The refugee tragedy and the European Union: The balance sheet for 2015


By Martin Kreickenbaum
11 January 2016

The barbaric treatment meted out to refugees fleeing to Europe has revealed before the whole world the inhumane and barbaric nature of the European Union. The EU responded to the hundreds of thousands of desperate people trying to escape the war-ravaged regions of the Middle East and North Africa or the social misery of the Balkans by sealing off the EU’s external borders, erecting barbed wire fences, locking up refugees in detention centres and carrying out mass deportations.

The mistreatment of refugees has assumed proportions that would have been unthinkable for many people twelve months ago. In broad sections of the population, indignation and sympathy were aroused by the images of the bodies washed ashore after drowning in the Mediterranean; refugees living in inhuman hygienic conditions in makeshift tent camps; border guards and soldiers forcing refugees back with batons, rubber bullets and tear gas; refugees, like the prisoners of Nazi concentration camps, with numbers written on their forearms; and families who have had to travel hundreds of kilometres on foot with small children.

In contrast to the humane sentiments of Europe’s workers and young people, the governments of European countries have engaged in a sordid competition to see who could most effectively deter refugees or push them into neighbouring countries as soon as possible. In the Schengen area, national barriers were re-imposed and border controls introduced to drive refugees away. The surge of nationalism and the debate about refugee quotas have brought the sharp conflicts of interest within the European Union to the fore and threaten to blow it apart.

The utter hypocrisy of the European Union in dealing with refugees was put on display in October 2013, when a refugee boat capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa and 366 people were sent to their deaths. The leaders of the European Union gathered by their coffins and the EU Commission President declared, “We do not accept that thousands die at Europe’s borders.”

In the 27 months since then, according to official figures, more than 7,000 refugees have lost their lives at the gates of Europe. According to estimates by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 3,771 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean last year, up from 3,279 in 2014. Now, the Aegean has increasingly become a death trap for migrants. In 2014, only four drowned refugees were registered there, in 2015 it was 805.

The Mediterranean was again the deadliest region in the world for refugees last year. Of 5,350 migrant deaths worldwide, 70 percent were in the Mediterranean. In addition, there were at least 138 deaths within the EU, refugees struck down by trains in Macedonia, asphyxiated in lorries on the transit route from the Balkans to Central Europe or killed in the Euro Tunnel between France and Britain.

In total, the IOM counted 1,004,356 refugees who arrived in Europe by sea, almost five times as many as the 219,000 who arrived in 2014. While the 153,052 refugees who arrived via the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy was nearly the same as the previous year, the number of refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey via the Aegean rose tenfold to 847,084.

But this was still only a fraction of the estimated 60 million people worldwide who were forced to flee from wars, persecution and hunger. Despite the fact that the one million refugees who arrived in 2015 constitute only 0.2 percent of the total population of the European Union, the European governments have steadily intensified the repression against refugees in the course of the year.

Refugee deterrence

The German government was the first to start, unceremoniously declaring the Balkans to be “safe countries of origin,” in the face of rising numbers of refugees from those countries. Initially in Bavaria and later throughout the country, special detention centres were set up in which refugees from the Balkans are detained. Their asylum applications are rejected in fast-track procedures. The perfidious idea of “ safe countries of origin,” which makes an individual right to asylum an absurdity, is now aggressively promoted and applied throughout the European Union.

In April last year, when within a few days more than 1,200 refugees drowned off the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Sicily, the EU did not step up rescue operations but instead established the EUNAVFOR Med military operation and sent a dozen warships into the Mediterranean. The aim of EUNAVFOR Med is to find refugee boats and sink them. In addition, EU soldiers are to march into Libyan coastal towns to take military action against suspected refugee smugglers there and destroy boats lying on the beach.

In the second half of the year, the focus of refugee deterrence shifted increasingly to the so-called Balkan route. Refugees from Syria, who were starving in the camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan because neither the European Union nor the United States wanted to provide sufficient funds for basic services, and who were not allowed to work and whose children could not attend school, set out in desperation for Europe.

