Can Europe Stop Rising Nationalism?

In the Greek election in June last year the openly Nazi party, Golden Dawn, did not technically win the election, but they made a big inroad into the parliament. They are, effectively, the true winners in the Greek, welfare-state driven economic crisis. But they are not the only nationalist movement gaining ground in crisis-ridden Europe. Of equal concern is the situation in Hungary, where two parties, Fidesz and Jobbik, form one of Europe’s most influential nationalist alliances.

This nationalist movement, which includes parties in virtually every European country, represents a current in European politics the strength of which the continent has not seen since before World War II. That does not mean that all nationalist parties are fascist or Nazi parties – there is actually a profound dividing line between, e.g., on the one hand Fidesz and Jobbik and on the other hand Golden Dawn – but just as socialists tend to blur the line between “democratic” socialism and communism, democratic nationalists tend to blur the line between themselves and ideologically affiliated totalitarian movements.

Hungary is a good example of what this might lead to. A recent story in Der Spiegel explains:

Internationally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán likes to present himself as a champion of democracy. At home, though, he is implementing one policy after the other that is inspired by the right-wing extremist Jobbik party. Too often, Brussels downplays the problem.

The attitude in Europe is that if it does not have a brown shirt or a Stalin mustache, it is nothing to worry about. The problem for Europe is that its political leaders either themselves have a totalitarian background or have lived in the vicinity of oppressive ideologies for so long that they don’t see the forest for all the trees.

Der Spiegel again:

Leading Jobbik politicians claim that members of the government coalition led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán are constantly “stealing the issues and ideas” of the party and peddling them as their own. There’s a good reason why Hungary’s right-wing extremists, who took 17 percent of the vote in 2010 elections, are frustrated. Orbán and his ruling majority have been veering further and further to the right. Indeed, hardly a week goes by these days in which politicians from Orbán’s Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats) party or prominent party backers somehow publicly adopt a right-wing extremist stance.

This is worrisome, as the two parties have hitherto stood on different sides of the line between parliamentary nationalism and authoritarian nationalism.

One of the major problems with European nationalism – which is a different animal than American patriotism – is that it wants government to impose a defined set of nationalist values on the country. Patriotism here in the United States calls for the teaching of the Constitution, the history of the founding of the country and of basic values of individual freedom. That’s it. European nationalism, on the other hand, goes much farther. Der Spiegel reports on what this means:

For example, conductor Ádám Medveczky, a member of the pro-government Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts (MMA), recently called for something akin to an intellectual expatriation of the writers György Konrád, Péter Esterházy and Imre Kertész, the latter of whom won the 2002 Nobel Prize in literature. Speaking about the three authors on the private television channel AVT, Medveczky said: “Whoever is born a Hungarian but damages and bad-mouths Hungarians when abroad can no longer be regarded as a Hungarian.” MMA President György Fekete had previously expressed similar sentiments and demanded that no member of the academy should be allowed “to lack the genetic feeling of nationalism.” Rather than being some body of little consequence, the MMA is an unofficial culture ministry with far-reaching powers over cultural policies. Under Fekete’s presidency, the MMA no longer subsidizes “unpatriotic” works.

Which, of course, means that government has a growing say in what constitutes “unpatriotic” activity. By being able to tie money to their pursuit of a nationalist agenda, these bureaucrats monopolize cultural expressions not just in terms of persuasion – which would consist of presenting the most compelling and convincing art forms – but by becoming the dominant source of financial survival for anyone interested in an artistic or cultural career.

This is classic statism, and it does not differ much from what socialists do when they monopolize education and impose their agenda-driven curricula on all children in a country.

Der Spiegel again:

“There are no longer any clear boundaries between the thinking of Fidesz and Jobbik,” says György Dalos, a prominent writer and political biographer. And what he says about cultural policies also applies to many other policy areas of the Hungarian government. Indeed, [Prime Minister] Orbán and his ruling party are implementing a major part of Jobbik’s right-wing extremist platform. While some policies are toned down, others are adopted unchanged.

The magazine then provides a list of somewhat disturbing examples, such as a new national holiday with reference to territorial shifts in Hungarian history, as well as the erection of statues of Miklos Horty, the King of Hungary…

between 1920 and 1944 [who] had a hand in the World War II deaths of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

And, of course, the Hungarian nationalists cannot keep their hands off schools – or the media:

The Hungarian National Core Curriculum (NAT) recommends the works of anti-Semitic writers from the interwar period. The media law requires journalists working for public media organizations to promote a national identity in their reporting. And the preamble of the constitution in force since 2012 evokes the spirit of the Horthy regime.

As mentioned earlier, this drift into highly questionable nationalist territory has not yet caught the full attention of the rest of Europe:

Indeed, many politicians in Brussels either don’t comment on or downplay the issue of right-wing extremism in Hungary. Take, for example, Wilfried Martens, the Belgian parliamentarian who heads the European People’s Party (EPP), which also includes representatives from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Orbán’s Fidesz party. In a tersely worded response to written questions, Martens said that Fidesz, as a member of the EPP, shares in the worries about extremism, and that Orbán has always “stressed the necessity of confronting this problem.”

Europe needs to re-acquaint itself with the extreme expressions of statism. The problem is, again, that Europe in general is so deeply entrenched in the defense of big government that its leaders have a very weak gut reaction to authoritarianism. This is especially true on the socialist flank, but it applies almost as strongly to nationalism.

Only a libertarian Europe with a minimal state would be safe against authoritarian power grabs.