Towards the European elections: The courage to exist... and to resist

, by Giulio Saputo, Translated by Giulia Querini

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Towards the European elections: The courage to exist... and to resist
Design by Giulia del Vecchio.

Ever since the disastrous 1930s, we had not seen a period of such systemic crisis in Europe. It is a step back in time which is difficult to imagine for a world which tends to have forgotten history and lives in a present with no past and no future. Most politicians (and citizens) do not have the courage for making long-term analyses. Indeed, interpreting history is complex whilst following the herd is much easier.

Current issues have regrettably deprived us of the habit to reason along chronological lines which go beyond the “hic et nunc” (here and now, t.n.). We fully indulge in delegating (and in not-doing) only to wallow in that irresistible thrill that comes from judging without even knowing. Above all, an attitude prevails, a true lifestyle and mindset: being winners. Everyone feels like a great or unappreciated leader, nobody ever loses, nobody takes responsibility for what’s happening or tries to understand the motivations of others, seeing as elements such as defeat, old age or death simply do not exist. These life events are unknown and incomprehensible to those who have the arrogance of believing that they hold the monopoly of truth.

Today’s politics seem to be confined in the realm of superficiality, as shallow as a puddle, in which it is easy to merrily splash around, unaware of real dangers. Nowadays, nonsensical slogans and overused and abused phrases are frequent, with no regard to our lives, our future, what we are and what we will become.

There seems to be an utter lack of great narrations, of the moral strength to be able to think about the future of the next generations, and not only about obtaining an evanescent and decaying sense of power. Recent politics is characterised by a lack of dignity, as opposed to the values promoted in the past. There is a lack of any form of common sense and a lack of courage to step back and allowing the community to take two steps forward.

Meanwhile, we are reaching the limits of a brutish society, of a distorted “common space” which was transformed into a showcase to please one’s supporters. These are the tragedies of a more and more grotesque continent, where there’s no space left for ideologies, for laicity, for the respect of others, for dignity and for a tomorrow. We live in an eternal present made up of violence, anger, hate and ignorance that can be easily channelled by populist leaders towards the next victim. We are surrounded by a simpler and simpler language which social media encourage, thus depersonalising any form of relationship.

Anything is legal and it doesn’t matter if things are true or false, all that matters is that they fulfil the purpose of giving us the illusion of an identity, and of creating a primordial form of a group, a “small imaginary community”, often founded on racism, xenophobia, hate, and denial of science. We attribute our problems to scapegoats, e.g. migrants, but we can’t actually think that all our problems come from these desperate people and from the relativisation of what is human (and deserves our respect) and what isn’t.

The rescue policy in the Mediterranean isn’t a social network on which we can post insults or foresee terror verdicts. We are talking about actual human beings. There are historical responsibilities, both individual and collective, for the actions we take today and that will heavily influence the legacy we will leave. Saving people in distress at sea is never a “charity” but being civilised. You don’t need the “comrade” pedigree to respect fundamental rights. It was never a prerogative of the “upper-class left” to believe that life must be protected.

On the other hand, European intellectuals can’t keep isolating themselves and treating others as dumb or with a pedagogy of reason that enlightens everything from above. They must also speak to the heart of citizens who can’t bear any more faint excuses to justify the swamp we’re in. They have to stop elevating themselves on pedestals so high they can’t recognise people anymore, condemning without any appeal the “ignorant plebs” who are trying to change the way things are. A status quo and an establishment don’t give any perspective nor a future to their despairing.

Clearly one doesn’t do parlour politics well without a salary, without a job, without dreams and without hope. There’s only one thing that we can see prevail: anger. Anger is common to all societies, feeds people’s discontent and, in circles, insults people themselves: it is a fog which encircles everyone indistinctly and that prevents anyone from seeing where the ship, large as a continent drifting away, is actually going.

