Is eastern Europe threatened by a rising wave of rightwing extremism? Human rights activists in the region think so, and point to violent attacks on Roma namely in Hungary, but the Czech Republic and Slovakia as well to back up their point. A disturbing poll in Hungary shows more and more Hungarians turning to extremist solutions to solve society's problems, compounded now by the global financial mess. In the Czech Republic, a rightwing extremist party has been banned for propagating hate. But is eastern Europe any worse than the richer West? Holland, the land of tulips, wooden clogs and windmills, also has a newfound affinity for rightwing extremism, as does Switzerland which has banned the building of mosques.
In February, a gaggle of human rights do-gooders and government officials gathered in Budapest to debate the worrying rightward drift they see taking place in eastern Europe.
They pointed to a rise in attacks against minorities, namely Roma, or Gypsies.
In Hungary, the far right Movement for a Better Hungary, (Jobbik), campaigns against what it calls "Gypsy Crime". Jobbik also mouths anti-Semitic sentiments.
It already captured three of 22 seats designated to Hungary in the European Parliament election last year.
The party is also equipped with a paramilitary wing, the Hungarian Guard, which allows middle-aged men to dress up in military uniforms and march and look grim.
On the serious side, the Hungarian Guard, or Magyar Garda, has marched through Roma settlements in raiments that resemble the clothes worn by the Nazis.
As Voice of American reported, Jobbik's success has been linked to Hungary's continuing economic crisis and widespread disappointment in the current Socialist-backed government.
Sociologist Andras Toth of the influential Institute for Political Science of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences told VOA News he fears Jobbik would change the political landscape in Hungary and its success would impact on nearby countries.
"I am very concerned, because it is likely that in Hungary the Jobbik, which is the leading far right party, will have at least 10 percent of the votes in the next election. It might happen that it will be the second biggest party in parliament or the third one," said Toth. "If the economic crisis will go on, unemployment will increase, it might happen that Jobbik will receive even 20 or 30 percent in 2014. And this is a real concern not only for Hungary but for the whole European project."
The thinking goes that Jobbik's success could serve as a template for other far right parties and movements in eastern Europe.
In the Czech Republic, the country's Supreme Court has banned the far right "Worker's Party), on the grounds it propagated xenophobic, racist, homophobic and chavaunistic propaganda, and that it's party program aims to limit basic freedoms and rights.
The decision was generally welcomed, while an occassional voice protested the decision as a blow to free speech.
As this Wall Street Journal blog report notes, Hungary is experiencing a far right boom.
In the wake of April’s parliamentary elections, Hungarian right-wing party Jobbik seems to be profiting from demand for rightist extremism, gaining voters from the pool of 700,000 yet undecided people within the voting age, a Szonda Ipsos poll shows, published by Hungarian daily Nepszabadsag last Friday.
The blog report also offers this interested data collected by Political Capital Research. It shows Bulgaria with the highest degree of far right support at 25%! Hungary is next at 21%, followed by bankrupt Greece at 15%. As the WSJ blog notes: Hungary fits well into the regional picture in this respect: anti-establishment attitudes sky-rocketed from 12% to 46% of the population between 2003 and 2009 due to striking dissatisfaction with political institutions and democracy itself, the study said.
But is the richer West much more tolerant?
Well, multiculturalism is taking it on the chin in up-till-now tolerant Holland.
The Freedom Party, (PVV) made gains in local elections in March, and may replicate that success in June parliamentary elections.
The PVV is led by Geert Wilders, who opposes the "Islamization" of Europe.
His Finta film denounces Islam as a "totalitarian religion."
In picture-postercard Switzerland, the citizens earned the opprobrium of global elites last November when they voted in a plebiscite to ban the building of minarets.
More than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons - or provinces - voted in favour of the ban.
The BBC explains the vote was partially due to fears over immigration, even though there are only some 400,000 Muslims there and a total of just four minarets.
So, what's going on?
Sentiments are souring as many feel mainstream parties on both the left and right don't offer solutions to their economic frustrations and fears over immigration, globalization and cultural issues.
For political elites, "multiculturalism" is a given good, and to question that bedrock beliefs consigns a party to the political fringes.
Into that vacuum have stepped far right political parties snatching up support by tapping into growing fears on immigration and insecurity over globalization, as this policy paper points out.
The rise of the new radical right partly reflects the insecurity and instability brought about by rapid social and economic changes and a technological revolution that has resulted in the re-structuring of the world economy.
The paper also touches on the taboo topic of cultural anxiety as globalization multiculturalism toss us all into a global mixer, and spit out homogenized, indistinct mush.
Globalisation is contributing to the expansion of certain values, ideologies and products resulting in a pervasive, if uneven, cultural and linguistic homogenisation characterised by US influence. A significant number of nations and ethnic groups share a genuine concern about the possible
eventual disappearance of their cultures and languages and experience anxiety about the worldwide expansion of English. For example, the French are extremely preoccupied about the predominance of English worldwide and, in particular, by the progressive displacement of the use of French within
EU institutions as well as the introduction of English expressions into the French language.
Globalization has also given power to transnational organizations while at the same time weakening domestic political institutions, and that sows fear and disillusionment.
Simultaneously, the process of European integration has been associated with a weakening of the nation-state or, at least, the substantial transformation of its sovereignty. This also contributes to fostering anxiety among some citizens ill prepared and unable to take advantage of the opening up of European frontiers and markets. These people often feel threatened by increasing labour mobility and cultural diversity because, in their view, such changes restrict their own opportunities (enhancing those of others), creating an environment where they do not feel secure. Fierce competition for jobs, the re-structuring of welfare systems and cultural anxiety break the “imagined” homogeneity, solidarity and sense of community associated with the nation. In addition, the pervasive threat of terrorism since 9/11 is also associated with “outsiders”, people who do not “belong” even if they are citizens.
The paper also notes the far right is finding fertile ground not only among the unwashed masses.
On the contrary, new radical right-wing parties have done particularly well in some of the most affluent countries and regions in western Europe, for example in countries such as Austria, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland, and regions such as north eastern Italy and Flanders. In these areas, “unemployment has generally been significantly below OECD average, and … social welfare systems are among the most generous in the world and thus well-positioned to compensate potential losers from globalisation”.
Fear of losing jobs, cultural values and political power are fueling the far right.
Mainstream parties don't touch these issues, but in fact back policies that only stoke such fears.