From the May-June 2019 issue of News and Letters
by Gerry Emmett
Elections to the European Parliament will be held in late May. These elections will be a measure of the strength of the far right, racist anti-immigrant parties that have been gaining political power on the continent. Far right politicians like Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, French National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, and Hungarian President Viktor Orban have declared their intent to take power in the European Union.
These parliamentary elections have become an international issue in a way not previously seen in the EU. Increased attention has been paid to the results of national elections in the run-up to them. Here we have seen mixed results at best.
BETWEEN HOPE AND NIHILISM
Many have seen the victory of Zuzana Caputova in the Slovakian presidential election, Mar. 30, as a sign of hope. In her acceptance speech she addressed supporters in all the country’s main languages, Slovak, Hungarian, Ruthenian, and Roma. She promised to act as a reformer, and declared that “It is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest and gain the confidence of voters without aggressive vocabulary and personal attacks.”
This is significant in a country where the far right People’s Party—Our Slovakia commits violent attacks on Roma and immigrants, mainstreams neo-Nazi figures, and engages in Holocaust denial.
Caputova was helped by the widespread disgust at corruption under the previous social democratic government and mass protest following last year’s murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.
However, the election saw a very low voter turnout and the far right remains a threat.
BAD NEWS IN NETHERLANDS, FINLAND
In the Netherlands parliamentary elections held on March 20, the far right Forum for Democracy party won 13 Senate seats, the most of any of the parties represented. The party is led by former academic Thierry Baudet, an admirer of Trump, Putin, Le Pen and other standard-bearers of today’s reaction. But Baudet also doesn’t hesitate to quote Hegel or to lament, “We stand in the rubble of what was once the most beautiful civilization.”
Many see this pseudo-intellectualism as a joke, but it is more than that. It is a reminder that much far right thinking is fueled by nostalgia for a past of colonialism and plunder that has always coexisted with Europe’s high culture. It is a reminder that this historic moment calls for judgment in historic depth as well as continental breadth.
In Finland’s April 14 parliamentary election, the far right Finns Party shocked observers by winning 39 seats, their best showing ever, and becoming the second largest party in Parliament.
The Finns Party combines the usual far right hatred of immigration and modern culture with a pseudo-Left policy of welfare chauvinism that has attracted voters from leftist parties. The Netherlands and Finland elections could bode ill for the coming EU elections.
THE NEEDED MASS OPPOSITION
The future of civilization won’t be decided through bourgeois electoralism. The most significant opposition to the rise of Trump in the U.S. has been the massive Women’s Marches, the airport takeovers in opposition to his anti-Muslim law, the huge demonstrations against his policy of taking immigrant children from their parents at the border, and the workers’ actions during his government shutdown.
This kind of mass opposition has yet to be seen on Europe’s streets. Lacking that, it is important to deliver the largest possible electoral defeat to the far right this May.