Authors: Dr. Manasi Sinha and Pratyush Bibhakar*
With the recent far right nationalistic wave sweeping over Europe along with an increased fear psychosis in cultural assimilation, tolerance and acceptance for people from diverse culture, Brexit seems precarious for holding the European project of an ‘open society’ based on shared values, diversity, and social cohesion. Britain’s apparent and imminent need for ‘getting back’ its long lost autonomy to decide its fate, is rather driven by an inherent Euro-skeptic discourse that is constantly fed with a populist sentiments involving English nationalism and social conservatism. This together with a growing nationalistic fervour across Europe will stoke up societal tensions and loosen up European landscape of peace and democracy that glued the continent for decades.
Brexit as it called
As the United Kingdom finally made its way out from the European union (EU) on 31st January 2020, after years of political wrangling and dilemmas, it reflects not only an euphoria of victory for many Britons, it also arrests pressing concerns for most of Europeans too. Although for some Britons, this euphoric moment symbolises freedom for the UK— a ‘getting back’ to its long desired autonomy and self control over its land, economy and people, for many others it is a ‘paradise lost’ from the heaven of the EU. When the Nobel Committee awarded its annual Peace Prize in 2012, Europeans could not anticipate how this prize would be given to a fusty institution that claimed its value as a peace paradise on earth for transforming a continent of war to one of peace—the European Union. The Brexit echoes distraction to this decade long efforts.
Putting European Project at Risk
While the UK ceases to be a member of the European Union, it now poses real threats to the overall European project of an integrated and unified Europe—an ‘open society’ rooted in diversity,social cohesion, shared values of rule of law, peace, development and democracy. The EU may be facing more of instability than before in keeping the continent peaceful because of an upsurge of nationalistic fervour mushrooming across European countries and UK’s departure reflect upon the similar trends. If that is the anticipated outcome of Brexit, then Europeans must desire it to fail in that regard.
There has been a growing mainstream opposition to projects of European unification in the early 1990s, especially in the UK. This opposition to any form of Europe integration is rooted in a British Euro-scepticism having its legacy back to before World War II(Crespy and Verschueren 2009) and can further be traced back to the period of the formation of the Church of England and separation from Rome in the sixteenth century (Smith 2006). Over the centuries although economic benefits of European integration soothed the interests of Britons, the growing need for political integration that demanded for supranational set up strain the the populist sentiments of English nationalism. This could be seen when Margaret Thatcher although raised her support for economic integration, also argued consistently about her fear for a “superstate” that threatened to restrict national sovereignty. In a 1988 speech at the College of Europe in Bruges, she rejected “collectivism and corporatism at the European level.” As such Brexit, 2020 reiterates this long running campaign by right wing Euro-skeptic groups that is threatening the overall stability of Europe more than before—and the huge public mandate confirms that right wing Euroskeptic discourse germinating in British society.
Rise of New Nationalism and Far Right Regimes in Europe
As the world community witnessed ravages of two world wars, they sought for peace over war and violence, democracy and political freedom over fascism, and cultural togetherness over hegemonic imperialism. The European community similarly aspired for a land of diversity, social cohesion and shared values for human rights, rule of law, and tolerance for divergent cultures. However, all these seem to be waning down in the wake of a political racism and new sense of nationalistic trends that is germinating in European society. The earlier form of narrow nationalism projected through Jewish conspiracy and Holocaust is slowly changing its nature with a new form of nationalism that firms on the ground of ‘clash of civilisations’ and Islamic fundamentalism. The new form of nationalism spreading its venom not around eugenics, extermination and fatherland but on the lines of traditions, sovereignty and community —leading to a creation of ‘We’ Vs ‘Others’.
A reflection of current trends of far right politics in Europe is visible from the fact that most of current 785 MEPs in the European Parliament expressed their hatred and racist attitude towards all the members of the EU that represent 15 million ethnic minorities and third-country nationals living in European Union (EU). The new Italian government’s anti-immigration drive resulted into gross violence against immigrants, including shootings and attacks on minors and women. While Germany strongly pushed for a strict anti-immigration policy, embraced antagonistic attitude towards Islam and done away with anti-Nazi taboos to prepare the ground for Xenophobia, far right Vox party in Spain intends to deport illegal immigrants, repeal laws against gender violence and curtailing rights of autonomy demanded by north-eastern Catalonia region in Oct 2017. More so, even the Sweden Democrats (SD) got its victory in the 2018 general election by 18% of the vote, discourages multiculturalism and promotes strict immigration controls in Sweden. Similarly, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban continues to foster ethnic and racial hatred against minorities including Roma and Muslims communities. Further, far right leader Marine Le Pen in France also expressed her discontent over mass immigration in Europe and held EU responsible for the same. Echoing this pan European nationalistic fervour, UK had initiated its Brexit saga in 2016 and finally closing its tie with an institution it never really cared for. As it parts its way from the EU, its immigration policy may be twisted for ‘others’. These events reflect upon a wider political ambition of most of European countries to establish a far-right regime in Europe. And the overt targeting of immigrants, legitimising hatred, racism, violence and simultaneous weakening of human rights, and democratic structures in Europe are manifestation of this intention. The much hyped discourse of a rational sovereign polity represented by these countries, deliberately disguises their racist and nationalist connotations which keep taking place in the heart of Europe at a regular interval.
Structural violence in Europe
Contemporary Europe is facing an unprecedented challenge of keeping alive its harmonious coexistence among its citizens, and people/refugees coming from beyond European periphery. There are series of hate crimes, violence, religious abuse, physical and verbal attacks, humiliation, trafficking—all continue to haunt immigrants and refugees across Europe. In the UK too, the Brexit referendum saw an enormous impact on hate crime, violence, and xenophobic attacks in the country. In Plymouth, a Polish family turn victims of what police hold a racially-motivated arson attack. The Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals/groups who live and work in the UK continue to face discrimination and demonization in their everyday lives.
As such, although UK’s departure from the EU for now present a more bleak future for the continent, nonetheless the European project of a ‘cultural globalisation’ and democratic landscape needs to be reinforced in the EU policy making discourse and its implementation. EU needs to create political impetus to reach out more to the world through its normative values to prevail.
*Pratyush Bibhakar, Assistant Professor, Sociology, Galgotias University.