This blog has been dormant for a while, and what better way to revive it than join the crowd of those who analyse the results of EP elections? The success of extreme right parties in some countries, for one, seems to be worth some attention. The usual explanation of their success is the spectacular failure of mainstream politicians to deal with the crisis (Hungary!) and/ or to comply with basic standards of personal integrity (UK, with the MPs' expenses scandal neatly before the elections).
Then, there are those who notice the nationalist parties’ appeal to the masses. Jamie Bartlett of Demos argues in his blog that the extreme right are good at finding approaches that appeal to the basic concerns of the electorate. Thus, the British National Party speak of the immigrants as freeriders who threaten the British people’s access to social housing.
Indeed, the BNP frame their ethnocentric and at times openly xenophobic rhetoric primarily in economic terms (e.g. pointing out that Briatin’s foreign aid budget is several times bigger than NHS deficit). At the same time, for anyone who takes a cursory glance at the BNP home page and takes a moment to think about it, one thing should be obvious: the BNP’s objection to immigration is not purely economic. Their cultural nationalism and even racism, framed as a crusade against the islamisation of Britain, is probably much closer to the core of their ideology than their economic nationalism. In other words, they frame their agenda in economic terms in order to mobilise public opinion which has been made somewhat immune to open racism. When voters buy their economic arguments, they may use their share of public trust to promote more racist agenda.
Similarly, the Hungarian extreme right party Jobbik seems to have chosen economic arguments as the main line of successful attack on mainstream parties, while cultural insecurity is lurking in the background. A recent interview in the Budapest Sun with one of the Jobbik candidates in EP elections, Krisztina Morvai, illustrates this perfectly. Morvai said, among other things:
“The political and economic elite have placed the whole country in foreign hands. We have, therefore, a particular justification for emphasising that “Hungary belongs to the Hungarians”. We want to get back our national assets, which have been sold abroad and privatised, and want to prevent further national assets from getting into private and/or foreign hands.”
To those who would buy her brand of economic nationalism, however, Dr. Morvai has a lot to offer in terms of cultural nationalism, too. Her offer includes elements of anti-Roma racism (as the same interview demonstrates), and, like any good Hungarian nationalist, she strives to remind her voters that she is not a great friend of Israel either (witness her law suit against Israel’s leadership here). To be fair to Dr. Morvai, who is likely to spend the next five years in the European Parliament (her party got nearly 15% of votes in the EP election in Hungary), her dislike of foreigners is not limited to ‘native’ Roma – she also proudly refused to give an interview to a Daily Telegraph journalist who had previously written about her party’s anti-semitism.
So, to return to my main point: speaking to the people’s heart about how wicked foreigners steal their social welfare and national assets is one thing, but in the end Europe’s extreme right parties remain what they always have been – crusaders of cultural prejudice. Their appeal to people’s economic concerns is merely a rhetorical ploy. Sadly, this time a successful one.