Freedom Marches Out of Europe
In his Second Inaugural, American President George Bush declared: “We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom.” His ultimate goal, as his inaugural speech proclaimed: “ending tyranny in our world.”
The slogan of the Bush presidency is, “Freedom is on the march.” Survey some of the world’s hotspots, and it appears Mr. Bush has cause to be optimistic. As columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote, the president’s “great project”—the “strengthening and spread of democracy”—is “enjoying considerable success” (January 21). He pointed to the Ukraine presidential election and the break from authoritarianism in Georgia—two former Soviet republics. Islamic parties were soundly defeated in Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s most recent elections. Then of course, there were the democratic elections in Afghanistan, among the Palestinians, and in Iraq.
From all this, one might assume that democracy—a term President Bush equates with freedom—is taking over the world.
But there is great danger in being lulled by that thinking. Two places in the world, in particular, point to just the opposite. One is in Russia, where, as we have reported in the Trumpet, President Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power has infused many with pessimism about democracy’s staying power. This is perhaps the most obvious of the two. The other, more hidden and ultimately far more dangerous area where freedom is not on the march is Europe.
Stunning reports emerging from the Continent demonstrate that the only march freedom is doing is marching out.
Take European leaders’ approach to the new constitution as a frightening example.
A newly published Eurobarometer poll found that only 11 percent of Europeans feel they know the contents of the proposed constitution of the European Union. Conversely, fully 33 percent have never heard of it. In individual nations, the numbers are even more startling: 50 percent of Britons, 45 percent of Irish and 39 percent of Portuguese are unaware of the constitutional treaty.
These statistics have Eurocrats reeling. It’s time to educate the public, they say. After all, nine of the 25 countries are set to have referenda over whether they ratify the constitution. Members of European Parliament (meps) called for an “information campaign,” but recent reports suggest that this is but a palatable modern term for good old-fashioned propaganda. The European Commission has agreed to pump €8 million (us$10.4 million) into these campaigns.
In the Netherlands, the government has already agreed to divide €1 million (us$1.3 million) equally between the “yes” and “no” campaigns. But in case the campaign against the constitution does particularly well, the Dutch cabinet has set aside €1.5 million (us$1.96 million) to fight it. Though the cabinet is receiving flak for how much money it wants to put into the “yes” campaign, it shows that Europhiles are willing to spare no expense to ensure the European Union constitution does not fail.
In Belgium, in fact, they are so determined the public not reject the constitution that they’ve actually cancelled the referendum—afraid a conservative political party might sway people against the charter.
In Spain, however—where 80 percent of the citizens think favorably of the EU—leaders were sure the public’s acceptance of the constitution would send a strong message. No surprise, then, that they had a referendum there.
The constitution must be ratified by all 25 member states before it can come into effect. Some nations have chosen to accept the constitution via parliamentary vote—Lithuania, Hungary and Slovenia already have. Italy is close.
Now, to further “educate” the masses, the EU has another splendid idea that will send freedom marching out of Europe. The European Parliament is setting up a “rapid reaction force”—a group of eight meps who battle any “lies” that are spread about the EU constitution. No one is defending the new constitution, they argue. So members of Parliament will “pick up” any information about the constitution they consider to be a lie and pass it back to this “force”—consisting of meps rabidly supportive of the constitution. The force will surely dress up the constitution in a manner it sees fit for public consumption.
Didn’t these types of shenanigans perish with Hitler and his spin-doctor Goebbels? Apparently not. As a Danish Euroskeptic mep said, “You can’t have a rapid reaction force with taxpayers’ money and represent only one view—it’s a totalitarian tendency” (Times, London, January 21).
This rapid-reaction-force concept is largely a reaction to the British press, which has now been accused of being unfair in its coverage of the EU. Britain’s media giant, the bbc, was criticized for its “unintentional bias and ignorance in its coverage of EU affairs” (www.EUobserver.com, January 28). A report by an “independent agency,” unnamed by EUobserver, found that the bbc had “an institutional mindset, a tendency to polarize and oversimplify issues” and also was guilty of “a failure to report issues that ought to be reported, perhaps out of belief they are not sufficiently entertaining” (ibid.).
Might they be lodging these accusations just because the British media aren’t as gung-ho about the Union as the Eurocrats would like? We can now see how the British press, somewhat skeptical of the EU, is starting to clash with the propaganda/spin-driven European press.
Another example of Europe’s march toward totalitarianism is the new legislation being floated threatening certain “freedoms” that Mr. Bush would consider universal. Remember the recent outcry in Europe when Prince Harry wore a swastika to a party? Well, legislators started talking about banning the swastika, among other symbols. Now, in Germany particularly—where, in February, neo-Nazis audaciously held rallies commemorating the 60th anniversary of Dresden’s bombing by Allied forces—parliament is discussing altering the “right of assembly.”
Both these actions, however practical or likely, show a dangerous trend. The world may not likely see it that way—after all, the Germans are doing it to squash Nazi sentiment—but let’s not be deceived! If they ban the swastika, what other symbols or expressions might they ban? If they limit the right of assembly for neo-Nazi rallies, who’s to say that these precedents couldn’t be used to ban the Jews’ or Muslims’ right of assembly? As Winston Churchill would say, “It’s not the thing, it’s the kind of thing.”
Berlin’s move to limit the right of assembly is particularly ominous. In an effort to restrict rallies that glorify Adolf Hitler, Berlin ironically is resorting to the same methods Hitler used. Even Germany’s Deutsche Welle noted: “In an attempt to stem the swell of popularity for the neo-Nazis, it is considering a move that was last initiated by Adolf Hitler himself after he was made chancellor in January 1933. After the burning of the Reichstag in February of that year, Hitler suspended parts of the Weimar Constitution which included Article 123—the right of assembly. … In its efforts to combat the rise of the far-right, Germany’s government could find itself in danger of curbing civil rights in a way National Socialism’s founding fathers achieved over 70 years ago” (February 15).
Something is marching in Europe—but, despite President Bush’s optimism, it certainly isn’t freedom or democratic ideals. The cheers for democracy’s spread to once-tyrannized states will soon be overtaken by alarm of outright totalitarianism now taking hold on the Continent. An enemy far more perilous is strengthening—under the guise of democracy—and will prove to be America’s number-one nemesis in just a few short years!