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  • Tiago Rodrigues da Costa

Far-right v. far-left in today's politics: Where did the middle ground go?

Across the globe, politics are changing, and with it, new ideologies in politics change the way people live as well. Politics became truly important in our society, because policy have great impact in people’s life. However, dissatisfaction toward traditional politicians is real and seem to influence many others on social media. This reality opens space for populists to rise and influence those in the working class who are confused on which party, or person, should they vote. For other words, people want the real savior for all the problems their countries face.

One study by the Pew Research Center shows that in Brazil, only 9% of the people think their economy is good and 83% claim being dissatisfied with the way their democracy works. While on the other side, in Sweden, 81% of the people think Swedish economy is good and that results in 70% of satisfaction with democracy. The same study, surveyed in 27 different countries, shows 6 in 10 people think the economic and democratic situation won’t change in their countries, no matter who wins the elections. But, it is clear: economy and civic democracy are inter-related.

These numbers are also a representation of the current situation in many developed countries, where automatization, climate change and other global issues are seemed to be driving the economy to an uncertain place. This uncertainty makes people anxious, angry, and in need of a quick change.

“The buzzer is also national politics, how people seem to have lost control,” Mary Childs, senior reporter at Barron's, said. "It's like the Gilded Age: Communist movements, anarchists, all kind of extremism. It has to do [with] economic desperation. People feel betrayed, and they turn to different explanations."

The recent results in the European elections for the European Parliament are an evidence that electorates are tired of traditionalists and want to see more from the "outsiders." Parties like The Greens, a left-wing, progressive and ecology concerned party, increased from 50 seats in the 2014's election, to 74 seats (9.85%) in a total of 751 seats in this year's election. The Greens is now the fourth most numerous party in the European Parliament, right before Renew Europe. This political group founded after this year's election is another outsider, a centrist liberalist and pro-European. Renew Europe succeeds ALDE&R, increasing from 67 to 108 seats (14.38%) in this year's election.

On the other side of the political sphere are far-right parties like Identité et Démocratie, which is mainly composed by French members of Marie Le Pen's Rassemblement National. But also elements of the Italian Lega Nord of Matteo Salvini. This party ran on this election for the first time and got 73 seats in the European Parliament. Also, the EFDD (Europe for Freedom and Direct Democracy), highly attached to the Brexit Party in the UK, went from 48 to 62 seats in this year's election. Both these parties are Eurosceptic, highly populist, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim. Many members within these parties are extremist and believe diversity is bad for their own countries.

Social media plays a crucial role on getting people to support far-right politicians. The current U.S. President Donald Trump have said before that Twitter helped him win the 2016 election. It is on social media, that populists spread anger, lies and misleading commentaries, promoting their desirable call to action. In this year's European elections, politicians like Salvini, the British Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, and Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish right-wing Vox Party, were dominant in both Twitter and Facebook, according to Euronews. The Belgian Guy Verhofstadt, leader of Renew Europe, was the only pro-Europe to be popular online.

In one way, social media fit better the discourse of populists, when compared to traditionalists. It is because people on social media are more sensitive to emotion, than reason. The use of social media allows far-right advocates to be closer to their public and get even more people to support them. With this strategy, their movement grows.

Although traditionalists, or the centrists, are keeping the biggest percentages in the European Parliament, it is clear they are losing power. The EPP (European People's Party), a moderate centre-right, conservative, but pro-European, went from 221 seats in the 2014's election, to 179 seats in this year's election. This party is constituted by members of the majority of the European countries, including the German coalition CDU/CSU, which governs Germany under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, and also the French Les Républicains which is now in opposition to the government of Emmanuel Macron, but was in times represented by Nicolas Sarkozy, former French prime-minister between 2007 and 2012. The EPP went from a comfortable majority of 29.43% in the 2014-2019 European Parliament, to a 23.83% majority in this new European Parliament until 2024.

The S&D (Socialists and Democrats Party) also lost considerable influence in this year's election. They went from 191 seats (25.43%) in the 2014's election, to 153 seats (20.37%) in this year's election. The S&D is a centre-left, socialist, progressive and pro-European party. Individuals with influence in the history of the S&D party include the British official Tony Blair, which served as prime-minister between 1997 and 2007 in the UK.

The traditional centre-left parties started losing influence after the financial crises in 2008. Back then, the traditional European socialist parties in power became austere, rising taxes to pay debt. Among the working class, this change of policy made many people uprise and protest. In France, for example, the Socialist Party is one of the historical in the country. They were in times a “bastion of urban, middle-class intellectuals, whose power base was in the public-sector unions and universities,” scholar Chris Bickerton said. However, with today's social change, the party took too long to understand the demands of the working class. That distance between the working classes and the political elites made many people lose trust and socialist parties lost popularity as well.

