Each democracy that does not experience major change after prolonged governance, results in rise of radical right movements
Racism and radical political movements have global characteristics such as pressuring the political governance, often achieving high voter support through their anti-system populism, and serving as an examination of how mature a democratic community is when they become louder when elections approach. There are various reasons why such movements but mostly the financial reasons are named as the strongest. The radical politics that once used the financial crises as the main argument, today especially they turned towards movements focusing on the negative effects of globalism and immigration.
Starting with the social evolution movements in 19th century, racism has been involved with politics and until a global opportunity was present, there was not a widely effective racist political movement. It was only in 1930s Europe that there was a successful racist political movement, when Hitler and Mussolini emerged as leaders of two nations as a result of the whole world being devastated due to a global economic meltdown known as the “Great Depression”. Hitler suggested that the Jewish community was behind all the social problems that led to economic problems and based his ideology on destroying the diversity to build up a modern system in Europe. His plan that was to be remembered for decades across Europe was based on a simple logic: to rebuild the modern society as a pure one after the destruction of Jewish communities that are over-active in economic, academic and social life alongside all the non-Aryan entities that slow down the Germanic society. For that reason, even when the Soviet and American forces were coming close to Berlin for a final blow, he was more focused on how great Germany will be reconstructed after the war.
After the WW2, racist political movements could not possible get any support as it was those movements as the engine force of a destruction world had never experienced before. It was when the generations that did not see the effects of war became involved with politics, people with racist tendencies saw that politics was under the oligarchy of a few traditional mainstream parties. These can be labeled as Centre Right and Centre Left, and most common of those parties were the Christian Democrats (CD) that can be placed on the center right and the Social Democrats (SD) that attracts the center left votes. These two parties have been there over half a century and throughout the Cold War years they have emerged into a duality in multi-party systems as the two winners. However, the two parties have not experienced the social change and transformation as rapidly as the people who vote for them and after a certain point no matter how high the support was for them in the elections they became unable to claim full representation in politics.
Culture is the core of 21st century politics
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, ethnic and cultural policies became more and more effective in political rhetoric. There were attempts to cover these issues through extensive efforts in minority rights, policies arranging immigration and asylum treatments, but the fact that these issues were not top priority for the governing parties resulted in the politization of culture to lose its salience in mainstream politics. The demographic transformations caused by economically and socially rising second and third generation immigrants happened much faster than the transformation of political agendas of mainstream parties -both CD and SD- to answer the needs of a new approach that is necessary to focus on ethnic trouble and immigration related distress.
The political parties that would focus on culture as a politicized matter came from two sides that were labeled as marginal in the first place; the green movement and new-nationalist groups. The greens started emerging as an alternate political movement already in 1980s however it was not until after the Cold War was over that they became popular Europe-wide; and the nationalist parties although had parties already could not qualify in professional politics as there was no significant leader that would address continent-wide problems. It was an interesting thing to see that both parties attracted support from both right and left, which showed that after the Cold War was over the lines were blurred and a new understanding of politics was coming. The greens focused on the minorities globally and reflected on the duty of European Union (EU) as a guarantor of immigrants’ rights and their value for the multicultural Europe as well as European economic life.
It was not long before the greens organized themselves and attained political representation in national parliaments throughout 90s. The rapid emergence of greens, minority rights, asylum regulations, immigration policies and broad range of rights given to the foreign-related citizens in nation-states disturbed some groups in the mainstream. It is generally the losers of rapid globalization and those in fear of losing their social status as part of the mainstream who feel disturbed. These people found the solution in turning towards center right parties –especially the CD in the European case- and naming their problems one by one so that it can be addressed by a major political party. It is one of the strongest reasons why in early 2000s, after the 9/11 attacks, European states turned towards CD governments one by one, in favor of the xenophobia that became a global phenomenon.
