The populist anti-government movement might be a uniquely American phenomenon, but it's not too hard to find its influence elsewhere.
Group: True Finns
Issues: The Euro, immigration
Impact: The populist, nationalist True Finns party shocked the European political world on April 17 by taking 19 percent of the vote in Finland’s parliamentary election, making them the country’s third largest political party and possibly imperiling a planned EU bailout package for Portugal — if, as expected, they are included in the country’s new government. Their success was compared by journalists to Tea Party gains up-ending U.S. President Barack Obama’s agenda following the 2010 midterms.
The True Finns have been gaining steadily in popularity since their founding in 1995. Like fellow Nordic far-right parties like the Sweden Democrats or Norway’s Progressive People’s Party, the True Finns are best known for their opposition for their opposition to immigration — particularly from Muslim countries — and their opposition to the European Union. But unlike their compatriots in the European far right, the True Finns are hardly free-marketeers. They support raising corporate taxes and believe in a generous welfare state.
The True Finns are also known for their unusually conservative — by northern European standards — views on social issues. In overwhelmingly Lutheran Finland, founder Timo Soini raised eyebrows by converting to Catholicism during a trip to Ireland. His devout beliefs are reflected in his party’s support for banning abortion and push for a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. The True Finns reject the notion that immigration can be a solution for the country’s declining birth rate, and instead argue that work and school are preventing young Finnish women from giving birth to more pure Finnish children.
Update: This list was republished on April 18, 2011, with a new entry on the True Finns.
Group: The British Tea Party, Taxpayers Alliance
Issues: Taxes, European Union
Impact: Historical irony be damned! Several hundred British conservative activists gathered in Brighton in February to launch the British Tea Party. The event was the brainchild of Daniel Hannan (above right), a Conservative member of the European Parliament best known for his vociferous attacks on the EU’s bloated bureaucracy, who felt that like Barack Obama’s United States, Britain under Gordon Brown possessed “all the conditions necessary for a popular anti-tax movement.”
Like its U.S. counterpart, the British Tea Party focuses on fighting high taxes, with the addition of a healthy dose of Euroskepticism. (Hannan compares calls from Brussels for more centralized European economic governance to the “taxation without representation” of American colonists under King George.) But unlike in the States, the movement hasn’t grown into much of a cultural phenomenon. There have been only a few meetings with attendance into the dozens so far, and Hannan seems to have gotten more attention from U.S. media outlets like Fox News than from the British press.
Not that the anti-tax movement in Britain is not alive and well, however. Another British anti-tax group, the Taxpayers Alliance, has seen its numbers grow 70 percent to 55,000 in the last year. The group recently hosted U.S. Tea Party leaders for a seminar on organizing tactics.
Group: The Party of Freedom
Issues: Islamic immigration, Euroskepticism
Impact: Freedom Party founder Geert Wilders not only wants to ban the Quran and all immigration from Islamic countries, he also believes that the Islamic religion as a whole — not merely radical Islam — is a violent one that must be stopped before Europe becomes fully “Islamicized.” On Sept. 11, Wilders joined with U.S. Tea Party activists for a rally at the site of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center near New York’s Ground Zero.
The formula seems to be working. Despite getting temporarily barred from entering countries and facing criminal charges for inciting hatred and discrimination, Wilders and his Party of Freedom became the third-largest party in the Dutch parliament in the June 2010 elections, effectively making them kingmakers for any coalition in the new government.
Wilders’s pet issues include his proposed tax on headscarves, the necessity of kicking Bulgaria and Romania out of the EU, and the importance of the Netherlands leaving the EU should Turkey ever join it. Not surprisingly, Wilders is also more generally opposed to the EU itself, and particularly the taxes that Dutch people pay to it. Wilders has sought to abolish the European Parliament, telling a newspaper that Dutch money should be spent in Holland, not “subsidizing farmers in France and Poland.”
While the Party of Freedom is often lumped in with xenophobic European parties like the British National Party and France’s National Front, Wilders rejects this categorization. He is unique among European far-right-wingers for his strong support of Israel and gay rights.
b>Issues: Immigration, nationalism
Impact: “Restoring honor,” as Glenn Beck recently dubbed his massive Tea Party rally on the Washington Mall, is a familiar theme for a growing movement of online nationalists aiming to purge Japan of foreign influence and restore its status in the world.
Far-right nationalist groups have been a fixture in Japanese politics for decades. But as the influence of organized right-wing parties has waned, a new breed of grassroots nationalists has sprung up on the Web. The most influential of these groups is Zaitokukai, an acronym for the awkwardly named, “Citizens Group That Will Not Forgive Special Privileges For Koreans In Japan.” Targets of the group’s protests have included a grammar school for North Korean children and the home of a 14-year-old Filipino girl whose parents were deported after overstaying their visa.
The group’s founder is a 38-year-old tax accountant who uses the pseudonym Makoto Sakurai (no one knows his real name), communicates with his more than 10,000 followers almost exclusively online, and favors three-piece suits and bowties for his public appearances. Sakurai says he has studied videos of Tea Party rallies for organizing tips.
Group: The Billionaire Communists
Impact: In 2002, President Jiang Zemin decided to allow entrepreneurs to join the Communist Party, a step that would have been completely unthinkable in the old days of monolithic party politics — and one that let in a Tea Party-like stream of anti-tax, pro-business communists. During a recent debate on whether China should institute a property tax, some of the leaders of the new coalition wielded rhetoric that would not seem out of place at a Sarah Palin rally. “If you really want to provide a boost to employment, don’t raise taxes, cut them,” said Wang Jianlan, one of China’s wealthiest real estate developers and one of the main opponents of the tax.
A handful of billionaires certainly doesn’t qualify as a mass movement — though the disgruntled mega-rich played a key role in the growth of the U.S. Tea Party. And the recent mass worker protests in response to unemployment have mostly demanded more government spending, not less. But as China’s new middle class continues to grow, these capitalist comrades may find a new audience for their free-market message.
Group: The Progress Party
Issues: Taxes, Immigration
Impact: The “Progs” have been a fixture on the Norwegian political scene for decades, pushing for lower income and sales taxes. But because of the party’s extreme stance on immigration — it favors a maximum of 1,000 new immigrants per years and mandatory AIDS tests for new arrivals — even right-wing Norwegian parties have refused to work with it.
They may not have a choice anymore. In 2005, The Progress Party became the second-largest party in the Norwegian parliament, and it increased its total in the 2009 election. The party has capitalized on fears of Islamic immigration, with party leader Siv Jensen warning that the country is undergoing “sneak Islamization.” Even the ruling Labor Party has had to adopt some of the Progress Party’s platform, placing further restrictions on immigration.
Conservative writers in the United States have praised the Progress Party for finding electoral success on an anti-tax platform in what was once considered a bastion of democratic socialism. The Progs have also gotten advice from their American cousins on grassroots tactics: In April, Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity and a leading figure in the U.S. Tea Party movement, visited Norway to offer some organizational guidance.