They experienced a weeks-long ordeal on the miserable trek through the Greek islands, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary towards central Europe. Along the entire route they were continuously rounded up and regularly abused by police officers. To date, there are neither fixed humanitarian camps nor an adequate supply of food, water or adequate sanitation on the Balkan route.

European governments responded to the wave of the poor and starving as if it were a hostile invasion force. This was expressed most clearly by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. “If we give them [the refugees] the impression that they are welcome, that would be a moral defeat. We must make it clear to them: Do not come,” he said in Brussels in September.

When thousands of refugees were stranded at Budapest train station and could not move backward or forward, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with her counterparts in Austria and Hungary, Werner Faymann and Viktor Orban, to allow them to continue in order to avert a complete destabilization of the Balkans and sharp tensions within the EU.

But that did not change the fact that the refugees’ lives were made a living hell. Hungary erected a 3.5-metre-high barbed wire fence and declared illegal border crossings to be a criminal offence carrying one year’s imprisonment. Refugees were bombarded with tear gas grenades and beaten with batons. Since then, Germany and Austria, countries of destination for most of the refugees, have sought to deter them through unbearable conditions in the reception centres and accelerated deportation procedures, and by reducing benefits.

In recent months other states have followed Hungary’s example, erecting border fences and making illegal entry a criminal offence. Under pressure from the German and Austrian governments, the Balkans finally closed their borders for refugees who did not come from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

In addition, the European Union has put massive pressure on the Greek government to better secure the external borders and set up registration centres. These so-called “hot spots” are nothing more than concentration camps where refugees are detained and have their fingerprints taken like criminals, and are deported in summary asylum proceedings as soon as possible.

The European border protection agency Frontex was tasked with carrying out mass deportations, and had its mandate especially extended to this end. In the future, Frontex is to be used to deter refugees, even against the will of an EU member state. States such as Greece, Italy or Bulgaria would thus become quasi-protectorates of the EU.

In the last weeks of the year, the EU also pushed through the externalization of refugee deterrence, negotiating dirty deals with African dictatorships and the authoritarian regime in Turkey. While the government in Ankara has been offered three billion euros to keep refugees from entering Europe, the countries of Africa have been told that development aid will only be paid in return for cooperation in the deterrence of refugees.

The EU also does not flinch from involving the dictatorship in Eritrea, which shoots down refugees, or in Sudan, against whose President Omar al-Bashir the International Criminal Court has an outstanding arrest warrant for genocide and war crimes.

By contrast, the EU plan to redistribute 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy, announced with enormous fanfare, has failed utterly. To date, there has been agreement to take just 4,027 refugees, with only 272 from Eritrea and Syria actually being accepted. Particularly in the Eastern European countries, there is fierce resistance to a redistribution quota of refugees. Like the Hungarian prime minister, the new Polish government has also categorically rejected any further intake of refugees.

New repression

The first week of the new year shows that the EU intends to intensify the repression against refugees. Since the icy temperatures have halted crossings over the Aegean, and some 2,000 refugees continue to reach the Greek islands every day, the Greek coast guard is deliberately pushing back refugee boats into Turkish waters, as the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported. When this resulted in a boat capsizing, 34 refugees drowned in the icy waters, their bodies washing up on the Turkish coast.

In Germany, demands in the political establishment and media are growing louder for increased deportations, the closure of the border with Austria and a ceiling on the number of refugees admitted.

At the same time, together with the United States and other European powers, Britain and France are also aggressively seeking the intensification of the bombing of Syria. Plans for a ground invasion are in preparation, which would enormously increase the number of refugees fleeing to Europe. In addition, according to a report by Tunisie Numérique, the US, along with Italy, France and Britain, wants to bomb positions of the Islamic State in western Libya, which would result in another massive wave of refugees. The NATO countries are planning to counter the disastrous consequences of their military action by preventing anyone fleeing from finding safety.

The situation in Europe increasingly resembles the first half of the 20th century. In 1940, the Fourth International wrote in its manifesto against imperialist war: “The world of decaying capitalism is overcrowded. The question of admitting a hundred extra refugees becomes a major problem for such a world power as the United States.”

