Doc. 8607

3 January 2000

Threat posed to democracy by extremist parties and movements in Europe


Political Affairs Committee

Rapporteur: Mr Henning Gjellerod, Denmark, Socialist Group


In several member states, extremist parties and movements are propagating and defending ideologies that are incompatible with democracy and human rights and threaten the fundamental values that the Council of Europe sets out to defend. Currently the extremist parties and movements that pose the greatest threat to democracy in member states are those of the far right, and more generally those that encourage intolerance, xenophobia or racism. Even if they do not directly advocate violence, they nevertheless create a climate that encourages its development.

Faced with growing support for these parties and movements, appropriate political and legal responses are essential. The work of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in this field is of great interest, particularly to the Assembly, as well as to national parliaments.

The Assembly should contribute to the European Conference against Racism which will take place in Strasbourg from 11 to 13 October 2000. The Assembly should also instruct its Political Affairs Committee to follow closely the developments related to the activities of extremist parties and movements.

Moreover, the Committee of Ministers should fully support the work of the ECRI and ensure that member states take practical follow-up action on its recommendations.

I.       Draft recommendation

1.       In several member states, extremist parties and movements are propagating and defending ideologies that are incompatible with democracy and human rights.

2.       These extremist movements and parties pose a threat to the fundamental values that the Council of Europe sets out to defend.

3.       Currently the extremist movements and parties that pose the greatest threat to democracy in member states are those of the far right, and more generally those that encourage intolerance, xenophobia and racism. Even if they do not directly advocate violence, they nevertheless create a climate that encourages its development.

4.       The growing support in some countries for these extremist parties and movements is particularly disturbing.

5.       The Assembly also emphasise that the violence employed by certain extreme left-wing movements in the name of combating the far right is unacceptable.

6.       The Assembly, which has a particular responsibility for protecting European democratic values, must show the lead in the search for appropriate political and legal responses.

7.       At national level, the political response should be aimed at depriving extremist parties of their electoral support by addressing the social and economic issues, such as unemployment, immigration and security that these parties capitalise on and by developing policies of education to democratic citizenship based on the rights and responsibilities of the citizens. Moreover, measures against the abuse of asylum and illegal immigration linked to organised crime should be implemented more efficiently by the governments in order to reduce xenophobic feeling.

8.       To answer the populist and over-simplified statements of these extremist parties and movements, it is necessary to re-establish the facts associated with the issues posed by immigration, reformulate poorly expressed problems in a more relevant fashion and refute illogical claims through logical argument.

9.       Legislation should be enacted – where it does not exist – to prohibit oral or written instigation to racism, anarchy, anti-Semitism and xenophobia; freedom of expression can not be accepted as an excuse for it. Existing legislation should be fully implemented. In this context, public denial of the holocaust should be regarded as an expression of anti-Semitism. Sanctions should include deprivation of the right to be elected to public office. Using the Internet for racist purposes should be made a criminal offence.

10.       Given the international dimension of extremist movements and networks of racist or xenophobic character, co-operation between the competent authorities and police forces in Council of Europe member states should be increased.

11.       The Assembly calls on its members to ensure that the parties they belong to base their programmes and action on respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, democracy and the rule of law and refuse any support of extremist parties of racist or xenophobic character, whether explicit or implicit.

12.       The Assembly attaches great importance to the work of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), an independent group of experts, which, inter alia, publishes country reports containing specific proposals. These proposals should also be taken up by national parliaments.

13.       The Assembly resolves to co-operate effectively with ECRI and hold regular debates on its activities.

14.       The Assembly encourages ECRI to identify political responses to the worrying phenomenon of the growth of extremist parties and movements.

15.       The Assembly also expresses its readiness to participate fully in the European Conference against racism, which will take place in Strasbourg on 11-13 October 2000.

16.        The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.       fully support the work of ECRI and ensure that member states give concrete follow-up to its recommendations;

ii.       ask member states to inform it of specific follow-up given to the recommendations of ECRI, including legislation passed, as well as of measures taken to combat public expressions of intolerance, xenophobia and racism;

iii.        address, as a matter of priority, the issue of combating the dissemination of racist material via the Internet, coming both from the far right and from the far left, through the drawing up of an international legal instrument;

iv.       discuss problems of discrimination and extremism in the framework of its monitoring procedures as a priority subject.

II.       Draft order

The Assembly, referring to its Recommendation… on the threat posed to democracy by extremist parties and movements in Europe, instructs its Political Affairs Committee to follow very closely developments related to the activities of these parties and movements, and to report back to it at least every two years taking into account work being carried out by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

II.        Explanatory memorandum by the Rapporteur


I.       Introduction

II.       Different categories of extremist parties and movements

III.       Factors underlying their development and political themes used

IV.       Support

V.       Ways of limiting the threat

VI.       The specific contribution of the Council of Europe

VII.       Conclusions

Appendix:       Non-exhaustive list of racist acts and attacks in the Council of Europe member states in 1999

I.       Introduction

1.       In several member states, extremist parties and movements are propagating and defending ideologies that are incompatible with democracy and human rights. These extremist movements and parties pose a threat to the fundamental values that the Council of Europe sets out to defend, in accordance with its Statute.

