With Friends Like These...

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In Germany, far-right parties hold seats in four of the 16 states: Baden-Württemberg, Bremen, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt. The German People's Union (DVU), one of three extremist groups, won 12.9% of the vote and 16 seats in Saxony-Anhalt in 1998. The other parties are the Republicans (REP) and the National Democratic Party of Germany (NDP). The NDP, which has 6,100 members nationwide, was behind last month's march of hundreds of neo-Nazis through Berlin's Brandenburg Gate to protest the inauguration of what they called the "shameful" Holocaust memorial in the city center.The DVU was founded in 1987 by millionaire Munich publisher Gerhard Frey. The group's ideas are disseminated mainly through its newspapers, Deutsche National-Zeitung and Deutsche Wochen-Zeitung. They blame foreigners for crime in Germany, and Jews for preventing Germans from drawing a final line under the country's Nazi past. Frey's papers warn against a "mass immigration of Jews from the east" and claim that far fewer people died in the Holocaust than historians say. The REP, founded in 1983, boasts some 15,000 members and is represented only in the Baden-Württemberg parliament.
By R.U. Reported by Ursula Sautter/Bonn

The Front National, founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972, came to prominence in 1984 when it won 11% of the vote in elections for the European Parliament. Against the backdrop of rising unemployment, the FN garnered working class votes by brandishing a xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric. In policy terms, this translated into "national preference," the practice of giving (white) French citizens priority in housing, jobs and welfare payments. The FN steadily expanded until the breakthrough year of 1995, when Le Pen got 15% of the vote in the first round of presidential elections. But the FN revealed itself to be a disastrous local administrator and Le Pen's lieutenant, Bruno Megret, began to see himself as a potential leader. In 1998, Megret split from Le Pen to form the Mouvement National Republicain. The fracture has weakened both parties and it's unlikely that the French far right will benefit from Haider's success. "If there is a contagion effect," says Jean-Yves Camus of the Paris-based European Center for Research and Action on Racism and Anti-Semitism, "It will happen first via Switzerland and then in Italy via the Northern League."
By Nicholas Le Quesne/Paris

In Switzerland, Christoph Blocher's Swiss People's Party (SVP) has three main priorities: to curb immigration, stay out of the European Union and lower taxes. In the country's parliamentary elections last October, the SVP won the most votes, 23%, up from 15% in 1995. The party's success was fueled by slogans such as "Stop Asylum Abuse" and posters depicting a sinister, foreign-looking man shredding a Swiss flag. Started in 1971 as a mainly rural party, the SVP is organizing a petition calling for tougher asylum laws. "From what we've seen in the past few months," says SVP Secretary-General Claudio Zanetti, "we are sure that our views are reaching more and more people. We get support from new groups, such as young people. They feel that we are doing something to improve their lives."
By Helena Bachmann/Geneva

Italy's center-left government joined the chorus of outrage at Haider's inclusion in the new Austrian government--with two notable exceptions. Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, calls Haider a decent person. "I defend the principle of freedom of thought," she says. "The leftists are the ... racists. Let the European Union just tell us straight away who we should vote for, and send those who voted for Haider straight to jail." Like Haider's Freedom Party, the Northern League, which won about 10% of the vote in the 1996 general election, is anti-immigrant. "Jörg Haider is our North star," said Northern League deputy Mario Borghezio of Turin. "He's an example to follow, and managed to bring a clean party into the government of his country."
By Greg Burke/Rome

In terms of their rhetoric, Austria's Jörg Haider and the leader of the Belgian Flemish nationalist Vlaams Blok, Filip Dewinter, might as well be cousins: they both rail against immigration and often seem to equate foreigners with criminals. But their political impact is quite different. A cordon sanitaire is maintained by all other Belgian parties against the Vlaams Blok, which garnered 9.8% of the vote in last year's federal elections and are now the third largest party in the region of Flanders. And Belgium recently erected constitutional barriers to the far right. Parliament passed laws against racist discourse, cut off funds to parties with racist ideology and made ineligible for election any candidate sentenced for inciting racial hatred.
By James Graff/Brussels