Covid-19 is proving to be an ally of a menacing 21st century trend. During the interwar period, nationalism and far-right ideals spread across borders and resulted in the birth of Nazi Germany. With their sophist rhetoric, they brought the whole world into turmoil.
Even before the global coronavirus pandemic, the perilous political epidemic of the 20th century had leaked into the 21st century. The pandemic invigorates the sophism of today’s Hitler’s and Mussolini’s. Their predecessors may not use the harrowing words of fascism, but the feelings they invoke and the goals they pursue have simply been adapted to the 21st century.
It was once the short-lived League of Nations that attempted to administer peace in Europe, but today, it is the European Union. When member states began rejecting the League, the world descended into war.
Today the European Union is facing internal rejection and history has proven this to be a harbinger to mayhem, not only in Europe, but in all of humankind. The United Kingdom has become the first nation to not only reject, but successfully eject the Union as part of its identity. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has provided political ammunition to leaders from France to Hungary for their war against the organisation that has brought peace to Europe.
In March 2020, Viktor Orbán, a Eurosceptic, gained the approval to rule Hungary by decree indefinitely with the official aim to fight the virus. Mr. Orbán has built himself a reputation for violating EU agreements, especially ones concerning refugees. He has made it clear to the world that the EU has done nothing but bring grief to his nation. His blatant disrespect for international accords and cooperation are earmarks of a man with far-right ultrantionalist ideals. With the absence of democracy in his nation, nothing short of a grand revolution stops him from embarking on a Hungarian Brexit.
While the majority of EU nations are yet to be infected with Eurosceptic leaders such as Orbán, they have unquestionably witnessed a surge in popularity. In the 2018 Italian general elections, the nation was precariously close when Matteo Salvini won a short-lived stint as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister. It was the first time one of the EU’s founding members voted for a leader who vouches for its destruction. For the now-Senator, the pandemic has become a mere political tool to achieve his vision of an Italy without the EU. His rhetoric has portrayed the EU as an alliance to serve the wealthier members at the cost of nations such as his own.
The recent behaviour of these members instills legitimacy in these notions. For example, when the wealthier Germany blocked critical virus-related medical exports to Italy, the bloc’s free market was questioned. Even seemingly benevolent actions by the EU are being met with caution by the Italian far-right. This includes financing Italy’s fiscal stimulus by the virtue of loans. With debt that already amounts to approximately 133% of Italy’s GDP, Salvini views the loans essentially as a form of subjugating the Italian economy in the long-term. Even though those with his ideals are limited to the opposition, their influence has impeded upon the EU’s response to the virus as they fail to agree on a coordinated fiscal policy.
The bloc’s more unstable economies, such as Italy and Hungary, are not alone in popularising the 20th century worldview. In 2017, France nearly voted for Marine Le Pen as President; a woman who declared the EU to be a “failure”. Austria is being run in a coalition with the Freedom Party, founded by neo-Nazis. Indeed, the party name reeks of irony.
This gradual shift in populist politics is the materialisation of a wise theory of Marx; not communism, but rather his distinction between political and human emancipation. The European Union may have produced political emancipation but has yet to generate genuine human emancipation. National borders continue to barricade human relationships. As all EU nations are democratic, human emancipation is even more pertinent to the sustainability of the Union. The absence of this profound form of emancipation seeds ultranationalism and vice versa; initiating a vicious cycle that condemns the European electorate to extremism. Marx’s infamous proposal of communism may have failed to survive in the real world but his ideas on emancipation have never felt so true.
The greatest benefactors of the virus are the world’s far-right ultranationalist leaders. Previously, these leaders battled the EU with sticks and swords, but the virus has armed them with artillery and machine guns.
As the leaders handicap the Union, they should be reminded that the World Wars were fueled by those with similar beliefs to them. They should be aware that the EU provides a platform for all political discords with might of the pen and the spoken word. They should understand that with great military advancements since World War II, the transcension of the discourse onto the battlefield may be the end of all humanity.
If the European wars of the 20th century decimated the world’s greatest empires and claimed countless lives, how much would a repeat telecast cost in the 21st century? More than the coronavirus? We shall find out.