old ghosts

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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

Intolerance and the far right grow in Europe

A few days ago, a Brazilian friend of mine left her workplace in Berlin and got on the subway to go home. The train came, she got into the carriage and sat down. She has a dark complexion. In front of her sat a man with very light brown hair and also fair skin, who she identified as being an ordinary German. She couldn't see the color of his eyes because he wore very dark, oversized glasses.

Suddenly, out of the blue, he said to her: "Too bad there aren't bigger carriages." She even took the trouble to reply, “What do you mean?” – “Wie so?”. “Because then I wouldn't have to stare at the likes of you,” he replied, in a rather loud voice.

There were more people in the carriage. No one moved, no one looked, no one raised an eyebrow, no one did anything. Absolutely nothing. It wasn't with them, nor with them. Nor did she do anything. She didn't move. “He might be armed, he might have a knife,” was all she thought, overcome with fear. The next few minutes were very distressing for her. Fortunately, nothing else happened. A few stations later the man got up and got off the train. Relieved, she headed home.

When he told me the story, he added: “Flávio, I wasn't even angry, I wasn't even sorry, I wasn't even crying. I realized that it seemed natural: the cowardly aggression of the man and the indifference of the others”.

Episodes like this are becoming more and more common and commonplace. There are others of the same type: verbal and physical aggression, depredation and vandalism against religious and cultural symbols considered non-European. Attacks on synagogues follow one another, as usual. But the new preferred targets are now refugees and immigrants from Africa or the Middle East, or who are similar to them, even vaguely, as is the case with that friend of mine.

With the war, the arrival of Ukrainian refugees – who undoubtedly require support and assistance – made the situation worse. After all, it is the “correct”, “white”, “European” refugees, as opposed to the “others”, who are “strangers”, not like “us”: “us:, that is, “them”, the “ Europeans", those who consider themselves "pure blood".

I heard reports about women (always the weakest targets for the cowardice of the aggressors), Muslim or identified as such, attacked screaming: “why don't you go back to where you came from?”, “you're not from here”, “you don't have anything what to do here!”, and so on.

There is undisguised official and para-official hostility against “strange” immigrants and refugees, especially those who come by sea, on the dangerous crossings across the Mediterranean, in boats and boats that have been rightly nicknamed “floating coffins”. Since 2014, estimate NGOs that try to help these “travellers” from regions devastated by wars and misery, 21 thousand people have perished in shipwrecks in an attempt to reach a Europe that increasingly wants and esteems them less, despite continuing to need these “they ” for basic services that more and more European “us” refuse to provide.

As in Brazil, Bolsonarist recently rejected, but not dead, old ghosts came out of European closets, and not only in Germany. Recently, the protest of an Iraqi refugee in Stockholm, burning a copy of the Koran in front of a mosque, provoked a wave of repudiation, and not only in the Arab world or nearby: Pope Francis also protested against this unreasonable aggression. The performer of the feat was an Iraqi, probably unhappy about something in his homeland. But a relevant detail: the demonstration was authorized by the police, in the name of “freedom of expression”, as in Brazil until recently dominated by “hate speech”.

There is also a belligerent mood that is spreading thanks to the war in Ukraine. Accompanying this “warrior spirit” is a forgetting of pacifist flags that move much of the continental left. Talk of “peace” has become “betrayal” or synonymous with “Putinism”. The German Green Party, which was born ecological and pacifist, today is nicknamed the “olive green”, standing out as one of the strongest defenders of the “general” war against Russia.

And the rider of these “returns of the repressed” gallops the generalized rise of extreme right parties, which are growing in almost all of Europe. And some of them update their traditional flags.

Last week a small earthquake shook the German political scene. For the first time the party alternative for Germany (AfD), the extreme right, managed to elect a mayor in the country. This is Hannes Loth, from the small town of Raghun-Jessnitz, in the state of Upper Saxony. In the municipality of almost 9 thousand inhabitants, Loth, with 51% of the votes, defeated his opponent Nils Neumann, who presented himself as an independent candidate.

Days earlier, the AfD managed to elect its first district administrator, in Sonneberg, in the state of Thuringia. This state is the only one in Germany to have a governor from Die Linke, leftist party. But if there were an election today, the AfD would come out on top with 28% of the vote to Linke's 22%, and the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in third with 21%.

These numbers confirm the roots of the extreme right in the former East Germany. But the AfD has been making progress across the country. If there were general elections today, the CDU would come first, with 28% of the vote. Also for the first time, the AfD would come in second, with 20%, surpassing the Social Democratic Party (SPD), of the current Chancellor Olaf Scholz, which would be in third, with 18%. The Greens would have 14% and the liberal FDP, both in the governing coalition, would have 7%. Linke, with only 4%, would not even enter the Federal Parliament, the Bundestag.

In Spain, Vox, which declares itself heir to the dictator Francisco Franco and the Knights Templar of the Middle Ages, has also made progress in recent times, although in the latest survey its momentum has cooled. This gave, in first place, the conservative Popular Party (PP), with 31,3% of the votes. Second comes the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, currently in government, with 29,5%. In third comes Vox, with 14,8% and in fourth, ahead of the left, Sumar, with 13,4%. Eleven percent would go to other parties. Vox and the Popular Party have been making alliances in several regions, displacing the Socialist Party in some of its traditional strongholds.

Far-right parties lead the governments of Italy, Poland and Hungary. In Finland, the extreme right has become part of the government, and in Sweden it gives decisive support to the new conservative government. In Greece, where the Conservatives recently won a major victory, three far-right parties managed to enter the National Parliament. And in increasingly convulsed France, candidate Marine Le Pen, also from the extreme right, wins more votes in each election she contests.

By and large, far-right parties remain faithful to their nostalgic and xenophobic nationalism, aimed above all at non-European immigrants and refugees. But at other points some of them have been modifying their traditional theses. For example, they no longer speak of “leaving” the European Union, but of “reforming” it. As for the single currency, the euro, they have maintained what can be called an “obsequious silence”. Traditionally accused of being sympathetic to Russian President Vladimir Putin, they have been distancing themselves from him due to the war in Ukraine.

These parties are also favored by the attitude of militants from the traditional conservative parties, who approach their flags, such as those of hostility to non-European immigrants, in an attempt to recover votes that are losing. Deep down, this attitude legitimizes such flags in the eyes of the electorate.

Interestingly, the main exception to this scenario, which many analysts assess as threatening to democracy on the continent, is in the often conservative England. The latest polls give a steady lead for the Labour, the Labor Party, with an estimated vote of between 43 and 47%, with an upward trend, while the Tories, the Conservative Party, currently in government, are between 22 and 29%, with a downward trend. The UK Reform Party, Reform UK, from the extreme right, would be only between 4 and 9%.

The first major thermometer of this new political design will take place in Spain, whose national election is scheduled for the next 23rd of July. The Popular Party, despite falling in the latest polls, leads the race; the PSOE, shaken by a serious defeat in regional elections not long ago, has been recovering. Both are moving towards a technical tie in the polls. And so far, neither the right (PP + Vox) nor the left (PSOE + Sumar) have been able to obtain an absolute majority.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (boitempo).


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