Black jackets, shaved heads and quite often a past criminal record. These are the common characteristics of vigilantes – members of European far-right groups that have sprawled like mushrooms in many EU member countries after 2014. Their aim is to ‘protect’ their country’s national border from what they describe as an invasion of migrants.
The far-right today is a dangerous matter that European governments must take into serious in consideration. However, some governments do not. Instead, they back the rise of this phenomenon. This is something that the EU must condemn openly.
Why aren’t these vigilantes considered ridiculously out of place in our European societies? The answer is simple: they are gaining popular support, helped by viewership-hunting TV channels and ambitious populist politicians.
In some cases, as in Bulgaria, the authorities have gone so far as to praise their work and allow them to publicise their activities.
In January, the media reported on the vigilante groups in Finland and Denmark.
In Tampere, an industrial city in Finland, a group of far-right youth calling themselves by the grandiose name of ‘Soldiers of Odin’ started to patrol the city in search of migrants who they said were out to rape white women. This movement, already active since 2015, found many supporters in other cities.
In Finland, we have also witnessed numerous cases of arson and attempted arson against places where refugees live and gather.
At the Oresund, a strait which forms the Danish-Swedish border, there is another group called National Future. This group has a speedboat that members use to patrol the strait, check suspicious boats crossing and push back the transgressors. Their actions have been widely publicised by local popular media.
Since the summer of 2015, vigilante groups have been patrolling southern Hungary and in many cases have played the role of the ‘tough guy’ against innocent migrants, namely women and children.
Their ‘heroic efforts’ have been praised by some local authorities who lean towards the far-right.
In Bulgaria, we have witnessed some of the worst episodes. Not just because the vigilantes there have started to practically arrest and rob the migrants they catch, but because their actions are also being praised by the Bulgarian police on TV.
There is no doubt that the migrant waves that hit EU last year have provoked widespread popular concern. In many European states, the economic situation is bad and the cultural gap between European citizens and the refugees and migrants is visible.
It is a situation easily exploited by populist leaders without principles. An anti-refugee and anti-Muslim movement emerged with the help of mainstream political parties that participate in the parliaments of their countries. Attacks against buildings and other facilities that host refugees have also been reported in some countries.
Now, the new trend seems to be a vigilante proposal.
For the moment, national police have responded with restraint and have been negative to this new phenomenon. The Finnish police declared it unacceptable for vigilantes to patrol the streets and try to substitute the state. The Swedish authorities reported that no boat has ever been pushed back, as the vigilantes claimed, and that Swedish borders are effectively controlled by the responsible authorities.
The only strange behaviour was that of the Bulgarian authorities.
This fact is crucial: European societies are completely unprotected against the new threat of a vigilante culture. For citizens to accept such a practice means they do not trust the state.
Considering that populist politicians have worked for years against the idea of a united Europe, they are now taking advantage of the concerns provoked by the arrival of refugees and migrants. The EU must react.
A vigilante culture has no place in European culture. Only state institutions have the right and the power to deal with the security of our societies and our borders.