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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Are Europe's far right parties racist?
As the fortunes of Europe's far right parties continue to rise, several of them say they are falsely accused of advocating racism.

This week the newly formed Dutch party List Fortuyn, which enjoyed success in local elections there in March, robustly denied being a far right party.

The calls of its leader, Pim Fortuyn, for an end to all immigration appear to have struck a chord with the traditionally liberal Dutch electorate.

His party could pick up enough seats in the country's May general elections to become a significant political force and could even enter government.

Europe's far right parties often defend their stance by claiming to raise awareness of the problems connected to integration and multiculturalism, while opponents accuse them of promoting racism, particularly among young voters.

But their rise continues, with some ten million people across Western Europe voting for parties of the extreme right at the last European parliamentary elections.

Do you think Europe's far right parties are racist? Or do you support the view that they are raising awareness of the problems connected to multicultural societies?

The BBC World Service programme Europe Today brought together, Barbara John, a German Social Democrat immigration commissioner and Morgens Camre, a Danish MEP with the People's Party, which itself has been accused of being far-right and anti- immigrant for this week's Europewide debate.

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments belows.

The current upsurge could be blamed on the massive influx of migrants

Mark, Belgium (UK citizen)
There has always been a right wing in Europe. The current upsurge could be blamed on the massive influx of migrants putting pressure on economies, jobs and law and order. But even before immigration the racial issue has been a problem in Belgium which is divided linguistically. However at least people are aware of a problem and do not hide their heads in the sand like our cousins across the Atlantic who are convinced they are economically and morally superior to the rest of us.
Mark, Belgium (UK citizen)

The terms 'diversity' and 'multi-cultural societies' are nothing more than mindless political terms. Big business has bought the politicians off to support open-ended never ending immigration policies. The big corporations can make even more money with massive hoards of immigrants. Take a look at Texas, Florida, and California. These states are nothing more than high crime third world hellholes today. These 3 states combined have more illegal aliens than many countries have inhabitants. However, diversity is our strength if you listen to the politicians.
Dean, USA

It's funny because to me it looks very much like Germany before the war

J Forgett, England
It's funny because to me it looks very much like Germany before the war. No one wanted to stop it until it became a major threat to there own country. I think that politicians should spend more time making sure that settlers should assimilate to the cultures of the countries they live in.
J Forgett, England

The right wing responds when the left wing gets out of hand and vice versa. It's all in response to the public's mood. It's nice to see the political arena keeping itself in check so well.
Jamie Bessich, USA

I find it reaffirming that nearly all of the arguments posted by Europeans are the exact same ones heard here in the States. Of course, if the question were "Are America's far-right parties racist," I am sure all the self-righteous Europeans out there wouldn't even blink an eye in condemning the US. A double standard, perhaps? Racism is a hideously overused term thrown about without discretion by left-leaning individuals. Are Europe's far-right parties racist? It would depend on what party you were referring to, but you cannot simply label all right-wing parties as "racist." I for one am tired of the multicultural brigade and PC rubbish. Like most people, I judge people on a case-by-case basis, and am vehemently opposed to the notion of according preferential treatment or privileges to someone simply because they happened to be born a certain ethnicity. The term racism should not be utilized so readily, for it diminishes the real injustices the practice embodies.
Mark C., USA

In the UK, one could say that the rich and poor have different cultures. Two opposing sets of people. But I don't see the working class right wingers saying that all rich people should be deported. So this I don't buy for a minute that this is a cultural debate over a racial one. How many Australian immigrants have been stabbed by a racist gang in Etham? None.
Rahul, London, UK

I think the people to the left are as bad as the people to the right. They are both prejudiced in different ways

I think the people to the left are as bad as the people to the right. They are both prejudiced in different ways. The best ground is the "middle". If you get a person from the left in a room with a person from the right and a person in the middle, this is what will happen. The leftist talks (screams) only being heard by himself, the rightist talks (screams) one being heard by himself. The middle man stays silent and wonders how the hell he was born on this planet. Surely, this is hell.

