Marlene Laruelle on Europe's Far-Right Political Movements
November 9, 2017
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Welcome to Ethics Matter. I'm Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson
Joining me today is Marlene Laruelle. She is professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. She is also a Carnegie Council Senior Fellow and the author of Eurasianism and the European Far Right.
Dr. Laruelle, welcome. Thank you for being with us.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Thank you.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Let's just get right to it. You have been very busy lately with what you are doing, your expertise on the far right in Europe. You have been busier than ever I'd say.
What is contributing, if you will, generally speaking, across Europe to this climate?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think it is a combination of several different issues. There is a general feeling of many things are changing inside the European political landscape. There is a kind of identity crisis. Also, there is a political crisis about the future of the European Union and of each Member State, and the feeling that the world is changing also globally and that the place of Europe inside it is moving. All that contributes to a shifting of the political landscape and giving rise suddenly to far-right parties.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You talked about "identity crisis." What is that exactly, in the sense that what was the identity, or what was perceived to have been the identity, versus what it has become, which is such a worry, and which is causing the rise of the far right?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think it is the general feeling that we do not know exactly what the nation-state sovereignty in its traditional way is, and the far right is playing into that by trying to say that "our cultural sovereignty is in danger because of immigration, our political sovereignty is in danger because of the European Union and globalization, and our economic sovereignty is also in danger because the world is changing." It is the combination of all these elements that makes the nation-state less and less relevant politically, or the impression that it is less and less relevant.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: We have had Brexit. We have seen the rise of the far right in France and the success, even though she was defeated, of Marine Le Pen in France; and, even though she was defeated, it is still very much alive and well in France. Explain a little bit the position now of the far right in France.
MARLENE LARUELLE: The French far right is a really interesting case. It has been really one where we can see the change of strategy of the far right and the evolution since the 1980s. When her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was very active and became more visible in the 1980s, he was still too radical to speak to a more mainstream electorate.
What she was really able to do when she became the leader of the party in 2011 was to push for more respectability of the party by shifting the topics she was discussing in public. That really contributed to her success.
So, even if she was defeated and now the party is in a kind of crisis, she was able to shift the general political landscape and give more legitimacy to the far right.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: It was interesting. While keeping up with that ideology, she wanted to disassociate herself from her father, to the point where people referred to her by her first name—she was "Marine" everywhere she went versus "vote for Le Pen." Was that strategic from her point of view do you think?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes. I think she is personally convinced, of course, that the change is needed. But that is also a strategic choice, to put on the side topics that are considered too radical, that are too much linked to what was the far right before, the kind of postwar far right still very much linked to the Nazi past, to fascist topics, to being too much anti-Semitic. These topics are now put on the side and she is bringing new issues that are much more well received by the public opinion, like anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-immigration narratives.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: What has the left done, or not done, to make many people look toward the far right? What has happened? What are the causes of it?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think there are several big structural changes. First, in the 1980s, then the 1990s, the collapse of the traditional left, the kind of Marxist left, played a big role in not having any more new leftist ideology that seems to be relevant in the current world.
Then, I think the Socialist Party also, once it became a government party and it was not able to change things as they said they would, created disillusion among the leftist electorate.
And then, I think the mainstream right parties are also facing changes. It is also difficult for them to find their place between the right and the far right in this kind of socialist government party orientation.
It is much more difficult now for mainstream parties, both center right and center left, to dissociate themselves, because once they are in power, they do relatively similar—not totally similar, of course—policies. That gives rise to the far right coming with their narrative about "We are the only one able to really change things on the ground."
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And "To tell you the truth, we are not going to backpedal on something that we have said."
MARLENE LARUELLE: Exactly.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Speaking of France—we can also expand to Germany, Austria, the Netherlands—it seems there has been a societal crisis—this is back to the point you were bringing up before—where while in the past there was anti-Semitism and so forth, now it is this kind of anti-immigration sentiment.
Is it that these societies feel that their own societies are threatened by the presence of Islam in these countries, which is very present, particularly in France I would say?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes. I think there is one specificity really in the European case of rising anti-Muslim feeling, and especially in the French case, which is that it is also linked to our colonial past and the fact that the migrants are former colonized people. That makes things even more complicated.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: They speak the language already, for instance.
MARLENE LARUELLE: They speak the language. We have this long historical interaction. They are still feeling guilty about the colonization, and then suddenly feeling that Oh, they are arriving and now we are the one getting invaded. That is something which is quite important, for example, in the French case, more than in the German one, because the colonial past is still very much present in the French case. That is contributing to this identity crisis.
