Oct 052018
 

Back in August, Franziska Schreiber made quite a splash with her memoir of the four years she spent inside Germany’s not-so-new-anymore Radical Right party. Schreiber was in her mid-twenties when she joined only weeks after the party was founded. She helped building up the AfD’s youth organisation – controversial even within the party – in the key state of Saxony and became a confidant of Frauke Petry, the former party leader. Appalled by the AfD’s radicalisation (to which she has contributed, albeit on a small scale), Schreiber left the party just before the 2017 federal election. Reviews of her inside story were mixed, but hey, does this sound like the perfect complement to a long day on the beach? Turns out the book is light and short reading, so here are my five random observations to cap off the day.

  1. Cheap opening shot: confidants were allowed to call Petry “little star” (a common term of affection in German). Yes, you read that right. A few pages later, we learn that Schreiber had a bit of a crush on Petry. No big surprise here.
  2. Schreiber estimates that in 2017, Neo-Nazis made up 15 per cent of the membership, whereas” liberals” comprised 50 per cent. The first number looks a bit off to me while the second number seems way too high. But she’s the insider, right?
  3. Schreiber mostly writes about individuals, and from the point of view of one of many warring factions. That makes for juicy bits and potentially dodgy analyses. But she’s adamant that the rank-and-file’s continous shift to the right has forced various people within the leadership to become ever more radical, lest they lose their credibility with the party faithful.
  4. She also claims that many in the AfD now aim for a revolutionary transformation, something that seems more plausible now than it did before the Chemnitz events.
  5. Schreiber (who apparently has some background in Political/Social Science) describes her own trajectory like an induction into a cult – the alienation from family and former friends, the confirmation biases, the gradual shifting of what is considered normal – it’s all there. This perspective may provide her current self with a very convenient excuse for things she did in the past and now regrets, but it’s nonetheless credible. She also highlights the importance of internal & external communication via social media, and the force of negative emotions, and something that squares with the motives of the AfD’s voters.
  6. And yes, there is the famous claim that the now former boss of Germany’s secret service advised Petry as to how to avoid the attention of his people.

So, all in all, this book provides some interesting background on persons and events, but nothing that is exactly new.

Sep 072018
 

The other day, an American journalist wanted to talk about the Sweden Democrat’s role in the upcoming Swedish election. Being no country specialist, I tried to deflect the request, but he sent me some more specific questions anyway, which I tried to answer to the best of my abilities.

Unsurprisingly, I provided too much detail, so my comments disappeared from the published piece. Since it is Friday afternoon and all the stuff is on file anyway, for your edification, here’s our virtual conversation:

Would you characterize the Sweden Democrats as a radical right party? How similar are they to other radical right parties in Europe? What is different about them?

Yes, I the Sweden Democrats fit well into the family of Radical Right parties that have emerged in most West European countries since the 1980s. The most unusual thing about the SD is perhaps that they started out as a pretty militant group, with uniforms reminiscent of the 1930s. Many modern European Radical Right parties have carefully avoided this association from the start.

It seems to me that the Sweden Democrats have done a lot of “soften” their image, with their flowery logo and the party leader’s choice of clothes. Is this something you would agree with? Is this something other radical right parties have adopted?

That’s correct. The new-ish leadership has banned the uniforms, purged the ranks of Neo Nazis, and replaced the fierce Viking warrior of their original logo with a flower. Their relatively moderate appeal is very much in line with other Radical Right parties.

How important is this election in Sweden in determining the future of the European Union?

For the time being, no other party will form a coalition with the SD, so their likely success will have no direct short-term impact on the EU. However, having a strong Radical Right party in the Swedish parliament will make it more difficult to form a stable government and will likely lead to Swedish mainstream parties adopting more nationalist and restrictive positions.

Do you think the Sweden Democrats are further evidence of a rising tide of nationalism across Europe? What is behind this rise? Immigration? Neo-liberal economic policies? Economic hardships? Changes in society?

Radical Right Parties that poll between 10 and 25 per cent are now a fact of political life in most West European countries, and in all likelihood, these parties will also do well in the 2019 EP elections, where the barriers to entry are particularly low. One important but often overlooked factor behind this rise is dealignment, i.e. the slow but steady decline of the long standing ties between large social groups such as workers, farmers, or religious groups on the one hand and traditional parties on the other. Through dealignment, voters have become available for new parties including, but not limited to, the Radical Right.

One second important point to note is that the Radical Right vote is driven by perceptions of migration as an economic and cultural threat. While these perceptions are by no means confined to the Radical Right’s electorate, they seem to constitute a necessary pre-condition for Radical Right support: unless someone is seriously worried about immigration, it is highly unlikely that they would ever vote for the Radical Right. Third, economic decline plays a role, but many Radical Right voters are relatively well of themselves. What worries them is a feeling that their native compatriots get less than they deserve, that the country is going into a negative direction because of immigration, and the (often irrational) fear that immigration might hurt their own economic prospects in the future. It is also worth noting that the Radical Right is particularly strong in the rich and stable countries of Scandinavia and in Austria and Switzerland, whereas it is surprisingly weak in crisis-hit Greece and nonexistent in Spain and Portugal.

Here’s a question unrelated to Sweden … How significant of a role do you think Steve Bannon can play in Europe?

