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75 years after D-Day, these countries are facing a nationalist resurgence

AP Photo/Bert Brandt
Victory was not final.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

It’s been three-quarters of a century since 160,000 Allied troops landed on the coast of Normandy, France. For a heavy price, they won a battle that opened the way to the liberation of Europe (and the world) from a Nazi-fascist grip.

Much can be said about the Allied force’s, and particularly America’s, reasons for getting involved in such a gruesome battle—and war—so far away from home. Money was a factor, of course. So was the prospect of everlasting global political influence. But while governments may have had ulterior motives, it is hard to discount the plain heroism of the thousands of soldiers who fought, often to their deaths, to defeat an insidious ideology.

World War II, of course, didn’t end totalitarianism—the USSR, China, North Korea, and many other countries were just getting started with their own dictatorships—but it did defeat fascism and far-right, xenophobic, nationalistic ideology. Once the war was over, most of Europe was free from these kinds of regimes. The only exceptions were Spain, which would remain under Francisco Franco’s control until 1975, and Portugal, whose far-right Estado Novo held power until 1974, making it the longest surviving dictatorship of the 20th Century.

The war left Europe and parts of Asia destroyed and impoverished, but the years that followed were a time of great growth and development—both economic and in terms of human rights. The United Nations was founded. Former imperial powers finally let go of most, if not all, their colonies around the world. International conventions were drafted and ratified to define the rights of people beyond nations, and the relationships of nations with one another. Poverty decreased significantly, life expectancy went up, and despite the turbulences that continued to disturb the course of progress (the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the dictatorships that replaced colonial powers), no major global conflict again erupted.

So it is with some surprise that today, in 2019, there is an ongoing global revival of xenophobic, nationalistic political movements. While such political groups have never ceased to exist completely, in the past few years they have managed to take back a spot on the stage, either in coalition with conservative governments or by themselves.

The list below looks at the countries that were involved in World War II and are now witnessing a resurgence of nationalistic, right-wing and even far-right movements large enough to win elections, and form governments. In many other countries, including France, Greece, or—perhaps most troublingly—Germany, far-right, xenophobic, and nationalist parties and movements have been on the rise, too, but have fallen short of representing a majority of voters.

The conservative Liberal-National Coalition confirmed its leadership in May’s nationwide election. Among the parties supporting the government is Pauline Hanson’s nationalist One Nation party, which won 5.4% of the votes in the latest election.
The current government is led by Brigitte Bierlein, who does not belong to any party. She is however close to the Christian conservative People’s Party, which holds the majority of seats in parliament, and the national conservative Freedom Party, which was founded by a former Nazi in 1956.
The Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang is the reincarnation of Vlaams Block, which was dissolved for racism in 2004. Vlaams Belang, however, has retained its xenophobia and has now re-emerged in grand fashion. It received the second-highest number of votes in May’s national elections. Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie came in first. It is also a conservative, Flemish nationalist party.
Social Liberal Party’s Jair Bolsonaro was elected president in May 2018; he has so far limited LGBTQ and indigenous people’s rights, praised military dictatorship, and vowed to enforce policies based on conservative Christian values.
Viktor Orbán, prime minister since 2010, leads a nationalistic, anti-immigration, xenophobic government.
The Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won its second election in a row by a landslide. Several high-profile members of the party have openly expressed Islamophobic views. Among the forces supporting the BJP are the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu supremacist paramilitary body, of which prime minister Narendra Modi was once member.
In a coalition with the Five Star Movement, the nationalist, xenophobic Lega now holds power in the country. Its leader is home minister Matteo Salvini. He is an anti-immigration hardliner who has engaged in legal battles against nonprofits rescuing migrants at sea, has refused any assistance to migrants, and has openly threatened critics and opposition. Among the supporters of the government are the neo-fascist party Fratelli d’Italia, Casa Pound, and other nationalistic organizations.
President Shinzō Abe is a member of the Nippon Kaigi party, which is decidedly nationalist. He has expressed his desire for Japan to move beyond the post-war era and embrace a new nationalist focus that includes gaining more military power.
The Forum voor Democratie is anti-immigration party that campaigned to protect Dutch identity and ban Islamic customs. It won the most seats in the most recent elections. In the 2017 elections, the Part of Freedom—a nationalist, populist party led by Geert Wilders—got more than 13% of the vote, becoming the second-largest party in the country’s parliament.
The Law and Justice party, which is both nationalistic and anti-immigration, has been holding the majority in parliament, and the presidency, since 2015.
Now in his fourth term as president, Vladimir Putin has imposed an autocratic, nationalist rule. He has threatened the freedoms of LGBTQ people and and eliminated opposition.
United Kingdom
The anti-European, xenophobic and populist UK Independence Party led the country to its current Brexit chaos. It opposes multiculturalism and immigration, and its leaders have expressed Islamophobic views.
United States
US president Donald Trump, aided by nationalist thinker Steve Bannon, became president thanks to a populist, conservative campaign that put the focus on opposing immigration. Since he has been in government, the president has earned the praise and support of white nationalists, and has failed to condemn the resurgence of hate groups. His xenophobic views have led to the aggressive treatment of migrants at the border.

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