Nationalism and Populism


Text last updated 30 September 2017
Links last updated 26 October 2017

The Magyar Garda (Arrowcross), Hungary | Raedwald | 14167

What this is about

The rise of right-wing, populist and nationalistic political groups, the dangers they pose to the gay community, and how they can be defeated.

So far they haven’t been defeated, and seem to be increasing in strength and representation, which could spell bad news for members of minorities. In September 2017, having secured 13.3% of the vote at the General Election, a far right party entered the German Parliament for the first time since World War II.


Nationalism originally rose to prominence throughout Europe after the first World War, with strongholds in Spain, Italy, Germany and France. There were also nationalist movements in the UK and Ireland.


Sir Oswald Mosley (left) | Getty Images | 14170

In the UK: In the 1920s a small number of fascists, impressed by Italy’s Benito Mussolini, tried to import his authoritarian nationalism. Sir Oswald Mosley then founded the British Union of Fascists, which claimed to have significant support, was involved in rioting in London but never fought a general election and was banned at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Post-war, the National Front was founded in 1967, opposed to the arrival of immigrants from the West Indies. Its popularity peaked in the 1970s, when it claimed 20,000 members and gained 16 per cent of the vote in a by-election. The NF splintered in the 1980s when the British National Party was formed by former National Front executives.

About nationalism

With the rise in support for far-right parties, winning parliamentary seats in The Netherlands, Greece, Sweden and other countries, and the apparent levels of perceived public and electoral support for the BNP, EDL and UKIP in the United Kingdom, however temporary that support might be, some gay men and lesbians are worried that their hard-won rights may be challenged or taken away if these parties win elections. The trend continues: in Norway’s 2013 general election, the Progress Party received 16% of the vote.

Interviewed about the low turnout in the European Elections of 2004, an MEP (Member of the European Parliament) retorted: “But our posters were everywhere.” Any politician who thinks all you have to do to engage with people and get their vote is to stick up a poster somewhere, has lost the plot.

Society and community are all of us, and regardless of who or what we are, we have a right to live in peace and safety and pursue our own lives and interests without let or hinder, provided our interests and ways of life are legal (or at least acceptable to the majority).

The citizen who wants to be a part of a civilised society and helps achieve that end by joining in debate and discussion, or listening and talking with people so that they can work through their own thoughts and make up their own minds, can help defeat extreme views.

Organisations such as the Anti-Nazi League and Unite have had limited success so far in tempering support for these parties. This may be because such organisations cannot do anything to influence the external factors which provide the environment in which extremism thrives – high unemployment, poor housing, low qualifications, limited horizons, competition for jobs and public services, social, cultural and population changes, poor health, crime levels and drug addiction.


Ukranian Football Fans | Reuters | 14168

About fundamentalism

In the West we have become used to progress on the civil liberties front, and have seen our relationships recognised in law and our partners protected in case something happens to us. We have a feeling of belonging to our society and having rights and responsibilities in it. There are people who do not necessarily approve of our life styles, but we live in a democracy, and they have no more rights than we do, and we all have to live within our laws.

We may feel safe in our homes at night but there are many parts of the world where gay men and lesbians do not. Gay men in the Far East, Asia and Africa are often rounded up and imprisoned for being gay. In Iran, gay teenage boys have been hanged in public. In African countries there are very few countries where it is safe or legal to be gay. In the Caribbean a number of gay activists have been murdered by mobs.

English Defence League supporters | Angela Catlin/Getty Images/Reuters | 14169

Here in the UK and in America too we allow members of churches freedom to worship as they wish. Unfortunately even within the Church of England there are more radical factions who want to turn the clock back and do not approve of us. In Northern Ireland there are links between religions and political parties and there are those who oppose gay rights. In the UK Parliament a group of religious right-wingers is attempting to overturn or renegotiate our rights. In the Republic of Ireland a concerted campaign by anti-gay religious extremists was targeted at an openly gay senator who was standing in their Presidential Election.

As our western European societies become more diverse with people from more faiths living in western Europe, the incidence of gay bashing is on the increase and even in liberal Holland the gay politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered, and a film director who made a film about Islam also was killed. Visiting gay tourists to Amsterdam have found themselves the victim of assault and sometimes it is by followers of a religion which has a fundamental opposition to gay men and lesbians. In London and Derbyshire Islamic fundamentalists have been prosecuted for distributing material inciting hatred directed at the gay and lesbian community.

In Africa, newspapers have identified gays and lesbians and urged the public to round them up and kill them. Gay activists have been murdered.


Anti fascist demonstrators in Austria, 2017 | Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty | 17194

Of course there are in those religions and communities many gay men and lesbians who are in a particular dilemma; do they identify with the western gay society and come out, and face the possibility of their family disowning them or worse? Or do they suppress their sexuality and live a double life like some of us once had to? My sympathies are with anyone in such a distressing situation.

Some commentators, like Andrew Sullivan, put it even more bluntly. In The Advocate (an article no longer available on the internet), he wrote: “Gays are on the front line in this global religious war whether you like it or not. If we do not wake up now and help our friends and fellows looking death in the face, their fate may one day affect ours. Their freedoms should matter to us, because freedom is a precious thing, and its extinction somewhere threatens it everywhere. By all means, move on. Go to the next party; don’t miss the gym; plan your vacation. But don’t ask for whom this bell is now tolling. It tolls for us”.

Mel White, who founded Soulforce, practises non-violent opposition to fundamentalists. He alleges that they met secretly in 1994 to organise a joint strategy to fight gay rights and homosexuality. He points out that justice and mercy do not feature in their organisations’ values.

