Every nation has the same deep rooted political fear - that one day a far right party will sweep us all off our feet and make us forget our morals, our dignity and even our sense of identity. In classrooms, pupils are reminded endlessly that if we don’t learn the lessons from 1930’s Germany, it could happen again - but is it happening already?
When National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen came dangerously close to becoming the French president, the Western world took a collective gasp. How could a fascist get this far into a well established political system? Overnight, political pundits around the world began to question how far away all of us were from being ruled by a fascist dictator. The mood didn’t last for long. After Le Pen’s crushing defeat in the final ballot, the threat seemed to go away and everyone returned to normal life. Unfortunately however, fascism has continued to stealthily creep back into political systems around the world. Extremists have always existed throughout society, but are they growing in number?
There can be no greater act of rebellion for a young German today than to leave the family house with a shout of ‘Heil Hitler’! In some parts of Germany, Neo-Nazism is becoming worse than prevalent; it’s becoming trendy. Nazi memorabilia and philosophies have a chillingly fashionable appeal among some youths. Everything related to 1940’s Nazism is illegal to make or sell, so bootleg recordings of speeches, Nazi iconography and even ‘secret’ Nazi ring-tones have now become status symbols to an ever growing minority of rebellious teenagers. Music by outlawed Nazi-sympathetic rock bands such as Landser is illegally imported and bought by disaffected German youths at up to a hundred times the RRP.
Demographics show that the majority of violent, far-right motivated attacks seem to take place in what was East Germany, the poorer half of the country. For some teenagers, the harsh economics are only a minor factor. The primary motivation behind the attacks is the conflict between ‘home grown’ Germans and Russian immigrants. German teenagers complain of attacks from Russians. In turn, Russians claim to suffer prejudice at the hands of young Neo-Nazis. In the first few years after the fall of the Berlin wall, far-right motivated crimes increased from 178 in 1990 to 1, 485 in 1992.
For some teenagers, a war against immigrants is an ideal way to show rebellion. Along with persecution of Russians comes prejudice against Jews and non-white ethnic groups. Gays and lesbians are naturally included. The media have recently highlighted the problem of ‘fear zones’ where followers of the leading far right political party Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD) aim to keep control of strongholds by ‘policing’ their area. For gay people, this means whole areas where holding hands, kissing or showing any outward signs of being gay is very ill advised. Many German gays go miles out of their way to avoid such ‘fear zones’.
In 2003, the federal government tried to ban the NPD as an ‘unconstitutional’ party. They failed and in the 2005 elections, the NPD gained 1.6% of the national vote, coming top in four electoral provinces. Earlier this year they also managed to get above the 5% vote needed to gain their first seats in power.
Fascist -o-meter - 6 out of 10
Although attempts have been made to ban fascist parties, they are making good ground into Germany’s political system. Violence and intimidation are also worryingly high. However, with Germany’s past, there is still huge opposition to any far right party or organisation, so the vast majority of the population will almost certainly put a stop to any full-blown fascist revival.
Nowhere is the danger from fascism more acute than rural France. There may not be outraged teenagers turning to gang warfare, nor areas of the country controlled by fear and violence, but in many ways the threat of growing far right support is even more severe. The problem is that French fascists are supported by a huge section of the population. These aren’t young men with a hormonal imbalance - these are elderly farmers, middle aged council workers and civil servants.
The cause of this rise in support appears to be the shifting landscape. The country still has a vast farming network, but only a quarter of the farms that that were operating before the war still exist. Sons are no longer taking on the family farm, and in rural villages there is no almost work available – most people commute into the towns and cities. Worse of all, France is no longer the country which sells the most wine!
Many other countries have seen such migration to the urban centres, but many French rural dwellers feel the country is not just losing its farms, it is losing its very identity. This has led many towards a fascist outlook. In 2002, the threat of France becoming a National Front led country was a real one. Jean-Marie Le Pen caused a huge shock by taking top place in the first round of the presidential elections. Thankfully, the nation was shocked into voting for his nearest competitor, Jacques Chirac. But the threat is not dead yet. Deputy leader of the National Front, Le Pen’s daughter Marine, is aiming to capitalise on the feeling of dissatisfaction in rural France. She is an attractive women of 38 and rumours abound that she will be the next National Front candidate to shock the French public. With support for her running high France now has a real threat of a successful far right challenger.
So what does this mean for gays? A major part of the National Front’s message is that the breakdown in family life has contributed to the ‘modern living’ rural supporters oppose. The introduction of the Pacte Civil de Solidarite, France’s version of civil partnerships, has been cited as a major contributor to the modernisation of France. The National Front would ‘refuse aberrant cultures, such as modern art or gay culture’. This remit suggests a host of unspoken possibilities from gay bars being closed down to much worse options. France goes to the polls some time in April next year.
Fascist -o-meter - 8 out of 10
Unlike Germany, France has no political shame when it comes to extremist ideas. The country is not prone to strong political shifts, but the dissatisfaction of farmers is adding to the threat from the right greatly. Don’t forget France has already come closer than any other country in the West to having a far right leader.
