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Populist radical right parties and (trans)national environmental issues

Nature and CultureThis is a guest post written by Bernhard Forchtner, contributor to Volume 10: Issue 2 of the journal Nature and Culture . Bernhard Forchtner is a contributor to the article titled “The Nature of Nationalism: ‘Populist Radical Right Parties’ on Countryside and Climate.”

Conversations about “populist radical right parties” (Cas Mudde) in contemporary Europe usually turn to issues such as asylum seekers, ‘foreigners’ and the European Union. What tends to surprise audiences, however, are stories about far-right ecology. Environmental issues are, after all, issues supposedly covered by ‘the left’. However, even if far-right actors across Europe have hardly prioritised environmental protection over the last decades, these actors do intervene in such debates, making the latter meaningful on the basis of their nationalist stance. And maybe, this should not surprise us in the first place given that nature protection, in its beginnings in the 19th century, was often pushed by rather conservative forces.

In the article The Nature of Nationalism, my colleague Christoffer Kølvraa and I thus ask whether and how different types of “populist radical right parties”, the more mainstream Danish People’s Party and the more radical British National Party, have addressed the topic of the national countryside and the transnational issue of climate change.

Although differences in the ‘radicalism’ of the position of these actors exist, these differences are not fundamental. Instead, there is a fundamental difference in how national countryside and transnational climate are assessed. With regards to the countryside, both parties are ardent defenders of what they view as a quintessential national space, a position underpinned by what we call a nationalist symbolic aesthetics. That is, both parties frame the countryside in terms of its natural splendour coupled with a claim for historical continuity of the national community in this territory, thereby making manifest the political sovereignty the people enjoy over the land. In relation to the nature of climate too, the British National Party goes much further than the Danish People’s Party, the former voicing strong scepticism (if not denial) regarding the thesis of (man-made) climate change – something the latter rather insinuates. However, both parties share a symbolic materialism via which international bodies, arguably necessary in the fight against an inherently transnational phenomenon, are criticised as they apparently endanger national sovereignty and classical nationalist ideas of self-sufficiency. When nationalists justify their stance on environmental issues and claim that “we all hold our land in trust for future generations” (British National Party), one should not simply dismiss their arguments as strategic in order to attract voters. Instead, their notion of ecology and environmental protection is deeply embedded in their ideology.

While the topic has received rather scant attention in the literature to date, and thus research charters much previously unmapped territory, the topic has also proven to be challenging – something noticeable in particular in conversations with environmental activists. While the climate politics of “populist radical right parties” are easily rejected by these activists, many of their more subtle positions, for example on invasive species, cannot easily be distinguished from mainstream and even left-wing arguments. Where they exist, these similarities need to be taken seriously! As the modernization of the far-right across Europe does not seem to lose steam, more and more related, counter-intuitive cases emerge. Currently, a group of German neo-Nazis (Balaclava Küche) promotes veganism within their scene. Partly due to environmental concerns, they do so through their YouTube channel but have also offered catering service at neo-Nazi concerts, etc. In a series of interviews conducted after the completion of The Nature of Nationalism, actors (previously) belonging to “populist radical right parties” voiced ‘traditional’ views on a far-right ecology. For example, interviewees lamented about what they perceive as a cultural crisis which ignores the laws of nature. Instead, nations should be viewed as (eco)systems which – if too much alien elements enter – lose their natural equilibrium and collapse. Subsequently, “nomadic cultures and races” were rejected in favor of rooted (“sesshafte”) people who supposedly care for the environment. This can easily take an anti-Semitic twist but definitely contains a rejection of “foreigners” who are not committed to the beauty of ‘our’ country the way ‘natives’ supposedly are.

What these interviews have shown is that differences between these groups are worth investigating. While our paper foregrounds similarities based on a shared ideological ground, subsequent case-studies should equally focus on differences between various actors within a national space or across boundaries. There is work to do as these actors seem to have a future in, at least European, politics.

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