The federalism of hatred

, by Radu Dumitrescu

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The federalism of hatred
Original photo by Vince Wingate (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Eurosceptic drums of Farage, Salvini, Orban, Le Pen or Kaczynski beat very specific, locally-tuned rhythms, but they all have the same chorus – foreigners, get out!

While harking back to the largely imagined golden days of their own countries, the populists of Europe exclude masses of people who do not fit in the picture – because they are not Christian, they are not white, do not speak the national language properly, their culture and values do not match with that of the country and so on. In creating the reviled “Other” that must be expelled, however, Europe’s populists are also creating and reinforcing a pan-European identity of those that remain.

Identities and oppositions

Nations are built through opposition. The ancient Greeks thought of non-Greeks as barbarians, the Persians chief among them. The Romans had Carthage and the Gauls in the same role, the French had the British and the British had the French, the Russians had the Swedes and the Poles, the people of the Balkans had the Ottomans and each other, the Americans had the Indians and the African-Americans, the Germans had the French and the Jews, the Romanians had Hungarians, the Czechs had the Slovaks and Italians had more southern Italians.

In every case, the “Other” had to be constructed. He had to have specific features, which could then be exaggerated and altered through time in order to fulfill a certain need. He had to behave in a certain way, have certain goals and thus be easily identifiable. The “Other” was different and corrupted in some way, while one’s own membership to the nation was characterized by the absence of the same difference, by purity and the lack of corruption. You are German, the Nazis would say, even if you are uneducated or poor, because you do not have the inferior characteristics of the other nations. For that, there is merit in you, which we – and we alone – plainly see.

As such, to paint a picture of the “Other” means constructing one’s own identity, all through opposition. When he claims to be defending Christian Europe from the hordes of Muslim refugees, Orban creates a European identity – one that is Christian and probably white as well. Similarly, when they reject the distribution of refugees and migrants through the European states, Europe’s populists advance arguments which underline that the people in question are not European, that they cannot be assimilated into the greater community and that their presence would be disruptive.

By opposition, one can then deduce what it means to be European to the mind of the populists. Supposedly, Orban would have no argument against Poles, Romanians, Czechs, Frenchmen or Italians moving into Hungary, as they are white, Christian, more familiar than a Syrian and with a similar culture. Similarly, Le Pen does not attack immigrants from other EU countries, but those who come from outside. When the populists attack a group of people, the fact that they leave out others matters just as much.

Creating Eastern Europe

This represents a drastic change in the nationalist discourse of Europe, a continent that has seen centuries of strife between communities, faiths and nations, all sparked by the smallest difference. At the moment, Germany’s far-right does not clamor against Jews or Slavs, but against Arabs and Turks. Condemnable and morally reprehensible nonetheless, the shift is critically important.

Ironically, it was Eastern Europe that was the first “Other” of the most economically and militarily successful region on Earth for most of its recent history – Western Europe. Similar yet obviously different, the East and the West of the Old Continent were not so different between the 10th and the 16th century, according to Robert Bideleux and Ian Jeffries’ 1998 book A history of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change. Prague, Vienna (the literal translation of Österreich being “Eastern Empire”), Krakow and Vilnius participated in the Renaissance, the Reformation and the scientific revolution. However, while the West was busy with overseas territories and industrialisation in the later centuries, the East was drenched in the blood of warfare, with conflicts such as the Ottoman attacks, the Thirty Years War and the Northern War.

In the 1994 book Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment, Larry Wolff shows how Western Europe “invented Eastern Europe as its complementary other half in the 18th century, the age of the Enlightenment.” The Old Continent, long divided between North and South, acquired during the Enlightenment an East-West separation. Rome decreased in importance while Paris, London and Amsterdam rose. Voltaire and Montesquieu, the most resounding names in French philosophy, wrote about European liberty and Asiatic despotism, with the intermediary cultural space that was Eastern Europe.

Now, the differences of the past are being glossed over even by Europe’s most xenophobic groups and politicians. The “Other” that was the Polish, Romanian, French and Italian is more similar to “Me” than the other that is Syrian, Ethiopian, Afghan and Eritrean.

Europe’s populists still spread hatred – but their target has changed, and nowadays one can easily observe the friendship that is formed between Italy’s League, Hungary’s Fidesz and Poland’s Law and Justice Party. They hate the same people.

They form the federation of hate.

This article will feature in a forthcoming issue of the German Boxhorn Magazin.

This article is also available in French in Eurosorbonne and in Voix d’Europe.

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