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International review

No to abortion, LGBTQ+ and migrants: why right-wing parties are gaining popularity in Europe and how Russia will benefit


The war in Ukraine, millions of refugees, the energy crisis - Europe is by no means going through the easiest period in its history. And then there are the right-wingers, who are gaining more and more support from voters: not just in Hungary and Poland, but also in Italy, France and even Sweden.

How is it possible that young voters in Greta Tunberg's country vote for far-right politicians? What about democracy? Has this ever happened before? And what will come of all this? Let's find out.

The first right-wing populist wave swept Europe in 2015-2020. It started in Poland, when in the October 2015 elections, the national conservative Law and Justice party won an absolute majority in the Sejm. The party was known for openly opposing the country's acceptance of refugees, and Beata Szydło, the then Prime Minister, liked to repeat that "Poland comes first again".

Beata Szydło, 2017

In 2016 Brexit, the UK's long and painful exit from the European Union, began. That had been the main goal of the right-wing populist UK Independence Party for years - and in the end they got their way.

This was followed by the election of right-wing governments in Austria (Freedom Party of Austria) and Italy (Lega Nord, which with the campaign Matteo Salvini gave Italians a promise to deport 500,000 migrants from the country within five years), and Hungary re-elected Viktor Orban's Fidesz party in 2018, as did Poland in 2019 again casting the majority vote for the Law and Justice party.

With the onset of the pandemic, the rise in popularity of right-wing parties has stalled. The so-called "rallying effect" - when people unite around their government in times of crisis - played against them (with the exception of Hungary and Poland).

For example, this effect was clearly visible in Italy, when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's approval rating rose from 44 per cent to 71 per cent. French President Emmanuel Macron's approval rating rose from 35 per cent to 51 per cent, while the ratings of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte rose by 33 and 40 per cent respectively. In such situations, it is difficult for right-wing parties, which are often in opposition, to compete with the authorities, as all government attention is focused on a single, common problem.

However, the pandemic is over and populism is again sweeping Europe. And many fear that the second wave could be much stronger than the previous one. In late September, Italy, for the first time in its post-fascist history, saw an extreme right-wing government led by Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy party.

"We need a massive plan, economically but also culturally, to rediscover the beauty of fatherhood and bring the family back to the centre of society," said Meloni.

The populist rhetoric is the same everywhere more or less.

"Mrs Meloni will form the most right-wing government in Italy since World War II. This will alarm much of Europe as Italy is the third largest economy in the EU," says the BBC.

The Guardian believes that Giorgia Meloni will become "a model for nationalist parties across Europe".

In October this year, after the brutal murder of 12-year-old Lola Davier in Paris by an illegal immigrant from Algeria, right-wing parties did not miss the opportunity to remind the public again about the migration crisis (all presented in the style of "and we told you so"). French authorities should be held responsible for the crimes committed by migrants who have no right to be in the country - a view held by many right-wing politicians, led by Marine Le Pen, Macron's main rival in the spring presidential elections.

Marine Le Pen
Photo: Global Look Press

"The suspect in this barbaric act should not have been in our country; what is stopping you from finally putting an end to this uncontrolled, clandestine immigration?" - Marin appealed to the authorities. Additionally, Le Pen's colleague Eric Zemmour called the murder of 12-year-old Lola a "Francocide" altogether.

Incidentally, Zemmour was once twice convicted of inciting racial hatred and promoted the "great replacement" theory, according to which Muslim immigrants would "replace" the population of European countries.

The names of right-wing politicians are increasingly on the news agenda in 2022. And even in the news agendas of the countries you least expect it - Sweden, for example.

The quiet, peaceful, super-democratic country has followed a European-wide trend - in the September elections the far-right Sweden Democrats won more than 20 percent of the vote for the first time in history (it had less than three percent in 2006) and the right-wing bloc won 176 seats in parliament, while the left-wing party led by Magdalena Andersson won 173 seats.

"Everywhere in Europe, people are eager to take their destiny into their own hands again!" - Marin Le Pen cheerfully wrote on the day the results were announced.

"The Swedish Democrats offer a familiar scenario - tighten the country's immigration policy first. Their leader, Jimmie Åkesson, who actively supports his right-wing European counterparts on migrant issues, said: "The time has come to give us a chance to make Sweden great again. Sweden was a great country, a safe country, a successful country, and it can become that again." Ring any bells?

Jimmie Åkesson
Photo: Julia Reinhart / Zuma / TASS

After Andersson resigned, she said that the European Union vitally needs a common position on many issues, including the Ukrainian crisis, so the European Parliament should closely monitor the approaches of the new leadership in Rome and Stockholm towards Russia:

"We need an EU that can negotiate well on crucial issues. Both on the conflict in Ukraine, on energy issues, which are very important in the fight against climate change, and on the security of gas supplies".

Indeed, the activism of the right is also worrying for Europe because no one knows exactly what to expect from them on the Ukrainian issue.

Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi (Meloni's right-wing counterparts), for example, are known to be long-time Russophiles, while Berlusconi is also an old friend of Putin. Viktor Orban has been called by the western media the "Hungarian Putin" on several occasions and the former head of the Austrian government Sebastian Kurz in his recent statement against EU sanctions emphasised that peace in Europe is only possible by working together with the Russian side. Marine Le Pen agrees with him, saying that "there is no point in maintaining sanctions, they have a reverse effect, they should be lifted in order to return to normal relations with Russia".

Yes, officially all EU countries without exception have condemned Putin's war with Ukraine, but in fact the rhetoric of right-wing politicians always has the famous "but" in it.

Brussels is worried, but there seems to be no way of influencing the right's rise in popularity - after all, politicians are elected by the people (unless we are talking about Russia, of course, but that's not the point now). The situation in Sweden perfectly illustrates that no one is immune from a right-wing turn.

The other question is whether European governments, despite their polarities, will be able to dialogue with each other with dignity and propose adequate solutions without betraying their principles and values. Also, whether voters will be able to follow their example.

By: Ksenia Elzes
Cover photo: Roberto Monaldo / Keystone Press Agency / Global Look Press

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