Is the Hungarian a front or a central one?

Right-wing populism

Britta Schellenberg

To person

Britta Schellenberg is a research associate at the "Center for Applied Political Research" C.A.P. of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. She is responsible for the project "Successful strategies against right-wing extremism".

Right-wing populism has achieved some remarkable successes in Europe. But although the various right-wing populist parties have something in common, they differ from country to country and even from region to region. Britta Schellenberg offers an overview of right-wing populism in Europe.

Members of the "Europe of Nations and Freedom" group in the EU Parliament (from left to right): Matteo Salvini (Lega Nord, Italy), Marcel de Graaff (Party for Freedom, Netherlands), Janice Atkinson (United Kingdom Independence Party , Great Britain), Harald Vilimsky (FPÖ, Austria), Marine Le Pen (Front National, France), Geert Wilders (Party for Freedom, Netherlands) and others (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Radical right-wing parties and movements have made a name for themselves in numerous European countries in recent years. The radical right spectrum ranges from right-wing populist to right-wing extremist parties, with right-wing populists in particular finding approval in Western Europe. The decisive difference between these two types is their attitude to the so-called system question: While right-wing extremists clearly reject the current state order and its principles and sometimes actively attack it, right-wing populists do not appear explicitly opposed to the system. Without significantly changing their core ideology, once clearly right-wing extremist parties, the Sweden Democrats are now verbally more moderate. Today, its chairman, Jimmie Åkesson, is not trying to convince his predecessors with crude racism and hateful neo-Nazi slogans. Instead, he is more friendly to promoting the care of white Swedish citizens. The contrast to the white “we” is formed by the usual enemy images - enemy number 1 is currently “the Muslims”. "Do we want to be a multicultural society (...) in which fundamental Islam is spreading and making religious claims or do we want to be an independent nation with citizens who can determine their own fate (...)?" Marine Le Pen puts it. The head of the former French Front National has now also adapted her party name: since June 2018 she has been called the National Collection Movement.

The fact that radical right-wing agitation finds favorable opportunity structures has to do with numerous social modernization and globalization tendencies, which parts of the population perceive as negative or at least threatening. For example, the profound liberalization of the markets, global networking, the growing importance of the EU and the resulting feeling of confusion and less influence for citizens, a distribution of prosperity gains perceived as unjust, demographic change, the current refugee situation, the increased visibility of the Islam and the increasing overcoming of traditional gender and family images. [1]

In fact, the not inconsiderable success of right-wing populism in Europe has something in common: on the one hand, there are similar topics and strategic decisions, and on the other hand, there are characteristic causes and conditions for the success of right-wing populists in Europe. Despite the similarities, however, the nationally and regionally different forms of expression must not be lost sight of.

The logic of populism

The basic assumption of populism is that "the people" exist as a homogeneous body and thus as a unit. It is important to grasp "the will of the people" - ideally through a strong leader - and to implement it vigorously. So a "popular rule", beyond a distinction between majority and minority, between rich and poor, between mass and elite, should be possible. In this way, populism ignores different interests, power relations between social groups and internal conflicts. For him, interest groups such as parties or controversial citizens' movements are just as useless as the conflict-laden debates and compromise-finding processes that are constitutive in plural, democratic societies.

Instead, populists resort to diffuse attitudes and prejudices that exist in society, sharpen them and claim that they speak as the "voice of the people". When discussing social problems, differentiated root cause analyzes are faded out in favor of simple good-bad schemes, accusations and general enemy image constructions: the leading figure and the "we" group are always the good guys, the "others" pose a potential threat to the common good.

One vote against representatives of different interests and ideas

Right-wing populists present themselves as the "true voice of the people" and as "representatives of the common man". This is not just a self-confident self-expression, but is intended as a blow against other politicians and parties.

Behind the attacks on "established politics" and the despising of politicians and political parties is the aversion to democratic negotiation processes, different opinions and the negation of a socially complex reality. In their slogans and campaigns, right-wing populists doubt that “the people” are actually represented by the ruling politicians. They present them - as well as other representatives of a diverse democratic society, such as journalists - as corrupt or untrustworthy and accuse them of exploiting and selling the people for their own personal interests or for foreign, "anti-people" interests. Politicians are branded as "traitors" and the free media are seen as "lying press" and part of a conspiracy.