Would you see a Tiger living with a pride of Lions? No. They are all cats are they not? So they should live together in harmony shouldn't they? Not a good example but I'm sure I make my point! Don't mess with nature, it causes endless problems... Immigration should be stopped in Britain. Not because of any racial issues but because the island is full. No room left to breathe - it is full!
Jake, Canada (ex UK)

If I say I am proud to be English, I am a xenophobic racist little Englander, If I say I am proud to be African or Irish or Pakistani, I am OK. Could someone please explain?
Anonymous UK, UK

I am sorry, but the people from America and Canada have no idea how difficult it would be for me to get in to live in either country even though I am currently completing my PhD. What these people are saying, is not about being able to choose the best people to come in to Europeans, or even those who are in desperate need of sanctuary - we are talking about random people who know that the best way to get an easy ride is to get into one of the European countries. This is not about racism or anything else - it is about a legitimate concern about illegal immigrants.
Paula, UK

I live amongst immigrants in London and I can affirm it is a simmering disaster

John Jarvis, Great Britain
I live amongst immigrants in London and I can affirm it is a simmering disaster. I see normally decent white people full of actual fury at the changing face of their neighbourhoods. And the change is not for the better. When they complain about loud music, they are called racist by the local council. If they defend themselves when attacked they are in danger of being charged with racially motivated violence. The Far Right are the only people addressing these concerns, and unless the mainstream begins to tackle disaffection amongst the White Indigenous Populations then the Far Right will inevitably grow, and then the dark curtain falls. The Far Right does not need to gain elected office. They gleefully know this. The more they grow in support the closer the actual elected parties move in their own policies.
John Jarvis, Great Britain

What does it mean to be English, French, German, etc? I don't really know. I think that to identify as an individual in a world culture is more forward thinking than to submerge oneself in some rather nebulous notion of nationalism. Obeying the laws of the country and learning the language should be enough. Besides, increasing globalisation will eventually efface this notion. The primitive urge to distrust that which is different exists as racism and is really a way to preserve the status quo of 'we were here first', when at the genetic level at least, there is very little difference between us - less than one percent. Race is a cultural notion and therefore subject to change. Immigration is simply a way of getting more people to do the jobs that the country in question cannot supply from its own population. This is not a matter of nationalism but, as always, money and resources.
Alex, UK

I speak English, French and German but I'm still Greek. I watch American movies but I'm still Greek. I use a Chinese made computer and I'm still Greek. Oh, and I love spaghetti and I'm still Greek. If I can retain my cultural identity in a multicultural environment what prevents others from doing so? Right-wing parties are extreme expressers of fears born from ignorance
Spyros, Europe

If we look at history we see many parties use emotions, usually fear and anger, to win votes. Although this may not be true for all of today's politicians, it is true for some. Politicians should not be elected based on emotions, they should be elected because of rational reasons. I would ask you to look at who you support and why.
Raj, Canada

I am a strong supporter of immigration. However, I take with this position with the following caveat: there must be a functional vehicle for assimilating all immigrants into the majority culture. Without such a vehicle, immigration almost inevitably leads to balkanization within a nation, as immigrants become isolated within their respective communities, and the nation degenerates into a "Tower of Babel." The historical record has not been favourable with regard to such societies.
Henry Fish, USA

Fascism in Europe on the rise again? I shake my head in disgust. I wonder why we as humans, with a frontal lobe, possessing the ability to think and reason, cannot move past this idea of racial superiority. Yes, I believe the right wing movement in Europe is racist and consequently disturbing given the two WW's that were fought on European soil. The movement in America is becoming increasingly popular as well (and dangerous). An Ex-pat friend of mine from China has one word to describe the growing phenomena - totalitarianism.
NB, United States

Immigrants add to a society, as long as they integrate into that society

Andrew Cline, USA
Immigrants add to a society, as long as they integrate into that society. I know someone who teaches in the Bronx, and she knows individuals who were born in the USA or have lived here for over 10 years and yet they can't speak English. Immigrants should be proud of the culture they bring with them, which I believe strengthens the culture of their new home, but realize that excluding themselves will only create tensions. I think most right-wing parties desire this, an integrated society and not a nation full of cultural ghettoes.
Andrew Cline, USA

