Should We Really Have Been Shocked by the Brexit Vote?

News Abroad
tags: Brexit

Joe Krulder, Ph.D., teaches history at Butte College.

News of Britain’s recent exit from the European Union came riddled with adjectives: “shocked,” “a blow,” “surprised,” and “bombshell,” to name a few. But this got me to thinking ... “what Europe are journalists and pundits watching?”

At a conference back in 2010, a colleague, Professor Tamir Ba-Ron, relayed an unfolding European story involving sports: a quite gifted Italian soccer star by the name of Paulo Di Canio. After scoring a goal, Di Canio was apt to give his home crowd fans in Lazio a treat by tearing down the side lines only stopping on occasion to give his version of the Italian fascist salute. The fans would go wild. In 2006, at the National Stadium of France (Stade de France) just north of Paris, thousands of travelling/visiting Lazio fans saluted Di Canio when he scored a goal, singing fascists tunes as they did so. It startled those in attendance to the point that ESPN ran a piece on Di Canio, something about the darker side of sports when racism reared its ugly head.

The Europe I’ve been watching looks more like Di Canio than a harmonious collection of nation states united for trade and hopeful prosperity. For well more than a decade, ethnicity and politics have become steeped in a racial tea, brought to you by what many recognize as the “New Right.” The liberal bastions of the 1960s and 1970s; where humanity, tolerance, fairness, education and equity beamed brightly in international politics, began to erode in the 1980s. In its place, Europe’s New Right championed a political discourse promoting ethnicity as the foundation of citizenship, politics, economics, and – gulp – even sports. Initially, the ‘80s version of the New Right was categorized as part lunacy and politically inept. But the New Right borrowed from the Old Left polishing it’s propaganda as the years ticked by.

For example, even in what many Americans consider an overly liberal France, New Right promoters such as Alain de Benoist, Charles Champetier, and its brightest star Marine Le Pen, cling to some of the rhetoric of the 1960s “Old Left” idioms, namely (and this is vital to understanding Brexit) the anti-capitalist portion. In doing so, however, France’s National Front insisted that the best of what “French” society produces should only go to ethnic French folk – not to displaced Algerian, Moor, or Vietnamese immigrants. That was new and it gained attraction.

Italian soccer fans using the Fascist salute at the Stade de France 2006

By the twenty-first century, a serious grass-roots movement had developed: French politicians now openly pushed to limit the vote to only those who could prove they were ethnically French. Though a person of Arab or Asian descent may possess French citizenship, the National Front claimed that the non-Frenchness, or the lack of French blood, would prevent immigrants from knowing how to properly vote. My trip to three German cities in 2011 revealed anti-Muslim graffiti covering thousands of walls – even upon a World War II shrine: the bombed out St. Nikolai Church in Hamburg. Riots that very year in Birmingham, England, ended in the deaths of three young men who dared to protect family businesses from being looted. Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali, and Abdul Musavi were then, according to witnesses, deliberately struck by an automobile driven by whites. The rise of new nationalist sentiments throughout much of Europe blended both anti-capitalistic rhetoric – the EU being a considerable target – and political platforms demanding a return to ethnic-first origins. The Labor Party MP, Jo Fox, was shot and stabbed by such an individual screaming “Britain first!” as he murdered her.

What many Americans fail to admit is that the 2008 bank-induced economic downturn was of global proportions. It triggered an international depression which caused tremendous financial pain to the industrialized West. New Right parties throughout all of Europe (National Front in France; UKIP in the UK; New Right in the Netherlands; and the New Right in Germany, for example) viewed the West’s financial-sector breakdown as an opportunity to ramp up their message. First, international agreements such as the European Union is undemocratic; and second, that immigrants are displacing ethnically pure nationals from jobs, university acceptances, what have you. “Austerity” measures passed by many European governments, at the bequest of the EU, didn’t help but only deepened the insult. To many in Europe, the 2008 depression triggered social cutbacks aimed squarely at the poor and middling ranks of society while giving a pass to the wealthy financiers who created the problem in the first place.

This dual rhetorical message, poured on thick and heavy since 2008, should give considerable pause to all those citizens that fought in, or still remember, the horrors of the Second World War. The Great Depression (1929-1937) aided Adolph Hitler’s rise. One then wonders whether our current depression (2008-??) will create another? Soccer stars receiving adulations from fans because of after-goal Il Duce salutes is proof that “ethnicity” and “anti-capitalism” have long combined and permeated contemporary European culture.

European Union leaders failed to deal with this cultural reality. Instead, the EU focused on constructing, maintaining, and promoting often complex economic and monetary programs necessary for the union’s survival, but out of the reach of common European citizens. EU leaders did not pay heed to the rich ethnic minefields laid and promulgated by the New Right, using anti-capitalism as the common fuse.

When a series of economic crises plagued Greece; when economic woes arose in Italy, Spain, and Portugal; when millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees began to ascend upon Europe, the New Right went into overdrive. Its message that the EU must be severed and nationals put first has now resulted in Britain’s voters deciding to leave the European Union. Unless there rises a new “New Left” to counter the New Right, I suspect the EU will continue to crumble.

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