111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

There’s a new spectre in Europe

The spectre of brutal policies has once again returned to Europe. However, this time it is neither communism nor the bloody red revolution; it is the pernicious far-right forces that are expanding their influence across the region.

Unfortunately, they have found several allies in traditional right-wing centrist parties that previously avoided any significant interaction with them for fear of losing support.

The alleged appeasement of these far-right forces by some European politicians, including Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen, has appalled many analysts who consider it a big capitulation. It is believed that Leyen, unlike Germany’s consensus-seeking former chancellor Angela Merkel, is not afraid to divide opinion to drive through policies she believes are right.

But many are questioning her hobnobbing with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose party is considered a successor of Italian fascists by Meloni’s critics. Although Meloni, who heads the Brothers of Italy, has claimed in the past that there are no “nostalgic fascists, racists or anti-Semites in her party”, critics do not buy her assertion. They claim that the party has a number of leaders whose past cannot be described as impeccable.

According to British socialist activist Simon Basketter, the party was co-founded by Ignazio Benito La Russa with Meloni. Many know Russa as a former defence minister, who also became the speaker of the Italian parliament’s upper house in 2022. But what they do not know is his family’s connections with Italian fascists. His father was secretary of Mussolini’s fascist party while Russa himself began his political career with the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), the party set up in 1946 by supporters of Mussolini.

Basketter notes that Italy’s 1948 constitution explicitly proscribed the reorganisation “under any form whatsoever, of the dissolved fascist party”. Perhaps it was because of this that the MSI was excluded from government coalitions. However, it staged a comeback in different ways.

Basketter exposes such connections in one of his articles published in ‘Socialist Worker’ in 2002. He reveals, “In a video showing off his (Russa’s) many fascist relics on display in his home, he gloated, “There’s even a communist symbol, but we put it beneath the feet of the Mussolini statue.””

Besides Russa, his brother is also accused of having fascist connections. Basketter says La Russa’s brother Romano, a Brothers of Italy councillor, was filmed in 2022 making the stiff-armed fascist salute at a funeral. However, the party clarified that it had nothing to do with any fascist ideology or leanings.

Given this history of the party, many are appalled over the attempts of Ursula – who is seeking a second term as the European Commission president – that are aimed at securing support from Meloni. The commission head has been accused of visiting Italy often to curry favour with the Brothers’ head. Many of Ursula’s critics believe that it amounts to appeasing the forces that have traces of fascist ideology and advocate polarizing political opinions.

Many believe that such hobnobbing of Ursula and other conservative leaders with far-right European politicians before the June EU parliament elections, when around 450 million eligible voters in 27 countries pick a new EU parliament, could give them a modicum of respectability and legitimize their polarizing agenda.

It is said that these far-right parties should be considered democrats, but given the scale of destruction that Europe faced during World War II, any opinion that drives a wedge between communities and people should be tackled in an effective way. No party should be allowed to spread hate-mongering on the pretext of immigration, identity or Western civilization. Such parties should not be considered democrats at all.

Italy witnessed the rise of the Brothers because the leaders of mainstream parties legitimized the crimes of fascists in one way or the other, helping far-right forces sneak into mainstream politics. It is believed that Italian centre-right governments between 1994 and 2011 opened the door for these politically extremist forces whose ideas resemble those of fascists.

For instance, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is accused of launching a revisionist view of Mussolini’s role in Italian history. He declared Mussolini as one of Italy’s “greatest statesmen” and a “benign dictator” who had “done good things for Italy”.

It is not only Italy where mainstream leaders have capitulated to rising far-right forces, but other European politicians have also adopted a number of policies to appease such forces. Many critics believe that a number of curbs on immigration and restrictions on Muslims have been placed to calm down these elements. But it seems that their demands are increasing.

It is perhaps because of this that the popularity of these retrogressive elements is rising with every passing day. According to various surveys, the European People’s Party (EPP) is likely to clinch 173 seats, socialists and democrats 146 and the Identity and Democracy group, comprising far-right forces, 84. The Greens and their allies are likely to secure 43 while left-wing parties and their allies might win 31 seats.

Many parties are making it clear that they would not work with far-right forces in the next European parliament. For instance, the Party of European Socialists recently declared it would not work with far-right forces in the next European parliament. But the same political declaration has not been made by all conservative parties. It is because of this that they are being accused of opening the door to some far-right parties.

It is important to understand that there is a blurred line between conservatives, far right groups and extremist forces. It is often seen that when hardline ultranationalist parties do not find support among people, they put up a moderate form of their ideology in a bid to lure people into believing that they have given up their retrogressive ideas.

For instance, when the RSS did not find support among Indians, it introduced a moderate version of its ideology in the form of the BJP, which is now playing havoc with the lives of minorities and Indian poor.

A number of conservative leaders would lose no time in joining European far-right forces or possibly extremist parties the moment they realize that such parties are in a position to win polls. This happened in the past when a number of conservative leaders turned a blind eye to the brutal activities of Hitler and Mussolini who ruthlessly crushed all opposition.

The silence of European leaders over such activities embolden such monstrous political figures to plunge the world into terrible catastrophes like the one that claimed over 70 million lives, including six million hapless Jews. Extremist ideologies like fascism was one of the factors that pushed the world towards this. Europe paid a heavy price for tolerating such an ideology. The development and progress that mankind had made in the last 500 years evaporated during the terrible slaughter of the 20th century.

Therefore, it is important that all anti-fascist forces not only vehemently oppose the remnants of Hitler and Mussolini but also distance themselves from far-right forces who are being accused of following at least some points of these destructive ideologies.

Aligning with these forces, especially amidst any economic crisis, could be very explosive because this is when these forces can attempt to find a scapegoat for the financial woes of the people and exploit their feelings. European parties must make strenuous efforts to prevent these far-right forces from plunging the continent into another bloodbath.

Abdul Sattar, "There’s a new spectre in Europe," The News. 2024-05-16.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political opinions , Parliament , Extremists , Angela Merkel , PM Giorgia Meloni , India , Germany , BJP , MSI