Celebrating the 80th anniversary of Nazism’s ‘departure’ but it’s coming back

Celebrating the 80th anniversary of Nazism’s ‘departure’ but it’s coming back

Nazism and fascism, which the Allied forces had expelled, have returned through the ballot box (File/AFP)
Nazism and fascism, which the Allied forces had expelled, have returned through the ballot box (File/AFP)
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Last week, a significant number of world leaders, mostly European, and with them US President Joe Biden, came together on the northern coast of France to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the historic Normandy landings. As the history books have taught us, these landings marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War in Europe, which was considered to be a knockout blow to Nazism and fascism in the West.

That, of course, was what had been aspired to and deserves to be celebrated annually. However, the irony is that, this year, the celebrations coincided with the European Parliament elections and came as a climate of Nazism, fascism and forms of ethnic, religious and isolationist fanaticism have been taking back the reins of the political initiative in many European countries.

This bitter and unsettling fact cannot be addressed with good intentions and desperate diplomatic efforts. These are no longer sufficient for containing its repercussions and the messages it sends to the entire world.

In a nutshell, Nazism and fascism, which the Allied forces had expelled, have returned through the ballot box.

Statements that had been considered racist, which could be prosecuted for defamation, have now become “honorable.” They are expressed boastfully by the fanatical racists who openly call for the expulsion of “foreigners” and threaten Muslims and Africans with deportation to their countries of origin. The extremist discourse goes as far as drowning refugee boats that threaten Europe’s “cultural purity” and countries’ “national identity.”

The isolated incidents that emerged on the European political map in recent decades have now become the dominant trend among the forces that are competing with traditional ruling parties that are out of touch and in decline, as well as figures who have lost credibility because of their compromises, deals and scandals.

Nazism and fascism, which the Allied forces had expelled, have returned through the ballot box

Eyad Abu Shakra

It is also noteworthy that the decline and downfall of traditional parties is no longer limited to moderate left-wing parties like the socialists in France, Italy and elsewhere. Conservative and moderate right-wing parties are also in peril.

The dismal end of the Soviet experiment — with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Berlin Wall — demoralized leftist forces and broke their spirit across Europe and in large parts of the developing world. However, US unipolarity, which led some, like Francis Fukuyama, to speak of the “end of history” in favor of Western capitalism, quickly engendered its own contradictions and opposition.

Instead of creating an era of coexistence, cooperation, trust and investment in a future that benefits all the peoples of the world, the victory of the West, represented by NATO, over its Eastern rival, the Warsaw Pact, led to the exact opposite.

The dream of peace and security on European soil swiftly ended when Western powers decided to keep expanding eastward, as they sought to achieve a crushing final victory over a powerful opponent that had changed its ideology but had not forgotten either its inherited resentments or the lessons of its national history.

The Soviet Union did indeed fall — its collapse had been predictable because of a whole host of domestic and international factors — but “Russian” Russia, with its alternative identity, strong memory and old fears of being surrounded and besieged, remains. Its unwavering resistance to attacks from the West is undeniable.

The Ukrainian crisis in Europe has reopened the wounds of the past with unprecedented severity. Before that, we witnessed the disintegration of several Slavic entities: Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were divided (alongside, of course, the Soviet Union). This gave rise to the dilemma of defining identities and the problems of economic migration from the east of the continent to the west, while Europe’s major players were working toward achieving the dream of unity, which today seems more threatened than ever.

Alongside the economic migration within Europe, which contributed to reversing Britain’s hesitant acceptance of a single European identity, broader and more dangerous migration arose from developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. This was the natural result of the collapse of the previous old world order that had been established and sustained by the Cold War.

It is worth noting that the East-West conflict (socialism versus capitalism) directly facilitated African and Asian countries’ path to independence. However, unipolar interests — before China entered the fray — combined with population growth, poor financial and economic management and tribal and religious conflicts, some of which turned into open civil wars, fueled asylum and migration.

The alternative in Russia and several countries in the Eastern bloc was populist or conservative Christian. In the West, the effective alternative to confront the wave of asylum and migration was religious and populist (and, in extreme cases, racist).

Consequently, just as moderate leftist parties found it difficult to push back against the notion (reinforced by the end of the Cold War) that “the socialist model had failed,” moderate right-wing and traditional conservative parties have also struggled to find solutions to the economic, demographic and security developments like terrorism, and to overcome the populist, isolationist and extremist right-wing rhetoric.

Yesterday’s conundrum is particularly consequential for Europe. However, more than ever before, it is clear that the assumption that we learn from our mistakes is misguided.

In the Arab world, unfortunately, experience has also shown that we have a short memory and a tendency to refuse to learn from the costly mistakes of the past.

  • Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. X: @eyad1949
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