OP-ED - A German newspaper recently published a list of the "ten most dangerous politicians in Europe."
When something bad happens we immediately start looking for someone or something to pin the blame on. It makes no difference if the “bad” thing was the capsizing of a cruise liner, a war that ended in a different way than expected, or melting ice in the North Pole. The inclination is natural; it’s human nature. People who believe in God have an easier time dealing with bad things than non-believers with a cause-and-effect take on events.
It gets really exciting when the guilty parties are singled out before anything actually happens. And I’m not talking about the usual suspects who get blamed for everything, like freemasons, Jews and vegetarians. I’m talking about mainstream political figures like the ones that Der Spiegel has gone and branded “the ten most dangerous politicians in Europe.” According to the German news magazine, these politicians are populists who are seriously jeopardizing “the European project.”
It’s as if the “European project” was a top athlete standing on the winners’ podium bursting with strength and energy and roaring to have a go at the next challenge. If only it weren’t for those who would “talk Europe to death,” in the words of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
People like Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder; Alexis Tsipras, who heads the left-wing Greek Syriza alliance; France’s Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National far-right party; Timo Soini, who leads the nationalist Finnish party True Finns; or Geert Wilders, head of the Dutch Party for Freedom – to name only the best-known.
What do these sourpusses and rabble-rousers have in common? Well for one thing, they were all elected to parliament by the voters in their country. Free elections are a fine thing, but not when they lead to the idea of Europe being called into question. For another, they represent national interests, each in their own way. The Greek doesn’t want to bend before diktats from Brussels. The Finn doesn’t want to have to pay for Greece. You might not care for Le Pen and Wilders but with regard to Europe they represent legitimate positions.
So what makes these populists “the ten most dangerous politicians in Europe?” Did a putsch bring them to power, did they break the law? Maybe they “forgot” to pay taxes, or drink coffee that isn’t Fair Trade?
All they can be accused of is this: believing there are alternatives to present European policies. That’s enough to brand them troublemakers. The technique is time-tested: all that’s changed is the terminology. Back in the days of Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who was burned at the stake for holding different views, it was called “heresy.” Later in history, we had “enemies of the people” and “enemies of the state.” And when Socialism didn’t work in practice the way it was supposed to in theory, we had “negative elements” to blame for hampering progress.
Today, the idea of Europe is as rabidly defended as the idea of socialism was 25 years ago. And the former may well end the same way as the latter. What’s happening now with regard to Europe is proactive disaster management: line up exoneration well ahead and don’t forget the scapegoats. Then call an ambulance and wait for the accident to happen.