Europe: A Renewal of Extremism?


by Didier Bertin

The French original of this article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Cahiers Bernard Lazare. This adapted English translation appears with the authorization of the author and permission of  Cahiers Bernard Lazare.

New names: VB, FPÖ , FN , PVV. new faces, but underlying factors and what they refer to remain unchanged. It is sometimes called NFR (new far right); the NFR has not done anything new and reflects deeply rooted convictions transmitted from generation to generation on soil that is fertile for them: Europe. There are extremists in the left wing and among the Greens but in case of crisis the far right attracts a significant number of people from many social classes including the workers. We will thus focus our analysis on extremism on the right wing and also — on European governments.

The failing memory of the European peoples is partly due to inadequate education systems and that failing memory generates extremism and a certain decline of civilization. It did not take long after the fall of Communism to see Eastern countries reconnecting with their ultranationalist and xenophobic traditions. The promotion of the duty of memory as a means to control these phenomena, which are part of a continuum, faces hurdles imposed by many governments for which perceived national prestige overrides objectivity and which are sometimes open to extremist influences.

The themes and objectives of extremist parties remain constant over time, but their communication fits current trends supplemented by nostalgia and the accenting of a nation’s darkest hours in a revisionist light. Some typical phenomena are:

  • ● Attacks against the political class to undermine democracy.
  • ● Cynical use of democracy to legitimize a populist wave, an accession to power to undermine it (today’s Hungary is a case in point).
  • ● Ultranationalism, stated plan to return to the values of the past, nostalgia for an imaginary golden age of the people and state, withdrawal and isolationism and their corollaries xenophobia and racism.
  • ● Antisemitism in its traditional form or with the mask of anti-Zionism, the two forms being the result of the same individual or collective pathology.

The use of economic crises, austerity applied by reference to a mechanistic conception of the economy and of a correlated deep anxiety is an old and successful recipe to wake up intolerance. However extremism can only live off the hatred of the other as so it grows also in rich countries such as Germany and Norway.

Extremism in the Eastern European countries does not even need economic crisis since it has a strong tradition whose main components are probably a caricature of Christianity and a poor education system. The force of habit is such that such antisemitic expression of extremism does not even require the presence of Jews.

Systematic disqualification of the political class by extremists bears fruit especially when it is partly proved. For example, the success of the Front National in France grows among others because of the absence of new economic policy which could meet the expectations and challenges and be a feasible alternative to the steps taken by the European Commission.

Extremism makes a significant use of hatred of immigrants and finds supporters even in the democratic parties of the right and left wings in this field; yet immigration can be accompanied by an efficient policy, an economic growth factor and moderation as a result of its favorable demographic effects, countering among other things the threat posed py pension systems of aging countries.

The far right and racism would certainly be strong without Islamism but the latter reinforces their propagation. Islamism and its terrorist component express intolerance and boost violence and wars. The conversion of the Arab Spring into the Islamist Winter was disappointing and showed that democracy is in danger when it integrates by suicidal tendencies.

Europe has experienced the abandonment of democracy to extremists with dramatic consequences but continues to tolerate the current Hungarian regime as part of itself.

In Latvia the memory of local Waffen SS is now honored with the authorization of the state and the participation of elected officials.

In Lithuania the swastika is now legalized, Communist symbols are banned, pro-Nazi parades are permitted in city centers on independence day, war criminals expelled from the United States have not been seriously prosecuted, the memory of the LAF militia that collaborated with the Nazis is glorified and Holocaust survivors have been subject to harassment and defamation by prosecutors.

In Poland, the figurines caricaturing a Jew holding gold coins are on sale in all souvenir stores and the books of Isaac Bashevis Singer are no longer published; extremism is largely represented by the second political party PiS of Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski in power until 2007 and associated with other extremists parties such as the LPR (League of Polish Families) and Samoobrona (Self-defense). PiS includes ultranationalists fighting Europe and abortion, supporting a backward form of Catholicism and a return to the death penalty and to the values of the past.

