Yes, we are back in the Thir­ties

The New European - - Agenda - An­drew Ado­nis

Those who say it’s far-fetched to say we are back in the 1930s know lit­tle of the 1930s – or they are the very peo­ple try­ing to take us back there. A.J.P. Tay­lor, a great his­to­rian of the causes of the

First and Sec­ond World Wars, quipped that “his­tory doesn’t re­peat it­self, his­to­ri­ans re­peat each other”. He is ob­vi­ously right that no two politi­cians or sit­u­a­tions are ex­actly alike. But his­tory does re­peat it­self. It is a cat­a­logue of wars, strife and dic­ta­tors – as well as hero­ism, en­ter­prise and dig­nity – be­cause these are the reper­toire of hu­man ex­is­tence.

In Europe, we are deal­ing not only with largely the same na­tions and genes as in the 1930s, sep­a­rated by only two gen­er­a­tions, but with di­rect and con­scious im­i­ta­tion. Con­sider Mat­teo Salvini and Vik­tor Or­ban, the self­avowed ‘strong­men’ of Italy and Hun­gary.

Salvini doesn’t just look like

Mus­solini and en­gage in stunts and strut­ting straight out of cen­tral cast­ing. He has taken to tweet­ing ac­tual Mus­solini slo­gans on the dic­ta­tor’s birth­day. This year’s fes­tiv­i­ties brought tanti ne­mici, tanto onore (“so many en­e­mies, so much hon­our”), a vari­a­tion on Mus­solini’s in­fa­mous molti ne­mici, molto onore (“many en­e­mies, much hon­our”).

On cue, Mus­solini’s grand­daugh­ter Alessan­dra this week praised Salvini and said she may join him in his quest to rid Italy of “un­de­sir­able” mi­grants and lib­eral cos­mopoli­tans – the stan­dard fas­cist re­sponse to years of eco­nomic stag­na­tion and ris­ing des­per­a­tion not only among Italy’s poor but much of its mid­dle class too.

As for Or­ban, the Hun­gar­ian school cur­ricu­lum is once again racist and anti-semitic. Rich Jews are once again the en­emy. Stat­ues to Ad­mi­ral Hor­thy, the strong­man ally of Hitler’s, are be­ing erected. Or­ban calls Hor­thy an “ex­cep­tional states­man”. The most ex­cep­tional thing about him is his role in de­port­ing 500,000 Jews to Auschwitz in 1944.

Or­ban is also an­other 1930s type – think Oswald Mosley – who moved overnight from left to far right to ride a pop­ulist wave. Hor­thy, self-de­clared ‘Re­gent of Hun­gary’, is not just his echo but his con­stant in­spi­ra­tion.

To­day’s ap­peasers of the far right sim­i­larly recre­ate the weak and de­mor­alised lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives of the 1930s, from Ger­many’s Catholic ‘cen­tre’ party which voted with Hitler in 1933 to Neville Cham­ber­lain treat­ing so dis­as­trously with the Ger­man dic­ta­tor there­after.

Theresa May is eerily Cham­ber­lai­nite in her stub­born­ness, her deep ig­no­rance of the ex­treme po­lit­i­cal cur­rents swirling around her, and her ap­pease­ment of an English far right – Nigel Farage, Ja­cob Rees-mogg, the pup­pet Boris John­son – straight out of the doc­tri­naire strand of con­ser­vatism which Neville’s fa­ther Joseph Cham­ber­lain ap­peased in his im­pe­rial anti-ir­ish al­liance with Lord Sal­is­bury be­fore the First World War. Oh, and Joseph Cham­ber­lain’s bi­og­ra­pher is Nick Tim­o­thy.

One can­not read too much about the 1930s to in­oc­u­late against its evils, so I rec­om­mend Paddy Ash­down’s ex­cel­lent new book Nein, Stand­ing Up To Hitler 1935-1944.

Ash­down writes mov­ingly about the re­peated at­tempts of Ger­man pa­tri­ots to warn the Al­lies about Hitler and to frus­trate or as­sas­si­nate him. It is a roll call of hero­ism – von Stauf­fen­berg, Bon­ho­ef­fer, Oster, Gers­dorff and many more. Each of their plots has been writ­ten about sep­a­rately; Ash­down brings them to­gether in a com­pelling nar­ra­tive of a decade of re­sis­tance to evil at the heart of ‘Euro­pean civil­i­sa­tion’.

What makes Ash­down’s book es­pe­cially poignant is the tragedy, which he also tells, of the Ger­man re­sis­tance be­ing un­der­mined by the ap­pease­ment gov­ern­ments of Bri­tain and France.

Equally poignant is that Ash­down, in the great­est pe­riod of his own ca­reer, as in­ter­na­tional ‘re­gent’ for Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina, took on the task of over­com­ing the worst civil war of re­cent Euro­pean his­tory.

He con­fronted Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic, an­other 1930s strong­man – to whom a statue may soon be erected in Bel­grade, if to­day’s Ser­bian ‘young left­ists’ get their way in glo­ri­fy­ing the worst of the past.

The open­ing page of Ash­down’s book is W H Au­den’s poem Septem­ber 1, 1939.

It could as read­ily be to­day’s date: De­fence­less un­der the night

Our world in stu­por lies;

Yet, dot­ted ev­ery­where,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wher­ever the just

Ex­change their mes­sages:

May I, com­posed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Be­lea­guered by the same

Nega­tion and de­spair,

Show an af­firm­ing flame.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.