Austerity feeds Fascism in Europe
Germany and France initially got together to lay the foundations for the European Union project as an attempt by to prevent the two nations going to war yet again. The project was also an attempt to rebuild a continent laid waste by Nazism and nationalism. Today, fascism is gnawing away like a rat at the EU’s moral core. Most of the member countries in the EU today have some history of fascism. The economic crisis and the austerity measures implemented to counter it have exacerbated the situation.
Neo-Nazism borrows elements from German National Socialist doctrine, including militant nationalism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. Anti-Muslim sentiment is also now a component. Targeting of “the other” is common. Migrants are easy targets to blame when “natives” are unemployed.
In 2012, the European Parliament allocated €289,266 to the European Alliance of National Movements (EANM). Among the seven members of EANM are the British National Party, France’s Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik, all of which are xenophobic. Claude Moraes, a UK Labour MEP, accused the BNP of “views which are undemocratic, such as repatriation of part of the population”.
There will be European Parliamentary elections in six months’ time. These elections usually have a low turnout, which gives an opportunity for protest voters. From next May, the European Parliament could have a radically different complexion. The Dutch Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, has agreed an electoral pact with the French National Front. According to polls, National Front is the most popular party in France. In Austria, there has been a resurgence in support for parties whose views uncomfortably echo that celebrated Austrian, Adolf Hitler.
After the war, the far-right in Germany itself quickly re-grouped. The Deutsche Rechtspartei was founded in 1946. The Socialist Reich Party was founded in 1949. The German Social Union) was another 1950s Neo-Nazi organisation. The currently most successful rightist movement is the National Democratic Party (NPD), which won 9.2% in the 2004 state election in Saxony, and 1.6% of the nation-wide vote in the 2005 federal elections.
In 2011, Verfassungsschutz (Federal German intelligence) reported 25,000 right-wing extremists in Germany. In the same report, 15.905 crimes committed in 2010 were classified as far-right motivated. These crimes included 762 acts of violence in 2010. In 2011, neo-Nazis were linked to ten murders.
The NPD may be entering the mainstream. However, it has dubious friends such as Homeland-Faithful German Youth, which organises annual marches to mark the bombing of Dresden. NPD leader Udo Voigt was charged with incitement for distributing race-hate pamphlets about German footballer Patrick Owomoyela, whose mother is Nigerian. There are many smaller groups preaching anti-Semitism and calling for violence against immigrants. German neo-Nazis frequently attack refugees’ hostels.
There are many neo-Nazi enclaves in economically depressed East Germany. Dotted around the tiny village of Jamel, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, the vast majority of residents are neo-Nazis – and proud of it. There have been reports of pro-Hitler parties here during the summer where attendees chant ‘Heil’ around a bonfire.
France outlaws Nazi organizations, yet a significant number exist. The French government estimated that neo-Nazi groups in France had 3,500 members. In 2011 alone, 129 violent actions were recorded in France against Jews. In France in 2011, 260 threats were recorded, 15% related to neo-Nazi ideology.
An Ifop poll for the Nouvel Observateur suggested in October that Marine le Pen’s National Front (FN) will win 24 per cent of the vote in next May’s elections for the European Parliament. Mass immigration from Eastern Europe, and from Muslim countries, has been the main target of the FN’s campaigning. Harry Roselmack, France’s first black newsreader, wrote in Le Monde on November 5 2013, “Xenophobia and racism are the essential glue that binds the FN. And it is not unhelpful to see its republican veneer crack from time to time.”
A significant minority of Italians look back fondly on the period between 1922 and 1943 when Mussolini got the trains to run on time, drained the Pontine Marshes and won a small empire for Italy. Fascism is still alive in mainstream Italian politics, thanks in part to Berlusconi merging his Forza Italia party with the Alleanza Nazionale, which has neo-fascist roots.
“Most old people remember only the total devastation fascism brought,” said Alberto Martinelli, a political science professor at the University of Milan, “But a minority, while not saying outright they loved Mussolini, will say how things were better”
The dictator also still provides a rallying point for today’s far-right sympathisers, Italian football hooligans, and the politically ambitious CasaPound, named after the celebrated American poet Ezra Pound who sided with Mussolini during the war. CasaPound won over 25,000 votes in the Lazio regional elections.
Every year, on October 28th, Mussolini’s admirers celebrate the anniversary of Fascists’ March on Rome. They march and pray, blessed by a Fascist priest, the famous Father Tam who gave a Fascist salute during a skinhead protest march held in Milan.
The far-right Jobbik Party won 17 percent of the Hungarian Parliament in 2010. The party scapegoats Jews and ethnic Roma. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has failed to establish a strict line between his centre-right Fidesz party and Jobbik, and he has been reluctant to condemn its policies. A Jobbik Member of Parliament called for Jews in Hungary to be put on lists, saying they are a “security risk.”
The far right political party Chrysi Avyi (Golden Dawn) received 6.92% of the votes in the elections of 17 June 2012, entering the Greek parliament with 18 representatives. A few Golden Dawn members participated in the Bosnian War and were present during the Srebrenica massacre. Court testimonies recently revealed that Golden Dawn party members have allegedly committed dozens of criminal acts, including attempted homicides and violent street raids. The magistrate’s report revealed that party members had military training, including the use of assault weaponry. The Racist Violence Recording Network, a group monitoring hate crimes in Greece, estimates there have been 300 serious assaults by far-right gangs in the country over the past two years. Nearly all of them involve multiple attackers and end with stab wounds and broken bones. A Golden Dawn supporter stabbed anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fissas to death in the heart and chest on September 17.
The re-articulation of nationalist discourses in Greece is disturbing. Some online comment threads are reminiscent of Colombo Telegraph. A foreigner stirs up the trolls with this contribution: “Golden Dawn sounds like something I would clean my toilet with. You blame everyone for your nation’s position but yourselves. You know why Greece is suffering. It’s not because of America, or Jews, or immigrants. It’s because you have not contributed anything to the world in 2000 years. You live off tourists walking through the rot and ruin of an ancient era that is never coming back. You are not a nation, or a people. You are a museum. What do you think you’re going to do, conquer what Hitler could not, get rid of immigrants and hope jobs appear out of nowhere? What a joke a once proud people have become.” Responses to the provocation were like this: “What a pile of horseshit. This is all LIES. … misinformation and Zionist propaganda.”
Some in Greece have called for restrictions on hate speech from the right. In Sri Lanka also, hate speech has the potential to rekindle conflict. Censorship, however, is a slippery slope.
The rise of the neo-Nazis raises many complex issues, in addition to the question of freedom of speech and association. The economic crisis has highlighted the de-legitimization of liberal democratic practices and institutions. Even before the crisis took hold, many who were sympathetic to European integration and the single market, were somewhat queasy about the tyranny of un-elected bureaucrats in Brussels. Whatever about the moral tone of the EU project, the reality was too often rule by directive rather than democracy. The crisis has led to troika technocrats dictating to elected governments.
In Greece, from the 90s onwards new nationalist, anti-European discourses highlighted the democratic deficit. If EU institutions were not to be trusted, was violence not justified?
Are we seeing a similar situation in Sri Lanka? Is there a danger that frustration with the ineffectiveness of the democratic opposition will lead to extra-parliamentary action by extremists nostalgic for a non-existent past glory?
Perhaps no far right party will ever take power again as in Germany in 1933. Vigilance, however, is essential.