Reader NG brought a link to a very insightful article by the brilliant Timothy Snyder, one of the world’s greatest living historians. Snyder is deeply disturbed (as we all are) by the results of the recent European elections that revealed a deep yearning, shared by way too many Europeans, for the return of fascism. Snyder insists that we should all look to Ukraine as an example of a successful resistance to fascism:
Europe has a problem, and Ukraine might be the solution.
In the elections that took place across Europe on Sunday for the European Parliament, turnout was low (43 percent), and the anti-European far right made substantial gains, most notably in France, where the National Front took 25 percent. In the election that took place the same day for the Ukrainian presidency, turnout was high (61 percent), the victorious candidate ran on a pro-EU platform, and the far-right candidates (2 percent) were beaten by everyone, including the Jewish candidate. If Europeans voted the way Ukrainians did, Europe could count on a far more secure and prosperous future.
I agree with Snyder and believe there is another unsung hero of the recent years in Europe: Spain. Spain has a very recent (in historic terms) memory of a home-grown fascist dictatorship. Both Spain and Ukraine are traditionally marginalized in Europe as “not completely European”, but the way things are shaping up is making it clear that these two countries are the ones that actually preserve the truly European values of democracy, civic engagement, Enlightened thinking, and anti-fascism.
Europe needs to help Spain withstand the dangerous fantasies of Catalonians and support Ukraine in its fight for territorial integrity. This shouldn’t be done for the sake of Ukraine and Spain, but for the sake of Europe itself. Snyder is absolutely right in pointing out the gravest danger faced by Europe: parochialism and outdated fantasies:
Meanwhile, the fantasy on offer from the European far right this year has been the nation-state. If only Scotland, or England, or France, or Austria, or Greece, or Bulgaria could finally be free of pushy European bureaucrats, then life would return to normal and all would be well. All would not be well. . . The nation-state is a utopia. There is no way back to it.
It’s true, the nation-state has served its purpose. The world has changed since the XVIIIth century when the myth of a nation was born. Trying to revive this myth and break European countries into ever-smaller bits and pieces will only serve one goal:
The leaders of the European far right, helped by the recent woolly-headedness of much of the European left, are moving their peoples not back toward the nation-state (which is impossible) but toward Russian domination of Europe.
While the Scots and the Catalonians play their infantile “we want our own country, too, even if it’s the size of a handkerchief” games and erode the EU, Putin is laughing all the way to dominating the continent.
Snyder offers the most clear-headed, profound diagnosis of what that Europeans are trying to accomplish by voting for ultra-nationalistic parties. They “are voting for a fantasy of separation from the world”, the historian says.
The world has become too complex, too menacing. The fantasy of a small, isolated country that has checked out of all the difficulties of living in the globalized world of advanced capitalism and postmodern values is just that, a fantasy. But while Europeans are indulging in it, somebody who is less terrified of reality will take charge. We all remember who that was in 1932. There is no reason to hope that, this time around, it will be anybody better.
The EU needs Ukraine more than Ukraine needs the EU, Snyder says. And he’s right. Ukrainians are right now paying an enormous price for resisting fascism and defending democracy. Ukraine still believes that the Europe of high civilization and Enlightened values is there. If Europe sees its reflection in the enamored eyes of Ukrainians, maybe that will help it to live up to the beauty of that – now largely fictional – image.