Forty years of 1960s liberalism have brought Europe to the edge of the abyss. The liberals are the real extremists, not the so-called far right. With no mandate from the electorate, they have pursued suicidal multicultural policies whose inevitable breakdown will certainly lead to conflict. Either the degenerate politically correct "elite" goes or we do.
Ian Sykes, UK

To Dave of Canada; You must not get down North of the border too often. Your descriptions of the US being run by the "far right" and suppressing freedom are entirely false. In most universities and the education system in general, the bias is against the republicans. Environmentalism is respected by the majority of Americans and is a worthy cause in today's world. I am a 14 year old student of Mount St. Joseph High school in Baltimore, MD and even in my catholic school, subjects like cloning or even abortion are debated and taught without a bias. As for the far right, it is not racist but an essential part of a democratic system which provides a balance for compromise (what my nation is based on). Also, immigration is vital to my countries development and to further diversify the "great melting pot".
James Wade, US

I do not understand the Europeans obsession with "race" and culture. Most of the people that come legally from foreign countries, and are desperately needed to counterbalance an ageing population. In Canada if Pierre Trudeau hadn't changed immigration policies in the sixties and seventies to a system that allowed you in based on your skills and talents, and NOT whether or not you were from the British Isles, then Canada's population would have imploded and the country would have eventually collapsed. Having the best and brightest from around the world come to Europe will create jobs for your people not eliminate them. Canada is probably the best example of a cultural mosaic in the world, and I am proud to be a part of it.
Dave, Canada

Right wing policies are a healthy part of any open democracy. Never before have so many cultures been exposed to each other on such a large scale. Globalization waters down ever society until distinct remains for anyone to appreciate. Policies of the "right wing" seek only to preserve positive attributes that a nation, the Netherlands or Austria, have built up over centuries. Wanting to preserve centuries of progress is not a crime. What is a crime is for the liberal left to use words such as "racist" or "fascist" to defend their own inept policies that are slowly eroding the cultures of Europe due to the unchecked flood of immigrants in Europe. I have lived in Europe and have seen this with my own eyes, unfortunately, America is also to blame for this. Left wingers must be reminded that all the liberties that they are pressing for are not taken for granted of guaranteed in the places that many of Europe's immigrants are coming from. Why don't the left wingers try to end racist policies in Saudia Arabia or Iran before they try to eliminate centuries of progress in Europe.
Jurgen, USA, upper midwest

We somehow can't tolerate institutionalized validation of our own culture because that seems to be too flagrantly self-promoting.

Deb, USA
The thrust of the comments here seems to be that right-wing parties are flourishing because they address legitimate concerns--even if the rhetoric taken from sound bites might at times be hopelessly extreme and inflammatory. Having grown up in the U.S., which was built on immigration, I cannot help but feel that immigration is generally healthy for a society. One of the big problems that countries with very liberal immigration face in our increasingly politically correct societies, however, is a very big identity crisis. Quite simply, as most of your posters have pointed out, every culture seems to be respected but the historic or majority culture of the country in question. Without due respect for that culture, which after all, presumably drew large numbers of immigrants in the first place, a nation becomes increasingly splintered - something that can be healthy for a democracy in the short term as different viewpoints are integrated, but that cannot continue indefinitely without subsequent integration because it erodes commonalities among a nation's citizens and increases feelings of marginalization, mistrust, and disillusionment among many.

It seems to me that politicians and the media could play a large part in overcoming this by taking a break from the usual emphases on politically motivated attacks and troubleshooting to highlight the strengths of its historic and majority culture, emphasizing how those strengths (in spite of their inevitable problematic side effects) have led to the successes that attract immigrants in such large numbers to begin with. Of course, such a focus will no doubt invite complaints of excessive jingoism and racism, but that's really the biggest part of the problem, isn't it? We have no problem with institutionalized validation of different cultures because we can accept that as tolerant and magnanimous, but we somehow can't tolerate institutionalized validation of our own because that seems to us to be too flagrantly self-promoting. In the subsequent vacuum, less balanced validation flourishes.
Deb, USA

Why is it wanting to preserve your country's culture and heritage regarded as "racist"? Why is loving your country and being proud of it "racist"? The right wing parties in Europe merely speak out against multiculturalism because they believe it does not work, based on experiences of other countries, and they wish to see their country's culture preserved. I don't believe that it is "racist" to want to preserve your culture and heritage. The only reason why we see debates like this is because the leftist, liberal establishment shout "racist" when anybody questions the "cool, multicultural society", so much so that people start to actually believe that these parties are racist.
Paul Tomlinson, Great Britain

It would be a foolish right winger who continued to play a race card in the current political climate.

