Tackling right-wing extremism at the root
The years 1930 and 1940 led to the rise in power of extreme right-wing regimes world-wide, and to an abomination that had been unseen in history. But today we see that these same ideas, especially in Europe, have once again achieved wide acclaim. How can this deluge, which threatens society and the democracy of her existence, be stopped? That issue must be tackled at the stem. We have no other choice but to go back to our roots. The European concept was built on the cinders of the Second World War and the Holocaust. The project Holocaust revisited requires that all young people visit the locations where the biggest abominations against humanity took place. It is there that they should be made to realise and be aware of what racism and right-wing extremism leads, and thereby draw lessons from history.
Society has no choice but to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a ‘firm’ hand, but the real solution is the development of a lukewarm multicultural society that is today more geared to the cultivation of ‘soft’ values.
70 years ago unseen horrors were caused by extreme right regimes
In the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s Nazism was sown in Germany, fascism in Italy, and the extreme right-wing Government in Japan, as well as a number of satellite regimes around the world, that entered upon an unprecedented scale of death and destruction. The new term, ‘crimes against humanity’, gave a name to this abomination, the scale of which was previously unknown in history. But human beings forget quickly, because these same extreme right-wing ideas are once again on the rise today.
An anti-mindset and alarming nationalism adds wind to the sails of the extreme right
An anti-mentality and a alarming nationalism, which often go hand in hand, are today all too common. Every day, all over Europe, you hear and see slogans, pamphlets and demonstrations against Islam, against the Jews, against the Gypsies, also against ‘gays’ and against Europe. In a lot of regions a frightening nationalism is very apparent. This ground current rapidly gains followers, and regroups a colourful jumble of organisations and parties that share the same ideals. Such occurrences are found in (extreme) right-wing backgrounds.
In addition to a new generation of brown and black shirts, there are groups of right-wing populists in tailored three-piece suits operating in the foreground. Over the past few years there have been unprecedented racist attacks against black ministers like Christiane Taubira in Italy, and Cécile Kyenge in France. In Slovakia there was the ultra nationalist Marian Kotleba, who fights Roma Gypsies with his fists, and who was elected Governor in November 2013. The Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Breivik, is viewed as a cult figure.
Those anti-organisations and the alarming nationalism taint our society with the venom of racism and hatred for everything that is ‘different’ from the common standard. You do not have to be a futurologist to predict that the new generation of right-wing parties will be the big winners of the European elections in May 2014. According to analysts they could even get twenty to thirty percent of the Seats in Parliament. In France and the Netherlands the National Front of Marie Le Pen and the PVV of Geert Wilders, according to the polls, are by far the largest parties. Also their ‘friends’ in other countries, who hold similar views, such as Jobbink in Hungary, the Lega Nord in Italy, the New Dawn in Greece, and so on ... they feel they have the wind in their sails.
In his book Germany Abolishes Itself (which sold 1.5 million copies in 2010) the Social-Democratic politician (SPD) Thilo Sarrazin argues that, as a result of immigration, Germany has become more ignorant, and he predicts that within a few generations the migrants will be lords and masters in the country. Opinion polls show that half of the population shares that view. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel let herself be carried away by the political bidding with the statement that “anyone who does not immediately speak German is not welcome”. She also remains opposed to a ban on the NPD, the German neo-nazi Party. That Party achieved 635,000 votes in the elections in September 2013, and each year it receives 1.4 million euros from the Government which are used to spread hatred. Today within Germany, as in the 1930s, a widespread breeding ground for a far-right party is flourishing. The NPD has never enjoyed much electoral success because it has been led by riff-raff, but also due to the presence of the strong conservative party CDU/CSU. However, when an eloquent and handsome right-wing nationalist in a three-piece tailored suit has the ability to package the Nazi discourse in an attractive and popular disguise, a new Adolf Hitler will arise. The question is not whether that will happen, but when.
Incidentally, for years, extreme right-wing thinking has weighed much heavier on policy than we realise. The PVV of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and the Danish People's Party tolerated and gave support to the Governments in their country for years.
Under that same right-wing pressure Viktor Orban in Hungary places the basic principles of the rule of law on a downward slope. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron repeats time after time his anti-European discourse. This approach only strengthens discontent and indifference, which in turn fuels appeal of the more extreme right.
Civilization is but a thin layer of veneer
It is upsetting to see that while democracy is threatened at the root of her being, only apathy dominates. Why is it that only a few people stand up for a more peaceful society? For more respect for human rights and ethnic minorities? For forgiveness and reconciliation?