But I think it is also more deeply linked to more societal issues. The change of the job market is also playing a big role. There are many people who do not find their place in the job market anymore as it is now and it is easy to find scapegoats.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Germany still continues to seem to be the rock of Europe, of strength. So for it to happen there as well seems quite surprising, considering their past and how they have had to reconcile many things.
Is it surprising that there is a far-right rise in Germany in this modern age?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think it is normal to have it confirmed that it is happening all over Europe, and I think it would have been very strange to think Germany would have been immune at that point. Of course, for them it is really something new. Because of the Nazi past trauma, they were really immune to that, but now we can see it is changing. And of course, the refugee crisis probably played a big role in allowing this new German far right to rise.
But what I think is much more important, even in the German case, is not so much the rise of the far right, it is the collapse of mainstream parties. They made one of their lowest scores in the last election. So the two are linked.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Which is what happened in France, too, by the way.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Certainly, with the total collapse of the Socialist Party and partial collapse of the mainstream right.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: What does that say, though, to these countries? It is a reflection on just simply evolving with time, I would imagine, and not being stuck in the old traditional ways. But how do you readjust these societies into not swaying to one side or the other?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think there is a real change needed from the traditional political elite. I think the society is clearly sending signals about what they want. They want another kind of narrative about the job market. They want another kind of narrative about the role of the European Union, and I think that is a critical element, that many people feel that "We have been delegating a lot of power to the European Union without making the Union more democratic." So you have this kind of contradiction where as a citizen your political rights are still mostly at the nation-state level; at the same time, you feel like decisions are taken at the European Union level. So there is a kind of mismatch.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Like a disconnect in a way?
MARLENE LARUELLE: A disconnect between what people would like to be asked as citizens and the fact that the European Union is not considered as so much a democratic institution but too much a kind of technocratic one.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: When we were speaking at one point, you mentioned that when Marine Le Pen saw Brexit occur, she assumed it might make her chances better at getting to the presidency. But yet it seems to have backfired. What caused that do you think? Is it false to think that if it is going in one direction it is going to continue that way?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think one of the big elements is that voting for the far right is part of a protest culture. It is a sign to say you are discontented with something. But then, when suddenly you see this protest becoming a political reality—meaning Brexit—that suddenly kind of backfired at her ability.
We know by surveys that her narrative about "France will be also exiting the European Union" really contributed to her losing some of the votes. So people who were voting for her were sharing her anti-immigration narrative, but they were much more afraid about France leaving the European Union. For many people, even if they are unhappy with the European Union, you still have to deal with it. It would be difficult to imagine France leaving and going back to being purely a nation-state.
That is the difference with Brexit, where in the United Kingdom there were probably many more people who were ready to really exit, and even now we see that it is also backfiring on them.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: It is backfiring. It seems that there is some regret even at that.
Why has the far right been so appealing to Russia? It seems as though here we are again, we are talking about Russia—we talk about Russia and America, we talk about Russia in Europe—really seeping into Western European societies. How come? What has happened there?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think there are two levels of analyzing it: the first one is that there are some genuine ideological connections, and then there is also just an axis of convenience. After the Ukrainian crisis and Crimean annexation, Russia lost most of its political connection to mainstream parties in Europe. So, in a sense, pushing for the far right was more or less what was left for Russia to try to interact with European politicians. If Russia could interact more with the mainstream, they would prefer the mainstream over the far right, but the far right was kind of the last friends in Europe they could have. That is the convenience axis.
But then you have a real, genuine, more ideological connection about, for example, being anti-NATO, anti-U.S., anti-liberal values—that is a shared agenda—promoting what they call Christian or conservative values, being very anti-establishment, anti-EU, criticizing the political correctness. Both the European far right and the Russian establishment share this kind of ideological agenda.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Yes, it was appealing. The far right is there, Russia sees a chance, no one else wants to sit with them because of Ukraine and Crimea. But how do you rebuild? How do they go back to the discussion table with the mainstream parties? What does Russia have to do?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think in a sense they are slowly going back to the table. We can see that, for example, around Syria and the role of Russia. You can see that Russia is trying to go back to the table, saying, "Okay, we have issues in Crimea and in Ukraine, but we also share fighting against terrorism in the Middle East and so on." So there are doors that are open to try to reconnect Europe and political elites in Russia. I think Russia is very much hoping that this will work.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: There is also something called forgetfulness, too, that people with time—
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes. With time, topics of interest for public opinion change. If Ukraine is not really put back in the light, then probably it will slow down and be less and less visible, and there will be more important issues where Russia will look like a partner and not like the enemy.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: One thing I have found—and, of course, I know your expertise is the European far right, and you do teach here so you are living in the States—but one thing I find to be a simplistic comparison has been that Marine Le Pen was France's answer to Donald Trump here in the United States. Yet, the two couldn't be more different, right?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Well, Marine Le Pen was an influential politician in France long before Donald Trump arrived on the U.S. political scene.