It is clear that traditional centrist and moderate parties are losing power, and the outsiders are rising. The American journalist Ned Temko said this is a “time of anger and instability in world politics.” However, the extremes bring deeper problems and the rise of right-wing movements, in particular, are making people worried.

In Germany, for example, Jews live in fear. Despite almost 75 years after the World War II, anti-Semitism is on its rise. Some people say hate toward Jews was never detached from the German society. In a survey done in 2018 about European Jews, 85% of the people said anti-Semitism is a real problem and 89% said this problem significantly increased during the past five years. The same survey shows there was an 86% increase on violent anti-Semitic crimes last year, and data from the police shows 89% of those crimes are attributed to right-wing extremists.

In today’s German society, Jews and Muslims should not be friends. This situation is highly influenced by the events happening in the Israeli war against Palestine. Muslims in Germany see Jews as “murders,” and perhaps this perspective shows that it is not a single religion that is more dangerous than the other. It all depends on context.

Journalist James Angelo explains that when refugees flee from their home countries in Middle-East, to come to Europe, where they can find peace and freedom, they come with their memory full of chaos. A consequence of oppression, war, toxicity, and destruction. Many young generations only lived chaos before they immigrated. Thus, it is hard for Muslim refugees to immigrate to countries where they have to live in peace with Jews. Some of them end up backlashing Jews, no matter where they were born and raised, and without distinguishing Jews from Israelis.

In the German example though, it is important to "build a tolerant, pluralistic society resistant to the temptations of ethnonationalism,” Angelo said. And in this year's European election, Germans showed they are concerned about anti-Semitism in the country and hate toward minor groups. Germany had a 61.41% turnout and Germans highly voted in the traditional coalition CDU/CSU (28.90%), The Greens (20.50%), and SPD (Social Democrats Party-15.80%). The extremist far-right party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) only shows up in fourth place with 11% of the votes.

German Chanceler Angela Merkel, former party leader of CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany) and current prime-minister in Germany, stands still in a press conference.

CDU's slogan Die Mitte means "The middle."

Extremism is negative in either left and right spheres of politics, and populism can be also seen in both left and right extremes. In Greece, back in 2008, anarchists took over the streets of Athens and other cities, to only use violence as a means to spread chaos. In the study "The Ideology of Far Left Populism in Greece," author Roman Gerodimos said despite the literature about populism being highly centered on the right, the discourse of anarchy, anger and "legitimate self-defense" can be highly seen on the left. Populism, the author said, is characterized by the presence of a charismatic leader, which offers simple solutions to complex problems. This leader usually uses simple language and addresses "them" (the corrupted elites) as the main target to take down.

“Populism [is] a barometer of democracy’s health,” Gerodimos said. “The opposite of populism is not elitism, as populism favors civic inclusion and participation only in name. In reality what it does is to offer a rhetorical cover for a top-down totalitarianism that goes against the very principles of democracy. ... The opposite of populism would be civic responsibility and participation within the framework of representative institutions.”

Back in 2008 in Athens, protesters destroyed over 800 buildings from public institutions like universities, libraries, banks, courthouses, police stations, or theaters, which resulted in a loss of about 1.5 billion euros. In France, just this year, the "yellow vests" took the streets of Paris. First, peacefully to protest gasoline taxes, and then influenced by populists, they became violent. They got to a point where the initial purpose of the movement was not in place anymore. And all of this comes up to be a matter of perception. France is one of the countries on Earth where the gap between the poor and rich is smaller. France have excellent infrastructures, almost free health and education, and other benefits that are "unknown or unappreciated," journalist Anne Applebaum said.

Derek Chollet, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, says it is extremely important for citizens to not allow extremists to rise. The far-left, the author said, “wants to socialize everything,” while the far-right wants to go back in time. In today’s social environment, it takes more energy to find a common ground. And in times of quick change, politicians in centre-left and right “are often criticized as timid and weak,” Chollet said.

But for now, the results of the European elections show that Europe is save and the moderate parties have enough margin to turn Europe, and its countries, a better place to live. The pro-Europeans will keep over 75% of the parliament, and these are good news for those who want Europe to have open borders, climate change policies and equal opportunities for minor groups. However, the other 25% of Eurosceptics are here to stay. And they will stay.

"Outsiders-versus-Insiders sounds like an innocent game," author Steve Richards says in the book 'The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost Its Way.' "The juxtaposition has lost force, from overuse. But the game is deadly serious. When voters view the more orthodox elected politicians with indiscriminate disdain, the elected politicians are not the only ones who are vulnerable. Democracy is threatened, too."

This article was re-edited on Jul. 13, 2019, in order to update the parliament's results.


The "Weekly Journal" blog is updated [almost] every Sunday

--This article was unusually posted on a Monday, because the

final results of the European elections were published on Monday--

You can also read this article on Medium


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