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IS EUROPE'S FAR RIGHT ON A COMEBACK TRAIL?


For some, the headlines are scary.

Police in Spain arrest more than 20 people in a far-right political rally. German authorities report a ten percent increase in right-wing violence - the first rise in five years. In France, tens of thousands rally in cities across the country to protest the anti-immigrant National Front.


Europe

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Eye in the Sky


But by far the most attention-getting development in Western European right-wing activities in recent years has been the rise of the ultra-nationalist Freedom Party in Austria.

Led by telegenic populist politician Jorg Haider, the group last October won 27 percent of the vote in national elections. In early February it became a partner with the conservative People's Party in Austria's governing coalition. Leaders of the other 14 members of the European Union reacted with strong condemnations. Israel recalled its ambassador. Is Europe's right wing on the rise again?

EXTREMISTS SCORE ELECTORAL GAINS

Fueled largely by reaction to a tide of immigrants - especially from Muslim countries - far-right political parties in recent years have made undeniable gains in the hearts and minds of European voters. During the 1990s rightists collected as much as 10 percent or more of the total in some elections in Germany, France, and Italy. As of February 2000, they held legislative seats in four of 16 German states.

In France, mainstream conservative leaders are turning to right-wingers in their efforts to retain political control in five regions after election gains by left-wing parties. Their decision to make deals with the anti-immigrant National Front has triggered nation-wide protest rallies.

Though still heavily outnumbered, extremists also have helped shape national debates throughout Europe, especially about immigration policies. Italy, which pledged to take as many as 10,000 Kosovo refugees during the NATO air strikes, recently announced that it would resume treating people entering from the former Yugoslavia without visas as illegal immigrants instead of refugees.

MOST FAR-RIGHT GROUPS ARE SMALL

Recent successes at the polls notwithstanding, most extreme right-wing groups in Western Europe remain small - certainly too weak to pose any immediate threat to the democratic governments of the European Union, including Austria. Conditions that led to the rise of Nazism and Fascism during the 1920s and 1930s-- economic hard times, severe unemployment and loss of national self-esteem--generally are not factors.

In Spain and Britain, organized extreme right-wing activities in recent years largely have been confined to relatively tiny groups and violent underground organizations. However, small radical groups such as Britain's Combat 18, Sweden's White Aryan Resistance, and Belgium's Flemish Militant Order cast large shadows. Web sites can make an organization appear larger than it is. Individuals or small groups can wreak havoc through terrorism.

Also troubling to law-enforcement authorities are the international connections some of these organizations have formed. One British group with large unexplained funding, The Third Way, has developed contacts in Libya, Iraq, and Croatia. At one point in the mid 1980s Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi met personally with a Spanish army officer to discuss Libyan financing of a new extremist party.

Above-ground right-wing parties uniformly claim to be embarrassed by violence, whether from terrorist bombings or attacks on immigrants. However, they find eager recruits among neo-fascist skinheads who turn up wearing Nazi paraphernalia at soccer games and heavy-metal concerts throughout Europe. Skinheads and other right-wing youth have been notably involved in violent harassment of immigrants and Jews.

AUSTRIA: A WAKEUP CALL?

As for the Freedom Party's recent triumphs in Austria, some observers pointedly recall how another Austrian-born populist politician came to power in 1933 Germany. They view Jorg Haider's sudden prominence as a wakeup call for increased vigilance against the racial supremacist views, religious intolerance, ultranationalism, and violence that have characterized far-right movements in Europe as well as the United States in the years since the end of World War II.

In the words of one British Foreign Office analyst, "In Europe, there can never be room for complacency."

Eye in the Sky is a weekly series that brings you the story behind the headlines using satellite imagery, remote sensing, aerial photography, and maps. This feature is developed by National Geographic News with the sponsorship of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) and Earth-Info. Check out maps and imagery at http://www.earth-info.org.



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More Information
• In 1975 Spain ended 36 years of rule by Francisco Franco, who, though keeping his country out of World War II, was openly allied with Hitler and Mussolini. Spaniards now consider themselves rid of Fascist tendencies.

• Several years of political instability led to the 1967 overthrow of the government of Greece - birthplace of democracy - and seven years of oppressive authoritarian rule.

• Right-wing politics enjoyed a hey-day in France during the 1950s, when independence movements in Indochina and Algeria triggered virulent anticommunist sentiments.

• Since the collapse of Communism, some of the strongest far-right parties have emerged in Eastern Europe. Right-wing extremists have taken seats as members of Slovakia's ruling coalition.


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FAR RIGHT STILL TRYING TO LIVE DOWN WWII

Almost a half-century after the downfall of Fascism and Nazism in World War II, the far right still suffers the stigma of political failure and military defeat. However, a number of right-wing parties have been able to buy forgetfulness.

ITALY

A country where "right wing" still connotes totalitarianism and illegitimacy, Italy is one Western democracy where most parties have gone out of their way to avoid openly identifying themselves as such. The striking exception was the Italian Socialist Movement (MSI). Founded in 1946, it survived as a result of the Italian system of proportional representation, which allowed the operation of many parties with low levels of electoral strength.

The MSI recently has transformed itself from an openly neofascist guardian of Mussolini's legacy into the ultra-conservative National Alliance. As its leaders have tried to distance themselves from memories of the Duce, the Alliance has drawn percentages in the mid-teens in parliamentary elections, and has helped set the national political agenda.

Condemning skinhead violence, Alliance leader Gianfranco Fini maintains that his party would be called Republican if in the United States, or Guallist if in France.

FRANCE

Some date France's right wing back to 1789, when a segment of the society never entirely accepted either the French Revolution or the new republic. The French far right is committed to restoring the monarchy. The political right bore the brunt of disgrace suffered by France under the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime during WWII. Right-wing groups began to resurface in the mid-1950s with appeals to small business operators and tradespeople squeezed by government economic policies and the growth of urban areas.

In addition to advocating protection of jobs by capping immigration, right-wing organizations in recent years have promoted budget cuts in social services. National Front Leader Jean-Marie Le Pen once declared in a magazine interview, "By granting privileges to the weak, by favoring them excessively in all respects, one weakens the social body as a whole. One does the very opposite of what dog and horse breeders do. I am not against relief for misfortune, for the handicapped, but nowadays we have almost got to the stage where handicap is promoted."

GERMANY

Though Gestapo and Hitler Jugend plans for underground Nazi resistance groups never materialized, small ultra right-wing political organizations began appearing as early as 1948. Membership in such groups showed small but steady increases through the 1950s and 1960s, but fell during the 1970s. The 1980s showed a resurgence attributed to rising unemployment - especially among young people - and increased immigration to West Germany.

In 1989 a public opinion poll showed 38 percent of Germans still believed that had it not been for the war and the holocaust, Hitler would have been regarded as one of the greatest German statesmen.

Since the reunification of Germany, right-wingers have found enthusiastic followers in the former German Democratic Republic with its high unemployment, poor housing, and serious pollution problems. Continuing legal and illegal immigration and asylum-seekers have become issues summed up by the slogan, "Germany for the Germans, the boat is full."