Peter Sykes, UK
It is an oversimplification to brand far-right parties as racist. If anything their rise is almost certainly symptomatic of a groundswell reaction to the "new fascism" of Political Correctness. It would be a foolish right winger who continued to play a race card in the current political climate. Most would succeed by appealing to a return to core values of decency, respect and discipline, many of which would strike a chord with immigrants, particularly from more traditionalist Islamic countries. Furthermore, there has developed an ideological vacuum in Europe. The failure of Soviet-style socialism and the perceived deficiencies of Western-style Social Democrat models are clear to everyone. Add to that the anaemic and shallow "Third Way" non-philosophy of some European governments, an unholy mixture of vacuous sound-bite and self-seeking corruption and we have a fertile breeding ground for more radical right wing demagogues. The next five years of European politics may well see some hitherto undreamt of sea changes.
Peter Sykes, UK

Far right parties may claim to be raising awareness of the problems connected to multicultural societies, but this is empty rhetoric: what they are in fact doing in discussing these tensions is exploiting them, in a way which increases nationalistic and racist feeling.
Louise Miller, Oxford, England

It is not so much "The Rise of the Right" as the demise of the Liberal Left. Over the past few years the majority of the people of Europe have felt betrayed and forgotten by their Left-wing governments determined to pander to any PC pressure group claiming to represent an under-represented minority. These groups have had their claims advanced at the expense of the majority of ordinary people who are just trying to work hard to bring up their family. The majority are fed up paying huge taxes to protect minorities whilst seeing their own rights disappear along with individual responsibility.
Edwin, Britain

No major mainstream party seems willing to discuss race and immigration.

Mark Dennis, UK
One main reason for the rise in the far right is the simplicity of the message. No major mainstream party seems willing to discuss race and immigration. To talk about it immediately puts you in the racist camp. When Pakistani immigrants fly their flag in certain areas without any problem, but an indigenous Englishman who wishes to do the same during the World Cup is under threat of arrest, doesn't this play straight into the hands of the far right? The debate should move away from race and towards culture. The ability to differ from other people is a right all nationalities have, not just immigrants, but it does seem that PC has taken this away and given rise to the excuse that immigrant populations are treated differently to the "home" population. A clever far right politician can easily draw on this and other ignorances to build their party membership. It will be interesting to see the results of the local elections this time around, voter apathy and the ability for far right parties to motivate their vote could lead to some hard questions. Lets take the PC finger pointing out of the debate and be able to say things we feel in an adult way and then plan a path to better integration. Not being allowed a view only causes resentment.
Mark Dennis, UK

When we are told day-in-and-day out that we are all racist and treat immigrants so badly - it's no wonder some people turn to right wing groups.
Howard Snoad, UK

Too many people confuse racism with nationalism....that's the real problem.
Alois Heldmann, Hungary

It seems to me that Europe has a double standard. When its a white group on the right they are automatically 'racist', but a when a group is exclusively another colour, nationality, or religion its fine.
M. Liebner, Germany

What passes for the "right" in Europe would be middle ground here in America.

Chris, USA
What passes for the "right" in Europe would be middle ground here in America. Here in my state, the right wing (meaning Christian evangelicals) are more concerned with passing laws to require the 10 Commandments be hung in every school then they are with the children actually getting a good education. I know a ever increasing number of Americans who are tired of all of them. There are many things in Europe that you are free to do that would land you in prison in America, thanks to the right wing.
Chris, USA

Political parties represent the citizens, and consequently the opinions of their following. I believe that Europe is experiencing the same upheavals that come with every major immigration wave throughout history.
Citizen, Europe

I find it odd some of the posts from US citizens. Considering that country was built up entirely from immigration. Look, why don't people accept that we live in a global economy and stop using "culture" as an excuse for being racist. I consider myself a human being, from the planet Earth. Shouldn't this allow me to travel around and live in different countries if I so wish? So long as I abide by that country's laws and pay my taxes what is the problem?
World Citizen, Earth

Anon from England, Canada is not the same country that it was when Britain let it free. Although Quebec separatism was a close call in 1996, the movement is ultimately fading, and the new immigrants arriving there will speak French, English, and (insert native tongue here), and be the most competitive people in the "global economy", but most of all these people coming here want to be Canadians. Quebec will never separate now, and the reason that our great country will stay together is because of increased immigration, as many of these immigrants seem to believe more in Canadian ideals then the majority of the people already here (immigrants themselves).

