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Prof. John Weeks discusses the rise of xenophobic, authoritarian and racist far-right movements across Western Europe and England

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

At least 13 German riot police were injured Sunday in clashes with far-right rallying against Islamists and extremists in the western city of Cologne. Six people were arrested, and one of the police officers was seriously hurt.

There is an alarming rise of support for far-right European parties. It is in fact 50 percent increase for the far right in the most recent European elections.

When there’s such support for racist and xenophobic parties, it should send alarm bells for the mainstream parties, but exactly the opposite is happening: the more moderate parties are shifting right in order to capture the voters. In France in particular, the Front National gained the largest number of votes, winning about a third of the total number of French seats. Other countries with high support for xenophobic parties include the United Kingdom (UKIP), Denmark (the Danish People’s Party), and Austria’s Freedom Party, the FPO.

Now joining us to discuss this is John Weeks. John Weeks is a professor emeritus of the University of London and the author of the new book The Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy.

John, welcome again to The Real News Network.

JOHN WEEKS, PROF. EMERITUS, UNIV. OF LONDON: Thank you very much for having me again.

PERIES: John, so describe for us what’s going on and how those Cologne rights came about.

WEEKS: I think that for your viewers in United States and Canada it would be useful to give a very brief little bit of history. If any of them were to travel to Spain north of Barcelona, they would encounter a small village with the name /ˌmartahuˈdeɪka/ [Matajudíos]. Any Spanish speaker listening to me knows what that means. It means kill the Jews. And on the other side of the mountain in Spain is a valley called Matamoros [incompr.] should be obvious what that means: kill the Muslims.

The idea that Jews and Muslims and other non-Christians (in fact, non-Catholics, originally) are dangerous goes way back in European history. And I think the current far right is part of that tradition–if you can call it a tradition–part of the tradition of an authoritarian, xenophobic right, as opposed [incompr.] for example, in Denmark, of what apparently were social democratic economic policies, which–of course, as the Nazis did, too. So these are parties which are pre-World War II. That’s who was rioting in Germany. And it’s extremely worrisome in Germany–I hardly need to tell anyone–particularly in the context of the German government playing such a major role now in enforcing neoliberal austerity on Western Europe.

PERIES: John, the shift to this right perhaps has a lot to do with austerity measures throughout Europe’s. Can you describe for us what’s going on that’s giving rise to this economically?

WEEKS: Yes. It’s true all over Europe. It’s true in Britain. It’s very true in Greece. There’s a feeling by Greek, British, Hungarian, French citizens that foreigners are taking their jobs, and in countries such as Britain and France, where there is social housing and effective public schools and public health, feeling that these foreigners are just leeching off the economy, coming in and not contributing anything and taking away housing and other things from the population. I use the word citizen for want of a better word because the term British is a socially constructed concept.

Alright. Now, the problem is not the foreigners coming in and taking away these jobs; the problem is the cuts. That is, in Britain, for example, no social housing of any significance is built–been built in over 20 years. The National Health has been cut in real terms even as the population is aging and [incompr.] greater demands on it. The schools have had cutbacks.

So, in that context, the shortages, which are generated, basically, by neoliberal austerity policies, are interpreted by many people–not a majority yet, but by many people–as a result of migrants: if we just didn’t have these migrants, we wouldn’t have these shortages. But we would, in fact. There would be more cuts. And while it’s clear the more people you have, the more pressure there will be on services, that is not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is cutbacks in public expenditure.

PERIES: John, one of the things that happen (and historically I think you could map this): that whenever there is economic constraints, economic difficulties, the xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments rise. What is that correlation about?

WEEKS: Well, I think that we have to see both the conjunctural factors and the long-term factors. So, for example, in Hungary–one of the smaller countries of the European Union, but still indicative–in Hungary there’s a very right-wing government, and there is a party even to the right of the government which wants to reclaim the lost territory of Hungary, which is now held by Romania and some other countries. So this is a long-standing grievance, if you can call it that. But it was of no significance until we began to get these austerity policies. As long as the European Union was growing and people’s per capita incomes are rising, Hungarians, many Hungarians might have wanted their territory back, whatever that might mean, and [incompr.] other countries, too. But it was of no social and political significance until the grievances were magnified by declines in public services and in the standard of living.

I think you see some of the same thing in the United States, but it’s manifested in a different way, because you don’t have the same history of anti-Islam and anti-Jewish feeling, but the same idea, that what–why should I support this government if it can’t seem to manage the economy so my situation is improving? Why do they deserve my vote? And that tends to generate apathy. And that’s what the right takes advantage of. They play on that and they say, the problem here is that we have these either bankers or Jews or whatever group you want to choose in power, and they don’t consider–they have no interest in your welfare. And I think that that is probably strongest in among the big countries. In France it is fairly strong, in Britain also. But it’s present throughout Europe, even in the famously social democratic countries of Scandinavia.

PERIES: Okay, John, let’s take up U.K. in particular and perhaps tie in Scandinavia as well in our next segment on the rise of the right in Europe.

WEEKS: Fine. Okay.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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John Weeks is Professor Emeritus and Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Policy and Research, and Research on Money and Finance Group at the School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London.