In a sense, in the way Trump is acting and his kind of provocative character, he looks much more like Jean-Marie Le Pen than like Marine Le Pen in many aspects, the provocative element especially. But still they share some of their narratives. They share the anti-globalization one; they share this narrative about economic protectionism; they share the anti-Muslim/anti-immigration narrative. So they have some elements in common.
But at the same time the political cultures are so different that, of course, they are also very different creatures.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: The cultures themselves are, at the governmental level for sure.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I wanted us to revisit a little bit the key element here, which is the elephant in the room—forgive the common proverb—but it is immigration in France and in Germany and in Austria and in the Netherlands as the key problem and that is feeding this far right. How are mainstream parties tackling that?
MARLENE LARUELLE: In fact, immigration is not the main problem. It is the main issue raised by the far right to look like it is the main problem.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: That is interesting.
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think the main problem is really the socioeconomic landscape and the evolution of the job market in Europe.
Every European country is facing issues of integration. It is both domestic issues about integrating the Muslim minorities who are living in Europe—and many of them do not care about Islam, many of them are secular people, they just are identified as migrants or as Muslims—and it is also the relationship to the Middle East and to the southern part of the Mediterranean region, which is a big issue—so what to do with the Syrian crisis; what to do with Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria.
Those are kind of two issues. One is the foreign policy issue, about what do we do with the refugees arriving like that, at that level, what do we do to try to help stabilize them; and then what do we do with people living in European countries and asking for more integration, and now our integration mechanisms are kind of dysfunctional?
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: But this is something actually I think now, because we have access to media and it is something that we see—we are seeing migrants on boats and things—but this is not something that is new either. I mean it has always existed, this migration of people coming, probably not at this level for sure. But what has been done in the past for assimilation versus being not done now?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think before the flows were more economic workers. For instance, in the 1970s it was migrants who were invited by European firms to come to work because we needed a workforce. Now, except Germany, almost no European country needs a workforce; all of them have huge or high-level unemployment. So the context has changed.
And then the first generation of migrants got very well integrated, because at that time integration mechanisms were working relatively well.
So there are two issues. There are the second generation, the children of migrants, who are French citizens or German citizens but who do not feel good at home because they feel they are still considered not well integrated, as foreigners. They would like to display some element of their identity—it can be a religious one but not necessarily—and they do not find the room to express that specificity.
And then we have migrants arriving now. Now they arrive more as refugee flows. That is creating other issues. It is also geographically different. They are arriving to Southern countries, so it is Italy, Spain, Greece, and the Balkans that have to face this arrival of refugees.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You have been doing this for a very long time and you are an expert on this. How has this rise of the far right evolved in the years that you have been following this? How has it changed to you, and what surprises you in this, what is new about it or what is newer about it?
MARLENE LARUELLE: What is for me the most striking element is how they have been able to combine this anti-immigration narrative, which was already there in the 1980s, with a more pro-welfare state narrative. Traditionally, the far right did not have this kind of pro-welfare state narrative. Marine Le Pen was very well able to the combine anti-immigration and pro-welfare state narratives, which then resonated with parts of the social groups who were voting for the left before.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: She was able to pull from that side.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Exactly. So, for example, traditionally the French far right was very much in favor of Catholicism and criticizing the secular nature of the French state. Now Marine Le Pen says she is representing the traditional secular nature of the French state against Islam. So she captured that element.
Then she captured the welfare state: "We should be protecting the social rights and the social benefits of our cities" with this narrative that "migrants are taking our social benefits and so on."
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Which is very different from the United States, by the way.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Of course one of the big political/cultural differences between the two countries.
The combination of these kinds of leftist social arguments with anti-immigration is very powerful.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: That is really what has fed that far-right aspect in France.
Are you able to tell me in some of the other European countries what the appeal is with the change of the narrative of the far right and how they have shifted?
MARLENE LARUELLE: It is also relatively the same combination for Germany, for Sweden, and for Finland.