Whether we like it or not, we have got to live on the same planet as people who are opposed to our liberty and life style on religious grounds. We have got to understand and respect their point of view and their life style and our democratic societies require them to reciprocate in equal measure. If they do not they will find themselves on the wrong side of the law. At the same time we need to be vigilantly alert on their religious activism and ensure that we counter all their lies and propaganda with warmth and truth.

If you have a faith, it is worth belonging to the gay and lesbian group for your faith, and campaigning with them within the church to bring about greater understanding and realisation that we all live in the same community and we all need each other. In the UK the Religious organisations with long and positive track records of involvement supporting gay rights have been the Unitarians and the Quakers. There are websites and local groups in the UK for gay and lesbian Buddhists. Unitarians are famed for their support for gay men and lesbians and also have local groups.

The six Isms

So, what do we mean by a far-right party or ideology? The five main words that come to mind are fascism, nationalism, racism, fundamentalism, antisemitism.

Populism is support for the concerns of ordinary people, and the quality of appealing to or being aimed at ordinary people.

Fascism is any system of government that exalts nation and often race above the individual, and uses violence and modern techniques of propaganda and censorship to forcibly suppress political opposition, engages in severe economic and social regimentation, and espouses nationalism and sometimes racism (ethnic nationalism).

Racism is described by the UN (in the terms of racial discrimination) as any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

Nationalism is a concept of identity which members of a particular government, nation, society, or territory may collectively feel. Nationalists feel simply that nations are better off when they are permitted to govern themselves, following their own political, economic, and cultural interests independently.

Fundamentalism is a religious position typically characterized by a rigid adherence to what are perceived to be the most basic and traditional principles and beliefs of that religion.

Antisemitism is hostility, prejudice, or discrimination directed against Jewish persons. Antisemitism is generally considered to be a form of racism.

If you consider how you want to feel about things, you will probably feel that you are happier if you are surrounded by people who are like you. You may feel happier in a particular style of neighbourhood, or doing a particular kind of activity. Itís a basic human need to feel safe and secure in a tribe of like-minded people. You feel happier if everyone is content and positive and optimistic and working for the same things in life.

When you look at the leaflets far-right organisations issue at elections you will see them playing to this need. They may describe your locality and the pressures on your community using phrases which portray particular sections of the community as the cause of the problems. They then may espouse the removal of that part of the community as a solution.

The section of the community is of course not the cause of the problem, or even the problem. You could see the problem as a symptom of a deeper issue in the way our society is structured and works; for instance, insufficient funding for the local hospital and a shortage of key staff and housing for them are inter-related with the need for balance in matching supply and demand in treating people who are waiting for operations.

Individuals view their surroundings through their senses and their experiences. A person who is depressed will see a situation differently from someone who is happy and satisfied. A person who is unemployed and whose skills may not be appropriate for local conditions will view things differently from someone who has the right skills and a good job. A person who is on low income and reliant on public housing may live in different circumstances and in unhealthier living conditions than someone who works in the city and can afford better housing. An activist for a far-right organisation would play on these feelings to ferment discord and promote their aims.

You could say that the rise of the far right is a failure of reasonable people to act and think reasonably in a reasonable manner so that we can all get along without any trouble. Reasonable implies behaving in a quality way which includes honesty and transparency, telling the truth and sticking to it, and keeping your promises. The way to fight the rise in nationalism is to take part in the community and democratic process, in debate and argument, listen and learn and explain to people. You may feel more confident if you can join a party or group sharing your interest or viewpoint so that you can argue with strength and the facts to hand.

Far right organisations are setting up subgroups and other structures to attract members from communities such as the gay and lesbian communities. Others, such as Truth4Time, have gay-friendly looking pages on social websites, and comment on pro-gay weblogs, articles and such, interacting with the gay community. This is a new tactic, and is being seen everywhere the far right movements are developing.

In a disturbing development, after a Court decision that a gay couple had been discriminated against by a Christian hotelier, and awarded damages, the leader of the far-right British National party, Nick Griffin, posted the address of a gay couple on Twitter and urged his supporters to demonstrate outside their home. Under the Communications Act 2003 it is an offence to post menacing messages on the internet. Twitter users trying to access Griffin’s account were subsequently told it had been suspended.

How to defeat right-wing politics

What can and must we do to combat the progress of right wing ideologies? To fight the influence of the right wing, people who do not agree with their views need to organise and be active. To prevent people turning to right wing ideas and organisations, the problems in society that make it easy for right wing organisations to grow, have to be tackled. As citizens, it is important that we hold elected officials and those in authority to account, to ensure that they do indeed tackle the issues that enable right wing organisations and ideas to flourish.

Far right groups may have been infiltrating the gay movement to subvert the movement and use it for their own purposes. Members of their groups or organisations who have sympathy with right wing politics and thought, have every right to hold their opinions in a free country. We need to counter those arguments and opinions in order to bring about a balanced view.

Home Pages

Right wing watch


Guardian, 19 Oct 2012: Nick Griffin posts address of B and B case gay couple online
Youth Suicide, Undated: Racism Issues in Predominantly White Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Communities
The Guardian, 2 June 2010: To be gay and racist is no anomaly
by Jasbir Puar

Southern and Poverty Law Center, US: 18 anti gay groups and their propaganda
Young Voices, 1 March 2016: Queerness and the gay friendly right wing in Europe
Huffington Post, 28.11.2016: Right wing extremism
CNN, 24 September 2017: AfD enters German Bundestag
Guardian, 26 October 2017: The troubling ascent of the LGBT right wing



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