The dangerous trend in the contemporary world is the resurgence of the far-right as a political alternative to the conventional left and right. The European far-right today is no longer represented by the likes of Himmler or Goebbels, who were physically unattractive, or social outcasts. Nor they wander around the streets, dressed in military-like uniforms.
While the ones who use hyper-nationalistic rhetoric to agitate people should be held responsible, it is more important to identify and understand the people that support them. The media has been heavily focusing on the possible negative consequences of the Brexit since the referendum. But what’s more urgent is to focus on finding what have led a significant number of Europeans to at least have empathy for their opinion.
The far-right in Germany is no longer a social club of the agitated skinheads with grotesque tattoos and leather outfit. Rather, its ranks are comprised of “hipsters” and the leader who appears charming, approachable, and well-dressed.
DW, a German news agency, has expressed concern about a notable figure in the German far-right. National Democratic Party (NPD) leader Frank Franz often shows up in public, dressed like a model on the front page of Esquire. Under his leadership, NPD has adopted the “Symbols of the left” including fashion items like “Trendy sneakers” and the Guy Fawkes mask. NPD puts a great effort in capturing the dialogue of the contemporary German youth, using it to disguise its true nature.
A paper recently published by Atlantic Council expresses deep concern about the rampant widespread of fascism across Europe. The paper points out that the European far-right is gaining support as they have successfully rebranded themselves. The paper points out that the far right has “shifted from using openly racist and xenophobic rhetoric to promoting a civic liberal tradition, which they have effectively recast along national lines.”
The resurgence of far-right nationalism in East- Central Europe cannot be ignored either. A documentary by Al Jazeera illustrates the Law and Justice Party and the Polish far-right becoming fond of using rhetoric about uniting and fighting against the common enemy. Their common enemy is hostile neighboring states such as Russia, and foreigners—especially the refugees.
Of course, the Brexit is the most serious issue yet. In contrary to what many had predicted, the people of United Kingdom has decided to leave the EU. It is clear that the argument of the “Leave”, based on emotion and nationalist ideology, was far stronger than what many had anticipated. The star politicians like Boris Johnson portrays it as the victory of the patriotic people. But it is also a victory for the European far-right.
The resurgence of the European far-right is no surprise to anyone who has a keen interest in European affairs. As much as I want to condemn far-right politicians who rely on dangerous dialogue to gain support and those who are at the top of the European social pyramid, hiding in the dark while enjoying all the privileges, I want to emphasize on the people’s grievance that has led to this unexpected outcome.
It is easy to predict that the grievances had arisen from Britain’s tough economy and the negative attitude towards the immigrants. The British blue collar has long feared losing their jobs to the immigrants. While the argument is not completely free from xenophobia, what is more important is assessing the people’s grievances with facts and common sense, not emotion and prejudice.
Furthermore, it is important to assess whether the European economy under EU has done enough to accommodate the interest of those who has not earned a fair share of economic pie from EU.
Observing the success of the European far-right reminds me of a famous Chinese phrase “Xu xu, shi shi (虛虛實實).” It roughly translates into English as “Difficult to tell if it is real or sham.” Truly, there are times when something appears different than what it is. I fear that the argument behind “Leave” is one of the instances.
Europe is the birthplace of many ideas that built the modern world. It would be a shame if contemporary Europeans fail to live up to the ideals of their great ancestors. I hope, from now on, Europeans make decisions with logic and common sense. Only then they know what is truly good for themselves and their next generation.
Elliot Cho is former Junior Research Fellow at NATO Association of Canada and is a member of the Saskatoon branch of the Canadian International Council