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Growth of Slovakian Fascism Illustrates the Dynamic Underlying Brexit and the Trumpenkampfverbande

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Marian Kotleba (left) of the People's Party Our Slovakia [6]

Mar­i­an Kotle­ba (left) of the Peo­ple’s Par­ty Our Slo­va­kia

COMMENT: Much has been said and writ­ten about the “Brex­it” vote and its pos­si­ble sig­nif­i­cance on both sides of the Atlantic. We note that this is an event with­out prece­dent. The EU and the EMU are the out­growth of a cen­tu­ry and a half of Ger­man mil­i­tary cam­paigns and Von Clause­witz­ian “post­wars.” [7] A Deutsche Bank exec­u­tive fore­sees [8] the Brex­it as rel­e­gat­ing Europe to the sta­tus of sec­ond tier pow­er.

While that may be the case, it remains to be seen just what hap­pens. The Brex­it vote may lead to the dis­man­tling of the Unit­ed King­dom, with Scot­land and North­ern Ire­land leav­ing.

In the mean­time, Ger­many is ramp­ing up its endorse­ment of a Euro­pean “super state.” [9]

We note that the potent, tox­ic brew of eco­nom­ic malaise, a cow­ard­ly media estab­lish­ment that fails to ade­quate­ly diag­nose the source of that dis­or­der, an igno­rant and beset pub­lic and shift­ing pop­u­la­tion dynam­ics (such as inte­gra­tion of immi­grants) can lead to a demand to “throw the bums out.”

When a pub­lic fails to under­stand just who “the bums” real­ly are, the stage is set for cat­a­stro­phe. As Mark Twain not­ed: “Most peo­ple don’t think. They only think they think.”

Hitler suc­cess­ful­ly rep­re­sent­ed him­self as anti-estab­lish­ment, with “Inter­na­tion­al Jew­ry” being the “bums” under the cir­cum­stances.

Trump, who is as estab­lish­ment as they come, is also pre­sent­ing venal, fin­ger-point­ing, scape­goat­ing expla­na­tions for eco­nom­ic phe­nom­e­na that will be resis­tant to sim­plis­tic reme­dies and that will take a long time to ame­lio­rate.

We note that the Brex­it vote has spurred a new vote [10] for gov­er­nance in Aus­tria, giv­ing the Free­dom Par­ty anoth­er shot at gain­ing con­trol. 

An arti­cle about the rise of the Peo­ple’s Par­ty Our Slo­va­kia in–of course–Slovakia high­lights some of these dynam­ics.

An inter­est­ing sub­text to the dynam­ics set forth here is the cow­ard­ly jour­nal­is­tic and polit­i­cal sci­en­tif­ic lex­i­con favored by apol­o­gists. No one will label fas­cists as “fas­cist,” even what that is clear­ly the case. If Adolf Hitler were to come back to life, our jour­nal­is­tic estab­lish­ment would intone as fol­lows: “The Ger­man paleo-con­ser­v­a­tive Adolf Hitler, whom crit­ics accuse of pur­su­ing an ultra-nation­al­ist agen­da . . . .”

Note what the Slo­va­kian “pop­ulists” led by Mar­i­an Kotle­ba did after join­ing par­lia­ment: ” . . . But one of the first acts of the new mem­bers of L’SNS in Slo­va­ki­a’s par­lia­ment was to demand a minute of silence to mark the day Jozef Tiso was hanged in 1947 for trea­son. Tiso was the head of Slo­va­ki­a’s pro-Nazi, total­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment when 70,000 Slo­vaks were deport­ed to their deaths dur­ing World War II. . . .”

Why Does the Extreme Right Appeal in Europe? Slo­va­kia Offers Trou­bling Clues” by Sara Miller Llana; The Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor; 6/29/2016. [11]

The vic­tims of World War II and their descen­dants call it “Bloody Sun­day.”

On Jan. 21, 1945, Nazi sol­diers, retal­i­at­ing against par­ti­sans and their sup­port­ers liv­ing through­out these hills of Cen­tral Slo­va­kia, burned down Ostrý Grúň and shot 64 vil­lagers, women and chil­dren among them, dead. In the years since, the town has raised memo­ri­als, com­mis­sioned books, and con­struct­ed an archival room ded­i­cat­ed to those they lost.

