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Rise of the nationalists: a guide to Europe’s far-right parties

Ten political parties leading the far-right surge on the continent.

We are seeing a rise of far-right parties in mainstream European politics. Playing on scepticism about the European Union following the eurozone’s travails, and using racist rhetoric to exploit a migration crisis that has become difficult to contain, these parties are gaining voters in countries across the continent. Here is a guide to the top ten insurgent far-right groups – some new, some established – achieving the most electoral success in Europe:

Alternative für Deutschland

Germany’s AfD has gained representation in ten of the 16 German state parliaments since September 2016. Last year, anti-Islam policies replaced its Eurosceptic focus, the slogan “Islam is not a part of Germany” emerging from the party’s spring conference. Support has slipped in recent months: AfD is polling at 8 per cent and its leaders, Frauke Petry and Jörg Meuthen, are under pressure after a senior AfD politician made a speech urging Germany to stop atoning for Nazi crimes.


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Jobbik

The nationalist “Movement for a Better Hungary” held its position as the country’s third-largest party in the 2014 parliamentary elections and won a crucial by-election against the right-wing ruling party, Fidesz, a year later. Jobbik’s leader, Gábor Vona, 38, is trying to improve its image by repackaging it as a “people’s party”. It is still hindered by a reputation for anti-Semitism, which rests on its preoccupation with Hungarian ethnicity and hostility towards Israel.

Front National

The French party is enjoying a renaissance after a successful move to “detoxify” the brand under Marine Le Pen, the daughter of its first leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Polling at 26 per cent, Marine is expected to win the first round of voting for the presidential election on 23 April. Anti-immigration rhetoric brought the FN huge gains in the 2015 local elections – it came first in six of France’s 13 regions, beating the two main parties.

Golden Dawn

These Greek neo-fascists use Nazi-style symbolism and have expressed admiration for Hitler’s regime. Their leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos – who in 2012 called the gas chambers “a lie” – rejects the label “neo-Nazi”, preferring “Greek nationalist”. Exploiting the fallout of austerity and the migration crisis, Golden Dawn came third in Greece’s September 2015 election, winning 7 per cent of the vote. At that time, its spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who boasts a swastika tattoo, declared: “Golden Dawn is a movement of power; it is not a protest movement any more.”

Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs

Licking its wounds after narrowly losing Austria’s rerun presidential election to the Greens’ Alexander van der Bellen in December, the FPÖ is trying to secure its clout. Its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, travelled to Trump Tower to congratulate the new US president in January and had a meeting with Donald Trump’s then national security adviser, Mike Flynn. Accused of Nazi sympathies, the FPÖ is vocally anti-Islam. It holds 38 of the 183 seats on Austria’s National Council.

The Finns

The nationalist True Finns emerged from near-obscurity to become the third-largest party in Finland in 2011. “Revolution!” the press declared, as they won 39 of the 200 seats in parliament, adding 34 to their 2007 tally. But failing to work in coalition with governing parties condemned them to obscurity. Now known as The Finns, they returned strongly, becoming the second-largest party in parliament in 2015 and joining the current coalition. Led by Timo Soini, The Finns are Eurosceptic and anti-globalist.

Sweden Democrats

Having emerged from the white suprematist movement, the Sweden Democrats are the third-largest party in the Swedish Riksdag, with 49 seats and 12.9 per cent of the national vote. They work alone as an opposition party, because mainstream political groups refuse to co-operate with them. Their quiet and bespectacled leader, Jimmie Åkesson, 37, uses anti-immigrant rhetoric and has expressed admiration for Donald Trump. His party is polling second to the governing Social Democrats, at 21.5 per cent – on a par with the centre-right Moderate Party.

Danish People’s Party

The nativist Danish People’s Party became the second-largest party in Denmark in the 2015 general election, winning 21 per cent of the vote, up from 12 per cent in 2011. Rather than stay in opposition, it provides parliamentary support to the plurality of leading centre-right parties. Slick and soft-spoken, the DPP’s leader, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, has called for cuts to immigration from Muslim countries and withdrawal from the EU’s Schengen free-movement area. Its economic policies lean more to the left: it supports a strong welfare state.

Partij voor de Vrijheid

The Dutch nationalist, anti-Islam PVV experienced a rapid rise to power in 2006 when, as a relatively new movement, it gained a greater share of seats in the House of Representatives than other, more established parties. In 2012 it came third; at present, it has 12 MPs. Its leader and sole member is Geert Wilders, whose appetite for controversy and unconventional one-man route to popularity (see feature) prompted the Politico website to label him “the man who invented Trumpism”. Opinion polls put the PVV in the lead for the 15 March general election, narrowly in front of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie.