The decaying capitalist society “is striving to squeeze the Jewish people from all its pores,” the manifesto continues, “seventeen million individuals out of the two billion populating the globe, that is, less than 1 percent, can no longer find a place on our planet! Amid the vast expanses of land and the marvels of technology, which has also conquered the skies for man as well as the earth, the bourgeoisie has managed to convert our planet into a foul prison.”

The barbarous ill-treatment of refugees in “democratic” countries reveals the true face of capitalism. A society that spends hundreds of billions of euros overnight to rescue ailing banks, and in which the number of billionaires is constantly growing, is supposedly unable to take in refugees and provide them with decent conditions.

The brutal treatment of refugees is an expression of the hostility of the ruling elite towards the working class and youth throughout Europe. Their barbaric attitude towards people who are fleeing war, poverty and oppression also finds expression in the austerity measures imposed on workers and young people in Greece and other EU states.

The national and social tensions in Europe reached levels last year that can only be suppressed by authoritarian measures. The immediate targets of the border closures are refugees, but in the longer term, they are a declaration of war against the entire European working class.


America is becoming more like the illiberal pseudo-democracies and kleptocracies.

Can American Democracy Survive Against Rising Political Corruption and Privatization?


In 1932, on the eve of FDR’s presidency, Benito Mussolini proclaimed, “The liberal state is destined to perish.” He added, all too accurately, “All the political experiments of our day are anti-liberal.”

The democracies were doomed, Il Duce declared, because they could not solve crucial problems. Unlike the dictatorships, which were willing to forcefully use a strong state, the democracies could not fix their broken economies. Parliamentary systems were hamstrung politically. The democracies were also war-weary, conflict-averse, and ill-prepared to fight. The fascists, unlike the democracies, had solved the problem of who was part of the community.

Mussolini’s ally, Adolf Hitler, was further contemptuous of “mongrelization” in American democracy. Who was an American? How did immigrants fit in? What about Negroes? The fascist states, by contrast, rallied their citizens to a common vision and a common purpose. Hitler was quite confident that he knew who was a German and who was not. To prove it, he fashioned the Nuremberg laws; he annexed German-speaking regions of his neighbors. As Hitler infamously put it, Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer.

Though he was a buffoonish dictator, Il Duce was not such a bad political scientist. In the 1930s, a lot of liberal democrats wondered the same thing, and for the same reasons. As Ira Katznelson wrote in Fear Itself: “Such beliefs and opinions were not limited to dictators and dictatorships. As Roosevelt prepared to speak [in his first inaugural], skepticism was prevalent about whether representative parliamentary democracies could cope within their liberal constitutional bounds with capitalism’s utter collapse, the manifest military ambitions by the dictatorships, or international politics characterized by ultranationalist territorial demands. Hesitation, alarm, and democratic exhaustion were widespread.”

The democracies did survive, of course, and they flourished. The New Deal got us halfway out of the Great Depression, and the war buildup did the rest. Fascism was defeated, militarily and ideologically. The collapse of Soviet communism took another half-century. Thanks to the wisdom of containment, Stalinism fell of its own weight, as both an economic and political failure.

Not only did the democracies endure—by the 1980s, America had broadened the inclusiveness of its polity. Europe had embarked on a bold experiment toward continental democracy. In the final days of communism, there was triumphalism in the West. Francis Fukuyama even proclaimed, incautiously, in his 1989 essay, “The End of History?” that all societies were necessarily gravitating toward capitalism and democracy, two ideals that were supposedly linked.


Today, it is Mussolini’s words that resonate. Once again, the democracies are having grave difficulty pulling their economies out of a prolonged economic slump. Once again, they are suffering from parliamentary deadlock and loss of faith in democratic institutions. The American version reflects a radically obstructionist Republican Party taking advantage of constitutional provisions that Madison (and Obama) imagined as promoting compromise; instead, the result is deadlock. The European variant is enfeebled by the multiple veto points of a flawed European Union unable to pursue anything but crippling austerity. Once again, several anti-liberal alternatives are on the march. “All the political experiments of our day are anti-liberal.”

