As Hope Not Hate unveil the connections to the English far-right, we look at where Breivik came from. By Kate Higgins
The shocking and tragic events in Norway bring home in stark relief the dangers inherent in extremism. With at least 93 people killed – most of them young, some of them infants – in a bomb blast and a mass shooting, this is the worst terror attack in Western Europe since the Madrid trains were bombed in 2004, killing 191. Two days on, a picture of the gunman and his motivation are beginning to emerge but early reports on Saturday left police and everyone else puzzled. *He came out of nowhere* said one. Indications are that he has far-right beliefs, has expressed anti-Muslim and Christian fundamentalist views, but has no established links with the known far right movement in Norway.
But he didn’t come out of nowhere. He came out of a Europe that is fast becoming intolerant, illiberal, extremist and which is moving ever rightwards.
Perhaps the single most troubling observation from a recent trip to the European Parliament in Strasbourg – shared by fellow blogger Malcolm Harvey – was how the mood and the tone of interaction has shifted. A debate on admitting Hungary and Roumania to the Schengen agreement, allowing both countries freedom of movement of their peoples, was characterised by xenophobic and racist comments and opinions. Such utterances came not just from the usual suspects, the ragbag of far right MEPs from around the continent and anti-European members from parties such as UKIP, but also from far more mainstream parties on the right and the left.
We were taken aback by the forthrightness, having been used in the UK to a much more sanitised form of political debate, particularly in the Scottish Parliament where members tend to say what is least likely to get them into trouble and rarely ever say directly what they mean. And we were shocked at the content, containing sentiments and insults being hurled at fellow members’ states and their peoples – and being allowed to be said.
Having visited Europe on many occasions previously, I came away from this trip perturbed and unsettled, for I had witnessed a very different Europe taking shape, thanks in no small part to the electoral drift rightwards in member state elections, that is resulting in many mainstream parties being pushed into coalitions with right wing partners. Most governments in Europe’s 27 member states are now on the right.
The impact of this is playing out in some very obvious ways. First, patriotic hardline politics is the order of the day at European level, for it gives states and members an appropriate and indeed, safe stage on which to play out such tendencies. Those on the right are jostling to be seen as tough and credible (sic) on the kinds of dog-whistle issues that at home, in times of austerity, are promoted by the far-right and find favour with a hard-pressed populace. Moreover, many mainstream parties are being pushed into coalitions at home with right wing partners, resulting in big shifts in policy on core European issues. As Claude Moraes, the Labour MEP, puts it: ”In this “age of austerity”, when most European governments are on the centre-right, there is a persistent danger of populist or “patriotic” policies being enacted to maintain governing coalitions, often with far-right groupings. This is not just an issue for eastern Europe.”
Thus, Denmark has re-instated border controls on the entry and exit of people, effectively as a sop by Venstre, the dominant Liberal Party and its erstwhile coalition partners Det Konservative Folkeparti, to the continued rise of the rightwing populists, Dansk Folkeparti. In Hungary, the rightwing government has enacted oppressive media laws. In Sweden and the Netherlands, the far right has secured parliamentary representation and an element of mainstream-ism that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. In France, President Sarkozy’s tough stance on the removal of Roma can be viewed as a reaction to the re-emergence of the French National Front under the charismatic leadership of Jen-Marie Le Pen’s daughter.
Indeed, all across Europe, Roma peoples and communities continue to be the convenient whipping boy and bogeyman for governments of all stripes, but like some kind of perverse barometer of intolerance, it is clear that xenophobic attacks and actions against them are on the rise.
Such right wing activity is threatening fundamental European policies and principles, Schengen, designed to enable the free movement of people, though the UK never signed up, being one of the more obvious ones.
The rise of the right is making Europe less cohesive, less interdependent and more nationalistic. Many of the states that signed up in recent years secured the support of their populations by promising riches in the form of economic aid. Some of the nascent nations were lured by the prospect of investment and grants to help cement their development. But their joining coincided with a very different economic situation and outlook. Hitherto expansive budgets for the likes of the regional development and social funds have become much more limited. We have seen this impact on Scotland, partly because our wealth is now relative to the poorer states, particularly in Eastern Europe, but simply also because there is less money available and more states upon which to spend it.
Restless citizens suspect being bowled a googlie – joining up to the EU and the Euro is now less economically meaningful, so political parties are seeking opportunities which continue to sell EU membership and have turned the European stage into a politically charged one, where patriotism is top of the bill and pantomime baddies are sought. Roma people are one such, Russia – the big bear with whom so many of these states share an unfortunate history – is another. Relations between the European Union and Russia are at a low ebb, for a host of complex reasons, but there is no doubt the nationalistic leanings of member states’ right of centre governments applies grit to the oil in the machine. Consequently, Brussels and Strasbourg host a considerable amount of huffing and puffing about perceived and actual wrongs for the benefit of audiences back home.
The politics of fear permeates the Union, not least because of the Eurozone mess and the threat of defaulting and bankrupt nations. Scared that economic meltdown might be contagious – and it could be – politicians become less expansive and inclusive, more closed and insular. The rise of the right is a very unvirtual circle – people swing away from incumbent governments (mainly left wing or left of centre), the right plays the austerity card rather well and takes up their places in European negotiations promoting only narrow self-interest, while economic uncertainty continues to enable the right to play its winning cards of patriotism, intolerance, and scapegoat hunting.
Fuelled by the leanings of governments or simply as a convenient distraction, it is no coincidence that the Parliamentary agenda is dominated by justice and civil liberties issues and measures these days. It all makes meaningful discourse and engagement between left of centre, green and civic nationalist groupings much more urgent and necessary. Fortunately, there is good work done daily by some very good people, particularly in this policy area. On the international stage at least, this might be one time when we really are all better off together.
But the dream of a closer political and economic union seems rather fanciful right now. As long as the right continues to dominate in domestic politics, and the extreme right continues to gain a foothold, then the more partisan, intolerant and strident engagement on all stages will be, and sadly, extremism might become mainstream and more commonplace. ‘Out of nowhere’ could turn out to be from everywhere.