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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Goodspeed Analysis: Extreme right rising throughout Europe

Norwegian police and intelligence agencies across Europe are trying to determine whether confessed mass murderer Anders Breivik had any accomplices.

Fears he might send coded messages to associates, if he appeared in open court, may have played a role in Monday’s decision to close his arraignment to the media and public. The possibility of an international conspiracy has riveted attention on far-right extremists, who have surged to prominence across Europe in the past decade.

Far-right parties have made electoral breakthroughs in Denmark, the Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, Austria, France and Italy.

They have also driven heated debates across the continent over immigration, Islam and integration, and influenced the policies of mainstream parties and governments, pushing Europe into a new era of doubt and division.

France has banned the burqa and launched a campaign to deport illegally settled gypsies (Roma); Swiss voters voted to ban the construction of minarets on mosques; and the government in the Netherlands relies on the support of the Dutch Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, who compares the Koran with Mein Kampf and campaigned to have the book banned.

Austria’s xenophobic Freedom Party recently won 27% of the vote in Vienna’s local elections and is poised to make gains in national elections in 2013. In Sweden, a party with neo-Nazi roots, the Sweden Democrats, came out of nowhere to win 20 seats in national elections last September. In Finland, the True Finns, a populist nationalist party, became the third largest party in parliament when it got 19% of the vote in elections in April.

And in Norway, the Progress Party, which Breivik belonged to for nine years before he quit in 2006, came within a whisker of seizing power in 2009 and is the second-largest in the country.

Appealing to a sense of grievance and lost national identity, exacerbated by economic recession, far-right parties lash out against immigrants, globalization, the European Union and multiculturalism.

“Parties on the radical right have been major players in Europe for at least a decade,” said David Art, a political scientist at Tufts University, near Boston, who wrote a book on the development of anti-immigrant parties in Western Europe.

“They have been growing since the 1980s, when you first started getting complaints about immigrants taking jobs and filling up public housing. But by the 1990s, you saw the rise of cultural issues. Not only are immigrants taking over jobs, they are seen as changing the complexion of society. People would say, ‘I no longer feel at home in Oslo or Stockholm or Berlin,’ ” he said.

“Since 9/11 you have the anti-Islam element as a defining issue. The debate becomes whether [Muslim] values are compatible with ours.”

Breivik, a gun-loving extremist who was obsessed with what he called the “Islamic colonization of Europe,” boasted in his online manifesto of ties with other European right-wing radicals. He advocated the creation of a Norwegian version of the English Defence League, which campaigns against what it perceives to be the spread of Islam, sharia law and Islamic extremism in Britain. He also contributed to a host of neo-Nazi Internet forums.

“People like Breivik may act in isolation, but they represent a set of ideas that are shared by many,” said Matthew Goodwin, an expert on far-right politics at the University of Nottingham in Britain.

The man’s Internet postings “reveal an obsession with issues that are of concern to many within the broader right-wing subculture,” Prof. Goodwin said.

These include “a preoccupation with the effects of multiculturalism; the perceived cultural threat posed by immigration and Muslim communities; criticism of a lack of effective responses to these threats from established main parties; and strong emphasis on the need to take radical and urgent action.”

What set Breivik apart, says Hagai Segal, a security specialist at New York University in London, was his choice of targets.

“If he had blown up the Prime Minister in his office and then gone on to attack a mosque, it would have played into the far-right,” he said.

“But the fact he killed people who were the kind of people the far-right wants to recruit, means a lot of far-right groups are going to be actively trying to distance themselves from this act.”

Still, Breivik may have his share of sympathizers and possible copycats.

Last year, Terrance Gavan, a former soldier and British National Party member who shared many of his concerns, was sentenced to 11 years in jail for manufacturing 54 nail bombs and possessing a staggering supply of weapons and explosives.

In an echo of the Norwegian’s Internet postings, Gavan kept a handwritten journal in which he declared, “Patriots must always be ready to defend his country against enemies and their governments.”

National Post