AMSTERDAM – Whatever happened to the good Europeans, those nice folks in small northern countries who liked to think of themselves as the world champions of liberty and tolerance?
Of course, many liberal Europeans are still alive and well. But first in Denmark, then in the Netherlands, and now in Sweden, illiberal, populist parties stirring up fear of immigrants – specifically Muslim immigrants – have managed to gain enough power to set, or at least influence, their countries’ political agendas.
These parties are not confined to Scandinavia and the Low Countries, but are part of a global wave of anger against political elites, who are blamed for all of the insecurities that come with global economics, the financial crisis, and living in more ethnically mixed societies. The psychology behind the Tea Party in the United States and the anti-immigrant parties in Europe is similar, even if their policies vary.
Modern European populists don’t wear black shirts, or indulge in street violence. Their leaders are youngish men in sharp suits, who don’t use the language of race, but that of freedom and democracy.