Roma in France; Sami in Sweden; Albanians in Italy. The far right mobilises support through fear of ‘the Other’. Who that Other is depends upon time, place and contingency. Historically, fascism identified Communists and Jews, amongst others, as the enemy within, with horrifying results. Whilst vestiges of the old hatreds remain, these are largely the reserve of pockets of an earlier generation and of ideologues in the neo-Nazi mould. How Others are defined in any era plays off out-groups within society – not only foreigners, but anyone embodying different lifestyles or counter-cultures. In recent memory, hippies and homosexuals have seen their life-choices and preferences equated to deviancy and Otherness – and not just by overtly intolerant political movements, but in equally repressive fashion by those claiming to represent ‘family values’, ‘tradition’, ‘morality’, and other nebulous concepts of largely populist worth. Furthermore, who is classified within the ‘in’ group remains mutable. Where traditional fascist and neo-fascist groups have often derided Christianity for pulling European societies away from their mythical pre-Christian and pagan roots, social chauvinism now employs Christianity as a shibboleth, differentiating in particular between ‘us’ and an Islamic ‘them’. The fibre of these Christian bonds remains largely undefined, not through any ecumenism on the part of its recent converts, but from a focus on finding a simplistic label which can give unity against another group, this time on the grounds of faith. The European marker, too, is becoming currency for groups which only a few years ago condemned the European Union as a liberal conspiracy which threatened national identity. The far right is softening on a Europe which may serve its own ends.
No European homogeneity
Yet, this redrawing of the map to set new ethnocentric boundaries has very weak foundations. Firstly, and obviously, such lines can be drawn even less convincingly around Europe than they can around a nation-state. Secondly, the political mileage in so doing is limited at best. By fitting supranational boundaries, the ‘in’ group becomes ever more indistinct and indeed arbitrary. ‘Fortress Europe’ may ostensibly represent a new monolithic bloc for such parties, and at first, myopic glance those within its walls may look ‘similar’. But there is arguably no more ethnic, religious or cultural homogeneity amongst the 27 nations of Europe, with free circulation of citizens, multi-generational families of extra-European origin and decades of mixed marriage, than there is outside its borders. Populist right-wingers drawn to Europe are looking in the wrong place for sanctuary from cultural and ethnic pluralism.
Whatever the perceived benefits of ‘Fortess Europe’, or of any territorial solution, an expectation of common cause against the perceived Islamization threat to provide a lasting basis for cooperation across the far right itself fails to learn from history. In marked contrast to mainstream political parties who, no matter what their rhetoric on Europe, have always found means of cooperating, the far right are the exemplars of cooperative failure in the European arena. Previous attempts to form a European Parliamentary bloc have all foundered upon party differences, some of the most petty nature. Even in their new microcosm of sameness, when one Other is excluded, another Other is found to fill the gap. Ironically, the far right inevitably manufactures the very differences it abhors.