In Brussels

Glen Newey

Sleek, complacent Brussels takes its alfresco chocolate and beer and waffles in the early summer sunshine, untroubled by the European elections or a few anti-semitic murders. The bo-bo Sablon district, which hosts the Jewish Museum, scene of Saturday’s shootings, was thick with drinkers again twenty-four hours later; indeed, the gratification of a man interviewed by Flemish VTM Nieuws soon after the attacks remained undimmed when he learned that the TV crew was there because three people had just been shot dead about a hundred metres away. I went down there on Sunday evening. ‘Ah oui, j’en ai entendu parler,’ a young woman said absently. I’d given her directions to Petit Sablon, and said there were a lot of police were about because of the murders. Nothing much is meant by this indifference – it would no doubt have been the same had the victims been Arab or Chinese. Apathy is a great leveller.

Policemen, some toting automatic weapons, were posted at either end of the partly barricaded Miniemenstraat. Outside the museum a journalist, presumably Israeli, was doing a piece to camera in Hebrew. There were a lot of other TV crews around, as well as some freelance filmers. Knots of Jewish people, the men in yarmulkes, milled and conferred on the street (closed to traffic), as did gentiles. One woman had tears in her eyes. The museum was firmly shut. Two clearly non-Jewish middle-aged couples chatted near the museum entrance; one of the stubblehaired husbands sported a sheeny nylon blouson jacket with insignia on the sleeves. One read, in Latin: ‘Virtue is the star of the earth.’ Why were they there? ‘It’s a nice evening,’ one of the men said in Flemish, with a twinkle in his eye. The women turned away.

Some outfits in the Euro elections are frankly fascist, such as the UK’s BNP, the French Front National and Greece’s Golden Dawn. Then there is a splodgier penumbra of fascism-compatible parties like the PVV in the Netherlands, Italy’s Lega Nord, and Ukip, which insofar as they have any identifiable ideology are broadly neoliberal and Poujadist (Pierre Poujade himself, who backed Pétain and the pieds noirs, went on in his post-political life to pioneer Jerusalem artichokes as biofuel; few of his epigone are likely to prove as useful). Poujadism, which was buried by the rise of Gaullism in the Fifth Republic, was petit bourgeois, anti-intellectual and anti-metropolitan; opposed to the Treaty of Rome, it began as a revolt against the fisc. Poujade’s junior deputy in the Fourth Republic’s national assembly was a budding young fascist, Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose daughter now heads the Front National.

The FN emerged as big winners on Sunday night, along with Ukip. The UK’s version of the Poujadists articulate the 19th-hole Weltanschauung of the late gin-gargler Denis Thatcher, who de-acronymed the CHOGM, or Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, as ‘coons holidaying on government money’. Wouldn’t it be grand if everything went back to how it was before the European Union dumped all these human rights and Romanians on us? Farage and his band insinuate deniably away, contradictions flourished as croix de guerre. Ukip candidates vie to get into an institution they think shouldn’t exist; they benefit from an electoral system, devised by the Belgian mathematician Victor D’Hondt, that assures representation to minority and sectional interests such as their own; they revile the EU gravy train for which, as MEPs, they have bagged a first-class ticket.

In some areas they have half a point. The EU is hugely unwieldy, forged by a remote political class bent on pushing union through regardless of popular will. D’Hondt itself, which guarantees a seat to whomever party bosses have stuck at the top of their slate, might have been got up to realise their wettest dreams: nobody in South-East England had a prayer of not being represented by Farage. The newly augmented Europe of Freedom and Democracy bloc includes figures such as the Danish Folkeparti’s Morten Messerschmidt, convicted of incitement to racial hatred in 2002; Francesco Speroni, an outgoing MEP for the Lega Nord and Farage’s EFD co-president, lauded the far-right mass murderer Anders Breivik for defending ‘Christian civilisation’ against 'Eurabia’. A broad church, the EFD also shelters the Finns (formerly True Finns), one of whose new MEPs, Jussi Halla-aho, was convicted in 2012 by the Finnish supreme court of inciting racial hatred.

Back to Sablon. The Belgian police have so far failed to arrest or even (as far as is known) identify the Jewish Museum murderer. Until they do, fifty thousand Belgian Jews can wonder who’s next. They can witness the triumph of the antisemitic FN in neighbouring France: in a tweet on Saturday, Luc Le Garsmeur, an FN candidate, described the philosopher Alain Finkelkraut as not being French ‘de souche’ – one of the weasel-phrases used to label Jews. What do you say to people when their civic status is attacked at its root?


  • 27 May 2014 at 5:30pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Are these EU election results indicative of a step in the direction of realizing the dire scenario sketched by Timothy Snyder in his controversial piece about Ukraine, which appeared in The New republic a few weeks ago? In addition to viewing whatever settlement emerges in Ukraine as a sort of lynchpin of major future developments within the EU (a difficult argument to sell), Snyder also surveyed the revival of fascist or fascist-like parties throughout Europe, trying to persuade readers that any significant victory for Putin or his stand-in in Ukraine would place him in some kind of symbolic leadership role for the revived forces of fascism. (Many of Snyder’s readers objected on the basis of their observations that the umbrella term “Ukrainian nationalism” covered Ukrainians of fascist sympathies as well as of other, different outlooks.) Since fascist beliefs usually go along with “blood and soil” ones that are focused on the fascists’ own countries, what does it mean to have a collection of such people grouped together in a supra-national administrative body? Can they do anything that won’t in some way violate their own “native country” concerns? At present, it seems very difficult to see how things will go. Anti-Semitism, is of course, pandemic throughout large stretches of Europe (it’s more of the “polite” variety ventilated in conversation, with the exception of the specifically anti-Semitic extremist movements), and, unfortunately it is both pre-fascist and post-fascist, so it has to be kept in people’s minds as an unacceptable behavior from the point of view of both common decency and law. I doubt if there’s a “permanent cure” for it, woven as it into the fabric of history and cultures. Governments should be encouraged to crack down on it, but giving them the mission of eradicating it seems hopeless.

  • 2 June 2014 at 8:31am
    liamh says:
    This article would be hilarious were it not for the fact that it's of a type I've seen many times before, that is: attack on some innocent person, worthy third rate intellectual blames the right wing generally, some days later a jihadist is arrested. Turning a blind eye to Islamic violence and blaming the right wing does not do anyone any favours. There's more to come when more of these chaps return from Syria.

  • 2 June 2014 at 7:03pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    The question is, what are right-wing, anti-EU parties going to do when their members go to Brussels as elected officials? They are still too small a bloc to influence the EU from within. It seems they should be spending their time and energy within their own nations, but even there they may be too small a bloc to influence their nations' policies. We know what they want, but we don't know just how they expect to get what they want.

  • 9 June 2014 at 9:01pm
    Doug1943 says:
    The Europeans 'dumped human rights' on the United Kingdom? The Europeans???? Enoch Powell's dismissal of Solzhenitsyn is relevant here: "Englishmen have nothing to learn from Russians about liberty."

    Clueless Glen Newey may have had no idea who in Europe might want to murder Jews -- he probably suspected the 'fascism-compatible' UKIP -- but anyone with an ounce of brains could have predicted, what turned out to be true: an adherent of the Religion of Peace.

    • 12 June 2014 at 6:25pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ Doug1943
      Good to see Douglas Murray keeps up with the LRB blog.