Saturday, 3 December 2016

Two Central European vignettes: fascism and totalitarianism

In these topsy-turvy days of 2016, in the wake of Brexit and Trump, it is easy to believe that anything is possible. And not in a positive way.

One: it is quite possible that we will wake up tomorrow to find that a European state has a fascist for a head of state: Norbert Hofer could well be president of Austria. Although his role would be largely ceremonial - and one could easily argue that Hungary under Orbán might be a true dictatorship within the EU before long, beating Austria to the punch - it is a frightening prospect and one which could easily spread the cancer of fascism within Europe with alarming speed, given the current zeitgeist of anti-politics prevalent in the West and the general unease in most of Europe with regard to immigration and refugee movement.

For anyone feeling the term "fascist" might be hyperbolic rather than accurate, I offer them this: as tweeter Otto English observed today, Hofer wears a small blue cornflower in his lapel. It is a secret symbol used by Austrian fascists in the 1930s. In other words, he is not an anti-immigration, right-wing populist in the UKIP mould but a genuine, common-or-garden fascist, with all the deeply unpleasant views that that entails.

Two: the leader of my once-great party today gave a speech in Prague, in which he argued that the solution to the resurgence of the far right was to push further to the left: a strategy which, as party stalwart Luke Akehurst noted, was previously tried in the Weimar Republic, with dismal results. Indeed, it was the same approach that Labour tried as a reaction to Thatcherism in the early 1980s and had similar success then.

But that was not the worst thing of the day (and thanks to Queen Mary's Philip Cowley for pointing this out): it was this. Corbyn gave his speech in the Czech capital talking about the horrors of its citizens living under Nazism, never once mentioning the totalitarianism that the Czechs lived under for much longer, that of the Soviet empire. It was as if those forty-odd postwar years had never happened; airbrushed from Corbyn's version of history. The tanks rolling into the capital in '68 a liberation, not a takeover.

What the Czech media must have made of his failure to mention that particular elephant in the room, one can only guess. But I, like many other comrades I am sure, am deeply ashamed to have as my leader such an unrepentant apologist for the Soviet Union, and the pogroms and massacres it represented.

And we haven't even got onto the French presidential election yet, where a positive result for Hofer would surely give a boost to Marine's Le Pen's chances of securing the keys to the Élysée.

Dark times, dear readers, dark times.

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