Europe is experiencing a rise of populist far-right political parties that plan to threaten democracy and create hate policies in the 21st century. Is history going to repeat itself?
“Arbeit Macht Frei”, work makes you free, a taunt on a gate into hell with the false promise of hard work setting you free. 75 years after the liberation of the largest Nazi concentration camp, survivors walked back under the notorious gate only this time as free men.
On January 27th, 1945, Soviet soldiers liberated Auschwitz and the horrific crimes committed by the Nazis were shown to the world. It became clear the victims should never be forgotten, those who perished and those who live with the horrific scars every day. Nazism would never have a place in society.
But, is history beginning to repeat itself?
Across Europe, there has been a significant rise in the number of far-right populist political parties gaining momentum and becoming an increasingly serious threat. Far-right ideas, such as a fear of immigrants coming and residing in a country, are forcing their way back onto the political agenda and are becoming a serious threat. The recent movement of a vast number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to make a better life in Europe has prompted an outpouring of hate and a surge in nationalist ideologies.
The gateway to Europe goes through former Soviet Union territories where the legacy of communism is almost nostalgic however now these countries are creating a tense and unwelcoming continent for those seeking a better life.
A path of the journey to freedom for many refugees is through Hungary. As a landlocked country it has seen a flow of nearly 900,000 refugees to the point where Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn has increased security around his borders. Orbàn approved militarisation of his borders, employing police patrols and security cameras to keep out those he views as a threat. Hungary is claiming the EU should repay them for “protecting all the citizens of Europe from the flood of illegal immigrants”. Hungary has become an authoritarian regime that continues to hold a façade of a stable and thriving democracy. Yet the government is becoming increasingly frightened of a so called invasion by migrants seeking a safe haven.
Eastern European countries are creeping towards authoritarianism regimes. Poland, a country that was invaded by Nazis during the Second World War has seen far-right parties elected to parliament. The fairly new Confederation Liberty and Independence Party gained 11 members of parliament at their first election. The party are wanting to implement tighter controls on foreign “invasions” to keep Poland Polish and reject liberal values. The Conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) has created a strong voice to enforce Polish Nationalism and social welfare- not a policy that is usually high up on far-right parties agendas.
Nationalism is an important concept, maybe even the most crucial, for most far-right parties. The politicians of parties in countries like Hungary, Poland, Germany and other countries in Europe have consistently expressed their worries about losing their nationalism to people who were not born in their country. Their worries are not calmed by the EU, whose stance on immigration has been unsatisfactory for many of the far-right parties particularly Alternative for Germany, who made contact with the anti-immigration Pegida movement, which held weekly marches against what it called “the Islamisation of the West”. They used this as the main issue of their political agenda.
Alternative for Germany (AfD) became the second biggest party in Germany’s Bundestag, in 2019. Their ideology is seemingly being tainted by Nazism, the AfD’s idea that Islam is alien to society just as the Nazis had viewed Judaism. It is the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag since the Nazi Party in 1932. Several of their top politicians have been accused of racism. The party leader in Thuringia, Bjӧrn Hӧcke criticised the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin saying, “We Germans are the only nation in the world to have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital.” Hate seems to be the root of the AfD’s top concern of migrants apparently taking over Germany. A shameful thought yet not uncommon.
The Nazi Party believed Judaism was alien to German Society and began to alienate and persecute the Jewish population of not just Germany but Europe. Today, Alternative for Germany is targeting Muslims in the same way. This view disgracefully shadows that of the Nazi regime, and questions whether history is beginning to repeat itself. Germany is still sensitive about their war history yet the rise of the AfD identifies that Germany may not have yet learned from it.
There are many who deny the Holocaust and are insulting the survivors of the Nazi regime. Despite holocaust denial and denial of crimes committed by the Nazis illegal in Germany, individuals influenced by the AfD have travelled to remembrance sites like Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz-Birkenau to express their doubts about the Holocaust. Not only is this incredibly disrespectful to those who survived the Nazi concentration and death camps but shows, if it wasn’t already clear, far-right parties are having influence and creating old ideologies for their followers that should never be brought back to life. Leading politicians in the AfD are proving that anti-Semitism is still a relevant issue in today’s politics, just as it was in the 1930s and 40s.
Each commemorative site preserved from the Nazi era is essential to remembering the Holocaust and is a stark reminder that there are no boundaries to what humans can do to other humans. The sites relay a message of ‘Never Again’ but we should all be fearful that soon they will be saying ‘Not Again’.
The rise of populism was helped by the election of Donald Trump. A deafening voice denouncing illegal immigrants and claiming to ‘Make America Great Again’. What is particularly worrying about Trump’s rise, is the ripple effect it has on the rest of the world. A man with nasty ideologies, including the idea to persecute one race has risen to the top of the world’s most powerful state. This gives small far-right parties and states a powerful voice to rise to the top of their respective states. Trump’s travel ban in 2017 on Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela and North Korea was a disgusting persecution on individuals he viewed as ruining American society, he has further added Nigeria, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar (Burma), in 2020, to the list. With a number of the banned states having a predominantly Muslim population we see similarities with Trump and the fear in European populism of Muslim migrants entering the continent.
Last month, the world watched as world leaders gathered at Auschwitz to commemorate one of the darkest parts of history. It’s incredibly scary to acknowledge the new rise of the far-right into political positions where anti-Semitism and hate are still burning. We should begin to fear history and the relapse that could occur and understand there is no country in Europe that is a stranger to the ideologies that such parties contain and continue to prevail as societies begin to change. The far-right is an issue we should all fear and as parties continue to grow in votes and in some cases form governments we must remember what happened to millions of people at the hands of a far-right party. On a wall in Auschwitz lies the George Santayana quote “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, a warning to us all.
Feature Image credit: Chappatte