Far-right extremism is not a new phenomenon and has a known history through-out western Europe. However, it has expanded once again finding a new voice and deep impact in 2020, with no major signs of slowing down. The far-right comprises a wide range of ideologies including, white-nationalism, white supremacy, and xenophobia and is widely known as right-wing extremism. The United States is often mentioned during recent discussions of the rise of individuals with far-right ideologies, but western Europe is seeing an increase in far-right activity as well. Germany leads the way, in the number of terror incidents by right-wing extremist, followed by Italy and the United Kingdom, despite decades of successfully promoting democratic political norms.
In recent years, far-right political parties in Europe have capitalized on crises to build their support bases and have made it to positions of power as a result. The refugee crisis, economic slumps, the opposition of multiculturalism have all provided opportunities for those seeking power, or in power, to gain support using scare tactics and uncertainty. The coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity for far-right extremists to fill the narrative with conspiracy theories and doubts. The far-right message has quickly adopted to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially on social media platforms. The combination of the flow of misinformation on social media and the increased amount of time people are spending online due to lockdowns has allowed for far-right ideologies to spread quickly and effectively. Global platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Parler have allowed for those who share ideologies to communicate globally and share support. When the United States Capitol was stormed on January 6, by far-right extremist, individuals in Germany and Austria were able to connect and share their support and, in some cases, donate money to other far-right organizations. Typically, far-right organizations are labelled disorganized and geographically focused, but the use of social media has devolved a web of connections that reach globally.
Far-right operations have not been limited to operating online. Anti-lockdown/anti-government protests have taken place across western Europe since March 2020, displaying extremist views. It is prominent in almost every western European nation. Demonstrations have topped tens of thousands of protestors coming together to object against lockdowns and governmental measures put in place to curb the virus. As the second and third wave of the coronavirus pandemic effects Europe, people are taking to the streets to protest against the restrictive measures and in most cases do so without wearing masks and practicing social distancing guidelines. Given the sheer size of the protest they can be described as super-spreader events.
Impatience is growing in populations that have been living in lockdown for months. While the main reasons behind the demonstrations can be viewed as legitimate, the groups that organize them are often infiltrated by far-right activists, anti-vaccine individuals, conspiracy theorists, and extremists or claim the virus is a hoax. In some cases, anti-lockdown protests have been infiltrated by right-wing extremists who intend to turn the protests violent. After a protest in Italy, the National Prosecutor Federio Cafiero De Raho said that the protests showed levels of violence that are not typically associated with the working class, and claims the authorities are investigating clues that will likely lead to the involvement of mobs and extremist forces. The British government published a study in July 2020 called “Covid-19: How Hateful Extremist are Exploiting the Pandemic” and results showed a link in the violence experienced during protests to increasing amounts of conspiracy theories that have spread since the start of the pandemic. The far-right has tailored the situation in a way that has thus far been successful. The combination of disinformation and the increased amount of time those are spending online provided those hoping to spread far-right ideologies with a unique opportunity.
As the far-right advance continues, it becomes increasing likely that the operations of the groups will continue with finding online platforms to share ideologies and demonstrating against western European governments. Despite the arrival of the first vaccines against the coronavirus and the disbursements of recovery funds, western European nations will most likely experience a hard hit on the economy. Unemployment will continue to spike, and business will continue to fail as governments renew lockdowns and strict restrictions. As stated before, far-right extremism capitalizes on crises. This presents opportunities for right-wing groups to continue their messaging.
Within the next six months, the far-right movement will likely continue to resemble how it does now but with more support. The spread of misinformation on social media sites has not decreased. Instead, it can be argued it has gotten worse, due to social media platforms banning key far-right leaders. This means that all the individuals who were using popular sites like Facebook and Twitter to communicate are now looking for new sites to join. This may result in an influx of new users on lesser-known sites that could make it more difficult to investigate the information flowing on the platforms. It is possible that western Europe will recover from the increases in individuals with far-right ideologies, but with the pandemic having no clear end in sight this recovery is not close by.
Peru has faced a rough couple of months, after following a political crisis starting with President Martin Vizcarra’s impeachment in November. The protestors saw Vizcarra’s impeachment as politically motivated, carried out to halt the anti-graft initiatives he sought to implement. The protests have also been inflamed by the alleged police brutality that led to the deaths of 2 demonstrators. Following Vizcarra’s impeachment on 9th November, Speaker of Congress Manuel Merino assumed the presidency. Nevertheless, Merino announced his resignation on 15th November, less than 5 days since taking office, following the death of 2 students amid a police crackdown on the continued protests against Vizcarra’s impeachment; pressure on Merino to resign increased after 13 of his Cabinet’s 18 ministers resigned in protest against these deaths and the police response to the demonstrations. Responding to Merino’s resignation, Peru’s Congress returned to deliberations, ultimately voting 97-26 in favour of electing Francisco Sagasti of Partido Morado as interim President the following day.
However, the political crisis is not the only matrix to agitate Peruvians. In fact, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic almost certainly played a role in bringing about the recent unrest in Peru. The country has had more coronavirus deaths per million people than other countries in the region like Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia. The pandemic and lockdown measures against it have led to a significant contraction in the country’s economy of around 30.2% in the second quarter of this year. Consequently, aside from the corruption allegations against him, Vizcarra’s opponents in Congress also seized upon these statistics as justification for his impeachment. It is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in spurring the protests against Congress’ decision.
