Europe’s right wing past is no secret. With claims from various media outlets that refugee influxes have caused a surge in far right popularity, people are on high alert.
Pegida, the German born Anti- Islam group, held a rally on Sunday the 11th in Utrecht, to demonstrate their aversion to the ‘Islamification’ of Europe.
As 2 o’clock came and went, a group of Pegida supporters, some draped in national flags, milled around in a small vulnerable looking group in the middle of the square. Around and amongst them were journalists, interviewing and snapping pictures. On the outskirts police and spectators watched and waited to see if Pegida would live up to its bad reputation.
Pegida is opposed to the so- called flood of ‘economic migrants’ compared to refugees or asylum seekers. They claim the majority of the incoming people are merely searching for a better life and higher wages in Europe, without fleeing from serious dangers.
This contrasts with the UNHCR statistics, which suggests 60 per cent of people who crossed the sea during the first five months of 2015 came from Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan, countries that have become characterised by war and violence.
Co- founder of Pegida Lutz Bachman spoke at the rally. His speech explained that the influx of Islamic refugees into Europe is eroding the traditional culture of the continent. As he continued, voices from the back of the crowd turned heads as ‘down with Nazi’s’ was screamed.
The anti- Pegida protestors were met with a clash from Pegida supporters and a brawl broke out. Half of the crowd surrounding Lutz disappeared, racing with cameras towards the fights. This continued throughout the day, with journalists and spectators following the ensuing chaos.
The fear that European history will repeat itself is very real, and therefore creates an intense desire for information regarding the right wing movement. And yet the coverage of groups such a Pegida is polarised, with most mainstream outlets branding the group as Nazi’s.
Werner J. Patzelt, a political journalist from Dresden University, explains that Pegida supports believe they are being misrepresented. ‘People think of themselves as not being racists or Xenophobic, one- third of those who come to Pegida are Xenophobic but the other two- thirds are discontent and dissatisfied with politics in general’.
Pegida did not spring up on its own accord; instead it is a response to growing anxiety and unease surrounding the refugee crisis, and on a wider scale, international terrorism. Groups such as Pegida have turned this fear into support for racist and often inhumane treatment of Muslims and refugees.
Part of the problem lies in the media’s tendency to shun these parties’ politics to the outskirts, yet focus intensely on the personalities and antics that arise there. Rather than enter into a dialogue and address the fears and frustration of the people turning out to these demonstrations, the media labels them as crazy and politics goes on; business as usual.
The effect of this kind of treatment has lead to a distinct rise in formal, legitimate right- wing parties, from Hungary’s characteristically violent group Jobbick, the Dutch Party for Freedom and Alternative for Germany, which is now the third biggest party in the country.
According to Professor Patzelt, the AFD’s success is due to the party recognising there is a political gap and responding to it by ‘bringing people off the street’. An yet, their policies are short sighted, narrow and focusing almost solely on refugee policy while ignoring other issues facing the country.
The future of right wing groups and parties in Europe could depend on how successful both right wing and centre parties appeal to the people on the street.
‘If they become more radical, I think people will realise that demagogues are dangerous and they will stay at home. So on one hand it depends on the political and administrative management of the refugee crisis, on the other hand it depends on the right wing leaders and parties’.