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Re-narrating Europe in the Face of Populism: An Analysis of the Anti-immigration Discourse of Populist Party Leaders

Populist discourse is gaining more and more ground in Europe. As evidenced by the growing success of radical right wing parties, a ubiquitous right wing populism is haunting Europe. This populist discourse is a counter to the long-standing narratives of Europe. Clearly, with the alarming growth rate of the politics of fear and hatred, Europe is in contradiction with its own core values. It is the consistent and mainstream positioning of populist discourse, establishing itself in the name of protecting European identity. This argument is tested upon a case study of right wing populist party leaders’ anti-immigration discourse from the Netherlands, Finland, Italy and Hungary; these narratives, which were once perceived as marginal, are currently occupying and dominating the national and European discourse.

Re-narrating Europe in the Face of Populism An Analysis of
(L-R) Representatives of anti-immigration parties of Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands arrive for a meeting on January 21, 2017 in Koblenz, Germany, for the European gathering of right wing political parties. ROBERTO PFEIL / AFP / Getty Images

Introduction

In a recent article, Rogers Brubaker, a well-known scholar of nationalism studies, poses the question, ‘why is civilization replacing the nation?’ The scope of this study is not to answer this question, but the inquiry remains valuable in an era of ‘Europe for Europeans’ rhetoric led by the populist parties in Europe. The rising tide of populism brings us to focus on this “civilizationism.”1 In 2011, Anders Breivik killed out people by detonating a van bomb in Oslo, then shot 69 participants to death in a Worker’s Youth League summer camp. While defending himself in court, he argued that his intention in carrying out this terrorist attack was to “save Norway and Western Europe from cultural Marxism and a Muslim takeover.”2 The incident was a turning point, not just for Norway but for Europe in exposing how the continent is divided between the nativists and the liberals. It is clear that this incident was a cry out of the already existing crisis of identity re-construction, already declared by Angela Merkel as a ‘failure of multiculturalism’ back in 2010. Helmut Kohl criticized his successor in 2011, saying, “[Angela Merkel] is destroying my Europe.”3 Although Kohl and Merkel belonged to the same political camp, as a former chancellor and party leader, Kohl criticized Merkel for her open-door policy toward refugee immigration. While Merkel saw herself as rescuing Europe from a worker shortage, Kohl viewed her policies as destructive. Today’s Europe continues to confront these competing narratives against an unprecedently hostile backdrop of fears of terrorist threats, from both Islamist fundamentalists and far right extremists.

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