Home Politics The Far Right Holds a Grip on European Campuses

The Far Right Holds a Grip on European Campuses

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In the middle of the public lecture by Dr. Daniel Wutti organized for weeks at the University of Klagenfurt in rural Austria in 2017, 15 male demonstrators stormed through the doors. Some were dressed as stereotypical Muslim women in black niqabs. One man was wearing traditional Austrian lederhosen, and when the “women” unfolded large banners reading “Stop Immigration” and “Integration is a Lie”, they threw stones at him.

“At first it was confusing,” says Wutti, who organized the lecture on integration at the same time as the start of an “Inclusion Buddy” program for refugees in the region. “Then people in the audience started shouting and someone tried to get a megaphone from the ringleader.” He adds, “I think it was pretty obvious what point they were trying to make.”

The stunt, which was organized by the local branch of the far-right identity movement and attracted media attention, resulted in ringleader Luca Kerbl being found guilty of the attack after beating the headmaster as he left the hall. Several refugee students who witnessed the stunt felt traumatized and had to undergo therapy, including one from Afghanistan who said this reminded him of the Taliban’s actions at his old university.

The incident was one of the best known examples of a growing problem in locations across Europe: an increased presence of far-right groups and their activities. “There have always been right-wing extremist students at universities, but now they seem to be encouraged,” says Judith Goetz, a political scientist who has been asked by a number of student organizations in Germany and Austria to hold workshops on how to respond to the situation. “Some students, especially leftists, are very scared. Once they know their addresses and personal information, they worry what will happen. “And since free speech has been a hotly debated issue on campus lately, dealing with extremism has become a sensitive issue for university staff.

The identity movement, also known as Generation Identity, has been one of the best-known groups in European locations in recent years. It was originally founded in France and has groups all over the world. Members advocate the racist “big substitute” theory, and their Austrian leader Martin Sellner is currently being investigated for links to Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant. Earlier this year they were ordered by authorities to leave Greece after protesting the arrival of migrants in the country.

Identitarians lean explicitly on the left protest culture and cite groups like Greenpeace as inspiration. Goetz has recorded dozen of the group’s campus stunts in Germany and Austria, from sticker campaigns to aggressive actions like the Klagenfurt incident. Identitarians are also known to have reached out to students in other countries on the continent, including pamphlets at the University of Liverpool in the UK and the opening of a “meeting house” in Budapest, Hungary.

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