Take a tour of the horizon. Mussolini would not be surprised. The fastest-growing economy, China’s, is nothing if not anti-liberal, and getting steadily more adroit at suppressing liberal aspirations. The Beijing regime, which has learned the virtues of patience since Tiananmen, waited out the Hong Kong protests and efficiently shut them down. The Hong Kong elections of 2017 will be limited to candidates approved by the communist regime on the mainland. Capitalism was supposed to bring with it democracy and rule of law. But the Chinese have been superbly effective at combining dynamic state-led capitalism with one-party rule.

What unites regimes as dissimilar as Iran, Turkey, Hungary, Egypt, Venezuela, and Russia is that they combine some of the outward forms of democracy with illiberal rule. The press is not truly free, but is mostly a tool of the government. Editors and journalists are in personal danger of disappearing. There are elections, but  the opposition somehow doesn’t get to come to power. Minority religion and ethnic groups are repressed, sometimes subtly, sometimes brutally. Dissidents, even if they break no laws, risk life and limb. The regimes in these nations have varying degrees of corruption between the state and economic oligarchs, which helps keep both in power. In Hungary, a member of the E.U., which is a union of liberal democracies, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has expressly invoked the ideal of an illiberal state. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dramatically increased enrollments in state-supported religious schools and automatically assigned some children to them, against the wishes of their secular parents.

Turkey is a stalwart member of NATO. Elsewhere in the Middle East, our closest allies don’t even go through the motions of democracy; they are proud monarchies. Israel, our most intimate friend in the region, is becoming less of a democracy almost daily. Israelis are seriously debating whether to formally sacrifice elements of democracy for Jewish identity. And this tally doesn’t even include the flagrant tyrannies such as the insurgency that calls itself the Islamic State, or ISIL. All the political experiments of our day are anti-liberal.

Ironically, some liberals are pinning great hopes on recent stirrings in a venerable institution of hierarchy, autocracy, secrecy, and privilege that has been the antithesis of liberal for nearly two millennia—the Catholic Church, now under a reformist pope. One has to wish Francis well and hope that his new openness extends to the entire institution, but these reforms are fragile. It has been a few centuries since the Church murdered its rivals, but in my lifetime the Church was very cozy with fascists.

One of the great inventions of liberal democracy was the concept of a loyal opposition. You could oppose the government without being considered treasonous. A leader, conversely, could be tossed out of office by the electorate without fearing imprisonment or execution by successors. In much of the world, this ideal now seems almost quaint, and certainly imprudent. A corrupt or dictatorial regime has much to fear from displacement, including jail and even death at the hands of an opposition in power.

There are a few bright spots. Some of Africa has managed to have roughly free and fair elections. South Africa’s young democracy is fragile, but seems to be holding. Some of the Pacific Rim is moving in the direction of genuine democracy. Many former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe are functioning democracies, even liberal ones. And democratic aspiration is far from dead, as events in Ukraine show. Latin America has more democratically elected governments than it has had in a generation, but it also has several nominal democracies that are illiberal, or prone to coups, or simply corrupt. Mexico, our close NAFTA partner, epitomizes illiberal democracy.


But it is the democratic heartland, Europe and North America, that presents the most cause for dismay. Rather than the United States serving as a beacon to inspire repressed peoples seeking true liberal democracy, America is becoming more like the illiberal pseudo-democracies and kleptocracies. A dispassionate review of what is occurring in our own country has to include deliberate suppression of the right to vote; ever more cynical manipulation of voting districts in the nation that invented gerrymandering; the deepening displacement of citizenship with money and rise of plutocracy; the corruption of the regulatory process; a steep decline in public confidence in government and in democracy itself; and a concomitant doubt that democratic participation is worth the trouble. In my piece in this issue’s special report, I address some of these questions in the context of markets versus government, but the challenge goes much deeper.

Obstruction feeds public cynicism about government. Though the mischief and refusal to compromise are mostly one-sided—it is hard to recall a Democratic president more genuinely eager to accommodate the opposition than Barack Obama—the resulting deadlock erodes confidence in democracy and government in general. Why can’t these people just get along and work for the common good? Democrats, as the party that believes in government, take the blame more than Republicans. Government’s failure to address festering, complex problems feeds the dynamic.

