It’s not just Donald Trump. As odious as he is, and as strange as this may sound, he is not the worst.
Prague. 2010. A neo-Nazi rally on a bright Saturday afternoon in February.
About 100 of their supporters turned up, waving red, white and black swastikas. After five minutes into the event I was covering for a newspaper, I uttered a criticism, too crude to print here, on their claims of superiority. I was overheard, threatened and spat at. At that point my photographer advised me, again in rather crude terms, to beat a retreat. We both fled, chased by thugs. My photographer had an intimate knowledge of the backstreets, his nocturnal habitat, and it was this that allowed us to eventually lose our pursuers. Ironically, though the protest was held in the Czech capital, most of those attending actually came from outside Prague with many coming from the country’s second city, Brno and they were not so well acquainted with the street geography.
Once we found sanctuary and got our wits together, we both realized our actions paralleled those who had run through the same streets in the 30s and 40s followed by those of a similar persuasion. At the time I dismissed it as one those odd occurrences. Possibly, I thought, I was making too much of it as adrenalin rushed through my veins. Six years later, I am not so sure. Odd occurrences seem to be happening too frequently and seem increasingly normal.
Austria may soon have a far-right president or could just manage to swerve, at the last moment, from that outcome. Either way, the far right will be a political force in that country. Hungary has a far-right government that has adopted a series of laws that are “a threat to the right to freedom of expression” according to Amnesty International. Little Luxembourg called for the country to be kicked out of the European Union for treating asylum seekers “worse than wild animals.’’ Other, more powerful countries, remained deafeningly silent.
The far–right are making inroads in Eastern Europe and Germany and the end of Chancellor’s Angela Merkel’s Bismarckian presence on the European stage seems to loom over the horizon. Oh, and France’s Fifth Republic is giving every indication that National Front leader Marine Le Pen could take up residence in the Elysee Palace or at least be a serious contender to live in that piece of prime real estate.
Should it happen, that, not Brexit, not the euro, will spell the end of the EU. Even if she doesn’t win, the gravitational pull from the black hole of fascist policies in France will warp the political landscape. One consequence of this will be to insure that Brexit is a bloodbath to scare the French from taking, or even considering, a similar route.
Britain must be seen to not get a good deal from Europe but the ways these things go it will probably end up with vitriol being exchanged across the English Channel unmatched in ferocity since the Fashoda incident in 1898.
In Britain we have just seen a Tory party conference seriously consider asking firms to reveal the number of foreigners they have on their payroll. In other times, the British would have scoffed at such a suggestion. That a British government would now toy with an approach to policing and social order that has as its core the hideous “Ihre papiere, bitte” (your papers please) philosophy is as chilling as it is heartbreaking.
Headlines on some UK newspapers scream condemnation at those deemed “unpatriotic Bremoaners” demanding they are “Sent to the tower.”
Two words, fifth columnists, have re-entered the political lexicon.
Xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have entered the mainstream as a result of toxic and divisive campaigning by those advocating Brexit.
The person who said this is not by any means of the left. Lady Warsi is a Tory peer and former party co-chair. The political climate and a surge in “respectable racism” is nurturing the far right, she said.
Six years ago, I was frightened but exhilarated that I had outrun fascists. The exhilaration has gone.
Tom Clifford is an Irish journalist. He has written for Japan Times, Irish Independent, the South China Morning Post, Gulf News, the Prague Post and many other publications.
This article was originally published at History News Network