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Στο ετήσιο σεμινάριο του γραφείου της περιφέρειας του Όσλο στην Ε.Ε. για την άνοδο του εξτρεμισμού στην Ευρώπη

Στο ετήσιο σεμινάριο του γραφείου της περιφέρειας του Όσλο στην Ε.Ε. για την άνοδο του εξτρεμισμού στην Ευρώπη

It is hard to fight extremism, for all of us, for each of us. Each, will or will not, fight extremism. This is a fight in which we must make a stand, but many of us have to stand together. I admire the first response of the Norwegian Prime Minister, when the Breivick strategy emerged. He said “we shall not let this change our society.” Now, this is a message that is different from “wherever you are hiding, you’re dead.”

Extremism is empowering. It is the cumulative effect of a simplified world order, with clearly delineated “us” and readily identifiable “them.” At this point, we need to pick a side. There is little mercy for the middle or the undecided. There are traitors and there are believers, patriots, martyrs and all the rest.
Extremism is leader friendly. It is the space of the greater cause, greater than our empathy, greater than our sense of tolerance, greater than our sympathy to our neighbor, greater than our sense. Extremism is the request made by a group to surrender the sovereign will of the individual to a greater cause, in non-negotiable terms, to a single leader of deified quality.

As a rule, extremism is macho, male dominated and gay bashing, the result and the expression of deep seated hate against those who question comfortable certainties and roles: it is homophobic, xenophobic and generally “phobic.” Extremism without fear cannot exist. And fear is a condition in which everyone knows their place, for fear of the consequences. It binds groups, defines roles and keeps the leader standing.

Extremism is the result of pain. It requires from the extremist to subdue and destroy all kinds of empathy, erase doubt and relativity. It requires from us, all of us at different points in time, to deny our natural yearning to find ourselves in “the other.” Extremism is the result of pain. Of pain so severe that makes our reflexes numb to our own humanity. Extremism, in this sense, is as much “a condition” as it is “a decision.” Conditions we can do something about, decisions are an individual’s responsibility.

And Extremism is rising. It is no longer confined in football fields; it is no longer the staff newspapers like the Sun are made of; it is no longer readily identifiable with ugly haircuts, body piercing, tattoos and a track record of violence; it is no longer the staff movies and documentaries are made of.
Sarcasm is on the rise. Dehumanizing language, often in the form of jokes, often really good ones too, of the kind that makes “us” feel good because we are not “them,” protecting us from the pain of empathy. It is the lack of empathy that makes someone like Breivick so effective, so business minded, so thorough. Some beating, good loughs, some alcohol, loss of identity and the promise of a comradeship can make anyone believe that the ends justify the means. But, only a few will become Breivick. But, before we feel good about ourselves, because we are not extremists, let’s all remember the PIGS:

• In Norway, in Sweden, in the Netherlands, in Britain, in Germany, in Belgium, in Finland: our tragedy becomes a fear. Not being like Greece. Not sharing this destiny. Not picking up the bill of those who are, after all, lazy, spoiled, sunbathed, pampered, Orthodox, Balkan, Southern, PIGS.
• And this is a term used by opinion leaders, like the Times. And middle class newspapers are stormed with cartoons of ham, piglets, or fat Pigs.
• And a Commissioner in Brussels shamelessly calls himself “a butcher,” others more tastefully, still call themselves “doctors.”
And that is extremism.
• In Greece, Chancellor Merkel is depicted with a Hitler-like moustache, the Minister of Finance is often called “a collaborator,” a radio producer, every morning, hails the taxi drivers of “occupied Greece.” And the enemy is then the Germans, who are Nazis. And a few good loughs come out.
And that is extremism.

Misogynism is on the rise. During the legislative elections in Greece, a nationalist candidate dared to beat up two female candidates of the left, on TV, live. The result: his party’s polling rates fared better and his own popularity increased. However, before we commit the fallacy of assuming that only nationalists are guilty of misogyny, we should also come to accept that macho discourse is popular across the political spectrum. Members of Parliament, left and right, make public remarks about their male prowess, call women names associated with their role as sexual toys, reminding their female colleagues in Parliament that they really should be some place else.
And that is extremism.

Xenophobia is on the rise. It is led by women who proudly declare their role as custodian-mothers of racial purity, taking pride in their fear. It is led by men who believe to be destined for something greater, in the service of a greater cause. And it is followed by people who are afraid. But, before we exhale in relief, because, after all, the racist type is readily identifiable by the Nazi Swastika tattoo, think again:
• when our Prime Minister talks of “reconquering” our cities, that is extremism;
• when our Minister of Public Order argues that Greece is unlucky because our immigrants are “of inferior quality” to other emigrant stocks in other countries, that is extremism;
• it is as much extremism as the Lega Nord MP who compares a Black Female Minister to a Monkey;

Breivick is the logical conclusion of a mainstreamed argument. There are shades and colors of extremism. But, no one is innocent. We are as responsible as we want to be. Because, only when we make it our business to stand up against the scapegoating of our neighbor, when we spoil the fun and say “that is not funny,” we are really responsible. It is this kind of every-day bravery, not validated, not adorned by laurel corollas, even scorned at times, that is largely responsible for keeping our society together. The problem of course is that brave people are in shorter supply, perhaps with good reason, because they are afraid, or undergoing a social traumatic transformation.

In Greece, one third of the population lives in the fear of poverty; hit by a recession that cancelled every sense of social contract, every certainty. Some have responded by embracing each other, seeking strength in solidarity and unity; others have turned their fear into a fist, turned against anyone who might be singled out as the proverbial enemy: gay, foreigners, Jews, politicians, bankers and, yes, Germans.

In Northern Europe of the devastated welfare state and proliferating mini-jobs, people are constantly reminded of how lucky they are because, after all, they could be Greeks or Spaniards, or worse yet Serbians and, God forbid, Somali. They may be also afraid.

As the Gini coefficient looks bad, as “high net worth” individuals (as they are called) are rising, as the middle class is vanishing, society is boiling and individuals often draw apart, looking after themselves, or their own, and people willing to stand out of the crowd to show solidarity are in shorter supply. And for that, we must worry. We must worry because extremism now is dangerous, it is on the agenda, it wears a tie, enters our living room, is in our newspapers, feeds on our fear and treats us to wine. In France, it even chooses the face of an amiable woman, daughter of a less amiable man.

Let us recall Martin Luther King:
«I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed by the white moderate,» he wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
«I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice, who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action,” who paternalistically believes that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.»

Calling spade a spade: if we want to face up to extremism, we must be forthcoming when our solidarity is requested, which might mean turning against our friends, or party, against even our good sense some times. But, individual responsibility is precisely individual and one cannot dwell too much on the matter without risking becoming paternalistic.

But, the political point to make is this: extremists are mutually constituting. What angers racial purists about the gay community is that they somehow challenge their own sense of masculinity; what angers racial purists about black players in the Greek or French teams, is that people enjoy a game and might actually enjoy the possibility of an inclusive nation and its collective sense of accomplishment; what angers most is the enemy within. Where extremists thrive is counter-extremism, a killing, as the murder of two Golden Dawn activists in Athens, which supplies their discourse with martyrs and infuses their movement with meaning. The question “are you with us, or against us” is easy for an extremist; the difficult question to answer is this: “can you live with the consequences of your action.” A society that poses this question, with justice, with severity when required, with solidarity, mercy if not care, is a society that holds together. That is the challenge.

Speech about «The rise of right-wing extremism in Europe – The links between economic crisis, unemployment, political and social instability» at the annual seminar «Top of the Agenda» of the Oslo Region European Office, in Brussels, 06/03/2014 

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