Don't Mention the War, But....

Europe is in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis and is being engulfed in a wave of far right-wing politics. While today's European societies are harder to trick with simplistic racism, the parallels with the past are still extremely troubling.
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Europe is in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis and is being engulfed in a wave of far right-wing politics. While today's European societies are harder to trick with simplistic racism, the parallels with the past are still extremely troubling.
Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 12.50.26 PM

Europe, in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis, is being engulfed in a wave of rising parties advocating far right-wing politics. Familiar tale isn't it? In order to to circumvent Godwin's Law and avoid 'death by cliché' this article will consciously abstain from mentioning too much about the characters from the 1930's. However, just as their shadows lurk ominously behind every statement from the mouths of Golden Dawn, Le Front National and the NDP et al, they shall lurk too behind these words.

John Cleese War

The rise of Far Right politics in this new austerity epoch has to be examined in today's context. Since 2008, nationalist and anti-immigration parties have made sweeping electoral gains in a variety of countries, in a manner that indicates a larger trans-national trend which must not be ignored. For example, in Finland, the unambiguously named True Finn Party emerged from political obscurity, riding on the back of a narrative that blamed all of Finland's problems on the EU, specifically the countries given the derogatory acronym PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain). Between 2007 and 2011 their electoral take grew by 800%, gaining 19% of all votes in the last election and becoming the largest opposition party in parliament. In neighbouring Sweden, the supposed Mecca of all things liberal, the far-right Sweden Democrats who were an out and out fascist party in the '90s now have parliamentary representation with 20 members of parliament. The French Front National had leader Marie Le Pen looking like she might just break into the final run-off in last year's Presidential elections. She won 6.4 million votes in the first round and according to pre-vote polls, 25 % of 18-24 year-olds were planning to vote for Marine Le Pen. But all of the aforementioned parties lie eclipsed by the emerging shadow of Greece's alarming Golden Dawn party.

Greece has borne the weight of this global economic crisis, perhaps heavier than anywhere  else. Unemployment is nearly 30% and for young people it sits at an unbelievable 60%. This crippling climate of frustration and resentment has given rise to a political party of such base-level xenophobia, racism and paranoia, two-dimensional cartoon baddies seem complex in comparison. They now say they reject their neo-nazi origins but their flags, symbol and 'traditional hand salute' all bear striking resemblance those who will not be mentioned. If all that wasn't enough, they also lack the charm offensive other European parties have used to expand their support into the mainstream. Golden Dawn gained worldwide notoriety when spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris struck opposing politician Liana Kanelli live on TV during a debate:

Whilst you would think nothing could top that disgusting act, this week the news broke that Golden Dawn MP Giorgos Germenis stands accused of pulling a gun on the mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis. After he failed to get his gun out, he then tried to hit the mayor but missed and instead hit a twelve year old girl. Amazingly, this mob is now the third most popular party in the home of Socrates, Sophocles and Archimedes. It would be funny if it were not so terrifying. Golden Dawn members are constantly associated with acts of violence and intimidation against immigrant populations. Even scarier than the 18 seats the party won in the last elections are the rumours of collusion between Golden Dawn and the senior levels of the Greek police. This has led to the perception both within the party and by the general population that the street thugs of Golden Dawn can operate with impunity.

When looked at holistically, this continental rise in right-wing politics is disturbing. As stated above, it quickly leads us to think of those who will not be mentioned, but we must also remember that this is not simply a 1930's remake. New villains like the European Union or the Islamic immigrant have replaced 'the Jewish conspiracy' as the source of all ill. The regression into nationalistic purity is harder for the average citizen of today's European nation. It is is complicated by a lifetime of exposure to delights of the wider world through culture, travel and mass media. This is why all the aforementioned parties have, after an early flirtation with outright fascism, tried to stress their anti-racist ideological foundation. They will send immigrants home because they have to, not because they have any problems with them. They are not racist. In fact, if you call them racist, you are racist as you will not allow them their own right to culture! After a while, it all gets very confusing; at least in the 1930's everyone was upfront about where they stood.

It is this white-washing of their ideology that makes these new groups so dangerous. In Britain, last week saw the biggest ever electoral success for the UKIP (United Kingdom Independent Party). Of course supporters of UKIP would resent being lumped in with Le Front National and Golden Dawn. The first thing they say on their website is that they are non-racist (if you have to specify that...). True, they do deliver their own band of anti-immigrant populism in a typically British apologetic  manner. Leader Nigel Farage is more Monty Python than Mighty Leader but his narrative is consistent with the other parties: Pull out of Europe, close the borders, expel the immigrants and all will be right with the world again. Never mind the crippling inequality that has arisen between the top and bottom in society or the control the financial elite maintain over our system of governance; if you can only get rid of that taxi driver who has overstayed his visa then we can return to life as it was in the past, racially homogenous and completely free of conflict and suffering.

It's understandable that peoples anxiety and fear for the future makes these groups appear attractive.  However such a turn is always the easy option, blaming the asylum seeker as opposed to the CEO. It's also impractical. The world is just too small for nations to be isolationist and protectionist and its only going to get smaller. Europe does face very serious problems in this age of austerity, but in order to solve them, it has to expand its imagination and not revert to its history. Because we all know what happened then.

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