As the Ukraine war lurches on towards another winter of destruction, Europe is waking up to the reality of a marked shift to the right. Reacting to crime and immigration, Europe’s famed liberal politics is disintegrating, even as calls on governments to clamp down on migrants, and stiffen abortion laws become more strident.
Ironically, in the distant, developing world of Latin America, all the 6 major economies of the sprawling continent are being run or poised to run by regimes representing leftwing platforms. Their mandate: to fight inflation and poverty and to try and smother the debilitating impact of Covid and the Ukraine war.
In Europe, leading the march to new, semi-fascist formations is the controversial Georgia Meloni, leader of the ‘Brothers of Italy’ Party. She is currently cruising to become prime minister heading a right-wing coalition in Rome. Meloni, an open admirer of the World War II fascist Benito Mussolini, was a fringe politician till late and had received barely 5% of the vote last general elections. This round though has been a resounding success with her coalition grabbing over 40% of the vote.
Georgia Meloni has ridden the anti-migration wave. Italy has been the landing spot of thousands of north African refugees who have been making dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life. Italians, facing high inflation and the cost of the Ukraine war, are not happy. They find it easy to identify with Meloni, who had once called for a naval blockade of Africa.
Those who thought she might be a pillar of women’s empowerment, have also been deeply disappointed. Her final campaign images are of her holding two melons in front of her chest with the statement: “25th September (Voting Day), I’ve said everything!”
Weeks earlier, the Sweden Democrats, originally formed as a neo-Nazi party in 1988, led a coalition of 4 extreme rightwing parties winning 176 of 349 seats in Sweden’s Parliament, ahead of the Social Democrat center-left coalition. The rightwing successfully wove a narrative linking crime to foreign-born Swedes and increasing migration from Muslim countries.
In France, the centrist Emmanuel Macron won the June presidential elections, but he was reduced to a minority by the far Right victory for the legislature. The Right-wing led by Marine Le Pen increased its number of lawmakers almost tenfold and rose from fringe status to mainstream opposition. Barcelona-based philosopher Santiago Zabala says that in crisis time, people in Europe want a clear message on what will ease their economic ills – a message that the Right Wing has been able to deliver. The raison d’être for the European Union, as a neoliberal project, was to create a unified Europe beyond left and right, beyond socialism and conservatism – that would allow the states to function as centrist coalitions.
These moderate, centrist governments are not responsive to the needs of the people, creating an opportunity for the right extremists. Early fascism targeted jews; now it is demonizing the Muslim migrant.
Latin America moves Left
Thousands of miles away in South America, the winds of change are blowing in a different direction. In Chile, a young lawyer fresh out of the students movement, Gabriel Boric Font, fought the presidential elections in December last as head of the left wing ‘Apruebo Dignidad’ coalition; and at 36, became President in March, the youngest state leader in the world. Brazil, ruled to ruin in recent years by the militarist and right wing Jair Bolsonaro, is on his way out. Polls show that former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular leftist who spent years in jail fighting corruption charges, is back in the reckoning and has a wide lead on the right-wing incumbent.
Gustavo Petro, a revolutionary guerrilla fighter since the age of 17, rode the anti-poverty wave in Colombia and defeated Rodolpho Suarez in June, becoming Colombia’s first-ever leftwing President. Similarly, left leader Pedro Castillo, in Peru defeated conservative Keiko Fujimori. Latin America seems to have collectively decided to change course fed up with the right wing corrupt establishments that have spelled grinding poverty and inequality for years. The Covid pandemic and then the Ukraine war has only made things worse for the common people thereby driving a wave of anti-incumbency. The new governments have brought some refreshing change. Venezuela and Colombia, at loggerheads for years, have opened their borders for the first time in 7 years.
These tumultuous changes have serious implications. The rise of ultra-nationalists like Georgia Meloni in Europe has raised concern whether the European Union will be able to hold out as a united front against the Russian invasion. In the longer term, the tilt to the Right will spur racist and anti-immigrant laws.
On the global stage, we are seeing the classical, post-colonial class divide between the haves and the have-nots. The poor, underdeveloped regions like Latin America and Africa are embracing insurgent anti-West leaders who promise the poor more power and food. On the other hand, the new wave Rightwing wants to create a ‘Fortress Europe’ that will keep marauding migrants and other ‘riff-raff’ from Africa and elsewhere at bay. We are heading into uneasy times.
Rise of new, semi-fascist formations in Europe
In Europe, leading the march to new, semi-fascist formations is the controversial Georgia Meloni, leader of the ‘Brothers of Italy’ Party. She is currently cruising to become prime minister heading a right-wing coalition in Rome. Meloni, an admirer of the World War II fascist Benito Mussolini, was a fringe politician till late and had received barely 5% of vote in last general elections. This round though has been a resounding success with her coalition grabbing over 40% of vote. Georgia Meloni has ridden anti-migration wave. Italy has been the landing spot of thousands of north African refugees.