Friday, December 9, 2022
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Carlos Piriz

Europe, ultranationalisms and the abyss

University of Salamanca

That our continent is going backwards is nothing new. Among the numerous problems that currently plague the EU countries, there appear (again) threats that take it to the edge of an abyss. One of them is the rebirth of certain ultra-nationalisms, or rather, their reappropriation by an authoritarian and extremist Right. Perhaps, if we were to exemplify this idea by means of an image -charged with meaning- it is difficult not to recall the Hungarian journalist Petra László tripping and kicking some Syrian refugees. The same adults as children.


We think that we are going round and round with the ghosts of the past without realizing that what we have before us is something different. Quite some time has passed since Nolte placed fascism in their times. From that time to this one, other historians have shown that this "ism" has already gone. The British professor Roger Griffin certifies its death in 1945. However, even in the last weeks of 2017, taking advantage of his visit to Valencia, Enzo Traverso was asked in an interview: "Is Europe returning to the 1930s? (...) Is history repeating itself? Is this about the resurgence of fascism? " The answer was clear: "If I could only answer either yes or no, I would say no".


At first sight, the crisis has been the one principally -but not the only - responsible for the "bad memories". Its implacable consequences, not only economic but also political, social, cultural, leadership and morals, have churned the stomach of all Europe. A rather voluminous bunch of avid extremists realised how to play with it. Once again, an iconic image comes to mind, that of Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Mijaloliakos, in one of the first press conferences after winning 21 seats in the Greek Parliament in 2012 and in which their thug-bodyguards reprimanded journalists from half the world. After these results, he said: "The hour of fear has come for the traitors of the Fatherland". Today, a good part of the leadership of the party -including its leader- is immersed in the judicial process related to the death of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas.

Beyond this criminal gang and the abilities of some to take advantage of the austeric policies of the Troika, another more refined Far Right also benefited from this poly-crisis -and not only in countries where the economy hung in the balance-. 

These political formations -some of them long-haul- redoubled their discourse on the defence of "national identity", xenophobia and Euroscepticism (when not Euro-phobia). Of course, we are refer to the French National Front (FN), the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), the Belgian Vlaams Belang, the Italian Northern League, the the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Danish People's Party (DF). Many of them have several parliamentary terms with representation in the European Parliament. Some have baptized them as national-populists.

The chronology of events of the last decade rang alarm bells by establishing similarities between two factors (the economic crises of 1929 and 2008) and the same product (the rise of the Far Right). 

However, rigorously examining both contexts, we draw two striking conclusions: economic crisis does not have to result in the eruption of the Far Right (where is it if not Portuguese, Irish or Spanish?) Additionally, although analogies can be established, both contexts have little to do with each other if they are studied from a multi-causally point of view. Unlike what many think, history does not form repeated loops identical to each other. This story is a different one.


Although decades ago, physical walls were knocked down by hammers, now it seems fashionable to threaten to build them again (and even to say that others should pay for them). In this post-truth climate in which, additionally, fake news happens every day, these ultra-right-wing national-populisms take to water like fish. So much so, that in a good part of Europe they have already consolidated themselves as the leading political forces in their respective countries. Some have been on the verge of victory. For example, consider the not inconsiderable second positions of Geert Wilders (PVV) -who had been leading the opinion polls for months- or that of Marine Le Pen (FN) -who reached the second round of the presidential elections- in 2017. However others, such as the Austrian FPÖ, have even managed to enter into coalition governments.

Throughout this process, since the last five years, there have been three factors that have to be taken into account. In the first place, there would be one that responds to the refrain that says: "it's not what you know, it's who you know". 

The foreign policy deployed by Russia in these years has rubbed its hands with glee whenever there has been a process to intervene to destabilize the EU. 

As a result, it is not surprising, as an example, the support of the Kremlin to Farage (UKIP) within the framework of Brexit; the visit of Le Pen (FN) to Moscow in the final stretch of the campaign of the past presidential elections; or their interference during the "Procés" where, incidentally, it raised the spirits of the Spanish Far Right.

Secondly, there would be one who responds to the refrain that says: "some mud always sticks." Populism and ultranationalism make a good couple and many political parties know it. As a result, it should not surprise us, as an example, the ratification of a law in Poland that allows punishments of up to three years in prison to those who relate the crimes of the Holocaust to "the Polish nation". This is, a law against history, against reality and against rigour. Of course, the government of the ultranationalist Law and Justice (PiS) never cared much about this. and far less now.

The third and final factor responds to the saying: "Lord, protect me from my friends; I myself can take care of my enemies". The xenophobia of these groups has much to do with Islamophobia. The latest attacks in Europe (Paris, Copenhagen, Brussels, Nice, Berlin, London, Stockholm, Manchester, Barcelona...) have also favoured the use of simplistic scapegoat rhetoric as the belief in the existence of a Fifth Jihadist Column in the continent. Following these attacks, this was the discourse adopted by Europe, which should stop inventing traditions. According to Nigel Farage (UKIP) or even Jacques Myard (LR-La Droite Populaire). the solution: intensive control of immigration and defence of "all things national".

Hungary, which we have not talked about yet, also has its own thing. There, the ultra-rightist party Jobbik -reinforced in the legislative elections of 2014 with 21% of the votes- was being spoken about for its marked racism and marches in the Crossed Arrow style. Their rapid rise -fruit, like all of them, of a multi-causal process- were even allowed to incite certain ethnic minorities (mainly gypsies) to retreat to urban ghettos. but these actions were out of place, particularly if you are close to gaining power -given that for the next parliamentary elections on April 8th, opinion polls placed them in second place-. This is why they have spent time making up and reducing the radicalization of their discourse. This is why they dismissed László without a second's thoughts about "his" television network, the N1TV.

Those of us who dedicate ourselves to thinking and rethinking conflicts and radicalisms, examining them conscientiously and imbuing ourselves with their devastating testimonies and memories, grudges and outrages, find it hard to understand why we do not continue to follow the path of Human Rights.

Europe has to stop "inventing traditions" - and much less those that some fly flags for them- and focus on consolidating a democracy and values that have never ceased to be threatened. Only then will we stop asking ourselves, why this hatred, Petra?



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