Karlsruhe Dialogues 2009

Right-Wing Extremism in Europe today



Opening speech: Right-Wing Extremism in Europe: Social Developments and Misanthropic Mindsets
Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Heitmeyer

Rightist extremist parties and groups in various shades have been posing a threat for a long time. This is true, despite a partial “democracy drain”, less for the democratic system but rather for weak groups within the respective societies, through degrading, discrimination and violence. The development of this political problem, which is about power in the system and in everyday life, cannot be disconnected from developments in society, like the dangers of social disintegration, etc. This state of society provokes over and over again new and sometimes intensified ideologies of inequivalence toward weak groups, expressed in the form of group-related misanthropy. In part it may find agreement with the population and therefore presents a basis of legitimating rightist extremist violence. The question remains just how we can disrupt the permanent reproduction of such misanthropic mentalities.


Varieties of Right-Wing Extremism in Europe
Prof. Dr. David Art

Over the last several decades, political parties that scholars have labeled both radical right and right-wing extremist have appeared across Europe. They have taken a variety of forms and have experienced different levels of success in elections and in influencing broader political and social developments. This lecture will compare and contrast the development of radical right parties in contemporary Europe and offer a few explanations for why they are strong in some countries and relatively weak in others.


History as Propaganda. Strategies of Commemoration
within German Right-Wing Extremism
Dr. Michael Kohlstruck

For German right-wing extremism, history is an object of interpretation and a reason for mobilisation. These interpretations – from a national outlook – legitimate rightist extremists as “true Germans”, and they serve to propagate racial ideologies. Their understanding of history includes agreeing with historic National Socialism. The demonstrations on anniversaries of historic events are of great importance for the internal integration of the rightist extremist movement as well as for their outward presentation.


Modern Right-Wing Extremism: A Challenge for Prevention and Political Education
Dr. Rudolf van Hüllen

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany regards it a state task to convincingly impart the values of the democratic constitutional state for the long term in order to fight misanthropic and antidemocratic ambitions. For extremism starts in the mind. Modern right-wing extremism – with a moderate and civil outward appearance – avails itself of popular topics such as globalisation or social criticism, subtly laced with rightist extremist contents. That is why political education must describe backgrounds and bring forward arguments, even more than thus far, and in the process respond to regional asymmetries: democratic values are not as fundamentally embodied in the new German federal states; rightist extremist factions in three East German state parliaments are a clear sign concerning this matter. But also in West Germany an unpleasantly high number of people agree with individual rightist extremist patterns of ideology. Consequently, for the east, embracing democratic values, building a civil society and also intervening directly against apparent right-wing extremism is the order of the day. In western Germany, the state faces the challenge to fight subtle and often blind rightist extremist ideologies.


Right-Wing Extremism and the Centre of Society
Prof. Dr. Birgit Rommelspacher

Rightist extremists claim to act on behalf of the people and to say openly what others don’t dare to say. Are there actual consistencies between the “centre” and the right-wing “edge” of society? Where are the boundaries, where is opposition? These questions will be addressed, among other things, by examining the interactions between parents and their rightist extremist children.


The Radical Right in Europe: Structure, Trends and Counter Strategies
Britta Schellenberg M.A.

The lecture introduces current trends (structures and topics) of the radical right in Europe and presents strategy approaches to the abatement of right-wing movements. Current expertise given by different countries is the background of analysis. This expertise resulted from the project "Strategies against Right-Wing Extremism in Europe" of the Bertelsmann Foundation and of the Centre for Applied Policy Research.


Extreme Right Voting in Belgium and Some Limited International Comparisons
Prof. Dr. Marc Swyngedouw

In an important number of Western European countries extreme right-wing and populist right-wing parties have become a relevant player in the political space. In some countries they participate in government, in others they support minority government or heavily influence the political debate and the stances of different other parties on issues like law and order or immigration and ethnic minorities. Looking at the socio-demographic characteristics of the extreme right and populist right-wing voters, it becomes clear, that in the course of time – say from the end of the 1980’s until 2007 – the popular base of these parties have changed from predominantly lower class voters to a more general interception of the general population. Looking at the attitudinal dispositions to vote for these parties, it turns out, that negative attitudes toward ethnic minorities and a call for repression of criminality are the main characteristics of these voters. However, it is clear that a certain path dependency exists in the different Western European countries. Further on it will become clear that from the end of the 1990’s the perceived threat of Islam became the main source of a negative attitude toward ethnic minorities in Western Europe. This results from the fact that the dominant frame to interpret (inter)national conflict has become the ‘clash of civilizations’, putting every conflict into the opposition Islam versus the West. We show, that the cleavage structure of the political space in Western European countries has changed since the 1980s and that beside the classical economic left-right cleavage a new cleavage came to the frontier: the so-called Universalist Cultural Openness versus the Particularist Cultural Closeness.


Xenophobia and Radical right-wing Populism: A Vicious Circle?
Prof. Dr. Jens Rydgren

The immigration issue has been central for the new radical right-wing parties in Western Europe, and many have turned to immigration-related factors in trying to explain their emergence and electoral mobilization. This research has convincingly shown that immigration skepticism (i.e., wanting to reduce immigration) is among the principal factors for predicting who will vote for a radical right-wing party. However, earlier studies have often uncritically equated immigration skepticism with xenophobia or even racism. By using data from the first round of the European Social Survey (2003) involving six West European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway) I will in the first part of this presentation indicate that xenophobic attitudes are a far less significant factor than immigration skepticism for predicting who will vote for the new radical right. In general, radical right-wing voters are less xenophobic than the parties they vote for. Moreover, I have analyzed to what extent anti-immigration frames employed by radical right-wing parties resonate with attitudes held by supporting voters, and to what extent they make a difference for people’s decision to vote for the radical right. The analyses indicate that frames that link immigration to criminality and social unrest are particularly effective for mobilizing voter support for the radical right. In the second part of the presentation, I will discuss the influence radical right-wing parties may have on the level on immigration-negative attitudes in a society. By taking part in the process of political articulation, such parties may cause increased xenophobia indirectly by having an influence on other political actors, as well as directly by having an influence on people’s frame of thought.