Through the blanket devaluation of politics - in particular through the accusation that the "people's vote" remains unheard by "the elite" politicians and parties - anti-democratic and anti-parliamentary attitudes are nurtured. Paradoxically, however, the right-wing populists who are eligible for election are often members of the so-called elite themselves, mostly particularly privileged people. Nobles, economics professors and lawyers (e.g. in the German AfD) are represented in right-wing populist party leaderships, as are German-national "old men" from academic connections (e.g. in the Austrian FPÖ), large business families and multimillionaires (e.g. in the Swiss People's Party and the French National rallying movement, formerly: Front National).

"The people" against "the foreigners" - who are the main enemy images?

Right-wing populists - like their relatives, the extreme right, and unlike left-wing populists - determine their "people" along racist-chauvinist borders. The "others" or "strangers" are defined by exaggerated ethnic, religious, cultural, sexual and political exclusion criteria. The populist representatives of the radical right no longer speak offensively of "race" and "racial segregation", but use concepts like that "Ethnopluralism" - which means a variety of different "ethnic groups" that are supposedly not allowed to mix.

With the right-wing populist "people" term, a part of the population of plural societies of the present is co-opted, while other parts are excluded as not belonging. Jews, Muslims, Roma and Sinti, homosexuals, homeless people, refugees or human rights defenders, people with foreign family biographies or political parties, for example, can be considered "the others". In Eastern Europe, the repertoire of enemy groups is usually broader and the rejection more aggressive: In addition to Roma, the hatred primarily affects Jews (e.g. in Hungary and Poland), ethnic minorities (e.g. Turks in Bulgaria) and homosexuals. [2] In Western Europe, Muslims have become the number one enemy. Here in particular, right-wing populists regularly mobilize against "Muslims", "Islam" and its religious houses. Although religion rarely plays a role in its program, its main message is that the Christian West must be defended against Muslims. Some right-wing populists in Western Europe also purposely stage themselves as defenders of the liberal rights of certain groups, such as women and Jews, against an intolerant Islam that is portrayed as a threat, such as Geert Wilder's "Party of Freedom" in the Netherlands.

Top topic "Migration and Refugees": The right-wing populist parties in Europe have in common their efforts to restrict immigration, make integration more difficult and to reverse liberal regulations in this regard. [3] They try to shape debates accordingly. Especially when right-wing populist parties are involved in or tolerate governments, they bring about extensive changes in the policy area of ​​"Migration and Integration": For example, from 2001 to 2011 and since 2015, the Danish People's Party supported various minority governments consisting of right-wing liberals (Venstre) and conservatives (Det Conservative Folkeparti ); The Danish People's Party succeeded in getting the government to introduce domestic border controls and strict marriage legislation, making it difficult for foreigners to marry in and making immigration and integration legislation more restrictive. Most recently, refugee policy has been tightened considerably, including cutting financial benefits for refugees, making it difficult for families to reunite, and making it possible for asylum seekers to confiscate assets and jewelry worth over 10,000 kroner (equivalent to 1,340 euros).

Enemy EU: One of the most important enemy images of the European right-wing populists is the supranational entity "European Union". Characteristic for the thrust is an election poster of the Austrian FPÖ, on which it is demanded that the "EU traitors" be replaced by the FPÖ "representatives of the people". The EU is assumed to act against the interests of the "people". Instead, it is caricatured as remote from the citizenry, overly complex and bureaucratic. The parties distrust the EU's supranationalism, a common market and freedom of movement. They see their national sovereignty and culture being attacked by the EU. Accordingly, they celebrated the Britten's Brexit vote in 2016. It is interesting, however, that “leaving the EU” (so far) has not been a central topic of one's own election campaigns.

