“Multiculturalism is a charade”–Angela Merkel
Across Europe, populist leaders of various right-wing parties are pointing a finger of blame at Islam for threatening domestic cultures and security even as critics decry such statements as a serious threat to freedom of religion and minority rights. That this phenomenon is having an effect on the general population of EU member countries can be ascertained by simply taking a look at the above poll.
Let’s take a look at the statements made by some of those extremists in nine countries of the EU (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, the Check Republic, Slovakia, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary. I have eliminated the UK since it no longer is a member of the union, but there too there has been, and continues to be, plenty of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric. In any case, anti-Islamic sentiments are not exclusive to those nine countries; they are present in varying degrees in most of the 26 EU countries, not excluding northern Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, long considered a bastion of liberal thinking.
In Germany we have Alexander Gauland, deputy chairman of the Alternative for Germany party who has said this about Islam: “Islam is not a religion like Catholic or Protestant Christianity, but a faith linked intellectually with a takeover of the state. Therefore, the Islamization of Germany is a danger.”
In the Netherlands we have Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the Party for Freedom who said this: “Recently thousands of Arab men sexually attacked, humiliated and raped hundreds of women. All women are fair game. I call the perpetrators ‘testosterone bombs.’ We have seen what they are capable of. It’s sexual terrorism. A sexual jihad. And it is happening all over Europe.”
In Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico said this: ““Islam has no place in Slovakia.”
In Austria, former Freedom Party presidential candidate Norbert Hofer said this: ““We must stop this invasion of Muslims.”
In Austria, Johann Gudenus, vice mayor of Vienna, said this: “The new fascism in Europe is Islamism.””
In France, Marine Le Pen, head of the National Front party said this: “We have to oppose all demands that aim to shatter secularism — demands for different clothes, demands for special food, demands for prayer rooms. Demands that create special rules that would allow Muslims to behave differently.”
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said this: “Islam was never part of Europe. It’s the rule book of another world.”
In Poland, former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said this: “There are already signs of the emergence of very dangerous diseases which haven’t been seen in Europe for a long time: cholera on Greek islands; dysentery in Vienna; various types of parasites, protozoans, which aren’t dangerous in the organisms of these people but which could be dangerous here.”
In Italy, Matteo Salvini, federal secretary of the Northern League party, when asked to opine on the election of a the first Moslem major of London, said this: “For me it is a worrying sign. … I think of London itself, where there are already some abusive courts applying Islamic law.”
The above statements speak for themselves and need no comments. But they do need some historical interpretation. Without an historical context they will surely be misinterpreted. Many of their proponents are in fact counting on such a misinterpretation. One of them is that of blaming the present turmoil on the refugees seeking asylum, when in fact they are the victims of a vicious war in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, often enough stirred up by the former colonial powers who drew misguided nationalistic borders ensuring ethnic strife, and are now parading as saviors and harbinger of democracy and freedom.
The above quote by Angela Merkel is indicative. She is decrying there the lip service given to multiculturalism, all but violated in practice. It is an ironic statement. But there are more cynical approaches and those are not necessarily from fascist-leaning extremists, but also by those who are part of the established political order. For example, in the aftermath of the devastating attack in Nice, Poland’s interior minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, (a member of Law and Justice Party) told reporters that the blame lay with the embrace of multiculturalism. “Have we not learned lessons from previous attacks in Paris and Brussels? This is a consequence of the policy of multicultural politics, and political correctness.”
There is little doubt that France has embraced multiculturalism and diversity better than Poland. The French like to portray themselves as largely tolerant and indifferent to ethnic and racial diversity. They also feel that they have a more positive view of Muslims than much of the rest of Europe. It has in fact one of the largest Muslim population in Europe (probably 10% of its total population). This tolerance may also be partially true for England and Germany, but it may not be the case in Hungary, Poland, Italy or Greece, as the above statistics bear out. In any case, it is all relative to what is being compared. To have one eye is better than being blind but it is not an optimal situation.
France’s relationship with its Muslim minority is a complicated one and it has to do with secularism vis a vis religion, as I, for one, have repeatedly argued in the pages of this magazine. Despite the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution regarding equality, freedom and brotherhood (noble sounding principles in the abstract), research reveals that Muslims face discrimination in the French job market and Muslims, similar to the Blacks in the US, make up a disproportionately large percentage of its prison population. France has passed laws prohibiting the wearing of full-face veils, which Muslims interpret as religious discrimination against them.
