The far right is on the rise across Europe as a new generation of young, web-based supporters embrace hardline nationalist and anti-immigrant groups, a study has revealed ahead of a meeting of politicians and academics in Brussels to examine the phenomenon.
Research by the British thinktank Demos for the first time examines attitudes among supporters of the far right online. Using advertisements on Facebook group pages, they persuaded more than 10,000 followers of 14 parties and street organisations in 11 countries to fill in detailed questionnaires.
The study reveals a continent-wide spread of hardline nationalist sentiment among the young, mainly men. Deeply cynical about their own governments and the EU, their generalised fear about the future is focused on cultural identity, with immigration - particularly a perceived spread of Islamic influence - a concern.
“We’re at a crossroads in European history,” said Emine Bozkurt, a Dutch MEP who heads the anti-racism lobby at the European parliament. “In five years’ time we will either see an increase in the forces of hatred and division in society, including ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism, or we will be able to fight this horrific tendency.”
The report comes just over three months after Anders Breivik, a supporter of hard right groups, shot dead 69 people at a youth camp near Oslo. While he was disowned by the parties, police examination of his contacts highlighted the Europe-wide online discussion of anti-immigrant and nationalist ideas.
The report highlights the prevalence of anti-immigrant feeling, especially suspicion of Muslims. “As antisemitism was a unifying factor for far-right parties in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, Islamophobia has become the unifying factor in the early decades of the 21st century,” said Thomas Klau of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The separate anonymous surveys showed a repeated focus on immigration, specifically a perceived threat from Muslim populations. This rose with younger supporters, contrary to most previous surveys which found greater opposition to immigration among older people.