Between (Anti-)Sexism and Racial Thinking. Women and Images of Women in the Right-Wing Extremist Scene
Dr. Renate Bitzan

Although right-wing extremism is still largely male-dominated, there are also many women who actively support it. In addition to their playing a quantitative part in different dimensions of right-wing extremism – ranging from violent acts to working for parties, from voting behaviour to engagement potential – this lecture will exemplarily present some women’s organisations and their quite heterogeneous image of women. In conclusion, we will develop some theses as to what effects the presence of women has in the rightist extremist scene.


“I want to feel at ease in my home“. Everyday Life of Families of Right-Wing Youths
Dr. Reiner Becker

Public discussions about rightist extremists attitudes in youths are quick to name the culprit: more often than not, causes as well as solutions are expected to be found in the teenager’s home. As a matter of fact, there are ample research findings about the importance of the family with respect to political socialisation – and also to the development of a right-wing orientation. However, there is hardly any knowledge about how a family copes with a young person who is already leaning to the far right.
This lecture is based on the study “Normal family life. Interaction and communication of right-wing youths and their parents,” which ties in with research about different theoretical concepts of right-wing extremism and of families as a place of socialisation. Using the analysis of qualitative interviews with right-wing youths and parents, we will examine and compare in this lecture different “typical” areas of family interaction and communication. At the same time we will outline the opportunities and boundaries families have as a resource for reducing rightist extremist affinities in youths. We will see that for some families the right-wing orientation of a teenager does not pose a problem, so they can still lead a normal family life, while others find that their daily life is affected by numerous conflicts. In this case, a “normal family” life is more delusion than reality.


Erlebniswelt Rechtsextremismus. Menschenverachtung mit Unterhaltungswert
Dr. Thomas Pfeiffer

The face of right-wing extremism in Germany has changed. Its appearance and ways of action are often all but fusty or stuck in the past – a modernized right-wing extremism rather speaks a language of 21st century symbols: rock music has become a propaganda tool; sedition is frequently found in modern web design; new symbols and codes create bonds; action is emphasised. That way, right-wing extremism has evolved into a “world of experience” in which entertainment and political messages coalesce. A clear example is “Project schoolyard” – the attempt of neo-Nazi circles to hand out music CDs with rightist extremist lyrics to children and adolescents to lure them to the rightist extremist scene.
An antidemocratic and often misanthropic disposition is omnipresent in “the world of experience of right-wing extremism”. It still centres on a xenophobic core and on the glorification, or at least belittlement, of National Socialism. A times rightist extremists make an effort to conceal such messages with a coat of seriousness, at times they call attention to themselves with provocative and cynical racism on open display. What tools does the rightist extremist scene use to reach adolescents? What messages do the songs of the scene convey?


The Front national : an international comparison
Prof. Dr. Jean-Yves Camus

Founded in 1972, the French Front national tried to model itself on the then-leader of the European Extreme-Right, that is, the Italian Movimento Sociale Tricolore (MSI). However, after the FN emerged as a powerful political force in 1984, it gradually replaced the Italian neo-fascists as the spearhead of the “third wave” of populist, xenophobic parties. The FN has played (and still wants to play) a role in building a coalition of like-minded parties at the level of the European Union, especially in the European Parliament. It has also served as an example to other parties in shaping their political agenda, so that the mix of conservative populism, opposition to immigration, xenophobia and free-market economics that is Le Pen’s trademark, have become common features on the Extreme-Right.

The Front national is a model fore those nationalist, Far-Right parties which want to integrate into mainstream politics, yet, much like Vlaams Belang and the FPÖ, it retains many characteristics of the traditional Extreme-Right, and this sets him apart from the modernist movements such as the Scandinavian populist parties or the Swiss SVP/UDC. Furthermore, its success also comes from the charisma of Le Pen, and it is the lacklustre of their leaders that have kept so many similar parties in the political underground.

Finally, like all the Extreme-Right parties that have been successful in the polls since the 1980s, the Front national does not draw much from its sister-parties abroad: it is first of all a typically French extremist movement, whose ideological roots are in the tradition of the reactionary French anti-parliamentary Right.


Attack from the Right-Wing: How the NPD and Comrades Use Football as a Strategic Tool
Ronny Blaschke M.A.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup was interpreted as the hour of birth for cosmopolitanism and tolerance, but there is also another way to describe it: the rose-tinted World Cup veil was a big illusion; coverage of the numerous offences from the right wing and the fact that the tournament was misused as a propaganda machine of extremist parties was distorted.

For decades right-wing extremism has been present in football, but it has changed. Secure and modern stadiums may be able to reduce rightist extremist assaults in the Bundesliga, but not its shift to the lower leagues. Right-wing extremism has become subtler; it has lost its volume and acts more and more on covert platforms, away from camera systems and places with larger numbers of police.

Trouble hot spots the state has given up on are often occupied by right-wing groupings to establish new youth centres, for example. The infiltration is usually even easier on football fields: football is like a magnifying glass that can increase racism, anti-Semitism or homophobia. There are fewer inhibitions in crowds, and rallying cries can quickly spread to neutral spectators. The German Football Association and the police have acknowledged that the biggest problem of football is not violence-prone hooligans but right-wing forces operating in the shadows, looking for new members. The greatest challenge for football is resistance against these forces, but still many clubs only start acting when their reputation is at stake.