risk standing on the other side. Are we ready for that?