BUSINESS + POLITICS
America isn’t the only one in trouble, we all are
9th March 2021
We’ve gotten accustomed over the years to placing exceptional attention on America. For better or for worse, this exceptionalism has evolved beyond the point of just exaggerating the ‘good’ of America and it now also exaggerates the ‘bad’. This distortion of reality has led to a disconnect that tends to distance the rest of the world from America itself. But what’s happening in America, doesn’t only stay in America. Take for example the Capitol riots: similar riots took place at the Reichstag in Germany a couple of months prior to the riots in America. In comparison to the coverage that the Capitol riots have received, one could be forgiven for thinking that the incident in Berlin was a minor affair. One could argue that the Reichstag storming in Berlin ended up being less violent than the storming of the Capitol, yet there are cultural implications surrounding the Reichstag storming that deem it equally as newsworthy. In addition, more coverage of incidents similar to the Capitol riots could further awareness of the fact that the far-right isn’t only a growing problem in America, but also in Europe.
On the 29th of August 2020, 38000 people took to the streets to protest outside the Reichstag. Among those people, members of the following groups could be found: anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, anti-lockdown supporters which were surprisingly side-by-side with LGBTQ+ protesters. The incident began as a non-violent protest against the German government’s handling of the pandemic which then quickly devolved into a tense march on the Reichstag as members of Reichsbuerger, the Identitarian movement and other sub-groups of the far-right joined the fray, flying imperialist flags and other such symbols (the fact that the far-right has infiltrated the protests later explains how their flags happened to fly side by side with LGBTQ+ ones). Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the president of Germany, stated on Instagram that: “Flags from the Reich and far-right profanity in front of the German parliament are an unacceptable attack on the heart of our democracy. We will never accept this.”
With regard to the Reichstag, there are significant cultural and historical implications that can explain, to someone that sees the remark as an over-exaggeration, the German president’s stance on this incident. In 1933, four weeks after Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany, there was an arson attack on the Reichstag building. Even though opinions over who, or what caused the fire are mixed, the general consensus seems to incline towards the idea that the Nazis themselves wanted to thwart anything that was left of German democracy; the ideal institution to attack being the building that houses the German government. Only after World War II and the unification of East and West Germany was the Reichstag reclaimed as a symbol of German democracy. From this, it can be ascertained the Reichstag itself has quite the history surrounding it and it is inherently tied to the far-right.
Romania is another perfect example of the rise of far-right ideology. Recently, a far-right party (AUR) has unexpectedly gained some power in parliament due to, as Claudiu Tufis, an associate professor of political science at the University of Bucharest, put it: “AUR played the anti-medicine, anti-vaccination, and anti-restrictions card to a population that is not truly educated in health issues.” Before the pandemic, AUR barely had any following, as the pandemic worsened and the people of Romania grew tense around the extended lock-down, protests against COVID regulations rose in number and AUR swooped these people under their wing. AUR themselves don’t like to be labelled as a far-right party, yet their core party’s beliefs are centred around strict-nationalism. AUR’s co-founder himself has stated in an interview that: “We are part of the Coalition for Family, and we defended the family, and we promoted the family, and we plan to do this in parliament.” The Coalition for Family refers to an association in Romania that aims to hinder the ability of LGBTQ+ families to have equal rights with traditional families. Later in the interview, he added that AUR is the only [Romanian] party that supported Donald Trump.
The elections that gained AUR a place in parliament took place in December, already more than half a year into a poorly-handled and poorly-received pandemic which had Romanians increasingly frustrated and sceptical towards their government. Aside from the extreme nationalist views that AUR holds, their views against LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities, masks and quarantine resonated with the Romanians that already lost faith in the Romanian government and gave AUR the numbers it needed to gain power. Their distaste for ethnic minorities, their distrust of the media, and the inevitable claims about ballots being rigged appears to be largely inspired by Trumpism.
Romania isn’t yet in the same scenario that Germany and America found themselves in recently. Looking back at the build-up that led to the Reichstag and Capitol riots, there are clear and problematic signs foretelling a similar revolt taking place in Romania too. Romania isn’t alone in this scenario either, just because these incidents are in the past that does not mean a domino-effect hasn’t been set in motion or that the far-right will be satisfied with what they already achieved.
Ireland itself must also pay close attention to the far-right. Just recently, violent protests broke out in Dublin over the ongrowing stress of lockdown. Evidence is still being examined as to what extent far-right groups may have managed to infiltrate and influence these protests, yet there is no doubt that there has been an increase in far-right activity in recent years. As seen in Germany with the Reichstag protests, it doesn’t take long for the far-right to capitalise on general public distress in order to turn the tides in their favour.
“To prevent the further spread of far-right ideology, we must first acknowledge that they pose a threat to everyone around the globe; not only to certain distant countries.”
What exactly, though, is causing this increase in the presence of far-right members and leaders popping up in the last year or so? The pandemic, as we’ve grown to learn, caused an increase in the number of people showing distrust towards their governments and the way countries are run and kept safe. We’ve also seen an insurgence of people claiming that it isn’t constitutional to have to wear a mask or to be forced into quarantine in order to protect each other’s lives. Those already discontent, in arm with conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers, took to the streets to protest against their government. What these people have in common with the far-right is that they distrust the current government and that they do not like being restricted. I’m not calling anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists far-right supporters, it’s just that with these fundamental traits in common, it is easy as a far-right ideologist to infiltrate these masses and blend in.
It is also easy to radicalise any one person that is on the brink of losing all faith in their government in order to add to the ranks of the far-right. Essentially, the far-right is playing the anti-restriction (only against the restrictions of those sharing their ideology), anti-science, anti-mask cards in order to gain the following of those no longer believing in the government. Turning a blind eye towards history (as recent as it may be) is exactly what the far-right wants and how they will gain power, and it’s exactly how they managed to accomplish the things they did in America and Germany. Allowing the far-right to make a mockery out of more countries’ democracy will, in my opinion, definitely make more people aware of the damaging consequences. Even so, we mustn’t wait for more acts of violence to take place before we try to find a solution. As disconnected as we are from one another during these times, it is easy to believe that these issues cannot reach us, that these are problems for the Americans, Germans, Romanians and the Irish to deal with, when in fact, they are a matter for everyone to be involved in.
To prevent the further spread of far-right ideology, we must first acknowledge that they pose a threat to everyone around the globe; not only to certain distant countries. In addition, country leaders themselves have to identify far-right movements as immediate threats to society; if leaders shove these problems under the rug, fewer people will take them seriously and awareness will remain low. Some steps have already been made in the correct direction (far-right supporters being de-platformed with the take-down of the Parler app), yet these steps are nowhere near enough to prevent any serious damage. The problem is deeply rooted in society, and I am of the opinion that a significant number of far-right supporters are merely misguided and manipulated. Information from the government related to research and actions made with the intention of improving the life of a country’s citizens should be made more accessible to the people (in a way that doesn’t read as propaganda). The far-right has a better grasp and understanding of how to use the internet to their advantage and appeal to the people. They know how to draw out empathy and use it to their needs, they know how to write their manifestos in order for everyone to understand, whereas most scientific research that (good-intentioned) people point at when anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers spout their usual nonsense are filled with so much scientific jargon that it’s hard to take in and process. This way of communicating will never reach the same amount of people with the same effect as simple, to-the-point, and heartfelt texts that the far-right make use of in order to manipulate its followers and to convert those that simply are in search of clearing their doubts about the government.
Featured Photo from Truthout.org on Flickr