Seventy years ago, on April 30th, 1945, Hitler committed suicide together with Eva Braun, marking the end of what was essentially one of the biggest crimes against humanity, the Holocaust. The Second World War has left its scars on the common consciousness of the European people. Never again shall the states of Europe permit such heinous deeds being committed in their countries – a thought, which created willingness for cooperation never seen before, and ultimately fostered the establishment of the European Union. The successor states of the Third Reich, Austria and Germany have since apologized and paid compensations to the remaining victims, as well as making the denial of the Holocaust a punishable crime.
However, the steadily increasing influx of immigrants from outside of Europe and the difficult economic situation in many countries have spurred a revival of the old ideologies of Nationalism. The “Front National” in France, the “United Kingdom Independence Party,” “Sverige Demokraterna” in Sweden, the Norwegian “Fremskrittspartiet,” the Austrian “Freiheitlich Partei Österreichs,” the Dutch “Lijst Pim Fortuyn,” the German “Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands” … the list of far right parties gaining more votes goes on and on. These parties share the common fear that European culture is being corrupted by domestic liberal policies and international migration. This hate and fear culminates in the rejection of many immigrants from outside of the European culture sphere, especially immigrants with a Muslim background.
Acts of terror motivated by nationalist ideas, such as Anders Breivik’s attack on Utøya in 2011, as well as torrents of hate on social media platforms are on the rise. The voice of nationalism does not only grow louder when it comes to elections, where the far right parties in many of the aforementioned countries had massive gains in support, but also on the Internet on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The Austrian newspaper “der Standard,” reported, that Facebook has had increases in posts and content denying the Holocaust reported by users in Germany and Austria, in which the publishing of Holocaust denial is punishable by law. In 2014, Facebook limited access to 15 of such posts in Austria, whereas in the first half of 2015 it was already 170. The situation in Germany is similar, where, in 2014, access to 94 contents was blocked, and in the first half of 2015 it was already 188.
This worrying trend of growing public support for the right is also reflected in the increase of violent attacks motivated by nationalism and xenophobic ideology. One of the most high profile attacks motivated by these kind of ideas was the aforementioned attack on a socialist youth camp on the small Island Utøya in 2011. Anders Breivik wrote in his manifesto that all Muslims in Europe should be deported and advocated openly for an annihilation of multiculturalism. Since the beginning of 2015 and the influx of refugees, the police in Germany noted an increase in aggressions against migrants coming to Germany. The newspaper “Die Zeit” reported in an article in mid-August, that the police counted around 500 small-scale attacks in the first eight months of 2015.
The ongoing shift to the right has also caused a mushrooming of far-right political organizations. The most prominent is the PEGIDA, Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes [Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident], which was founded in October 2014 and has since been organizing weekly demonstrations against the Islamization of the Occident, demanding stricter immigration regulations, especially for people with a Muslim background. They have been garnering support throughout the past year, fueled by the Charlie Hebdo attacks, which they exploited for their own political ends. The European migrant crisis also contributed to their popularity. On October 19th, 2015, around 20,000 people came to one of their rallies and observers noted, that there was a perceived radicalization of the crowd.
Right-wing politics and nationalist ideology have undoubtedly become mainstream and the moderate parties have suffered heavy losses in elections in recent years. After the terror attacks in Paris, the voices demanding tighter border controls and reduction of immigrants and refugees allowed to settle in the country have become louder and more determined. It is very easy to win elections with campaigns based on simple hate-mongering instead of productive ideas, which is why many parties use a populist approach to garner support.
Europe is now at a crossroads: will it once again go down the path of nationalism, or will it retain the values established after the end of the Second World War. On one hand, there are shifts toward the right and more stringent immigration policies, but on the other, there are also voices opposing these nationalist ideas while advocating the values of tolerance, cooperation and openness on which the European community was established after the Second World War. Regardless of the outcome, the next couple of years will be formative for the European continent.
By Lilith-Isa Samer