Address by EJC President Moshe Kantor at the International Conference Neo-Fascism in Europe: 70 Years Later, St. Petersburg, March 30, 2014

Dear Mr Yakunin, dear Mr Governor, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues:

We have come together in a city that survived one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century – the siege of Leningrad. It was a terrible war crime. For us Jews, this tragedy is on a similar scale to the Holocaust. However, there is also the principal difference that the Nazi state decided to commit systematic and trans-border genocide.

Today, 70 years after the Holocaust, on the eve of the anniversary of the Great Victory over Nazism, we are facing a rapid growth, revival of neo-Nazism, xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism in a prosperous Europe.

Our fathers and grandfathers, who defeated Nazism and witnessed the Nuremberg Trials, could have hardly imagined in their worst nightmares that fascism (let’s speak plainly) could resurge in Europe.

As a European, as a representative of European, Judeo-Christian civilization, I am concerned and alarmed about this. Today’s Europe is a unique product of a centuries-long synthesis of economic and political factors, but primarily of cultural and religious traditions. Back in 1306, the French lawyer Pierre Dubois proposed a Christian Republic for Europe. Historically, this initiative is considered to be the first “European idea” project.

The term “European” is ascribed by historians to Pope Pius II, who called Christians Europeans and called them to jointly defend Respublica Christiana from the attack of the Ottoman Empire.

Jews had inhabited Europe for millennia before Christianity emerged. They brought Christianity to Europe about two millennia ago and have always experienced pressure from anti-Semites.

It is as a European that I want to understand the reasons for today’s escalation of medieval instincts and sentiments, their nature and dynamics, and propose possible European responses to these challenges.

European means complying with two basic European values – democracy and tolerance, so convincingly addressed by Mr Yakunin.

So, why over the past ten years – I emphasize, just ten years – have Europe and the world seen explosive growth in neo-fascism, intolerance and anti-Semitism?

The first slide shows the 15-year trend in global anti-Semitism. We see that the lowest number of serious anti-Semitic incidents in the world was recorded in 1989, and that incidents increased almost twelvefold during the economic crisis in 2008-2009.

Financial and economic pressures associated with the global recession, such as unemployment, are certainly one factor.  

Second slide please.

Violence is a spontaneous outburst of aggression, frustration and hatred growing inside. Daily civilizational micro clashes have become routine for large cities in Europe. I regret to say, a trivialised routine.

Third slide, please.

Youth unemployment at 20%-25% has produced a “lost generation,” which realises that their parents’ standard of living will most likely be unattainable for them, and their day-to-day struggle for survival erodes memory. They perceive the Holocaust as an old-time legend. Add to that the escalating isolation of modern societies, including the self-isolation of individuals due to economic and structural shifts, in particular the Internet.

Another impulse for negative sentiment in happy Europe is the wave of migration that literally flooded the continent after the Arab Spring and following the wars in Libya and Syria. The upsurge of nationalism, xenophobia and neo-fascist sentiments is often aimed at Jews, who by inertia remain under suspicion in many European countries.

Everything I have mentioned is objective reality in the spirit of historical materialism. But Europe has long been post-modern.

That is why I believe that the loss of historical memory is the main reason for the escalation of neo-fascism, nationalism and anti-Semitism. I diagnose a cyclic historical amnesia; a fatigue of the third and the fourth post-war generations from the lessons of World War II. 

Therefore, our task, our memory, our responsibility to the dead and martyrs must give us the strength to build roadblocks to stop the fascists. Europeans in the first half of the 20th century failed to do this. Will we avoid repeating their mistakes at the beginning of the 21st century?

The task is far from trivial. The paradox lies in the fact that the main paradigms and impediments to solving the problem of fascism are those same basic European values – democracy and tolerance.

The thing is that democracy in its current state works against the rights, freedoms and security of most Europeans. By the way, there have been multiple attempts to balance the freedom of speech, as demonstrated for instance by a well-known study by Levinson, and the freedom of private life, as in the UK. Referring to the democratic norms, “new Europeans” establish their law and standards inside closed immigrant communities, imposing their civilizational traditions on the society that took them in. These cells expand and become insecure territory for the rest of the population.

But national authorities have no legal instruments to oppose them! The absence of a legal framework is not the only reason. The fact is that tolerance, the second European value, in its modernist or former unlimited meaning, hinders authorities’ efforts. Public frustration driven by an uncontrolled influx of immigrants gives rise to a reactive uncontrolled growth of aggression, ultranationalism, neo-fascism and anti-Semitism.