But when the nation went to the polls to choose new lead­er­ship in nation­al elec­tions in March, near­ly a fifth of this town, angered by main­stream pol­i­tics, vot­ed for an extrem­ist par­ty that open­ly sup­ports the Nazi pup­pet state installed dur­ing the war.

“From my posi­tion, I can’t under­stand why res­i­dents choose this way to show their frus­tra­tion about their cur­rent dis­con­tent,” says Jana Angle­to­va, the may­or of Ostrý Grúň. Her father sur­vived the mas­sacre as a baby only because he was hid­den under a duvet. Both of his par­ents, May­or Angle­to­va’s grand­par­ents, were round­ed up and killed.

Amid cor­rup­tion scan­dals, eco­nom­ic uncer­tain­ty, and now the migrant cri­sis, Slo­va­kia, which is slat­ed to take over the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy of the Euro­pean Union next month, is not Europe’s only trou­ble spot. Pop­ulists and anti-EU forces across the bloc are threat­en­ing the order forged after World War II. Most recent­ly, Britain’s vote to leave the EU appears to have put the rul­ing Con­ser­v­a­tives on a right­ward tilt while also bol­ster­ing the anti-immi­grant Unit­ed King­dom Inde­pen­dence Par­ty.

But for all the con­cerns across the con­ti­nent about a return to the intol­er­ance of the 1930s, it is in the post-com­mu­nist coun­tries of the EU that many fear the risk is great­est, as pub­lic frus­tra­tion has under­mined the ideals that these coun­tries sub­scribed to upon join­ing the bloc. And with an accused fas­cist par­ty now sit­ting in Slo­va­ki­a’s par­lia­ment, the direc­tor of the Muse­um of the Slo­vak Nation­al Upris­ing Stanislav Mičev calls it “a cri­sis of moral val­ues.”

“Many Euro­pean coun­tries are sup­port­ing extrem­ist par­ties, even more than in Slo­va­kia. But west­ern Euro­pean extrem­ist par­ties are not fas­cist par­ties,” he says. “When you say this par­ty is xeno­pho­bic or sup­ports a pro­gram of racial hatred, [sup­port­ers] will say this is not true. They say [the par­ty] just wants to estab­lish order here, and that it’s not pos­si­ble today what hap­pened dur­ing Hitler’s era. They are not aware of how frag­ile our pol­i­tics are.”

‘No shared vision’

Pun­dits expect­ed Slovakia’s pop­ulist right to grow like sim­i­lar par­ties across Europe, and grow it did. But polling almost just as well in the gen­er­al elec­tion was the extreme right Peo­ple’s Par­ty Our Slo­va­kia (L’SNS), led by Mar­i­an Kotle­ba, who used to wear a uni­form that resem­bled that of the Hlin­ka Guard, which round­ed up Jews dur­ing Slovakia’s Nazi pup­pet state. It gar­nered 8 per­cent of the vote, land­ing in par­lia­ment for the first time.

Now many here are ask­ing what has gone wrong, and whether a fail­ure to address the short­com­ings of the trans­for­ma­tion to democ­ra­cy have fed grow­ing intol­er­ance and resent­ments toward the polit­i­cal elite and the EU.

Part of Czecho­slo­va­kia dur­ing the fall of the Berlin Wall, the country’s Vel­vet Rev­o­lu­tion was a ref­er­ence point of the era. And in the 90s, when author­i­tar­i­an lead­er­ship threat­ened the West­ern cre­den­tials of the young nation, prompt­ing then US Sec­re­tary of State Madeleine Albright to call Slo­va­kia a “black hole in the heart of Europe,” Slo­vaks fought to join post-war alliances. “There was a com­mon vision, we want­ed to get into the EU and NATO,” says soci­ol­o­gist Olga Gyarfášová.

Over a decade since their 2004 acces­sion to the EU, how­ev­er, enthu­si­asm for the bloc has dimmed sig­nif­i­cant­ly. In one recent sur­vey here, 52.3 per­cent of respon­dents were pos­i­tive about Slovakia’s mem­ber­ship in the EU, drop­ping from 68 per­cent in 2010. “It is 12 years that Slo­va­kia is for­mal­ly anchored in the EU and NATO, one would it expect it to be more embed­ded,” says Ms. Gyarfášová, who over­saw the sur­vey.

