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Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse

Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse, edited by Ruth Wodak, Majid KhosraviNik and Brigitte Mral, compiles theoretically and methodologically rich articles analyzing the rise of radical right movements, discourses and political parties in Europe. More than twenty scholars with different academic backgrounds focus on examples of right-wing populisms (RWP) in different socio-political and cultural contexts.




Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse, edited by Ruth Wodak, Majid KhosraviNik and Brigitte Mral, compiles theoretically and methodologically rich articles analyzing the rise of radical right movements, discourses and political parties in Europe. More than twenty scholars with different academic backgrounds focus on examples of right-wing populisms (RWP) in different socio-political and cultural contexts. Addressing the histories of these movements, the studies pay attention to the nativist and revisionist ideologies and racist rhetoric influenced by the current neo-Nazi movement and various social processes after WWII. The collection of articles fundamentally scrutinizes the organization of RWP parties including their political leadership, the network of right-extremism, political communication strategies focusing on their reliance on media-savvy democracy, their discriminatory immigration policy proposals, and their anti-elitist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic discourses that feed the politics of fear on a global scale. The book offers a broad framework with which to analyze the various ideologies, notions and structural factors that lead to the social changes which support RWP in Europe and beyond. 


The book has four sections exploring the democratic systems that open the way for RWP parties to enter into parliaments. The first section offers a theoretical, philosophical and ethical discussion and conceptualization of the extreme right in Europe and the U.S.. Through comparing the similarities and differences on the meaning of populism (which does not have a clear-cut definition), democracy and nationalism, the studies emphasize the effective functioning of RW discourses in society. Although they are classified as theoretical studies, the essays are better described as brief analyses of the political repertoire of RWP parties, such as the Austrian FPÖ, Italian LN, Greek LAOS, French FN, Dutch PVV and Swiss SVP. The studies introduce the construction of social differences and ‘us and them’ distinctions through the rhetorical mechanisms and discourses and the manipulative agenda-setting techniques of RWP parties, the reasons for their electoral success, the connection between fascism and contemporary RWP, the anti-Islam debate in Europe, including the opposition to mosques and minarets, the way the far-right parties transform antisemitism into anti-Muslim propaganda as a discursive strategy to redefine themselves, and finally, the transatlantic network of radical populism. 


The chapters in the second section are particularly interested in the development of RWP in ‘Western’ European countries (England, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Belgium). The studies examine how the British BNP adopts a moderate face, while the racial purification agenda of Leese is still present in the party’s core ideology, and how the former hate rhetoric and holocaust denial of ultra-patriotic movements are channelized into a willingness to use violence against Muslims. The English Defense League and the National Front are other British cases that play on fears about immigration and the role of Islam in British society. Similarly, the analysis of the FPÖ’s leader change and paradigm-shift shows how local discourses about anti-immigration, antisemitism and glorification of the National-Socialist (NS) past are transformed into global discourses about protecting Europe against Muslim occupation. Not only the NS past, but also the glorification of medieval time and distorted memories are part of European populisms illustrating the extreme-right scene in Italy. Xenophobia is the common characteristic in each case. Although German political culture excludes RW movements from election rallies, extremist views, including widespread anti-Muslim sentiment, indirectly voiced anti-Semitic attitudes and derogation of socially weak groups became apparent after 2010. In France, the FN benefited from exclusionary discourses to design a communicative strategy based on scandals and provocation and to form an alliance with extreme-right subcultures and moderate left and right, leading to the normalization of the RWP in French political culture. This mainstreaming process also reflects the Dutch experience. The dissatisfaction with politics after the economic crisis, the consolidation of radical right ideas thanks to the LPF’s charismatic leader, weak rivals, and the further bloody attacks of Islamic fundamentalists in the Netherlands have propelled the anti-Muslim debate into the center of Dutch politics. Nationalism, conservatism, populism and authoritarianism have become mainstream discussions regarding RWP in Western Europe. 


The third section investigates Central and Eastern Europe. The authors examine Hungary, Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine in detail, all former communist countries where the breakup and transition of the U.S.S.R. promised to open up wide-scale opportunities to build a strong democracy. Yet, the studies show the contrary. The Hungarian Jobbik Party, which uses populist rhetoric against the Roma people, has gained power in a context where political institutions have lost their authority due to corruption scandals, the black money debate, the governing body’s lack of ability to make reforms, and the consequent public frustration about their incompetent government. In this region, the electorate of RWP consists of ideologically motivated voters, propelled not only by nationalism or xenophobia but the rejection of the whole political establishment (the elite of the transition). The Ukrainian far-right populist party Svoboda increased its votes and media appearance through appealing Russophobic sentiments, benefitting from white ultra-nationalist and youth racist combat on the street and advocating direct democracy. Similarly, the Latvian NA emerged out of an anti-elitist grassroot movement. The region provides a suitable context for radicalism because of the extreme ideas which flourished during the decolonization period after the collapse of the Soviet regime, the battle over memory involved in the EU accession process, and a reliance on charismatic leadership during these periods. Consequently, the socio-political contexts in effect in the region highlight three major components of RWP–nativism, authoritarianism and populism–and how their conflux here constructs a specific post-communist populist rhetoric. 


The last section covers the far-right development in Scandinavian countries, namely Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden. The papers explain class distinctions, political culture and ethnic nationalism leading to a change in far-right rhetoric in Northern Europe. Whereas these countries were immune to populism in terms of their focus on social welfare, the debate over the taxation and distribution of social welfare politicized the immigrant issue and gave birth to ethno-national chauvinism during the 1990s. The Swedish SD, the party with a Nazi past, mainstreamed its political position through changing its party symbols and political agenda, and by eliminating its hard-core fascist members. Subsequently, political support and votes legitimized the party’s presence in parliament and its visibility in the media. The Danish DDP and Norwegian FrP followed similar patterns in consolidating their position in Baltic political culture. These developments open further debates about the controversial cohabitation of democratic values, economic power and ethno-national discursive discrimination based on the normalization of proposals on unfavorable treatment for immigrants and negative presentations of the other. However, the cases of publishing Islamophobic Muhammed caricatures in Denmark and Sweden show how a critical media stance or “good” reporting is required to prevent the dissemination of threat spirals leading to the construction of a threat society where RW discourses are reinforced. 


Students, scholars and academic professionals whose fields of interest coincide with the subject form the intended audience of this book. Due to space restrictions, there is a lack of individual methods, such as focus groups, exploring the somatic strategies of RW parties. To understand how these parties mobilize people and appeal to emotions, and to evaluate how voters, journalists, policy experts and scholars appreciate and take positions regarding RWP discourses, a psycho-analytical approach to people’s multi-sensory engagement with far-right rhetoric is needed. However, the strength of Right-Wing Populism in Europe comes from the development of sociological and political perspectives with multi-modal analyses addressing the central problems of how to deal with RWP in Europe.

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