Bannon plays no role whatsoever. Populist Radical Right Parties have thrived in Europe since the 1980s. International co-operation amongst them has proven difficult time and again because of their inherently nationalist agendas, but they were quite good at learning from each other and swapping ideas long before Bannon began his European tour. In my view, Bannon hugely overplays his influence in Europe, and American media sometimes fall for his spiel.

Jun 182018
 

Hey twitter, the CSU’s current anti-refugee line may be inspired by rise of AfD and upcoming elections, but it is hardly new. Lubbers et al. 2002 report (for the 1990s) that the CSU was responsible for Germany having one of the most restrictive “anti-immigrant climates” in Western Europe, that the CSU they were the most anti-immigrant Christian Democratic party in the sample, and that they outscored the Italian AN (then still a borderline case for Radical Right membership).

 

Lubbers, Marcel, Mérove Gijsberts, and Peer Scheepers. “Extreme Right-Wing Voting in Western Europe.” European Journal of Political Research 41 (2002): 345–378.

 

 

May 302018
 

Bonus track: Here is another demotivational  quote from the Stata handbook:

May 152018
 
May 142018
 

Update February 5, 2018

In March 2017, I posted a graph which shows how the AfD’s Facebook posts moved away from euroscepticism and Greece-bashing towards immigration and Islamophobia. But trends can change, and local regression smoothers have a habit of behaving strangely at the borders. So I downloaded another year’s worth of Facebook posts and reran the scripts:

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the new graph confirms for 2017 what we have seen for 2016: Muslims and immigrants are all the rage, whereas the Euro crisis is so 2014. I leave the old graph/post below as is for comparison.

Continue reading »

May 102018
 

What’s the matter with Höcke?

A party tribunal in his home state of Thuringia has ruled that Björn Höcke has not violated the party’s fundamental principles in his so-called “Dresden speech“. In January 2017, Höcke had demanded a “U-turn” in German memory politics, which he deemed “stupid”. In the same speech, Höcke called the Berlin Holocaust memorial “a monument of shame” that Germans had installed in their capital. He later claimed that “shame” had been a reference to the Holocaust, not to the monument, although this interpretation would contradict everything else he said on this occasion.

The old party executive under Frauke Petry had asked for Höcke to be expelled on the grounds that his views were akin (“wesensverwandt”, a judicial term) to National Socialism, and that his behaviour had been harmful to the party. Even then, the motion was controversial and may have contributed to Petry’s downfall.

What now?

In theory, the national executive has four weeks to appeal the tribunal’s decision and take the case to the federal party court. In practice, this is not going to happen. Gauland, and Meuthen, the new party leaders, have come out to support Höcke in the past. The AfD’s hard right is well-represented in the new executive, and while his views may not (yet) be mainstream, Höcke’s ability to speak to the ultra right is widely seen as an asset. In all likelihood, the leadership will just keep shtum and let it lie. Both Lucke and Petry have tried and failed to oust Höcke, and Höcke was instrumental in bringing down both. The tribunal’s ruling formally confirms his ongoing role as an evil spirit eminence grise.

Mar 192018
 

This morning, I came across an outrageously funny a moderately amusing video involving Shaggy’s early 2000s classic, some seriously revamped lyrics, and the man himself (btw, is this blond-hairing an act of cultural appropriation?). Cheap laughs, and the almost heart-warming idea that the FBI could end this, and everything would go back to normal. And yes, they manage to squeeze a lot of legalese into these lyrics.

Which then reminded me (yes, I’m old enough to remember both the outrage over Iraq and the euphoria of Blair coming to power in 1997) of a cartoon video featuring Tony Blair, Michael Howard, and other politicians of the day, happily dancing to the same song (“I was told that there were weapons hidden underneath the sand”). I tried to google it, but it is gone, a victim of the death of flash.

What is it about this song and wildly unpopular politicians? Is there something about this song that could be coaxed into a paper (“Pseudo-Rap as Liberalism. A Conceptual Sketch and Some Applications”)? Most certainly not, so let’s just post the latest video.

Mar 152018
 

Last Monday was Commonwealth Day, the date formerly known as Empire Day. I know this because I heard some claptrap on the BBC about 2.5 billion hearts beating as one. All eyes on London etc. Otherwise I would not have known.

Let me provide some context for this. At the moment, I live in downtown Toronto, a city that used to be one of the most staunchly British outposts in the former empire.

Canada only became fully independent from Britain in 1982, and the Queen remains the head of state to the present day. There is still a Governor General, who is supposed to represent her Maj on this side of the Atlantic. Because that’s not enough, there is even a Lieutenant Governor for Ontario, who performs what is known as viceroyal duties at the provincial level and has the St George’s Cross on her standard.

Her residence and other government buildings are just around the corner. I’m surrounded by real Victorian and mock Gothic architecture that tries very hard to look like Oxford or Cambridge against the backdrop of very North American high rises.

Yet there were no flags, no parades, no speeches, nothing on the news that would have suggested that this was some special day. Exactly no one on the streets looked particularly excited. By coincidence, I saw Justin Trudeau on the telly. He was not talking about the Commonwealth, but about Trump and tariff-free trading with the US.

For good measure, I asked my students – 65 budding Political scientists in their third year – whether they had noticed the coming and passing of Commonwealth Day. Two made vaguely affirmative noises.

In other news, I hear that Britain is still on its way out of the EU so that it may better trade with former colonies and new partners.

Just saying.

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