2.       I consider that the extremist parties and movements that currently pose the greatest threat to democracy in the member states are those of the far right, and more generally those that encourage intolerance, xenophobia and racism. Even if these parties do not directly advocate violence, they nevertheless create a climate that encourages its development.

3.       The growing support in some countries for these extremist parties and movements is particularly disturbing.

4.       Our Parliamentary Assembly has a critical role in fighting these extremist parties and movements, since their development poses a serious threat to human rights and democracy, which are the cornerstones of our organisation.

5.       Moreover, our Assembly must be active because this fight calls for a response from politicians. Law and order-based responses alone cannot overcome the problem; political will is essential to implement anti-discriminatory legislation efficiently.

6.       The Political Affairs Committee decided to recruit an expert-consultant in order to study the subject in depth. Mr Jean-Yves Camus from the European Centre for Research and Action on Racism and Anti-Semitism in Paris accepted this task, for which I thank him. His analysis of extremist parties and movements in the various European countries was submitted to the Committee in an appendix to the first version of this report.

7.       The appendix provoked intense debates in the Political Affairs Committee, where several members expressed their disagreement with certain passages. However, the report and its appendices were approved by the majority at the Committee’s meeting in Reykjavik on 6 September 1999.

8.       Following this meeting, the members’ comments that had not been taken into account were appended as “dissenting opinions”.

9.       Nevertheless, at its September 1999 part-session, the Assembly decided to refer back to the Committee the report and the appendix, for further and more in-depth discussions.

10.       This revised report responds to this request and takes account, to differing extents, of the various opinions expressed in the Committee. I also decided to include in the revised report certain information supplied by Mr Camus.

II.       Different categories of extremist parties and movements

11.       Before seeking ways to prevent the threat posed to democracy by extremist parties and movements it has to be possible to recognise or identify them.

A.       Ideological classification

12.       Extremist parties and movements in member states can be divided into five categories according to the ideologies they represent:

i. extreme left-wing terrorist movements that aim to overthrow the lawful constitutional order by violent means;

ii. armed nationalist and independence movements or anti-independence movements, seeking either to bring about or to prevent secession by particular provinces or ethnic groups;

iii. armed Muslim fundamentalist movements and the European branches of fundamentalist parties from North Africa and the Middle East;

iv. unreformed communist parties in central and eastern Europe, which are opposed to any compromise with the institutions established under the democratisation process;

v. extreme right-wing parties and movements, which propagate mistrust of democracy combined with racism and xenophobia and anti-Semitism and revisionism, all to varying degrees.

13.       This list is not exhaustive, as Europe is also home to various forms of ethnic nationalism that destabilise democracies and defy any attempt at ideological classification. This is true of the most hard-line elements in Serbian, Albanian, Bosnian and Macedonian nationalist movements, which are hostile to any form of co-existence of different ethnic groups in a given region. It also applies to non-native nationalist movements which have gained a foothold in Europe through immigration and which have a tendency to engage in violent action.

14.       In view of the work already carried out by the Assembly on questions related to terrorism, this report will only deal with extreme left-wing and right-wing parties and more generally movements with xenophobic or racist tendencies.

B.       Common features of extremist ideologies and strategies

15.       To a growing extent, the extremist parties and movements in Europe no longer operate outside the democratic system, which they have so often decried, but within it. The spectacular growth in nationalist-populist parties in the nineties was made possible by an ideological renewal that had become necessary because of the discredit into which movements claiming to be in the tradition of fascism or authoritarian regimes (Franco, Salazar, Greek military dictatorship), to say nothing of national-socialism, had fallen since 1945.

16.       Contrary to traditional democratic parties, extremist parties have a clear and simple message and propose a simple solution for the difficult range of problems faced by the member states. They therefore seem to offer a direct response to the wishes and questions of the population. Furthermore, their structure is often determined by one individual. This often very talented demagogue figures as the symbol of his party and constitutes the impulsive strength behind it. This leading individual is often seen as a synonym of the political party itself.

17.       They have now opted to use democracy’s own weapons to fight it more effectively. Paradoxically, they present themselves as the sole guarantor of democracy, claiming to give people back their say and the power stolen from them by technocrats and financial oligarchies. Populism and xenophobia are the stock-in-trade of extremists, which are also united in hostility to the process of European integration.

18.       As a result of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, they are now just as much anti-American, given their anti-liberalism and aversion to all things cosmopolitan, as they are anti-Communist, and some extreme right-wing minority groups are even trying to exploit themes that bring them closer to the far left – for instance, the environment, support for the peoples of the Third World and for armed movements in Europe, the harnessing for their own purposes of anti-imperialist rhetoric and radical forms of anti-Semitism.

19.       It should be noted that, in the era of globalisation, the extremist parties in Europe have ties with ones in other continents. For example, ideological support from the far right in the United States has been crucial to the development of several extreme right-wing groups in Europe, notably the skinhead movement and groups involved in terrorist action.

