Leiden Safety and Security Blog

Protest against refugees: breeding ground for the extreme right?

Protest against refugees: breeding ground for the extreme right? Frankie Fouganthin

Protests against the influx of Syrian refugees mushrooms in the Netherlands, like in other European countries. Angry citizens voice loudly and sometimes with clear racist connotations their objections towards local, temporary asylum centres. Local authorities are being threatened, proponents intimidated and some violent actions, be it on a small scale, have been launched towards refugee centers. The obvious question is whether the current refugee crisis can function as a breeding ground for right-wing extremist violence or even terrorism, as for instance is feared and partially witnessed in Germany.

The current protests in the Netherlands resemble what Ehud Sprinzak coined in 1991 as 'split delegitimation': Right-wing groups direct their anger primarily against the 'undesired people' and only redirect their attention towards the authorities when they perceive them not to protect the 'legitimate' community. However, the current developments in the Netherlands show that the conflict with the authorities is not always secondary. Angry citizens foremost seem to be disgruntled because the government is not doing anything for them, the autochtonouspopulation - be it in the field of housing, health care, jobs or wages. This is at least partly true - as in the Netherlands the idea was introduced by the current government that the welfare state had to make place for the so-called 'participation society' in which citizens are expected to take care of themselves and each other instead of looking for governmental aid. The fact - or the perception - that refugees do get the help of government (instead of fellow citizens) is a strong incentive for most of the angry reactions. 'They do not listen to us' is the short expression for the feeling of being betrayed.

According to Sprinzak, violence produced by this process of split delegitimation emerges under the circumstance of a sudden and intense sense of insecurity and fear which produces an emotional action and take the form of unorganized violent eruptions. As the extreme right in the Netherlands is traditionally small, weak and fragmented one should not overestimate the odds that a violent revival is on its way, although there are signs that right-wing extremist activists try to jump on the bandwagon of the angry citizens movement. There is also another indicator for this. As Ruud Koopmans argued in 1996, grievances and a sense of animosity are not good predictors of right-wing extremist violence. What does matter is the political opportunity structure. On the one hand violent reactions are more likely in a situation where political elites are defining a situation as an important political and social problem but are divided on the solution and therefore nothing substantive is done about the identified problem.

However, and seemingly a paradox, when political parties articulating and supporting the grievances are strong, other forms to express demands in a potentially effective way are available and it is less likely that the challenge will take a violent form. In the Netherlands a strong actor represented in the democratic political system that supports the angry citizens is present: the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, according to the polls the most popular party in the Netherlands at this moment. For any traditional right-wing extremist formation it is currently not easy to brand their unique political sellings points as the Freedom Party articulates the main grievances of a part of the population without being associated with the contested historical background of right-wing extremist actors. But also some of the Dutch mainstream parties are sending at least mixed messages to their audiences. From this perspective a strong Freedom Party is an obstacle to organized right extremist violence or terrorism in the Netherlands.

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