As the pictures of tear gas and water cannon came through from the Hungarian/Serbian border a little part of Europe died.
It was the part about ‘open borders’, ‘ever closer union’, and ‘the European spirit’. Reality has just mugged European liberalism.
There is no going back from here. All politics is local, national politics trumps the European ideal, and Fortress Europe is being built.
The Hungarian fence is the physical symbol, there will be more. The Eastern Europeans, unaffected by decades of West European liberalism have no shame in saying that they do not want their culture diluted. The British, partially ‘guarded’ by the water which has always made them ‘Europeans apart’ say there is too much pressure on social services and promote an alternative policy of taking from the refugee camps. The Germans, Europe’s great liberals, opened the door, then realized the enormity of their actions and promptly closed it again.
The Germans have realized that if they continue to pull, their 800,000 could become 8 million because the push factor of the terrible war in Syria, the awful conditions in the camps of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, and the economic plight of millions of others to the east and south, will simply overwhelm them.
So, the drawbridges are going up. In the short term, the bottle neck caused by Germany, Austria, and Hungary’s decisions will result in massive numbers of people pushing against the closed borders. Back down the road, the numbers will build in Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece.
Other routes will quickly become well-trodden – through Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and even Ukraine. All these may also build barriers although so far the Croatians are processing the people who have already made it their border.
Much of the electorates will take no notice of the statisticians and politicians who explain that Europe’s populations, especially in Germany, are aging and requires immigration. This will not placate those who are bumped down council house lists, or whose wages are undercut by desperate people willing to work for unscrupulous gangsters in a variety of industries. Enough people will demand the borders are closed, the influx reduced, the way of life sustained….. and because all politics is local, the politicians will listen.
Extremist parties of the right are already on the rise. This will continue, and they will have their equally dangerous partners on the extreme left. Desperate to shore up their support the mainstream parties will shift to measures designed to placate the potentially extremist voter without simultaneously selling their souls to the devil of the attraction of the extreme.
The British, traditionally suspicious of ‘intellectuals’ and extremes, may be able to resist the pull to the left and right, but the history of much of the continent suggests the people of Europe must be on their guard as the ghosts and inheritors of the charlatans of the 1930’s bellow easy answers into a thousand microphones.
If the barriers do not halt the flow into the bottlenecks, then at some point the EU and/or the UN will have to step in with camps until what we see in Jordan now will be seen in Greece and Italy. To a degree this is already happening.
Eventually, the word will filter back East – the doors are closed. If so, then the pressure on the camps (and societies) in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon will increase risking social implosion there, thus exacerbating the push factor into Europe.
If we re-imagine Martin Luther King’s 1963 ‘I have a Dream’ speech, as if given at the Serbian/Hungarian border on Wednesday, he might have said – “It would be fatal for the Union to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Middle East’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality…those who hope that the Middle East needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the Union returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in Europe until the travails of the Middle East are dealt with. … We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.
We can never be satisfied as long as the Arab is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as their bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities”
And so, everything points to the solution; somehow – bring peace to Syria and Iraq.
It is shaping up to be among the most difficult challenges Europe has faced since it rebuilt itself after the horrors of World War Two.