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The Fascist's Return to Power

by Martin A. Lee

about Jorg Haider
[Editor's note: In the first week of February 2000, the big news in Europe was the return to power of the fascists.

Dubbed the "black-blue" coalition, the Austrian equivalent of America's GOP (Österreichische Volkspartei, or Austrian People's Party) joined forces with the extreme right (Österreichische Freiheitliche Partei, or Austrian Freedom Party) to form a new government. It is the first time since WWII that any nation in Europe has had fascists in power.

Protesters filled the streets in Vienna and other Austrian cities, with 10,000 marching on February 3. (Photos accompaning the article were taken during those demonstrations by the Viennese anti-fascist group, Rosa Antifa.) Protests continued through the week, with another large demonstration on February 5 drawing about 5,000. Early reports charge police with clubbing peaceful demonstrators. (More information is available .) There were also large demonstrations in other European cities.

But as Martin Lee explains in the article below, neo-fascists have been steadily making inroads throughout Europe. We described other examples in the August 404 report, noting that the U.S. media has consistently ignored this important story.]

Austria's far-right Freedom Party, led by Jorg Haider, sent shock waves through Europe when it won 27 percent of the vote in national elections last October. As result, the misnamed Freedom Party is now a major force in the national governing coalition, despite Haider's penchant for making pro-Nazi remarks.

Switzerland's extremist right-wing People's Party, led by Christoph Blocher, also scored a major electoral breakthrough, winning 23 percent of the vote in recent elections. Blocher, like Haider, is a tub-thumping, xenophobic multimillionaire who rails against immigrants, government corruption and the European Union. Blocher caused a stir when he praised the author of a book that denied the Holocaust.

Austria and Switzerland are small countries with comparatively little influence on the world stage. But if such enthusiasm for the extreme right extended across the border into Germany, it would be a matter of grave concern for the entire international community. Currently, in economically depressed eastern Germany, an alarming 15 percent to 20 percent of young men vote for neo-fascist parties. "To say that one-third of East German youth is now prone to the extreme right is an understatement," warns Berlin criminologist Berndt Wagner. "The point of no return has already been reached for many. It's growing. It's getting worse."

"Neo-fascism and neo-Nazism are gaining ground in many countries, especially in Europe," says Maurice Glele-Ahanhanzo, special rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Of particular concern, Glele-Ahanhanzo noted in a recent report to the UN General Assembly, is the "increase in the power of the extreme right-wing parties," thriving in "an economic and social climate characterized by fear and despair." Among the key factors fueling the far right, according to the UN report, are "the combined effects of globalization, identity crises and social exclusion."

Radical right-wing populist movements with openly fascist roots have made significant inroads into mainstream politics in several West European countries, including Belgium, where the neo-fascist Vlaams Blok outpolls all rivals with 30 percent of the vote in Antwerp, the second-largest city. Far-right parties have also gained at least 15 percent nationwide in France, Italy and Norway. While this percentage may seem inconsequential in terms of the U.S. two-party system, it can carry great weight in parliamentary balloting and determine the political makeup of government.

The Fascist Response to Globalization
Even when they lose elections, neo-fascists are like a toxic chemical in the water supply of the European political landscape, polluting public discourse and pressuring establishment parties to adopt extremist positions to fend off challenges from the hard right. Scapegoating foreigners and ethnic minorities, ultra-right-wing demagogues have touched a raw nerve in a tumultuous post-Cold War world still reeling from the demise of Soviet-bloc communism, the reunification of Germany, global economic restructuring and major technological change.

In Western Europe today, there are 50 million poor, 18 million unemployed and 3 million homeless -- and Eastern Europe is faring much worse. Such conditions are ripe for exploitation by extreme-right organizations that range from tiny splinter groups and underground terrorist cells to sizable political parties. While skinhead gangs may function as shock troops of the far right's march through Europe, leaders of the more successful mass-based neo-fascist organizations have softened their image and tailored their message to appeal to mainstream voters.

Riding the crest of a populist backlash against globalization, far-right opportunists couple their anti-immigrant tirades with pointed criticisms of the European Union and the recent introduction of a single currency, the euro. They have gotten mileage out of exploiting justifiable qualms about the European Monetary Union, which they present as an attempt by Europe's big business to adapt to the needs of the new global economic order.

