The European democratic right to…fascism JHMM13 (Wikimedia Commons)
Forza Nuova public demonstration in Verona, Italy

Editor’s note: as Greece mourns the recent death of 34-year-old Pavlos Fissas, stabbed to death by a sympathizer of the Greek party ‘Golden Dawn’. In the aftermath of this tragic event, George Chatzelenis presented us with the sequence of events depicting the rise of the right-wing movement in Greece and culminating in Fissas’ brutal murder, which may represent a turning point for the right-wing movement in Greece. 

In today’s article, Anna Gkiouleka reflects on how democratic values embodied by contemporary European societies are stretched to a point where they are used to justify legalizing prejudice, violence and intolerance, granting a European democratic right to fascism.


The modern face of fascism

In September 12th, European far right political parties gathered for a meeting which took place in the city of Cantù, northern Italy. The convention was hosted by the Italian fascist party ‘Forza Nuova’ and participants included ultra nationalist and fascist political groups from Ukraine, Sweden, England, France, Spain, Croatia, Poland, and Hungary. The agenda included a common position of solidarity towards the Syrian regime, the issue of immigration in Europe, as well as expressing opposition to the legal recognition of same sex couples.

Despite the series of demonstrations and rallies, organized by leftists, antifascist groups and ethnic communities who gathered outside to protest against the meeting, the head of the municipality of Cantù, Mayor Claudio Bizzozero, provided a public building to host the event and even delivered the opening speech.

Bizzozero, citing the founding values of the Italian constitution, stated that he just wanted to guarantee that everybody has the right of expressing their opinion, while adding that it is more troubling to concede it to those who think differently. He admitted that, to some, providing the organizers with the venue amounts to contempt for republican values. Instead, he insisted that this action is in line with the values ​​that grant all people freedom of speech, equality before the law, freedom of worship and the right to asylum. Mr. Bizzozero continued by arguing that the legacy of the civil war, from which democratic Italy was born, has taught Italians that they cannot resolve conflicts through intolerance or violent opposition.

Reading this statement by the mayor of Cantù, I remembered one of the ideas Philomena Essed (1986) stressed in her articles on racism in the Netherlands. “…By tolerating an obviously racist political party in parliament, the government symbolically expresses that any citizen has the ‘democratic’ right to be racist if he or she chooses to be so…The prohibition of a racist political party is considered to be a greater violation of democracy than allowing, and therefore implicitly supporting, the diffusion of racist ideas undermining the ‘democratic state’”.

A democratic defense of far-right extremism

After reading the far-right agenda discussed in this meeting and having navigated through the official website of the host party, ‘Forza Nuova’ (which includes a series of explicit examples of hate speech against blacks, immigrants and homosexuals), one easily concludes that racism, xenophobia, homophobia and totalianarism constitute the ideological framework of this European gathering. And it truly is a European gathering. It has been a long time since extreme right political formations have cased having a marginal role in the political scene in all the participant countries, but also in those not represented. In fact, they actively participate in shaping public policies either by constituting political parties with parliamentary representation and consequent participation in the legislative process, or by contributing towards the shaping of public and political discourses.

How is this increasing political influence justified? Exactly through the same type of discourse employed by Mr. Bizzozero in justifying his position towards the far-right event: invoking democracy. The underlying argument is that, since democracy implies freedom of speech, European citizens have the right to publicly express racist, xenophobic and homophobic opinions, and act upon them. Moreover, since equality before the law is a fundamental pillar of every democratic society, the supporters of these opinions, as well as everyone else, have the right to host gatherings and organize themselves collectively, including founding political parties. They have not only the right to vote, but are also eligible to get elected.

According to Essed’s rationale, this is quite a clear evidence of our racist culture and, unfortunately, it is difficult to find a convincing argument to state the opposite. The discussion easily boils down to whether European democracies should continue allowing the existence of fascist political parties or whether they should introduce prohibiting measures. However, this is not the point. No one can claim that having fascist or extreme right parties legally banned would lead to the disappearance of prejudice and racism. No one believes that if the Italian mayor had not provided the venue to the hosting organizers, that the latter would not have found an alternative solution. And if he had forbid the gathering, the participants would have resorted to another location or another strategy to discuss and publicly express their ideas. Such a complex issue is impossible to be solved with a single action.

Is democracy limited to only a few?

The point is that by justifying the support to fascism within the context of ‘respect for democracy’ and as ‘granting the democratic right of expression’, then discrimination, prejudice and intolerance end up legalized. Justifying the representation of fascist parties in national parliaments as a consequence of democratic pluralism represents a blatant violation of the meaning of democracy itself. Why? Because as far-right groups have an increasing voice in defining and shaping public policies, in the name of democratic polyphony, there are social groups whose voices are consequently neglected, or even violently muted: refugees, migrants, blacks, women, homosexuals, the imprisoned, the mentally ill, the disabled, the poorest, the illiterate and children. Isolated or combined, these are often the categories of people who do not enjoy the same status of equality before law, either explicitly or implicitly. I wonder if the Mr. Bizzozero and his counterparts across Europe feel a similar obligation to provide facilities and support to gatherings hosted by other groups, such as the ones listed above. Even though I do not personally know how Mr. Bizzozero would act, what I do know is that in Italy, as in Greece, Hungary, Poland and so on, there are groups who do not dare to organize a public gathering. They are afraid of being arrested or attacked by the supporters of ‘Forza Nuova’ or ‘Golden Dawn’ and others with similar positions (democratically and freely expressed).

If democracy is wide enough to include fascism, should it not be large enough to include all those others that are currently excluded? If this is not the case, then we should prepare ourselves to face reality instead of fumbling with empty rhetoric. Fascism is neither an old Second World War story nor a ghost that may return to haunt us sometimes. Fascism is alive inside our European ‘democratic’ societies and is being reinforced through multiple democratic channels every day. As European citizens, our taxes pay for fascist parliamentarians’ monthly salaries!


References:

Essed, P. (1986). The Dutch as an Everyday Problem: Some Notes on the Nature of White Racism. Amsterdam: CRES Publication Series, Working Paper No 3.

Claudio Del Frate, 13-09-2013, “Forza Nuova a Cantù, col saluto del sindaco”. Corriere della Sera: http://www.corriere.it/cronache/13_settembre_13/cantu-forzanuova-polemiche-sindaco_01add84c-1c67-11e3-8df2-24a872f62c06.shtml.

 
Edited by: Margarida Hourmat
Photo credits: JHMM13 via Wikimedia Commons