When we parted after an early breakfast last Sunday in Paris, my French friend was off to cast her vote in the European Union polls that were taking place all over Europe for the European Parliament based in Strasbourg. At breakfast, she had expressed her fears that the anti-immigration, a chauvinist Right party was stirring up people against the European Union and against foreigners – the open society that the European Union was supposed to be moving toward.
Her vote was in the minority, the rightist party of Marine Le Pen, an attractive, articulate and very good presenter of rightist ideas, won 26% of the vote. It has been called an earthquake. And it has taken place not only in France but also in England, where an anti-immigration party, has made its presence felt, just as in some Sacandinavian countries lately.
Europe has decided to fear immigrants. Clashing ideas about religion, very visible numbers of immigrants taking their places in societies that were once homogenous, some immigrants at times creating trouble and upheavals fueled by the politics among themselves or against their host countries, immigrants enjoying the social welfare benefits while economies are in recession or depression, all of these have made Europeans see the universe as exclusive to them. They have become unable to give something to one without taking it away from another–the native-born citizen. Things are being taken away from the natives is the general idea.
These fears are now helping rightwing parties to recruit followers who vote for the old ways, the traditional status quo and the ethnocentric view. Considering the aging population, the need for young workers to pay taxes to keep social welfare benefits up for all, to maintain the higher standards of living that the European Union has decreed and accomplished i.e. transportation, food production, sanitation, infrastructure, etc., these fears seem quite exaggerated if not unreasonable. Immigrants contribute their share, pay taxes and are very useful.
I suppose it would give an ordinary citizen some intimation of menace seeing how wave after wave of immigrants tries to break into their countries. They balk at those scenes of boatloads of strangers trying to get. But they seem to forget that people like these newcomers are doing the menial jobs, the work that the natives feel is beneath them. In airports and airplanes, the staff is an army of immigrants, restaurants have them washing the pots and pans and cleaning the floors and hauling the garbage but becoming maitre d’s too. Street cleaners and park attendants are mostly immigrants. The current mayor of Paris comes from an immigrant Spanish stock and isn’t Sarkozy of Hungarian descent?
But the big picture is rarely present among those who confine themselves to the little annoyances that they think immigrants bring about. Yet it does look like the countries with the immigrants at the movie ticket counter, the metro station and the flower shop and in the professional sports teams couldn’t quite do without them.
Along with the anti-immigrant wave is the hostility to the European Union, which has in theory and practice united Europe through its economies, its living standards, its communications and its sports. Now it is fashionable to attack Brussels, the headquarters of the enforcers of European Union standards.
In the historical past, Europe was a collection of nations that had issues with each other, conflicts that brought them past the brink of war to open hostilities–and deaths, with residual negative feelings in the aftermath. It is no longer the case, but that is glossed over or invisible to those who refuse to see it for the exclusive world that they think they deserve. It is a matter of time till they are proven wrong.