20.       At present, the fastest growing political form of extremism can be found in the “post-industrial” far right, i.e., amongst parties who call for a strong central state and strong national identity. These parties, and especially the ones in Central and Eastern Europe, often claim that only those whose ethnic identity coincides with their national identity, use a certain language and adhere to a certain religion, can belong to that nation.

21.       Although several temporary alliances are made to form a majority during elections, a successful merger between two extremist parties is hard to find. Notwithstanding their similar ideology, extremist parties have difficulties with close co-operation and parties are quite likely to split up as result of internal differences of opinion. This is a weak spot in their strength.

C.       The far left

22.       It is true that extremist ideologies are most often found among the radical right, but they also exist to a lesser extent among the radical left. Although it has been vague and generally invisible in our member states in recent years, it is important to note that the radical left, including autonomous movements, generally aims at the destruction of “the system”, because of the belief that this system protects the monopolies of multinational companies. In its most extreme form, the far left also accepts the legitimacy of resorting to terrorism. Recent events in Copenhagen involving the autonomous movement have shown that there are clear links between anti-racism movements and the radical left. This is a very unfortunate alliance, which poses a threat to the general achievements and further development of the combat against racism and xenophobia in our member states.

23.       A number of extra-parliamentary extreme left-wing movements continue to favour direct action to disseminate their anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist rhetoric, which is mainly reflected in opposition to the United States and NATO.

24.       One very important development is the integration of certain extreme left-wing movements into parliamentary politics. The best example was the success of the joint list of the two French Trotskyite movements, “Lutte Ouvrière” and the “Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire” in the European elections on 13 June 1999. The “LCR”, which belongs to the 4th International, is a group which, while formally challenging the institutions of the capitalist and liberal system, pursues democratic objectives, conducts its activities in public and has an internal democratic debate.

25.       “Lutte Ouvrière”, on the other hand, is a sectarian-type movement, the real leadership of which is kept secret and which implements strict control over the private lives of its members. To that extent it might be thought that its acceptance of parliamentary politics is merely tactical. Another sectarian-type Maoist organisation is the “Parti du Travail de Belgique” (PTB), which pervades the Belgian voluntary sector, especially the trade unions, anti-fascist associations and organisations supporting foreign residents.26

26.       Lastly, we should specify that throughout Europe the revisionist denial of the nazi genocide is a component part of the position upheld by minor extreme left-wing groups. In Italy, the Graphos publishing house, which disseminates revisionist theses, belongs to the extreme left-wing “Bordighista” movement.

27.       However, at present these extreme left-wing movements are marginal in the Council of Europe’s member states and their support does not appear to be growing sufficiently to cause concern.

D.       The evolution of Communist parties

28.       Virtually all the Western European communist parties have rallied to parliamentary democracy, including “Rifondazione Communista”, the French PCF, the Spanish “Izquierda Unida”, the Greek KKE and the Portuguese PCP, which, with the Cypriot AKEL and the former Swedish CP, are alone in attracting a reasonable number of votes in elections. This abandonment of the Marxist-Leninist dogma has virtually universally led to the secession or exclusion of the minority still opposing the very concept of representative democracy.

29.       In some cases, as in France, this minority is still active as a movement within the party itself.

30.       In central and eastern Europe, the majority of communist parties have successfully evolved towards social democracy, as in Poland, Slovenia, as well as, to some extent, Albania and Bulgaria.

31.       In Russia, the Communist Party, led by Mr Zhuganov, has evolved differently. Part of the party has joined the ultra-nationalist movement, often under the name of the “red-brown movement”. It should be noted that the Communist party, which has the largest number of seats in the Duma, has tolerated and failed to condemn the anti-Semitic statements of its member of parliament, General Makashov.

E.       The far right

i.       The neo-nazi and fascist far right

32.       Avowed neo-nazis and hard-line fascists constitute a very small minority in western Europe, and have neither a social base nor any measure of electoral success, even modest.

33.       The reasons for this are many. Firstly, in the countries where they have emerged, national-populist parties have managed to tap the militant vein to the detriment of the smaller groups. Secondly, strong police repression has conspired with tough laws on revisionism and neo-nazism to crush the growth of these movements. And finally, the incessant rivalry within the nebulous world of neo-nazism has prevented any kind of unification or even lasting co-operation. To these factors must be added the total inability of the neo-nazi movement to revitalise its ideological message, which remains mired in the defence and emulation of the Third Reich.

34.       For the past 5 years or so, moreover, we have seen a growing capacity for terrorism on the part of small neo-nazi groups, organised on the American model of “leaderless resistance”. This approach involves using small independent, highly compartmentalised cells of 2 or 3 militants, or even isolated individuals, without the intervention of a centralised, hierarchical organisation.

35.       It should also be noted that neo-nazi and skinhead movements are beginning to show an interest in satanic practices and a genre of music known as “black metal”. In several European countries, far-right Satanists have committed acts of violence, setting fire to churches and desecrating cemeteries. Their ideology is first and foremost anti-Christian, paganistic and hostile to all minorities. On the subject of violence, some mention should also be made of the numerous extremist attacks on hostels for asylum-seekers and Jewish targets.

