Kemal Rijken

Our People First

How Right-Wing Nationalism Conquered Europe

New insights into nationalistic populism based on extensive interviews with its leading players

Though right-wing nationalist parties have largely been shunned by the political establishment as racist, xenophobic or even Nazi since their emergence in the 1980s, they now form almost thirty percent of the European Parliament. Across Europe, these once small, marginalized movements have booked political upsets in their home countries and have been expanding their political influence through international collaboration.

Rather than excluding or blocking these parties, which will only feed their growing popularity, young thinker Kemal Rijken maintains that today we must heed and confront their arguments in an exchange of ideas and visions that will make our democracy stronger. Our People First therefore presents a comprehensive history of right-wing nationalism around Europe and injects nuance into a political stance that has been categorically rejected by most.

Eschewing judgment, Rijken traces right-wing nationalism’s evolution in nine western European countries, starting with the first immigration waves in the 70s and 80s, and continuing through the fall of the Berlin Wall, the September 11 attacks and the financial crisis, up to today’s refugee crisis and Brexit. Their rise is far from meteoric, and Rijken details their victories and their setbacks, the replacement of the old guard by the younger generation and the transformations each bring. Building on extensive interviews with many key players like Jean-Marie Le Pen, Alexander Gauland, Umberto Bossi, Nigel Farage and Filip Dewinter as well as former prime ministers and politicians, he sketches a human portrait of a political field in which strong personalities and big egos reign. As readers given access to the movement’s inner mechanisms, we witness the deliberate shift towards a more stable professionalization.

We meet figures like Thierry Baudet and Matteo Salvini, witness the internal quarrels and moral dilemmas party heads face in their associations, intentional or not, with right-wing extremists. By charting the progression of the European political scene over the years, Rijken also highlights right-wing nationalism’s persistent role in mainstream politics’ shift to the right.

As Rijken writes, ‘In the last forty years, their movement has become part of the democratic system. Those who wish to fight them will have to do so based on content in the political arenas of Europe. This too is part of democracy.’

Given the immediate questions facing Europe regarding immigration and integration, Our People First is a ground-breaking step in tackling these challenges. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the political landscape of today and tomorrow.

Its timing is near enough perfect […] Our People First is a clever reconstruction of the growth on the right flank of the political spectrum over the past forty years.

HP de Tijd

A coherent vision is produced through this chronological and detailed approach in which [the author] moves from country to country.


Kemal Rijken

Kemal Rijken (b. 1980) is a journalist and author. He writes about politics, the government and minorities in Dutch society for De Groene Amsterdammer and Trouw. His published works include Roma, a book about the Sinti and Roma in the Netherlands, The Westermoskee, a history of religious freedom in…

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Eigen Volk. Hoe rechts-nationalisme Europa veroverde (2019). Non-fiction, 466 pages.

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