This month’s “The Waiting Room” is the second installment of the three-part essay “No, You’re Not Moving to Europe.” If you missed Part 1: Brexit Britain, catch up here.
“The Parallels are There”
It’s not just in the UK and US where we find those “parallels” that Farage spoke about. In 2017, France will have the opportunity to elect another far-right leader: Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front.
Le Pen inherited her position as head of the National Front party from her father, Jean-Marie, an open anti-Semite who once remarked that the Nazi gas chambers that killed millions were just “a detail in the history of World War II.” While Le Pen has attempted to mop up the party’s image by distancing it from her father’s legacy, she’s succeeded in doing so mostly by diverting racist fears away from Jews and toward Muslims; she has made comments—comments that led to a legal charge of inciting racial hatred—that public Muslim prayer is similar to the Nazi occupation of France. She’s also unafraid to take her father’s financial backing, even though he’s been banned from the party since 2015: the elder Le Pen has claimed that he will infuse six million euro into his daughter’s campaign via his business interests.
Like Trump and Farage, Marine Le Pen was once considered a noisy oddity on the fringes of the political process, and one polling too few votes to advance her beyond preliminary ballots. But in light of misleading poll results on both Brexit and the Trump victory, some political commentators have begun to warn that Le Pen may ride the same “populist” wave to the French presidency. Le Pen herself seems emboldened by the Trump win; she’s declared that “Clearly Donald Trump’s victory is an additional stone in the building of a new world, destined to replace the old one.”
The UK’s Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn (remember him?), had this to say about Le Pen: “she uses this populism against minorities in order to get herself elected…the reality is she does not have an economic answer to the problems faced by the left [behind] communities in France any more than UKIP has an economic answer to the left behind communities in Britain…once you let this nasty thing out of the box called xenophobia and intolerance it’s very hard to put it back.”
“Hard” is an understatement; the kind of far-right rabble-rousing that worked for Trump and Farage and that seems to be working for Le Pen only continues to spread. In the Netherlands—yes, home of so many of the relaxed drug policies that some liberal folks like to point to as a model of enlightened social success—Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, is a regular contributor to Breitbart, where he pens such alarmingly titled articles as “We Must Preserve Western Identity” and “Let’s Lock the Door to Islam.” He’s also the current favorite to become the next Prime Minister in the nation’s spring elections.
It’s hard to overstate how far to the right Wilders’s Dutch Freedom Party lies: the party, in its one-page manifesto issued prior to the election, has vowed that it will not merely push to leave the EU, but that it will also target the country’s Muslim population by outlawing headscarves, closing mosques and schools, and banning the Koran.
Wilders himself (who, I can’t refrain from pointing out, sports a hairstyle suggestive of a melding of Trump and Caesar Flickerman from the Hunger Games films, though the comedy of his hairdo belies the terrifying reality of his political views) has adopted such Trump tactics as taking to his personal Twitter account to make such statements as “NL has huge problem with Moroccans. To be silent about it is cowardly. 43% of Dutch want fewer Moroccans.” He’s made further anti-Moroccan remarks in his rallies, inciting crowds to chant “Fewer! Fewer!” with respect to how many Moroccan people should be allowed to live in the Netherlands. Wilders’s discourse has been so offensive, in fact, at the end of 2016, he was put on trial to answer charges of hate speech, a crime in the Netherlands. But Wilders has openly flouted the legal charges, refusing even to attend his own trial. In early December, a three-person judiciary panel convicted Wilders of inciting discrimination. Yet to the surprise of onlookers around the globe, the panel declined to impose any penalty for the crime.
There remain important voices of dissent in the Dutch political realm, but they face a sickening amount of backlash. Fledgling political party Think attempts to provide a pro-immigrant, pro-multicultural political force that will, among other objectives, ban racist language from being used in government debate and hold lawmakers accountable for hate speech. That all sounds like basic decency, but Sylvana Simons, a Dutch TV presenter turned Think politician, became the focus of such intense racist abuse that’s it’s painful even to summarize here. When Simons, a black woman running for a parliamentary seat, spoke publicly about the racist undertones of the Christmas holiday character Black Pete (often portrayed in festive parades by a white person in blackface), she found herself the subject of a viral video that superimposed her likeness on images of lynching victims. A television host suggested that Simons looked like a monkey, and played a sound clip of a gorilla to underscore his statement. The Hague councilor who reported the video to authorities called it “too disgusting for words,” and Simons’s party demanded that security measures be put in place to ensure her safety.
What does Geert Wilders think of all this? He says that the only solution to the problem of racist abuse is for Simons to be “protected against herself and her party (Think) to be disbanded.” It’s worth noting that Wilders, because of his anti-Islam remarks throughout his political career, has been under special, government-supported protection designed to ensure his personal safety for the past decade.
In the wake of the racist abuse, Simons left the Think party, saying that it had done too little to protect her, and formed the new party Artikel 1.
Meanwhile, in Hungary, the Jobbik party—which has proposed, among other alarming changes to law, prison terms of up to eight years for the crime of being gay—will seek to become the governing party of the nation by 2018. Should Jobbik succeed, it will replace ruling right-wing party, Fidesz, which itself is no angelic presence in Europe; Fidesz recently sponsored a parliamentary bill to ban migrants from the country, and has employed such methods as installing razor-wire fences at its borders to keep refugees from entering.
Outside the EU, unaffiliated states are swinging to the right as well. Sweden’s fringe, anti-immigrant party, The Sweden Democrats (with its white-supremacist and neo-Nazi roots), won fully 13% of the vote in the country’s 2014 election. Finland, Denmark, and even Switzerland have seen significant gains for far-right parties over the past decade.
Europe, it seems, is just like us.
Kelly Davio is the Poetry Editor of Tahoma Literary Review. She is the author of the poetry collection Burn This House (Red Hen Press, 2013) and the co-editor of the anthology The Poet’s Quest for God. Her work appears in venues including The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Best New Poets, and more.
READ MORE WORK BY THIS AUTHOR:
- No, You Aren’t Moving to Europe–An Essay in Three Parts
- The Smell of Tempered Glass
- On Representation
- The Service of Lesser Gods
- Mindfulness Is for Healthy People
- If We Learned Anything From David Bowie
- James Brown and I Go to the Lab
- Kylie Jenner and Her Golden Wheels
- I Was Once the Writer Kelly Davio