America has always been a worryingly perfect place for extreme views to breed. As a young country deeply confused over its national identity, the fragmented beginnings of the nation are conveniently hidden behind the ‘traditional American way’. Patriotism is not only encouraged but insisted upon. In this climate of identity confusion, extremism has always thrived. USA was the land who gave is the KKK, Fred Phelps and Scientology - surely proof enough of its potential to encourage the extreme.
But the threat from the right has not come from the usual sources in America. Although the KKK still exist and the American Nazi Party has been revived (swastikas and all), it is in fact the placid, loving Christian Church who are fuelling American’s right wing. Bush, a self-confessed fundamentalist Christian, is part of a rise in Christian politics, promoted and controlled by the Christian Coalition. This seemingly happy-spirited political advisory group now has members throughout American politics.
Since the 70’s, a multitude of Christian right organisations including the Christian Coalition have been created – The American Family Association, Focus on the Family, American Family Voices…the list goes on. And what is the major factor in all these Christian groups? The answer is in the word family. The Christian right are strictly opposed to any form of gay marriage or same-sex family making, and are hugely powerful. How can pro-gay legislation stand a chance against such formidable opposition?
Help could come from the American youth, many of whom are firmly opposed to Bush’s war in Iraq. Could their votes help turn the country back to a liberal, pro-human rights state?
Fascist -o-meter - 4 out of 10
With the recent landslide towards the Democrats in the mid-term elections, it looks as though the USA is currently swinging back towards the left. However, America is known for extreme points of view so it is doubtful the USA will ever be fascist free!
Even the Conservatives are starting to ‘hug hooddies’ and attempting to attract the pink vote. So you could be forgiven for thinking that the country is on a definite swinging to the centre ground overall. However, 44 members of the British National Party are currently sat in their council offices up and down the country, legally elected as members of the local Government. The problem may not seem too widespread on the surface, but when you bear in mind that 192, 850 people in the UK cast their votes for the BNP, the situation begins to look a little more serious.
In fact, political experts suggest that the UK’s ‘first past the post’ system is the only reason why the BNP have not yet had their first MP. The question to ask now is whether the BNP can sustain their success or, even worse, improve upon it. With the Conservatives widening their appeal to the centre ground, disenfranchised right wing Tories could see voting for the BNP as their only option.
As far as LGBTs go, no far right party will ever be supportive. The BNP are still no different, citing homosexuality as a ‘depraved way of life’ and threatening to bring back Section 28, if they ever get into Government. However, the party has backtracked slightly on gay issues. Traditionally, the party policy was that homosexuality would be made illegal again under a BNP Government. Since 2004 that policy has been revoked. Now, the BNP believe homosexuality should be ‘tolerated’ as long as it is between consenting adults and ‘left in the closet, where it belongs’. Officially, the BNP say they would welcome a homosexual person into the party, although it would be a brave one who tried! Prejudice against gay people is still prevalent at the BNP and their underlying attitude is far from tolerant as their rhetoric would have you believe.
Fascist -o-meter - 7 out of 10
The UK is one of the few countries where a far right party is not only legal but actually gaining ground in local councils. The BNP remains attractive to voters in some areas and it is only a matter of time before we have a BNP member in the House.
Yet another country struggling to deal with its fascist past, Spain is experiencing the very worst side of the far right. On the surface, all seems fine. There are no extreme right wing MPs and no official far right political parties in the system of government. There is definitely nothing ‘official’ about Spain’s fascist elements at all. Largely based on underground movements, events in the country regularly bring far right elements to the surface, such as the recent removal of the last existing statue of Generalissimo Franco. Over 700 protesters turned up, most of them young, white men. For these disaffected men, Franco has become the poster boy for their fight against the ‘impure’ elements in Spain, namely the usual suspects – immigrants, blacks and homosexuals.
The scale of the problem is worrying. At the moment, it is estimated that 10,000 people in Spain are members of a far right organisation. The fact that none of them are taken seriously politically actually exacerbates the situation. Instead of donning suits and running for local council, these young men often turn to violence to get their message across. The term ‘going hunting’ is well know among the far right underground as meaning a night in the city weeding out the immigrants, homosexuals and prostitutes to violently beat.
Despite being a majority Catholic country, gay people fare surprisingly well in Spain. In fact, recent changes to the law have legalised civil partnerships between same-sex couples. For the far right elements, this puts gay people firmly at the top of their hit list. Last November, thousands gathered to march in celebration of Franco’s birthday. Homosexuality took a larger place in the banners, chants and speeches than in past years, proving that gay issues are still an important issue.
Fascist -o-meter – 7 out of 10
It might be hard to see why Spain gets such a high rating. However, the threat to Spain is exactly the opposite of the threat to the UK. Far from being permitted to exist, far right organisations are largely ignored and taboo. This not only makes them all the more appealing to alienated youth but also allows neo-fascism to grow - totally unregulated and unchallenged.
While the threat of another Nazi Germany type uprising may still seem a remote possibility, all around the world the lives of minorities are being hampered by extremist ideas. Remember the next time your polling card comes through the post that a vote from you could be all that is needed to counteract the vote of a far right supporter.