Fri, Apr 06, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Far-right, racist opinions become mainstream in Central Europe

Human rights groups are even warning that democracy could be threatened in parts of the region

By Vanessa Gera and Dusan Stojanovic  /  AP, ZAGREB

Illustration: Mountain People

The Croatian president has thanked Argentina for taking in notorious pro-Nazi war criminals after World War II. In Bulgaria, a top politician has called the country’s Roma minority “ferocious humanoids.” Hungary’s prime minister has also declared that the “color” of Europeans should not mix with that of Africans or Arabs.

Ever since World War II, such views were taboo in Europe, confined to the far-right fringes. Today they are openly expressed by mainstream political leaders in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, part of a populist surge in the face of globalization and mass migration.

“There is something broader going on in the region, which has produced a patriotic, nativist, conservative discourse through which far-right ideas managed to become mainstream,” said Tom Junes, a historian with the Human and Social Studies Foundation in Sofia, Bulgaria.

In many places, the shift to the right has included the rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators, often fighters or groups celebrated as anti-communists or defenders of national liberation.

In Hungary and Poland, governments are also eroding the independence of courts and the media, prompting human rights groups to warn that democracy is threatened in parts of a region that threw off Moscow-backed dictatorships in 1989.

Some analysts say Russia is covertly helping extremist groups to destabilize Western liberal democracies. While that claim is difficult to prove, it is clear that the growth of radical groups has pushed moderate conservative European parties to the right to hold onto votes.

That is the case in Hungary, where Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party — the front-runner in the country’s parliamentary election on Sunday — have drawn voters with an increasingly strident anti-migrant campaign.

Casting himself as the savior of a white Christian Europe being overrun by Muslims and Africans, Orban has insisted that Hungarians do not want their “own color, traditions and national culture to be mixed by others.”

Orban, who is friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was also the first European leader to endorse Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential race.

In 2015, he erected a razor wire fence at Hungary’s borders to stop migrants from crossing, and has since been warning in apocalyptic terms that the West faces racial and civilizational “suicide” if the migration continues.

Orban is also obsessed with demonizing financier and philanthropist George Soros, falsely portraying the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor as an advocate of uncontrolled immigration into Europe.

In what critics denounce as a state-sponsored conspiracy theory with anti-Semitic overtones, the Hungarian government spent US$48.5 million on anti-Soros advertisements last year, investigative news Web site atlatszo.hu reported.

In a recent speech, Orban denounced Soros in language that echoed anti-Semitic cliches of the 20th century.

He said Hungary’s foes “do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs.”

In Poland, xenophobic language is also on the rise.

When nationalists held a large Independence Day march in November last year and some carried banners calling for a “White Europe” and “Clean Blood,” the interior minister called it a “beautiful sight.”

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