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Eur‘Neo-Fascism will not be stopped by niceness and patience

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech at the last rally of the Fidesz party ahead of the general elections in April. Photo: PA / Xinhua / Attila Volgyi - Credit: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

​The free press attacked, migrants degraded and liberalism in tatters – YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN on what must happen to ensure the European dream is not destroyed

Europe Day is commemorated across the continent on May 9 every year.

It acclaims peace between the nations and subtly reminds Europeans about its bloody past and institutionalised barbarisms.

The Schuman Declaration heralded this vision for a unified and humane Europe. At a speech in Paris in 1950, Robert Schuman, the then French foreign minister, set out his arguments for a resilient model of collaboration and mutuality which would forever preclude another mega war.

The EU achieved this and much more. It entrenched and vowed to defend fundamental values: ‘Our union is based on a tripod of democracy, human rights and rule of law. Through European history we know if we abandon one of the legs of the tripod, the whole tripod will topple.’ Great stuff.

In the UK, only the lucky people of Glasgow will get together in George Square to celebrate this amazing success story. Our kids learn about the Holocaust and British war triumphs but have never been taught properly about the transnational undertaking which brought reconciliation and accord to a bloody continent.

Did you even know there is a Europe Day? It should have been hailed in Trafalgar Square where every religious and secular significant event is now marked. Maybe then fewer people would have had their heads turned by crazed, mendacious Brexiteers. The EU embodies everything people in this country fought and died for.

As the journalist Jon Danzig points out in his blog: ‘After the first British victory of the Second World War at El Alamein, Churchill wrote to his foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, on 21 October 1942: ‘Hard as it is to say now… I look forward to a United States of Europe, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible’.’

In another stirring speech, Churchill proclaimed: ‘We aim at the eventual participation of all the peoples throughout the continent whose society and way of life are in accord with the Charter of Human Rights.’ Now Britain has flounced out and betrayed Churchill’s hopes and dreams.

Even more depressingly, EU chiefs are also betraying the ideals of the audacious, pioneering exemplar of transnational diversity and concord.

Three weeks ago I was at the Perugia International Journalists festival which draws more than 700 media workers from around the world. It is always both exhilarating and disturbing to be at this gathering. Independent media outlets and free-thinking print and broadcast journalists are reviled, imprisoned, battered and threatened in so-called democracies in parts of Europe and the rest of the world.

Furthermore, the EU now seems to tolerate violations of rights in member nations, accession countries and states seeking to be admitted to the club. Maybe Brexit has sucked out too much energy out of EU politicians and officials. Maybe they have forgotten the back story. A union which focuses solely on survival and economic management is a union without soul, meaning, or moral purpose. The founding fathers understood that. Today’s leading lights don’t or don’t want to.

Eastern European journalists I met in Perugia are appalled that the EU lets Viktor Orban turn his county into a semi-fascistic state where migrants are officially degraded, freedoms are savagely curtailed, liberalism itself kicked to pieces.

Parts of the media have been active participants in this political shocker. One Hungarian told me he had witnessed young thugs kicking an African until he was unconscious. Two police officers encouraged them.

Poland is also moving towards authoritarianism. Media outlets have been forced to become government propagandists, the courts are no longer independent. Those who work at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum have described how they are subjected to hate, fake news and intimidation.

I was invited to speak on the rise of the hard right and the role of journalists in the age of populism. Serbia became an accession country in 2013. Jovanka Matic, from the Institute of Social Sciences in Belgrade was on the panel too. She said people openly expressed hateful views and that independent journalism was ‘on the edge of survival’.

Croatia discriminates against ethnic and sexual minorities, denies basic sustenance to asylum seekers and locks mentally ill patients up for life. It is in the EU club. No questions asked. Nearer home the EU does nothing to stop UK MEPs who are determined to destroy the EU. There should have been action taken to stop Farage’s nasty messages and manipulations. There wasn’t.

European Union leaders do not use sanctions, do not issue warnings, do not withdraw grants. If it is cowardice, these chiefs are unfit custodians of a precious political entity. If this is pragmatism, it will prove to be self-defeating.

Neo-Fascism, already emboldened, will not be stopped by niceness and patience. Without red lines and ethical boundaries, the EU becomes indefensible. Even for those of us who care deeply about the union and want to remain a part of it.

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