Christian Democrats dominate 2000s
CD governments could not possibly act against the EU norms and values, thus locally they would not be able to satisfy the conservatives who were obsessed with the national culture. Because of the EU obstacle in satisfying the conservative nationalists, the CD governments could only propose minor measures concerning the matters. For the last decade which was dominated by CD governments all across Europe –unlike previous decades when there was more or less equilibrium between right and left- there was not any strong left alternative that could attract votes of the dissatisfied people. As a result, the dissatisfied masses were forced to look for another alternative. These people who can be described as xenophobic and anti-immigrant would not divert their energy into the green movement as an alternative of course; and in the end the right-voters radicalized their views and preferred extreme rightist visions.
Throughout 90s and early 2000s the extreme right parties were viewed as marginal groups, however today –including the European Parliament- extreme rightist parties are present in many national parliaments. Especially in Austria the strongest party is a racist one, and in Netherlands Wilders supports the coalition to stay in power. In countries like Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy racist parties are either in high favor of the governing rightist party or in coalition and that is a worrisome fact. Once the Nazis were caricaturized by the mainstream and the emergence of a new racist wave in Europe was underrated by the mainstream. However, just recently the radical right parties of Europe gathered in Vienna to unite their views on external political affairs and act as one body in “coping with immigrants”. Today, even in Sweden –which is known as the heart of social democracy that could never possibly be thought to allow any anti-democratic and non-centering body into the parliament- there is a racist party which received more than 5% of the votes and gained seats in central parliament.
EU’s asymmetric integration
The EU achieved peace through integration of economies in a short span and united all the member states’ markets to create the world’s strongest and biggest economy; however the social integration of the peoples of Europe could not follow the financial pace. The social integration was not achieved, moreover this issue was left aside for a long time; this attitude resulted in more and more people to blame EU for all the problems that emerged as a result of rapid globalization. As the people who did not support this economic agenda could not protest the political spectrum on a wide range party basis, they turned to unification against integration at local and regional levels against the EU. This radicalization did not even base itself solely on the extreme right, and exploited the presence of extreme left as well, uniting in scapegoating EU when seen necessary.
The latest polls one can currently find are from France, concerning the presidential elections of 2012. According to the poll results, Marine Le Pen –leader of the extreme nationalist Front Nationalé- receives about 24% of the votes while no other leader is as popular. It is no wonder why her popularity grows that fast when the people are tired of the current president and there is not a very strong antagonist at hand. If the French socialists do the same mistake that they did in 2002, after a decade they will still have to lose the elections and vote for the second disliked candidate whom they do not prefer in the final round. Of course expectations revolve around the leader who will achieve the second best position after FN’s Le Pen. But the actual distress is deeper for the people’s despair upon EU’s unparalleled and asymmetric integration policies that is becoming clumsy in traditional politics that cause people to trust the mainstream political movements less and less.
There is still hope as no radical right party has gained at least the simple majority in any country; yet in Hungary and Bulgaria the radical right parties are supporting the rightist parties that have received an overwhelming majority of the votes in latest elections. Still, in many countries the coalition partners to radical right movements may defy and not embrace them; but racism in Europe is going at a pace that will soon be unstoppable easily.
The CD governments that have marked the last decade in a politically weary atmosphere have turned into unproductive entities by now. They position themselves closer to the employers rather than the workers and employees. The SDs, facing the declining support for CD’s crisis-like governance, are still unable to offer a productive policy and leader that would reclaim the protest votes; and this is one of the biggest reasons why the radical right parties have gained so much popularity. The extended years of the governments, upon the governance fatigue should be encountered with a strong opposition party that should naturally come from an SD party; however the liberals have long lost their hope in the current SD as a result of the impotence they reflect.
The minor power vacuum initiates the center right’s supporters with radical tendencies to go for another option on the extremist strata. While a democratic culture should be based on availability of options and being content with the “second best” option after elections, seeing that there is no second best causes people to search other options which might support their views more hardcore than any center party.
What about the Turkish case?
