Francois Hollande’s victory in France’s recent Presidential election may have dampened the focus on the stubborn rise in support for France’s far-right Front National and its leader Marine Le Pen; yet the general rise of the far right across Europe raises questions for the African Diaspora.
In Greece, the breakthrough of the neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, and Marine Le Pen’s increase of her party’s share of the vote in France are but the most recent examples of the lurch to the populist right in Europe led by figures like the deceased (and not much lamented) Jorg Haider in Austria and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.
Diaspora communities may have to be equally as vocal in defending their presence to ensure that the dark past of Europe is not revisited.
The mainstreaming of the far-right is perhaps the most worrying aspect for diaspora Africans; Marine Le Pen’s, dare it be said, glamour and charisma add to the visceral threat she poses to mainstream parties, who increasingly echo the rhetoric of the far-right. In concrete terms, mainstream candidates have found it necessary to talk tough on immigration; for those who are immigrants or the children of immigrants this often makes for uncomfortable topics. Yet perhaps it’s time the bull was tackled by the horns. Diasporans should not rest easy in the belief that these are just protest votes – concern with immigration and the unease of cultural change, coupled with the global economic downturn, suggest the resurgent right-wing is here to stay. In the victory of parties like the Golden Dawn in Greece, a nation whose recent economic humiliation echoes Germany’s after World War Two, it is finding its most virulent expression, despite the simultaneous rise of radical and moderate leftist parties.
Even Francois Hollande declared that in periods of economic uncertainty immigration should be restrained. While unpalatable, it is important that Diasporans are able to empathize with that position and its articulation in the mainstream, while simultaneously arguing the merits of a diverse and pluralistic society and the very real economic benefits of immigration and freedom of movement, as well as the flaws in a system that demands cheap labor but is not willing to pay the social cost.
Gordon Brown, Britain’s former prime minister, was famously accused of dog whistle politics when he declared he wanted ‘British jobs for British workers’, yet he echoed a view many Britons hold. A silence on issues of immigration has only provided more grist to the mill of the far right. The co-option of the far-right rhetoric by Nicolas Sarkozy was only the most recent manifestation of a lurch to the right by mainstream parties desperate to attenuate the far-right’s growth. Arguably though such rhetoric might be a turn-off for many voters, including Diasporan Africans, yet hasn’t it drawn away voters who may otherwise have turned to the full-throated call of the far-right beast?
Dele Meiji Fatunla is editor of Diaspora Debate.