My Europe – We must remain vigilant! | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 31.12.2017
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My Europe – We must remain vigilant!

The year 2016 angered many. Now, as 2017 comes to a close, anger has given away to a sense of fatigue. DW guest columnist Krsto Lazarevic warns we've grown used to ubiquitous hatred. But there's still hope for 2018.

In 2016, a hateful man who talks like a surly seven-year-old was elected American president. That same year, frustrated Britons decided their country should leave the European Union – because many young, pro-European Britons had preferred to stay home rather than cast their vote in support of remaining in the bloc. Also in 2016, pop legend Prince passed away. Fittingly, comedian John Oliver opted to symbolically "blow up" the year 2016 in one of his sketches – to the tune of the European anthem. People from all over the world gave 2016 the finger.

2016 will be remembered as the year in which the so-called West screwed up in a big way, and entirely without reason for doing do.

There was no devastating economic crisis like in 1929 which might be blamed. Instead, in 2016, many people simply chose nationalist parochialism over cosmopolitanism. Not out of desperation, but because they enjoy lashing out against the weak.

2017 wasn't any better – but we've grown used to many things

Reflecting back on 2017 doesn't evoke the anger that 2016 did. Not because things have improved. But because we'vebegrudgingly come to accept that things won't be improving in the so-called Western world in the coming years, and that maintaining the status quo alone will be something of a success.

2017 resembles 1790, 1915 and 1969 in that it too is a year that follows a major historical turning point. But this year was far from uneventful.

Donald Trump's first months in office as US president seemed almost comical. He was unable to push through many of his promises because conscientious judges or Congress blocked them. But when Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old protester in Charlottesville, Virginia, was run over by a white nationalist on August 12th, things suddenly became dead serious. The 45th president of the United States could not manage to condemn the murder of an innocent person because the support of his white nationalist and other far-right backers was more important to him.

And in Germany, the right-wing populist AFD party managed to become the third-strongest force in parliament. It's a party that tolerates neo-Nazis among its ranks.

According to Germany's Amadeu Antonio Foundation and the organization ProAsyl, over 1,700 attacks on refugees were reported in Germany over the course of 2017 – on average, that's more than four each day. 

 

Convicted war criminals are celebrated

In Austria, former neo-Nazi Heinz-Christian Strache has just become the country's vice chancellor. When his party, the right-wing populist FPÖ, joined an Austrian coalition government back in 2000, the EU slapped sanctions on the country to express its disapproval. Yet in 2017, the response from European leaders is much more favorable. Austria's new chancellor, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, campaigned solely on closing the Balkan route to prevent further refugees reaching Austria. 

Memorial service for Slobodan Praljak (Reuters/A. Bronic)

Many Croats held memorial services and hailed Praljak as a hero after his dramatic suicide

In 2017, several convicted war criminals, including Slobodan Praljak, were publicly celebrated in a number of Balkan states. Praljak, incidentally, publically committed suicide by drinking poison in the courtroom after the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia announced its verdict. Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic criticized the court's verdicts against the war criminals, deeming them unfair.   

Meanwhile in the Czech Republic, populist Euroskeptic Andrej Babis was elected the country's prime minister, although he may now require the support of the far-right and the communists to govern.

Poland and Romania are about to go through with controversial judicial reforms. Poland's breaches of "European values" are already so severe that the European Commission has triggered Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty – a procedure that could ultimately scrap Poland's voting rights.

Migrants rescued from the Mediterranean stand on deck of the Golfo Azurro (picture-alliance/AP Photo/E. Morenatti)

At least 3,100 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean on their journey toward a better future

Europe shifts further right

Hungary's government, lead by Viktor Orban, has long discarded liberal European values. But unlike Poland, which is now paying the price for embarking on a similar course, Hungary has remained unscathed. This is because Orban's national conservative Fidesz party belongs to the European People's Party (EPP), an alliance of European center-right parties that encompasses Germany's CDU and CSU parties, as well as Austria's ÖVP party. Together, they have shielded Hungary from punishment.   

This year, more than 3,100 people drowned in the Mediterranean in their attempt to flee to Europe.

Many who cherish open societies looked back on 2016 in anger. As 2017 draws to a close, many are left with a sense of fatigue: We've grown used to the fact that minorities' fundamental rights are being put into question.

We've grown used to the hate that pervades our streets, parliaments and social media networks. We've grown used to this backsliding on human dignity and rights. We've sat back, unperturbed, as women yet again occupy all too few seats as lawmakers.

 

Often, 'fear' of refugees is simply xenophobia

We harbor fears which we talk about in private, yet barely ever get addressed on major political chat shows on TV. We worry that our liberties and rights could get curtailed. We worry that it'll become normal to lash at the weak. We worry about social decline. Yet none of these worries are taken up on big chat shows. Instead, most shows focus on peoples' "fear" of refugees and terrorism. A fear that in many cases simply stems from xenophobia.

Many self-professed critics of the present "asylum system" don't care if wealthy individuals move their riches to tax havens to avoid paying taxes. After the so-called Paradise Papers were released, revealing the extent of these practices, the subsequent outrage soon subsided. And yet, those who are overly concerned about asylum-seekers welcome that these individuals should hand over their few valuables upon arrival, as will soon be the case in Austria.

2017 was an exhausting year. But we must remain vigilant and protect the status quo from falling any further.

We've been spared the worst

Luckily, 2017 didn't get as bad as it could have been. French far-right leader Marine Le Pen fared badly in the French presidential elections and so the EU lives to see another day.

Finland, Malta and Germany have legalized same-sex marriage. And Austria's top court has ruled that the country's government must soon do the same. The viral #metoo campaign on social media helped end the careers of men who had abused their power to sexually harass others.

So there's a silver lining. 2018 could well be the year that the people stand up and take action against Europe's shift to the right.

Krsto Lazarevic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina and fled to Germany with his family as a child. Today he lives in Berlin, where he works as a journalist and commentator, writing for various German-language media outlets.

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