Anger probably derives from the fear of losing the coordinates to guide oneself in a complex world, where politics gave up its role. Institutions are unable to give answers to our problems, and distrust leads us to look around in desperation. We feel less and less secure, without the least guarantee of a future, because we can’t even imagine it.

At first religion, then the State and great ideologies gave some kind of answer to ancestral questions and some kind of consolation even in the worst of times. Today, there’s only an abyss that we fill with consumption and, when we can’t do that, dissatisfaction flares up to a point where it’s almost already hate, ready to be channelled against someone. A degenerated part of politics adds fuel to the flames, with the danger of transforming unease into violence, into the will to erase all dialogue, in order to dismantle democracy and civil rights and to destroy everything. It is a permanent dissatisfaction that turns into irrational hate, used as a government tool.

Those responsible for our situation come from all sides of the political spectrum, from the past as well as from the present. There’s no point in hiding behind a mask, if we’re hoping to be heard by those who are tired of being deceived, of weak compromises, of collusion, of little power games, and of those who will prefer, out of desperation, the easy answers and the call of the sirens that sing the song of absolute consensus, democratic crisis and the arrival of authoritarianism. The more we wait to accept this moment’s reality, the more difficult it will be to find the strength and to raise our voices to state what is right, and not what is easier.

We had overcome racism and nationalism with the force of reason (and with the harsh experience of an “iron” century), but today we are once again being misled by these false myths and by their promise to find us an enemy. Actually, our worst enemy is no one but ourselves, and the chains imposed by a national and supranational political and institutional system, chains that must be dismantled to live up to the challenges of a globalised world and to the answers we want to obtain as citizens. Europe must be changed, not destroyed: this means still having a future as national citizens, as Europeans and (once again) as a civilisation.

The Union has a historic value, as it has been the only existing model of pacific and democratic integration between States. There haven’t been any wars between member states: problems have been faced in plenary and around the table. It is the only political actor worldwide which firmly rejects competitive nationalism and defends the environment, human rights, democracy, anti-racism, the fight against gender inequality, sustainable development and a specific welfare model. A quasi-State that doesn’t need to “export” its model with violence, but that is founded on the unity in diversity of a “joint destiny” which has a common project of peace and justice. Who in the world will stand for these values when this uniqueness is extinct?

Of course, the EU can be improved, we need institutions that would function in a truly democratic way, and an independent budget for policy-making. At the moment, it is becoming a more and more fragile construction in the hands of Member States and the Council, who are turning it into an incompetent monster (as demonstrated by the intergovernmental progresses and the growing technicality). It has been used as a justification for the failures or the mistakes of an incompetent ruling class, but citizens can still see it as a glimmer of hope, compared to what they have on the national level. The crux of the matter is that the European people should at last be outraged and take back sovereignty by taking it to a supranational level, forcing it out of the avid and scrawny hands of national states, but their regard is lamentably short-sighted instead of aiming high.

There’s still hope. Both on the left and on the right, many political forces have understood that the true battle of our time is to be fought in Europe, reforming the asset of the Union with the aid of the only authority fully representing the people of this continent as a whole: the European Parliament.

It is absurd that intermediary entities and associations do not cooperate and act together to save democracy, human rights and freedom. It is as if we were observing a wheel inexorably spinning in vain, completely detached from concrete reality. Even if great efforts are apparently made, what prevails is the differences, the never-ending specificities, the usual ideology of: “my battle is more important than yours”.

Catholic, liberal and socialist thoughts all have some fundamental points in common which characterise our culture: man, modernity and universality. In spite of this convergence, incompatibility has the upper hand, even if it is the democratic world, forged by all three of these ideologies, which is fading. Intermediary entities themselves are at risk of becoming nothing more than a minority in this new, “pathologically insecure / illiberal” society, thus representing interests so marginal that they would be of little interest to the citizens.

It’s late and there is no more time left for witch-hunts, for purges, for permanent conventions or media trials. Let us stop harming ourselves throughout useless internal fights and let us focus instead on proposals, narrations, and constructive projects. In these desperate moments what we need is dialogue, bridges and humbleness, but regrettably I feel (more and more each day) that these things are as rare as a needle in a haystack.

