Sixty-five years after the Soviet Army liberated the largest Nazi concentration camp – Auschwitz-Birkenau – it should be a wake up call not only to socialists and social democrats but to all decent, peace loving, democratic people across the continent to see that once again the far-right rears its ugly head in many countries across Europe.
As a once student of modern European history and now a full time anti-fascist campaigner, it fills me with deep foreboding as I see dark storm clouds gathering on the horizon in the form of nationalist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynist and racist parties gaining ground and winning elections, not only in my home country, but in many others too – and with far greater degrees of success. As you read the articles today on websites and in newspapers to mark Holocaust Memorial Day I ask you to remember, but also to act.
Here in the UK, the British National Party – which is lead by a Holocaust-denier – was able in 2009, for the first time in British history, to make a significant electoral breakthrough. Winning two MEPs in last years elections, these fascists have now formally joined a new far-right bloc in the European Parliament.
The Alliance of European National Movements brings together three of the most hardline racist and fascist groups in the European Parliament. As well as the BNP’s two MEPs, it includes the three MEPs from Hungary’s Jobbik party and the three French National Front MEPs. Other supporting organisations are Italy’s Fiamma Tricolore, the Belgian National Front and the Swedish National Democrats, none of which have MEPs.
The Alliance was formed in Budapest on October 24th, 2009 and announced at a press conference held by Jobbik. The BNP joined on November 12th. Its political declaration was drafted by Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, and signed by representatives of the other supporting organisations. Zoltán Balczó MEP, Jobbik’s vice-president, told the press conference that the alliance would “be registered as an official ‘European National Party’ in Strasbourg or in Brussels”.
The Budapest agreement includes a demand for a Europe of “free, independent and equal nations” and rejects any attempt to create a “centralist European Super State”. The signatories claim they want to protect Europe not only against terrorism but also against “religious, political, economic or financial imperialism” and against “the destructive effects of globalisation”.
The date of the conference was chosen to mark the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, which began on October 23rd. The date is now a national holiday which has been used in recent years by right-wing nationalists and fascist extremists to whip up hatred against “‘Jewified’ socialists, liberals and liberal intellectuals“.
In Italy, Holocaust-deniers are defying the law to get their views across to a new generation, helped by the historical revisionism so prevalent in the current political climate. By persistence in the face of weakening opposition in media circles, they seek recognition. Professor Antonio Caracciolo, a member of Berlusconi’s Party has been reported as having the opinion that the Holocaust is “a legend” based on “official truth, not subjected to historical verification or counterbalance”. Reported at the time in the Italian media, attention soon reverted to matters deemed more important – the bedroom antics of the Italian Prime Minister.
The Paramilitary Hungarian Guard, which now claims 3,000 members has been officially outlawed – but this didn’t stop them going ahead in September last year with a ceremony in which participants swore an oath “against gypsy crime”. Last year in this anti-gypsy climate eight Roma were brutally slain by racists.
The Netherlands, famed for its liberal attitudes on issues like sex and drugs has in recent years been more in the headlines for the activities and outbursts of Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party (PW) as he leads an apparent crusade against Islam. The PW has grown rapidly in the past few years, calling for a total halt to immigration from Muslim countries, the denaturalisation of criminal Muslims, the deportation of Muslims who do not follow a strict “assimilation contract”. In a debate over last years parliamentary budget Wilders poured forth on the imagined Islamification of the Netherlands demanding “Let us reconquer our streets and make sure Holland looks like Holland again”.
France’s fascists in Jean-Marie LePens Front National are by no means a spent force despite their financial difficulties and recent lack of significant successes – they still have MEP’s and municipal level representatives. The lessons the BNP has learnt in how it presents its ideology in the language of ‘identity’ as opposed to the language of ‘race’ have been part of the explanation for the FN’s growing success.
The UK’s BNP also has links to Germany’s leading Nazi group the NPD, whose leaders deny the Holocaust took place and revere Adolf Hitler. The NPD shares many of its activists with the outlawed Blood and Honour skinhead movement. In August 2002 Nick Griffin, the BNP’s leader, attended a festival put on by the NPD’s newspaper Deutsche Stimme (German Voice), where he was photographed with Voigt and the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Here in the UK, Griffin notoriously organised a BNP demonstration outside the German embassy when the German government tried unsuccessfully to ban the NPD. When Griffin and other BNP officers were arrested on suspicion of causing race hate, the NPD website called for support for them.
Fortunately in Germany the NPD – despite being active – have not moved forward to make significant electoral gains despite the economic crisis. However, the far-right in neighbouring Austria is another matter indeed.
Both the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) have made notable electoral gains over the past decade – the FPÖ having even formed a coalition Government within the last ten years when they managed to take 27% of the national vote. In 2008 they garnered an even bigger 29% of the vote between them, again sending shockwaves across Europe.
And just as the Nazis gained power on the back of extreme nationalism and virulent anti-Semitism, the recent unprecedented gains in Austria were made on a platform of fear about immigration and the perceived threat of Islam. FPO leader Heinz Christian Strache, for example, described women in Islamic dress as “female ninjas“. Emboldened by the new power in Parliament, neo-Nazi thugs have desecrated Muslim graves. After the electoral success of the FPO in Hitler’s home town of Braunau, a swastika flag was publicly unveiled in the months following the 2008 elections. The FPO now wants to legalise Nazi symbols.
Common ideas on immigration, Islam, race, faith, and a deep strain of modern fascist thinking link many of these far right parties and organisations spanning the length and breadth of Europe. More disturbing still are the very real links between many of the organisations who cultivate relationships and share ideas about how to effectively, even respectably, propagate hatred for electoral gain.
‘Never Again’, therefore, cannot be a simple remembrance – but in fact a call to action. As we observe Holocaust Memorial Day, it is also worth reflecting on the people who risked their lives opposing the Nazis – people like Freya von Moltke, a prominent member of Germany’s anti-Nazi resistance during the Second World War, who recently died, aged 98, at her home in the US. She and her husband opposed the Nazis from the beginning and both were involved in a plot to kill Hitler in 1944.
Let their efforts and sacrifices be an inspiration to us all as we take on today’s fascists over the coming year.