It is a little bit different for Central European countries because they have fewer migrants. So even if they play the anti-immigration card, they are still more traditional in being more "anti'-" their own ethnic minorities. They are less pro-welfare state and more free market, just because they integrated into the European Union later, so they are more traditional far right than the Western European countries once were. So the evolution is slightly different.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: One of the surprises has been Poland, I think, too. Talk a little bit about the rise of the far right in Poland.
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think Poland is a really interesting case, and of course a case of concern for Europe with Hungary. I think Poland is a good example to deconstruct what is often said, that it is also Russian influence. There is almost no more anti-Russian country than Poland, and still they are having this wave of populist party and illiberal narratives thriving. It is a good example of how a country successfully integrated into the European Union. For a long time, Poland was really a success case economically for the European Union.
Then, suddenly, you feel that society is still having difficulties managing those fast changes and is suddenly promoting this kind of very liberal narrative while staying inside the European Union framework. That is a big difference from Brexit, that Poland and Hungary are criticizing the European Union but they do not want to leave. They want to stay and to change it from the inside, which is a very different strategy than Brexit, just asking to leave.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Does it surprise you that the current political structure in Poland is as far right as it is, and that it has gotten this far as well, this high level?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think it shows that it can be done democratically, that the rise of the far right can be really the result of a democratic election and a real societal shift. That is something we should consider because this means these things can happen inside the EU framework and in a democratic way. That is, of course, a huge concern because it means other countries could also potentially shift.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Are there other countries that are looking toward Poland and saying, "Huh, they did it this way; maybe this is the way that we should go"?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Hungary has its own tradition, with Viktor Orbán not going so far but being also—
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: On the precipice, on the cusp there.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Exactly.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia are also slowly evolving toward that direction, so clearly there is a kind of Central European cluster emerging there. Austria is also having really now the far right integrated into the government. So we can see this in Central Europe.
Things get more complicated in France, the Netherlands, Sweden, or Finland, where there the far right parties are important but they are not necessarily becoming government parties.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: These are also countries, when you are talking about the Netherlands and France, where there is much more of a spotlight focused on them, versus it seems that in Poland, the Czech Republic, these countries, it sort of happened under the table a little bit, it kind of snuck in there, no?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes. It is just because they are still kind of young members of the European Union and we are not used to looking at them under that kind of spotlight. Now we have to deal with that and the fact that they are growing illiberalism inside the European Union framework, which means that these countries have the right to vote, their MPs are in the European Parliament. So probably their influence will be growing on the way they can try to change things from the inside of the European Union structure.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I am curious about the day-to-day voters in these countries that did go toward the far right, where it was appealing to them. How are they feeling today? Do you have conversations with people who ascribe to that ideology but also are resigned to the fact that they are not in power?
MARLENE LARUELLE: We have detailed surveys about the voters. For example, in the French case, what is really interesting, and of course worrying, is that it is about a large part of the former working class voting for the communists or the left has now shifted to the far right. It is usually kind of blue-collar—
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Generational.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes, generational. It is also very marked sociologically. It is depressed cities or suburbs in difficulty; it is the working blue-collar class who cannot find any kind of secure job and are not feeling well integrated. So sociologically it can be identified. They are really a cluster of people voting for the far right.
Some of them are fine with just being on the protest side and do not really hope that things could change really at the political level. They just express their disillusion with the political system. And of course, very often if they did not have the choice to vote for the far right, they would not vote at all. It is really people retracting from politics globally. Some really hope that if the far right was in power things would change. But I think many of them are also realistic that not so many things can be changed.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: What does someone like President Macron do? He cannot ignore them. How do you listen and accommodate a group that can be seen as worrisome, but at the same time you cannot ignore them? What is the middle ground for a president like Macron?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think something important he has been saying explicitly is that the problem is the far right has a political party but not their voters. Their voters are normal and legitimate citizens and their claims should be heard. I think that is a positive element, not to try to marginalize them and to recognize that through their democratic votes they have expressed something that is important.
Then of course, addressing both the immigration and the job market issues is quite challenging. The point is if you want to deconstruct the narrative, you need to be able to work at the big structural level. That is much more complicated, of course, to recreate the feeling that this part of the population is integrated.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: But how does he bring them to the discussion table? Is it seen as something that is politically incorrect to do, to have an open discussion with members of the far right?
MARLENE LARUELLE: No. I think now the far right has become so powerful and obvious in the political landscape, at least for the French one, that it is now fine to consider that it is important for a politician to speak to the voters of Marine Le Pen.
