Best columns: Europe
Turning a blind eye to neo-Nazis
Heribert PrantlSüddeutsche Zeitung
Germany is giving dangerous rein to neo-Nazis, said Heribert Prantl. Last week, the Constitutional Court rejected a request by all 16 German states to ban the racist, extreme-right National Democratic Party (NPD), a direct successor to a party founded by Nazis. The party is white supremacist and anti-Semitic, wants to get rid of parliamentary democracy, and seeks territorial expansion into neighboring countries to create a “greater Germany.” Its adherents have been accused of setting refugee centers on fire. The court acknowledged all that but declined to outlaw the party, saying the NPD had such a low level of support as to be all but irrelevant. The ruling defies belief. Yes, the NPD is anticonstitutional and “desires to abolish our society’s fundamental order and values,” but because it gets few votes it can just go right ahead? To take such a risk shows a perilous naïveté. “A democracy that only moves to defend itself once things get very dangerous is unable to defend itself” at all. Perhaps the court will ban the NPD in a few years, once it gets an approval rating of, say, 15 percent. By then, of course, it will be too late. By refusing to send “a signal that it opposes aggressive right-wing populism,” Germany has effectively endorsed it.
Corrupt politicians get a holiday
Romania’s new leaders have come up with a selfserving way to solve prison overcrowding, said Horia Blidaru. Build more prisons? Nope. Just pardon all the corrupt politicians! The Social Democratic–led government, which took office in December, has announced its intent to pardon certain white-collar convictions if the sentence was less than five years and to decriminalize abuses of power that cause less than $50,000 in damage to the budget. The maximum penalty for abuse of office will also be reduced from seven years in prison to three. Of all the problems facing the country, this was the Social Democrats’ top priority. Of course, what should we expect of a party led by a criminal? Social Democrat chairman Liviu Dragnea was barred from becoming prime minister because of an electoral fraud conviction, but he is still running things behind the scenes. Dragnea and his party have “no compunction or hesitation” about sweeping aside any rule that prevents them from plundering the state. “These rascals must be stopped!” Romania, once a communist dictatorship, and then ravaged by greedy oligarchs, has made great strides toward judicial fairness in the past few years. We the people cannot let our leaders trample the rule of law. Only the “direct involvement of citizens can save reforms and halt this deeply pernicious political agenda.”
Europe: A warning from history on Trump?
Germans and Austrians do not make Hitler comparisons lightly, said Gerfried Sperl in Der Standard (Austria). But we have noticed that foreigners are finding parallels between President Trump and the Hitler of the early 1930s, before the Nazi leader set in motion the machinery of mass murder. American historian Timothy Snyder, for example, has pointed out that like Hitler, Trump is extraordinarily talented at manipulating the press, and also like him “holds truth to be entirely irrelevant.” Of course, Trump is not a new Hitler. But he did “skirt National Socialist ideas” in his inaugural address last week. That speech was a “religiously charged battle prayer, in which neither democracy nor human rights existed.” Instead, Trump paid homage to patriotism, which was to be defended with blood. Perhaps those parts of the address were written by the president’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who recently told The Hollywood Reporter that Trump’s term would be as “exciting as the 1930s” and usher in “an economic nationalist movement.” Who could listen to those words “and not think of the Nazi era?”
In fact, Trump’s inaugural address sounded “remarkably similar” to Hitler’s first address as German chancellor in 1933, said Boris Reitschuster in HuffingtonPost.de. A Russian sociologist, Igor Eidman, compared the two speeches and found that Trump hit all the same themes as Hitler: first describing the country as a horrorscape of poverty and violence, then blaming the crisis on selfish, sellout leaders, and finally promising that henceforth “the people” alone would rule. Obviously, it would be “irresponsible and stupid” to conclude from this speech that Trump will follow Hitler’s path. But it would be “just as irresponsible” not to notice the similarities and heed the lessons. Even Pope Francis seems concerned, said Antonio Caño and Pablo Ordaz in El País (Spain). During an interview last week, the pontiff said it was too early to judge the new U.S. president. But after being asked if he was worried about the rise of populism in the U.S. and Europe, he immediately referred to Germany in 1933. The country was in chaos and searching for “someone capable of restoring its character, and there is a young man named Adolf Hitler who says, ‘I can, I can,’” said Francis. “Hitler did not steal power. He was elected by his people and then destroyed his people.”
Let’s stop with these silly comparisons, said Bernhard Schulz in Der Tagesspiegel (Germany). The truth is that Hitler’s genocidal intentions were clear from the beginning: He told us about them in his writings and his speeches, only people “refused to take him seriously.” In contrast, Trump’s plans are deeply muddled— his policy stances change depending on whom he’s talking to— and the American public is vigilant and prepared to protest any overreach. The president is winging it, and so long as “liberal Europe stands by its common values and speaks up for them,” we’ll all be fin