A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I met a Marxist — not the craft-beer-and-Prius kind but the real meal deal. He was one of Lenin’s Lads and proud of it. We eyed each other, like wary animals, across an ad hoc Irish pub party, casually exchanging a few beer-whet barbs through the crowd. He was younger, better informed and quicker on the wit than I was, but I haven’t been afraid of Marxists (not the real ones, anyway) since Brezhnev dropped the collective ball in the early 70s. Besides, I had the advantage: I’d been there before, many times. Eventually, sensing a game of “let’s you and him fight,” the party metaphorically parted so the two of us could get at it. I seldom walk away from an intellectual punch-up, so I figured what the hell. My new friend, however, had a few things on his mind. After a couple of pleasantries, he looked at me and said, “The fascists are coming.” It took me a few seconds to realize he didn’t mean me, and from that revelation on, we spent the rest of the evening agreeing to agree.
The far right movement in Europe is not only alive — it’s on a roll. Statistically, it’s the fastest growing political movement west of the Urals. In fact, many Euro-centrist politicians are moving right to accommodate this new political reality. FYI, I’m not talking about black jacket, Neo-Nazi skinheads — although they are the far right’s willing allies — I’m talking about Mom and Pop fascists. These are ordinary people (of an increasingly younger demographic, BTW) whose traditional social and political views see the 21st century European landscape as a comedy of errors which the current politicos either can’t (or won’t) put right. They have lost their faith in Europe’s left and right wing revolving door governments, each one more inept than the last, and want, above all else, stability.
This movement has its roots firmly planted in two separate but equal gardens of discontent.
First, the ever-expanding European economic crisis: a financial disaster which has now taken on a destructive life of its own. For
the last half century, the uncrowned heads of Europe have been spending money as if they were Midas’ mistress; when they ran out of ready cash, they just borrowed more. Now the piggy banks are empty, the credit cards are maxed and the banks are demanding their pound of flesh. Take one guess who’s being asked to pay the bills! Those same folks who are getting financially pistol-whipped by their governments’ fiscal irresponsibility — which, in some places, verges on criminal negligence. Across Europe, people have watched their savings, insurance, homes, pensions and jobs vanish. Officially, unemployment sits somewhere north of 10%. Unofficially, it’s much higher, and among young people it’s close to 50% (in parts of Portugal and Spain.) These numbers are biblical in their devastation. Elections come and go, governments rise and fall, but there’s no relief in sight.
Secondly, many Europeans believe their culture is under attack — not only by radical Islam from without, but by their own politicians from within. For the past two (maybe three) decades, they’ve been subjected to ever increasing volumes of feel-good rhetoric, yet the Moslem ghettos get bigger, more radical and immigration (legal and otherwise) increases. They see a seemingly infinite conflict stretching out before them like some endless Orwellian misery. More and more, politicians are being physically attacked and even killed. Political commentary and satire are being intimidated, and artists, the very soul of any society, are being murdered or go into hiding. These are not the hallmarks of a vibrant, dynamic culture. Nor do images like that of Drummer Rigby, hacked to death in broad daylight, instill confidence in an already sceptical population. And the brazen taunts of the unrepentant murderers add powerful punctuation to the message: “Your leaders are impotent.”
There are no short answers to either of these questions, but the longer the powers that be dither around looking for one, the closer the fascists get to finding it. Golden Dawn in Greece, Democracia Nacional in Spain, Casapound in Italy, BNP in Britain: the list is long and it’s growing. Even the powerful National Front in France, once the darling of conservative politics, is now seen by many as too mainstream, too willing to compromise right-wing ideals for a slice of the political pie. There are other forces at work in France these days, and they showed up in huge numbers (over 200,000 in Paris alone) to protest Francois Hollande’s gay marriage law.
My newfound Marxist friend didn’t want to fight with me over petty politics; he wanted to warn me that conditions in Europe are changing, and that even though the factions are small and scattered fascism is on the move.
Oddly enough, since I’ve been back in North America, Vladimir Putin and his Russian Duma have passed a law outlawing “gay propaganda” (whatever that means) by an astounding margin of 436 – 0. A little closer to home, in my country, a provincial sports federation has banned turbans from the soccer pitch. They say it’s for safety reasons, but a shocking 87% of the people in the province support the ban.