Full participation in the European Union required painful budgetary retrenchment by member states, which, for better or worse, relinquished authority on key fiscal matters to unelected central bankers in Frankfurt. The adoption of the euro and the globalization of financial markets, in general, have significantly limited the capacity of national governments to regulate their economies and redress high unemployment by adjusting their currencies and tweaking their interest rates.

Not surprisingly, voter turnout among Europeans has dropped precipitously, along with public confidence in elected representatives. Disenchantment with the conventional political spectrum is heightened by the failure of erstwhile left-of-center social democratic parties to offer an alternative agenda to rigid EU policy nostrums. This, in turn, has strengthened the hands of neo-fascists and other right-wing extremists who have successfully tapped into widespread resentment of unresponsive state governments.

President Bill Clinton has spoken about "the inexorable logic of globalization" that no country can escape. While economically driven, this phenomenon also has far-reaching social consequences. Global commerce acts as the great homogenizer, blurring indigenous differences and smothering contrasting ethnic traits. Consequently, many Europeans are fearful of losing not only their jobs, but their cultural and national identities. Where local traditions lose influence, individuals tend to become atomized psychologically and thus more susceptible to the lures of ultranationalists who manipulate deep-seated anxieties.

The much-ballyhooed new information technologies have created an environment conducive to financial speculation and the rapid growth of global commerce. Increasingly, the key players in the global economy are multinational corporations, transnational lobbies and elite trade associations, rather than popularly conscripted officials. These global forces have usurped many of the usual prerogatives of the nation-state, while also calling into question democratic notions of political power and representation.

Though free markets are supposed to guarantee maximum efficiency, they have instead magnified inequalities and hastened the breakdown of certain social structures, leading to instability, mass migration and ethnic strife. At the same time, the waning power of the nation-state has triggered a harsh ultranationalist reaction, as demonstrated by the surge of support for mass-based far-right parties in several European countries.

"There are in this world still decent people, who have character and who remain true to their beliefs despite the strongest headwind, and who remain true to their beliefs to this day." -- Haider addressing former Waffen SS members, 1995
Supporters of the EU have long argued that economic integration is a crucial step toward creating a political union, which, they hope, will end forever the scourge of pitiless nationalism that has ravaged the continent in the past. But just the opposite seems to be happening. As economic globalization has accelerated, producing definite winners and losers, so, too, has the momentum of neo-fascist and right-wing extremist organizations.

If anything, European integration is likely to foster the continued growth of radical right-wing parties. Burgeoning ultranationalist movements are collateral damage inflicted by unfettered globalization, which breeds the very monstrosities it purports to oppose. And the extreme right provides an alibi for globalization while revolting against it.

A product of democratic decay, radical right-wing populism and its current fascist manifestations, which vary from country to country, can only thrive in situations where social injustice is prevalent. Converging economic, political and social trends suggest that increasing numbers of people in the Western democracies will become vulnerable to the appeals of neo-fascists posing as national populists offering simple solutions to complex problems.

"It is becoming frighteningly evident that unspeakable evil can take the stage again," Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson declared at a recent conference on resurgent racism and neo-fascism in Europe. The ghastly miscarriage of free-market restructuring in much of the former Soviet bloc and the Third World, the abdication of the socialist left as a vehicle for discontent in Western Europe and the homogenizing juggernaut of transnational capitalism across the globe -- all are elements of a potent witches' brew that propels mainstream governance further and further into the politics of resentment.

Shortly before he died in 1987, Primo Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz, warned of the advent of "a new fascism . . . walking on tiptoe and calling itself by other names." This new fascism is a decidedly contemporary phenomenon that looks different in many ways from its antecedents. When Adolf Hitler came to power, he took the world by surprise. Those who remain fixated on images of the fascist past and neglect the growing dangers of the present may be taken by surprise again. *

Martin A. Lee Is the Author of "The Beast Reawakens," a book about the resurgence of fascism and right-wing extremism in the U.S. and Europe

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Albion Monitor February 3, 2000 (

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