[Viewpoint] Europe at a critical crossroads

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[Viewpoint] Europe at a critical crossroads

It is hard to lose the faith one has borne for 30 to 40 years in just two to three weeks, Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig wrote in his 1943 autobiography “The World of Yesterday.” I unhesitatingly name Zweig as my favorite 20th century writer, a self-exiled member of the Jewish intelligentsia who ended his life in Brazil with a suicide note saying that it is better to “conclude in good time and in erect bearing a life in which intellectual labor meant the purest joy and personal freedom the highest good on Earth.”

He had been despairing about Europe under Nazi rule yet retained hope for humanity until the last minute in his final book, “The World of Yesterday.” He said he believed in Germans and Europeans and the conscience of mankind because humanity in the end would prevail over injustice. Even after his flight from Nazi-controlled Austria, he refused to believe the atrocities unfolding in Germany and Austria in 1933 and 1934 would be a lasting reality.

Instead of acknowledging the maddening influence of the Nazis over Europe, the author from a wealthy intellectual Jewish family wanted to escape the reality and chose to end his life instead of accepting the truth - a potential downfall of Europe. The Nazis cajoled and tricked Europeans with a shrewd and intoxicating prescription of power. He lamented how European intellectuals with a naive belief in conscience and justice feebly fell one by one.

Europeans and the world are now stunned by the hateful murderous crimes of Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, who has admitted to bombing Oslo and to the shooting rampage at a youth camp on a nearby island. The fact that the deadly attack took place in Norway, the host country of the Nobel Peace Prize only augments the tragedy. Just as Zweig let out cries of despair at such cruel Nazi madness, all hope in humanity and justice held by Northern Europeans have been sapped and shattered.

The dual terrorist attacks were typical acts for a paranoid extremist. He cannot be excused and forgiven no matter what. But his rhetoric of hate against Muslims, and of being a self-declared martyr as a modern crusader seeking to overthrow the multicultural and Marxism-rooted European culture, cannot be entirely ignored. No seed can grow without soil.

In the 1960s and 1970s, European countries, out of their own necessity, accepted with open arms immigrants from Islamic communities in Africa and the Middle East. Now, without any retrospection of past shortsightedness and preparation for a backlash, some European governments stuck in high unemployment have been critical of the concept of multiculturalism. Then, along comes the right-wing radical who detonated a bomb in Oslo and opened fire at innocent people.

Europeans have been praised and respected for recovering from two brutal world wars to accomplish remarkable political, economic and social integration. They wanted to put an end to the brutality of war forever.

Instead of pursuing individual wealth and sovereignty, Europe chose to unify its currency and economy. But after weathering all the challenges and pain, the euro zone is now engulfed in skepticism, distrust and the blame game. They forced a concerted effort to help out ailing Greece from bankruptcy, but are ready to pull out at any minute.

Europe is at a dangerous crossroads. “Euro-skeptic” right-wing political parties are gradually increasing their representation in European legislatures.

Norway’s Progress Party raised its stake in the legislature to 22.9 percent after the last elections. Denmark’s Freedom Party upped its numbers to 13.8 percent; Finland’s True Finn Party to 19.1 percent; the Netherlands’ Liberal Party to 15.5 percent and Austria’s People’s Party to 17.5 percent. The ultraright People’s Party in France is expected to surge in next year’s elections as well.

Overall, however, Europeans believe the extreme right-wing won’t likely gain government rule in any part of Europe still holding vivid and awful memories of Adolf Hitler.

Zweig deplored the fact that common idealism and optimism based on progressiveness blinds people from common dangers and that nationalism is the most poisonous and dangerous epidemic.

Europe must not fall into the tempting pit of too much optimism. It must uphold the values of tolerance, symbiosis and unity. It must not repeat the past misfortune.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myong-bok
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