36.       In Western Europe, the neo-nazi and skinhead movement is currently in crisis. It has no ideology to call its own, since the vast majority of its models and key texts come from the United States. It has, however, proved highly adept at using new technologies (CDs, internet) to preserve a genuine capacity for harm.

ii.       Parties with xenophobic or racist tendencies

37.       In many member states, extremist parties and movements operating within the democratic system, defend ideologies tending towards xenophobia and sometimes racism.

38.       Such ideologies, which have in common a hostility to one or more groups in society, target immigrants, national or religious minorities or, sometimes, marginal social groups.

39.       These extremist parties and movements breach the European Convention on Human Rights, article 14 of which provides that “the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status”.

40.       I consider that they currently represent the greatest threat to democracy in the Council of Europe’s member states.

41.       They naturally include the parties generally considered to be on the extreme right, but also certain nationalist parties and movements.

42.       Even if they do not advocate violence directly, they nevertheless create a climate that encourages its development. Moreover, the growing support for them in certain countries is particularly worrying.

43.       For example, there has been an increase in racial and ethnic violence, as well as incitement to such acts. Religious intolerance and discrimination against Roma/Gypsies are becoming more and more commonplace (see appendix: Non-exhaustive list of racist acts and attacks in Council of Europe member states in 1999).

44.       As members of a national Parliament, and particularly as members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, we cannot but be concerned by manifestations of xenophobia, racism and intolerance in our member states.

iii.       Evolution of parties with xenophobic or racist tendencies in the member states

45.       Among these parties and movements, some have representatives in parliament and may also become members of a governing coalition. So although their principles are incompatible with democracy and human rights, in certain countries, as in the 1930s, they have the possibility of achieving power through the use of democracy.

46.       Nevertheless, these parties’ political success varies greatly from one country to another.

47.       In several countries, these political parties are almost non-existent or very marginal. This is the case, for example, in Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

48. In other countries as in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, their development has slowed down but it should be closely followed.

49.       However, the more or less disappearance, non-existence or decrease of their political expression does not mean that xenophobia and racism do not exist in these countries.

50.       The progress made by parties that directly or indirectly encourage xenophobia, intolerance or racism is particularly worrying in certain member countries, where their recent election results are far from marginal. This is the case in Austria, Belgium (Belgian Flanders), France, Russia and Switzerland.

51.       The Vlaams Blok in Belgium, the FPÖ in Austria and the UDC in Switzerland, which include racist or xenophobic elements had very good results in the 1999 elections.

52.       In France, the National Front funded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, split into a wing, which was against any agreement with the parties of the right and a minority group, which was in favour. Since January 1999 the two wings have been separate parties: the FN and the National Movement – their policies of expelling foreigners, opposing European integration and introducing tougher policing and sentencing to combat insecurity are however identical.

53.       The liberalisation of the Russian economy and the impoverishment of certain sections of the population have paved the way for the emergence of a powerful, ultra-nationalist movement. This red-brown movement encompasses far-right groups, pan-Slav nationalists and a large section of the Communist Party. It has embraced as an article of faith the concept of a Greater Russia and the positive, national significance of the Orthodox religion, and is fiercely opposed to “decadent” Western values, particularly liberalism. For Russian nationalists, national identity is at once an ethnic (being Russian by blood), cultural and religious (being orthodox) construct. Anti-Semitic rhetoric is a permanent feature of Russian ultra-nationalist ideology, as are racist attitudes towards the Caucasian peoples. This outlook is shared by Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party

III.       Factors underlying their development and political themes used

A.       Disappointment caused by other political parties’ policies and practices

54.       Extremist parties seem to fill a gap in the political field. In the view of the electorate of extremist parties, the opposition is too weak to question and criticise the policies of the governing party and is easily prepared to make a compromise. This electorate claims that the traditional parties are not able to give a proper counterbalance to the current policy and therefore turn to the extremist parties to find a more satisfactory presentation of their ideas.

55.        Contrary to the traditional political parties, extremist parties have a clear programme on which a compromise is hardly thinkable. Simple solutions are proposed for the complicated economic and social problems.

56.        Moreover, corruption and other scandals involving traditional parties have contributed to a protest vote being given to extremist parties.

B.       Main political themes

57.       Owing to the complexity of today’s politics, the main force of extremist parties and movements is to focus on isolated issues and especially on issues that can be presented as threats, such as immigration and foreigners (far right) or corporate wealth and the political system (far left).

58.        Extremist parties bring to the political agenda controversial issues such as immigration, unemployment and the preservation of sovereignty in order to force traditional parties to debate on their terms. The right of freedom of expression is only invoked in order to justify the controversial manner in which these themes are discussed. They also seek to increase tension between generations, and between persons living in cities and rural areas, capitals and the periphery.

