1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Project: Racism and Public Policy

Abstract of Paper by Hajo Funke

  • Project from: 2000 to 2001

Anti-Racist Movements, Political Parties and Public Policies in Europe
The resurgence of xenophobic, authoritarian right-wing populist movements in Europe threatens to undermine civil and liberal values. The emergence of these movements can be traced to the resilience of authoritarian traditions and ideologies, new forms of ethno-nationalism and the lack of a consistent strategy to democratize the European Union. An additional factor is the real or perceived fear of social disadvantage experienced by too many people in too many countries under conditions of economic globalization and neoliberalism. This paper examines the responses of mainstream political parties to the threat posed by far-right populist movements to the liberal order in Europe. It focuses on Germany, Austria, Italy and France.

Racist violence has been widespread in unified Germany since the early 1990s. Over the last 10 years, around 100 people (foreigners, homeless people and leftist activists) were killed, 10,000 were physically attacked and, especially in eastern Germany, ‘zones of fear’ were established, in which it was dangerous for foreigners to live.

This violence is one expression of the activities of a right-wing extremist movement and an everyday culture of folkish ethnocentrism, especially embraced by young males between 12 and 18 years of age. This movement was instigated by the first attacks on asylum-seekers after unification—in Hoyerswerda in 1991 and Rostock-Lichtenhagen in 1992. Asylum-seekers, Roma and Vietnamese ‘guestworkers’ fled these locations.

Social scientists describe this rage and aggression against innocent people existing under very weak conditions as products of several interrelated factors:
· the long tradition of xenophobic authoritarian mentalities within parts of the older and younger population (between 20 and 40 per cent) in the whole of Germany, which intensified during the paranoic racism and antisemitism of the Nazi-period;
· the state-led authoritarianism of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) communist regime, which discourgaed individualism and pluralism;
· the socio-economic and political rigidities of the unification process, which led to high rates of unemployment, apathy and feelings of second-class citizenship among East Germans;
· the portrayal of asylum-seekers in public discourse as a cost on the German welfare state system;
· the propaganda and networking of the right-wing extremist movement and especially violent neo-Nazis within and outside of the radicalized neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD).

In short, socioeconomic, cultural and political forces combined to support the violent xenophobic movement of the 1990s. The foremost participants in this movement are male youth in eastern Germany, who are often (perceived) losers of unification.

The attempts by mainstream political parties and social movements to contain this movement were not consistent enough, although some violent racist cadre groups were prevented from operating in public. However, since the summer of 2000, state authorities, civil society groups and the general public have made serious efforts to contain the racist everyday culture in the society, especially in eastern Germany. All democratic parties have condemned racist attitudes and violence. The national government developed programmes to support anti-racist activities and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.

Nevertheless, some ethnocentric-nationalist factions, especially in the conservative party (CDU/CSU) and in the liberal party (FDP), still lean toward conceptions of ethnic homogeneity (by making comments such as ‘we are an immigrant country—against our will’).

The (eastern) German conditions are unique. The xenophobic and racist tendencies in Central and Western European countries have different dimensions and features. In Austria, there is a right-wing party (the FPÖ) in the current government, which campaigns hatred of foreigners and plays up the glory of the SS and the Wehrmacht. However, it does not allude to racist violence (whereas right-wing parties play only a small role in the German political system: the DVU, the Republicans and the NPD have marginal influence within the political system).

In France, the influence of the right-wing National Front has probably peaked of influence, although it is still much more influential in the political system than the German right-wing parties. However, the extreme New Right (NR) party of Alain de Benoist, which advances the quasi-racist concept of ‘ethnopluralism’, still has significant influence on the public and in the political-cultural sphere.

In Italy, the xenophobic Northern League and the right-wing extremist Alleanza Nationale of G. Fini, which has had a long-standing co-operation with Alain de Benoist, are likely to become influential partners of the newly elected Italian government.

To contain xenophobic tendencies and racist violence, state authorities and civil institutions will have to articulate their policies in the public discourse, promote socioeconomic activities and repress racist rage.