Why are artists and broad social movements not doing more to condone such apathy ?
Why do all those who call themselves Christians remain so indifferent?
Why do so many church leaders maintain a guilty silence like during the war ?
Many of the organizations of the ‘social midfield’ who, over the past century, organized and inspired society, have now almost literally become ‘empty boxes’, and it appears that the last buffer against the extremist ideas has disappeared. On closer inspection, our Western civilization is merely a thin veneer. Under the ever-thinner velvet glove of the Governments, extreme right ideas are commonplace. The racial hatred instilled by the Nazis into a whole generation is still anchored in the genes of many people. The old prejudices are once again commonplace in everyday language and in jokes. You also see them on graffiti and in cartoons, and they circulate on social media. Social pressure is so great that only a few people dare to argue against it.
On top of that, indifference is growing steadily within our society. Blinded by the lure of materialism, many people have only one goal: to earn as much money as possible. In order to achieve that objective they often throw morality overboard with much arrogance. Another thing, how often do people laugh at the memories of the past?
Racism, indifference and arrogance are the breeding ground for right populism. It is distressing, but within a broad range of public opinion, that mindset is already well matured.
Symbolism of the Palm tree
How do we find our way out of that impasse?
To find a solution, we have no other choice but to go back to our roots: the first disaster ? upon which our post-war society was founded.
The manner in which people have planted palm trees in oases of the desert for centuries can inspire us. They make a pit as deep as possible and implant a young tree. Afterwards the pit is not only refilled with sand, but they place upon it a heavy stone to increase pressure. One would think this would make it impossible for the tree to grow. But the opposite is true. The tree initially grows down into the ground, up to the level of the ground water, only then does it grow in height. The tree has to develop such powerful roots in order to push the stone away, so that it can easily grow ten meters or more in height.
The project Holocaust revisited teaches young people to learn lessons from history
In a number of countries, denying the Holocaust is punishable. But a law is not a solution as there are forever ways to circumvent it. Didn’t Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front in France, call the Holocaust ‘a detail’ of history?
For a real solution we have to dig to a deeper level. At the base of the prevailing anti-mindset and indifference is primarily a lack of basic knowledge of history. And that is no coincidence. Influence on our economic thinking has increased in recent decades by giving priority in education to the ‘hard’ subjects, such as mathematics, sciences and languages, all at the expense of denigrating general educational subjects, including history.
However, that bottleneck can be addressed by a simple procedure. In Britain no one speaks dismissively about the First World War. The reason is simple. All those in secondary education have to visit the war graves in either France or Belgium. By analogy, a European regulation should require a visit to a concentration camp. Every 18-year-old boy or girl should, during their school career, have seen the interior of a concentration camp. Only by a visit to the places where the greatest crimes against humanity have been committed – and you find them in almost all countries of the Union – can young people understand to what horrors extremism and xenophobia can lead.
To bring such absolute evil to life once again, the project Holocaust revisited is aimed at using the newest technologies, including audio guides in all European languages. The potential already exists; there are a lot of former camps, museums and memorial centres. In addition we have innumerable testimonies of survivors, photographs and films. The challenge is to revitalise all that material in a contemporary manner within the camps themselves.
The development of didactic complete ?educational packages for all ages and all types of education is essential. They must not only reconstruct the past, but also make the link to current events. Let schools and teachers use these packages in a creative way.
It is the task of Europe to give didactic support, and to maintain the financial threshold for visitors as low as possible. That is the only effective way to stem the new wave of legal populism at the root.
There is no other choice but to make this visit compulsory because people have, in the past, never drawn lessons from history.
Europe must take that step now. Who will still be able testify about the Holocaust when the last survivors are dead?
In addition, investment in the memory of the Holocaust should extend beyond a one-time visit to the camps. Scientific research, publication of books, the making of documentaries, organisation of memorial services and so on … should all have a permanent theme linked to actual facts.
The positive side effects are multiple. These visits should contribute, like no other initiative, to the development of good citizenship and an increase in the credibility of Europe.
Thereby Europe can direct more attention on the international front to the respect of human rights. In the United Nations Human Rights Council, Western countries are in the minority. The displacement of geo-economic and geo-political centres of gravity to the East, the resulting Chinese standards and values which care little about human rights, are creating a new standard throughout the World. Drawing on its knowledge of the past, Europe can play a more conciliatory role in the growing number of conflicts around the world.
