European integration was launched in response to the horrors that fascist dictatorship had meant for Europe in the 1930s-40s: war and genocide. In other words, fascism was supposed to be part of Europe’s past. During most of the postwar era, neo-fascist movements remained a marginal, albeit morally troubling, footnote in European politics. Virtually nobody imagined that the European integration might somehow, however indirectly, contribute to the re-emergence of violent fascist dictatorship.
After four years of economic crisis and EU responses that consistently prove better at alienating publics (bank bailouts and harsh austerity) than restoring growth, despair in some member states is growing deeper by the day. As a result, neo-fascism now threatens to enter the mainstream of European society and political institutions.
If you doubt this, these recent reports — two in the Guardian (here and here) and one on the BBC (plus video here) — show that Greek police are collaborating with the thuggery of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn movement, which already controls eighteen seats in parliament. Given the persistence of extremist movements elsewhere in Europe in recent years, there is ample reason to fear that Greece’s plight today could be Europe’s horror tomorrow. Consider Hungary, where the extreme nationalist and openly irredentist Jobbik is now the country’s third largest party.
The EU needs to make clear to the Greek government that it must put an immediate end to such fragrant violations of democratic order. It must also keep a close eye on the activities of Jobbik and its often thuggish supporters, which are increasingly setting the country’s political agenda due to the weakness of the ruling Fidesz party and the absence of any credible alternative.
Unless all of Europe’s leaders get serious about restoring economic hope across Europe, Europeans may well find themselves “back to the future” — living in a world in which ever more extreme nationalist rhetoric, irredentism and violence against minorities and other vulnerable groups once again spills across national borders, overwhelming national democracies and rights-protective institutions at the European level.
If we are to avoid such horrors, Europe’s leaders will have to take bold steps now toward debt mutualisation, common banking supervision, a serious programme of productivity-enhancing investments in education and infrastructure, supranational oversight of budgetary discipline, and a radical increase in democratic accountability at the European level. Continued procrastination on these and related measures will only bring us closer to a future that we all thought had been firmly buried in the past.