59.        During election campaigns, extremist parties tend to deny their xenophobic character and try to present themselves as ultra-conservative parties. This strategy distances them from their radical activities and is aimed at attracting the potential extremist supporters included in the electorate of conservative or nationalist parties.

i.       Immigration and economic difficulties

60.       Especially since the economic and social difficulties of the 1980s and the 1990s, the leading themes of the political programmes of far-right wing parties are immigration and national foreign policy. Both are considered as the overwhelming cause of national problems. In order to restrict immigration, extremist parties promote the implementation of the principle of jus sanguinis and seek to restrict the conditions for naturalisation.

61.        Immigration is presented as the main reason for unemployment. According to these parties, immigrants occupy jobs reserved or created for nationals. They maintain that this results in an increase in national expenditure on unemployment benefits. Foreign nationals are also blamed for benefiting from the social security system without fully contributing to it. Consequently, they are also responsible for high income taxes.

62.       Economic problems are claimed to be the result of free markets and the import of products at low prices from developing countries. According to these parties, this unequal competition undermines the national economy. They therefore call for the re-establishment of frontiers and the reinstallation of protectionism.

ii.       National identity and security

63.       Immigration and reduced frontier controls are considered as a threat to national identity and culture, including language. Extremist parties fear the influence of foreign cultures, as immigrants mix their customs with those of the native population. Furthermore, they are afraid of losing their national identity by the reduction of national sovereignty and the curtailment of sovereignty by international rules.

64.       The preservation of a safe and secure nation is stressed as very important. Organised crime, terrorism and crimes related to drugs are considered a direct result of the increasing number of foreign nationals. A severe control on immigrants and refugees is therefore promoted. Immediate expulsion of foreign nationals whose situation is irregular should take place. Consequently, extremist parties hold immigration responsible for the increasing costs of public security.

65.       These same parties advocate a policy of national preference, which would give nationals privileged rights with regard to employment, social security and housing. The slogan ‘our own people first’ is used in the programmes of several extremist parties.

iii.       Religious identity

66.       While religion itself plays an important role in the programme of the extremist Islamic parties, the proliferation of extremist groups throughout Europe is at the same time linked with a rise in religious intolerance. Muslims and Jews are a common target for the resurgent extreme right. Prejudices against Muslim communities (Islamophobia) and the denial of the Holocaust provide a common focus for the far right.

IV.       Support

A.       Organisation of their support structure

67.       Extremist parties prosper during periods of economic and social uncertainty, finding an audience amongst several sectors of the population, especially those who are or fear to be directly concerned by the economic difficulties. Also those who consider themselves as having no prospect for the future are most easily tempted by the extremist rhetoric. An increasing number of young persons (under 30 years old), and especially males, seem to be attracted by ethnocentric hate campaigns against foreign nationals.

i.       Youth movements and organisations

68.       The youth organisation of an extremist party is often more radical and militant than the political party itself. It incites international demonstrations and manifestations. Extremist parties seek to have large youth sectors, seeing them as offering motivation and impetus.

69.        Students play an important role in the establishment and organisation of the extremist youth organisations of extremist parties. They are characterised by disciplined organisation and traditional atmosphere. Meetings and conferences are the means to disseminate their extremist ideology and to motivate their members. This indoctrination is continued in the organisation of camps for youth under the age of 17. They teach the youngest section of the youth movement the ideology of the party. In order to stay informed about each other’s activities they maintain contacts with extremist parties from all over the world and they regularly attend demonstrations and activities of sympathising organisations.

70.        The reasons why young person become members of an extremist political youth movement are more or less the same as those for becoming members of the party itself. However, voting for the extreme right can also be the result of a desire to be part of mass culture.

ii.       Networks

71.       Extremist parties maintain elaborate networks. Intensive contacts are established between the largest extremist parties in Europe. Besides the contacts maintained on a political level, they enter into contact with non-political action groups as well.

72.        A solid network is established with extremist parties in both western and eastern Europe. The constitution of such an extensive network has become more and more efficient by the use of multimedia, in particular the Internet. Links to other extremist parties and announcements for demonstrations and other manifestations are distributed through the Internet. Communication between groups is easy and accessible and setting up a Web Site requires only a minimum investment. The number of extremist sites has multiplied in recent years.

B.       Relations with other political parties: direct or indirect support

73.       The fact that certain democratic political parties are succumbing to the temptation to take up elements of the programmes of extremist parties is very worrying. Traditional parties may even accept, directly or indirectly, their support in order to form majorities. For fear of losing electoral support from a population supposed to be hostile to foreigners, traditional political parties seem increasingly ready to depart from a concept of society based on the principles of justice and solidarity.

74.        Support from extremist parties takes its most direct form in electoral alliances with nationalist and conservative parties. The alliance is set up in order to form a majority that will guarantee one or more seats in the national Parliament. If refusing this alliance means a considerable electoral loss and succumbing to it means an electoral gain, traditional democratic parties appear to be ready to yield to the persistence of extremist parties.

75.        Support for extremist parties is sometimes presented as an attempt to diminish the latter’s influence. For this purpose, democratic parties assimilate some policies of the extremist parties. The result of this kind of support is a merger of ideologies leading to extremist theories subtly finding their place in the ideologies of traditional parties.

