Continent of Fear The Rise of Europe's Right-Wing Populists
All across Europe, right-wing populist parties are enjoying significant popular support. Led by charismatic politicians like Geert Wilders, they are exploiting fear of Muslim immigration and frustration with the political establishment -- and are forcing mainstream parties to shift to the right. By SPIEGEL Staff.
He is a politician who claims to have nothing against Muslims, and that he only hates Islam. He is a charismatic man with peroxide-blonde hair, elegant, eloquent and precisely the type of politician that has put fear into the hearts of Germany's mainstream political parties in recent weeks.
He is Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician of a stripe that doesn't yet exist in Germany: a populist who stirs up hatred against Islam and the establishment, and who has taken away many votes from the traditional parties in his native Netherlands. So many, in fact, that they now can hardly form a government without giving him a share of power.
Wilders is the central figure of a movement that has been expanding its following in Europe for years, entering parliaments and governments, and ensuring that minarets were banned in Switzerland and burqas in Belgium. It is a sort of popular uprising against Islam, spearheaded by right-wing politicians and journalists throughout Europe. They portray themselves as people who are willing to express a sentiment they claim no one else dares to express: that Muslims are undermining Europe and that the West must be saved. And the approach has been successful.
'An Ideology that Opposes Everything that Matters to Us'
The man who invited Wilders to speak in the German capital Berlin this coming Saturday would like to emulate the Dutch politician. René Stadtkewitz, 45, a well-dressed man with a short haircut, was recently ejected from the Berlin branch of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which he represented for years as a backbencher in the Berlin city-state parliament. He has now founded a new party called "Die Freiheit" ("Freedom"), named after Wilders' Freedom Party.
Wilders is traveling to Berlin to help Stadtkewitz inaugurate the new party. Anyone who hopes to catch a glimpse of the prominent guest must register online and pay an admission fee in advance. For security reasons, only registered attendees who have paid the admission fee are told where the event will take place.
Stadkewitz, eating Moroccan couscous in the cafeteria of the Berlin city-state parliament, says that "Geert's" call for the institution of a headscarf tax in the Netherlands is really a great idea. Wilders' visit has cost him 12,000 ($16,200). Stadkewitz sees it as a worthwhile investment. "Islam may also be a religion," he says. "But mainly it's an ideology that opposes everything that matters to us."
Stadkewitz is in a hurry. He is about to give a Dutch television team a tour of Berlin in his BMW. He wants to show them the Muslim parallel society that is supposedly being kept under wraps in the German media.
A Lightning Rod for Popular Anger
A debate has been triggered in Germany by a new book by Thilo Sarrazin, a controversial politician with the center-left Social Democrats, in which he describes Muslim immigrants as an existential threat for Germany. Ever since the book was published and met with popular approval, many columnists, academics and politicians have been asking themselves whether Germany will remain an exception in terms of its political landscape. It is still the only country in Western Europe that lacks a right-wing populist party that acts as a lightning rod for popular anger targeted at Islam and the political establishment.
In recent months, right-wing populist parties have thwarted majority governments in three European Union countries: Belgium, the Netherlands and, most recently, Sweden. Although right-wing populists in the latter country only captured 5.7 percent of the vote, it was enough to deprive the incumbent center-right coalition of an absolute majority. All three countries were long known for their liberalism, but now political parties are gaining influence that see Islam as "our biggest foreign threat since World War II," as Jimmie Akesson, the 31-year-old chairman of the Sweden Democrats, puts it.
Right-wing populist parties have been a part of coalition governments in Italy and Switzerland for years, and they hold seats in the parliaments of Denmark, Austria, Norway and Finland. Jean-Marie Le Pens' National Front captured 9 percent of the vote in last spring's French regional elections with a targeted anti-Islamic campaign. In March, Italy's Northern League gained control of the regions of Venice and Piedmont. During the election campaign, party supporters handed out soap samples, to be used, as they said, "after having touched an immigrant."
- Part 1: The Rise of Europe's Right-Wing Populists
- Part 2: Parties Discover the Power of Islamophobia
- Part 3: France's New National Front