Ferment on Europe's right

SUN JOURNAL

Politics: Xenophobia and nationalism form much of the ideological backbone of the ultraconservatives.

May 03, 2002|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

When French voters gave a nod of sorts last month to an anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant geriatric, most of Europe reacted with a mix of indignation and anger.

The French had decided to make 73-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen, who once referred to the Holocaust as a "detail of history," one of two finalists in their presidential race. The other is Jacques Chirac, who has been mired in allegations of corruption. The two will face each other in a runoff Sunday.

Le Pen's victory was certainly a surprise. But it should not have been inconceivable. Throughout Europe, far-right political parties have been bubbling for years just below the political surface, at times inflating with influence, at times dividing or imploding.

The conditions for Le Pen just happened to be such that his bubble rose to the surface.

Europe's far-right parties, like mainstream parties, tailor their message depending on the locale of the fight, but they share elements. Chief among them is a near-militant anti-immigrant stance and a fierce nationalism fostered in part by the formation of the European Union.

Gamblers would be hard-pressed to find anybody picking Le Pen to win Sunday's election, but the point of such parties usually is to influence rather than rule, and in that sense, Le Pen has achieved victory.

Here is a synopsis of other far-right parties in Europe.

Austria

Joerg Haider and his far-right Freedom Party have been the most successful of their ilk in Europe. Staunchly anti-immigrant and overtly anti-Semitic, Haider and his party won 27 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in 1999. He has praised Hitler's policies and referred to SS veterans as "men of honor." Although polls say the party's support has eroded, that is largely because of internal divisions and its being part of the ruling coalition.

Britain

The British National Party's influence is minimal, but it has been making inroads among the working class in the industrial north, the site of riots between white and South Asian youths last summer. The party opposes multiculturalism and wants an end to immigration. Prime Minister Tony Blair recently urged voters to shun the party altogether, even if it means voting for his rivals in the Conservative Party.

Belgium

The Vlaams Blok, or Flemish Bloc, has gained influence largely with its views against immigration, as significant an issue in Belgium as anywhere in Europe. The party, accused of being overtly anti-Semitic and quietly in sympathy with Hitler's Germany, champions independence for Belgium's Dutch-speaking northern half. The party is the largest in Antwerp, the nation's second-largest city, and overall holds 15 percent of the seats in the Flemish parliament.

Denmark

The People's Party, led by Pia Kjaersgaard, has likened the inflow of immigrants to an invasion. In elections in November, it doubled its vote and won 22 seats - making it the third-largest party in the 179-seat parliament. It is the main far-right party in Denmark and considered less extreme than the Progress Party, from which it broke away. The Progress Party, which once called for all Muslims to be expelled from Denmark, has lost influence.

Germany

The National Democratic Party has espoused neo-Nazi ideology that the government has linked to violence against Jews and foreigners. The government is trying to ban the party as it has banned dozens of far-right groups over the past several years. The party carries no electoral significance.

Italy

Umberto Bossi leads Italy's Northern League, which once called for independence for the northern part of the country and for tight clamps on immigration. Now a member of the coalition government, Bossi has urged lawmakers to deport jobless immigrants. The National Alliance is Italy's other far-right party, directly descending from Mussolini's Fascist party. The percentage of the vote each party received decreased significantly last year compared with the previous election, in 1995.

Netherlands

Leefbaar Nederland, or Livable Netherlands, focused its early efforts on Rotterdam, the Netherlands' second-largest city. Quite unexpectedly, the party, founded by Pim Fortuyn, a former columnist, won 35 percent of the vote for city council seats. It hopes to parlay that success on the national level, with indications that it could take up to 20 seats in the national election May 15. The party is fiercely anti-immigrant but denies it is riding a wave connected to Le Pen.

Norway

As is common in European politics, the Party of Progress has been defined as far-right primarily because of its harsh stance on immigration. Carl I. Hagen, the party's leader, said Le Pen's place on the ballot was an understandable result of soft immigration policies. The Party of Progress won 25 seats in the 165-seat parliament in 1997 and won the same number in last year's election.

Switzerland

In 1999, the People's Party, led by Christoph Blocher, became the second-strongest political force in the country, with nearly a quarter of the vote. Similar to Norway's Party of Progress, the People's Party would most likely be considered staunchly conservative rather than far-right, save for its stance on immigration.

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