Underestimate Europe's Extremist Movements At Your Peril

Editorial: From Spain's indignados to Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, fringe groups are gaining strength in Europe. And while they don't tend to share much common ground, together they are posing a region-wide challenge to

Militants of the Greek Nationalist party Golden Dawn (Johan Norberg)
Militants of the Greek Nationalist party Golden Dawn (Johan Norberg)

PARIS - The French chose a change in government on May 6, in an orderly and indisputable way. In Greece, elections on the same day were less clear-cut; and four days later, the country is still without a government. Yes, the two elections were very different, but the differences should not mask similar undercurrents: the rise of fringe parties challenging mainstream politics. It is a trend that has been gaining steam throughout Europe.

In France, 18% of the voters took a stand against European unity and immigration in the first round of the presidential election by voting for Marine Le Pen. Two weeks later, in Greece, 7% of the voters opted for Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party that now has 21 seats in the Parliament. The party most notably wants to put land mines along the Turkish border to stop immigration.

In Italy, the anti-political movement "five stars' ("Movimento 5 stelle"), led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, had some success in local elections by campaigning against austerity and corruption. In Germany, the Pirate Party, which fights for free Internet downloads, has burst into politics and is worrying the leading parties on the eve of a major election set for May 13.

These movements have nothing in common. One would be hard pressed, for example, to link the Spanish Indignados movement, born one year ago in Madrid, to xenophobic movements that have existed in Northern Europe and Austria for years.

Nevertheless, whether these movements are far-right, radical left or anti-political, they have the potential to upset traditional political parties, especially those that shouldered the European project decades ago. The weight of these movements is all the more important in the context of the common European challenge: the economic crisis. And Europe's political integration means that today every national election has repercussions across the continent.

It's very tempting for traditional parties to take advantage of these movements by borrowing their ideas. Nicolas Sarkozy's shift towards the right in response to the National Front's increased influence is a good example of the risks of this trend.

It was obviously not a winning strategy. But the challenge from fringe parties remains. No institution or European-wide movement has yet succeeded in responding to this wave of refuseniks. But major parties will have to deal with it as soon as possible if they don't want to be overwhelmed.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - Johan Norberg

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Iran To Offer Master's And PhD In Morality Enforcement

For those aiming to serve the Islamic Republic of Iran as experts to train the public morality agents, there are now courses to obtain the "proper" training.

Properly dressed in the holy city of Qom.

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

A woman in Tehran walks past a mural of an Iranian flag

The traffic police chief recently said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes

Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA

New academic discipline

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!