As the economies of Europe’s leading countries continue to waver in the economic storm the focus of the western media and politicians has inevitably rested on the in’s and out’s of the financial situation; on stocks and shares, on diplomatic efforts and the fate of the European Single Market. The effects of one of the most severe downturn’s on record on society are yet to be properly understood and it may be many years before the full impact of austerity measures and rising unemployment is fully evident.
For those historians and social and political scientists among us the prevailing economic climate breeds wider concerns. Recurrent events in the twentieth century highlight the political dangers of economic depression. The current rise in support for far-right organisations across Europe is a timely reminder that in severe hardships people turn to extremes to find support, an explanation, and a party at whose feet blame may be laid. In November the British Think Tank Demos carried out the first-ever large-scale quantitive study of who constitutes Europe’s far right and discovered;
As a Uk resident this trend has been increasingly evident since the credit crunch of 2008 through the momentum of isolationist parties such as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the emergence of new far-right organisations willing to engage in violence such as the English Defence League (EDL). On the continent, growing support for Marine Le Pen in France and the National Alliance in Italy have not been quelled by the almost unanimous control of European governments by centre (or not so centre) right parties.
Though Anders Breivik may have been confirmed as a paranoid schizophrenic his online manifestos reveal that the recent and tragic massacre in Norway was also the extreme outcome of an ideology built on hatred and fear. Nor were his actions alone, far-right violence and, in particular, racially motivated attacks increased throughout the 2000’s across Europe and some sources suggest that this trend has been exaggerated by the economic decline.
The people most at risk from this increase in far-right action tend to be recent ‘immigrants’ and those most obviously identified as ‘other’. African migrants across Europe fall heavily into these categories and it is they who may well be facing the brunt of Europe’s rising xenophobia. Yesterday’s awful events in Florence in which far-right sympathiser Gianluca Casseri shot dead two Senegalese street vendors and wounded three others is a case in point. Moreover, in societies in which they are often marginalised or invisible and exist without economic, legal or social security or political representation, the real impact on Africans across Europe is difficult to establish. It seems likely that reported and high-profile cases such as that of Casseri are merely the tip of the ice-berg as economic and social hardships continue to polarise communities.
This article does not claim that the economic downturn is the sole cause of an increase in far-right activities and racial and ethnic disharmony but in times of economic strife tolerance can be a difficult resource to come by. In the difficult years ahead if far-right parties increase their popularity across the continent, Europe’s Africans may well need increased protection in law and most importantly the recognition of the mainstream media which continually ignores the myriad stories of African lives in the west.
by Aidan Stonehouse