~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Austria’s Election Is a Warning to the West
Par Sylvie Kauffmann The New York Times, le 18 Mai 2016
Titre et inter-titres E Gaillot pour €calypse News, le 18 Mai 2016
PARIS — On Monday, the Western world may well wake up to the news that, for the first time since the defeat of Nazism, a European country has democratically elected a far-right head of state. Norbert Hofer, of the Austrian Freedom Party, claimed 35 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election on April 24. Now he is heading into the second round on Sunday with the two mainstream parties having been eliminated from the runoff and the Social Democratic chancellor, Werner Faymann, having resigned.
One month later, Europeans may wake up to the news that British voters have decided, in their June 23 referendum, that their country should become the first member state to leave the European Union. Many observers fear that would be fatal to the European project itself.
And on April 24, 2017, exactly a year after Mr. Hofer’s first-round victory, the French may well wake up to the news that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, has come out on top in the first round of France’s presidential election. That is what polls say we could expect if the election were held today.
In the meantime, it is not impossible that Donald J. Trump, however low his odds seem now, will have moved into the White House.
These are not Orwellian scenarios. Signs of defiance toward the old democratic order are so numerous that the news of Mr. Hofer’s first-round victory hardly reached the front pages of European newspapers. Remember when the election of President Kurt Waldheim in the 1980s, or the antics by the Freedom Party leader Jörg Haider in the 1990s were considered deeply disturbing? That was last century. Today, Austria’s weird politics are no longer isolated. They are part of a solid trend across Europe.
And not just Europe. The trend reaches across the Atlantic, too, with Trumpism threatening to split or take over the Republican Party.
Far-right populist movements have joined governing coalitions in Finland and Norway. They influence the political agenda in Denmark and the Netherlands. In Germany, which seemed immune from that disease, the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany recently scored 12 percent to 24 percent of the vote in three state elections. In Croatia, the minister of culture is trying to rehabilitate the fascist ideas of the Ustashe.
Those developments have generally been seen as negative but marginal — the center was still holding. Then the “illiberal wave” swept Central Europe, following the model of the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban. Poland and Slovakia are now also ruled by populist, anti-immigration, euroskeptic parties. The election of a far-right Austrian president would add a new dimension, extending the phenomenon beyond the post-Communist space where populist governments could be seen as a transitional stage for young democracies. Austria is not new Europe. It is old Europe.
We struggle to explain the rise of the far right in its various guises. Immigration is important, but the dynamics predated the refugee crisis. The euro crisis has not helped. High unemployment is crucial in France and Austria, but not an issue in Britain. Chaos in the Arab world, following the fiasco of the American-led invasion of Iraq, fuels new Middle East wars and terrorist attacks in Europe, adding to feelings of insecurity. Globalization, the loss of middle-class jobs, the rise of inequality and anxiety over the European social model have left immense frustration. Everywhere, anger toward ruling elites and mainstream institutions is patent.
Sound familiar? Yes, this is a trans-Atlantic phenomenon. Here and there, surfing on this anger, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson or Marine Le Pen utter statements that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. By accepting daily verbal assaults on immigrants (“They bring disease”), the European Union (“like Hitler,” it wants to impose one authority over Europe), Islam (not part of Europe; Muslims should not be allowed into the United States), torture (bring it back), we are legitimizing a public discourse that may, one day, translate into political decisions.
Like most European center-right or center-left leaders, President Obama understands this. On the day after the first round of Austria’s election, he warned in a speech in Hanover, Germany, against “the creeping emergence of the kind of politics that the European project was founded to reject: an us-versus-them mentality that tries to blame our problems on the other.”
“Our progress,” he pointed out, “is not inevitable.”
As multiple forces rip apart the liberal order, what is lacking from Washington, though, is an acknowledgment of the global and historic dimension of this phenomenon. This is not only about Europe. The symptoms that characterize the rise of Trumpism are the same as those of “the creeping emergence” Mr. Obama described. Recently, Pope Francis urged leaders to “update the idea of Europe.” Well, the broader idea of the West also badly needs an update.
On Aug. 14, 1941, with Europe engulfed by war, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met aboard the American cruiser Augusta and drafted the Atlantic Charter. This brief statement established eight common principles on which the two leaders based “their hopes for a better future of the world.” For decades, those principles, among them “freedom from fear and want” and “improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security,” would be seen as the inspiration of the free world. These were brave, progressive goals then. Now they deserve an update.
President Obama, we are told, is working on his legacy; visits to Cuba and Hiroshima are certainly appropriate. But there is another mission to embark on with Europeans. Or the man celebrated in 2008 as the first black American to be elected president will risk going down in history as the last American leader to preside over a Western democratic order.