Migrant crisis and far-right: Tensions and violence rising

We have seen this case when hundreds of masked men marching and reportedly beat migrants in Stockholm. Is it possible the we are moving towards a new phase when extremists will plan quite massive attacks on migrants, and even if not, it seems that the risk of further radicalization of some right-wing groups and perhaps also some cooperation among them is amid migrant crisis quite high, isn’t it? Read few comments.

Roman GerodimosSenior Lecturer in Global Current Affairs, The Media School, Bournemouth University

There seems to be an escalation of incidents and attacks against refugees, not just in Sweden, but also in other countries. This is something that European and national authorities have to take seriously as it appears to be not just an isolated or one-off phenomenon but a broader shift in public mood, especially after various sexual assault incidents. It goes without saying that the huge majority of refugees are completely well-intentioned and that, equally, big majorities in European states want to provide them with a safe haven and the best conditions possible. However, the authorities in Europe have to act decisively to tackle extremist or violent incidents emerging from both communities. At the same time there has to be a discussion about the social cohesion strategy of the EU, leading to some initiatives that will facilitate the assimilation of refugees and immigrants in their new communities. These policies have to be compulsory and quite extensive so as to ensure that incoming refugees are aware of the laws and values of their new home country, but also that these countries’ citizens understand what these refugees have gone through.

Caterina Froio, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre d’Etudes Européennes of Sciences Po Paris (CEE-CNRS)

Your question is interesting, because it addresses one of the reasons why 2015 will not be remembered as a golden year for the EU. With the eurocrisis still in the background, Europe has experienced terrorist attacks, unprecedented refugees’ crisis and the re-emergence of borders’ controls that most Europeans had forgotten. These events challenge the European Union and more broadly the European model of liberal democracy as rarely before. In this context, it is important to think about the meaning and the forms of racist and xenophobic radicalization vis à vis minorities in general, and vis à vis migrants in particular. This step is necessary to understand whether the Union and its member states are able to offer an alternative to the one proposed by the Hungarian PM, Orban, at the last European People’s Party (EPP) convention in Madrid, when he equated migrants to “an army” that each country should defeat to preserve its identity.

In order to address your question, I think it is important to shed light on two major dimensions. On the one hand, the question of what fuels attacks on migrants by extremists. On the other, the question of the (possible) transitional cooperation between extremists. To begin with, it is important to define what we mean by extremists and what motivates them in order to avoid cheap simplifications. Extremists in this case are either lonely wolves that mobilize individually out of hunger and relative deprivation feelings, but also individuals belonging to far-right organizations, socialized to identitarian arguments through these types of networks. What the two types share is an identitarian vision of society based on an “us-them” interpretation in which the “other” is demonized. It is important to highlight that the “others” or the “outgroups” (like the “us” or ingroups) are social construct, or as Benedict Anderson wrote, “imagined”. In this sense, while extremists may refer to existing groups (such as Muslims in France) the characteristics of these groups will be stereotyped and constructed. The classic enemy for far right extremists are migrant and non-migrant ethnic minorities and this is nothing new. Yet, after the Paris attacks (both in January and in November 2015), islamophobia has become a form of prejudice very shared among extreme right movements and radical right parties in Europe. In addition to classic nativist and communitarian arguments, after 9/11, in the islamophobic discourse of far right organizations the “enemy” is feared because of its numbers and Islam is essentialized and reduced to a fundamentalist, imperialist, religious ideology. This fear for the “numbers” is nourished by the ongoing waves of refugees escaping from wars in Syria and other parts of the Middle East. The ghost of the ethnic and cultural “invasion” is a key element in motivating radicalization both in the discourses and in the practices of far right organizations. The fact that these fears are often echoed in the discourse of mainstream parties and translated in extraordinary securitarian policies (like increasing border controls, but also to a lesser extent harsher police controls on individuals in public transportation) fuels resentment and creates a fertile ground for extremist propaganda and mobilization. In this context, far right organizations are in the position of the “prophets” in the eyes of most individuals, activists and voters. Luckily, however, important sections of the population still oppose these views, as the results of the recent French regional elections (after the November attacks in Paris!) have shown.

Concerning the international cooperation of far right organizations and activists, here as well we should not oversimplify. If most far right organizations yearn for establishing supranational links, the “dark international” is still more an argument for conspiracy theories rather than a fact. This is true both for radical right parties and for extreme right movements. If we look at the results of the last European Parliamentary elections, we see that despite the increase of votes for certain parties (in particular the Front National, UKIP and the Danish People’s party) these do not operate in the EU parliament as a coherent group. Often, radical right parties join different euro-groups such as the European Reformists and Conservatives (ECR), the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD)/ Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), Independence/Democracy (ID), Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN). Sometimes they also change allies, like the Italian Lega Nord (LN), which belonged to the ID in 2004, the UEN in 2009, and the ENF in 2014. If one wants to find “transnational patterns” in radical right mobilization, I think that it would make sense to consider these as ad hoc cases of personal and political cooperation between different party leaders (such is the case for example of the leaders of the Front National, Marine Le Pen, and of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini). These interactions are likely to function as exchanges of expertise and ideas from one successful party to the other and vice versa, but also from a party that has been in government and earned a government expertise (like the LN) to a party that is avid to get in government (like the FN). If we move on the other side of the far right scene, the one of extreme right social movements, we see that the scenario is not too different. Despite a certain number of demonstrations joined by different far right movements in Europe (one of the most recent has been hold in the suburbs of Paris in November 2015), despite the existence of local antennas of certain extreme right movements (like PEGIDA that quickly diffused from Germany to France, but also the Bloc Identitaire existing now in France and in Austria), despite the existence of very few international programs lead by far right movements abroad (like the project in support of the Karens in Birmania by the Italian neofascist movement CasaPound) there is nothing like a “dark international”. In these cases as well events and the creation of local sections often results from personal exchanges between activists and not from established and structured partnerships between organizations. If far right movements look for internationalization like all other political actors in globalizing times, according to me it is still hard to speak about increasing cooperation between right wing groups and activists.

Matthew Feldman, Professor in Contemporary History, Teesside University

If it does turn out to be neo-Nazis it would mark a disturbing case of massive, targeted violence by the revolutionary right. But first of all, it is important not to speculate about this incident until we know more, including whether or not it’s a ‘one-off’, disturbing as the footage and reports appear to be.

Broadly speaking, interconnections between radical right groups have been close and wide-ranging for some time now. To be sure, anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe and elsewhere has formed a backdrop to far-right politics in recent years. Anti-Muslim prejudice is one issue that far-right populists, radical right ideologues and out-and-out neo-Nazis can all agree on – and that has been a trend identified by several academics of late. Just how this will effect refugees fleeing from war and Deash-sponsored tyranny remains to be seen – I’m an historian, after all – even if rejection of prejudice remains a European value I don’t think should be discounted either.



One Response

  1. So far, these have been mostly migrants that planned massive attacks on Europeans.

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