Epidemic of Neo-Nazism in Europe
By Emina Kuhinja and Ena Jusufbegović
Discussing extremism entails a much broader context than just one state or region. Although its structural elements stem from different ideologies, its roots are vested on a dichotomous worldview. Extremist ideas are manifested through social movements and political parties, creating quite visible networks and activities, while the operative itself is subversive. As such, they act as generators of various manifestations of violence and conflicts that leave lasting consequences behind, forming suitable conditions for their further maintenance. Globalization and the resulting political changes have conditioned different systems within which narratives become catalysts for further social change depending on the ruling ideology. What is increasingly applied in the world today are the counter-narratives to liberalism, widely present among European countries. The concept of a democratic state system guarantees the freedom of speech and expression of each individual, but that freedom is often abused. However, to what extent does this abuse lead to structural changes in the society?
Extremist ideas have their history in European society, and with the development of modern technologies, they are taking up more and more space in today’s public, spreading their views with the rest of the world. We are witnessing various manifestations of extremism, from right-wing rhetoric and exclusionary policies to terrorist attacks, which threaten democratic values and impose discrimination and injustice. At the intersection of the European Union (EU) and the Western Balkans, primarily Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), notable are similarities and differences between foreign policy adaptations. What has led to the latest changes in foreign policies within Europe is the migrant crisis, which has unevenly affected the European Union and the Western Balkans. Political arena is dominated by anti-immigration attitudes that are often presented as xenophobic. Anti-immigrant extremist attitudes in Europe can be classified as racist, which is confirmed by the fact that 38% of Europeans believe that immigration outside the EU is a bigger problem than an opportunity.
“Refugees are not welcome,” “New Germans?” We will make them ourselves. ”,“ No to Islam, no to terrorism!” – just some of the slogans that have marked the EU political scene in the last couple of years, and have emerged from extreme ideologies. Such public manifestations are often present, and with their presence among political parties, they go beyond the framework of smaller groups and movements. Right-wing populist parties gained their popularity during national crises (such as economic and migrant), presenting their activities as a form of support for the domicile population. The far right has also used the potential provided by the COVID-19 virus pandemic to influence citizens’ awareness and instill the idea of state dysfunction, as well as attempt to radicalize vulnerable groups through social media. Special emphasis in this context is placed on young people, who for educational or personal reasons mostly stayed in the online space and thus were most exposed to the dangers of radicalization. In addition to significant influence on the levels of internal stability, intensified appearances in the media and communication of their own content through numerous channels, extremist groups did not make the expected impact. Conspiracy theories and the spread of misinformation, as the most prevalent mechanisms of extremist action during a pandemic, were just an extension of the discourse that is certainly present in the media and online and are not directly related to the process of radicalization. In addition, lockdown has disabled the final phase of this process, which is to take concrete action and make physical contact, so the radicalization itself has remained in theory, but not in practice. However, exposure to such content has led to an increase in hate speech, as well as levels of distrust in institutions, yet the motive itself is independent of the pandemic.
Right-wing tendencies at the intersection of the EU and BiH
Among the countries of the Western Balkans, extremism remains a consequence of recent conflicts, taking up space in public discourse through nationalist and separatist connotations. Such elements are quite noticeable in the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia, whose individual ethnic groups exchange their interests within one state and express them in their international relations. This results in the fact that in the 21st century, which should be marked by peace and progress in Europe, a process of awakening of extremist ideologies is taking place in parallel, among which neo-Nazism and its variations are dominant. Even the tough lessons of inhumanity that were brought by World War II were not a convincing argument for those who promote hatred and intolerance in their communities. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Prijedor and Mostar became cities that are the focus of the activities of neo-Nazi groups, and thus continue to dismantle the already war-torn communities and threaten the security of citizens. The victims of these groups are all those who have different views from theirs – anti-fascists, minorities, liberals, members of the LGBT + community, but also those who support Western values (such as the protection of human rights, equality, and unity). Groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina incite discrimination by various means – graffiti (offensive messages, nationalist, and fascist symbols, etc.), propaganda on social networks, vandalism, physical confrontations, and attacks on individuals, thereby undermining the security situation in their local communities. Such attitudes are not propagated publicly through political parties, given that there is no far-right movement in BiH as such, but there are certainly elements of separatist and discriminatory attitudes, although they are not prominent in public and political life. Therefore, the leaders of discriminatory activities in this context are mainly ultra-right movements, fan groups, and individual political and public figures. Often it is foreign powers, as well as individuals, who have certain distorted tendencies and interests in this area.
Given the different nature of communities in the EU, extremist/neo-Nazi groups have different characteristics, but share the same goal – to intimidate citizens and pose a threat to democracy. A new trend for political parties is to flirt with Nazi and fascist politics, or even publicly accept it, like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is doing. Their members are given seats in the Parliament and thus could influence the democratic system and present a potential threat of radicalization of entire societies. Although still underrepresented in percentages, their deviant actions should not be neglected especially during the times of national crises (such as the COVID-19 pandemic), when society relies heavily on political elites in search of solutions. Also, the immigration crisis has brought with it numerous right-wing and populist movements, which have conditioned changes in state policies, restricting freedoms and violating the rights of individuals within the EU borders. In such situations, right-wing rhetoric gains in importance and is ubiquitous in the media, attracting the attention it demands. Their doctrine is most often focused on anti-immigration, separatist narrative, Euroscepticism, and white supremacy in the EU.
Navigating the political compass
An extremist, separatist-oriented Europe is not the Europe we aspire for. Current trends indicate a rise of the far right, which adversely affects the preservation of cohesion within the EU, as there is a strong level of Euroscepticism within the Union. Such political climate will create unfavorable ground for further integration of the Western Balkan countries into the EU and support the spread of hatred and intolerance. The lack of a clear response from the EU and adequate mechanisms to counter malign influences will set an example to the countries of the Western Balkans that they will not suffer any consequences with such narratives, diminishing democratic values. Therefore, the growth of existing regional tensions will leave possible consequences on shaping the foreign policies of Western Balkan countries in line with nationalist tendencies. With the weakened presence and decreasing importance of pro-Western actors, other foreign powers will gain more room to strengthen their authoritarian tendencies.