Originally Published 2012-05-11 00:00:00 Published on May 11, 2012
The return of a socialist President in France since Mitterand's victory in 1981 confirms a trend in Europe which, instead of lifting the mist, is adding to the fog. The other day, David Cameron, who has never quite found his feet, had egg all over his face.
Europe: Consumer society collides with spectre of austerity
It would be bad form to put it down to the curse of the Sufi Saint Sheikh Salim Chishti. Nicolas Sarkozy lost the French Presidency because he had become the most hated French leader in history.

True, on 4 December, 2010 the President and his wife, Carla Bruni, did visit the Sheikh’s mausoleum in Fatehpur Sikri and received special blessings. Only the superstitious would insist that the baby born to them nine months later was a result of this visit. Indeed, ever since Moghul emperor declared his debt to the Saint for the having answered his prayers by providing the expanding kingdom with Salim, or Emperor Jehangir made famous by the Bollywood classic, Mughal-e-Azam, the childless turn up at the shrine in droves.

The scorn Sarkozy showered on Muslims in general and "halal" meat in particular towards the last laps of the campaign, would not have pleased the great Saint. But it is extremely unlikely that the Saint switched his divine intervention in favour of Francois Hollande. Carla Bruni must have scribbled a quiet note of thanks to the keepers of the Salim Chishti shrine to ensure their neutrality in France’s Presidential stakes.

The return of a Socialist in France since Mitterand’s victory in 1981 confirms a trend in Europe which, instead of lifting the mist, is adding to the fog. The other day David Cameron, who has never quite found his feet, had egg all over his face. Labour had trounced the Conservatives in local bodies election across the country. The Liberal Democrats, for their sin of associating with the Conservatives in a coalition, have been decimated.

And yet, if this was a confirmed trend how does one explain the success of the Respect party leader George Galloway in Bradford? Galloway is one of those incredible politicians who has nurtured a constituency in the Muslim world. He has a regular programme on the Iranian Press TV! What is emerging in Europe is an aviary of doves and hawks and hawk nosed doves, even dove nosed hawks.

On superficial view, the British and French voters may have slided the balance of power just a little bit from centre-right to centre-left, from tweededum to tweedledee. But that may not be the lasting reality.

In France, a reality that has loomed for two decades is the anti Muslim, anti Roma, in brief anti immigrant, National Front founded by Mons Le Pen. His daughter Marine Le Pen, has a threatening 18 percent vote share in the first round. She advised her supporters to tear their ballots rather than help Sarkozy’s right wingism which by her reckoning is tepid.

The French will not stand for "austerity" which across Europe means lower standard of living, and Hollande has therefore promised growth instead. Without Angela Merkel there is pretty little he can do. The resulting frustration is what Marine Le Pen will capitalize on in the Parliament elections.

Neo-Fascists are not knocking at the gates in France only. In Greece, the abysmal economic situation is polarizing politics sharply - from extreme right to extreme left. Under 25 are swelling the ranks of the unemployed in excess of 50 percent. Monstrous political formations like "Golden Dawn" have emerged under the leadership of Nikos Michaloliakos who admires Hitler. He has adopted the Nazi salute and a variation of the swastika as his party’s emblem. "Most of the money is in hand of Jews", he says.

The fascist right is only one danger. What worries the rest of Europe much more is the rise of communism. European political compasses have panned centre-left and centre right for so many years that they are rusted and screechy to pan the new expanse of possibilities. The Golden Dawn and two other far right parties have fierce opposition in the extreme left, under the banner of Syriza which contains every tendency from Marxist-Leninists to Mister Bardhan.

The young racist in Oslo who shot dead 70 young Norwegians represents the most stark form of European despair. Across Europe, including Britain where racist nationalists won 14 percent vote in last week’s local elections, to Finland, Hungary, Austria everywhere a monster of extremism is rearing its head. The word austerity is a red rag to this lot.

Really, in the 70s they were lampooning the consumer society. Now they can’t bear to lost it, which they inevitably must.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
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