One of the things I think Macron has been trying to do is to bring at the European level the discussion about multilateralism, globalization, protectionism, how we ensure that we keep jobs in Europe, how we try to solve the tensions between new members and old members of the European Union in terms of jobs, employment, and so on. So he is addressing some of these issues. But of course it takes time to change, and then you need other countries to also try to push in the same direction.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And come onboard, sure.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes. Europe is in such difficulties with Brexit, with Catalonia now, that, unfortunately, it is also difficult to try to get consensus on these kinds of job-related and protectionism issues.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Speaking of Catalonia, and Brexit as well, we are talking about dissociating yourself in two different ways, but still the common word is disassociating. Catalonia has been brewing for a while, but it is still very current. What is that a symptom of?
MARLENE LARUELLE: It is both a symptom of a general evolution of Europe and something very specific also to Spain because it has always been there and very important for the region.
The difference compared to Brexit is that Catalonia is asking for more Europe, in a sense. They are saying that they do not need the Spanish nation-state anymore because they want to become by themselves part of the European Union. So they are very pro-Europe in Catalonia. It is not a surprise that the Catalonian leadership went to Brussels in the hope of getting the European Union's support.
So there are two elements that are different. In a sense, Brexit is reaffirming the nation-state and Catalonia is destroying the nation-state. But both are linked to the relationship to Europe and to the notion that Europe as it is, like a kind of grouping of nation-states delegating some of their power to the European Union but not everything, is not working in both cases. It is either too much or not enough.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Is there a risk that the European Union will dismantle itself at some point because of this atmosphere, of what is going on with the far right?
MARLENE LARUELLE: "Dismantle" seems to me too much. I think France, Germany, Italy—the core members—will try to maintain things and to really put their own weight in the balance to be sure it will not get destroyed. But it needs a lot of reforms, for sure, and maybe there needs to be some different level of integration between those who want more and those who want less. Between the Northern, Southern, Western, and Eastern countries there are really big differences, so maybe there should be several levels of integration, some pushing for a really higher level and some just being part of something more kind of general but with less involvement.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I want to know what the future holds for the far right in Europe in general. They are not going anywhere and cannot be ignored. Where will we be in two years, five years, ten years, with the far right?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I think they will stay part of the political landscape. They are an integral part of it. We should also accept that, as a democratic country, you have part of your population that expressed this kind of unhappiness with the system. They will probably continue to push their strategy of respectability.
At the same time, it is also a sensitive one, because if they become too mainstream, then what will be the difference with the mainstream right? So they need to keep this protest element and at the same time find a way to be respectable enough to gain election, to gain more votes. The balance is not easy for them, and we can see inside the National Front, for example, that it is difficult now for Marine Le Pen after the defeat to maintain this kind of balance.
Then, I think, in some countries they will become part of a government coalition, which means that they will be able to influence part of the decision-making process, probably around identity politics and anti-immigration issues. I do not think their economic program can be implemented even if they are part of a government coalition because that is the most difficult and the least realistic element.
And then you have cases like Poland and Hungary, which show that in fact you can have illiberal government, that you do not know if they are far right, mainstream right—
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: It is a bit of a gray area.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes. They can suddenly be in power, and therefore they will be taking decisions. We can see how Hungary is able to resist an EU decision and not implement the EU decision on its own territory. The combination will be complex, but the far right is here to stay.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: They are here to stay.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Oh, yes.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Speaking of, while there might not be a rise to the presidency—at least I don't know that we will see them anytime soon, the far right—but in France anyway, and I would imagine in other countries, in municipalities the far right is very powerful. You've got mayors and deputies and so forth around. Is that a sign of "we are here to stay" at the local level?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes, at the local level it is a sign of their success. It also demonstrates that they are able to really govern, take decisions. At the same time, that is normalizing them, which means that when they are in power they are not the protesting party anymore, so people can also express their disappointment with them. So probably they will have to pay the price and learn that they can also lose power at the local level when things will be changing. But of course, it is a sign that they have in some regions very good local roots and anchoring mechanism that works pretty well.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: But you did mention something, that what we are going to see is that they will infiltrate a lot more the mainstream parties. Is that then lessening their power a little bit and massaging a little bit more their message in order to be able to be more respected? Is that the strategy?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes. I think that is making them lose part of their power, but that is also shifting the world political landscape more to the right. So, for example, now in France Les Républicains, the mainstream right party, part of the leadership is pushing to try to get the far-right electorate, and so they are becoming more and more anti-immigration, anti-Muslim. So, in a sense, the world political landscape is shifting to the right because of the rise of the far right. They may lose their power, but at the same time this power will be given to a mainstream party.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: It is shared across, which actually is not a naïve strategy, I would imagine.
