Today´s blog post entry is going to deal with a film I was recently watching, which shows very well how easy it is to fall back into the times of terror and dictatorship. “Die Welle” (The wave, 2008) is a movie based on Ron Jone´s social experiment “the third wave” . A high school teacher creates an autocratic class system in his school class with him as the leader and has to realize within days that his students don´t only participate at the experiment but become fanatic about it. The argument that another Third Reich would not be possible today due to all the information channels and general knowledge about history lost its relevance because of this experiment.
Interestingly those students who had been socially left out in school and were generally considered “nerds” were the ones who were the easiest to convene and in fact the most active during the experiment. Once the teacher in the film, Mr. Wenger, realizes that the experiment has gone too far and stops it, Tim, the stereotypical “nerd”, prefers to shoot himself at the end of the film rather than living without the movement, fearing to be lonely again. The film underlines how easy it is to manipulate people by giving them a rigid social structure and a sense of a social belonging. Out of a sudden, the students are not split in their usual little groups and divided in “cool” and “uncool” anymore, but united within a single movement, following an autocratic teacher; a leader so to speak. All the characters in the movie can be related to real time personalities or at least to people the audience can relate to.
As already stated, there is Tim, the fanatic. Being socially excluded, he finds a place in the “wave” where he is valued and can function. Caro, on the other hand, is comparable to Sophie Scholl. She understands how dangerous the social experiment has become and opposes it, running risk to be threatened and pursued. Marco, however, might be the most interesting of all characters. He is Caro´s boyfriend and one of the “cooler “students in the class. Marco is quiet and a dreamer and doesn´t seem to have an interest in anything. Apart from Tim, he is the one who flourishes the most within the movement, which leads to a violent conflict with his girlfriend. Marco can be described as the typical Nazi follower- uncritical, a bit lost with a need of structure. He is the one that Hanna Arendt had in mind when she wrote about the Eichmann process in Jerusalem and famously described the Nazi murderer as “banal” (Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963). What stuck me with this story is the ease and the effortless of fascism. Even after all this years it hasn´t lost its dangerous appeal to people. The film, therefore, is undeniably crucial to watch because it reminds us all how fragile our freedom is.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer made headlines earlier this week at a press conference by comparing Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad with Adolf Hitler. Spicer described Assad methods of using gas against his own citizens to be worse than Hitler´s and claimed that the latter had never used gas against his citizens, forgetting that the German dictator was responsible for the death of 6 million Jews through concentration camps and gas chambers in particular. Kushner later apologized for his statement saying that: “In no way, I was trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.” Although Spicer´s apology, many Jewish organizations, such as the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, found his statement outrageous and asked for the spokesman´s resignation. “Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death,” Steven Goldstein, the center’s executive director, said in a statement.
There is no doubt that Spicer´s statement was inappropriate to say the least, since we all know what devilish part gas played for the systematic killing of the Jews within the Third Reich. A dark part of history that can never be forgotten. At the same time, I found it interesting how little it takes to create outrage and misunderstanding when it comes to the Holocaust in general. Sean Spicer´s comments were wrong and ridiculous, mostly because a man in his positions should know better but it can hardly be argued that he was denying that Nazi Germany used gas chambers or, even worse, the Holocaust in general, as Jean- Marie Le- Pen did. If we leave Sean Spicer´s unfortunate example aside for a moment, I feel that the topic, in general, is considered to be that sensitive that people prefer to not talk about it at all, because they are afraid of saying something wrong. German sociologist Elisabeth Noelle- Neumann famously described this phenomenon as the “spiral of silence”. If there is a predominant opinion in society, everyone who thinks of differently about a certain topic slides down an imaginary spiral until the point he or she prefers to not express their opinion at all and keep quite. And if one doesn´t keep quite one has to face serious consequences. A good example here is late comedian Joan Rivers, who described German Top Model Heidi Klum on a red carpet with the following words “the last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens…”. Rivers, Jewish herself, later stated: “My husband lost the majority of his family at Auschwitz and I can assure you that I have always made it a point to remind people of the Holocaust through humor.” Whatever you think of the joke Joan Rivers made a few years ago, one thing is clear: it reminded people of the Holocaust. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t help anybody to keep quiet or to be afraid to talk about subjects, however sensitive and provocative they might be. The alternative would be that people don´t talk about them at all and forget like it happened with the Armenian genocide and that cannot be in anybody’s interest.
