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Return of the Far Right

Global downturn drives new rise of ultra-con parties.

Mario Canseco 13 Mar

Mario Canseco is director of global studies at Angus Reid Global Monitor and writes the Trendwatch column for The Tyee.

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Islamist foe Geert Wilders, top of the Dutch heap.

Last month, the Party for Freedom (PvdV) climbed to the top of the political ladder in the Netherlands. If only for a few days, the far-right political organization could claim to be the most popular party in a Western European nation. Its leader, Geert Wilders, has been both praised and criticized for his views on Turkey's accession to the European Union (EU), the influence of Islam in Dutch life, and a controversial movie titled Fitna, which compares the Koran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.

For months, the Party for Freedom was regarded as nothing more than a fringe party. Staunchly nationalistic Dutch voters were supposed to back a movement called Proud of the Netherlands (ToN), which was founded by former immigration minister Rita Verdonk and aspired to play a role in a future coalition government. Now, as the Party for Freedom surpasses the governing Christian-Democratic Appeal (CDA), Proud of the Netherlands is at the bottom of the pack, tied with the Party for the Animals (PvdD).

The startling development in Dutch politics reminds political observers of the biggest success by a far-right party in Europe: Jean Marie Le Pen's participation in the second round of France's presidential election in 2002. Le Pen's platform was based on tying France's unemployment woes with multiculturalism, and was aided by the lacklustre effort of Socialist Party (PS) candidate Lionel Jospin. In the end, Jacques Chirac earned a new term, and Le Pen barely surpassed the 10 per cent mark in the 2007 ballot.

Now, the global economic slowdown is once again allowing some European parties to expedite calls for immigration controls.

On the attack in Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, the ultra-nationalist Ataka (Attack) party sits in fourth place on most voting intention surveys, with enough support to play a role in a coalition government later this year.

Still, Ataka leader Voden Siderov will not cooperate with the most popular party in the country, the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB). Siderov claims that GERB wants Bulgaria "to be a Latin American country with five per cent rich people and 90 per cent poor people."

Austria, which held a federal election last year, saw the re-birth of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO). During the campaign, FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache accused the governing Social-Democratic Party of Austria (SPO) of pandering to minorities, saying, "If you want an apartment, all you need is to be wearing a headscarf."

Norway, which will hold an election in September, could see a very close race between the governing centre-left three-party coalition and a prospective alliance that would encompass the Conservatives (H) and the far-right Progress Party (FrP).

FrP leader Siv Jensen has accused the current administration -- headed by Labour Party (DNA) leader Jens Stoltenberg -- of allowing Norway to undergo "a subtle islamification." Support for Jensen's party has grown at the expense of the Conservatives and the centre-right Christian People (KrF), but it might not be enough to force a change in government.

Hungary, where polls point to the end of Ferenc Gyurcsany's Socialist government as soon as an election takes place, the Movement For The Better Hungary (Jobbik) has ascended into third or fourth place in some surveys.

Jobbik has established a "Hungarian Guard" to defend the country "physically, morally and mentally." While a victory for the opposition Hungarian Citizens Party (Fidesz) is widely expected, the rise of Jobbik -- a right-wing party closely tied with a paramilitary organization -- will create concerns, particularly on issues such as the treatment of minorities.

Israel: Whacking 'wimps'

Outside Europe, other parties have also appealed for radical changes in immigration. Israel Our Home finished in third place in the most recent election to the Knesset, overtaking traditionally strong parties such as Labour and the International Organization of Torah-observant Sephardic Jews (Shas) and going from fringe to key ally.

Israel Our Home leader Avigdor Lieberman was, by far, the most outspoken leader of the campaign, referring to the sitting government -- which he briefly buttressed -- as "made up of wimps" and proposing to establish an oath that would force all residents, including Arabs, to declare their loyalty to "the Jewish state."

Other countries do not face similar scenarios. In Denmark, the Danish People's Party (DF) has lost ground, even in the face of scandals -- such as the Mohammed cartoon controversy -- that could have boosted its numbers.

The Sweden Democrats (SD) have flirted with the possibility of winning a seat in the legislature, but Swedish voters are not flocking to the party at this stage.

The British National Party (BNP) is committed to "reversing the tide of non-white immigration" to the United Kingdom. It has never elected a member of parliament, but saw its share of the vote go 47,000 voters in 2001 to more than 190,000 in 2005.

Hard-line Greens

Still, the most surprising twist to far-right policies came in Mexico. The Green Environmentalist Party (PVEM) has spent most of its campaign funds in billboard ads that call for the death penalty for people convicted of murder or kidnapping. This places Mexico's Greens as the only party in the world that advocates for both the preservation of animal life, and the elimination of human life.

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