Last, but not least, this project can be accomplished with limited financial resources.
Respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a ‘firm’ hand
A greater historical awareness of past events is the foundation. Thenceforth, the next logical step is to apply the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by all members of the United Nations in 1948. The (inter)national politics after the Second World War are based on that statement.
Article 1 provides: “all human beings are born free and should be treated in the same way.”
Article 2 states: “anyone can call on all rights, regardless of whether you are young or old, male or female, what skin tone you have, what religion you confess or what language you speak.”
Despite the difference in colour of skin, way of thinking and various lifestyles, we all belong to the same human race. There cannot be a place in society for any parties or groups that deny such a principle. Many right wing populists only give ‘lip service’ to that Universal Declaration. Therefore, we have no other choice but to continue to hammer home the same truth... that the foundation of human dignity is untouchable.
Democracy must protect itself, and has no choice but to act with a ‘firm hand’ against whoever incites xenophobia. To that end there can be no compromise.
Build up a ‘moderate’ multicultural society through ‘gentle’ values
Teaching historical awareness and hammering home respect for the Universal Declaration are both essential. However, the real challenge lies at another level. In 2010, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, caused a stir with her statement that the multicultural society has failed. That statement is correct. We, the Westerners, still cannot accept that people are ‘different’.
Why? Starting from the creation of what we call today the European Union, attention is almost geared exclusively to the economy: coal and steel in the 1950s, and money and banks since the financial crisis of 2008. The economy will always play a prominent role but, more than ever, we have to remain focused on the ‘soft’ values because they reshape and develop a sincere and moderate society. That society, whether we like it or not, will be even more multicultural and coloured than it is today.
The biggest challenge for European leaders is to confront the creation of that ‘written off’ multicultural society.
When they fail, they inevitably pave the way for a return of the extreme right ideas. Multiculturalism holds no danger or threat, contrary to what propaganda would like us to believe. To begin with, there is an unprecedented wealth that is underused. Through systematic cultivation of ‘gentle’ values we can render justice to that richness.
Because the ‘old stories’ have lost their power of expression, we need a ‘new story’ that sets up a better society from the baseline. We do not need to invent hot water. We must replace the ‘old’ words whose meanings have been distorted by the ravages of time, or which evoke many negative connotations – examples are economic growth, sustainability, solidarity, reciprocity, and so on – to new concepts that focus all our attention on the heart of the matter.
What are some of those ‘new life-giving words’ and what do they mean?
Manage the function of survival
Like a benevolent father we have a duty to manage nature and the earth carefully, and to pass these on to the next generations according to the principle of stewardship. At the base of economic development must be what the environment and the people are able to manage. If our planet is to survive, we have no choice but to make investments with minimal negative impact on the environment.
Grow in quality
We must move away from the delusion that every year maximum economic growth must be achieved. What purpose does it serve to ‘grow and grow’ or to acquire ever more prosperity? The real test for the assessment of a society is not the quantity – the internal domestic product, the amount of savings and so on – but it is the quality. Once beyond puberty a man no longer grows in height expressed in centimetres, but he develops in capacity.
The miracle of life can only take place in a protected environment of care, love, encouragement and affirmation. This implies that particular attention should be shown to the weakest groups in society such as the elderly, the sick and the disabled.
The media and advertising tries to brainwash everybody each day with an unreal image of a world that is full of glamour and glitter. But the reality behind that facade is usually not as glamorous. More than ever before our society needs authentic people who, both by their words and actions, demonstrate who they are and for what they stand. We need people who remain true to themselves at all times, without a hidden agenda.
The power of art
An unsuspected strength lies in art and culture. By the prophetic vision which they carry, they are two of the most important levers to uplift the quality of society to a higher level. At all times artists have reflected about what lives in society. Through their images they afford us a look into the future, and allow us to become more aware of the richness of life.
An additional side effect is that art and culture – as invisible magnets – have the power to bring people together.
Even more so than love, faith is the driving force in any relationships. Real love is a source of faith, especially when a partner does not live up to expected ideals.
A message about sexuality, love and loyalty is worthy of mention. If it takes its inspiration from touching at the level of feelings, the body and the mind, then this word can make people profoundly happy.
The cornerstone of respect between people is reciprocity. He who receives something, should give something back, no matter how small and insignificant. That exchange of gifts may be of an immaterial nature.
