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Right-wing populists have already won

Krsto Lazarevic
Krsto Lazarevic
September 16, 2017

The EU has closed its borders, allowing Libyan militias and African dictators to violate human rights. With policies like that, Europe is moving away from its own values, writes Krsto Lazarevic.

Krsto Lazarevic
Image: Privat

Elections will soon be held in Germany and Austria. They're coming up in Italy, too. Whatever the outcome, right-wing populists in Berlin, Vienna and Rome are somehow already in power. They do not even have to rule. Fearing the loss of far-right voters, established parties have long begun telling the electorate what right-wing populists wish to hear. The extent to which the debate in Germany has moved to the right is illustrated by a question posed in the Wahl-O-Mat, a voting advice app designed by Germany's Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) to help voters decide whom to vote for.

One of the statements in the questionnaire is: "The genocide of the European Jews should continue to be an integral part of German remembrance culture." You can agree, disagree or remain undecided. It has only been a few months since the populist Alternative for Germany's (AfD) far-right member Björn Höcke said that Germany needed to perform a "180-degree turnaround" when remembering its past, and Auschwitz is already being discussed without coming to a moral conclusion. This is a great victory for the far-right wing of a party that does not even yet hold a seat in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament

The AfD's ideals have crept into the minds of Germany's talk show hosts. In the televised debate between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democratic (SPD) challenger Martin Schulz, the main issues discussed were not social justice, education and precarious employment situations but once again, refugee policy. We should get on our knees and thank Merkel for refusing to take part in a second debate and sparing us another pathetic show.

Libyan militias as EU border guards

Things are not better in Italy. A few months ago, Italian authorities began preventing the work of NGOs that save people's lives in the Mediterranean. Prosecutors in provincial Sicilian towns accused NGOs of cooperating with human smugglers. Right-wing and conservative forces in Italy, Germany and Austria gratefully acknowledged the accusations. There is still a lack of evidence to back them, but that doesn't matter. Something always manages to stick.

Refugees off the coast of Libya
Human rights or isolation? You cannot have bothImage: picture alliance/dpa/NurPhoto/C. Marquardt

In the meantime, only a few refugees from Libya arrive in Italy these days. This is owed to the Italian minister of the Interior, Marco Minniti, who has made work for sea rescue workers more difficult. He has come to accept dubious militias and now pursues an intensive cooperation with the Libyan coastguard. If you want to know what cooperation with the Libyan coastguard is like, ask the Sea Watch rescue team. On the night of October 20, activists were about to rescue people in distress from international waters but a Libyan coast guard boat prevented the operation. More than 20 people drowned unnecessarily on that day.

Human rights? What human rights?

Section 2 of article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." The EU's cooperation with the Libyan coastguard aims at the exact opposite. People are being prevented from leaving a civil war zone in which those in refugee camps are systematically executed, tortured and raped. The German embassy in Niger's capital Niamey reported to the German Chancellery on "concentration camp-like conditions in so-called private prisons." EU member states are free to regulate their own asylum laws, but preventing people from leaving a war-torn country does not fit with decency or fundamental human rights.

The same can be said about the deportations from Germany to Afghanistan. "Look, we are deporting people to civil war countries. You don't have to vote for the right-wing populists." In Afghanistan, fighting is increasing as is the number of victims. There are no safe provinces. German Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maiziere knows this too, which is why he only has the courage to travel across the country under heavy protection.

Sudan refugee camp
Refugees in African countries like Sudan face dire conditionsImage: Reuters/M. N. Abdallah

At least some members of the SPD are ashamed of the deportations. On Tuesday evening, the SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz told the public broadcaster ZDF, "My assessment is quite clear: no one can be deported to Afghanistan at the moment." Unfortunately, three hours earlier, a deportation flight from Dusseldorf to Afghanistan took off, something which was obviously not possible without the approval of the SPD-led foreign ministry. An SPD chancellor candidate who suggests that his party - after four years of ruling as the junior coalition partners in the government - has nothing to do with the deportations to Afghanistan is not very credible.

The main concern is closed borders

Human rights or isolation? They do not go together. The EU and its member states have decided to ignore human rights. In order to justify this, human rights violations are now being transferred to the Libyan coast guard and militias. In the future, African dictators will also be able to help outsource Europe's border operations to neighboring continents. The International Criminal Tribunal has an issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir for genocide yet the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) has no qualms about training police officers in that country. Refugees dying of thirst in the Sahara or being killed in Libya are of less interest to the European public than those drowning in the Mediterranean.

The right-wing populists have already won the upcoming elections in Europe, no matter what the outcome is. The EU has done away with human rights and Western standards of civilization by cooperating with the Libyan coastguard, African dictators and deporting people back to war zones. Anyone who tries to save human lives in the Mediterranean will be criminalized, shot at and called a smuggler. Only very few EU citizens are bothered by this. The main thing is that the borders are closed and no new refugees come in. You can you create these polices, but then you are no longer entitled to speak of human rights and European values.  

Krsto Lazarevic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina and fled with his family to Germany as a child. Today he lives in Berlin and writes for various German-language publications.