Europe’s Populist Politicians Tap Into Deep-Seated Frustration – Wall Street Journal

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“German business has replaced German tanks,” Mr. Kukiz said in an interview this week in his new branch office in the southwest Poland city of Gliwice, once part of the German Empire.

The rise of these groups has pressed mainstream politicians to respond, including by accepting some of their demands.

In Austria, the centrist government this winter reversed its initial support for German Chancellor

Angela Merkel

’s welcoming refugee policy after the Freedom Party shot up in the polls. In Poland and Slovakia, governments already pushing back against her effort to get other countries to take in refugees have come under further domestic pressure. And in Berlin, amid alarm about the electoral success of the three-year-old Alternative for Germany party, Ms. Merkel has sought to stem the inflow of migrants even as she continues to speak for open borders.

Crises that range from eurozone bailouts to fears of terrorism have weakened the European establishment, making the rise of today’s version of populism more potent than previous iterations, analysts say.

“What has changed radically is the wider international context,” said

Dominika Kasprowicz,

a political scientist at Poland’s Pedagogical University of Krakow. “The strategy to just adapt and agree on what has been proposed by the populist right can be the easiest way out—an emergency exit for the mainstream parties.”

Among the factors, political scientists say, is a changing view of history. In Germany and Austria, the growing distance from the Nazi era is blunting the electorate’s knee-jerk rejection of xenophobic or nationalist rhetoric. In Poland and Slovakia, a receding memory of the Communist past has helped take some of the shine off Western-style democracy. In all four countries, according to exit polls in recent elections, young people were more likely than the mean to vote for populist candidates.

“They do not have this feeling of democracy, which is absolutely crucial for the older generation,” said

Grigorij Meseznikov,

president of Slovakia’s Institute for Public Affairs, a liberal-leaning think tank in Bratislava. “They did not participate in either the fight against the Communist regime or the struggle for democracy.”

Ms. Danecek, the teenage Freedom Party volunteer at the Vienna barbecue, said the Nazi past no longer pushed her generation away from right-wing parties. “We young people know this only out of the history books, and we are thus more open for this kind of party,” she said. “We in the young generation were not there—but we know how terrible it was—and we simply believe that this cannot happen a second time.”

She said frustration with immigration pushed her to embrace the Freedom Party. It used to be, she said, that she felt a sense of community among her Austrian neighbors in the city’s working-class outskirts. Now there are many immigrants, and “one kind of just lives next to one another.”

The Freedom Party, with its anti-immigrant rhetoric and early ties to former Nazis, was once ostracized in Austrian politics. But Mr. Hofer’s 35% support in first-round presidential elections last month, more than triple what either of two establishment parties won, signaled its arrival.

“Stand up for Austria. Your homeland needs you now,” Mr. Hofer’s campaign posters blare. Opposing free trade as well as immigration, he drew especially strong support from the young and middle-aged in April.

In neighboring Slovakia in March, the People’s Party-Our Slovakia, which venerates the Slovak Nazi satellite state that deported tens of thousands of Jews to their deaths during World War II, won 8% of the national vote and its first seats in parliament. The party has described Slovakia’s leader at the time, Jozef Tiso, as a heroic defender of national sovereignty.

The People’s Party’s leader,

Marian Kotleba,

initially gained notice for his tough line against the Roma, or Gypsies. This year he ran on a broader platform that took on refugees, the EU, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a political establishment he said steals from regular Slovaks. Mr. Kotleba didn’t respond to an interview request.

One of his voters, Mr. Capák, lives in a one-story house off a one-lane road on the outskirts of the town of Rožňava. The former teacher won a spot on the city council in 2014 after he attained local prominence for voluntarily fixing potholes. He plays musical gigs at weddings and drives newlyweds in a white horse-drawn carriage parked in his yard.

Mr. Capák said he voted center-left and Communist in the past and grew frustrated with a political establishment he felt ignored problems with the economy, refugees and the Roma. Before the March election, he saw Mr. Kotleba’s pitch on a billboard—“We’ll bring order to the tie-wearing thieves and the parasites in the Roma settlements”—and became a convert.

Mr. Capák found Mr. Kotleba’s support of the pro-Nazi Slovak state distasteful enough to prevent him from joining the party, but it didn’t turn him off as a voter. He said the government needed to get tougher on keeping out Middle Eastern refugees, who he said would bring regressive views of women and take Slovak jobs. Under a Brussels plan adopted last year, the country of 5.4 million is supposed to take in about 1,500 people.

“Why are we accepting refugees at a time when our young people are leaving the country looking for work?” Mr. Capák asked.

Europe’s Populist Politicians Tap Into Deep-Seated Frustration – Wall Street Journal