Amongst the responses to the Berlin terror-attack this week was that of Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico. He called it an attack on European identity, and defended his country’s restriction of immigration from the migrant crisis. In the most provocative part of the speech he said that he would “never agree to develop a Muslim community in Slovakia”.
This is pretty strong language. And yet Fico is not some hardline right-winger, but a Social Democrat and man of the Left. He sees the European Union as a vehicle for protecting Europe’s Christian heritage. He certainly does not have any sympathy with Angela Merkel.
We fail to understand this, partly because our thinking on immigration is so muddle-headed.
We had many years in which any concerns about immigration were dismissed as racist. This led critics of immigration to frame the issue in terms of numbers, and their economic effect. This was – and remains – a serious problem: I don’t want to dismiss it, or pretend that it is merely a smokescreen for a more traditional, racial, opposition to immigration. The numbers of Poles who immigrated to Britain after 2004 was without precedent. It undoubtedly impacted social services, wage-rates, and community cohesion. Many people became critical of immigration for precisely this reason, when they had been previously silent about it. Peter Hitchens’ 1999 jeremiad ‘The Abolition of Britain’ contained chapters on everything from liturgy to town planning; yet not a single chapter criticising post-war immigration policy. It simply wasn’t a concern to a lot of people before 2004.
This is why the focus on immigration and the Brexit vote led to so much humbug. There are elements of the Left who are always looking for Nazis to oppose; and if they don’t exist they will invent them. But insofar as a migration policy can be racist, Schengen is. It is made up entirely of majority-white nations, and allows free travel to the citizens of those majority-white nations, whilst restricting immigration from the rest of the (predominantly non-white) world. Yet I am not claiming that Schengen is racist in intent. That would be absurd. It is simply that the European Union is attempting to construct a single state, and you cannot restrict the movement of citizens within what will be your state. The architects and advancers of European Unity had no racial intentions when they devised their scheme. On the contrary: Angela Merkel’s decision to allow huge numbers of migrants from without the EU last year belies that claim.
But as the EU has expanded it has incorporated many countries from the old Soviet bloc which have quite different aims from Western liberalism. The new leaders of these countries, such as Fico and Hungary’s Viktor Orban, don’t talk in terms of race or colour. But they are assertive about their desire to maintain Europe as a Christian community. One reason for this may be the reaction to the decades of applied Marxism-Leninism, when the Christian Church was heavily persecuted. Unlike Western Europe, which has been diffident and indifferent about its Christian heritage, for the East that same inheritance is part of reconstruction of their societies which has been slowly developing since the fall of Communism. In this regard, such countries as Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, actually have much more in common with the new Russia, in which Church is resurgent, along with a far more culturally conservative politics which associates itself with the Church.
It is this conception of the European destiny which has been behind the hardline stance toward Islam that these countries have made. Robert Fico has said that Islam “has no place” in his country. If a major politician were to say that in Britain, he might very easily find himself in court.
We assume in the UK that the liberalism which has dominated the EU project whilst France and Germany were the major players is what the EU will always be. But there is no reason why the Eastern model for a European superstate might not gain ground.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.