What seems to be at work is the normative level of French identity which is not based on its Christian heritage, largely ignored and even debunked as retrograde and “medieval”, but on a guarantee of diversity and neutrality based on a secular citizenship. To be sure, religion is tolerated and even protected but it is to remain a private affair with no voice in the public square. This might have worked if it were wholly voluntary, but many Muslims feels that it is imposed on them as a political ideology. They perceive France’s secularism as a schizophrenic attitude: it wants to foment ideals of liberty, tolerance and solidarity, but it also wants to impose secular norms on its minorities in the name of modernity and progress.
The situation in Germany, the other EU country with a large Muslim population does not fare any better. Once a libertarian force opposed to the euro and Greek bailouts, the fast-growing Alternative for Germany party has now squarely joined the anti-Islam ranks. In recent weeks this party has unveiled a scathing denunciation warning against “the expansion and presence of a growing number of Muslims” on German soil. Its rationale, if indeed there is one, is that it wants to protect women’s rights, national security and German culture. The party is fast growing and is now supported by almost 1 in 6 voters. It is is calling for a ban on headscarves at schools and universities and is preparing to release an anti-Islam “manifesto” based on “scientific research.” Echoes of Hitler’s “scientific” racial laws? In the formerly communist east meanwhile, the party has gone even further, startling local Muslims by launching an effort to stop the construction of Erfurt’s first mosque. Many of these Germans who wish to protect German culture, don’t usually bother worshipping on Sunday; they may identify as Christians in mane, but their religion seems to be soccer games on Sunday; some 75% of Erfurt’s 200,000 residents declare themselves as non-religious, but then they wish to prevent the construction of mosques because they do not fit well with ancient traditional Christian churches. Here again, cultural schizophrenia seems to be at work. It may indeed have to do with religion reduced to nothing but cultural embellishment, to mere “patriotism,” a religion bereft of its transcendent symbolism and mystical vocation.
There are even more ominous signs harking back to the Germany of the 30s and its treatment of the Jews. At least two German universities have closed Muslim prayer rooms, arguing that places of higher education should be secular and that Islam should not receive “special treatment.” They are encouraging Muslims who want to pray to use generic “rooms of silence” designed for all students. In Germany, as in other parts of Europe, there has also been a recent spate of attacks on mosques, including attempted arsons and vandalism. It may be worth remembering that the crematoriums for the concentration camps were built in Erfurt; that the Buchenwald was here. Here the majority, meted out terror and injustice on a minority, their fellow Jewish citizens. The question arises: will Germany allow this outrage to happen again?
Also alarming on a global scale is the rising opposition to Moslems, which has overtones of racial and religious persecution, as a campaign issue in the US (where Trump wants to prevent all Muslims from entering the country), in France, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland and other nations of the EU. Just to give a few examples of what have become fierce campaign issues: In France, acts of violence against Muslims surged more than threefold in 2015, jumping from 133 incidents to 429, according to the country’s Interior Ministry. In May, Polish police entered university dorms in Krakow to question a number of foreign students about connections to terrorism, prompting allegations of racial profiling and Muslim-bashing. In January, the Danish city of Randers passed a resolution requiring public institutions to serve pork. Supporters rallied in favor of the bill by saying Danish food culture should trump the religious requirements of Muslim immigrants. In April, the Italian province of Veneto adopted a change in a law that critics say makes it harder to build mosques. “I’m absolutely against the construction of new mosques,” Luca Zaia, Veneto’s governor from the right-wing Northern League, told the Nuova di Venezia newspaper. “I’ve already met some of these preachers, and I told them clearly that sermons need to be pronounced in Italian, for reasons of transparency.”
In an open letter to these extremist anti-Moslem groups Mina Ahadi, an Iranian dissident and critic of fundamental Islam, writes that they “basically represent the same authoritarian, homophobic and sexist — in short: inhumane — position as ultraconservative Islamic associations.” In response the Alternative for Germany party is relying on authorities such as Tilman Nagel, a former professor of Islamic studies at Göttingen University, who in a telephone interview, lashed out at political correctness and stated that “The fundamental principles of Islam can’t be reconciled with our free constitution.” One can wager that the same professor, if placed in an academic setting, will proceed to wax eloquent about freedom of religion and respect for foreign cultures and civilizations. Talking of schizophrenia! Europa, nosce te ipsum.
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.
In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.
This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.
In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.
Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.
The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.
Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.
The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.
New (old) government?
The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.
Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.
The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.
During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.
However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.
Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”
While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.
The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.
This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”
Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.
In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.
The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.
Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.
Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.
According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.
To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.
For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.
As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.
The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.
|Issues Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.
In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.
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