76.        Certain extremist parties profit from considerable financial support by individuals sympathising with their ideology, or by enterprises in which members of the extremist party have their interests. This kind of support provides the extremist parties with the financial resources necessary for efficient election campaigning.

V.       Ways of limiting the threat

A.       Political and legal approaches

77.       Much work has been done over recent years, by the Council of Europe as well as by other organisations, to combat racism and intolerance. I do not wish to repeat here what has already been proposed and I will therefore limit myself to responses of a political nature and to areas where the Council of Europe should intensify and concentrate its efforts.

78.        As I mentioned in the introduction, law and order-based measures already exist to a certain extent; it is the political will and energy to implement them efficiently that is missing. However, should members of this Assembly note that anti-discriminatory provisions are lacking in their national legislation, they should take the initiative to introduce such provisions as an urgent measure. Anti-discriminatory legislation should exist at all different levels (international, national and local), and their scope has to be reviewed in the light of the present day situation.

79.        The principles set out in the Statute of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights are the cornerstones of the Council of Europe. Since defence of these principles should not be allowed to fade, it is particularly worrying that the rhetoric of extremist parties has become commonplace and generally accepted. As members of this Assembly, we must commit ourselves to defend basic human right and democratic principles and to reject all forms of racist violence and incitement to racial hatred.

80.        Political parties have a special responsibility in defending the principles of a democratic society: they protect, express and bear witness to the basic political principles of a democratic society. They provide an unique platform for discussion on various topics. Political parties have the task of integrating different views into the process of political decision making and selecting representatives at various levels for active participation in the political process. In order to mirror the population they represent, political parties should assure representation of minority groups in their membership, or at least also reflect their beliefs.

81.        The continuing presence of extremist ideas and discrimination at all levels, including state institutions, electoral bodies, police, army and judicial and law enforcement system, can be considered as a consequence of a certain failure on the part of democratic state institutions, as well as members of these bodies, to give the necessary priority to the elimination of extremist activities and practices in their own circles, as well as a failure efficiently to implement existing anti-discriminatory provisions.

82.        At both local and national levels, codes of conduct for local politicians and officials in local administration should be established. In order to oblige politicians to deal responsibly and fairly with sensitive topics that may raise prejudices and racial hatred, each national Parliament should adopt rules prohibiting public hostility from their members towards foreign nationals. Legal sanctions should include the possibility of depriving a politician belonging to an extremist party of the right to be elected to public office. Existing legislation should be implemented, or developed, to allow appropriate action to be taken to against those persons who work for or associate themselves with the electoral campaigns of such politicians.

83.        In order to combat the increasing abuse of the Internet for spreading extremist ideas, criminal liability should be introduced for political parties and movements using the Internet for racist purposes. This liability should cover the production, display, distribution and storage of the material in question.

84.        I wish to mention here to the valuable work of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (see below, paragraphs 91 ff). Their collection of examples of “good practice”, based on initiatives taken in the member states, includes practical examples of positive kinds of political responses that our Parliaments should encourage to be implemented. These examples of good practice show that often a wide range of approaches is needed, from awareness-raising to police training.

B.       The role of the media

85.       Today, the media are a vital force in the process of creating opinions and shaping political views and attitudes. It is important to draw the attention of journalists and those responsible for the mass media to their responsibilities, especially with regard to the spread of information likely to encourage reactions of a racist nature. The media should be encouraged to monitor the way in which political parties deal with issues related to racism.

86.        Requests for coverage by extremist movements should be turned down by the media, as it may only trivialise extremist ideology. Or, if they do agree to report on an extremist ideology or event, the media should refer to the counter arguments and facts at the same time.

87.       They should also criticise extremist parties’ strategies and operating methods. In response to these parties’ populist and simplistic rhetoric, they should present logical arguments, set out the facts associated with immigration issues, reformulate problems that have been misleadingly presented and refute specious reasoning. Such an intellectual response would provide a more active and effective response to these parties’ positions than right-thinking indignation.

88.        Freedom of expression is one of the vital conditions for the existence of a democratic society. It is also a matter of delicate debate when the true meaning of freedom of individuals in a free society is considered. The duties of those responsible for the media should include prevention of abuse of freedom of expression and making sure that freedom of speech goes hand in hand with the principle of non discrimination.

VI.       The specific contribution of the Council of Europe

A.       An ongoing commitment

89.       Given its Statute and the very reasons for which it was founded, the Council of Europe must remain on its guard and take all necessary steps to combat any signs of xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism or intolerance.

90.       The Council of Europe’s member states undertake to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, article 14 of which provides that “the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status”.

91.       In order to minimise the threat of political extremism in Europe, efforts must be reinforced at a national and international level and in particular in the framework of the Council of Europe. Tackling racism cannot be a question of imposing solutions but of identifying means to work together.

92.        In this context, I wish to welcome the involvement of the Council of Europe in the preparations of the European Conference against Racism, to be held in Strasbourg during the second half of 2000 as a contribution to the United Nation’s World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. I hope that the Assembly will be fully associated in the preparations of that conference.