Currently there is no other nationalist rightist party than the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in Turkey that has achieved parliamentary representation in the national elections. Yet there is a great tendency to support racist parties becoming more and more apparent. It is not hard to realize that the number of political movements based on ethnic roots, national myth or religious background is on the rise and support for them is growing. Recently there was a discussion suggesting “Party of the Valley of the Wolves” (referring to an infamous nationalist TV show that has caused various controversies between Turkey and the US, Israel, Germany) and the only reason why this party might not be available is that the producers of the show hold copyrights to the title.
At the moment, apart from Justice and Development Party (AKP) that is on the Islamic-Democrat (similar to CD) line and the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) which receives the social democratic votes, there are two other nationalist parties in the parliament that represent Turkish and Kurdish nationalisms side by side. The political stands and statements that occur in the parliament do not seem to please any group lately, after long years of no-change in the order and support-rate of the parties. This dilemma causes other movements from outside the parliament gain more support through anti-system rhetoric. Especially movements similar to Rights and Equality for All Party (HEPAR) start organizing louder and more visible actions in public, similar to their counterparts in Europe. They will follow the footsteps of the racist parties in Europe and in the next five years there will be at least one radical party in the parliament in Ankara as well.
If one analyses the examples of racist parties in Europe, it is easy to detect that radical right or anti-system parties get most support in cases when the economic growth rates do not match the rise in workers’ wages and especially the revenues of the smallest enterprises; when ethnic and demographic problems are not handled with urgency by the governments; when the political opposition parties can not propose a sustainable and productive alternative; when the prolonged governance fatigue turns into staffing and political pressure over the opposition-supporters is no longer bearable. It would be only realistic to state that these causes are over-present in the Turkish case.
There has been a single-party government in Turkey since AKP has won all the elections that it has participated since 2002. No matter how AKP might have started out with goodwill, after a decade of unmatched political power turns it into small dictatorial governance, the only focal power without an alternative. Although the government has never gained the simple majority in any election, the plurality of the votes enabled the party to impose social and political pressure on the rest of the people that did not vote for AKP, and this might be natural in case of unmatched government. The supporters of the opposition parties have long lost hope in them and in the next five years it will not be unrealistic to expect any rise of radical political movements.
Even though Turkey might not synchronize herself to Europe and receive all political development from there, or even when the accession talks might end and the government decides to direct its energy towards another alternative the end result concerning the rise of radical right would be the same. Radical and racist parties in Europe are not authentic to western democracies and it does not emerge only in the continent. When necessary conditions are met, they emerge as anti-system movements to reset the political agenda and give it a more socially popular identity –disregarding how harmful they serve. Although the Turkish democracy is unripe yet, the single-party government that has been ruling the country for about a decade will drag the country slowly towards radicalization or the core-supporters of the government will figure out that the party is not answering their demands as significantly as they expect and will move from the center towards periphery.
Unfortunately, the government and the governing party can not do anything about this matter, since even though they might decide to leave today there is no real alternative party or political agenda that would serve as an option for the electorate to choose to rule the country. The only responsible actors in this equation are opposition parties that do not revitalize their party politics and the organic structure of their parties. As long as the opposition parties do not tune up, or suggest a durable alternative to their electorate and get rid of the losers who keep not winning in elections there will be only one winner and that is the radical politicians. The opposition parties should somehow force inner-party democracy and create grounds where more popular figures who are able to gain people’s support occupy the seats of responsibility and not the ones who clinch themselves to those seats. Otherwise, the current situation will only lead to the rapid rise of anti-system fascism seeds of which have already been planted in the society. The parties will keep trying to put dirt on each other’s faces and bribe their electorate via commodities of social state entity –the resources of which come from tax-payers’ money anyways- expecting votes in return until the 2011 elections, yet there will definitely emerge (or become more popular) some columnists that will remind the people of all the dirty tricks being played before the elections and the despair that people “should” feel upon no-change in the political atmosphere as the results will not satisfy anyone except for all those afraid of losing all they have in case of change.
March 10th, 2011