Left not immune as Salvinism invades Europe

Today, we have the feeling that that traditional champion of human rights has switched moods to appease angry voters.
Sunday 30/09/2018
Italy’s Vice-Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (L) and Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache leave after a news conference in Vienna, on September 14. (AFP)
Not alone. Italy’s Vice-Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (L) and Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache leave after a news conference in Vienna, on September 14. (AFP)

As Europe searches for a solution to its migration crisis while extremist right-wing currents rise, there are still people who prefer to go against history. They long for the bygone days of missionary work in Africa, of the slave trade and of the hideous racist theories towards Africans and migrants in general.

During the past few years, both Africa and Europe have been treading a thorny path to bypass a heavy past and solve the complex issue of migration without losing sight of Europe’s debt to plundered Africa.

Now here comes the star of the European far right, Matteo Salvini, federal secretary of the League political party and Italy’s interior minister. He has been doggedly pushing the European Union to take a stern right turn in the face of migrants, even if that means reopening the wounds of colonisation of Africa and the slave trade.

The latest gem in Salvini’s strategies is to set up funds to encourage Italians and Europeans to procreate more rather than rely on the idea of bringing in the cream of the crop of Africa’s youth like in the olden days of slavery, to use his terms.

The trouble with Salvini’s selective approach is that Italy and the whole of Europe are in the debt of Africa for their economic and industrial boom since feudal times. Some histories estimated that the price Africa had to pay to make Europe’s metropolises wealthy and powerful during colonial times was nothing short of 12 million African victims.

Salvini’s statements not only bring to the foreground Europe’s shameful past on the African continent but also make it difficult to close the chapter on that past and move forward to end the hanging issues regarding apologies and reparations for decades of grave violations of African rights.

Such a step should not be difficult. In the past weeks, the world has seen at least two instances of recognising Europe’s dark past. On September 13, in an unprecedented move, French President Emmanuel Macron presented the French government’s official apologies to the widow of Maurice Audin, a former communist activist and fervent defender of Algeria’s independence. Macron admitted to the systematic torture of Audin by the French colonial army that led to the victim’s death in 1957.

The second instance comes from Germany where the government officially recognised as genocide the slaughter of at least 60,000 Namibians from the Herero and Nama groups by German soldiers at the beginning of the 20th century. Despite this recognition, the Germans are grappling with lawsuits in international courts brought by the victims’ descendants for reparations and official public apologies.

Most members of the European Union share in this heavy past and that simply makes establishing balanced relations between Africa and Salvini’s Europe more complicated than it seems, especially during this period of Austria’s presidency of the European Union.

It’s no secret that Austria is Rome’s strategic ally in calling for tougher measures on Europe’s outer borders and in blocking attempts to redistribute refugees inside the European Union. Such positions do not reassure Europe’s historic and strategic African partners in areas such as migration, development and security. Europe’s two main engines, Paris and Berlin, have decided to give top priority to deporting illegal immigrants before any other issue regarding migration.

Paris is in favour of deploying 10,000 more troops on Europe’s outer borders within the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was recently in Algeria, after stopping in Tunis, to convince the Algerian government to cooperate with Germany’s repatriation operations of Algerian illegal immigrants and into blocking the crossing points for African migrants along the Algerian desert border.

These manoeuvres and declared agendas send a clear message: The gates of Europe are going to gradually close in the face of immigrants, even those entering through legal channels. This is the policy choice of the far right as well as part of the left in Europe.

The European left has for long acted as the line of defence for refuges in Europe. Today, we have the feeling that that traditional champion of human rights has switched moods to appease angry voters after a disastrous election year.

In Germany for example, Die Linke’s stated goal has been to curtail liberal policies and confront right-wing activists on the street as it did during anti-refugee demonstration in Chemnitz. This time, however, the leftist party has played the card of economic migrants, a move that, at heart, does not seem removed from Salvini’s extremism.

17