And to all of you who say multi-culturalism doesn't work, you must be thinking of the United States, a country in which the Right-Wing reigns supreme and will always try to suppress anyone who doesn't agree with them. Racism may be a taboo in Europe, but in the states there are socialism, communism, environmentalism. All of them are "evil" to the right down there, and I do not think you would wish to emulate it.
Dave W.K., Canada

The reason Far-Right parties are getting increased support is because the main parties are terrified of addressing the issues concerned. As immigrants, legal and otherwise, stream into Europe, the indigenous people find their way of life and values being eroded and any mutter of discontent gets you labelled as racist. While it may be politically correct to say how wonderfully multi-cultural society is, name one place where such a thing exists peacefully? The former Yugoslavia perhaps? Usually it just ends up as a collection of divided cities, like Quebec or Florida where they even argue about what language they should speak!
Anon, England

Immigration policies all around the world are severely lacking in cultural integration steps

Steve, Canada
Immigration policies all around the world are severely lacking in cultural integration steps. This creates a vacuum for the far right to step-in and re-interpret what should be standard policies applied to immigrant status laws. While earning a living and contributing to society is no longer required to become a citizen in most countries the general population does have valid issues to raise with politicians. Acceptance and multiculturalism is a time bomb waiting to radically shift political and foreign policies of any nation as we are experiencing in Canada now as our immigrant numbers are becoming voters. So to conclude the issue of the far-right I think it is only an indicator of what is to come as our "new voters" are making their presence felt.
Steve, Canada

Yes they are. The question is, is racism illegal? Or is it just an affront to the majority of people? We all have an instinctive affinity with other individuals that we feel at ease with, either through culture or religion, or those who simply look and dress like ourselves. These are feelings that operate on a very primitive level, and we all possess them. The fact that there are political parties that exploit these feelings is possibly the downside of democracy, and during times of economic, and social unrest, they always seem to crawl out of the woodwork.

Another interesting point is that, if these far-right parties then become elected, are they not just representing the wishes of that society? The only way for us to prevent the far-right, or the far-left, from taking power, is for us all to take responsibility for our own actions. Learn about the other cultures that we share our countries with, so they cease to be foreign to us. Become aware of our own racist feelings, and control them. And most of all, remember that we all belong to the same race - the human race.
Jack Burge, England

The right simply represents the balance in a good democracy. They have legitimate concerns for their people like any self-respecting people should. I find it ironic that the European left acts like they are the sole defender of democracy, yet quickly imposes sanctions on democratically elected leaders like Jorg Haider. Austria, Italy and other EU countries do not run their elections like Zimbabwe, the Ukraine, etc. Their elections should be respected by other EU members without reprisal.

As far as unemployment, the EU will need more workers in the future and will probably import some of these workers from non-European countries. But this does not excuse them from their responsibility to their ethnic countrymen. I can not understand how governments like Germany's have 4 million unemployed yet continue to look for outside help. It should be a priority to spend money on the re-education of their citizens to give them the job skills needed for unfilled jobs in their country. If you are still in need of workers after this, then import them.
Edward, USA

I think the far right parties are racist. If a group openly says that it wants to end immigration and it expresses racist sentiment then why would a person who isn't racist want to be associated with it? Not everyone is innocent, but why are the far right parties the ones making so much noise about the issue. There is a better way to deal with immigration and the problems western European faces. Blaming immigrants and perpetuating racism is dangerous. I hope Europe doesn't succumb to the xenophobic policies of the far right.
Steve, Canada