In Hungary in 2010 Viktor Orban with his Fidesz party won more than two thirds of the seats in parliament (263/386) with 52% of the vote and behaves as dictator. It contravenes the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and cancelled in a law the recognition of the uniqueness of the Holocaust. In 2011 Viktor Orban passed “the fundamental law of Hungary” which states that the Holy Crown, symbol of the constitution of the apostolic Kingdom, is also that of the continuity of the State; family, loyalty, faith, labor and Christianity are now the core values of the country. Hungary guarantees life from conception, allows discrimination based on sexual orientation and states that it is responsible for the fate of the populations of Hungarian origin outside the borders challenging consequently part of the Treaty of Trianon. The powers of the Constitutional Court were limited and many judges were forced to retire.

Yet there is a party more fanatical than Fidesz, the “Jobbik,” which refers to the dictator Miklos Horthy. It is openly antisemitic and anti-Roma and contests the whole Treaty of Trianon.

There is nothing new regarding the inconsistency of European countries that are reflected by that of the institutions of the European Union when it comes to excesses of the extremists.

European authorities are largely dominated by the right wing and appear to act in a one-sided manner. The European Parliament approved on September 23, 2008 a statement reminiscent of the Cold War and supportive of the Prague Declaration of 3 June 2008, which trivially equates Communism with Nazism as a matter of principle. The absolute and empirically incomparable horror of Nazism, the lot of its victims and the duty of memory are thus obfuscated. It seems that for a large part of the European right wing, the denunciation of Communism justifies all deviations with respect to the truth of the facts as the uniqueness of the Holocaust or the fact of the victory of the Red Army over Nazi Germany. Many Eastern countries led by Lithuania gradually succeeded in introducing into the European Union a new version of history in which the new perverse concept of double genocide predominates. We recall that 62. % of European Jews were exterminated and in addition the flight of survivors and their descendants from Europe was so significant that only 10.4 % (2007) of the Jewish population generally remains in Europe (8% in the EU) as compared to 59% in 1939.

The initiative of the State of Israel to inaugurate on June 25, 2012 the impressing “Monument of the Victory” in honor of that of the Red Army over Nazism is remarkable. The Israeli official commentary begins as follows: “The state of Israel and the Jewish people have a debt of gratitude to the Russian nation and the other nations of the former Soviet Union and to the Red Army forces for their sacrifices and bravery that brought the defeat of the Nazi enemy during the Second World War…” This honesty honors Israel.

European countries revel instead in ingratitude by ignoring in most memorials their debt to the Red Army and to the 27 million Soviet citizens who died during the Second World War.

In addition, a wave of “extremist” hostility from many European governments arises against circumcision with the support of the Council of Europe by its Resolution of 8 October 2013 and against Hallal and kosher meat. Ultimately it is the very presence of Jewish and Muslim communities and may be the public order that are both challenged in Europe by its authorities.

This extremist continuum of European States is rarely mentioned as a whole.

The very satisfactory Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which has force of law since 2009 is only partially applied or not at all by many Member States. Poland and the United Kingdom have requested and obtained paradoxically from the European Union exemptions. As regards the other member states, the European Commission is not able to compel them (as can be seen in Hungary) as every state can accept the interpretation it wants and in case of individual conflict the judgments of local courts predominate. The subsidiarity principle which restricts the actions of European institutions to those that member states cannot enforce and the principle of degressive proportionality which favors the least restrictive means for the member states, enabling the European Commission to feel relieved of its role as preserver of fundamental human rights.

Extremism in Europe is a continuum which is not always visible in its entirety and represents a real decline of civilization when it takes on significant proportions.

Extremism has nothing new to offer and has the same themes as isolationism, hatred of the other and the nostalgia of an imaginary golden age. Europe is proving to be fertile ground for extremism and its ideologues.

Economic crises, the culture of hatred, poor education systems and truncated historical narratives promote and cement the development of extremism.

The inconsistency of European states is an aggravating factor illustrated by the support or tolerance of extremist movements allowed to use democracy to harm democracy. In many Eastern European countries, extremism seems to be a longstanding tradition, while in the western European countries governments also take extremist positions by attacking the core values of the Jewish and Muslim communities and call de facto into question their presence on their territories.

The European Union does not really impose its Fundamental Rights and seems to be opened to revisionist projects at the expenses of the duty of memory to be based on the truth of facts.

A specialist in international economics and banking, Didier Bertin went on to focus on the defense of human rights and states’ respect for the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. He founded the Society for the Promotion of a New Model of Human Rights in Europe. He is dedicated to the defense of the memory of the Holocaust and the struggle against antisemitism.

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