Today, she says, she attrib­ut­es the rise of Kotle­ba as part of a nation lost. “Now there is no shared vision.”

Part of the prob­lem is that EU mem­ber­ship was nev­er weighed in terms of prin­ci­ples, argues soci­ol­o­gist Michal Vašeč­ka. “The Slo­vak trans­for­ma­tion was very much focused on changes of insti­tu­tions and con­nect­ed with the build­ing of cap­i­tal­ism,” he says. “It was not very attached to val­ues. It was per­ceived by most of the pop­u­la­tion not in terms of qual­i­ty of life in all pos­si­ble dimen­sions, but qual­i­ty of life in mate­r­i­al dimen­sions.”

Opening the door to fascism?

The oblig­a­tions asso­ci­at­ed with mem­ber­ship spurred soul-search­ing dur­ing the EU’s sov­er­eign debt cri­sis, which hap­pened just as Slovakia’s growth pat­tern was buoy­ing a nation always cast aside as the poor­er half of Czecho­slo­va­kia. Sup­port to Greece dur­ing its first bailout was so emo­tion­al and con­test­ed the Slo­vak gov­ern­ment col­lapsed because of it.

“Sud­den­ly Slo­vaks real­ized that their mem­ber­ship in the EU is not just tak­ing euro­funds and freely mov­ing around EU, but that there are some respon­si­bil­i­ties too” says Mr. Vasec­ka. “This is the moment when pos­i­tive feel­ings about the EU dis­ap­peared in a sec­ond.”

Since then prob­lems have only mount­ed, and have seemed to reach anoth­er turn­ing point with the refugee cri­sis. Slo­va­kia Prime Min­is­ter Robert Fico, a Social Demo­c­rat, has been one of the loud­est anti-refugee voic­es in Europe, even suing over the EU’s relo­ca­tion quo­tas. Many blame him for desen­si­tiz­ing the pub­lic to aggres­sive rhetoric from all sides.

“Fico opened the door to prim­i­tive lan­guage,” says Matúš Kos­tol­ný [12], the edi­tor of the dai­ly Den­nik N. “Peo­ple see [Kotle­ba] talks dirty but so does every­one else. And at least Kotle­ba offers solu­tions [to the peo­ple]. Divi­sions between nor­mal and extrem­ist pol­i­tics start­ed to become real­ly thin.”

Kotle­ba, a for­mer school teacher, first tried his hand at pol­i­tics with his “Slo­vak Togeth­er­ness – Nation­al Par­ty,” but it was banned in 2007 for foment­ing hate. He re-emerged in 2011 with L’SNS, and shocked Slo­va­kia in 2013 when he became the gov­er­nor of Ban­ská Bystri­ca. At that point the vic­to­ry was looked upon as an anom­aly, says Mr. Kos­tol­ný. “But when his par­ty won at the nation­al lev­el, peo­ple start­ed to see there is a big­ger prob­lem.”

Slo­va­kia now joins just Hun­gary and Greece, via Job­bik and Gold­en Dawn respec­tive­ly, in elect­ing nation­al law­mak­ers from par­ties with open­ly fas­cist ten­den­cies to office. All three par­ties reject the label, as does Kotle­ba, whose office didn’t respond to requests for an inter­view.

But one of the first acts of the new mem­bers of L’SNS in Slo­va­ki­a’s par­lia­ment was to demand a minute of silence to mark the day Jozef Tiso was hanged in 1947 for trea­son. Tiso was the head of Slo­va­ki­a’s pro-Nazi, total­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment when 70,000 Slo­vaks were deport­ed to their deaths dur­ing World War II.

Kotle­ba has a clear anti-Roma plat­form, and is against asy­lum seek­ers, as well as NATO and the EU. His par­ty’s web­site recent­ly post­ed a con­grat­u­la­to­ry note to Britain for their vote on “Brex­it,” call­ing it false that Slo­va­kia could­n’t sur­vive out­side the con­fines of the bloc.