Lega Nord

Italy’s neo-fascists have enjoyed a bounce after slumping to a historic low of 4 per cent in the 2013 election for the lower house. But the party that used be a partner in Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition, winning 10.2 per cent of the vote in the 2009 European parliamentary elections, has been given new life by Matteo Salvini, 43, who became its leader in 2013. It has also proved adept at exploiting the migrant crisis, which has hit Italy hard, and it has been polling fourth among Italian parties (about 13 per cent) for much of this year.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The far right rises again

Gerald Wiener
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From the Kindertransport to Dolly the Sheep: a New Statesman subscriber's story

Gerald Wiener's life has now been turned into a biography. 

In 1997, Gerald Wiener, an animal geneticist, gathered with a group of friends in Edinburgh to celebrate the cloning of Dolly the sheep by one of his former colleagues. He was a respected scientist, who had contributed to the developments in research which led to this ground-breaking development – and a New Statesman reader.

It could have been very different. Gerald was born Horst, on 25 April 1926, to a German Jewish family. Raised in Berlin by his mother, Luise, he grew up under the shadow of the Nazi regime. He was forced out of his school, and left increasingly alone as friends and family fled to the United States and Britain. After Kristallnacht, when Nazis looted and vandalised Jewish-owned businesses, his mother was desperate for her son to escape. She managed to get him included in the last-ditch organised rescue of German Jewish children, which became known as the Kindertransport. At twelve, Wiener arrived in the UK, alone.

For many years, Wiener did not talk much about his past in Germany. Instead, he embraced a new life as a British schoolboy, and later travelled the world as a scientist. But when he met his second wife, the teacher and writer Margaret Dunlop, she began noting down some of his stories. Eventually she encouraged him to share so many details it has become a book: Goodbye Berlin: the biography of Gerald Wiener.

“I was moved by some of the stories, like his mother putting him on a train in Berlin,” Dunlop tells me when I call the couple at their home in Inverness. “I thought - what a terrible thing.”

“I rejected Germany totally for a long, long time,” Wiener, now 91, says. His mother, with whom he was reunited after she also managed to escape to Britain, threw herself into a wartime career as a nurse. “I had one friend from my school days in Berlin, and he was more like a sort of brother to me, but they also left Germany way behind.”

It was during this period of his life that Wiener first picked up a New Statesman. He spent the war years in Oxford, mentored by the Spooner cousins Rosemary and Ruth, related to William Spooner, who gave his name to the speech error.

Then, in the 1960s, his work took him to Germany, where he met fellow researchers. “They all detested the Hitler years,” he recalls. “I started feeling they are no different to me. I no longer felt bitter about Germany.” 

Still, the Nazis' atrocities had left Wiener almost completely without family. He lost his grandfather, aunt and uncle in the Holocaust. His paternal family fled to the United States. By the time Wiener found them again when taking up a fellowship to study in the US in 1956, his father, who survived the concentration camps, had died of a heart attack.

The next decades were spent patching his family together, and also reclaiming a connection to Germany. Wiener’s half brothers, who were born in Shanghai continue to visit. His American nephew, who works in the music industry, has a German girlfriend and lives in Berlin.

Wiener, too, went back to Berlin. In the early 1990s, the city invited former refugees to visit the city, all expenses paid. With some reservations, Wiener and Dunlop took up the offer. “It was quite exciting to go and see places that had been in my childhood,” he says. He also found the old people's home his grandfather had sought refuge in, before being taken by the Nazis.

Meanwhile, his career was taking him around the world, from India to North Korea. His belief in academic collaboration helped to build the momentum for the Roslin Institute, whose scientists eventually cloned the sheep known as Dolly. 

Wiener, who votes Liberal Democrat, wanted to remain in the EU, and he feels “very angry” that 48 per cent of voters have been ignored.

He adds: “I would be surprised if there was a single university or college who was in favour of Brexit.”

As for another of the great challenges of the present, the refugee crisis, Wiener feels a deep empathy for those living in wartorn regions. “Obviously I feel very, very sympathetic to refugees from more or less wherever,” he says. He sees the current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who acted decisively on this matter, as “a bit of a beacon”. At the same time, he believes that in order to fully integrate, refugees must make learning English a priority. “When I go down the street, and I hear people who still don’t speak English, that is the one thing that upsets me,” he says.

If Wiener, a successful scientist, is an example of how Britain can benefit by continuing to offer sanctuary to the world’s desperate, there is, however, a dark undertone to his integration. As a teenager, he knew there was no way back to the Berlin of his childhood. “There was no young generation,” he says of that time. “There was no future.”

Goodbye Berlin is published by Birlinn Books.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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