June 6th marked the 70th anniversary of the famous D-Day of World War II. It was the largest seaborne military operation in history and it marked the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.
Despite all the grand celebrations, though, despite the speeches and the moving stories of the last remaining veterans, one need to go no further than the results of the recent European Parliament elections to realise that something is wrong.
We might honour history, but we fail to learn from it.
As troops and ships from Great Britain and the Commonwealth, USA and many other countries gained the beaches of Normandy, the Red Army was marching from the East. The frantic race to Berlin, a race not only to end the most destructive conflict in the history of mankind, but to gain the prestige and possible technological spoils from the conquest of the German capital, would end almost a year later.
The World War was replaced by a Cold War, lines were drawn, walls were erected, curtains were raised, nuclear weapons were constructed and mankind came closer to extinction than ever before.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were no more enemies to be afraid of. As the spectre of another global conflict started to dissolve, political power shifted away from governments and into the hands of banks and financial institutions.
The same ills that brought about the Great Depression of the 1930s now threaten us again with a new financial crisis the remedy for which, we are told, is to be found into austerity for people of low to average income, while banks increase their profits and golden boys give themselves huge bonuses and pat each other on the back.
At the same time, however, extreme right parties gain more voters every day.
What we ought to remember is that Hitler was not some random madman who suddenly seized power and hypnotized an entire nation into Nazism. Adolph Hitler was elected into power. It was a slow process, that took both the defeat of Germany in World War I and the toxic financial environment of the late ’20s and early ’30s to grow into fascism.
In the end, slowly but surely, it drove several peoples into the hands of fanatics. Leaders in other countries seemed to worry about the situation in Germany and Italy, but they did little more than watch, until Nazi tanks crossed their borders.
Today, neo-nazi, racist and nationalist parties are growing all over Europe. In France, the United Kingdom and Denmark, anti-immigration parties have won the elections with 25, 27 and 26.6 percent respectively. Meanwhile, in Greece the neo-nazi party of Golden Dawn came very close to double digits, even though several of its MPs (including the party’s leader) have been imprisoned facing trial for planning and participation in various crimes and racist assaults up to and including murder. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a European country where the popularity of the far-right parties was reduced. Even in the generally more prosperous Scandinavian region.
If we do not wish for history to repeat itself, we ought to do more than deliver empty speeches on national holidays. Fascism is not some monster hiding under our beds, nor some kind of disease that you might catch while riding the train to work.
In fact, it is an idea that is most likely to take root where there is no work, where there is social inequality, where democracy is weakened and manipulated. Like the Weimar Republic of the 1920s. Like our democracies, today.