|>Los Angeles Times, November 28, 1999, Sunday, Home Edition
>by Martin A. Lee, Martin A. Lee is the author of "The Beast Reawakens," a
>book about, neo-fascism
>Austria's far-right Freedom Party sent shock waves through Europe when it
>won 27% of the vote in recent national elections. Joerg Haider, the Freedom
>Party's youthful, charismatic fuehrer, is now in a strong position to
>contend for the Austrian chancellorship, despite his penchant for
>expressing pro-Nazi sympathies.
>While Austrian officials struggled to put together a viable governing
>coalition, Switzerland's extremist right-wing People's Party, led by
>Christoph Blocher, scored a major electoral breakthrough, winning 23% of
>the vote in late October. Blocher, like Haider, is a tub-thumping,
>xenophobic multimillionaire who rails against immigrants, government
>corruption and the European Union. Blocher caused a stir when he praised
>the author of a book that denied the Holocaust.
>Austria and Switzerland are small countries with comparatively little
>influence on the world stage. But if such enthusiasm for the extreme right
>extended across the border into Germany, it would be a matter of grave
>concern for the entire international community. Currently, in economically
>depressed eastern Germany, an alarming 15% to 20% of young men vote for
>neo-fascist parties. "To say that one-third of East German youth is now
>prone to the extreme right is an understatement," warns Berlin
>criminologist Berndt Wagner. "The point of no return has already been
>reached for many. It's growing. It's getting worse."
>"Neo-fascism and neo-Nazism are gaining ground in many countries,
>especially in Europe," says Maurice Glele-Ahanhanzo, special rapporteur of
>the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Of particular concern,
>Glele-Ahanhanzo noted in a recent report to the U.N. General Assembly, is
>the "increase in the power of the extreme right-wing parties," thriving in
>"an economic and social climate characterized by fear and despair." Among
>the key factors fueling the far right, according to the U.N. report, are
>"the combined effects of globalization, identity crises and social
>Radical right-wing populist movements with openly fascist roots have made
>significant inroads into mainstream politics in several West European
>countries, including Belgium, where the neo-fascist Vlaams Blok outpolls
>all rivals with 30% of the vote in Antwerp, the second-largest city.
>Far-right parties have also gained at least 15% nationwide in France, Italy
>and Norway. While this percentage may seem inconsequential in terms of the
>U.S. two-party system, it can carry great weight in parliamentary balloting
>and determine the political makeup of government.
>Even when they lose elections, neo-fascists are like a toxic chemical in
>the water supply of the European political landscape, polluting public
>discourse and pressuring establishment parties to adopt extremist positions
>to fend off challenges from the hard right. Scapegoating foreigners and
>ethnic minorities, ultra-right-wing demagogues have touched a raw nerve in
>a tumultuous post-Cold War world still reeling from the demise of
>Soviet-bloc communism, the reunification of Germany, global economic
>restructuring and major technological change.
>In Western Europe today, there are 50 million poor, 18 million unemployed
>and 3 million homeless--and Eastern Europe is faring much worse. Such
>conditions are ripe for exploitation by extreme-right organizations that
>range from tiny splinter groups and underground terrorist cells to sizable
>political parties. While skinhead gangs may function as shock troops of the
>far right's march through Europe, leaders of the more successful mass-based
>neo-fascist organizations have softened their image and tailored their
>message to appeal to mainstream voters.
>Riding the crest of a populist backlash against globalization, far-right
>opportunists couple their anti-immigrant tirades with pointed criticisms of
>the European Union and the recent introduction of a single currency, the
>euro. They have gotten mileage out of exploiting justifiable qualms about
>the European Monetary Union, which they present as an attempt by Europe's
>big business to adapt to the needs of the new global economic order.
>Full participation in the European Union required painful budgetary
>retrenchment by member states, which, for better or worse, relinquished
>authority on key fiscal matters to unelected central bankers in Frankfurt.
>The adoption of the euro and the globalization of financial markets, in
>general, have significantly limited the capacity of national governments to
>regulate their economies and redress high unemployment by adjusting their
>currencies and tweaking their interest rates.
>Not surprisingly, voter turnout among Europeans has dropped precipitously,
>along with public confidence in elected representatives. Disenchantment
>with the conventional political spectrum is heightened by the failure of
>erstwhile left-of-center social democratic parties to offer an alternative
>agenda to rigid EU policy nostrums. This, in turn, has strengthened the
>hands of neo-fascists and other right-wing extremists who have successfully
>tapped into widespread resentment of unresponsive state governments.
>President Bill Clinton has spoken about "the inexorable logic of
>globalization" that no country can escape. While economically driven, this
>phenomenon also has far-reaching social consequences. Global commerce acts
>as the great homogenizer, blurring indigenous differences and smothering
>contrasting ethnic traits. Consequently, many Europeans are fearful of
>losing not only their jobs, but their cultural and national identities.
>Where local traditions lose influence, individuals tend to become atomized
>psychologically and thus more susceptible to the lures of ultranationalists
>who manipulate deep-seated anxieties.
>The much-ballyhooed new information technologies have created an
>environment conducive to financial speculation and the rapid growth of
>global commerce. Increasingly, the key players in the global economy are
>multinational corporations, transnational lobbies and elite trade
>associations, rather than popularly conscripted officials. These global
>forces have usurped many of the usual prerogatives of the nation-state,
>while also calling into question democratic notions of political power and
>Though free markets are supposed to guarantee maximum efficiency, they have
>instead magnified inequalities and hastened the breakdown of certain social
>structures, leading to instability, mass migration and ethnic strife. At
>the same time, the waning power of the nation-state has triggered a harsh
>ultranationalist reaction, as demonstrated by the surge of support for
>mass-based far-right parties in several European countries.
>Supporters of the EU have long argued that economic integration is a
>crucial step toward creating a political union, which, they hope, will end
>forever the scourge of pitiless nationalism that has ravaged the continent
>in the past. But just the opposite seems to be happening. As economic
>globalization has accelerated, producing definite winners and losers, so,
>too, has the momentum of neo-fascist and right-wing extremist organizations.
>If anything, European integration is likely to foster the continued growth
>of radical right-wing parties. Burgeoning ultranationalist movements are
>collateral damage inflicted by unfettered globalization, which breeds the
>very monstrosities it purports to oppose. And the extreme right provides an
>alibi for globalization while revolting against it.
>A product of democratic decay, radical right-wing populism and its current
>fascist manifestations, which vary from country to country, can only thrive
>in situations where social injustice is prevalent. Converging economic,
>political and social trends suggest that increasing numbers of people in
>the Western democracies will become vulnerable to the appeals of
>neo-fascists posing as national populists offering simple solutions to
>"It is becoming frighteningly evident that unspeakable evil can take the
>stage again," Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson declared at a recent
>conference on resurgent racism and neo-fascism in Europe. The ghastly
>miscarriage of free-market restructuring in much of the former Soviet bloc
>and the Third World, the abdication of the socialist left as a vehicle for
>discontent in Western Europe and the homogenizing juggernaut of
>transnational capitalism across the globe--all are elements of a potent
>witches' brew that propels mainstream governance further and further into
>the politics of resentment.
>Shortly before he died in 1987, Primo Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz, warned
>of the advent of "a new fascism . . . walking on tiptoe and calling itself
>by other names." This new fascism is a decidedly contemporary phenomenon
>that looks different in many ways from its antecedents. When Adolf Hitler
>came to power, he took the world by surprise. Those who remain fixated on
>images of the fascist past and neglect the growing dangers of the present
>may be taken by surprise again.