Far-right parties across Europe play on a common theme: Fear

Supporters of far-right party Vox check their phones outside the party headquarters while waiting for results of the general election in Madrid on April 28. (Manu Fernandez/AP)
Supporters of far-right party Vox check their phones outside the party headquarters while waiting for results of the general election in Madrid on April 28. (Manu Fernandez/AP)

Politics isn’t what it used to be. Increasingly, we are seeing fragmented landscapes, highly polarized debates, a brutalization of the public discourse and new forces emerging. And we’re no longer seeing the revolution coming, but rather the counterrevolution starting to emerge.

These are some trends that Anne Applebaum notes in her Post essay, “Want to build a far-right movement? Spain’s Vox party shows how.” She traces the origins and character of the Vox party, which has suddenly emerged to become a force in the Spanish parliament, though it received less of the vote share than many other parties on the extreme conservative wing in Europe these days.

It’s important to try to understand the common methods of these new parties. They use social media to great effect to polarize and provoke. They frequently disseminate a diverse range of conspiracy theories and blatantly false claims by networks that form the fringe of the fringe. And they constantly play on fear — whether that is fear of Muslims, immigration, feminism or the disintegration of the nation.

In the case of Spain, it’s obvious that fear of the disintegration of Spain itself played an important role in the rise of Vox. Its rise cannot be seen without understanding the strong emotions created by the Catalan independence movement and the difficulties faced by traditional parties while handling the issue. Protection of the unity of the Spanish state is a traditional rallying cry of the country’s conservative forces — just remember the Franco era.

In Italy, the same trend has played out in reverse. Matteo Salvini’s Lega party goes back to the Lega Nord party that was founded on the demand for northern Italy to separate from the rest and set up a new state called Padania. Salvini himself has previously supported Catalonia’s independence bid. On these issues, the origins of Lega and Vox are on opposite ends of the debate — but play on similar emotions.

In other cases, it has been the fear of an alleged Muslim invasion that has been the main driving force behind the rise of these parties. These elements were certainly at play in Spain, though they were not as dominant.

But these movements are also picking up new, and at times unexpected, issues. Applebaum’s essay highlights how gender issues have now also become part of the social counterrevolution. In a number of countries, primarily in Europe’s east, the ratification of the convention against violence against women has turned into a controversial issue, thanks in part to the advocacy of these groups.

Another aspect that is increasingly coming to the fore in a number of these parties and movements is an anti-green tendency. That has certainly been strong in the yellow vest movement in France, which started as a reaction to the higher fuel prices that were part of the government’s climate policies. And recently these issues were important in the strength demonstrated by the Finns Party in the recent parliamentary election in Finland. This also plays on the urban-rural and center-periphery dimensions of these movements. In this space, more movement is likely to come.

Throughout all of these, parties on the far right have used similar methods to gain traction — and much of their strategy boils down to fear. As we head into what portend to be highly polarized European elections later this month, these are trends that Europe should be paying attention to.

Carl Bildt is a former prime minister of Sweden and a contributing columnist for The Post.

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