There is room for all on the European stage

18 décembre 2010
Jean-Yves Camus - Europost (Bulgarie)

Jean-Yves Camus is a researcher at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) in Paris. He is a specialist on far right party issues. He is the author of numerous publications and a graduate of the Institute of Political Studies in Paris.

You can become a Frenchman, no matter what your origin or the color of your skin is. The vision of the far-right populism on these issues, however, is quite different and is based on ethnic indicators. The West cannot imagine the shock the communist countries went through. Normally these processes marginalize part of the population, and populist parties are a natural reaction to this.

Mr. Camus, you believe that there is not a wave of populist parties in Europe. What are your reasons?

I think we cannot speak about a wave because of the differences in the context of each country we observe. There are, of course, general trends seen in Western Europe, as we look back over the past 30 years. The populist and xenophobic parties first emerge in the Nordic countries during the 70-ies of XX century. At that time they emerged around the issue oconcerning the excessive force of the state, the criticism of the state which had become too offensive to the citizens - both in terms of their privacy and with respect to the taxes they paid. These were the major themes once, then these parties very quickly managed to master the topic of immigration. In that period the Scandinavian countries were going through a transformation, to which in the beginning no one paid any attention, but it has already become quite obvious. I am referring to the monoculture countries that faced the problem of political and economic immigration, coming from the Middle East. They had to face people with different religion, and Denmark and Norway were not used to such an exposure. This inevitably created a problem, which was not taken into account by the traditional parties. This multiculturalism of part of the population considerably changed the situation. The situation in Scandinavia is very close to what we observe in Switzerland with the UDC party. Furthermore, during the period 1990-2000 there were two factors that significantly altered the situation. The economic crisis called into question the social status of the middle class, although in general we remained prospering countries. The second factor is the ever more visible expression Islamism acquires, as well as the resentment against Islam, which grows into xenophobia against all Muslims. This is the theme exploited by the majority of parties that obtain significant results at the moment. Namely, that is the question - the place of Islam on the European scene at present.

Do you think that namely the clash with Islam to a certain extent contribute for the building of a common European identity, despite the long history of the countries in Europe?

I would not say so. Identity is established on the basis of positive characteristics. It can not be built against someone or something. Europe has a past and historical roots. The European identity should be sought on the basis of the bridges that connect the peoples of Europe, including in the enlarged Europe. There can be no European identity determined solely on the basis of the differences with Islam. It should be borne in mind that if we look deeper, there are countries where the problem of immigration and the contact with Islam does not exist. In Ireland, for example, this problem is not on the agenda, in the Baltic countries, in some of the countries of Eastern Europe. This does not mean that tensions regarding Islam does not exist in Bulgaria and Greece, where there are historical reasons for this. It must be borne in mind that the problems facing the creation of the European identity are also placed by the internal divisions in Europe - by the division of Catholics, Orthodox church members, Protestants, by the laicism in society, by the place of religion in the social processes.

Can we talk about the process of redefining the functions of the nations in Europe?

I feel that the creation of the European Union, which puts forward a rather federal design, allows for operation of a new type of identities that are not organized on the basis of the traditional principle of existence of the national states. If we see what is happening in Europe, we have demands for independence for Catalonia, for example. This is not a request that may be characterized as left or right. Even in Britain we have areas that have power transferred to them by the state. In this sense, the French model is an exception. It is exceptional both in terms of centralization and the abolition of religion. The laicisation of France is a characteristic that hardly exist anywhere else. It's not about the separation of the church and the state, which is an obligatory norm in many countries - it is about the vision which requires the cults and any religious influence to be "evacuated" far from the political sphere.

Do you find ? connection between the collapse of the major ideologies, the crisis of the left ideas and the populist events?

I have always emphasized the fact that we must distinguish between populism as a whole and the xenophobic parties. Populism is typical for each formation from the moment it starts in the race for electoral support. Unfortunately, this is how politics works. One should always be as close to the requests of voters as possible, to their worries and concerns to what interests them at the moment. Far-right parties differ in that they are an opposition to the democratic system as we know it. This is an expression of a total disappointment with the ruling parties, whether left or right. This is a disappointment from the elites that come bundled with them, from the fundamental democratic values, particularly with regard to equality and mechanisms for inclusion in a given nation. Under the French model, the only thing required from a person to become a Frenchman, is to join the values that underpin the basis of the democratic pact. You can become a Frenchman no matter what your origin is or what the color of your skin is. The vision of the far-right populism on these issues, however, is quite different. It is a radically different vision, which is based on ethnic indicators.

The most frequently asked question is whether the far-right parties are dangerous to democratic consensus. If we look at the situation from another angle, can you believe that they give a certain immunity to the system against really anti-democratic expressions?

My opinion is that these parties should be able to express themselves freely. There is nothing worse than pouring water in their mill by devilising them. They must participate in the democratic process, they should have access to the media, but of course only if these are legitimate parties that do not resort to violence to gain power. At present, of course, these are parties that have greater influence, compared with 20 or 30 years ago, but there are major exceptions. Furthermore, these are parties that did not last long in power. We saw what happened with the FPO in Austria, how it was involved in the ruling coalition with the Christian Democratic Party and how that participation vulgarized it and turned it into a party like all the rest of them. The big difference, compared to what we observed in the 70's and 80's, is that these parties have been established as permanent actors on the political scene.

Do you find any structural differences between populist manifestations in Western and Eastern Europe?

There are big differences. Whenever I speak, however, I am careful not to be finite by setting apart the Western democracies and the former Eastern Bloc. It is too easy just to say that in Eastern Europe there is heritage, sustainability of radicalism that is not observed in Western Europe. We must be very careful in terms of the context. We must take into consideration that this concerns countries that have experienced a huge shock after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the adoption of some of them in the EU and NATO. These are processes about which we, in Western Europe, have no idea at all. It's an economic and social shock, stirring the ideological and cultural benchmarks, collapse of a whole set of structures. The manifestations of discontent were against the governments that too often used extreme measures on the path of transition to economic liberalism. It is normal if these processes marginalize part of the population, and if the populist parties are a natural reaction to this. We should also mention the fact that the entry into the European Union, and, for some countries of the former Eastern bloc, into NATO, could lead to a feeling of loss of sovereignty in those countries that have been under the influence of the Soviet Union for a long time. It is only normal if part of the population have a feeling that they had rid themselves of the influence of one, just to come under the influence of another. We should have a well-measured position on what is happening in these countries. Naturally, there are serious differences. The authoritarian ideologies of the 30's and 40's of the last century are still present in some parties. We see, for example, the idea of Greater Hungary which is again warmed up by the party Jobbik. This is an idea that has its roots in the nationalism of the 30's and 40's. In Romania there are parties, which revived the image of Marshal Antonescu. Another significant factor is the crisis of the political representation, the total separation of the elites from the public and the quite widespread feeling that too many elites have benefited from the transition to a market economy. By no means should we underestimate corruption, since it strongly influences these processes.

What is the impact of the weakness of institutions?

Indeed, there is weakness of the state. It is not enough to move from a totalitarian state to economic liberalism and political pluralism. What is needed is statesmanship tradition and a civil society. The majority of countries in Eastern Europe have never had truely democratic regimes.

Sur la même thématique