In recent years, far-right parties have come to power and gained significant numbers of voters and popularity all across Europe. In several countries, right-wing populist governance has already taken a firm foothold, while in others it is still emerging. Since the migration crisis of 2015, nationalist and right-wing parties have strongly grown in support in several countries, such as Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, France and Estonia. Right-wing extremism and its penetration of governing bodies leads to increased polarization. It is an actual problem in Estonia as well, and you can feel the impact on the local society.
In Estonia, the far-right populists are represented by the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE). People who mainly support right-wing populists are, among other things, in economic difficulties, feel left out, are anti-liberalism, anti-immigration and anti-EU (Trumm, 2018). Populists emphasize that they are equal with the people, and understand the concerns of the common man. Skillful campaigning, simple slogans and provocative steps, make it easy for them to gather support. Since populists do not delve into the issues, but emphasize emotions and incitement of the people, this is a serious concern for democracy and adherence to the law. In Estonia, during the last year, one’s political preference and worldview have become a key issue, especially in connection with the vaccine debate and support for the government of Kaja Kallas. Andres Reiljan has said: “Party affiliation has become the social identity that creates the strongest affective polarization, overcoming even the divisions based on race and religion.” (2019, 20). Let it be mentioned that affective polarization is a split caused by suppressing (momentary) emotions and going along with them. Since affective polarization is based on emotions, it is the main tool of populists to bring people to their side. This creates and reproduces social division, which endangers the cohesion of the population and its ability to cooperate.
According to Bloomberg, earlier this year, Viktor Orbán called for the creation of an association of “citizens of his own kind” in Europe.
Polarization is a threat to democracy, because one side is more rebellious, and strong agitation against the opposing camp creates dangerous situations. The extreme right-wingers use the above-mentioned simple and crowd-pleasing techniques and thus call for a spirited opposition to the “globalists and liberals”. According to Bloomberg, earlier this year, Viktor Orbán called for the creation of an association of “citizens of his own kind” in Europe. This is the union of people, for whom the classical family is considered sacred, minorities and refugees who do not exist and who are hostile towards them. Emphasizing the “us” mentality is a good way to make people feel that there is an evil person in front of them who must necessarily be fought angrily. The leading figures or advertising faces of the extreme right do not even have to directly incite anyone, just a hint and a show of support is enough. The claim is further illustrated by, for example, the attack on the US Capitol, behind which were the right-wing extremists, and also the calls of anti-vaxxers to attack hospitals and show violent resistance. It poses a quite clear threat to democracy since people are mostly called to act up as anti-state or they are asked to destroy political opponents. This kind of orientation often seeks exclusive power and has zero tolerance for their opponents, making compromises almost impossible.
The growth of polarization is already visible: in countries where the power of the extreme right is greater, the people are mostly divided into two camps. Two major political parties or political forces emerge that compete with each other, debates in society become very heated, and it isn’t easy to come together on the middle ground. Such an arrangement inadvertently harms other, more neutral political movements, and opponents remain – people have to make a choice. One party is the far-right that uses populist techniques to create a large group of supporters who are heated and more aggressive. On the other side are more liberal and peaceful people. A relatively 50/50 situation arises. In addition, it leads to a situation of polarization, where some members of society no longer want to stand up for their political beliefs or talk about them, because they are afraid of condemnation. If some decide to remain silent, it is a red flag, as people’s apathy and giving up on politics gives the far-right more momentum due to lack of a clear opponent.
The growth of right-wing extremism is a threat to democracy. Affective polarization fuels emotional opposition, and populist techniques have a strong impact on a part of society that is more susceptible to it due to their background. Polarization is expressed through the actions of populists – appeals and dishonest techniques that incite people. People who are supporting these parties are also the ones who feel excluded. The opposition of social groups, one part of which is sometimes marginalized and also feels a certain amount of anger, creates polarization.
In Estonia, the extreme right is on the rise and is emerging fast. Therefore, citizens should pay attention to the use of unfair techniques, see through them and highlight them. Here, the role and responsibility of the media in covering and interpreting politics is also increasing Instead of transmitting emotionally loaded news, it needs to do informative work. It is important to see through the veil of populist promises and evaluate the long perspective. This is a difficult task, and looking at the example of other countries and the assessments of specialists, we must be careful not to deepen the gaps in society but to close them.
1. Reiljan, Andres. 2019. “Who hates whom? Affective polarization of political parties in Estonia after the 2019 Riigikogu elections”. Mölder, Martin (ed.). Riigikogu elections 2019: 19-38. Tartu: Tartu University Press.
2. Trumm, Siim, 2018. “The ‘new’ wave of populist right-wing parties in Central and Eastern Europe: Explaining electoral support for the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia.” Representation 54 (4): 331-347.
3. Bloomberg. 2021. “Orban to Build Own Group After Leaving Center-Right EU Caucus.”
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-04/orban-to-build-own-group-after-leaving-center-right-eu-caucus (accessed 28 December 2021)