As part of a Liberal International (LI) campaign to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights parliamentarians from LI member parties are being invited to write short opinion articles pertaining to some of the UDHR’s primary articles.
By ALDE Party Vice President Ilhan Kyuchyuk MEP (MRF, Bulgaria) and Dr. Stephanie Krisper MP (NEOS, Austria)
The combination of populism and nationalism is not a novel tactic in the European political scene. Neither are right-wing parties as part of governments who use this devilish combination. The rise of right-wing political parties should hardly come as a surprise.
In 1980’s Europe there was visible distrust of governmental institutions which led to societal fragmentation and electoral volatility. This gave birth to the so called radical right wing political parties across our continent – groupings that are not outright neo-fascist and neo-Nazi. In recent years environmental destruction, population growth, and violence – causing respective migration – have caused public unease.
Through the utility of populism and demagoguery, emotional sentiments that appeal to the anxiety of the so-called average person have been triggered by right-wing parties. Due to the atypical large-scale movement of migrants and refugees in 2015, right-wing populists managed to misuse the humanitarian crisis and exploit anxieties to appeal to xenophobia and oppose the integration of minorities and refugees, further validating the “enemy” stereotype in the eyes of their target audience. These parties, which can be found in many EU member states, including, the Austrian FPÖ, the so-called “United Patriots” in Bulgaria, the Dutch Freedom Party, and the Italian Lega Nord, claim to speak for the people by endorsing ethnocentric and chauvinist ideologies – and thereby constructing politics of anxiety – a continuous vicious circle.
What is new is that the right-wing parties are not the only ones abusing this strategy for their political success. The dangerous combination of nationalist populism is, today, also fruitfully misused by some center-parties at the cost of human rights. Those parties include Fidesz in Hungary, the CSU in Germany and the Austrian People’s Party. It is these emboldened alliances between center- and right-wing parties within the European Union that question the fundamental human rights; commitments to which European Union member states subscribed when signing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Where do they start? They abuse anxieties to endorse policies that restrict access to a fair asylum procedure. For example, the farcical ideas of the Austrian minister of Interior, Herbert Kickl, who, at the height Austrian Presidency of the European Union Council extolled a vision a Europe where no asylum claim can be made. Farcically, Mr Kickl floated the idea to resolve asylum cases upon on boats in the Mediterranean carrying refugees before they landed on European territory. These ‘solutions’ are just an aperitif of what is to come on a menu of political misjudgment composed by nationalist-populists.
The UDHR, drafted and agreed upon in 1948, was conceived specifically in response to the marginalization, abuse, and systematic extermination of various peoples throughout both the First and the Second World Wars. During the first half of the 20th century, the number of refugees, deportees and expellees from Europe is estimated up to have been up to 60 million – around 1 in 10 European citizens. Article 14 of the UDHR, whose text is reiterated in Article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, explicates the rights of asylum seekers, stating clearly that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.
Unfortunately, we are confronted with the fact that the strength of voters for nationalistic center parties and right-wing parties shows that factions of the European public are becoming desensitized to xenophobia and violations of human rights. In particular, the rights of strangers fleeing unimaginable horrors for whose destiny many Europeans do not want to be responsible. It is necessary to acknowledge these emotions: European citizens are anxious about asylum seekers with different cultural and religious backgrounds. It is understandable that the apprehension of human rights for people from faraway lands and distant religious backgrounds decreases with the magnitude of obscurity.
As we, the authors, see it the challenge for us is to refute misinformation about asylum seekers through the press and social media. Supporting and sharing accurate information about the harm that extreme right-wing policies pose to human rights; engaging in discussion with, and not flippantly dismissing, citizens in favor of nationalistic policies helps challenge and break down the growing culture of fear and xenophobia across Europe. One increasingly clear example of how information can help steer cultural opinions is Brexit. Right-wing populist-nationalism spurred British citizens to vote against their interests in the case of Brexit but the spread of accurate information and harsh realities has started to shift public opinion from support of Brexit towards an exit from Brexit.
As to policies, we need to stand united with our fellow citizens, propose constructive solutions, and promote clear rules that recognise and respect human rights. Such a system will restore confidence in our institutions – at all levels. On a local level, we need look no further than the city of Mechelen, where integration has been embraced and a positive course of action has led to a blossoming community. On the European Union level, the idea of a common overarching European asylum system has been consistently discussed and proposed in European Union institutions. With a constructive approach, we can create a fair and fast paced asylum system that protects refugees and facilitates the return economic migrants to their countries of origin.
In this 70th anniversary year for the UDHR, we are again living in a time when basic rights need defending – an irreplaceable opportunity for us, liberal-minded Europeans, to stand in union. As politicians from different sides of Europe, we are proof that greater collaboration between centrist parties can lead to innovative and clearer choices for our electorates, all underpinned by a commitment to human rights.