B.       The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

93.       Following a proposal from this Assembly (Recommendation 1222 (1993)), the Committee of Ministers set up the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), an independent group of experts, whose task includes the review of member states’ legislation, policies and other measures to combat racism. ECRI, which first met in 1994, has become a prominent tool with which the Assembly should increase its co-operation in its search to find a political response to limiting the threat posed to democracy by extremist parties. ECRI works in close co-operation with the European Union’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, as well as with other bodies dealing with these issues.

94.        I wish to draw particular attention to the work of ECRI, as it appears that it is already dealing with most of the issues raised in my report.

95.        ECRI’s activities are published in its annual report. They include country-by-country studies, work on general themes, as well as relations with civil society. It also has a number of working groups, which examine specific problems. One such group concentrates on the problem of the dissemination of racist material via the Internet. It will draw up a list of existing anti-racist Web sites and examine existing national legislation aimed at establishing the criminal liability of parties on the Internet as regards racist crimes and collect relevant case-law. It will also study non-legislative means to combat racism.

96.        The country-by-country reports are of great interest to our Assembly, as well to our national Parliaments. These reports examine closely the situation in each member state and draw up proposals as to how the problems identified might be dealt with. Members of our Assembly should be more prepared to take up useful ECRI’s findings in their national Parliaments. The first round of reports was completed in 1998 and ECRI is now starting the second stage in which it will follow up the recommendations made in the first reports, up-dating their content and dealing with certain issues in more detail. The Assembly committees concerned, notably the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by member states of the Council of Europe, should also make full use of these reports.

97.        At present, the Assembly sends representatives to ECRI meetings from the Political Affairs Committee, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and the Committee on Culture and Education.

98.        In order to make ECRI’s work better known to the members of our Assembly and vice versa, I would propose several simple measures :

c.        The Assembly should hold periodic debates on ECRI’s activities.

VII.       Conclusions

99.       To limit the threat posed to democracy by extremist parties or movements creates a complicated dilemma. On the one hand, extremist parties’ ideology conflicts with fundamental rights and freedoms. But on the other hand, one of the main features of a democratic society is to guarantee the right of freedom of expression. In order to preserve democracy, everyone’s rights and freedoms have to be respected.

100.        However, it must be borne in mind that political freedom is not absolute and without restrictions. Protection against racial discrimination and prejudice on grounds of race, colour, ethnic origin or nationality constitutes an important fundamental right which must be equally respected. Thus political freedom, as well as the freedom of expression, must be complementary with the principle of non-discrimination.

101.        Moreover, the Council of Europe has a responsibility to combat political extremism and manifestations of xenophobia, racism and intolerance in its member states, since these are totally incompatible with the values and principles it defends.

102.       Consequently, three types of response are to be considered. The first is political, and involves draining electoral support away from the extremists. This should be done by addressing the social and economic ills engendered by globalisation, in particular insecurity, unemployment and exclusion, which are a central factor in electoral support for the extremists. Furthermore, democratic parties should be given new legitimacy, because the rise of the far right is also due to a severe lack of representation among the more traditional groups. Finally, an information policy, which stresses transparency and presents the facts regarding problems of society, is indispensable.

103.        The second response involves legislation to prohibit oral or written expressions of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, including via electronic media. In particular, public denial of the holocaust, which is a feature common to many movements, must be specifically outlawed, which it is not everywhere as yet: revisionist networks rely on a small number of ringleaders whom it would be relatively easy to curb.

104.        The third response involves greater co-ordination of police forces in order to prevent violent forms of extremism: the far right is spreading, and not just in Europe. Neo-nazis and skinheads are, by their very nature, an international phenomenon and as such demand an international response.

105.        As regards concrete action to be taken by the Parliamentary Assembly, we should concentrate our efforts on better exploiting the findings of ECRI and increasing our exchanges with it.


Non-exhaustive list of racist acts and attacks in the Council of Europe member states in 1999

This list of racist and xenophobic acts and attacks in the Council of Europe member states presented here is not exhaustive. It is made out of events that have been brought to the attention of the Rapporteur through the press and documents transmitted by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).



Act / Attack

3 January

Magdeburg (Germany)

A group of skinheads forcibly entered the home of a 23-year-old person and beat him so badly that he suffered severe head injuries, which will affect him for the rest of his life.


Svendborg (Denmark)

Members of the “Blood and Honour”-group gang smashed-up a local pizzeria owned by an Iranian refugee.

5 February

Meerssen (Netherlands)

A firebomb was thrown into a building, due to be transformed into an asylum centre.

15 February

Gruben (Germany)

A 28-year-old Algerian asylum seeker died while attempting to escape a racist gang who pursued him chanting racist slogans. He died after severing an artery when he jumped, terrified, through a glass door while seeking refuge in a block of flats to escape.

26 February

Wittstock (Germany)

In a racially motivated attack, a 16-year-old German youth threw a molotov cocktail into a Turkish fast-food shop, shortly after making a 50 DM bet with four friends that he had the guts to burn downs a Turkish shop.


Graz (Austria)

A fascist bomber has been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of 4 Roma and more than a dozen instances of causing grievous body-harm.


