Confused Politics

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Image and the Far-Right

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Hungary’s annual ‘Margaret Island Festival’ is well is known. Less well known is the ‘Hungarian Island Festival‘ (Magyar Sziget Fesztivál), the far right’s version. The Sun managed to infiltrate this festival, in a pretty decent piece of investigative journalism (credit where credit is due, it’s apparently run by some quite scary people). The Sun journalists got chatting to Chris Hurst, a BNP big wig, and managed to catch him performing Nazi salutes and espousing generally offensive views.

                                  Laurent Hamels

This got me thinking, the far-right in Europe has put quite a lot of effort into moderating its image and appearing more mainstream. Does its success depend on its ability to change its image? Or do successful parties change their images because of the increased scrutiny and integration with the system that comes with success? I expect the more successful parties to be those that present a more moderate image. So, I’ve taken four European parties of the far-right, two successful (by the standards of the far-right) ones and two unsuccessful ones, and made a very unscientific examination of the image that they present.

The four parties that I’ll be looking at will be: our BNP, France’s FN (National Front), Germany’s NPD (National Democratic Party) and Hungary’s Jobbik (The movement for a Better Hungary). The BNP and NPD have had very little electoral success, while the FN and Jobbik have both been able to command around 15% of the vote in past elections.

I’ll start with Jobbik, as it’s the most successful of the four parties. It even has an English language website. As well as being slick and well designed it is also very carefully written to practically ooze moderation. It still sounds very conservative, but certainly not like an extremist party. There are only a few bits which make you feel uncomfortable, such as talking about how the Hungarian Guard (a paramilitary organisation) is not a paramilitary organisation because they don’t carry weapons. Their Hungarian manifesto gives a surprisingly similar picture of moderation. The first foreword (by Krisztina Morvai, their nominee for Hungary’s presidency*) talks about economic issues and appeals for non-supporters not to prejudge them. Similarly the second foreword (by Gábor Vona (the party’s leader) talks about issues such as national self-determination. There is no mention of ‘The Gipsy Problem’, which is Hungary’s equivalent to the Western parties’ immigration issue.

The NPD on the other hand… Well I opened up their manifesto and the first item is the Grundgedanken (fundamental ideas). The first two sentences translate as, “in the 21st century the continued existence of the German people will be decided. Threats come from declining birth rates, the rapidly progressing foreign infiltration, heteronomy* caused by international institutions and the devastating consequences of globalisation.” I think little more needs to be said about the image this party tries to project. I remember looking at its website when I was in the sixth form and it had a map of ‘Greater Germany’ on its front page… Its electoral strength matches the extremity of its manifesto. It barely exists outside East Germany and was beaten by the Pirate Party in the 2009 federal elections (to be fair the pirate party did get a whole 2% of the vote).

The FN is the second successful party of the far right that I’m going to look at. They’re less successful than Jobbik, but can still command a significant share of the vote. If you go to their website and look at their manifesto they have everything organised as subject areas with little clickable pictures. Immigration is the first one, but once you actually read the policy, it’s all couched in terms of crime, benefits and loyalty to the French state. Essentially, it would fit right in with the typical Daily Mail article – a load of very conservative crap, but being careful to avoid seeming like an actual racist/extremist.

Finally the BNP. Their manifesto does not even put immigration in the most prominent spot. That privilege goes to crime and justice (corporal punishment, capital punishment, political correctness etc). In the immigration section of their manifesto they seem to go down an interesting road though. Their first statement is that, “the indigenous British people, will become an ethnic minority in our own country…” This is not a good start… They also keep talking about how most immigrants are, “of third world extraction.” I can only assume that this is code for ‘non-white.’ Finally they have a good moan about how Pakistan wouldn’t tolerate, “millions of Hindus or Christians entering that country and changing it from a Muslim society.” The BNP is certainly trying to promote a more mainstream image for itself (as illustrated by its immediate expulsion of the man I mentioned at the beginning of this post), but its manifesto easily puts it at the more extreme end of the European far-right.

All in all, the parties’ positions have matched my prediction. The more successful ones have had much more moderate-sounding policies than the less successful ones. Whether there is a causal link is much harder to say. My own opinion is that as an extremist party grows there is a process of moderation fed by both external and internal pressure. As successes are achieved the party’s leadership start to see the potential to go beyond being a simple protest party and are also forced to acknowledge the harsh reality of electoral politics and the need to build a coalition of supporters. This in turn leads to more people being willing to support the party as it moderates its stance and new relatively moderate members act to drag it further towards the centre. I believe there are more significant factors for explaining the success (or lack thereof) of far-right parties, but there does seem to be an interesting correlation present.

*Only a figurehead position in Hungary, so I’d be interested to know why she got to go first in the manifesto.

**The opposite of autonomy – imposition of foreign laws and rule on your state. Yes I did have to look the word up.


Written by Confused Politics

August 12, 2011 at 9:18 pm

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