How is Europe's far-right capitalizing on France's unrest?

In countries such as Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden or Italy, right-wing powers had already been making considerable gains.

How Europe's far-right parties view the EU
How Europe's far-right parties view the EU
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DW

In France, the violent protests against racism and police brutality that erupted last week have been winding down. But the political aftermath of the demonstrations — not all of which were violent — has been spreading to other countries.

The outburst was triggered when a French police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old driver with a Algerian descent. According to media reports, the officer had stopped the teenager's vehicle following several dangerous traffic violations.

Political actors who are critical of — or even hostile toward — refugees and migration profit the most from crises like this. Right-wing politicians across Europe have taken advantage of the latest unrest to flood social media with xenophobia and hostility toward refugees and migrants and to call for stricter immigration policies.

In countries such as Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden or Italy, right-wing powers had already been making considerable gains.

Violence linked to 'classic racist narrative'

Public debate in France has placed a heavy focus on the foreign background of many of the protesters. The head of the far-right National Rally party, Jordan Bardella, even spoke of the "contagion of savageness in our society linked to a completely insane immigration policy."

Television commentator Jean Messiha, well-known for his radical far-right opinions, launched a funding campaign for the family of the alleged shooter, who is currently under investigation for voluntary manslaughter.

The appeal quickly spread through social media across Europe, and tens of thousands of people have contributed more than €1.6 million ($1.74 million). Meanwhile, representatives from civil society or from France's suburbs, known as banlieues, have rarely been granted any space in public debates and reporting.


"Migration is presented as the root cause of this violence," Cihan Sinanoglu, a social scientist at the German Center for Integration and Migration Research, told DW. "The violence and social dynamics are linked to ethnicity and migration. It's a classic racist narrative."

Migration linked 'with violence and a threat to public order'

Sinanoglu added that in Germany, recent public debates have also focused on migration — and not just those involving far-right figures. "We've observed the same thing from the right wing to conservative factions. Migration is associated with violence and a threat to public order," he said.

Bijan Djir-Sarai, general secretary of Germany's neoliberal Free Democratic Party, part of the coalition goverment, even said that "uncontrolled immigration and enormous deficits in integration policies are a threat to domestic security." The conservative Christian Social Union agreed.

On social media, hashtags like #FranceHasFallen have been attached to racist comments and hate speech against refugees, or French nationals of foreign descent. At times, the posts have included fake images or videos. Right-wing populist media have claimed there's been a "migrant uprising," and that some protesters apparently follow strict Islamic law, known as Shariah.

Representatives of the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) have turned to social media to call for a "tough crackdown" by German law enforcement and judiciary. This comes at a time when the AfD has successfully elected its first full-time mayor, and enjoys a 20% approval rating in nationwide polls.


Poland, Hungary instrumentalize unrest

In Central and Eastern Europe, hate speech against refugees is common. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has used the situation to turn public opinion against the proposed migration pact currently being discussed by the European Union.

For years, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been relying on a political agenda directed against refugees and migrants. Last summer, he made headlines with speeches criticizing "mixed-race" society, the "flood" of migrants and his plans to counter the "population exchange" taking place in Europe — all well-known sentiments in the far-right discourse.

The government-friendly Hungarian state broadcaster MTVA has been covering the protests in France since they began, but has failed to explain the reasons behind the destructive rage. Barely a word has been spoken on the social conditions of migrant populations in France's major cities, or the racism that many are exposed to every single day.


What triggered the riots — the fatal shooting of an unarmed youth from a North African background, at point-blank range, by a French officer — was mentioned only in passing.

Instead, MTVA has seemed to suggest that if even a nation as wealthy as France could fail with its migration policies, then immigration in poorer countries can never work.

Far-right claims follow same pattern

Nicola Molteni, a deputy interior minister and member of the hard-right League party, has called the unrest in France "evidence of the failure of uncontrolled migration and a warning to the rest of Europe." In Belgium and the United Kingdom, politicians have used the same line.

Sinanoglu pointed out that all these claims have taken the same angle. "The youth are also being used to define one's sense of self. So, on the one side, there are the civilized French, and on the other side, there are these young men primed for violence who are threatening public order. And this order must be protected with all the force necessary," he said.

"Of course, the [protesters'] violence must be condemned," he added. "But we need to think about what caused this violence."

This article was originally published in German

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