#Je suis l’Europe

Abduction of Europa by Paolo de Matteis


Today, international and multi-faith European societies are infected by the old virus of terrorism. Recent terrorist attacks in Europe all share similar features- all are carried out by the Islamic extremists and all aim at destabilising the belief in multiculturalism. So far, the terrorist attacks IS have owned up to affected France, Turkey, Germany, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan… and are likely to strike more nations.

Unfortunately, the referendum result in favour to ‘leave’ Europe didn’t save Britain from issues of multiculturalism, as proven by the tragic Westminster attack on March 22nd. It was nerve-wracking to see the news footage of how Theresa May momentarily lost her bearings as she was led to the car in her escape to Downing Street from the Palace of Westminster. Exactly a year ago, a series of suicide attacks took place in Brussels- a tragedy symbolic of the European Union falling apart. Europe is daunted by the Syrian conflict, so strategically crucial for the Islamic State, which has once again turned the Middle East into an international battlefield. The worst is that the victims of the conflict and their families are innocent. One remembers in pain how in October 2015, just a month after Russia started its air strikes campaign supporting Bashar Al-Assad, a passenger plane was downed, taking the lives of  224 Russian people and leaving the nation perplexed in fear and woe.

We can only have a faint idea and are left to speculate about whether the politicians and governments taking part in the Syrian conflict are defending international peace, or purely their own interests. Luckily, the two sometimes coincide. 

What we can be sure of, however, is that Islamic State aims to destabilise the real states with strong leaders. Their attacks are leading many European citizens fear Islam. In reality, the ‘lone wolf’ attacks, like the one in London, represent the power of propaganda which triggers lunacy and the ability to catch off-guard. No more, no less, but IS wants to showcase vulnerability of the Western leaders.  

Today,  Russia, the United States and Iran are the main players in the fight against IS, but Europe must play a part too. European nations  have to prove that they have a strong identity and even stronger beliefs.

To ‘forge a more global Britain’ is Theresa’s May justification of Britain’s current political trajectory upon exiting the European Union two years today, as she signed the letter which will triggered Article 50 this morning. Moving away from nationalistic implications and celebrating multi-ethnic Britain is the end goal of May’s recent political address in Scotland, and this is what we should remember at all times when we are witnessing terrorist attacks across the world. Brexit should not be seen as a sign of the total collapse of the Eurozone project, because in the end what makes a difference for the future is the shared values cultivated within that project. Reflecting on the political situation in the UK, we should not reject our European past,  because the morals behind this past make our nation a strong democracy. We have to look up to intelligent, humble and moral leaders, as in our own lives we aspire to be the same. 

Since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the United States as President, the European bloc has been balancing on a knife-edge. Nationalism, gaining increasing support across the continent, might seem to answer the populist needs and fears of the day. Yet, Geert Wilders did not gain the majority of votes in the closely watched Dutch general election last week. The liberal, centre-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte overtook the anti-Muslim and anti-EU far-right Freedom Party (PVV). In the words of Rutte, the Dutch elections were a ‘feast for democracy’, as Wilders won just 13% of the vote and 20 seats, whilst Rutte won 21% and 31 seats to lead the next Government of the Netherlands.

Apparently, the democracy Mark Rutte is talking about seeks to prevent extremism and heavy propaganda, as just before the Dutch elections, the Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and other representatives of the Turkish government were not let into the Netherlands. The aim of their visit was to to speak to the ethnic Turks in Rotterdam who are eligible to vote as part of the campaign for the upcoming constitutional referendum in Turkey. The outcome of this referendum, which will happen on 16th April, would significantly increase President Edrogan’s power, as the proposed changes in the Turkish Constitution would see it adopt a fully-presidential system of government, eliminating the post of prime minister. Soon, Turkey will almost certainly cease to have a functioning parliament with real powers, regardless of the formality of the upcoming referendum. On one hand, the presidential system is better for the government because the executive and the legislature powers are represented by separate bodies. On the other hand, it is able to accommodate the growth of authoritarianism in Turkey which the West fears. 71 % of Dutch people want the EU to pull out of its association agreement with Turkey. This disagreement said to have secured Rutte’s victory as after this international scandal he emerged as an even stronger leader.

There are several things that can be inferred from this. Edrogan’s aim is to emerge as a strong leader, and he sees his emigrants, nationals of European countries, as an important audience working seeking votes from. Second, the European Union is contracting, not expanding, as Turkey is not longer seen as a part of Europe. And finally, adherents of the multi-faith communities are the ones who can radically shape new world geopolitics.

Strong is not always synonymous with radical. Angela Merkel is seen to be the European anchor. Accused by Edrogan as a “Nazi” after Germany refused to let Turkish officials hold referendum campaigns within its borders, just shows how such mindless accusations bounce back. In his wish to emerge as a stronger leader, the Turkish president must remember that his government is the one who fails to admit its past mistakes.

Merkel’s victory in the regional elections last weekend showed her to be a strong leader, with Trump who is being famously against Merkel’s immigration policies, formally congratulating her.  Strong leaders have to be stoic in their approach in dealing with the challenges of globalisation and never give up the European fight for integrity and equality. 

As the French presidential elections approach, there comes another wave of uncertainty about the destiny of the European Union. The far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front was welcomed in Moscow last week- yet another sign of the shifting geopolitical situation. Le Pen is anti-EU and anti-immigration. She expresses an opinion that sanctions on Russia should come to an end and denies the annexation of Crimea. Does Le Pen prioritise a strong message over a good message? One of the reasons why Russia is antagonised in the West is because of disregard for the ethical nature of policies and the effect they have on the rest of the world. Russia cultivates a policy of self-interest, let alone the corruptive systems within the government.

Nevertheless, President Putin is still supported by the vast majority in Russia, as he holds over 80% of votes. More than 1000 people were detained in the anti-government protests led by opposition leader Alexei Navalniy in Moscow alone, amongst them a British citizen. Putin is a good example of a strong leader, primarily because what he says and does is masqueraded by very real actions, or very real laws, or very strong propaganda. Those in Russia who have more access to alternative media sources and thus oppose Putin’s authoritarianism are concentrated in the major cities, mainly St. Petersburg and Moscow. However, those in large cities, where life is drastically different to life in small towns and the Russian countryside, enjoy a much higher standard of living to the rest of the country. Similar to London, Moscow is where people are too busy to take a breath- they have little time and need to go on protests.

Ukraine, perhaps, was too late with its revolution to cut ties with Russia and join the EU. Today is perhaps the worst time to rely on the European states for protection from ‘Mother Russia’, and yet, what makes the European Union strong is its image of being at all times impartial, at all times democratic, at all times favouring co-operation and morality. For countries like Ukraine, the EU shows that prosperity is the result of cultivating morality.

France is one of the main binding forces within the European Union. However, it is also at risk of catching the nationalist virus. Encouragingly, the polls predict that even if Le Pen emerges as a winner in the first round of the French Presidential elections, she is likely to be defeated in the second by Emmanuel Macron from the centrist ‘En Marche’. Nevertheless, populism is undoubtedly on the rise as it progressively becomes synonymous with strength. 

The citizens of the Western countries, wrapped up in warm blankets, seem to forget that they are the ones who have the real face and the real identity. The Western individualistic culture seems to be losing to the societies that are less democratic, more communal and more unified by ideology. I see the rise of separatism as a form of cowardice, however wise it might seem to cut oneself from the collapsing world.

If Europe stays centrist and united, it can emerge as a firm standing soldier in the war against cowardice. As propaganda and politics go hand in hand, the polls might just help France to remember the EU motto, In Varietate Concordia




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