Estelle Ciesla considers the rise in ‘Third Way’ politics, and in particular the rise of the Far Right in Eastern Europe.
In a recent article for the Pi Media print edition, Timothy Sung wrote that socialist values are on the rise as the memories of 1917 legacy are fading. To view geopolitical trends in this way is to ignore a bigger picture. The world is experiencing a much broader growth in popular scepticism of liberalism. We are witnessing the end of an era: the post-Cold War US hegemony on world politics is faltering, and along with it its ideologically liberal paradigm. The rise of China and other newly economically developed powers means that Western ideals of social liberalism and democracy no longer appear a prerequisite for a stable and successful country.
The Western paradigm was thoroughly shaken by the 2007 Financial Crisis. The world economy was plunged into chaos after the explosion of the subprime mortgage bubble in the USA; within days, the crisis spread all over the world. The drastic austerity measures that followed, alongside the failure of liberal democracies to visibly reign in big banking corporations, has led to an increasing interest for a ‘third way’, beyond the classical bipartisanship divide. This growing interest in non-liberal ideas resulted, among other things, in Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
France’s recent presidential elections appears to be the ultimate illustration of the ‘third way’ phenomenon. Unusually for The Fifth Republic, neither of France’s previous two presidents, François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, had been re-elected for a second term. Indeed, so unpopular were both of these figures as individual politicians that neither of their parties, the moderately right-leaning UMP and left-leaning PS, played much of role in the 2017 elections. The election instead became something of a three horse race between Mélenchon’s far-left movement, Les Insoumis; Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, the Front National (FN); and Macron’s “third-way” central party, En Marche (EM). With Macron elected as the president, for the first time the French president does not identify as left or right-wing, but instead follows an unspecific ideology that integrates ideas from both left and right.
Beyond Macron, the French elections illustrated a broader political trend that is evident across much of the world: the rise of far-right populist parties. Populist candidates extolling protectionist and nationalistic policies are emerging everywhere. The far-alt-right is the new Bolshevism: a revolutionary movement that strives to undermine the West’s liberal values. Moreover, fascists may have been defeated in the French, Austrian and Dutch elections last year, but the far right is enjoying huge successes in former-Soviet democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. In October 2015 Poland elected the far-right Christian Eurosceptic party Law and Order (PiS), while Hungary has been governed by the far-right Fidesz party since 2010 with the virulent, openly xenophobic Viktor Orbán standing at its head.
Rather than there being a growing interest in leftist politics as memories of the Eastern Bloc fade, all evidence points to a rise of nationalist xenophobic ideas as memories of fascist crimes that occured in 1930/40s are disappearing altogether. The right wing parties of Eastern Europe offer a reviewed and misleading vision of the past: one where race, purity, tradition and segregation prevail. Their enemies are racial and religious minorities, homosexuals, advocates of human rights and gender equality. Neo-Fascists legitimize their claims to be mainstream political parties through propaganda, repression of journalistic freedoms, and discrediting of political opponents. Constitutional infringements are said to be “judiciary reforms”.
On November 11, Poland’s national Independence Day, thousands of nationalists marched for a “pure Poland, white Poland”, chanting “pray for an Islamic Holocaust”. Poland’s Minister of the Interior said: “We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday”. As Macron told Marine Le Pen in the a presidential debate, the far-right is a “product and parasite of the system” – it grows stronger by feeding off the decay it fosters.
The fact that the politically disillusioned masses in Poland and Hungary have turned to the far right rather than far left is no coincidence. Both Poland and Hungary have historically been rivals of Russia; even Soviet rule was marked by regular insurgencies. Distrust of the Russia and the far-left is still a major driving political and societal force in these countries. These new members of the EU are worrying about potential interferences of Putin, especially Poland, whose borders are kept under the surveillance of NATO.
However not all hope is lost. It must be remembered that politics is a cycle – they are always shifts from left to right throughout history. Today, it is the turn of the far right to have the wind in their sails. But it is not an unstoppable trend. No one knows what we are heading towards, it is up to us to decide and to defend our ideals. In fact, the resurgence of extremist ideologies can even be healthy for democracy: they remind us that our liberties are not granted, and that we cannot get complacent. During history people fought for the rights we enjoy and now, it is up to us to do the same to protect them for future generations.