Reciprocal respect is necessary to allow society to function correctly at all levels. Initially this concerns the compliance of agreements, and the respect for people with a different language, skin colour or religion. At a higher level all those who take responsibility deserve more respect. Finally, no country can function effectively without ‘Bundestraue’? or loyalty. The former US President, John F. Kennedy, said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”
The multicultural society of tomorrow can only succeed when it moves forward hand in hand in an open, reliable, tolerant and welcoming manner. Mutual trust facilitates living together.
The challenge is to demolish the walls of distrust within society.
Guardians of our brothers
It is a crying shame is that despite all the fine words and promises, global inequality persists. A billion people still survive on less than one dollar a day. We are partly responsible for countries, such as the Congo which, despite their immense potential, are still among the poorest in the world.
As guardians of our brothers in the poorest countries, international solidarity must be made visible: not by charity, but by a reorganization of the structure of social security.
Admire without envy
Our life can become enriched: not by acquiring more material possessions, but by sharing what we often have in abundance, and by what we can do that bears significance for others.
To be able to admire without wishing to possess or harbouring envy, is an art of living that must be cultivated. Living a more sober life, where we consume less instead of more, will lead to the creation of a better world.
Develop a spiritual dimension
Much more important than to ‘have’, is to ‘be’. Attention to the spiritual dimension of life requires a structured resting point. Traditionally this is ingrained in every culture. To live a more balanced existence it requires that after six days of work, every man has a break from the grind of daily life. For the Muslims that is a Friday, for the Jews it is a Saturday, and for Christians it is on Sunday.
Precisely because that day is not like any other, we often like to dress differently. That day is occupied with things of the spirit: to converse and to play, to sing and to dance with each other, and to visit friends and to party, to fill the day with happiness and enjoy the company of others. And for Believers, to partake and benefit from His presence both in prayer and religious ritual, and with others.
Everyone may bring his own personal interpretation to that day, but the development of such a mentality is essential. Mind and matter are like to two legs upon which each person stands.
Small things are not small
The integration of those basic principles is not obvious: the focus of the one-sided attention given to our ‘hard’ economic outlook on life requires a change in mentality in order to address the ‘soft’ values. Such a realisation, long term, can only be achieved with small steps. Our ‘new language’, in which all these elements are like pieces of a puzzle, form part of a total vision that can inspire people, provide support and enthuse them.
This approach delivers a multitude of win-win situations. It leads to greater transparency, more attention to quality, more fair trade, an open culture of debate, stronger social networks and more civic engagement. Thus, through a better use of existing potential, we can breed a more qualitative and superior society.
That ideal image remains a theoretical concept with a high Utopian content. “People and organizations know it, want to do something, but don't do it,” said writer Willem Elsschot once upon a time. After all, the implementation touches existing structures, including a lot of ‘sacred cows’. And history has shown that even he who points his finger at them, the sacred cows will eventually land on his head.
However ... over the past few years many of these sacred cows have imploded. At the end of the day, the ultimate responsibility for the proper functioning of society lies within each of us. ‘We’ are the society.
“Change the world, start with yourself”, said the former Bishop Dom Helder Camara. Simple or symbolic acts can contribute to the development of a community. Small things are not small. All input, however insignificant, is important. When everyone takes part, a cordial and multicultural society can become reality.
Koenraad De Wolf, 1 February 2014
The rightwing extremist parties have doubled their number of seats to almost twenty percent at the European elections . But because of their hopeless internal dissension the third largest group in Parliament didn't work out. What lessons were drawn by the European establishment after that electoral shock? None. As usual they were fighting for the best places in office during months. Since the new European Commission has been appointed, everything seems to return to business as usual. But meanwhile democracy is threatened in her pure existence "Ja, wir haben es gewusst." But no, nothing has changed. History shows that a political system is doomed to disappear, when it refuses to engage the real challenges.
