Confronting Far-Right Extremism

We are seeing it daily in our newspapers. In the past years, months, even weeks, we have witnessed the rise of far-right groups and their political parties in the United States, in Europe, and here in Slovakia. Their growth is partially due to frustration with governments that seem incapable of addressing people’s needs. In these complicated and challenging times, it is understandable that people are looking for easy answers to complex problems. They want results from their political leaders, and they want them quickly.

Radical groups realize this, and they have presented themselves as political outsiders who reject the establishment and offer a helping hand to those who are struggling. They have also changed their tactics – they wave flags with Nazi symbols less frequently and have toned down rhetoric about racial supremacy; instead they talk about protecting people from immigrants.

But political parties and ideologies espousing hatred and intolerance do not have the answers; in fact, they are part of the problem. These parties seek to blame society’s ills on outsiders – people who look different, speak a foreign language, or worship in a different way. They’d prefer to turn others into scapegoats rather than search for real solutions to the challenges we face.

A former American skinhead, Christian Picciolini, recently visited Slovakia to share his personal story. He was drawn to the neo-Nazi movement by its music and clothes, and by the feeling of power and belonging it gave him. But he eventually realized that the power he felt was false and the ideology he believed led him to physically attack and hurt others. Today he warns people in Slovakia and the United States to look beyond promises of easy solutions, warning “Some politicians who say they are trying to help you are lying. What they are trying to do is destroy.”

We live in a complex world, and there are no easy answers to the challenges we face. To build stronger societies, we must continue to promote economic growth that offers good jobs, especially to young people, and brings economic benefits to all citizens, not just the wealthy. We must fight endemic corruption, which steals from all members of society. We must reject the politics of fear and be strong enough to care for and help our fellow man. And we must resist those who attempt to undermine public trust in Europe’s democratic institutions through propaganda and disinformation.

To function at their best, democracies must be inclusive and confident. Only by working together, and by approaching our problems rationally and in the spirit of unity can we build strong societies that allow their members to achieve their aspirations and live free from fear and hate.