Regardless of their EU criticism, right-wing populist parties are running for the European Parliament (EP) - with ups and downs, but overall their influence is increasing. In the summer of 2015, a good year after the European elections, right-wing populist and right-wing extremist parties joined forces to form the EP group "Europe of Nations and Freedom" (ENF), thereby considerably increasing their political and financial opportunities. In the summer of 2018, this group included MPs from eight parties and countries: the French National Collection Movement (RN), the Italian Lega, the Dutch Party for Freedom and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ); It also includes individual representatives from Belgium (Vlaams Belang), Germany (Blue Party - formerly AfD, left in 2017), Poland (KNP) and Great Britain (formerly UKIP). In addition, right-wing populists sit together with other EU skeptics in the EP parliamentary group “Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy” (EFDD), such as the Lithuanian order and justice and the German AfD. Some right-wing populist parties, such as the Danish People's Party and the True Finns, have also joined the “European Conservatives and Reformers” (ECR) group.

Despite the formation of factions, the voting behavior of the right-wing populist parties in the EP shows that what they have in common in numerous policy areas is limited. For example, the Party for Freedom and the French National Assembly Movement (then Front National) only voted equally in 51 percent of the votes in the EP. [5] Overall, the potential for controversy between these parties in transnational cooperation is ideologically high, e.g. when right-wing populists devalue the members of other "peoples" with chauvinistic tongues [6] or when different, cross-border territorial claims are made, especially in Eastern Europe.

Authoritarianism and armament as a promise

Right-wing populists often advertise with the promise to enforce law and order. Parties such as the Polish Law and Justice (PiS, became the governing party in 2015 with 38 percent of the vote) already tie in with their naming. Social problems and especially crime and violence are discussed in order to accuse other parties of incompetence and weakness and to demonstrate one's own potential strength; they are also ethnicized in order to fuel prejudice against the usual enemy images.

Right-wing populists promise to "take tough action" to enforce popular interests. "Criminal foreigners", "political parties" and "social parasites" are repeatedly mentioned as threats and, depending on the country, Muslims, Jews, refugees or Roma. Right-wing populists often design a kind of police and surveillance state as a vision in which questions of security are the focus.

The threat is also clearly seen from the outside: Other countries, refugees and potential migrants are marked as a particular threat to order and national security. Characteristic for this double demarcation is e.g. the constant motto of the FPÖ "Austria first", which among others the FPÖ presidential candidate Norbert Hofer uses: In addition to domestic political demands, the motto stands for a strengthening of the army and Austria's borders.

Economy and social policy - national isolation as a solution

A current trend within right-wing populism is the rejection of global markets and transnational alliances. Until now, it was more typical for Eastern Europe, but today the Western European right-wing populists are also promoting it social-nationalistic and self-sufficient economies. "National and social" is today (as in the 1920s and 1930s) a typical slogan of the radical right across Europe. [7] For example, the FPÖ calls itself the "social home party" and uses this slogan to oppose Austria's supposed loss of sovereignty. [8] In Western Europe, however, right-wing populist parties often have an economically liberal tradition (e.g. the French National Collection Movement, formerly: Front National, the Swiss People's Party, the FPÖ from Austria or the Norwegian Progressive Party), which is also reflected in the election programs and activities. When presenting its socially understood nation, the market economy remains its point of reference (social parce que national = social because national). Parties such as the FN, the FPÖ and the AfD, for example, favor a liberalization of national markets and sometimes court (medium-sized) companies. In doing so, they propagate a "national and social" policy for the right-wing populist national community. Especially in the Scandinavian countries, where a high degree of social justice is almost part of the national self-image, right-wing populists often sharply criticize the dismantling of the welfare state. Its fruits should only come to the locals, often imagined as blood relatives and their ancestors. The French National Collection Movement is calling for immigrants to be deprived of their right to health insurance. In the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe, stronger state control of the liberalized markets is often demanded and - as in the West - agitated against international, especially transatlantic, free trade.

Different political traditions and self-conceptions

Right-wing populism in European countries is shaped by different national political traditions. These range from experiences in long-established democracies to experiences with National Socialism or fascism, with Stalinism or even double experiences of dictatorship. The transformation experiences of the past decades also differ from country to country, especially in Eastern Europe they are strongly influenced by the fall of the Iron Curtain and the conversion from planned to market economies; the states and societies of Western Europe, on the other hand, were exposed to different degrees to globalization and reforms of the welfare state.

