Sunday, May 25, 2014

As the EU votes in its latest gang of expense fiddlers, matters in Ukraine – not ‘the Ukraine’, please! - and Egypt carry on as planned. And just how far will the Far Right carry on rising? Is it curtains for social democracy?

While we here in Britain, and, of course, the rest of Europe, await the results of the European Union parliamentary elections and some get themselves into a lather over not just how many seats UKIP might grab, but how many euro seats rather less savoury right-wing parties might snaffle, two other elections were taking place to day which should – but, of course, won’t – put our belly-aching into perspective. One is in the Ukraine, which I now understand I must simply call ‘Ukraine’, because in the original Russo-Silesian-Polish-Crimean dialect once spoken in those parts, ‘the Ukraine’ simply meant ‘the borderlands’ and is, apparently, offensive and upsets a great many living there, especially when they are tanked up on vodka. The other election – and I gather inverted commas are in order as it is something of a stitch-up, so make that ‘election’ is taking place in Egypt. But to Ukraine first.

This is an interesting ‘election’: those inverted commas again must be utilised again because

1) only voters in the west of the country are voting, as ‘pro-Russia elements’ in the East, especially in Donetsk, are making sure that no election takes place, simply by destroying polling stations and intimidating any voter foolhardy enough to brave their wrath and attempt to cast his or her vote;

2) Petro Poroshenko, the main candidate, or rather the only real candidate as far as I can tell, is a billionaire chocolate magnate, and, bugger me, for all I try, I simply can’t see a chap with billions of roubles to protect and possibly several more billions to acquire, going out on a limb to protect and promote the interests of the country as a whole. What is likely, though, is that he’s the chap the EU and the US would like to see in power. (NB He has now claimed the presidency, apparently garnering 55pc of the votes of those who were able to vote. Oh, and here’s the surprise: he has promised to forge tighter links with the EU. Well!) The EU has extended its sanctions by the way and is clamping down on imports of Russian caviar, champagne and furs (More here.) Damn, and just as I was considering stocking up on just those items. It says this is in retaliation to Russia meddling in the Ukraine election though pertinently – and not unexpectedly – it has nothing to say about its own meddling.

However sniffy we democrats might get about Petro’s democratic credentials, and no one can get into quite such a hugh dudgeon as Western democrats when they put their mind to it, we are decidedly unsniffy about the power grab (why not call a spade a spade?) of Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi who seems likely to be the next president of Egypt and whose rise and rise is proof – though no proof was ever needed – of the observation that ‘plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’ or as that chap said in The Leopard ‘everything must change for everything to stay the same’.

Yes, there has been violence and several deaths in Ukraine (see, I’m learning fast), but it is as nothing to the widespread rape, murder and wholesale imprisonment which has taken place since the legitimate president Mohammed Morsi was overthrown in 2013. What makes it all the murkier, of course, is that half the country – the nicely spoken half who know which fish knife to use and undoubtedly

Egyptian police democratically articulate the government's views on Morsi and his supporters

use an Amex card – are rather glad that ‘a strong man’ is back in charge who promised to ‘sort out the economy’ and get the country back on its feet. Whether or not that will be as easy as he would like depends on whether the reputed 40pc of Egyptian industrial and business interests controlled by the Egyptian army will play ball. I rather think they will now their man is calling the shots.

The other half, the far poorer half, the rural-dwelling half, the half which put Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood in charge in 2011, are assumed not to be in favour. And why should they? They will undoubtedly once more be reminded that it will be business as usual, ‘same shit, new broom.’ I can’t and won’t compare Sisi or his predecessor but one, Hosni Mubarak, to Adolf Hitler, but we should never forget that although Hitler gained power be semi-legal, dubious means, for quite a few years he had the support of a large number of the population. But that doesn’t mean he was one of the ‘good guys’.

These my bletherings on the two elections are, of course, no better informed than the bletherings of any other local neighbourhood pub bore. All I can do is read pieces in the serious end of journalism as well as the links given in those pieces to acquire as many ‘facts’ as I can about the personalties involved and add my own thoughts. But on one thing I am very clear: the attitude of the West – the US, the EU, Britain, France and others in that sorry ‘democratic’ bunch who voiced not a peep in protest when Morsi was toppled in an coup and now when Sisi, Mubarak’s heir, comes to power - is worse than despicable. Their stance, is mainly, of course, governed by the fact that Sisi is a man they can do business with – sell him weaponry and act in concert in the ‘war on terror’, and Morsi wasn’t. But all in all, the West can stick its promotion of democracy, the rule of law and all the rest up its arse.

A good rule of thumb is ‘Don’t judge people by what they say, judge them by how they behave’.

Sisi (here’s a useful profile of Egypt’s new ‘strong man’. Apparently he’s rather dull) has said he wants to get Egypt back on its feet by establishing stability and rebuilding the counry’s tourist industry. Well, one way of establishing stability is to silence any opposition, by locking it up and, if necessary killing its leading figures. As for getting the tourist industry back on its feet, I understand Germany was a very pleasant tourist destination between 1933 and 1939, though Jews were advised to choose some other country in which to see the sights.

