martedì 9 giugno 2009

Storici inglesi sull'ondata nera alle europee

Eric Hobsbawm

Author of The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century (1914-1991), among others

It is not the threat from the extreme right that is the most striking characteristic of these elections, though clearly there is a shift to the right, and centre-right governments are likely to make more concessions to the far right. The real story is the crisis of the left .

We have been here before, in the 1930s when the net effect of the Depression was to strengthen the right and nullify the left - Labour was reduced to 50 MPs in 1931. The left rose again, but I am not optimistic about it being able to do so this time. Social democratic parties across Europe are in decline. That decline is not as dramatic as the communists a generation ago, but it is still marked. The European left relied on a working class that no longer exists in its old form, and in order to recover it will need to find a new constituency. That may be hard.

The left is in trouble everywhere: Labour in the UK, the French socialists, the Italian democrats. The Spanish socialists, one of the few leftwing parties to gain in recent years, have also slipped. The SPD in Germany are not doing as badly as expected, but they are down to around 20%, and these losses are not compensated by the votes for the New Left party. We have seen the demoralisation of the French left and a degree of disintegration of the left in Germany. Social democrats will need a new vision as well as a new constituency.

David Kynaston

Research fellow at Kingston University and author of Austerity Britain

As Nadezhda Mandelstam, wife of Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, said of Stalinism in her book Hope Against Hope, "Don't think it can't happen to you." There are definite parallels between Germany in the prewar years and now, most obviously the economic crisis that sparked mass unemployment. The Wall Street Crash took place in 1929 but it wasn't until January 1933 that Hitler became chancellor of Germany; I would suggest that we are a long way from seeing the worst of our own economic crisis and if we date the start as being September 2008 then we still have a while to go in which the far right could gain a stronghold.

More worryingly, the recession has been accompanied by a rise in populism and a loss of faith in democratic politics; the sort of people who, a generation ago, did not used to be cynical about politics now are. Worse still, people are not just indifferent to politics, they are ignorant about it: the level of hostility to intellectualism in this country is deeply depressing.

The BNP is a different animal to Ukip. Ukip can at least make a defensible democratic case for itself; we were promised a referendum on Europe and we haven't been given one - almost certainly because it would be lost. There is something far more sinister about the BNP because it is an overtly racist party. This is a problem because liberal democracies are not good at dealing with extremism.

Somehow we need to find a way of exposing the BNP, while stopping it from manipulating the system to its advantage. It would help here if politicians from the main parties were more honest and treated the electorate like adults. It is clear from the budget forecasts that the country is basically bust, yet the Labour party carries on its "yah boo" politics of claiming it is not going to cut any public services while the Conservatives have fudged the whole issue on what they intend to do. Both stances are patronising and unsustainable. The public knows the country is bust and there are hard choices to make: it's time the main parties allowed us to join in a grown-up debate about them.

Norman Davies

Supernumerary fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford, and fellow of the British Academy

Any comparisons with 1920s Germany are completely overstated. Fascism grew out of the crushing military defeat in which millions of Germans were killed and the moral humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles which held that Germany alone was responsible for the first world war. This was tantamount to saying that German families, who had done exactly the same as the British and Americans in sending their conscripted sons to fight, had killed their own children and was the catalyst for anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and the emergence of a far-right nationalist movement. Economic depression on its own would not have allowed fascism to flourish.

That does not mean we should be relaxed about the rise of the BNP. While Ukip thrives on the notion that the EU is the new Third Reich, the BNP is much more Anglo-centric; it wants to reclaim an imagined Albion dominated by white nationals. It is a party that is actually misnamed, for its essence is the English National party and, with the collapse of the Labour vote in Scotland giving the SNP an overwhelming majority, the break-up of the United Kingdom must be a possibility.

The BNP also has more natural allies among the far right in Europe - the Dutch Freedom party and the French National Front in particular - than Ukip. However, it is worth remembering that the one thing on which you can rely is that far-right parties will fall out with each other, so they are unlikely to form a mass European movement.

What we do need to be concerned about is David Cameron's current flirtation with the Polish rightwing Law and Justice party, led by Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski. Up until now the British media has been giving the Kaczynski brothers far too easy a time. The brothers, totally lacking in ideology, are falling over themselves with joy at being courted by the Conservatives. They are manipulative politicians with no scruples. In the past they have boycotted state TV, restricting their appearances to Radju Marija - the station belonging to an extreme Catholic nationalist group - and have repeatedly tried to smear centrist politicians and have even claimed that Lech Walesa was a Soviet agent. It's too simplistic to call them merely far-right - homophobia and anti-Semitism aren't nearly as much of a problem in Poland as is often claimed - but they do hold the communist-era assumption that Germany is plotting to take over Poland again. Fundamentally, they are anti-liberal and determined to do down democracy. Cameron will definitely come off badly if he gets too close to them.

David Stevenson

Professor of international history at the LSE; author of The Penguin History of the First World war

The election of two BNP MEPs is a very depressing development. But in some ways the surprising thing is that their support hasn't gone up more. The recession, the influx of immigration and the fact that all the mainstream parties are tarred with the same brush in the expenses scandal should work in their favour.

The parallel I would make is not with the rise of fascism in the 1930s but with the success of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France in the 1980s. He made his breakthrough in areas where the French communist party had been strong. As the communists collapsed, Le Pen's Front National came in and took over. Now, in the UK, a portion of the vote that traditionally went to the Labour party has gone to the BNP. When Nick Griffin talks about the country being full and immigrants taking British jobs, he strikes a chord.

The BNP is different in style and structure from fascism in the 1930s. Clad in uniforms, fascists then organised themselves in paramilitary groups; they marched and engaged in street fighting. Far-right parties still have their bully boys, but there are fewer of them, though the danger is that they will multiply.

Even more worrying, though, is what will happen in other parts of Europe. The far right did badly in France and Germany, but areas of concern are Hungary and the Baltic states. Then there is the whole question of Italy. Berlusconi has strengthened his support and is a threat to civil liberties. He controls the media, and the left are weak and powerless against him. He is not far-right in the sense that Hitler was far-right, but he is a threat to democracy. Italy has become a western-European equivalent of the sort of guided democracy you get in Russia.

There are many worrying developments across Europe, and a number of different phenomena we need to be aware of. It is wrong to expect that an economic depression will help the left. It didn't in the 1930s, nor in the 1870s and 80s, when the radical, populist right was born. It seems that in periods of economic uncertainty, people look to authoritarianism rather than democracy.

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