Yesterday was Europe Day, marking the 1950 speech by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman that launched the process of European integration. Symbolically, Europe Day also happens to fall just after (or, in most of the former Soviet Union, on the same day as) the anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Festivities have been somewhat muted, however, against a backdrop of rising unemployment, painful spending cuts, double-dip recession and (most recently) growing political uncertainty in the wake of last week’s Greek elections. The inability of what have traditionally been the two largest parties to secure a parliamentary majority now leaves open the possibility of a messy Greek default.
Just as worrying for many is the rise of extremist political parties. Earlier this week, Franck left a comment about the entry of the far-right “Golden Dawn” party into the Greek Parliament with almost 7% of the vote, saying: “neo-nazis have just entered the Greek parliament… For me, this is not trivial and could happen anywhere [that politicans] do not pay attention to the pain of the people.“
The Golden Dawn’s leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos (pictured above with supporters), rejects the label “neo-nazi”, despite the Golden Dawn’s use of suspiciously Hitler-esque “Roman salutes” and a party flag that very closely resembles the Nazi swastika.
Before the elections, we spoke to Professor Frank Furedi about the importance of freedom of speech for democracy, and the difference between “tolerance” and “non-judgmentalism” when it comes to extremist viewpoints. Frank Furedi is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, and was speaking at a lecture at the university’s Brussels campus. His most recent book is On Tolerance: In Defence of Moral Independence.
Earlier this year, we had a comment sent in by Sam on the controversy surrounding the Hungarian constitutional changes. He supported the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament because:
The ALDE group are one of the only groups to make a stand… against the Hungarian constitution for its lack of recognition of LGBT rights. Other europarties told them to mind their own sovereign business, but it needed to be explored.
Is Sam right? Or is there a contradiction between passing judgement over the internal workings of a country and preserving national sovereignty?
Also reacting to the controversy around the Hungarian constitution, we had a comment sent in from a user arguing that “non-democratic” parties should be banned, because democracies need mechanisms to protect themselves:
[In Hungary] the democracy has no mechanism to protect itself from non-democratic political organizations. The Romanian constitution prohibits explicitly any extremist political organization. We too have a far-right movement, but it is an NGO. They are not allowed to have a party. In this way, the non-democrats have no voice in a democratic country and cannot obtain political power.
On the other hand, Nikolai recently left a comment arguing that:
If a legal far right party manages to get members elected and are thus, via democracy, representative of enough people to do so, they have every right to raise the issues of those they represent even if the far more central MPs and constituents disagree (or even find what is said “shocking”).
Many modern far-right parties, of course, are not anti-democratic (like the fascist movements of the 20th Century) but populist. Is there, then, really a conflict between democracy and tolerance of extremist views? And which is a more fundamental right?
Finally, if we accept that freedom of speech is fundamental to democracy, does that mean there is an obligation to give equal exposure to all ideas? Or should extremist views be denied the “oxygen of publicity” of media attention?
What do YOU think? Should extremist views in Europe be banned? Should they be denied the ‘oxygen of publicity’? Or should they be brought out in public debate and confronted? Are we seeing the ‘radicalisation’ of politics in Europe, or were the Greek results merely protest votes against austerity policies, not representative of a long-term trend towards political extremism? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take them to politicians and experts for their reactions.
Frank Furedi is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research.