“Germany’s been going downhill for years. We’re the losers of globalization. The politicians want us to believe the only solution is to work harder. But the politicians are the puppets for big business. They say unemployment’s falling, and we’re still the world’s export champions. But in reality, the poor are getting poorer and the rich, richer. [Loud applause] our greatest threat is terror. A terror we unleashed ourselves, because of the injustice we permit in the world. And while we slowly destroy our planet, a few of the superwealthy rub their hands and build themselves spaceships so they can watch from above. [Loud applause].”
This statement is taken straight from the recent and excellent German movie, “Die Welle ”(The Wave), based on the 1967 teaching experiment conducted by Ron Jones to sample the experience of the attraction and rise of a fascist system. In a matter of days, the experiment went out of control. The bottom line in the movie, and ultimately for us spectators, is the easiness of the rise of a fascist system. There are a series of conditions, which will be looked at later on, allowing the rise of such system, but one of them is the belief – and arrogance – of Westerns citizens that it could not occur again, as the people of the Euro-Atlantic have learnt their lessons since Nazi Germany. The 2008 financial crisis has considerably shaken the identity of European societies as well as the model that was perceived successful these last decades. The socio-economic model based on social fairness, economic redistribution, and tolerance is disappearing with the various rounds of austerity measures implemented in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Britain and others and in the rise of ultra-national movements.
The confusion is in the calling: media, journalists, bloggers, scholars are sailing from one term to another, ultimately resulting in an interchangeable list of terms such as ultranationalist, fascist, extreme right wing parties. These three appellations are at the heart of the confusion. Political scientists, journalists and scholars have a duty to call the rise of these extreme right movements by what they really are: fascist movements. Europeans have a tendency to assume that fascism cannot rise anymore in Europe. However, the trends in Austria, the Netherlands, France, Greece, Italy, Norway, Switzerland and so on are proof of the contrary.
Politicians of traditional parties have ignored this trend for years now and have kept their heads in the sand. Their only concerns consist in being attractive to voters. Sarkozy of France has not been scared to reach to such ‘fascist’ electorate and flirting with the extremes in both of his campaigns. Only the previous president of France, Jacques Chirac, refused to debate with Jean-Marie LePen, former leader of the Front National, during the second round of the presidential elections in 2002. Many have argued that Chirac was in fact the one stepping over the democratic principles of freedom of ideas and opinions. But let’s be clear: is fascism acceptable in any societies?
The political, social and economic context in Europe is favorable to the rise of such extremist parties based on the frustration, anger, and emotion of European citizens. The economic context in Europe consisting of high unemployment – especially youth unemployment – low wages, austerity measures, external forces of the market, and increase of taxes have all contributed in the making of an unsustainable and frustrating system. Socially, nationalism has re-become attractive to a large segment of the population. Quite interestingly, it starts from the local and becomes national. As illustrated by the map published in the French newspaper, Le Figaro, extreme right-wing parties have seen an increase of the representation in European parliaments.
In the case of France, the voters of the Front National are mainly concerned about a series of issues in the following order of priority: 1) fight against illegal immigration, 2) increase of salaries and cost of living, 3) unemployment, 4) fight against delinquency, 5) health, 6) education, 7) reduction of the public debt. This comes from a study by IFOP, the French Institute of Public Opinion. These issues are all in the mind of any moderate voters and citizens. Which factors tip the voters to the extreme? Emotions and culture could be interesting roads to follow for more rigorous study.
Without making a generalization to Europe, a new trend has also emerged in France. The youth – 18 to 22 years old – have been extremely attracted by the Front National especially during the 2012 elections. This trend is quite worrisome and has not been addressed by either media or politicians. It would seem that the fight against delinquency is acceptable, however, the fight against fascism is a taboo.
In the south of Europe, one of the most troubling Member States is Greece. Many reports, newspaper articles and so on have been exposing the rise of hate
crime in Greece against immigrants and especially undocumented migrants. A recent article published in EUobserver, exposed the violence against immigrants with the latest stabbing of a Iraqi young man several weeks ago. The article raised a serious point: on the one hand, immigrants are scared to report the crimes to the police as they could be arrested considering their situation; and on the other hand, the police has been dissuading them to press charges as they were told to pay 100 Euros in order to process their complaints. Such claim was confirmed as Euronews ran a similar story several days ago.
Furthermore, the reliable NGO, Human Rights Watch, recently published on July 10, 2012 a 100 pages report on the situation in Greece titled “Hate on the Streets. Xenophobic Violence in Greece.” The report is full of individual stories of aggressions and violence as well as gruesome pictures. The first recommendation of the report goes to the Greek government and read: “Publicly and unequivocally condemn instances of racist and xenophobic violence.” It is quite surprising to see that the Greek state is unable to fulfill its most fundamental duty: enforcement of human rights.
Even the UNHRC has been raising serious concerns over the rise of violence against immigrants in Greece. Most of the attentions have been rightfully brought on the Greek neo-nazi party led by Nikos Michaloliakos. For the first time in Greek history, such type of political party has made it to Parliament.
How can a neo-nazi movement such as Golden Dawn be acceptable in Greece, supposedly the birthplace of democracy? Blaming the financial and Eurozone crises is one side of the coin, but it is certainly not enough.
Most of the attacks in Greece are conducted by vigilante groups and by members of the Golden Dawn, which saw a considerable support during the recent elections. Even though I am not keen on making comparison with previous European fascist regimes, it is quite clear that the similitudes with the Black and Brown shirts are too close to be simply ignored. Unfortunately these comparisons have not been made for political reasons.
The solution is simple, Europe, more Europe. The European Union has been perceived as the problem nationally and presented as a problem to the national grandeur and sovereignty by fascist parties as well as traditional right wing parties. The EU has been the engine to economic, social, security and political stability since the mid-1950s. Europe has never seen such level of growth, stability and prosperity in its entire history. At the first real crisis, the entire model has been shaken and wrongly questioned. The EU cannot only be fixed by the Eurocrats and Heads of States and Governments, but it also needs to be supported by European citizens. It seems that citizens have just enjoyed the ride for decades and now question its benefits.
The EU’s trademark is democracy; the 2008 financial crisis and its repercussions in Europe have been a disaster to the core principles of the EU. The Commission must start to be more active in punishing Member States wherein fascist movements are becoming too preeminent and wherein violence, hate crimes, and xenophobic actions can be perpetuated without legal repercussions. One of the recommendations from the Human Right Watch report is:
The European Commission’s Directorate General on Justice should assess Greece’s compliance with its human rights obligations with respect to preventing and prosecuting racist and other hate violence, and allocate funding to support initiatives to address the deficiencies in state response to racist and xenophobic violence, as well as public awareness-raising campaigns.
The Commission, Guardian of the Treaties, has a duty to push for the respect of core and clear democratic policies and measures. Racism in Europe in the 21st century is simply inexcusable. The question of xenophobia and racism is at the heart of the European story and narrative, Europe was completely destroyed in 1945 after the rise and popular supports of fascist movements. How can citizens forget such a heavy and recent heritage?