‘People want a better life’

Slovakia’s polit­i­cal elite is still reel­ing from the rise of L’SNS. The pres­i­dent didn’t invite mem­bers of Kotleba’s par­ty to a meet­ing for all rep­re­sen­ta­tives of par­lia­ment after the vote. News­pa­per edi­tors have mulled how to direct their cov­er­age – weigh­ing whether cov­er­ing Kotle­ba gives his par­ty unnec­es­sary respect or ignor­ing him turns him into a folk hero.

While there are clear admir­ers of Tiso in Slo­va­kia, most peo­ple say they are drawn to Kotle­ba as an anti-estab­lish­ment fig­ure and man of the peo­ple. Radovan Bránik, who found­ed a cri­sis response team “Mod­rý Anjel” (“Blue Angel”) which assists dur­ing nat­ur­al dis­as­ters like flood­ing, says that when need­ed, Kotle­ba dis­patch­es help with effi­ca­cy. “When it comes to vol­un­teer­ing, if I ignore their pol­i­tics, they are objec­tive­ly the most effec­tive vol­un­teer work­ers,” he says.

And their mes­sage has res­onat­ed, espe­cial­ly in remote areas where main­stream politi­cians hard­ly step foot. “They say, we cleaned up your house, we helped you rebuild your vil­lage. Like we did that, we will help you rebuilt the Slo­vak polit­i­cal scene. And the Slo­vak polit­i­cal scene is in ruins.”

But these towns are riv­en by his rise, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Ban­ská Bystri­ca where he’s in pow­er. In Ostrý Grúň, only a few will talk about pol­i­tics, and almost no one will share a name, as sus­pi­cions over who vot­ed for whom abound. The results have aggra­vat­ed a gen­er­a­tional divide in the town. A quar­ter of first-time votes went to Kotleba’s par­ty, con­found­ing old­er res­i­dents in the region.

Mar­i­an Gru­ber, who rais­es trout, calls it noth­ing short of a tragedy and a mis­un­der­stand­ing of democ­ra­cy. “There is democ­ra­cy, and there will be democ­ra­cy. The ques­tion is whether we can under­stand it and exist with­in it,” he says. “Peo­ple only want to take from it. Democ­ra­cy is also about duties.”

“There is growth of rad­i­cal­ism. We give it a label in Slo­va­kia, try­ing to ‘estab­lish order,’” he says. “It is very dan­ger­ous.”

One res­i­dent, over­see­ing a work crew ren­o­vat­ing her roof, scoffs at the con­cern. She says she has to trav­el to neigh­bor­ing Aus­tria to work and main­tain a mid­dle-class lifestyle and fears her sons will have to do the same. “There is one rea­son we vot­ed for Kotle­ba,” she says. “Peo­ple want a bet­ter life.”

Moral bearings

Richard Youngs, an expert on inter­na­tion­al democ­ra­cy at Carnegie Europe, says that the protest vote against the elite is show­ing up every­where, from Cen­tral Europe to Britain. “Because this is a phe­nom­e­non that we are see­ing across the major­i­ty of EU mem­ber states today, there is some­thing struc­tur­al going on in terms of the rela­tion­ship between pop­u­la­tions, nation­al gov­ern­ments, and what is going on at the EU lev­el.”

Mr. Mičev, the muse­um direc­tor, says he wor­ries the protest is turn­ing into intol­er­ance. “This coun­try is say­ing we are a ‘Chris­t­ian’ coun­try, then how do we explain the hatred in con­text of the migrant wave?” he says. “How do we explain that the main line is not to help any­body, even those who need it?”

For Emil­ia Suri­an­s­ka, one of the last liv­ing sur­vivors who lost her moth­er and sis­ter dur­ing the mas­sacre in Ostrý Grúň, says she wor­ries that fel­low Slo­vaks have lost their moral com­pass.

“If some­one had to sur­vive what I had to go through, the vote would nev­er have end­ed like this,” says Ms. Suri­an­s­ka, who speaks about los­ing her fam­i­ly at age 7. “Peo­ple don’t under­stand what refugees have to go through. They don’t under­stand what fas­cists are,” she says. “Slo­va­kia is los­ing empa­thy. Peo­ple can’t feel for oth­er peo­ple any­more.”