As a consequence, discontent was perceived by many who decided to protest for similar reasons but in different ways. On January 13, health workers started going on a hunger strike in Lima, as they demanded a better national health budget and access to vaccines. About a dozen medics from the national social security union have been taking part in protests there as the health system struggles to cope with the second wave of Covid-19. The strike would last until Peru’s Labour Minister removes the head of the country’s Health Social Security, Fiorella Molinelli, who oversees government efforts to set up temporary health and isolation centres for Covid-19 patients.
The hunger strike is just one of many protests by Peru’s medics and health workers in recent days, as the second wave of Covid-19 engulfs the population. In fact, dozens marched through the streets of Lima on January 28 protesting against the latest lockdown ordered by the government. Protesters oppose the closure decreed in the capital and other regions of the country because they say it will harm business and livelihoods, many also believe that the virus only attacks vulnerable people.
The capital and several regions have started a strict lockdown from January 28 lasting until February 15, as the government aims to reduce the burden in hospitals that are unable to provide enough space and care for coronavirus patients. It is the second time in ten months that Peru returns to strict confinement rules. The first quarantine lasted 106 days, causing significant economic losses, with the gross domestic product falling 12 points in 2020. The Andean nation of 33 million inhabitants awaits the arrival of a million doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine to inoculate health personnel. There is no vaccination date for the rest of the population. More than 40,000 have died and more than a million inhabitants have been infected in Peru since the pandemic began.
However, Peru is not the first country to go on a hunger strike with healthcare workers protesting for poor working conditions and citizens tired of endless lockdowns. Protesters around the world have taken to the streets in recent weeks to reject government-imposed COVID-19 lockdowns, as countries race to vaccinate their most vulnerable groups and stem the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.
President Francisco Sagasti, as a response to medic strikes, approved a decree to finance the set-up of more than sixteen temporary isolation centres across the country and to hire additional staff to expand health services. However, this is not enough to appease the discontent of the population as dates for vaccination programme still remains a mystery and as a consequence the government does not seek to ease restrictions, forbidding social interactions whereas possible. The Peruvian protests will be an example for the rest of the world of how situations can be changed until the majority’s voices are heard.
A solution for the Peruvian Covid-19 crisis, in order to avoid more protesting in the near future and stop the spreading of the virus during these manifestations the government must provide clear and consistent messaging around the coronavirus, lockdowns and the vaccines to build trust among residents.
On the other hand, a proper resolution to Peru’s political crisis over the long term is likely to necessitate deep and comprehensive reforms. If Sagasti is able to effectively manage the transitional government it is likely to prove advantageous for Julio Guzmán, who is likely to represent Partido Morado in the 2021 elections. It is also possible that if Vizcarra’s impeachment is found to be illegitimate, he may be able to compete in the next elections; given his popularity, it is likely that he would stand a good chance of victory. Either way, the next President of Peru is likely to be from one of the newer centrist political groupings like Partido Morado or an independent like Vizcarra given the political damage self-inflicted by Peru’s larger parties like Acción Popular and Fuerza Popular in the face of their support for Vizcarra’s impeachment.
CEO Liam Morrissey was interviewed on this topic by Canadian Underwriter. Read the post here.
Please enjoy this podcast episode, Deep Insights #25: Spotlight on Burkina Faso, on which our own Liam Morrissey appeared.
At the time of writing both Thailand and Vietnam have kept COVID 19 under control relative to other countries in the region, however two high-profile outbreaks may be challenging their recent success. Both incidents stem from low-paid migrant workers bypassing local quarantine laws. As the Lunar New year approaches these incidents are likely to be exasperated by large numbers of migrant workers attempting to return home to visit their families.
Vietnam’s COVID success is closely linked to the closing of its borders in March of 2020. Apart from “rescue flights” returning overseas Vietnamese nationals, and limited flights for foreign diplomats and expert workers, the country has strictly controlled who is allowed to arrive in Vietnam. All people entering are subject to strict quarantine rules in either government-controlled facilities or selected hotels. However, as the pandemic continues, and flights are restricted, more and more people are crossing the land borders illegally. Many are low-paid migrant workers either unwilling, or unable, to spend two-weeks in quarantine.
Recent cases have included groups smuggled over the northern border with China and a Vietnamese worker from Myanmar who travelled undetected through Thailand. These cases highlight the porous nature of Vietnam’s land borders and the risk that returning migrant workers pose. Both of the above-mentioned cases have led to COVID infections in the community, and, because of the method of entry, many have been reluctant to seek medical help when they first notice signs of illness (one person was reported to the police by his own mother once he began showing COVID symptoms). On January 1st the Vietnamese government reported there had been 343 illegal entrances attempted in just 3 days from Cambodia and China.
Thailand, in comparison to Vietnam, has been relatively relaxed, allowing tourists and workers to enter the country at various stages in the last year. But a recent outbreak may change that. The outbreak has been traced to a fish market in Samut Sakhon. The market is often used by migrant workers and has been linked to over 1,500 cases at the time of writing. With the cases traced back to three Burmese workers. This has led to an outpouring of anti-migrant sentiment in Thailand, with many workers from Myanmar and Laos facing discrimination.
Lunar New Year begins in the second week of February and millions of Vietnamese, Chinese, Koreans will attempt to return home. Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian and Thai New Year’s follow in April. Many of the workers traveling home will not be able to afford two-weeks away from work to quarantine so it is likely that illegal border crossing attempts will increase as people attempt to return home for the holidays.
How authorities in Southeast Asia respond to this threat is likely to determine how the countries fight against COVID 19 progresses in 2021. So far, Southeast Asia, has fared well but the next few months will pose a harsh test. Air borders are obviously much easier to police comprehensively than land borders, and countries like Vietnam and Thailand, who share long borders with less developed neighbours are likely to see both legal and illegal traffic increase in coming months.