I think that you did say something about how they are here to stay. What would completely destroy the future of a far-right movement based on your own studies and what you have researched, or what is empowering them?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Of course, they would lose part of their legitimacy if something huge was happening, like they would be in power and they would mismanage so much that people will realize it is really not good to have them in power. Otherwise, I think they can slowly lose part of their economic narrative legitimacy if the European Union finds a way to share or to take into consideration the kind of democratic concerns of the society.
I think on the identity politics they will stay stronger because it is more difficult to find an answer to these kinds of anti-immigration feelings.
So I think they will have to transform themselves to try to stay in power. Probably the more they will become mainstream, the more on the far-right right, there will be a new, more radical far right trying to emerge and to capture the pure protest electorate that is still there.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: We saw Angela Merkel is chancellor once again, except that she did lose a few seats and the far right did gain some. What does that mean for Germany? I am sure they are not ignoring them. Is there a seat at the table for the far right there? Is she talking to them?
MARLENE LARUELLE: She will have to—and she already did—try to change, to nuance her narrative about immigration and the way Germany managed the Syrian crisis. Her generosity in receiving migrants made her lose part of her traditional voters.
I think the main issue for Germany, with the rise of the Alternative for Germany, is mostly managing the refugee and the immigration crisis. On that she will have to shift, at least at the narrative level, a little bit and kind of soften her welcoming kind of pro-integration narrative.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I want to come full circle and ask you: When the far right, be it in France or in any of these other countries, talks about traditional values that they want to bring back, what are these values that they are looking to bring back? What, in their estimation, has gone?
MARLENE LARUELLE: It is so far related to kind of the traditional family. So it is trying to slow down the recognition of LGBT rights, rights for same-sex marriage, and so on. That is the big element that is largely shared by a big part of these European societies. Even in France, when we had the debate about homosexual marriage, you had like 40-something percent of the population that was not in favor of it. So it is still an important part of the population that wants things to slow down on that kind of gender aspect.
It is also about more purely national identity issues. How do we try to valorize what people would consider their cultural roots in facing these kind of globalization mechanisms that we observe? How do you celebrate your own cultural elements without being xenophobic? I think on that the left party has been quite unable to find the right articulation about how to be proud of what you are and at the same time be welcoming for other groups.
Of course, on that the European tradition is not the U.S. one. European countries have strong cultural roots and identities, so the multicultural, "melting pot" narrative is not so easy to promote there as it can be in the United States. Even in the United States it is not working so well.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Now, yes.
In conclusion, I think I should ask you: Will there ever be a far right president in a Western European country?
MARLENE LARUELLE: I hope not. No, I do not think it would be possible in the current condition. If you would imagine the European Union collapsing or this kind of big political trauma, probably. But otherwise I think that there will always be enough mechanisms.
We saw that in the French case, that even if Marine Le Pen in the first round was really very powerful and many people were saying that they were supporting her, when you have to make the final vote to decide for a president, then you have people who, even if they are on the protest side on many aspects, will not make that choice because they know that the cost would be too high. So I think there is still this kind of political culture that is here to protect the democratic system.
The way the Brexit will be managed—or mismanaged—will probably also slow down some of the social groups who wanted to go too far.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Dr. Laruelle, I'm sure that in the months to come you are going to be busy, particularly with Russia, I would assume.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes. I am following the evolution of the Russian domestic landscape and the preparation of the presidential election in the spring. I am also following the evolution of Russia-Europe relations and the way to reengage with Russia on several important issues.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: What direction, by the way, are things going? What are you seeing? Is there anything unusual about where these elections might go?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes. There are some interesting discussions that are not very well publicized, but we can see that they are kind of an attempt to give a little bit more room politically in Russia and to try to give some space for more liberal narratives, even if it is done in a very kind of discreet manner.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Any opposing side coming up against Vladimir Putin?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Probably that will be more difficult. Navalny will probably not get the authorization to participate. Ksenia Sobchak is a kind of difficult-to-assess candidate because her role is to be also part of the authorized opposition.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Authorized opposition?
MARLENE LARUELLE: Yes, a kind of constructive opposition to Mr. Putin.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Well, we will be looking forward to seeing that, and seeing your observations as well. We hope to talk again soon.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Absolutely.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Thank you for being with us.
MARLENE LARUELLE: Thank you for inviting me.