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Meanwhile, back in Europe and our own EU elections – but I really can’t be bothered. Banal and trivial might be the best two words with which to describe our political pre-occupations.

But say what you like about Ukip, the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems and, as far as I know, the various right and far right groups whose candidates are vying with each other to get on the EU Parliament’s expenses list: rape, violence and murder are not yet an intricate part of their electoral strategies. A little more reading down the line – about the EU elections – and the following thought occurred to me: arguably Western Europe has politically been in thrall to a general liberal democratic/social democratic enlightened mentality since World War II.

All the major political parties seem to share a set of common principles and although they might disagree on ways and means, there are often complaints that the established right-of-centre and left-of-centre parties can all too often hardly be differentiated. For example, one of the gripes of the new Alternative Für Deutschland party is that there is a consensus among all the parties in the Bundestag that the EU generally and, more specifically being part of the eurozone, are Good Things, that to disagree that they might not be is somehow irrational, and so any German voter who does disagree simply doesn’t have a voice in the Bundestag which articulates his views. But whatever your views on the euro and ‘austerity’, they are small beer compared to a growing resentment throughout Europe against ‘immigrants’ and immigration (oddly enough in the wealthier member states).

You’ll certainly hear just as many arguments that ‘immigration is economically good for the country’ as arguments along the lines of ‘enough is enough, no more immigration’. But the sad fact is that most folk aren’t persuaded by argument: they have their view (‘I know what I think’), aren’t in the mood to be dissuaded and cast about for the relevant argument to justify them in and reinforce their particular prejudices. ‘Facts’ can be debated until you are blue in the face and then very easily, if necessary, be ignored. And a growing number of folk in France, Denmark, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Greece, The Netherlands, Belgium and Britain are becoming increasingly vociferous in their opposition to immigration because of the ‘fact’ that it is harming their country.

Please, for the moment, put aside your own views on that matter, and for the record I am not against immigration,a growing number are vociferously against immigrants and immigration. And a great many of them are not at all nice folk, not the kind you might like to have round one evening for several rounds of cribbage. I was rather surprised, for example, to read on the Economist website about a Czech called Adam Bartos, leader of the “No to Brussels—National Democracy” party in the European elections this weekend. The piece carries on: ‘A former journalist, he is fighting against what he says is a malign superstate in Brussels by appealing to nationalism and anti-Semitism. He keeps a list of 220 prominent Jews whom he accuses of dominating Czech public life’. Altogether now: what? Thinking that various countries are allowing in too many immigrants is one thing. Using the sentiment to take a nasty potshot at Jews is quite another. The Economist writes that Baros is unlikely to have any electoral success, but many parties which hold similar views are.

Next door in Hungary is the deeply unpleasant Jobbik party which also holds anti-semitic views. Oh well, you might say, some folk do. Well, at the most recent Hungarian general election Jobbik gained 21pc of the vote – so almost one in five (of those who turned out – a useful caveat) think Jobbik might have a point about

A Jobbik fan demonstrates the latest anti-semitic fashion accessories

Jews. In The Netherlands, Geert Wilders and his far-right Party For Freedom has made hay ove these past few years by attacking Islam. There are admittedly as many Islamic nutters as there are Catholic, Protestant and, I shouldn’t wonder, Jewish nutters, but let’s be vere clear: they make up a minute percentage of Muslims worldwide. But that doesn’t seem to bother Wilders and his supporters. Not, ‘let’s attack Islam’ goes down a treat.

Denmark, for the past 60 years or more seen as a bastion of liberal thinking, also has its far-right Danish People’s Party led by Pia Kjaerksgaard, Portugal his its Popular party lecd by Paulo Portas, in Greece the very nasty Golden Dawn has taken to beating up African immigrants in the street.

There have always been folk on the extreme wings of politics, you might say, and, of course, you are right. My point is that support for them, for whatever reason, is growing, and I do wonder whether the socially enlightened liberal consensus in Europe these past 60 years might slowly be coming to an end. The real problem is that under ‘the democratic rules’, your voice and your vote have as much right to be heard as my voice and my vote, and we were all able to accept that when our individual voices more or less congregated at the centre and the biggest disagreements we had were whether the new bus station should be painted red or blue. But the game might well be changing.

I don’t know what the EU election results are and so far can only go on reports of exit polls. But if, as some predict, one-third of all EU parliamentary seats are held be folk who think ‘hanging’s too good for the bastards’, we are in real trouble. Not that Brussels shouldn’t have seen it coming. But, of course, it didn’t and now we have this mess. European political union anyone? I don’t actually think so.

PS The claim has often been made – far too often in my view and a phoney claim it is at that – that the EU ‘has kept peace in Europe for the past 50 years. To which I say: Are you sure? Are you sure it wasn’t Eurovision which has kept us from attacking each other and slaughtering our womenfolk and children as in the bad old days?

. . . 

By the way: I’m always rather puzzled by demands that governments should deliver ever higher living standards. Just how many bloody plasma TV screens and laptops does the average household need? I would have thought it would be better to raise the living standards of those at the bottom of the pile to those enjoyed by the majority rather than to ensure that a household which now runs two cars can soon run three. But that’s enough pinko nonsense for one night.

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