Hungarian member of Parliament Marton Gyongyosi sent a tremor through European politics last week with the following statement on the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza: “Such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.”
Among the crowd who protested these remarks outside the Parliament building were many wearing yellow triangles, in memory of the badges forced on Jews by Hitler’s Nazis.
Right-wing extremist parties are gaining support all over Europe. The anti-immigrant Swedish Democratic Party holds 20 seats in the legislature, and its cousin the Party for Freedom holds nine seats in the Netherlands and four in the European Parliament.
The True Finns is the third largest party in Finland, and Italy’s Lega Nord has 26 Senate seats as well as 59 in the Chamber of Deputies, and is part of the ruling coalition in Italy. Denmark, Norway, France, and Austria all have growing anti-immigrant parties whose rhetoric against Muslims and Romani echoes the sentiments of Nazis in the 1930s.
Nazis are loathsome wherever you find them, but the rise of the extreme right in Europe is particularly chilling, because we’ve already seen where it can lead. Imagine if someone had taken steps in the 1930s to curtail Hitler’s raving anti-Semitism, self-declared fascism, and open expansionism, what a different decade the 1940s might have been. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, there was no mistaking his intentions. Why did the world sit back and let him pursue goals that were obviously deadly for the world at large?
This question is answered in part by racist attitudes all over the world. So long as Nazis only persecuted Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals, who really cared? Nazis were also a valued stalwart against communism, as witness the Spanish Civil War. But far beyond these things, Hitler’s Nazis were tolerated and even encouraged because they were good for business. Devastated by the Great War and the post-war reparations forced on it by the victor nations, Germany was a huge rebuilding project, and during the Thirties foreign corporations made millions dealing with the Nazis.
German domestic oil production in the Thirties was minimal. Without Dutch Shell, Standard Oil of New Jersey and others, the Luftwaffe would never have flown, and the Panzers would never have rolled across Europe. Not content to cash in on the German thirst for oil, Standard Oil developed the hydrogenation system that allowed Germany to synthesize oil from coal, and collaborated with Germany’s I.G. Farben to create synthetic rubber.
Henry Ford was a Nazi sympathizer and his Fordwerk plant in Germany used slave labour to produce parts for the German war machine. GM’s German subsidiary Opel was the largest automobile manufacturer in the Third Reich. The list goes on and on, leaving no doubt that without the complicity of foreign corporations, Hitler would have posed no threat to Europe or anyone else. The same may be said of foreign governments, who either turned a blind eye to, or in fact encouraged, trade with the Nazis.
The governments that went on to become the Allies against Hitler all knew what a Nazi was for years before they were forced into the Second World War. They heard the anti-Semitic rants and the expansionist rhetoric, they knew all about Kristallnacht and the Nazi pogroms, but they pursued, or at least permitted, trade with Germany right up to, and in many cases during, the war. Without GM, Standard Oil, and ITT there could have been no Wehrmacht, no Blitzkrieg, no war, no Holocaust. Twenty million lives might have been lived out in peace instead of snuffed out in war.
But it’s not Europe we need to keep a watchful eye on in this decade, despite the troublesome proliferation of extremists there. Let’s turn our faces to the east for a moment.
Last week China began to issue new passports embossed with a map showing that country considerably larger than its current borders. This thirst for lebensraum threatens Taiwan, parts of India, Vietnam and the Philippines. Already the largest army in the world, though not yet the best equipped, the Chinese military is expanding with alarming speed. According to the Economist, with no acceleration in growth Chinese military spending will exceed that of the U.S. by 2035. All of this in a country governed by a brutal, repressive regime that persecutes religious and ethnic minorities, and isolates dissidents in slave labour camps.
This stew of official racism, expansionism and military ambition is liberally spiced with foreign investment. Multinational corporations have grown rich exploiting cheap labour and sometimes slave labour in China. Canada is busy pinning its future prosperity on supplying raw materials to a Chinese machine that can’t function without foreign resources, but which threatens to overrun the world if overfed.
Not to be alarmist, but is any of this starting to look familiar?
Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.