I think the "racist" brand is in most cases incorrect. In fact I find that a number of right wing parties are simply drawing attention to a fear that most Europeans have, that their culture and race will not exist in perhaps 200 years (this is certainly the case with the Netherlands). Most people feel threatened by this thought, but it is taboo to discuss it or express your fears without being branded a racist. In the Netherlands we can see what was a liberal and open society being turned towards a society where right wing parties hold appeal. You have to ask yourself why? Perhaps our societies were not ready for such mass immigration, perhaps for many people it all happened too quickly making them feel helpless and flooded by the change. At any rate, as long as the "responsible" parties avoid tackling the issues, and fail to deal with peoples fears, then these right parties will hold appear as the only people with the guts to speak about these problems.
Michael, Dublin, Ireland

The answer is No. People have the right to vote for whoever they want. There are some who would love to silence the other side. One of them is Mark, USA. Shame of you.
Walter K, USA

The dilemma has no answer

Mark, USA
Of course they are racist. They want to preserve the cultural insulation that makes each of their countries distinct. The problem they confront is that if immigration ends, who will pay for their social security as the populations of these European countries age and dwindle and how will they possibly compete with the economic and technological juggernaut America? The dilemma has no answer.
Mark, USA

It seems to me that anyone expounding the values of immigrant cultures and the need to recognise and uphold such cultural values, is labelled as the defender of the collective rights of all concerned. Nothing really wrong with that - we should recognise and appreciate others' values. When a similar and equal call is made to halt the erosion of our own cultural values within Europe, the individuals concerned are labelled as racist and xenophobic. Curious, isn't it? Narrow-minded? Certainly. Defend the recognition of other values by all means. But why do we have to deny our own culture in order to appear correct?
Paul B, Oxfordshire, UK

The right wing is certainly not the sole harbour for racism. Most of the people I have worked with in the UK, who are professed left wingers or union members are far worse racists than right wingers (which in the press these days usually just means anyone who has national pride or likes to see the Union Flag flying).
R W K Gardiner, Norway

The far right seems more interested in inflaming racial problems than working towards resolving them

Chris B, England
The far right has always provided a platform for those who promote racism, and anyone with far right political leanings is likely to be branded guilty by association. Those who are not of that ilk are no less aware of racial issues - they just tend to take a more measured and less hysterical approach to the subject. In the meantime, the far right seems more interested in inflaming racial problems than working towards resolving them. The excuse that they are "raising awareness" is tissue thin and holds no water because the media and daily life constantly remind us that such problems exist. The fact that 10 million people have reportedly voted for far right parties doesn't impress me at all - for the simple reason that hundreds of millions haven't.
Chris B, England

Typical of the far left to label anyone who disagrees with their viewpoints as far right racists. When will the left learn to listen to those that have other viewpoints, and not so readily shout them down.
Keith Chandler, California USA

A Dutch party leader who wants to end immigration could be simply xenophobic (even if I suspect otherwise), because the Dutch population is already so diverse. In any other country, though, any party that wants a halt to immigration is clearly racist.
Aleksandr, USA

Since some of these parties have explicitly racist policies, it's rather hard to argue that they are not.
Guy Chapman, UK

Actually I agree with Jennifer Ethington. These parties get elected because people vote for them. Name calling is not helpful. I believe that we should try to understand why people vote for these parties. What are the concerns these people have? Can we solve this problem? I am a black, immigrant and a Muslim. However I do believe that lots of people who vote for these parties are really good people. They simply have certain issues that need to be addressed. avoiding the issue is not a solution, we should all sit down and talk.
Abdul Ghaffat , Canada

I think calling the politicians "racist" avoids the real issue. The purpose of a political party is to represent - and speak for - the people. If no one in their constituencies wanted them, the parties would die out. But instead, they seem to be gaining ground. Denmark had a similar situation last year and Edmund Stoiber has struck a chord with a fair portion of the German population. Obviously the voters have concerns that have not been adequately addressed by more left-leaning politicians. Whether you consider these concerns valid or not, they will not just disappear because someone cries "racism". The Dutch (in this case) are using their votes to speak for them, as they should. Would you rather see resentment fester until violence occurs?
Jennifer Ethington, USA

Europe Today: Europe's far right parties
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