- This is a landmark report exploring the state of far-right extremism across Europe.
- It is a collaboration between three leading European anti-fascist research organisations: HOPE not hate (UK), EXPO Foundation (Sweden) and Amadeu Antonio Foundation (Germany)
- The report includes contributions from 34 leading scholars, researchers and activists from across the continent and 32 country profiles.
- The report includes an exclusive survey of 12,000 people across eight major European countries (Sweden, France, Germany, UK, Hungary, Poland and Italy), measuring attitudes toward immigration, minority communities, feminism and political disaffection.
- The far right has had mixed fortunes politically during 2020, with those in government seeing a sharp drop in support, while others benefitted from unpopular government responses to Covid-19 and other issues. In Italy, the fascist Brothers of Italy is now at 12% in the polls, double the vote it obtained in the 2018 General Election. In Sweden, where crime and immigration both rate higher than health in voter concerns, the far right Swedish Democrats are now on 21%, compared to the 16% it polled in the 2018 election.
- Far right parties that are in Government however have suffered badly during the pandemic. The ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland is now polling at 18.4%, compared to the 32% it achieved in the 2019 General Election, while Five Star Movement, which is more populist than traditional far right, has seen support slip from 28% in 2018 to just 12% now.
- Most people have been supportive of the lockdown measures implemented in their respective countries, with 64% backing Government measures in Germany and just 13% opposing them.
- There is a deep sense of unease in many countries about the state of their political system and the direction of their country. Two-thirds of people in France think that their political system is broken, while only 6% of Britons think it is working “very well”. However, there are more positive feelings in other countries with the state of their democracy, with 60% of Germans thinking it works well.
- Attitudes towards minorities are poor across all eight countries surveyed, though some are particularly appalling. Two-thirds of Italians (67%) have negative views on Roma, while 60% of Hungarians have negative views on immigrants. The most positive attitudes towards minorities are amongst the British, but the 29% positive attitudes towards Muslims is still depressingly low.
- While attitudes towards minorities are poor, more people felt that the Black Lives Matter protests highlighted racism and discrimination experienced by minority communities. However, only in Germany (52%) and the UK (51%) was this sentiment shared by a majority of people. In Hungary, the figure was just 23%.
- Attitudes to conspiracy theories vary greatly from country to country, and often depend on whether the issue taps into existing concerns and prejudices. In Hungary, where President Orban has riled against EU interference and the dangers immigration pose to European identity, 45% agree that elites are encouraging immigration to weaken Europe. Likewise in Italy, where there has been political anger at the refusal of the EU to provide greater support for immigration issues, 39% agree.
- The vast majority of respondents in all eight countries dismiss notions that the Covid-19 vaccine will be maliciously used to infect people with poison. However, 22% of Poles, 20% of Hungarians and 16% of Italians do believe this to be the case. Only 48% of Poles believe this claim to be “probably” or “definitely” false. In the UK, only 7% believe poison will be infected via the Covid-19 vaccine, while 79% disagreeing.
- There is much larger support for the claim that ‘Hollywood’s elite, governments, media and other high officials are covertly involved in large-scale child smuggling and exploitation’, one of the key claims of QAnon followers. A third of respondents in Poland believe this claim to be definitely or probably true, while only 27% think it is false. In Germany, 21% believe this statement to be true, compared to 48% who think it is false.
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Key 2020 Trends
The Rise of Conspiracy Theories and QAnon in Europe
- 2020 saw a dramatic increase in the number of people engaging with conspiracy theories during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
- Across Europe we’ve witnessed the birth of a number of conspiracy theory-driven protest groups that have taken to the streets, driven by a strongly anti-elite, anti-lockdown and anti- vaccine agenda.
- Responsibility for the spread of conspiracy theories partially lies with digital platforms and social media, which has helped false information of all kinds spread faster and more aggressively.
- Covid-19 related conspiracy theories have provided a worrying new route towards antisemitic politics. Online spaces used to push anti-lockdown and conspiratorial explanations for the pandemic are providing a different pathway, one by which the incremental steps that build towards antisemitism, Holocaust denial and admiration for Hitler are in fact a progression through different conspiracy theories, which may contain antisemitic undertones but do necessarily require them.
- While starting in the USA in 2017, 2020 saw the arrival and growth of the QAnon conspiracy theory across Europe, especially in the UK and Germany. The theory has developed beyond its roots in the intensely hyperpartisan and US- centric right into a broader, less uniform type phenomenon with distinctly European inflections. As it stands today it is a decentralised, grand and multifaceted phenomenon, at once a conspiracy theory, a political movement and a quasi-religion, with variants tailored to chime with different subcultures and national contexts.
Racial Nationalism on the Rise
- 2020 saw the European far-right become extremely animated in response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that took place across the continent.
- Existing racial nationalist activists and organisations, already preoccupied with the concept of race, have used the Black Lives Matter protests to push their existing political platform to a wider audience.
- Some elements of the far-right that have traditionally distanced themselves from open racial politics, promoting instead ‘cultural nationalism’, have become more willing and open to explicitly racial politics in response to Black Lives Matter protests. Whether this shift is permanent will remain to be seen, but in the short-to-medium term we have seen cultural nationalism cede ground to racial nationalism within parts of the European far-right.
Far Right Terrorism continues to pose a threat
- Far-right terrorism in 2020 largely continued the worrying trend of 2019 with a large number of arrests and an active online scene propagating for terrorism and violence.
- The current far-right terror threat constitutes of a network of loosely organised groups which connects individuals internationally. These groups main purpose is to encourage individuals to perpetuate acts of violence, to network them and share knowledge rather than formally plan attacks. The groups are often modelled after previous groups and are often short-lived.
- Activists often engage with multiple groups simultaneously and often find new networks to engage in if one is dismantled. This means that the threat is difficult to counter as shattering individual groups has little lasting effects.
- Terrorism partially motivated by conspiracy theory beliefs as well as environmentalism, often termed eco-fascism, are relatively new trends and attacks related to these themes remain a serious possibility.
- While it remains important to explore trends in traditional far right organisations such as political parties, the modern far-right is currently undergoing a broader and more fundamental shift; namely the emergence of a transnational and post-organisational threat.
- While activists will generally be primarily preoccupied with local or national issues, they invariably contextualise them continentally or even globally. Often activists from all over the world come together for short periods to collaborate on certain issues and these loose networks act as synapses passing information around the globe.
- If we want to understand the dangers posed by the politics of hatred and division we can no longer just look at our street, our community or even our country, we must think beyond political parties, formal organisations and even national borders.