Expert on extremism: Intolerance is seeping into mainstream parties across the political spectrum

The Interior Ministry this week issued its annual report on extremism, in which it says that ultra-right groupings are no longer politically relevant and their agenda has been adopted by the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD), which however cannot be defined as “extremist”. I spoke to extremism expert Miroslav Mareš, about the gradual seeping of in tolerance into mainstream political parties and why it is that the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party cannot be defined as extremist.

Miroslav Mareš, photo: archive of Charles UniversityMiroslav Mareš, photo: archive of Charles University “Extremism is defined as the anti-thesis of the democratic, constitutional state. According to the official Czech definition- extremists should struggle for the replacement of democracy with a dictatorship or some form of non-democratic government. And therefore it would be very questionable to define the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party as an anti-democratic party, as an anti-constitutional party.”

So how do you view the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party – do you see it as ultra-right? Is it even a right-wing party?

“From my point of view it is a radical right party. They have some very radical demands, but it is difficult to label the party as a whole as extremist. We can find some statements of their party members or sympathizers which could be considered extremist – at least from my point of view- but, as I said, it is difficult to label the party as a whole extremist.”

What the ministry says is that traditional extremist parties are no longer a real threat today – that the real threat comes from xenophobic, populist parties – is that true and is it true across Europe?

“Yes, it is a pan-European trend and we can see these racist and intolerant tendencies throughout society. Sometimes it is difficult to identify who the populist parties are, because we can see this growing intolerance in many parts of the political spectrum.”

So there is more intolerance among the mainstream parties in Parliament today, but they cannot be defined as extremist?

“Yes, and I think that if we look at some of the statements of the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, we may find that they are more radical than the statements of “traditional” extremists made a few years ago, but look at some of the statements made by politicians from other parties – we would find very similar statements from politicians at the local level as regards the Roma, as regards Muslims and so on. So we can see that this tendency towards intolerance is growing in the whole society.

Tomio Okamura, photo: Aktron, CC BY 4.0Tomio Okamura, photo: Aktron, CC BY 4.0 On the other hand, we can also see a debate about the migration issue from the Neo-Marxist position; so what we are seeing is a polarization of society and growing intolerance in many parts of the political spectrum.”

This seeping of intolerance into various parties that are now in Parliament and in government in some countries – do you see this as a serious problem in Europe today?

“Yes, I agree and we can see a growing connection between these radical parties. If you remember Tomio Okamura last December hosted a meeting of European radicals, including Marine Le Pen from France. So it is of course dangerous, but this growing tendency to intolerance is also a reaction to the failure of the European elite during the migration crisis, mistakes in communication with the broader public. So this growth of radicalism and intolerance is also caused by various social and political events.”