Novosibrisk (Russia)

A Jewish synagogue was vandalised.

17 April

Brixton (United Kingdom)

A nail bomb went off in a crowded shopping street in Brixton, wounding 37 people. Two other explosions occurred the week after and on the 30 of April. The bombs targeted respectively the Asian, black and gay communities. The bombings have been claimed by the White Wolves as well as by other fascist groups.


Rawtensall (United Kingdom)

Two anti-fascists have been attacked by a group of racists that had been harassing black people. The two anti-fascists got jailed for defending themselves.


Moscow (Russia)

Bomb attacks occurred in front of two synagogues in the city.


Riga (Latvia)

3 Young Russia-oriented extremists wrote the following slogan in enormous letters on a Riga wall: “Killing a Latvian is the same thing as planting a tree. Let’s make Latvia greener.”

19 June

Scampia (Italy)

Roma camps in Scampia were subjected to arson attacks. Over a thousand of persons evacuated the area as their homes were under attack of gas canisters.


Helsinki (Finland)

4 Roma women were refused entry to several restaurants in the Helsinki region.


Moscow (Russia)

A cantor of a Jewish Centre in Moscow was stabbed by a right wing youth that allegedly wanted to set fire on the blooding of the Centre.

16 September

Moscow (Russia)

During a television program, the public was asked to answer the following question “Who should be excluded form Moscow? The Chechnya’s, the Caucasian or bandits?” When someone claimed this was racism, the television host answered that the person had misunderstood him “in all cases, Caucasians are bandits”, he replied.

25 September

London (United Kingdom)

A 17-year-old black-French student was stabbed in the chest in an unprovoked racist attack.

13 October

Usti nad Labem (Czech Republic)

One of the district councils of the Municipality of Usti nad Labem decided to construct a wall around a Roma housing estate in Matični Street. The wall was erected to “protect” the non-Roma residents of the street from Roma children. At the end of November the wall was demolished.

4 November

Lancaster (United Kingdom)

An entrepreneur of Asian origin and his wife decided to sell their shop after being shot at, petrol bombed and physically assaulted by local racists since they opened eight years ago.

20 November

Ceske Budejovice (Czech Republic)

Skinheads attacked a group of Roma. 6 Persons were injured.

24 November

Groenekan (Netherlands)

A firebomb caused a fire in a building designated for asylum seekers in Groenekan.

25 November

The Hague (Netherlands)

A Jewish cemetery was desecrated. Swastikas and slogans saying “6 million was not enough” and ‘Sieg Heil’ were painted on gravestones.

29 November

Crayfort (United Kingdom)

A British Telecom worker of Asian origin, whom workmates put staples in his food and threatened to run him over, considered suicide.


Stabekktunet (Norway)

A 60-year-old Norwegian man of Iranian origin, who was about to move into a new flat had a message hung on his door that read, “The committee unanimously decided to stop the new tenant”. The Chairman of the Committee said: “The elderly people who live in the neighbourhood have been anxious and scared of what Ayatollah Khomeini stood for.”


Attica (Greece)

The president of the Police Union of Attica claimed publicly and misleadingly that Albanians were responsible for almost 50% of all crimes committed in Greece. Official statistics show the contrary.

Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee

Reference to committee: Doc. 8517 and Reference No. 2441 of 24 September 1999.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none

Draft recommendation and draft order unanimously adopted by the committee on 16 December 1999.

Members of the committee: Mr Ruffy (Chairman), Mrs Ojuland (Vice-Chairperson), Mr Toshev (Vice-Chairman), MM Arzilli, Atkinson (alternate: Mr Taylor), Bársony, Behrendt, Bergqvist, Björck, Blaauw (alternate: Mr van der Linden), Bloetzer, Bühler, Clerfayt, Daly, Davis, Demetriou, Derycke, Dokle, Domljan, Dreyfus-Schmidt, Mrs Durrieu (alternate: Mr Baumel, Vice-Chairman), Fico, Gjellerod, Gligoroski, Glotov (alternate: Mr Fyodorov), Gül, Mr Iwinski, Mrs Kautto, MM Kirilov, König, Krzaklewski (alternate: Mr Adamczyk), Kuzmickas, Lopez Henares, Lupu (alternate: Mr Kelemen), Maginas, Medeiros Ferreira, Meier, Micheloyiannis, Mota Amaral, Mutman, Nedelciuc, Mrs Nemcova, MM Neuwirth, Oliynyk, Pahor, Palmitjavila Ribo, Prusak, de Puig, Mrs Ragnarsdottir, MM Schieder, Schloten, Selva (alternate: Mr Turini), Sinka, Mrs Smith, Mrs Stanoiu, Mrs Stepová, MM Surjan, Thoresen, Timmermans (alternate: Mrs Zwerver), Vella, Volcic, Zhebrovsky, N... (Italy) (alternate: Mr Diana).

N.B. The names of the members who took part in the meeting are printed in italics

Secretaries of the committee: Mrs Ruotanen, Mr Sich, Mrs Hügel