Switch to extreme right
At the European elections of the 25th of May 2014 the predicted success of extreme right, nationalist and the anti parties became a frightening reality. They won 143 of the 751 seats or nineteen percent of the votes. That's more than a redoubling compared to the elections of 2009. One of five Europeans have voted for one of those parties. In three countries they were the undoubted winners. Both the Danish People's Party and the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) gained 26.6 percent of the votes, while the Front National (FN) in France increased with 24.86 percent its number of seats from 3 to 24. That result could have been even better if the 85 year old Jean Marie Le Pen had not caused a political row a few days before the elections by his statement: "Within three months the elobavirus can stop the flood of migrants to Europe and the demographic explosion in the world." This is just a perverse idea noticing how eloba literally sows death and destruction in Africa every day. In most other countries, the extreme rightwing parties achieved a good result, either. In Italy Lega Nord got five seats; PVV in the Netherlands and FPÖ in Austria four; and New Dawn in Greece and Jobbink in Hungary got three elected members. Vlaams Belang in Belgium and the True Finns won one seat each. The National Democratic Party of Germany, without any doubt a neo Nazi party, gained 300,000 votes resulting in one MP, Udo Voigt, who is a denier of the Holocaust and who has been condemned for racism several times. But that electoral shock was followed by a complete silence. Everyone, including the opinion leaders, kept a profound silence. Or does it mean capitulation? No pooling of extremist parties
After the Christian Democrats or the EPP (220 seats) and the Social Democrats or the S&D (191 seats) is the group of extreme rightwing, nationalist and anti parties by far the third largest group in Parliament. But their hopelessly internal dissention blocked the formation of a large extreme rightwing fraction. That would require the membership of elected members from seven Member States, an insurmountable impedement for FN (France), PVV (Netherlands), FPÖ (Austria), Vlaams Belang (Belgium) or Lega Nord (Italy). The Danish people's Party and the True Finns joined the European conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR). The British party UKIP is the driving force of Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy party (EVDD). That fraction also consists of elected representatives of small (extreme) rightwing parties from Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Sweden.
Business as usual
What lessons were drawn by the European establishment by that shock wave? None. As usual even on election night itself, a relentless power struggle burst out between the large traditional formations about the distribution of the functions. During five months all the time and energy went to the delicate balancing act of resetting the balance of power. The new European Commission under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker came into office on November 1, 2014. Once again business as usual, was in everyone's mind. But only a few days later it was clear once again how the European system is handicapped. Beyond the widespread fraud and waste, seven billion euros or 4.7 percent of the budget was erroneously spent in 2013. In 2012 it was 4,8 percent, which means an improvement of 0.1 percent. Will the tide change under Juncker's office? We can doubt it most likely, because the same parties and powers still remain in function. And meanwhile the impact of the invisible lobby groups on the policy of the EU is growing stronger and stronger. Many more lobbyists are working in Brussels than European officials and so everything remains the same.
Democracy is threatened in his existence
Why remains everybody silent? That shock is yet not threatening the system's life. Obviously an even greater electoral catastrophe is needed to wake up the present rulers. That such a catastrophe is at hand, seems to be inevitable. For what reason? The extremist parties enjoy now the privileges the political system has granted itself so generously. On an unprecedented scale they will be able more than ever to use intellect and resources to spread hate and inject the acid that undermines society. And these parties will remain untouchable, in 'the name of democracy'. Angela Merkel's Government voted a law against the NPD in April 2013, but today that same neo Nazi party has an office in the Parliament in Berlin. That same building was set on fire by the Nazis in 1933. Freedom of speech has its limits, certainly when it threatens democracy. Before our own eyes the extreme rightwing parties saw the branch on which we sit – and that all with the taxpayers' money.
Hamartia and the manipulation by the media
How can we explain the general apathy, silence and capitulation? The first cause is our poor knowledge of the past. History education used to be a matter of dates, names and facts, and is not dealing with a better knowledge of underlying movements and immanent evolutions. Also the inability and - what is even worse - the refusal to learn lessons from history plays its part. The most important 'disease' of our time is what the Greek philosopher Aristotle called 2,300 years ago hamartia, or the manifest unwillingness to learn. Full of themselves, many rulers live in the illusion that they know the truth, and that they can't learn anything from anyone. In addition, there is a deeply rooted social inability to make changes. "People and organizations know it, want it, but don't do it," wrote the author Willem Elsschot. And last but not least the manipulation of the media prevents us to see reality. Investigative journalism gets less attention and also the so called quality newspapers have to follow the guidelines of the commercial groups that control them. Between the lines you can hear the same mantra: more investment and production and even more consummation. The banks and the big money draw all attention. Stupefied by the unsatiable hunger for more material property - the 'bread and games' of our time - most people give hardly any attention to what really matters. "Ja, wir haben das gewusst." But no, nothing changes. A law in history tells us that a political system is doomed to disappear when it refuses to solve the real challenges.
Koenraad De Wolf
November 15, 2014.