A recent Telegraph article about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stuck me. The article dialed with current accusations Erdogan made about the Dutch and the German government being comparable to the Third- Reich. The relationship between Turkey and the Netherlands has become difficult since the Turkish minister of foreign affairs was denied to participate at a pro- government rally in Rotterdam, while Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, the Turkish minister for family and social policies, was escorted out of the country only one day later. Erdogan was very emotional about this matter and stated at a convention in Istanbul the following: “I said I thought Nazism was over, but I was wrong. In fact Nazism is alive in the west.” Mr. Erdogan made a similar statement about Angela Merkel accusing her of “Nazi measures” in state television a few weeks before. source: thepressproject.ge
Calling out German authorities and politicians for being Nazis is nothing new. Even Prince Philipp (having German roots himself) used to make fun of German prime minister Helmut Kohl calling him “Reich´s Chancellor”. It is a fact that the German state due to its history has a special responsibility and certainly is an easy target for populism. At the same time, however, I don´t know any other place that has faced his history as eloquent as Germany has. If you have ever happened to visit Berlin, you will agree with me that the number of monuments, information points, commemorative plaques and simply places that deal with the nations complicated past is simply overwhelming. Although Nazi- Germany certainly has a very special place in history when it comes to crimes against humanity, we should not forget that many other countries do as well. Being part of an Austrian minority in the north of Italy, it always bothered me that there are still places in my area deriving from the fascist era under Benito Mussolini.
Italy in general has a very liberal relationship with its dictatorial past.
Many politicians openly think of Mussolini as a great political leader and his granddaughter, Alessandra Mussolini, has a seat in the Italian senate. Nothing similar would be possible in Germany- just imagine someone called Elisabeth Hitler in the German Budenstag. According to a survey of 2013 less than 22.000 people in Germany can be considered of being Nazis or close to Nazi organizations- in 2008 it still were over 30.000- not more than in other European countries. And what about Turkey and its past? The Ottoman empire after all is responsible for a genocide which caused over one million victims. A “Holocoust” about which Adolf Hitler famously said “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” referring to his own plans to exterminate the European Jews. Mr. Erdogan is not responsible for these horrible actions, the same as Angela Merkel has nothing to do with six million Jews being killed 70 years ago. As representatives of their countries, they have, however, a special burden, a symbolic responsibility so to speak, which the German chancellor faces with much more dignity and professionality. Before accusing people and making populist and misleading statements, President Erdogan should take an example of German authorities and start to face his countries own controversial past.
Living and studying in the United Kingdome has been a blessing for me, which I did not expect. When I started my Master course, people in Britain had recently voted to leave the European Union, which was a shock nobody expected. Only a few days before the actual polling day, another, even more dramatic incident, took place. Labor MP Jo Cox was killed only a few days before the EU referendum by a former psychiatric patient and white supremacist. Cox, who campaigned to remain in the European Union, was a human rights activist and liberal and was in favor of immigration. A fact that many neo- Nazi groups and far- right organizations in the United Kingdom rejected. After the horrible attack, members of the so-called national action group tweeted out comments like: “only 649 MPs to go” or, talking about Jo Coxe´s assassin: “Vote Leave, don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain.
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50834833
Jo Cox would have filled Yorkshire with more subhumans!” Due to the group’s openly anti-Semitic statements and call for violence, it is expected to be labeled as a terrorist organization by the parliament. The neo- Nazi group lately made headlines by setting up a “whites only” soup kitchen in Glasgow. Although the police attended the event, it did not intervene since nothing illegal took place. For many people, however, the “charity” was an open provocation: “These people are fascists who prey on the most vulnerable,” said solicitor Aamer Anwar. “Homelessness is not caused by refugees fleeing war torn countries nor is it caused by ethnic minorities. These wannabe ‘master race’ types have no place in Scotland – one look at their website reveals their true intentions.”
The United Kingdom has traditionally welcomed a vast rage of international citizens due to its colonial past, which understandably has also created some tensions. UKIP´s whole anti Europe campaign, after all, was dealing with the immigration issue and can be said to have hugely influenced Brexit voters. Traditionally poorer areas of the country that have little job opportunities for foreigners and therefore a white- British majority living there, usually are more likely to be racist have more neo- Nazi groups than big cities. This doesn´t mean however that only because you don´t know something you have the right to discriminate or damage it. Like in every other country, neo- Nazism is a real threat that actually endangers our democracy. As the example of Joe Cox sadly proofs, in extreme occasion’s extremist’s don´t even hesitate to kill an innocent mother of two little children. The irony in all of this lies in the fact that the United Kingdome was the major force against Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Winston Churchill’s famous war speech ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’ against Hitler Germany seems to be forgotten by the far- right movement. Instead of trying to imitate an ideology of the past that their ancestry fought against, national action group members should stop to terrorize people that are actually trying to make all of our lives better.
