The limousine the Tories sent for Viktor Orban should be a warning

By David Osland

I grew up in a Europe of dictatorships. And while public attention in the 1960s and 1970s was largely directed to the Soviet satellite states, the cheap holidays in other people’s misery were mainly to be had in Franco’s Spain, the Portugal of the Estado Novo and Greece under its military junta.

Rightwing authoritarianism was never vanquished quite as completely as the comfort blanket reading of the outcome of World War Two as a victory for the Allied democracies would have it.

Even in those countries in which it did not come to power – even in those countries in which it was actively repressed, come to that – it always maintained a vicious underground afterlife.

Now it is back in government. If nothing else, the visit of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán to Britain last week almost confirmed Joe Strummer’s famous adage: if they didn’t send a limousine, that’s only because there are none in the government car pool.

And if we are talking about illiberal democracies in eastern Europe, Duda’s Poland isn’t a long way behind.

Elsewhere, the Economistis speculating on the prospects for a hard right government in Italy, most likely led by Matteo Salvini and supported by Silvio Berlusconi and Fratelli d’Italia, a party that openly stakes a claim to the mantle of Mussolini.

In France, which holds a presidential election next April, the far rightist Marine Le Pen currently holds a narrow poll lead.

There is a debate on how best to characterise her Rassemblement National party, but at the very least it does include a cadre of overt fascists.

In short, the spectre now haunting Europe is the emergence of a multinational bloc of far right governments, boosting the fortunes of hard right political forces across an entire continent and beyond.

It won’t duplicate the fascisms and the military dictatorships of the past, but the family resemblance will be clear enough, particularly for those that face its ire.

In an era when even liberal democratic governments are interning asylum seekers en masse, the prospect of compulsory repatriation of Muslims on a grand scale looks all too possible.

Antisemitism is far beyond the dog whistle stage, while LGBT and abortion rights have also been in the firing line.

The contrast between the fortunes of post-fascism and the social democratic and ex-communist parties that remain the political expression of the continent’s labour movement is sharp. In several countries, the latter’s poll standing is subterranean.

Which brings me to the current patriotic turn adopted by the Labour Party here in Britain.

Labour is currently anywhere up to 14 points behind a Tory party which has successfully combined post-Brexit bourgeois triumphalism with post-pandemic tax and spend economics, in a manner that has left its leadership visibly flat-footed in response.

Virulent nationalism is not fought by adopting its flag-waving symbolism or homeopathic doses of anti-immigrant sentiment, dressed in the rhetoric of ‘legitimate concerns’.

It is fought by offering a politics of hope – an alternative vision, centred on policies that make a real difference to the lives of the victims of four decades of neoliberalism, regardless of their skin colour.

In Britain, the penalty for not grasping that fact will be another decade of Tory rule, perhaps with a praxis increasingly informed by that party’s malign continental counterparts, and at the very least drawing moral sustenance from their triumph.

In many European countries, the consequences could be more severe than even that.

David Osland is a member of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and a long-time left wing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland

Image: Viktor Orbán. Source: Viktor Orbán. Author: European People’s Party, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Subscribe to the blog for email notifications of new posts