Eastern Europe: Democracy and protection against discrimination need not be options

In Eastern Europe, nationalism grew stronger after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Economic problems, in some cases strong corruption, numerous changes of government and low traditional party ties led to social instability that many perceived as depressing.Massive transformation processes have left traumatic experiences, social tensions, frustrations, the dissolution of social cohesion and fears of a new, accelerated, more global world.

In contrast to Western European countries, there are hardly any efforts to distinguish the political mainstream from radical right-wing parties. With these, the line between right-wing populism and right-wing extremism is often blurred. Democracy is not the only form of government imaginable, and the demand to fundamentally reform or abolish "the system" is not uncommon. Radical right-wing parties in Eastern Europe mostly refer to authoritarian forms of government in their respective national history, often to the interwar period. The willingness to use violence tends to be stronger than in Western Europe, in some cases paramilitary groups exist in the vicinity of the parties.

In Hungary, for example, the right-wing extremist Jobbik party (19.5 percent of the votes in the 2018 parliamentary elections, 2014: 20.2%) managed, if not to be involved in the government, to drive it ideologically, as is the case with the government program, the Constitution and the introduction of a national Trianon Day of Remembrance. The memory of a heroic national past - in Hungary linked with "the shame of Trianon" and the related victim myth of the Hungarian people - unites right-wing conservatism and right-wing radicalism and favors the smooth transition. The ruling right-wing authoritarian Fidesz party (48.5 percent of the votes in the 2018 parliamentary elections, 2014: 44.9%) started out as a liberal party. In 2015, the party and its chairman Viktor Orban addressed the population with questionnaires and poster campaigns that fueled resentment against refugees. They said in Hungarian, which was not understandable for the refugees: "If you come to Hungary, you have to respect our culture" or "If you come to Hungary, you must not take any jobs away from the Hungarians". In 2018, Hungary's refugee policy was tightened significantly: only two people are allowed to apply for asylum per working day. In addition, lawyers and activists can face a year in prison for helping refugees. Refugees are also being held at the border in containers with barbed wire fences and armed guards. Since this treatment runs counter to EU law, the EU is currently suing Hungary for its refugee policy.

Western Europe: "freedom of expression" and "direct democracy" without human rights and pluralism

Western European right-wing populists often combine their claim to homogeneity of "the people" and explicit hostility towards Muslims with a plea for "more freedom and democracy", terms that are often already reflected in the naming of the parties. The Dutch Freedom Party, for example, presents itself as a "civil rights party" and advocates direct democracy. EP parliamentary groups founded or popular by right-wing populists also have "freedom" and "direct democracy" in their names.

Right-wing populists are aggressively placing themselves in the democratic tradition of their country, especially in countries with mature democracies. The Danish People's Party and the Dutch Party for Freedom claim to be the real representatives of the country's democratic values. These are in turn constructed to distinguish them from "the others", the images of the enemy.

While the parties rail against gender mainstreaming and stand up for the traditional family with women as mothers and housewives, they stage themselves as “advocates” of democratic-liberal values ​​through campaigns against Muslim immigrants who allegedly discriminate against women, or against Islamic regulations . In Western Europe, right-wing populists often underline their understanding of politics through referendums such as a "minaret ban" and "burqa ban" (Switzerland), citizens' initiatives against the local mosque building or demonstrations against "Islamization" (Austria, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, etc.).

They plead for more direct democracy. However, this has nothing in common with grassroots democratic requests, the representation of pluralistic diversity of opinion or the establishment of controversial civic debates. Instead, it corresponds to the popular understanding of the right-wing populists ("the people's unity" defends itself) and their strategy of reinforcing diffuse prejudices in society. Thus, it is a push against parliamentary democracy and an instrument that is directed against the pluralism of forms of life (e.g. freedom of religion, different types of family) and against the legally anchored protection against discrimination. The aim is to implement an illiberal democracy that does not play a role in human rights and that speaks to a (supposed) majority that determines who belongs and how each individual has to live.