This is all the more alarming because the challenges ahead will require strong government and above all legitimate government. At best, global climate change and sea level rise will require public coordination and some personal dislocation. Transition to a sustainable economy demands far more intensive public measures, as well as public trust in the hope that changes in old habits of carbon energy use need not result in reduced living standards. The risk of epidemics such as Ebola will require more effective government to coordinate responses that the private sector can’t manage. The popular frustration with flat or declining earnings for all but the top demands more government intervention. Weak government can’t accomplish any of this. Mussolini’s taunt burns: The liberal democracies are incapable of solving national problems.

A generation ago, political scientists coined a useful phrase—strong democracy. The Prospect published some pieces making this case, by authors like Benjamin Barber. Others, such as Jane Mansbridge and James Fishkin, writing in the same spirit, called for more participatory democracy. The common theme was that democracy needed to be re-energized, with more citizen involvement, more direct deliberation. What has happened is the reverse. The combination of economic stresses, the allure of other entertainments, the rise of the Internet as a venue for more social interchange but less civic renewal, has left democracy weaker when it needs to be stronger.

The other contention of the fascists—that the democracies had trouble with the vexing questions of community and membership—was never more of a challenge. In Europe, the poisonous mix of high unemployment, anxiety about terrorism, and influx of refugees and immigrants is feeding a vicious nationalist backlash and nurturing the far right. At home, the failure to normalize the status of an estimated 12 million immigrants lacking proper documents deprives large numbers of residents of normal rights and stokes nativism. Assaults on voting rights even for citizens, coupled with physical assaults by police, make African Americans less than full members of the democracy, despite the civil rights revolution of half a century ago.

Mussolini’s other taunt was that the liberal democracies were too divided and war-weary to fight. When Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in March 1936, in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, the democracies did nothing. They dithered right up until Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939. As late as 1940, Roosevelt was more eager to keep America out of another European war than to help the British make a stand against the Nazis.

The military challenge today is more complex. America in this century has vacillated between grandiosity and timidity. It fought the wrong war in Iraq, and then may have pulled out prematurely. The administration has been weak and divided in its policies toward Syria and ISIL. To some extent this is understandable; these are hydra-headed threats, with no easy solutions. If President Obama is ambivalent, the public is even more so. Yet the greatest military threats to American democracy are not the risks of invasion or terrorist assault, but what we are doing to ourselves. The Obama administration, like that of George W. Bush, has been all too willing to subordinate liberty to security, secrecy, and autocracy, even in cases where these objectives are not in direct contention.

The risk is not that American democracy will abruptly “perish,” but that it will be slowly denuded of its vital content. If we are to reverse the appeal of anti-liberal society globally, we have to repair our democracy at home. The challenge is multifaceted, and will take time. It should be the great project of the next president and the ongoing work of the citizenry.

Robert Kuttner is the former co-editor of the American Prospect and a senior fellow at Demos. His latest book is “Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency.”

Obama heads to Europe for week of meetings directed against Russia


By Patrick Martin
3 June 2014

President Barack Obama left Washington Monday night for a four-day trip to Europe, where he will seek to intensify the campaign against Russia that began with the US-backed and fascist-led coup in Ukraine in February. The trip will include Obama’s first face-to-face meeting with Petro O. Poroshenko, the billionaire oligarch who is to be inaugurated as the new president of Ukraine on June 7.

Obama meets Tuesday in Warsaw with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk, then with a group of Eastern European officials, including representatives from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia. The following day he has a one-on-one session with Poroshenko.

The US president will also meet with American airmen deployed at a Polish air base and he will give a public speech marking the 25th anniversary of the first elections held after the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Poland.

Press reports suggest that Obama and Poroshenko will discuss direct US military aid to help the Kiev regime in its campaign to suppress opposition groups in eastern Ukraine, populated mainly by Russian speakers hostile to the ultra-right Ukrainian nationalists who now control the country’s government.

Washington has so far limited its aid to “nonlethal” supplies, including military rations, but may well use the May 25 presidential election—largely boycotted in the eastern third of the country—as the pretext for escalating its intervention in the Ukraine crisis by supplying weapons and ammunition as well as providing military training.

Derek Chollet, the US assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, was in Kiev meeting with senior Ukrainian officials Monday. His task is to draw up a detailed shopping list for the Ukrainian military that could be presented for Obama’s signoff at the Wednesday meeting with Poroshenko.

Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told the press, “We very much admired that the people of Ukraine have turned out in huge numbers to elect President-elect Poroshenko. We’ve admired his commitment to pursue dialogue and to aim to reduce tensions and put Ukraine on a positive path.”

The “dialogue” pursued by Poroshenko involves the use of armored cars, artillery shells and aerial bombardment to “reduce tensions” with the people of eastern Ukraine by killing as many as possible. In the city of Slavyansk, for example, a center of opposition to the right-wing Kiev regime, Ukrainian government forces have hit residential districts with indiscriminate mortar and shellfire—actions that constitute war crimes under international law.

New fighting flared in the district of Luhansk, the easternmost part of the country, as 500 insurgents attacked pro-Kiev forces along the border with Russia. A spokesman for acting President Oleksandr Turchynov claimed that Ukrainian border guards were attacked by separatists seeking to open the border to obtain supplies and reinforcements.

A spokesman for the pro-Russian militants said they were not fighting border troops, but rather the Ukrainian National Guard, comprised largely of neo-Nazi thugs from the Right Sector and Svoboda (Freedom) Party. Reports from both sides described heavy fighting and considerable loss of life.

Obama’s European trip will continue with a meeting of the Group of Seven, the heads of state from the US, Canada, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Japan, to be held in Brussels Wednesday night and Thursday. The G-7 has been reconstituted to exclude Russia, which was to host a G-8 summit meeting in Sochi on the Black Sea this month.

The US will use the G-7 meeting to pressure its European allies, who have been reluctant to impose sweeping economic sanctions on Russia because of the consequences for their own economies. Germany relies on Russia for one-third of its energy supplies, for example, while Britain depends on the influx of capital from Russian billionaires to prop up the London financial markets.

A major American goal at the G-7 meeting is to revive an atmosphere of confrontation after Moscow responded to the May 25 presidential vote in Ukraine with significant concessions—recognizing Poroshenko as the president-elect, pulling all Russian troops back from the Ukrainian border, and offering better terms to Ukraine in negotiations on Russian gas exports. A “senior Obama administration official” told the New York Times: “What we don’t want is for everybody to exhale, ‘the election went well, now we’re all done.’”

National Security Adviser Susan Rice, speaking Sunday on the ABC television interview program “This Week,” boasted of the US role in stoking up tensions over Ukraine. “The United States, working with our European partners, has rallied to isolate and pressure Russia for its activities in Ukraine,” she said. “That’s the kind of leadership that only the world’s greatest power can bring to bear.”

The Putin regime will seek to forestall this gang-up with further diplomatic maneuvers at the United Nations Security Council. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was submitting a resolution Monday calling for an end to the violence and the creation of humanitarian corridors in eastern Ukraine to allow civilians to leave combat areas.

He complained that the Western powers had assured Moscow that the May 25 presidential election would set the stage for a peaceful development, but that “everything is happening in exactly the opposite way.” He continued: “People are dying every day. Peaceful civilians are suffering more and more—the army, military aviation and heavy weapons continue to be used against them.”

Obama, Putin, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande will attend a commemoration Friday of the 70th anniversary of the World War II landings in Normandy. Both Cameron and Hollande have scheduled discussions with Putin during his visit, but the White House said there were no plans for a US-Russia summit meeting.

The D-Day commemoration is an awkward occasion for the imperialist powers, since they were allied with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany in 1944, while 70 years later they are allied with neo-Nazi elements in Ukraine as part of a campaign to encircle and destabilize Russia.

In June 1944, as US, British and Canadian troops were storming the beaches in Normandy, Soviet troops were mopping up the last Nazi strong points in Ukraine, taking Odessa in April; capturing Sevastopol, the main port of Crimea, in May, after a protracted siege; and opening a new offensive into Byelorussia in June. At the same time, pro-Hitler Ukrainian nationalist forces—the political ancestors of the Right Sector and Svoboda—were engaged in exterminating the last remnants of the ethnic Polish population of eastern Galicia and Volhynia (present-day western Ukraine) under the protection of the retreating Wehrmacht.

91-year-old Greek WWII hero wins big in Euro-elections

By Jerome Roos On May 26, 2014

Post image for 91-year-old Greek WWII hero wins big in Euro-elections

Manolis Glezos, famous for tearing down the Swastika from the Acropolis in 1941, will take his seat in a European Parliament populated with neo-Nazis.

In Europe, dark clouds are gathering on the horizon once more. Yesterday marked the conclusion of the European Parliamentary elections, and the extreme-right had a number of terrifyingly strong showings in France, Austria, Denmark, Hungary and Greece, among other countries. But as disillusioned citizens across the continent send their ultra-nationalist, proto-fascist and even openly neo-Nazi deputies to Brussels and Strasbourg, the one candidate who actually managed to secure an overwhelming victory here in Greece is Manolis Glezos, the legendary 91-year-old WWII resistance hero, who, on May 30, 1941 — at the age of 19, just weeks after the Nazi invasion and occupation of his country — scaled the Acropolis in the dead of night and, together with his friend Apostolos Santas, tore down the Swastika.

(Video by Manos Cizek — Glezos’ words are translated into English)

In the photo and video above, taken while shooting the first ROAR documentary,Utopia on the Horizon (2012), Mr Glezos shows us the last words of his brother, Nikos Glezos, who on May 10, 1944 — while imprisoned by the Nazis — wrote a heartbreaking farewell message to his mother on the inner cloth of his helmet: “Dearest mother, I kiss and embrace you. Today I will be executed, falling for the Gr. PEOPLE.” Mr Glezos explains to us why the word “Greek” was abbreviated and “people” capitalized: his brother meant to say that he would fall not for some nationalistic delusion, but for the people of all Europe and the world; those who have chosen to struggle for freedom, justice and self-determination everywhere.

It is an absolute disgrace that today, in the 21st century, a legendary WWII resistance hero like Manolis Glezos, who was imprisoned three times (first by the Nazis and later by the right-wing military dictatorship), and who spent 11 years of his life behind bars and 4.5 years in exile for his acts of resistance and his radically democratic beliefs, only to be beaten up and tear-gassed by riot police during the 2011 anti-austerity protests, will now have to take up a seat in a European Parliament populated by dozens of nationalists, fascists and neo-Nazis who take their despicable ideologies from the same monsters who once murdered his brother, and millions more across the continent — and far beyond. This alone should be enough to make anyone cringe.

In the past, we at ROAR have expressed our skepticism about both SYRIZA — Mr Glezos’ party — and parliamentary politics in general. I personally still believe that radical social change and real democracy are made from below, as they have always been, and that elections, while sometimes marginally useful, are often grossly overrated (and sometimes even dangerously deceptive) as tools for genuine democratic empowerment. But amid the resurgence of these dark forces in Europe today, Mr Glezos’ victory is clearly one of the most powerful symbolic statements in defiance of the fascist threat and in defence of democratic values and practices. Mr Glezos, moreover, is a well-known defender of direct democracy and workers’ control, and actively experimented with assemblary democracy as mayor of his village on Naxos.

As such, the electoral victory of Mr Glezos is a testament to the spirit of resistance that still characterizes the Gr. PEOPLE today, after a harrowing five-year depression that has left nearly half of the country’s households struggling to get by below the poverty line. Despite the fact that the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn are now the third most powerful political force, and that the Athenians somehow managed to vote a PASOK mayor back into office, the further weakening of the governing parties provides a glimmer of hope that better times may still lie ahead. Here, where “democracy” was conceived, one of the most important struggles over its future is now being waged — and it’s already spreading. Europe and the world cannot afford to stand by and look the other way. What is happening in Greece should concern us all.

“For Peace, Freedom and Democracy. Never Again Fascism. Millions of Dead Remind Us.”