Can Europe Make It?

Right-Wing soft power, the refugee crisis and Europe’s failure

The fact that Syriza was crucified more often and with more intensity than Viktor Orbán speaks volumes in itself. It is just that most people do not want to listen.

Srdjan M. Jovanović
20 September 2015
Austrian foreign minister meets Serbian finance minister and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić.

Austrian foreign minister meets Serbian finance minister and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.By the very end of the twentieth century, in the late 1980s, Joseph Nye coined the term ’soft power’. Little did we know that he had hit an ontological political jackpot. Oculus tauri. Nye wrote that ’the dictionary tells us that power means an ability to do things and control others, to get others to do what they otherwise would not’, giving the very definition of power as it is, an almost proverbial potestas per se. Traditionally, power was seen as brute force, an almost strictly military instance. ’Today, however, the definition of power is losing its emphasis on military force and conquest that marked earlier eras’, he wrote. ’Soft power lies in the ability to attract and persuade’.

No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, today’s Europe (and much of the rest of the world) is a willing slave to the Right-Wing’s soft power. This power is so strong that it has persuaded us that the Right Wing is not even Right-Wing. Until it becomes ’extreme’, such as the case of Viktor Orbán. Soft power is the Right-Wing’s bread and butter. And it works.

For starters, this can easily be seen in the sludge-ridden discourse about the New Left, from Syriza, via Podemos, to Jeremy Corbyn. Whenever the Left Wing succeeds (or even worse, whenever it simply pops up as a political choice), we are bombarded with a relatively ridiculous discourse about the ’extreme left’, even though nothing but anarchism nowadays could legitimately be considered as an ’extreme left’ option. And the world is in ’schock’ that a leftist is now leading a labour party in the United Kingdom, however utterly bizzare that might be. O, tempora, o, mores. Why?

Because the Right-Wing is the default position. The Right-Wing is in power in more and more countries as the years go by. And we are not talking only about Orbán’s Hungary, Putin’s Russia or the currently sidelined Berlusconi in Italy. We are talking about Slovakia and Fico’s idea to accept only Christian refugees. We are talking about Vučić’s Serbia and the media darkness that has engulfed it. We are talking about the UK’s David Cameron (when Blair mentioned that the UK should vote for ’anyone but Corbyn’, I knew Corbyn just might be the right choice for Britain). Even Sweden, Finland and Denmark are slowly, but steadily, nurturing a strong, growing Right-Wing. It does not take a lot to find out the policy proposals and discourses put forth by the Swedish Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna) or the True Finns (Perussuomalaiset). Some semblance of hope was given very recently when a petition was created to (finally) dub David Cameron for what he is – a Right-Wing prime minister. ’Every time Jeremy Corbyn is mentioned in a news report on the BBC he is referred to as the left wing Labour Party leader. In the interest of fairness and un-biased reporting, David Cameron should also be referred to in terms of his place on the political spectrum – “the right-wing Prime Minister”.’

About time.

The year 2015 served as a litmus paper for Europe (especially the European Union, though) after the influx of refugees from the Islamic State. As Anne Applebaum wrote, ’picking apart the layers of irony and hypocrisy that surround the European refugee crisis is like peeling an onion without a knife. At a train station in southern Moravia, Czech Republic, police pulled 200 refugees off a train and marked numbers on their arms. On its eastern border, Hungary is building a barbed-wire fence to keep out refugees, remarkably like the barbed-wire “iron curtain” that once marked its western border. Choose whatever image you want—ships full of Jews being sent back to Nazi Europe, refugees furtively negotiating with smugglers at a bar in Casablanca—and it now has a modern twist.’

Yes, Europe has failed. The European Union has failed as well. It has failed even officially – though those who will admit it are scant – with the ‘temporary’ revoking of the Schengen zone in several states, a keystone in the foundation of the European Union. When a pillar is removed from the foundation, the whole construction breaks down – do we even need such elaborate allegories, after all? The utter lack of any semblance of a human(e) approach regarding the mass of destitute, dispossessed people fleeing for their lives tells us more than we can handle. Europe has failed, led by the Right, and Katie Hopkins is the face of its bleak, bleak future.

It has failed because it became a bastion of the New Right, the soft-power-abundant-Right-Wing that has, during decades and decades after having its ‘hard’ power curbed after World War II and the succeeding Cold War, gradually been regaining forces through cunning discourse, the destruction of the media and a rampant capitalism that drove the majority of its population to the edge of poverty and its citizenry towards bigotry. Non-right wing political options are regularly and skillfully classified as ‘unelectable’ or ‘dangerous’. The fact that Syriza was crucified more often and with more intensity than Viktor Orbán speaks volumes in itself. It is just that most people do not want to listen. What they would hear is the swansong of democracy, the swansong of Europe.

The different failures of Europe and the EU

But this does not end here. A more dangerous twist is yet to come. There is an extremely significant divide between people who claim that either Europe or the European Union has failed. On one hand, we are talking about a solipsistic Right-Wing, that keeps claiming that Europe has failed for the simple reason that that is what they wish for, thus contributing to its failure. We are talking about a clear and visible political and social solipsism. The other group, to which I belong, are democratically oriented people who are disappointed because they want to see Europe as a bastion of democracy, free thought, freedom of movement and a place where poverty will be diminished, if not eradicated.

Yes, it is the Right-Wing who is more vocal about Europe’s failure, as they are slowly getting what they want. And yes, the EU does not really care about serious breaches of human rights and the destruction of democracy at all within its borders (Hungary, for instance) or beyond. But do let’s take Serbia for an example. Its Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, is often even applauded by key EU officials (Orbán at least gets gently criticized). Nobody really cares about the fact that censorship is the new synonym for Serbia, that its poverty levels have been rocketing during Aleksandar Vučić’s reign, that absolute nepotism is now even official (we are talking about a ban on employment in the public sector, meaning that people getting hired are only and exclusively achieving it via connections). Recently, a man got arrested and sentenced to seven days in jail for having more than two cats (sic!), while the son of the media mogul, Željko Mitrović – the owner of the Prime Minister’s main supporting media, TV Pink – walked free after vehicular manslaughter. Who is most vocal against the EU in Serbia? The Right-Wing opposition. Vučić is not enough Right-Wing for them. They want to take a turn to an even more extreme Right. Even the EU is not ’Right-Wing enough’ for them.

Chaotic? Yes. Confusing? Quite. That is what Right-Wing policies do, both within the EU and outside of it. The non-EU Right-Wing is against the EU as it uses it to form the Other. The EU Right-Wing is using either Leftists or refugees for form the Other. As I have mentioned, both the EU and Europe in general have failed. Common denominator? The Right-Wing, of course, with its discourses and policies of Othering.

Michael Billig wrote about ’banal nationalism’, where nationalism is explained to have permeated not only everyday discourse, but everyday life; it is something that comes as a default position – much like the Right-Wing nowadays. Billig also wrote how banal nationalism is not designated as nationalism, simply because of its default position. The same goes for the soft-empowered Right-Wing, the ’banal Right-Wing’ of this day and age. I am afraid we haven’t taken Billig’s warnings too seriously. As Tymothy Snyder wrote, ’Hitler’s world might not be so far away’.

We can start fighting a very grim future by simply calling things what they are. The Right-Wing is the Right-Wing. And it is everywhere.

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