Right-wing populists largely reject the validity of human rights, which is expressed, among other things, in calls for the abolition of the European Court of Justice or the termination of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is what the popular initiative "Swiss Law instead of Foreign Judges", also known as the "Self-Determination Initiative", which the Swiss People's Party (SVP) launched in summer 2016 is all about. Their outcry for "freedom of opinion" and against an alleged "dictatorship of opinion" basically means that they themselves want to express themselves in a racist and inhuman way unbridled by constitutions, anti-discrimination laws, libelous or hate speech paragraphs. Therefore they denigrate the defense of human rights and protection against discrimination as "ethical justice" or try to discredit other opinions through terms such as "political correctness" and to make the devaluation of "others" a matter of course. [9]

The supporters: culturally alienated, subjectively disadvantaged or actually underprivileged

Only part of the population benefits from the increasing liberalization and opening of societies and markets. Others feel excluded, overwhelmed or repelled by the economic and technical gains and participation in society. The right-wing populists' cultural and social promises are particularly appealing to those who feel losses in the course of economic and social change processes in the areas of work, income, prestige, dominance in their job and family, access to education and leisure time.

A glance at the voters reveals that right-wing populists across Europe have above-average success with white men, often with low levels of education and lower income groups, the lower middle class, and sometimes also with a broader middle class, as well as with a racist old elite. [15] In addition, they are more successful in the countryside beyond the dynamic and diverse cities. It is not surprising that parties such as the Danish People's Party, the Norwegian Progressive Party (FrP) and the FPÖ have succeeded in retaining a large part of the lower classes who are less educated and who used to vote mainly on social democratic lines. And also not that right-wing populists in Luxembourg have developed from a pensioners' party. [16]

Empirical studies indicate a new line of social conflict in the states of Europe: the conflict between social opening and national closing (demarcation). [10] There is also scientific evidence of a strong connection between the subjective feeling of being disadvantaged (subjective deprivation) and a radical right-wing orientation. [11] Further studies show that the cultural promises offered by right-wing populists play a prominent role in their choice [12]: A significant part of the population longs for "old" self-evident things. Some feel subjectively threatened - whether with regard to a changed role of men in society, an equal treatment of people with foreign family biographies or other religions, the possibility of various forms of sexual partnership or, overall, with regard to life plans that are strange to them.

A glance at the voters reveals that right-wing populists across Europe have above-average success with white men, often with low levels of education and lower income groups, the lower middle class, and sometimes also with a broader middle class, as well as with a racist old elite. In addition, they are more successful in the countryside beyond the dynamic and diverse cities. It is not surprising that parties such as the Danish People's Party, the Norwegian Progressive Party (FrP) and the FPÖ have succeeded in retaining a large part of the lower classes who are less educated and who used to vote mainly on social democratic lines. And also not that right-wing populists in Luxembourg have developed from a pensioners' party.

Summary and outlook

Since populism thrives on the harsh criticism of the given conditions, it is not only able to dominate social debates - rather, populist rhetoric has the impulse to steadily radicalize itself. In fact, the exclusionary or insulting language towards the enemy groups of the right-wing populists has increased in aggressiveness in recent years. Hate speech is spurred on by digital media, in which individuals or relatively small ideological groups can have an enormous impact. The possibilities of digital agitation and agitation in filter bubbles against certain social groups such as Muslims, Roma, refugees and Jews - and the difficulty of criminal access - may have contributed to the fact that in some countries (e.g. Hungary, Germany) the inhibition threshold also increased physical violence has decreased and the number of racist attacks has increased dramatically.

In order to enable a factual discussion of social developments and individual problems, to understand the problem budget of a society and to guarantee its peaceful international integration, the basic fiction of right-wing populism must be broken: the populist concept of "people", understood as a homogeneous unit, stands in Contradiction to reality in all societies and especially to reality in modern, differentiated and diverse societies. He denies the lines of break and conflict (cleavages), internal social contradictions and conflicts that exist in every society - and which, by the way, are the subject of the social sciences. A confrontation with right-wing populist parties and movements therefore cannot do without deconstructing the populist concept of the people, which is ultimately a myth.