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Western Press Review: Europe Perceives Rising 'Ghost Of Fascism'

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill



Prague, 26 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Although the North American press appears not yet to have noticed, a number of commentators in the West European press seem haunted today by the fear of resurgent fascism.

INDEPENDENT: Hatred of the asylum seeker can easily turn into loathing of all foreigners

From London, the Independent headlines an editorial commenting on Switzerland's political shift to the right with this: "The Ghost of Fascism Stalks the European Landscape."

The editorial sounds an alarm, saying that the far right is on the march again. As the Independent puts it: "In Austria and now in Switzerland, voters have swarmed in alarming numbers behind the banners of extreme anti-immigration and fierce xenophobia."

This is not, the editorial says, a new Nazism. The Independent says the new wave is a response to floods of asylum seekers and a product of entrenched smugness of professional politicians, and corruption.

But the editorial warns: "Hatred of the asylum seeker can easily turn into loathing of all foreigners, just as impatience with the corruption of politics can quickly convert to authoritarianism."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The magic formula is as good as dead

Writers in Britain's Financial Times open a commentary with these words: "Switzerland appears to have opted for an isolationist future." William Hall in Zurich and Frances Williams in Geneva say the rightward swing will make difficulties for the Swiss government's hopes to join the United Nations and the European Union.

The Financial Times' analysis presented these quotations from two elements of multilingual Switzerland's German press:

o From the top-selling tabloid, Blick -- "The magic formula is as good as dead." The magic formula in Switzerland has been the traditional division of cabinet seats among the parties of the ruling coalition.

o From the Neue Zuercher Zeitung, leading quality newspaper -- "(The results) have fundamentally changed (the nation's) partisan political geometry."

Of party leader Blocher, the Financial Times analysts wrote this assessment: "His strident antipathy to foreigners and his anti-European stance has struck a chord with voters in a country that has more asylum seekers per head of its population than any other European nation."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The strong showing of the People's Party changes matters at the roots of Switzerland's traditional governance

Writing from Basel in the Frankfurter Rundschau, German commentator Felix Ruhl says this: "A tiger was on the prowl in the Alps last Sunday. As in Austria -- where the parties in the (ruling) grand coalition froze like rabbits in the face of right-wing Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider -- conservative forces in Switzerland behaved as if lamed during the election campaign here."

Ruhl says that Sunday's strong showing of the People's Party of Christoph Blocher changes matters at the roots of Switzerland's traditional governance. As he puts it: "Those on the right fear for the guarantors of Swiss prosperity -- secret banking and autonomy. This is a diffuse, largely unjustified fear, which is shared neither in economic circles nor among large segments of the urban population."

The commentary says these fears, fanned by Blocher, in the writer's words, "fall on receptive ears in the countryside and among those who believe they are getting a raw deal."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: The People's Party is similar to other right-wing groups in Europe

Denmark's Berlingske Tidende says in an editorial that the Swiss election results will set off a debate that may turn out to be crucial for Switzerland's political future. The Danish newspaper perceives the Swiss vote as part of a European trend. As Berlingske Tidende's editorial puts it: "The SVP (People's Party) is similar to other right-wing groups in Europe that have capitalized on anti-EU and anti-immigrant sentiments, and that have been supported by a population increasingly weary of globalization, both political and economic, and the uninterrupted industrial development."

TIMES: What Switzerland badly needs is competitive politics

The Times, London, suggests that shaking up Switzerland's political lethargy may not be entirely a bad thing. Here's how the Times' editorial describes the new situation. It says: "The Swiss People's Party, once an orthodox conservative group but recently a vehicle for anti-foreigner and anti-immigrant sentiment, has suddenly emerged as the country's most significant political force. Its leader, Christoph Blocher, a man almost as controversial as Joerg Haider, the head of Austria's Freedom Party, is in a position to destroy the arrangements by which the four main parties have carved up political power in Switzerland for the past four decades."

The editorial adds this: "This would not be a tragedy. In Switzerland, as Austria, the inflexible and fundamentally undemocratic nature of an artificial consensus have created the conditions in which extremists can flourish."

The editorial concludes, in the Times' words: "What Switzerland, like Austria, badly needs is not another backroom compromise but competitive politics."

NEW YORK TIMES: Buchanan surrounds his candidacy with the persistent whiff of racism and anti-Semitism

For its part, the New York Times perceives a similar kind of political reaction in the decision of newspaper and TV commentator Patrick Buchanan to quit the U.S. Republican Party to seek presidential nomination by the fledgling Reform Party.

Buchanan has preached an isolationist and anti-immigrant litany. The New York Times says, in the words of its editorial: "Such efforts to isolate America from the real issues of the 21st century should help isolate Mr. Buchanan. Already his views on why the United States should not have entered World War Two against Hitler's Germany have drawn understandable outrage, not only from veterans but also historians. (Financier Donald) Trump, who sees himself as a possible antidote to the Buchanan forces, calls Mr. Buchanan a Hitler lover. Mr. Buchanan has rejected such a label, but his warlike oratory draws fringe voters and surrounds his candidacy with the persistent whiff of racism and anti-Semitism."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: No one should trust this declaration of peace by the Serbs

The subject of Montenegro and its relationship with Serbia as its sister republic within Yugoslavia also draws commentary today. From Munich in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Peter Muench welcomes conciliatory sounds from Serbia's government, but with heavy skepticism. In Muench's words: "At least there is some positive-sounding news from the presidential palace in Belgrade. The Serbs would not stand in the way of the Montenegrins if they wanted to create their own separate state, said a spokesman for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. So the last remaining brother state is being promised something that has been tragically and brutally denied the others in the Balkans in the last decade: the chance to leave Yugoslavia without bloodshed. Yet no one should trust this declaration of peace by the Serbs (Milosevic government). The ongoing squabbles between Serbia and Montenegro could easily escalate into the next Balkans war."

Muench observes that it is a characteristic Milosevic tactic to foment armed conflict when -- as now -- he is in domestic difficulty. This may be his object now, the writer says, and adds this: "Of course, he would have to be able to sell it as the Montenegrins' fault. So a few cheap declarations of peace now would fit well into his concept of war."

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