It’s hard to believe that in 2016, part of the world is looking so much like it did seventy years ago - and yet so different. US-led NATO troops are sitting on Europe’s closest border with Russia: the one with Ukraine, where, during the second world war, German troops began their invasion of the Soviet Union, aided by Ukrainian nationalists seeking independence. In 2014, the grandchildren of those nationalists helped overthrow the elected president of Ukraine, and are part of the government the US shepherded to power, with Neo-con Victoria Nuland playing the role of Deus ex-macchina from her desk in the State Department and on Maidan Square.
There is little chance that the Ukraine will soon join NATO, however, its far-right Ukrainian nationalists are a stark inspiration for far-right groups across Europe, as they gain power and influence in the wake of an unprecedented flood of mainly Muslim refugees. They can teach Europe a thing or two about violence, pushing it back toward the same fascism it defeated in 1945. The numbers are cause for alarm:
The Austrian Freedom Party almost won this year’s presidential election. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party leader, Frauke Petry tweeted it could be "a foretaste of positive change in Europe.” Although her party still polls in the twenties, she recently made headlines for saying police should have the power to shoot migrants and refugees trying to enter the country.
In Italy, where the Prime Minister’s party got 34% and Five Star came in at 27%, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia got 11%, Fratelli d’Italia 5%, and most significantly, the Northern League came back from the dead with 17%, thanks to “those who would like to stop the spread of a progressive and cosmopolitan worldview; who feel uncomfortable with multi-ethnicity and living with foreigners, as well as homosexual unions.”
The Northern League is close to France’s National Front, which is the third strongest party in France, and could win 28% in next year’s presidential election. Together, Europe’s far-right European parties formed a new group in the European Parliament, the Europe of Nations and Freedom. Its 38 MEPs include the Dutch Freedom Party and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, and see the refugee crisis and related security concerns as an opportunity to move from the political fringe to real power.
This brings us to Turkey, which in addition to supporting ISIS, has been cast in a dangerous role in Europe.
Most Western Europeans are oblivious of a fact that has long haunted Eastern Europe: centuries-long Turkish domination. The Ottoman Empire’s onslaught was halted at the Battle of Mohacs back in 1687, and the Hungarians still claim they saved the West incarnated at the time by Habsburg Austria. Current Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s defiant stand against Muslim refugees can be partly attributed to that history - even if that doesn’t make it acceptable in a multi-cultural 21st century. In the mid-19th century, the Crimean war pitted the Turks against the Russians and Europeans. During World War I, Turkey sided with the Kaiser’s Germany, and in World War II, it sided with Hitler.
In a pattern that would become standard for Washington, of enlisting right-wing governments in the fight against Communist Russia, Turkey was brought into NATO, partly to counter Greece’s left-wing partisans and partly as the ‘bulwark of Europe’s southern flank’, due to its proximity to the Soviet Union. At the time, Europeans (i.e., Western Europeans, a label that would stand for Europe as a whole until the fall of the Berlin Wall), paid little attention to what went on beyond the Elbe, other than to vaguely lament an enduring Greek-Turkish standoff that resulted in the 1970’s division of Cyprus between the two countries.)
Currently, Turkey and Russia are again at odds over the war in Syria, but it’s Turkey’s role in Europe that is most threatening. While Russia, to defend Assad, could wipe Turkey off the map, Europe has put itself at Turkey’s mercy with hardly a backward glance at history.
Having held a secular Turkey at bay for decades in its request to join the European Union, now Europe needs a re-Islamized Turkey’s help to avoid absorbing many more Muslims than those represented by that country’s population. And Turkey is taking full advantage of a disaster that the EU helped bring upon itself by going along with US-led actions in the Muslim world. In return for a hefty financial package and visa-free travel to the EU for its citizens, Turkey will process Syrian refugees and send them on to Europe under safe conditions, while Europe will send refugees who arrive illegally on its shores back to Turkish camps to be processed, and for most, deported back to their home countries.
As if the refugee crisis were not dire enough in itself, it has catalyzed a new and dangerous political situation. Washington is systematically using austerity to eliminate the European welfare state as an intolerable impediment to the 1%’s program of globalization. Laws being debated in the French parliament would turn the labor clock back to the nineteen-thirties, when the Popular Front government first dropped the work week from 48 to 40 hours. In the 1990’s, a socialist government brought forty down to thirty-five, in an attempt to combat unemployment, and no one believes the world has changed so drastically that combatting unemployment now requires increasing the work week. Adding insult to injury, the law would lower the overtime rate from 25% to 10%.
What started as a laid-back occupy-type movement, ‘Up all Night’, complete with mic checks and hands wagging approval or disapproval, has spread from Paris to a hundred other cities in France, as well as to Belgium, gradually turning violent. On a continent with a long history of protest (the French Revolution didn’t just erupt out of thin air), anti-worker legislation cannot be expected to pass quietly. The latest labor move in France has been to stop refining gasoline, a move that could paralyze the country.
As ISIS threatens Europe with a reply of its sixteenth century Europe’s religious wars, this time emanating from the South, the North is already turning its clock back a hundred years to the struggle between socialism and capitalism. Combined with the refugee crisis, rolling back the welfare state could either bring Europe to a 21st century version of the French Revolution, or back to the nineteen thirties that ushered in World War II.
As Europe literally disintegrates, allowing everything that made it the envy of the world to be destroyed by a greedy ‘ally’, the question is: who will lead humanity into the twenty-second century? Washington is now trying to prevent the BRICS from doing so, declaring itself in favor of Brazil’s leftist President being impeached. With Cuba once again under US control, this could be the first step in a plan to formally unite the US with Canada and a neo-liberal Latin America to vie with the BRICS’ Eurasian project.