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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

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How Japan is preparing for the great flood

Experts fear Tokyo’s flood defences are not enough to avoid calamity.

Just north of Tokyo, a network of gigantic subterranean cisterns, tunnels and industrial engines helps to protect the world’s largest metropolitan area from extreme flooding – the threat of which is rising because of climate change. The system’s five cylindrical shafts can each accommodate a space shuttle, and the main tank, known as “the temple”, is held up by rows of 500-tonne pillars. Built at a cost of $2bn in 2006, the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel sucks in water from swollen rivers and pumps it
out towards the ocean using the type of engines used in jet airliners.

The project has so far done its job in protecting the Tokyo area’s 38 million residents. But many experts fear the capital’s flood defences – which also include extensive underground reservoirs – are not enough to avoid calamity. Japan is being afflicted by ever stronger typhoons, and rainfall levels rise every year. In one river breach scenario, the government projects more than 6,000 deaths. “To be frank, these measures are not enough,” says Nobuyuki Tsuchiya, the former chief civil engineer of Tokyo’s flood-prone Edogawa ward.

Mayumi Ootani, who sells pots and pans and cigarettes from her shop, puts things more bluntly: “We’re living side-by-side with death.”

Calamitous flooding wrought by extreme weather is becoming an international menace, as shown last year in Texas, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. In Tokyo, the threat is even greater because the city is already so vulnerable to natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, typhoons and tsunami.

Swiss Re, a reinsurer, described Tokyo and neighbouring Yokohama as the world’s riskiest metropolitan area in a 2014 study, citing extreme flooding as one of the perils. The Japan Meteorological Agency blames climate change for a 30 per cent rise in rainfall measuring more than two inches per hour – in what is already one of the world’s wettest cities. In recent times, Tokyoites have also been beset by man-made perils, such as the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and North Korea’s recent threats to bring “nuclear clouds ” to Japan.

Such a confluence of worries might seem a recipe for mass-neurosis, or a flight to areas that do not lie on seismic or geopolitical fault lines. But  while Japan’s overall population declines due to low birth rates, Tokyo’s is still growing, with young people migrating from stagnant rural areas. Meanwhile, the city continues to build more and more skyscrapers – testament to Japan’s superlative earthquake-resistance technologies.

Even in the districts of Tokyo most at risk from floods and earthquakes, people tend to go about life with an optimism partly born of resignation. “I don’t go around worrying about it – if disaster comes, it comes,” says Toshio Miyata, who runs a tempura restaurant in a wood-framed home. “We Tokyoites don’t give a damn, whether it’s earthquake, fire or flooding. You can’t expect to fight with nature and win.”

Miyata runs his business in the Edogawa  ward – bordered and bisected by flood-prone rivers. It’s one of the areas that form what is known as the city’s shitamachi, or downtown, traditionally considered the authentic heart of Tokyo, where people are gruff, plain-spoken and on the hustle. It’s also the centre of so-called zero-metre zones that lie below sea level – and are doubly vulnerable because of the risk of inundation and buckling during quakes, a result of poor land quality. (One Edogawa resident described the ground beneath her home as “soft as tofu”.)

Yet it is precisely a centuries-old history of coping with disaster that explains how people here deal with the prospect, even likelihood, of natural calamity. “The consciousness that you may die in a natural disaster is something deeply-rooted among the Japanese,” says Kansai University disaster psychologist Tadahiro Motoyoshi. “There is a strong sense of the threat and the blessings of nature.”

Tsuchiya, the former Edogawa chief civil engineer, says these low-lying areas have been flooded at least 250 times in the past four centuries – causing countless deaths – but each time the survivors started over in the same place. Innovation came with the commitment to stay. Residents developed elevated structures called mizuya – literally “water houses” – where they could store necessities and escape to during flooding, as well as a sophisticated system of emergency boats that converted the submerged city into a floating one.

Engineering marvels such as the metropolitan discharge channel and a planned network of super-levees, more than 300 meters wide, are an extension of these early innovations.

Japan’s earthquake-resistance technologies also draw inspiration from the past. The Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest tower at 634 metres, completed in 2011, borrows from Japan’s traditional five-storey pagodas – which since medieval times have been resistant to the most powerful earthquakes. Skytree engineers adapted the pagoda’s central pole – called a shinbashira – that redistributes seismic vibrations to prevent collapse.

There is also a stock of resilience and community spirit that has managed to survive waves of rampant development and inward migration. Masanobu Namatame makes painted paper lanterns for traditional festivals. He squats on straw mats in his Edogawa workshop, carrying on a craft that has been handed down through generations. “The locals depend on me during festival time,” he says. “So I’m not thinking about running away.”

But the family business was not always in this location. During Namatame’s grandfather’s time it was in the more affluent Kojimachi district. Wartime air-raids that burned down the house forced the family to flee here with a few belongings on their backs.

“The bottom line is if some calamity happens you have to run,” says Namatame. “But until then you just stay put and get on with things.” 

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist