How can governments combat the activities of racist and far-Right parties that undermine democracy while, at the same time, preserving civil rights and democratic values such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly?
Over the last eighteen months, politicians across Europe have been forced to ask themselves how best to counter the increasingly violent and racist activities of the far Right. A debate on the resurgence of fascist ideas has ensued, taking different forms depending on the circumstances in the country in which it is discussed. The perceived far-Right threat can be seen to emanate from nationalism and nostalgia for fascism, or from the electoral threat posed by neo-Nazi parties, and from the activities of racists in football or on the internet. How to deal with international gatherings of neo-Nazis is also a pressing concern.
Anti-immigration parties, such as the Freedom party (ÖVP) and the newly-formed Alliance for Austria’s Future (BNÖ) have been and still are represented in the Conservative-led coalition government of Austria. This can be severely embarrassing for the Conservative government, when parliamentarians it is allied to attempt to sanitise the Nazi period of Austrian history.
In June, the government was forced to amend the constitution to avoid the embarrassment of having the Senate presided over by an apologist for fascism. Siegfried Kampl (BNÖ senator representing Carinthia) had made several controversial statements deploring the brutal persecution of Austrian Nazis after World War Two and referring to Austrian deserters of Nazi Germany armed forces as ‘assassins of battle comrades’. There was angry parliamentary debate and Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel was forced to take action to stop Kampl taking up the post of president of the Bundesrat which rotates between representatives of Austria’s provinces. (Kampl had resigned from the BNÖ, saying that he did not want to be a burden on the party, but had insisted that as mayor of the southern town of Gurk, he was entitled to take up the Bundesrat post.)
Other extreme-Right parliamentarians who have made controversial statements include John Gudenus (formerly with the Freedom party but now with a free mandate) who contends that the existence of the Nazi gas chambers ‘remains to be proven’. And MEP Andreas Mölzer (of the Freedom party) walked out of the European parliament during the passage of a resolution against anti-Semitism on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He argued that the Austria of today bears no responsibility for the crimes committed at Auschwitz and demanded the commemoration of the 250,000 (sic) killed in the Allied raids in Dresden. Mölzer, along with Gudenus, edits the journal Zur Zeit which is regularly accused of historical revisionism and sympathising with Nazism.
Political parties are concerned that electoral support for the Vlaams Belang (VB), which recently launched its own radio station, is growing. The Flemish Liberal Democrats (the party of prime minister Guy Verhofstadt) have been divided on the most effective approach to the VB, with some arguing that the policy of ostracising the party (commonly known as the ‘cordon sanitaire’) is not working. In January 2005, new legislation was approved to allow for the reduction or complete withdrawal of state funding from political parties (represented in parliament) which failed to comply with the obligations of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The failure to clamp down on the activities of the fascist organisation Golden Dawn (see Greece section below) became the subject of parliamentary debate in August during the trial of Christodoulos Nicolaides. Nicolaides, a former policeman is believed to be the leader of an unofficial Cypriot branch of Golden Dawn. He was sent for trial for attacking two Greek Cypriots and a Turkish Cypriot in a coffee bar because he could not bear to witness a friendship across ethnic lines. The opposition DISY party accused the government of an ‘unacceptable tolerance’ of Golden Dawn which is cultivating a climate of chauvinism, xenophobia and racism in Cyprus.
Stung by criticisms of its failure to prevent a neo-Nazi international gathering organised by Blood & Honour in May in Saxony-Bohemia, the government has launched its own investigation. Prime minister Stanislav Gross has said that the Czech Republic must not become a centre for right-wing radicals. The police, in the past criticised for their failure to act, have promised to take tough action against neo-Nazi concerts and those promoting hate.
Racism in football resurfaced as a hot issue in September 2005 when football fans of Sparta Praha engaged in racist chanting during a UEFA Champions’ League fixture with AFC Ajax in Prague, and taunted black footballers with monkey chants.
There has recently been a heated debate about the limits of free speech. First, the National Radio and TV Commission revoked for three months the broadcasting licence of the Copenhagen radio station, Radio Holger (named after a mythological defender of Denmark) for promoting racism and ethnic hatred. Then, in October 2005, Louise Frevert, the Danish People’s Party (DFP) candidate for the Copenhagen mayor was investigated by the police after publishing derogatory comments about Muslims on her website. She compared Muslims with a cancerous tumour that needed to be removed from Danish society, and said that Muslim men seemed to consider it their right to rape Danish women. Many cafes and restaurants which had agreed to host election debate meetings featuring the DFP candidate cancelled the bookings and some of her political opponents said that they refused to share a platform with her.
In February 2005, the interior minister announced that he proposed to dissolve all neo-Nazi groups under a 1936 law which authorises the government to disband by decree ‘private militias and combat groups’ which threaten public order and democracy. The government has also pledged to crack down on neo-Nazi ideas on the internet and has instructed mayors and regional officials to help prevent public meetings of neo-Nazi groups.
But the government has also come in for scathing criticism from prominent public figures who have launched a petition against the new Education Act on the grounds that it is trying to gild an inglorious colonial past with an official history and institutionalises ‘lies about the crimes, the massacres which sometimes went as far as genocide, the slavery and the racism that has been inherited from the past’. Under the Act, it will be mandatory to enshrine in textbooks France’s positive role in its overseas territories, especially in North Africa, and give an eminent place to the sacrifices of fighters for the French army raised in those territories. In connection with this, the League of Human Rights has pointed out that more and more monuments, plaques and street names in the south of France are bearing the names of the Secret Armed Organisation (OAS) – a French terrorist organisation involved in killings and executions during the war of Algerian Independence, and that this reflects a disturbing nostalgia for colonialism.
Sixty years after the Third Reich’s defeat, and with official commemorations planned at Auschwitz and Dresden, international attention was once again focused on Germany after the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) attempted to hijack the commemoration events utilising the slogan ‘1945 – we’re not celebrating’.
In December 2004, NPD members in the eastern Saxony state parliament walked out of a tribute to the victims of the Third Reich and refused to observe a minute’s silence. They then issued a statement equating Auschwitz with abortion. Then, on 13 February, the NPD organised the largest neo-Nazi demonstration (described as a ‘funeral march’) in Germany’s post-war history in Dresden, calling for the dead of Dresden to be given an equal commemoration to the dead of the Nazi death camps. On 8 May, the anniversary of the Third Reich’s defeat, the NPD planned to march past the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, utilising the slogan ‘Sixty years of Liberation Lies – End the Cult of Guilt’. In response, Chancellor Schröder warned that he would not tolerate far-Right attempts to rewrite history and interior minister Otto Schily rushed through parliament new legislation limiting the right of assembly, and changing the country’s criminal code to include a passage calling for up to three years in jail or a fine for glorification of the Nazis, or justifying or downplaying the atrocities of the Third Reich.
At last, the activities of Golden Dawn (a racist and fascist organisation which takes as its symbol the swastika) has become the subject of public and parliamentary debate in Greece. When Golden Dawn announced that it would hold a Eurofest on the theme of ‘Our Europe, not theirs. Turkey out of Europe’, aimed at attracting thousands of neo-Nazis from across Europe, the government equivocated as to what to do. International protests coordinated by Greek anti-fascists, accompanied by the refusal of local authorities across the Peloponnese to host the festival, forced the government’s hand. The Golden Dawn festival was banned on the grounds that it was ‘unconstitutional’.
The Constitutional Court may lift the ban on Blood & Honour following an appeal against the dissolution of the organisation in December 2004. András Szabó, a retired member of the Constitutional Court, believes that if the challenge is successful, parliament may have to bring in new tighter legislation outlawing racial hatred.
During an international football match between Italy and Norway, Italian fans repeatedly gave the Nazi salute and shouted ‘Sieg Heil’. Subsequently, interior minister Giuseppe Pisanu announced measures to curb hooliganism at football stadiums based on an agreement with clubs that stadiums would be shut down if police reported violence inside or outside, or if offensive banners were displayed.
There was controversy when leading footballers Francesco Totti, captain of AS Roma and team-mate Antonio Cassano, attended the funeral of Paolo Zappavigna, the leader of black-shirted skinhead football fan ultras known as ‘The Boys’, who died in a motorbike accident. Thousands of fans broke down police barriers to crowd round the coffin, chanting ‘Honour to our comrade’ as they made the stiff-armed Nazi salute.
There is concern that a new anti-immigration party, the Alleanza Nazzjonali Repubblikana (ANR) is growing in support. On 3 October, the ANR held a demonstration in Valletta to protest the ‘silent invasion’ of Malta by illegal immigrants and the threat posed by multiculturalism.
Following alarm about the spread of far-Right ideas amongst Dutch youth, justice minister Piet Hein Donner ordered an investigation and asked municipal authorities to crackdown on far-Right groups to prevent an escalation of violence. Utrecht police intelligence units claim that the radicalisation of a hardcore of Dutch teens is potentially a greater threat to the Netherlands than Islamic terrorism. Researchers at Leiden University and the Anne Frank Foundation found that the far-Right was increasing its membership and attracting more young people. Two new parties, the National Alliance (NA) and the New Right (NR) have established themselves alongside the existing Dutch People’s Union (NVU) and the New National Party (NNP).
In the run-up to the September 2005 Norwegian general election, the activities of the Democrat Party (formed by defectors from the Progress Party, several of whom are linked to hardcore racist groups) caused concern. Amund Garfors, the Democrats’ leader in the county of Nordland, called on all members of the Home Guard to have functioning weapons at home ready to be used against the Muslim minority. The Anti-Racist Centre in Oslo said that this placed the Democrats in the historical tradition of the wartime Nazi puppet leader Vidkun Quisling in promoting the use of military power against a Norwegian religious minority.
The League of Polish Families and the newly formed Patriotic Movement have been accused of fomenting racism, anti-Semitism and prejudice against homosexuals. Far-Right influence in football resurfaced in September when Wisla Kraków football fans unfurled banners with racist symbols, including those associated with the Klu Klux Klan.
A parliamentary commission has been formed to help eradicate racism from Spanish sports. Incidents at the Spain-England fixture, during which black English footballers were jeered by Spanish supporters, plus the controversy surrounding racist comments made by national team coach Luis Aragonés, had highlighted the problem. The government is pressing the Professional Football League and the Players’ Association to take action and the Spanish National Commission Against Violence has been instructed to investigate the racist incidents at the Spain-England fixture. Meanwhile, a leading Spanish referee has attacked the failure of football authorities to deal with racist abuse and pledged to support any black player who decided to walk off the pitch in protest. In February, for the first time ever, a Spanish official stopped a fixture because of racist abuse.
In the run-up to the 30th anniversary of the death of the Spanish dictator, General Francisco Franco, whose regime liquidated tens of thousands of opponents over nearly 40 years, there has also been attempts to deal with Spain’s fascist past (symbols from the fascist era, including statues of Franco, have been removed). However, a revisionist history book written by Pío Moa, praising Franco, has become a bestseller and the centre-Right People’s Party are increasingly defending Franco’s legacy.
There has been a debate about the influence of far-Right ideas on young people following the murder of a 13-year-old boy at a Stockholm children’s home by another 13-year-old. The National Agency for School Improvement, responding to an incident when neo-Nazis beat up the principal of a school in southern Sweden, has warned of the dangers of neo-Nazi extremists trespassing on school property. In June, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) expressed concern about the active presence of racist organisations in Sweden and their activities, including widespread dissemination of racist propaganda through the internet.
The disruption of the Swiss president’s National Day speech in August 2004 by an estimated one hundred right-wing skinheads who heckled Samuel Schmidt (a member of the Swiss People’s Party), leading him to be escorted from the stage under guard, horrified many, and led to public debate about how best to curb the activities of neo-fascists. (There have also been calls for the Party of Nationally Orientated Swiss (PNOS), which had mobilised heavily for the event, to be banned.)
Then, in September 400 neo-Nazis participated in an unauthorised concert in Valais and the police were criticised for not intervening. An outcry ensued a few weeks later when young extremists were discovered handing out music CDs with far-Right lyrics in school playgrounds.
In the UK, there is increasing concern within the mainstream political parties about the electoral support currently enjoyed by the extreme-Right British National Party (BNP). To date, however, Labour party cabinet members have responded to evidence that the BNP is eating into its base amongst the white working class by attacking multiculturalism as the cause of white working-class alienation.
In the 2004 London mayoral and European elections, the BNP and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) doubled their votes (between 2000 and 2004) and in 2004 the BNP narrowly missed gaining a seat in the London Assembly. The BNP, which currently has twenty-one councillors in England, is planning to stand 600 candidates in local elections in May 2006. The centrepiece of its campaign is set to be the London bombings with the party claiming it would not have happened if its warnings on immigration had been heeded.
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