Creeping Threat Of Far-Right Extremism Growing Worldwide
The recent presidential election in Austria was decided on postal ballots after Nobert Hofer earned 51.9 percent of the vote against 48.1 percent earned by his opponent Alexander Van der Bellen. A European election for a mostly ceremonial position would often go mostly unnoticed by it captured headlines as Austria came dangerously close to elected an extreme-right leader, who, in a televised debate ahead of the election warned that he would push the powers of the presidency beyond what had been seen in the past:
“You will be surprised what can be done [by a president],”
Though political power in Austria lies with the Chancellor, the president holds the power to dissolve parliament and force new elections.
The FPÖ is a euroskeptic, anti-immigrant party that has had a complicated history with Austria’s Nazi past, a past that the country has long had difficulties confronting. As noted by Time in the obituary of, Joerg Haider, one of the party’s former figures had a bad habit of defending the country’s atrocities during the Second World War:
“he also repeatedly hinted that Hitler was not all bad: at one point he said that the Waffen S.S., the unit implicated in some of the worst crimes of the Holocaust, was ‘part of the Wehrmacht (German Army) and thus deserves all the honor and respect of the army in public life.'”
With the two candidates separated by a narrow margin of only around one hundred and forty-four thousand votes tensions were high as postal ballots were counted to see if Hofer would become the first democratically elected far-right head of state in the European Union. After the postal votes were counted Van der Bellen was declared the winner by a margin of thirty thousand votes. While some of Hofer’s supporters made accusations of fraud the candidate conceded and urged his followers to accept the results. The new president Van der Bellen is an independent back by the Greens with more progressive views than his opponent on issues like immigration and gay marriage, but both candidates indicated that they will oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement between Europe and North America.
Voting Far-Right: Preference Or Protest?
Hofer’s fiery rhetoric about putting “Austria First” and anti-immigrant vitriol earned him unfavourable comparisons with America’s presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. Like Trump, Hofer and his party were not taken seriously enough by the mainstream prior to his surprise success. While Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern insisted that his government would respond to the disturbing results appropriately, at press conference he dismissed the idea that the country was divided over immigration:
“Austria is still a country that has taken 90,000 refugees, and where burning refugee homes and Pegida [movement] are only marginal phenomena. There are no reasons to speak of a split [in the country]
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As Political analyst Gerhard Mangott suggested to RT that the result may have been more about protesting the mainstream than supporting the far-right as the two centrist parties, The Social Democratic and People’s Party, are seen as the establishment and voters find little to differentiate them:
“It was […] a vote against the establishment. People are fed up with the current government that is not able to deal with the economic crisis in the country. It was a socially-motivated protest against the government.”
This alternate take on the extreme-right’s hold across Europe, may hold some lessons for Americans. While extreme-right parties like the FPÖ in Austria and Front National in France have taken advantage of anti-immigrant sentiment, successes on the left suggest a more nuanced reality. In Italy the extreme-right Lega Nord has shown decreasing support and earlier in the year Spain’s anti-austerity Podemos, which is similar to the Occupy movement became a major political player. The idea that many voters are just tired of mainstream parties will ring true for so many Americans. As Trump has already sewn up the Republican nomination and Bernie Sanders continues to battle hard against Hilary Clinton in the Democratic primary race it looks like Americans might be having similar feelings to their European counterparts. As voters around the globe protest the homogeneity of the establishment on both the left and the right with their votes, will they continue to flirt with extremes? What consequences might their be in the next vote.
Featured image by by Jan Hetfleisch/Getty Images.
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