“This is England” is the acclaimed film directed by Shane Maddows. It deals with the skinhead and far right culture of the 1980´s in the UK. The story turns around twelve year old Shaun, who doesn´t have an easy life. The boy lost his father in the Falkland wars and gets bullied in school. He eventually finds a friend in Woody and his skinhead gang. Although seeming rough from the outside, the group is not really dangerous and more interested hanging out and smoking weed than anything else. Shaun becomes an accepted member of the gang, due to which he also has his first love interest with a girl (the scene in which Shaun makes out with a much older girl is the by far the most disturbing sequence of the whole movie). Up to that point “This is England” is a normal film and I found myself repeatedly in the situation of double checking if I was watching the right movie, since nothing seemed to be linked to my area of interest (Nazism today). Everything changes, both for the story and for the audience, with the arrival of Combo, an older Skinhead, who is just released from prison. Combo manages very quickly to convince some members of the group- one of them being Shaun. to follow his more aggressive and now openly racist strategies. The skinhead groups is now under a new leadership, terrorizes local Pakistani grocery stores and spends its time to spray racist graffiti on walls. As the film goes by the viewer becomes an insight into Combo´s personality and his struggle with rejection and lack of love. In a very powerful scene towards the end of the film, Combo almost kills a group member because he lives in a stable social environment. Due to this incident, Shaun understands the superficiality and brutality of the movement and decides to turn his back on it.
I have to say that the film really touched me. “This is England” is an intelligent piece that deals very effectively with the issue of racism and white supremacy in the United Kingdome. At a specific point of the movie, one of the skinheads said “we are not Nazis- we are nationalists”- which I found very interesting since my last blog post did just deal with the issue of nationalism which can be compared to the rise of fascism as far as I am concerned. This becomes even clearer at a scene where the group attends a speech which is comparable to Goebbels famous speech at the end of the second world war (“Do you want the total war… ?). At the end it becomes clear that the reason for Combo´s racist and hostile views and actions is a lack of love, which he tries to receive through a group that is in the exact same situation. Shaun fits in this scheme because he has found a father figure in Combo but at the end, he realises that he is better off on his own. The film, finally, can be summed up with a quote by Leon Brown: “A lack of love is the cause for most problems in life, when love is missing, nothing can flourish, only pain thrives.”
The rise of fascism in Germany and Italy after World War I is an interesting issue. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were capable of addressing problems of post war societies that other parties were not able to resolve. As Germany, Italy was a young country (united in 1861) which struggled with social and economic problems such as inflation between the two world wars. Authoritarian and nationalistic parties like the German Nazi party or the Italian fasci di combattimento did attract people and ultimately came to power not because of their racist or antisemitic actions but because they were able to propagate basic human needs like safety and control- a human instinct that hasn´t changed since.
In the last few years we were able to see a slow rise of nationalism and xenophobia in Europe and the United States that should be concerning to everyone. The fact that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, running a campaign that was largely based on the threat of building a wall to stop illegal immigration deriving from Mexico (an idea that for every European citizen old enough to remember the cold war is shocking) is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been other significant developments in the last years up to today, however, that are as alarming although they might not get as much media attention. One of those events was the presidential election in Austria last year between Norbert Hofer ans Alexader Vanderbellen.
Although Vanderbellen ultimately was elected President of Austria, right wing candidate Hofer lost only due to a small percentage. As Trump in the Unites States, Hofer was asking for a similar Muslim ban as well as a new relationship with the European Union. Austria´s big neighbor, Germany, on the other hand has seen a rise of the far right Alternative for Germany party (Alternative für Deutschland, ASD) and Pegida (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) organization. Marine Le Pen, the French far right candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, has become a serious alternative to established parties by arguing against the European Union and in favor of a strong nationalistic France state. The United Kingdome, with its last year vote to leave the European Union and threat to insert more severe restrictions for European citizens, seems to perfectly fit into the current situation as well.
The late immigration crisis in Europe seems to have advantaged many right and anti- immigration parties and organizations because, as we have seen before with the example of Hitler and Mussolini, they pretend to know the answers to difficult questions and seduce people by setting up a bubble of false security. Even in the traditional more socialist and liberal north of Europe, a growing number of far right groups seem to terrorize people. Swedish Neo- Nazi organization Nordfront recently was accused of threatening a Jewish center up to the point the members did not dare to visit it any longer. So what is going on in Europa and North- America? There is a difference between fascism and nationalism, yes, but considering how both German and Italian dictatorial movements started out and comparing some of their basic principles like blaming certain groups or organizations for the misery of the country (today it would be the EU and illegal immigrants), we have to be very careful that history is not going to be repeated soon.