WARSAW — On the eve of the 2014 Euro-elections, and 69 years after World War II and the Holocaust, a spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of nationalism. Today, revolutionaries of quite another sort storm Strasbourg and Brussels to dismantle the EU: nationalists from Britain, Italy, France, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, as well as from the rest of the EU.
Never before has the Europroject been the object of such a concerted attack. The union that was suggested by Winston Churchill and formed by Christian democratic leaders, now faces a phalanx of enemies.
Leaders of today’s radical right are elegant and buff, articulate before the cameras and comfortable on the social networks. Among them are Marine Le Pen of the French National Front, the well spoken, photogenic blond successor of her father; the dapper Nigel Farange from the UK Independence Party with his cutting wit tailor-made for YouTube; Poland’s Janusz Korwin-Mikke from the Congress of the New Right, playing the jester in his neat bow tie, and, lest we forget, Jörg Haider, the consummate skier, player and man about town, who in 2008 perished in his fast and furious Phaeton, leaving a mass of Austrian neo-fascists orphans.
Europe’s radical right electorate harkens from all levels of society, though its incarnations easily find adherents among the dissatisfied and outraged. For disgruntled Britons, Farage points an accusing finger at the Brussels eurocrats, European migrant freeloaders (notably, Poles) and other foreigners who deprive good Britons of jobs, money and their very “Britishness.”
Marine Le Pen promises France to the French. Umberto Bossi from the Northern League has no trouble explaining to Italians from the wealthy Piedmont and Lombardy regions that they have nothing in common with impoverished Sicilians.
The obedient foot soldiers of the radical right are a brotherhood of brass knuckled men with shaved heads wielding Billy clubs, straining their thick tattooed necks to bellow racist gibberish, poisoned with their contempt for the rest of us sub-humans.
Haven’t we seen this before? An elegant facade backed up by brown shirted muscle? They prove an irresistible temptation for even such seasoned politicians as former Polish right-wing prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński and the late veteran dissident and senator Zbigniew Romaszewski, both of whom demonstrated a sick penchant for the football hooligan Staruch and his “alternative” ways of expressing patriotism.
We might also recall Korwin-Mikke’s Congress of the Right in Warsaw’s Palace of Culture in 1990, where skinheads led by then nationalist leader Bolesław Tejkowski provided “security” services.
Monika Olejnik, a major Polish talk show host, made a grave mistake when she announced that she would not discuss “that fascist,” Tejkowski, on her show. She might save her program this way, but surely not Europe.
Korwin-Mikke has enjoyed popularity among students for years, especially among young computer scientists who are perhaps attracted to his ironclad logic. Hidden behind his super-neoliberal mask is a neo-fascist – an anti-Semite par excellence, a homophobe, a “charming” misogynist, betrayed by his own unwitting sneer.
He has contemptuously referred to Margaret Thatcher as a socialist and would like to rid the Olympic games of “perverts” and “cripples.” Female students squeal with delight at his rallies when he explains to them that women are less intelligent than men and that they should not take part in elections, since they would only be echoing their husbands’ votes.
In the climate of today’s Europe, this long-time “one percent” politician and media mascot has every chance of storming Strasburg and reclaiming a place in the Polish parliament.
Korwin-Mikke’s triumphant return to the political scene is not the result of an international Europhobic conspiracy, but rather a local variant of a tendency seen throughout the EU.
Just what do they want? They want to change the face of Europe, this Europe, perhaps slowly and quietly or maybe “with a bang.”
They would take Europe apart and change it into their beloved vision of a “Europe of Fatherlands.”
Nigel Farage wants to take Great Britain out of the EU and give Britain back to the Britons, and especially to beat Cameron. For Marine Le Pen, the European elections are only a prelude to France’s presidential elections. With her toned-down rhetoric and appeal to the wider public, she hopes to outperform her father, Jean-Marie, the confirmed anti-Semite and neo-fascist, who in 2002 made it to the second round by defeating the socialist premier Lionel Jospin.
All of these figures have a real chance. Korwin-Mikke is outpolling the socialists from the Democratic Left Alliance. Nigel Farage is seeing his best numbers in years. Marine Le Pen is looking confidently to the future with last week’s polls placing her ahead of both the Gaullist UMP and the ruling socialists.
Soon the corridors of Europe will resonate with their murmur and witness the nodding wordless understanding of the Euro-liquidators. Thanks to the egoism of its nations, the beautiful European idea may die before our very eyes.
A tiny percentage of Europeans will bother to turn up at polling stations on Sunday and a good portion of them will cast their votes for the Europhobes. Political cartoonist Marek Raczkowski keenly observed a paradox that has irked me for years — an international of nationalists is inevitable though its premise is a contradiction in terms. They are united in their approach yet divided by their mutual hate.
Sergiusz Kowalski is a commentator living in Warsaw who writes critically in Polish liberal periodicals on right-wing rhetoric and discourse.