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October 21, 2013
October 21, 2013

Going to battle

Author: Jordi Vaquer Translator: Eleni Nicolaou
Source: El País  Categories: Antifascism, On the crisis
This article is also available in: eles
Going to battle

What Europe needs is its political parties, especially the governmental ones, to stand against the national-populists, in an effective manner.

Judging from the symptoms, next year could be a triumphant one for national-populism in Europe. In May 2013, a Bulgarian government was formed with the support of Ataka, a radical nationalist party. In September, there were the positive results for Norway’s nationalist Progress Party and Austria’s Freedom Party, the party transformed by Jörg Haider. This month there was the victory of the French National Front (FN) in a by-election in Brignoles (Provence, France). In surveys, the national-populist right abandons its marginal, extreme positions and appears as the potentially most voted party in the UK (UKIP), France (FN) or Netherlands (PVV), while in Poland the Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski surpasses the current government by 10 points. With exceptions such as Germany, Spain and Ireland, the advance of national-populism seems unstoppable.

Of great concern is the European parliamentary election of May 2014, when a very low participation could be added to the problems of the European project and the unpopularity of many governments: ideal environment for mobilising the national-populists. Also in 2014 there are other electoral opportunities for the nationalist and anti-immigration parties to gain ground, such as the general election in Hungary (which could consolidate Fidesz in the government, despite its authoritarian and nationalist origin), the local ones in the UK and France (where the FN is expected to achieve significant victories) and the general one in Sweden (the polls there predict a significant increase in the nationalist formation of Sweden’s Democrats).

It is not easy to win the battle of the election and that of the ideas against these parties, when some of their arguments have broad support within European societies. It gets even more difficult when the governments, aware of this, attempt to pull the rug under their own feet by adopting their agenda. Unsuccessfully. Neither the French Government made it when, sunk in a morass of inhumanity deported a gypsy family to a totally unfamiliar to them Kosovo and then trying to calm the outcry, invited one of the family’s daughters to return alone in order to finish her schooling. Nor the British government by hanging posters and sent 40,000 emails to possibly undocumented migrants in order to prove its tough position. Neither the Greek Government harassing non-European looking passers-by with stop-and-searches and locking up those who are in the country illegally under inhumane conditions for months. They have all failed in their attempt to overtake the national-populism from the right. While governments seem willing to give up their basic principles in order to remain in power, the extreme right dictates the agenda without even having to win the election.

There are not only failures, though. In the UK, UKIP gains ground but a party far more radical and overtly racist, the British National Party (BNP) might lose, next year, all of their elected representatives, including its two MPs. What slowed down BNP was the resistance of British society against its open racism and campaigns like “Hope, not Hate” that fought door to door and out on the streets to deactivate the fear, the apathy and the lies that nourished the BNP victories. In France, the students have taken to the streets to respond to the deportation to Kosovo of Leonarda and her family; their demonstrations are reminiscent of the reactions, in recent years, of the American students against the deportations of their undocumented colleagues, the first success in the fight of the so-called generation of dreamers, which not only managed finally to change the law, but helped turn around the immigration debate in the United States. Also, the civil society of Greece made a move, forcing the government to finally crack down on the criminal elements that control the neo-fascist party of Golden Dawn, after the murder of rapper Pavlos Fissas and of Italy, after the tragedy of Lampedusa, to end the inhumane treatment of migrants.

The anti-elitist and pro-reform feeling that this crisis brings to the surface, in many parts of Europe, is being successfully capitalised by national-populists, cynical opportunists who do not want to open the democratic space, but close it instead. A large part of the society does not succumb to their discourse of exclusion and hatred. However, what the political parties, especially those in government positions, have to do is to stand against the national-populists in an effective manner. This implies deep reforms as well as a political debate with real alternatives. But above all, it requires opposing arguments to the traps of the extreme right. With their shameful backing down, the major parties give away the battle of ideas to the national-populists. They should not be surprised if they, in turn, deprive them of the electoral victory.

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