May 3, 2010
One of the most annoying consequences of the 2007-08 financial crisis, and now of the European debt crisis, is the re-emergence of religious fascism. We’ve seen it all before, in the 1930’s. In Spain, Franco’s fascist regime was strongly backed by the Catholic Church until the end of the ‘seventies. In Romania, Orthodox fascists calling themselves “legionnaires” briefly took power in 1941 and assassinated hundreds of top intellectuals, political and opinion leaders. When the Soviets invaded, there was no need for a Katyn, as the country’s leadership was already decapitated.
Today’s religious fascists have strongholds in Spain, Greece and in Romania. The Spanish Popular Party, like the New Democracy Party of Greece, accepted many of them and the associated clerics within its ranks. Although these parties are directly responsible for the construction boom going bust ( Spain) or the debt-fuelled economic growth (Greece), they viciously attack their respective socialist governments for trying to clean up the mess they left behind. These two parties’ current leaders allow religious fascists from their ranks to openly promote religious intolerance and bigotry in the purest medieval style possible. Following in the footsteps of the George W Bush administration, they rubbish political opponents and try to convince the community (in Europe, mind you) that “Obama is a Moslem” – a tactic first used by Rush Limbaugh in the US.
Using voters’ religious sentiments for political ends has always been a bad idea on our continent. For countries like Romania, the re-emergence of religious fascism is extremely alarming. In a sad turn of events, politicians like George Becali have been elected to the European Parliament. Moreover, thousands of unsuspecting Romanians are being bussed yearly on religious pilgrimages to Greek monasteries, believing that they are reinforcing Orthodox solidarity among Balkan people. In fact, they spend their precious cash in the areas where local religious extremists have their businesses.
Pope John Paul II threw the support of the Catholic Church behind neoliberalism and the Washington consensus. These days, it is hard to gauge where the current pope stands, but it looks as if the Vatican is tacitly supporting religious fanaticism and bigotry, together with their political representatives in European politics. The same seems to be true of the Orthodox hierarchy, in countries like Serbia, Greece and Romania, whose populations are poorer and more xenophobic than in other European Union member countries.
The re-emergence of religious fascism in any shape or manner should be resolutely dealt with by Brussels, in full co-operation with the Union’s national governments. The EU’s authorities could, for example, use the opportunity afforded by the approval of financial aid packages to press for the removal of religious fascist activists from mainstream politics in the countries affected. Religious leaders should be reminded by the Union’s moderate politicians that Christianity is about “love thy neighbour” and tolerance for other people’s beliefs, religious or otherwise. Failure to address the problem now would only make matters worse, as vulnerable and gullible people are not in short supply and, in this tense economic context, they could and are easily manipulated to back unscrupulous politicians, political violence and intolerance.