We are watching a very dangerous spring to extend. Elections are another consideration preventing many European politicians from stopping this spring, because “new Europeans” form a significant and growing part of their electorate.

We see that in European countries and (what is even more dangerous) in the European Union, neo-Nazi and ultranationalist forces are consolidating into parties and, with the support of “angry citizens,” are winning seats in local and national parliaments.

Classic neo-Nazi parties with notorious symbols and rhetoric, with public marches and slogans against Jews, Roma and immigrants in general, have gained strength in Greece and Hungary. In France, the Netherlands and other countries we witness ultra-right parties with nationalist ideology, parties that do little to hide their racist and anti-Semitic nature, are gaining popularity.

Slide 4, please.

According to our forecast, the European Parliament itself will become more polarised in the upcoming elections. The share of mainstream moderate parties may decrease from the current 72% to 65%.

According to the latest public opinion polls, up to 20% of the seats will be won by parties that are either critical about the EU (so-called “Eurosceptics”) or radically opposed to it. A possible new group on the radical right could be formed and led by the French Front National that will include the Dutch PVV, Austrian FPÖ, Belgian Vlaams Belang, Italian Lega Nord and Swedish Democrats. Golden Dawn from Greece and Jobbik from Hungary will certainly find a place there, as well. By the way, Jobbik has attempted to extend its influence on neighbouring countries such as Romania. It was a very aggressive campaign. But in this particular instance I can boast a little bit. After recent negotiations with Romanian leadership, the government decided not to allow Jobbik into Romania legislatively. You know, I would like to side-track your attention now. But it is just a relative distraction, because I would like to quote one joke of a famous Jewish activist in England, Lord Janner. It was said ten years ago. He said “We, Jews, have a right for any degree of paranoia.” I remember, it was said ten years ago at a meeting of the World Jewish Congress in Paris, and everyone laughed. Although I have to say that today it is not a joke any more. Nobody will laugh, and Jews haven’t got paranoia. It is time to pay attention to reality, to the developments of neo-Nazism in Europe today.

I also would like to draw your attention to the following matter. Today we witness a so-called convergence of the main threats due to globalisation of information and social processes. Neo-Nazism, when joined by those on the far-left and radicalised, holds a firm place in line with nuclear proliferation outside the legal framework, illegal migration, issues associated with aggressive closed ethnic communities and international terrorism. With each day, a boundary between these processes becomes increasingly transparent. It could lead to a chain reaction and snowballing involvement in crisis processes of more countries and people.  

For example, today it is easy to imagine that dirty nuclear technologies are distributed on a commercial basis, not only within the global terrorist networks but also under cover of closed ethnic territories. Ten years ago this would not have been possible. Today it is possible. Accordingly, the responsibility of the major global political players for using Cold War instruments during the aggravation of antagonisms enhances dramatically. The risk of not restraining this consolidated avalanche of threats is getting extreme. The occurrence in the 21st century of neo-Nazism, with its well-known history and clear perspective to trigger a catastrophe, does not leave global players any possibility for mutual isolation, mutual sanctions or the like.

Only a consolidated coalition of all interested parties can solve the issues of common security. Otherwise, the consequences may be deplorable. We are moving quickly down the road that leads to a place where the agenda will be decided by ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis appealing to the vilest side of the human soul.

What can we do?

The only possible mainstream position in Europe is a European response. This response shall not heat up emotions, and especially, make a confrontation personal. 

I see the solution for ending the deadlock in a strictly legal and democratic way of rethinking the very concept of tolerance based on requirements of a new global, postmodern world. 

The imperative of our time is to make tolerance secure, to channel the concept of tolerance into the legal field. The main task of this extremely complex mission is to return tolerance to its original civilizational nature and bring it back to its Judeo-Christian, European standards and roots. The Talmud says “The law of the State is the law.” I would remind this distinguished audience that the Talmud is, in fact, one of the most ancient examples of compiled court records, or legal acts.

To that end, we participated in elaborating a framework law on secure tolerance, which can serve as the basis for introducing new legal regulations on tolerance in nation states and at the international level. Legal formalisation of tolerance, creative determination of its legalistic parameters and limits will bring tolerance from the sphere of soft, good intentions into the channel of hard science and firm legal practice.

My colleagues will be speaking about this in detail today.

I am confident that only innovative legal theory and practice based on the concept of secure tolerance will help us recover from historical amnesia and stop the increasing threat of neo-fascism. That is what I consider the new creative paradigm for 21st century Europe. It is our duty to past, present and future generations.

Thank you.