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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 student survivors of the Florida school shooting are using social media to demand change

“As teenagers, we know how to use social media and we know how to take advantage of it.”

Before 14 February 2018, Delaney Tarr used Twitter to share pictures of dogs, screenshots from her favourite Netflix shows and drawings by artists she admired. After a gunman murdered 14 of her classmates and three of her teachers at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the 17-year-old's online presence changed. Since then, her Twitter profile has been made up of moving tributes to her dead classmates, strongly worded arguments with Fox News presenters, and a hashtag: #NeverAgain.

“When the tragedy happened, we realised that this was how we were going to reach as many people as possible,” Tarr told me when we spoke on the phone.

“Even if you look at the current president of the United States, he uses Twitter in a way that is unprecedented. And as teenagers, we know how to use social media and we know how to take advantage of it.”

Tarr is one of hundreds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School students using Twitter to make their voices heard. As well as #NeverAgain, they have set up crowdfunding pages to pay for marches and memorials and organised a national school walkout day (planned for 20 April).

During the attack, many students tweeted about what was unfolding in real time – with 14-year-old Aidan Minoff posting pictures from underneath the desk where he was hiding. “My school is being shot up and I am locked inside. I’m fucking scared right now,” he wrote in a tweet shared more than 20,000 times. Many more students uploaded videos of the shooting to the messaging app Snapchat.

In a tweet (since deleted) sent on the day of the attack, right-wing pundit Mark Dice criticised the students. “Someone tell Generation Z kids that in the event of a school shooting, they should call 911 instead of posting video of it on Snapchat,” he wrote.

This ridiculous comment was informed by the assumption that social media is inherently frivolous. It isn’t. “I’ve seen all the criticism and I’ve seen some valid points saying that it is too sensitive to see those videos,” Delaney Tarr said, referring to Snapchat clips showing bodies on the floor, pools of blood, and students cowering in fear. “But, ultimately, they’re giving you an experience that nobody has had before.

“You’re hearing the gunshots that we heard, you’re seeing the blood that we had to see. It is something that will haunt you just as it is haunting all of us.”

Nikhita Nookala is a 17-year-old MSD student who tweeted from her hiding place: “im in a closet”. “It was the only thing I could do at the time,” she told me over email. Along with her terrified peers, she received frequent Snapchat updates from her friends elsewhere in the school. “Images were the only thing that we had as proof that our friends were safe,” she told me. “And now those same images can be used as evidence in court against the man that killed our friends.” On the day of the shooting, Nookala also sent a tweet to Donald Trump. “Why was a student able to terrorize my school mr president,” she wrote in reply to Trump’s message offering “condolences” to the victims.

More than 660,000 people have seen her tweet, while five million watched an online video of a SWAT team evacuating a classroom at the school, posted online by a pupil’s sister. In it, one child’s hands can be seen trembling uncontrollably. Will any of this make a difference to America’s gun control debate? “Ultimately, I think people are more willing to change when they can see the damage that has been done,” Delaney Tarr said. Nikhita Nookala agreed: “Having our voices heard is the most important thing we can do right now.”

Snapchat videos will undoubtedly provoke emotions in a way that the traditional media cannot. But some of the posts are hugely affecting not only because they show bloodied bodies, but because they remind us the victims are children, using emojis to illustrate their pain.

“My teacher died,” reads part of a text message exchange between two brothers trapped in the school. One brother screenshotted the texts and gained 150,000 retweets when he later shared them on Twitter. “Don’t do anything,” one brother wrote to the other. Then: “Don’t DO ANYTHING”. After getting no reply, he sent another message: “You understand?”. Then another. “Matthew.” Another: “Please answer me.”

To read these texts is to feel the moment-by-moment agony of the students. This wouldn’t be possible without the mobile phones that allowed them to communicate and, later, to share their fraught exchanges.

It could be argued that these messages were too raw and personal to share widely, manifestations of a society obsessed with personal revelation and putting everything online. I disagree: sharing these texts is an inspirational act that allows the entire world to feel the students’ pain.

On 24 November 2017, thousands of people were caught in a moment of collective panic at Oxford Circus in the West End of London. The Tube station was evacuated and police swarmed the streets in response to what turned out to be a false terror alarm. My boyfriend’s offices are located just off Oxford Circus; we used Facebook Messenger to stay in contact during the chaos. Because I didn’t share our exchanges on social media, they are ours alone. But by taking their most intimate messages and posting them online, the Florida high school students can shock us out of our usual desensitised response to all-too-common American mass shootings.

“We’re not going to be quieted,” Delaney Tarr said, explaining that Twitter will give students such as her a voice after the news cycle has moved on from the latest act of gun violence. “We’re not going to be silent. We’re going to keep fighting for this until there is some change.” 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia