During my time in Prague, I had the chance to visit the Franz Kafka Museum.
Kafka’s life demonstrates that multicultural societies are nothing new in Europe. Kafka was a Jew. His mother tongue was German. He was born in the Czech Republic. He died in Austria. Despite the lame rhetoric of racist and populist politicians, Europe always was home to people with fluid identities, such as Kafka.
After the Second World War, European countries tightened their border controls, and constructed rigid national identities, mostly based on national languages. These actions lead to the creation of more or less homogenous European societies and increased racist mindsets towards people from other ethnicities. They simply did not belong to them and should stay away.
The Illusion of the Return to the Good Old Days
Today, racism, xenophobia and violence against foreigners are on the rise in Europe. They are fueled by the racist political discourse of populists. They promise their followers to bring back the good old days. Which good old days are they talking about? The time of the First World War? The Second World War? The Cold War era?
Not a long time ago, many parts of Europe were destroyed. Millions of Europeans had to flee to other countries. They had to re-build entire cities. They worked endless hours for low wages. Women had to fight for their rights in patriarchal societies. Children suffered from malnutrition. The pollution in cities was very high.
Today, Europeans live in the most stable and peaceful time ever. Most European governments provide free education, health care, modern infrastructure, unemployment agencies, and other social services. Europeans can easily move to other European countries. Many young Europeans work and travel abroad for some time. They speak English and have friends all over the world.
The Victimization of the Ordinary European
In my opinion, the rise of populists in Europe is only possible because a large part of the European society does not adapt to the modern, capitalistic lifestyle. Especially members of the working-class keep on living in areas with high unemployment rates. They refuse to move somewhere else. Furthermore, they refuse to acquire new skills that are needed in order to find a well-paid job. Populists tell their followers that governments do not care about them. They only care about immigrants/migrants/refugees.
I wonder how their followers would feel like if they had to live in crowded gyms or camps with 50 other people, unable to speak the local language, unsure about their legal status and haunted by memories of war and terror.
Populists proclaim that they are the only ones who understand the concerns of ordinary citizens. They tell their followers that they are victims. Still, there are many NGOs, public service agencies, churches, self-help groups out there. They help people in all kinds of difficult situations. Is it surprising that populist politicians want to cut down the costs for these services? Not really.
Foreigners do not cause the low living standard of working-class people. Neo-liberal policies produce economic inequality AND populists will not change them! They will not raise taxes for rich people and companies.
Instead, they blame immigrants/migrants/refugees/Blacks/Muslims for personal failures because it is the easiest thing to do. They are the most vulnerable groups.
Europe is ageing. We need more young people, who are willing to settle down, work and pay taxes. According to a study by the European Commission, a quarter of Europeans will be over 60 years of age by 2020. If European countries keep their borders closed, their social systems will collapse.
Populists are usually from the upper class. They have enough money to pay for private health care. In the end, the people who suffer the most because of their policies will be their own followers.