The question is simple: what kind of country and for what kind of Europe do we want to fight for?

The political battlefield doesn’t concern the traditional left-right dichotomy, nor can it be reduced to a battle between Europeanists and nationalists.

Even though nationalism – call it sovereignty or fascism or whatever you wish – was defeated by the wave of spontaneous Europeanism which filled the streets of Rome and Europe a little more than a year ago, it is is now revealing a monstrous new face. What has involuntarily fostered the return of these monsters in an even worse guise, is the current lack of courage to make the great institutional changes which the European Union needs to live up to, in order to satisfy the expectations of its citizens.

The alliance that is taking place between European nationalists reveals that their aim is no more to dismantle the Union, but to completely overturn the principles which it was based on until today. The real objective is by now clear: to create a sort of “Fortress Europe” centred on the single market and structural funds, eliminating every other acquis of the Community. This only means one thing: destroying democracy and giving up on human rights.

If we want a Europe of peace, a democratic and solidarity-based Europe, a Europe centred on freedom and citizens’ rights, then we have no other choice but to work towards a united front and to react. Manifests are multiplying, but we need a real alternative that would speak of a shared and shareable political and institutional project. A few, yet essential things, are able to set the tone for a battle for our survival.

Monnet said that “Nothing is possible without men, nothing lasts without institutions”. Creating democratic European institutions together is the last stand which we can take against the return of this new and even more dangerous nationalism. Europe must present itself to the world as a true alternative to Chinese imperialism and Trump’s “America First”. This is the best outcome which we may have, considering Spinelli’s decade-long battles, ranging from Ventotene to Brussels.

We should not be focusing on great lists or large groups. We shouldn’t be focusing onbeing “anti-” or “against” something. It is not enough to fight nationalism with fashionable slogans, it is instead necessary to overcome the impasse by which the EU is affected. The European Parliament is doing quite a lot, but it will have to do much more. In this sense, we don’t need “bandwagons” to give national signals of “revival” if these have no unitary reference in Brussels. Let everyone lead their electoral campaign, but let’s set some principles to give a concrete future to Europe and democracy, all the while looking beyond these elections.

The grave danger which we must avoid includes being unprepared for potential fights, getting lost in party scuffles, not fighting for any real revolution and ending up defeated whilst lacking the dignity, creativity and courage needed against a reactionary faction. These reactionary factions are experts in manipulating individuals to bask in the splendour of their country’s past, which is nothing by a weak memory.

If we insist on simply defending what already exists and focus on keeping the status quo on both a national and European level, we will lose before even beginning. If, on the contrary, we are to have the slightest chance of success, we will need to give people some hope, with ideas that dialectically overcome the present and open a window on tomorrow. Let’s go back to proposing concrete ideas, to show what we Europeans want, and have a precise roadmap towards a real federal union. This is what truly is appealing and we will be able to give citizens answers on political matters (concerning civil and social security, representation, migration and integration policies, etc.).

Throughout the elections in May, this is the kind of historical engagement which should be endorsed by all candidates who consider themselves to be democratic, regardless of their main group or political reference. Once elected, they would be able to put this goal into practice in the first clash between the Parliament and the Council (which will be quite soon, due to the appointment of the Commission President), thus calling into civil society and citizens into action.

They will have to answer.

Albertini said: “Deserting politics doesn’t leave things the way they are, not even in the private sphere. It creates power vacuums, meaning that one entrusts power to others, accepting that others become the masters of one’s future”. It is pointless to carry on telling ourselves that we live in the usual, reassuring world, falsely adjusting to the changes that we are familiar with. We can carry on dreaming that Europe and democracy are amongst History’s aims, and are not mere human processes. We can imagine that we still have the time to fight over trivialities in the future. Yet all this will only be an illusion, seeing as today we must focus on the concrete definition of our future.

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