Remembering fascism

It is disconcerting that European memory is so short.

Commemorative candles to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day (photo credit: REUTERS)
Commemorative candles to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day
(photo credit: REUTERS)
International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on Saturday, was designated by the UN General Assembly in 2005 to commemorate the Allied Forces’ victory over the fascist Axis nations. It was on January 27, 1945, that Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest German concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Red Army. It was chosen as a fitting date for the world to remember the dangers of fascism as an ideology capable of justifying and carrying out genocide.
The battle against the fascist Germany, Italy and Japan is what brought together a totalitarian Soviet Union and the democracies of America, Britain and other Anglo nations, which otherwise were deeply divided ideologically.
Yet, 73 years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, far-right and radical-right parties are enjoying a resurgence on the same continent that so recently fought the deadliest war in human history to eradicate fascism.
Of course, the vast majority of popular right-wing parties that have taken power in Hungary, Poland and Austria and that have seriously challenged ruling parties in Germany, France and the Netherlands are hardly comparable to oldschool German or Italian fascism. They do not profess an anti-democratic ideology, let alone advocate genocide.
Rather, they tend to receive most of their support from (mostly white) Europeans who are concerned about (a mostly Muslim) immigration threat.
Right-wing leaders of Europe talk of strengthening “Christian values.” They tend to advance a “nativist” agenda that strives to ensure the state remains inhabited by ethnic natives and that views aliens as a threat.
And in reaction to the Brussels-based elitist EU rule, they tend to be populist, which means they portray their societies as composed of two warring groups: a corrupt elite, and honest and good common folk.
What’s more, many of these right-wing parties are pro-Israel, due in large part to the perception that Israel and Europe confront a common radical Islamist threat.
This is not to say that right-wing antisemitism has passed from Europe. There are occasional reminders that prominent right-wing European leaders can be prone to espousing classical antisemitic tropes.
In November, for instance, Nigel Farage, former head of the UK Independence Party and present radio show host, indulged in antisemitic-tinged conspiracy theorizing with a caller. Farage did not challenge the caller when he said that American Jews and Israel “affect both Democrats and Republicans, they’ve got them both in their pockets.”
Farage thanked him for making “the point that there are other very powerful lobbies in the United State of America, and the Jewish lobby, with its links with the Israeli government, is one of those strong voices.”
Last January, Björn Höcke a leading member of the populist and anti-immigration right-wing Alternative for Germany party, which received nearly 13% of the vote in September’s general election, said the Berlin Holocaust Memorial was a “monument of shame in the heart of the capital” and urged Germans to focus less on their guilt.
AfD leader Alexander Gauland recently said that Germans could be “proud” of their soldiers who fought in WWII.
Attacks by Farage and by Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban on George Soros for using his money to strengthen EU institutions at the expanse of national identities encourage conspiracy theories about “rootless, cosmopolitan Jewish financiers” pursuing an anti-patriotic agenda.
And in the respective parliaments of Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus there are bona fide neo-Nazi parties, albeit with relatively small representation.
It is clear from a range of data – including the 2012 survey carried out by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency – that the vast majority of violent antisemitic incidents are carried out not by members of the far Right, but rather by Muslims or by members of the extreme Left.
Still, it is disconcerting that European memory is so short. Just 73 years after the Allies won a World War to destroy fascism, we again see worrying trends buoyed by populism and the failures of the EU’s immigration policy that have negative ramifications for Europe’s Jews.
On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, may the forces of darkness that are creeping up in Europe quickly be sent to the dustbins of history.