Commentary, Politics

Rising Intolerance and the Future of European Politics

Since the beginning of the rise of far-right political parties in Europe, I have written in this column that the threat posed by these parties is due to things beyond the risk of their electoral victories. Although it has been repeated in multiple instances, it is necessary to re-emphasize the real risk of the political discourse of these parties since almost every week we experience a new symptom of this discourse on minorities and different voices in Europe. The acceleration of this phase in far-right political discourse in Europe may not be related solely to the elections in various European countries this year, it may be a long term problem and continue to have far reaching implications for society and politics in Europe.

The risk of these parties and the rhetoric they introduce in European politics has more to do with the possibility of the evolution of political discourse in these countries in a way that allows more space for intolerance, and in some extreme forms, xenophobia. A dangerous part of the rise of these political parties is the use of parallel discourses in different countries and the establishment of transnational anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Opposition to the Turkish accession to the EU, which has been the mantra of far-right political parties, has recently been complemented by anti-Syrian immigration attitudes and increasing religious discrimination.

The mainstreaming of this rhetoric generates major risk beyond simply cultural diversity and the European integration process. Minorities living in European countries feel threatened by the mobilization of certain segments of society and worry that that rhetoric may not end following the elections. The demobilization of now increasingly empowered and emboldened far-right rhetoric may not be easy. Once these feelings are indoctrinated and planted in a society, it can take a long time to demobilize these feelings. Thus, what happens in the election campaigns of these parties does not stay in the election campaigns but impacts the society as a whole long after campaign season.

In recent weeks, due to the crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands and attempts by several European countries to prevent some Turkish politicians from addressing Turkish citizens about the upcoming referendum, the implications of the rise of this political rhetoric have begun to manifest. The spread of these ideas has started to influence the overall political atmosphere and rhetoric in these countries, as well as spread to institutions in Europe.

Last week, the European Parliament made the controversial decision to ban the distribution of Daily Sabah in the institution. It is still not clear how an institution can make such a scandalous decision; however, it is very concerning once this decision is analyzed in the context of rising intolerance in Europe. Since January, many European analysts have argued that 2017 could be a critical juncture for Europe due to important elections in certain European countries, especially after the Brexit referendum. A major part of this juncture will have something to do with the reaction of mainstream European parties and politicians to this intolerant discourse. It will probably be one of the most important tests for Europeans.



Dr. Kanat is currently the Research Director at the SETA Foundation in Washington D.C. and Assistant Professor at Penn State University, Erie.