We have all heard the story of when, during a visit to the United States, a journalist asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of Western civilisation, and Gandhi is said to have replied that he thought it “would be a very good idea.” Former Greek finance minister and outspoken opponent of the savage austerity programs forced on Greece, Yanis Varoufakis recalled Gandhi’s words in the talk he gave at the University of Sydney on November 26. Varoufakis’ message was clear: Like Western civilisation, European democracy would indeed be a very good idea.
With refugees at the centre of debate after the terror attacks in Paris, the plight of European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany during the 1930s and '40s springs to mind as a parallel to the current crisis. It has come to light in recent times that the family of Anne Frank — the Jewish teenager whose famous diary details her and her family's failed attempts to hide from the Nazis in Amsterdam — was among those denied the necessary papers that would have allowed them access to the United States.
As the initial horror and outrage of the attacks in Paris on November 13 subside, the impacts they are already having on French and European society are becoming clearer. A state of emergency has been declared by the French government and will persist for up to three months. French officials announced on November 17 that France would see an extra 115,000 police officers, gendarmes and soldiers deployed across the country. In this context, rational debate is being restricted and progressive movements are on the defensive. Refugees
Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly asserted that Adolf Hitler had no intention of exterminating Europe's Jews until a Palestinian persuaded him to do it. The Israeli prime minister's attempt to whitewash Hitler and lay the blame for the Holocaust at the door of Palestinians signals a major escalation of his incitement against and demonisation of the people living under his country's military and settler-colonial rule. It also involves a good deal of Holocaust denial.
Austria, as well as Serbia and Croatia, have joined other European countries in temporarily closing their borders. On September 21, Croatia closed its last checkpoint for trucks on the Serbian border where thousands of refugees are waiting to cross in the hope of a better life.
It is the single image that has crystallised the horror of the refugee crisis in Europe: On September 2, a photographer took a picture of the lifeless body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Kurdish refugee from Syria, lying face-down on a Turkish beach. The toddler was one of at least 12 refugees — including his five-year-old brother Galip, and their mother Rihan — who drowned during a desperate bid to reach the Greek island of Kos, joining more than 2500 refugees who have perished in the Mediterranean this year.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on September 9 a novel approach to stemming the flow of refugees from Syria: bombing the country. He also announced plans to accept a further 12,000 Syrian refugees on top of his government's miserly quota, but was quick to dispel any hopes that Australia might be abandoning its status as the Western world's leading abuser of refugees. Abbott told ABC Radio National on September 10 that Syrian refugees being held in the Australian-run concentration camps in Nauru and Manus Island would not be released.
30,000 people marched in Vienna on August 31 to demonstrate against inhumane treatment of refugees. In less than a fortnight a series of tragedies took place on the borders of Europe, spurring a continent-wide debate over refugee policy. On August 26, about 200 refugees perished at sea as their ship capsized off the coast of Libya on its way to Italy.
Syrian refugees on Greece-Macedonia border. Photo: Amnesty International. “Are we animals? Why? Why?” Those were the words of one Syrian refugee to BBC's Channel 4 recently after Macedonian police attacked desperate families seeking entry into the country along the border with Greece. The refugee crisis has grown to immense proportions. Tens of thousands of people have flooded into the Balkans in recent weeks. Macedonia
Marines join protesting German workers in Berlin during the November 1918 revolution. The German Left & the Weimar Republic By Ben Fowkes Haymarket Books, 2015 399 pages, US$28. Socialist historian Ben Fowkes has given us a unique and vivid text documentary of the German workers’ movement during the tumultuous years of its greatest influence — from November 1918 to its defeat by Nazism 15 years later.
Just after midnight on July 27, a bomb exploded in the car of left-wing politician and refugee activist Michael Richter in the town of Freital on the outskirts of Dresden in eastern Germany. Richter, a 39-year old town councillor for the socialist party Die Linke (The Left) was not in the car. No one was harmed by the blast, which also damaged a nearby car. Police are yet to assign blame, but Richter is certain the attack came from right-wing groups in the area, who have threatened him repeatedly in recent months over his campaigning work for refugees.
In 1870, six months before a retreating French army was defeated by Prussian troops at Sedan, the Deutsche Bank was established in Berlin. Although Britain was still the pre-eminent world economic power, the US and Germany were starting to take the giant strides that would soon enough see them leave the former “workshop of the world” in their wake.
In the aftermath of the harsh deal for brutal austerity and mass privatisation imposed on Greece in the early hours of July 13, both Berlin and Paris are floating alternative “solutions” to the euro problem. Germany, on the one hand, wants greater fiscal integration, whereas France is calling for the creation of a eurozone government as well as a dedicated finance minister. The mainstream press is talking up the divisions between the two nations as fundamentally different perspectives on the euro — or even differences in political “culture”.
Supporters of Die Linke (The Left) demonstrate in front of the Federal Chancellery, Berlin. Protests took place in 14 cities in Germany on July 16 against the German government’s aggressive treatment of the Greek crisis and in solidarity with their European Mediterranean neighbours.
More than 60 lawmakers from Germany’s Die Linke (The Left) party voted against the proposal for further austerity for Greece on July 17. They accused the German government of “destroying Europe” by forcing Greece to accept hard-hitting austerity measures required by the eurozone for a third bailout deal.
As the left in Australia faces the need to organise against escalating racism from mainstream politicians and the far right, important lessons can be learned from anti-racist struggles across the world. Sibylle Kaczorek is a Socialist Alliance activist now living in Melbourne who was active in anti-racist campaigns in Germany. She spoke to Green Left Weekly's Nick Fredman. * * * Despite Germany officially becoming an anti-fascist state after World War II, there have been continuing connections between the far right and the state haven’t there?