What if Putin was right?

July 31, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

Following the recent events in Crimea, President Vladimir Putin continues to insist on the neo-Nazi threat, not just in Ukraine but throughout Europe. He expressed these concerns at a meeting with chief rabbis from Europe and Israel, where he reaffirmed that the revival of fascist and neo-Nazi ideas was a dangerous trend that needed to be tackled with the greatest urgency, and thanked the rabbis for their help in the fight.

The following day, rabbis flew to Sevastopol to partake in the annual Remembrance Day, organized by the local Jewish community to commemorate the deaths of the 4,200 Jews that were murdered there by Nazi forces in 1942. The Holocaust memorial has been vandalized with swastika graffiti and neo-Nazi slogans several times in the past.

Though some are skeptical of the Russian President’s claims that fascism is growing in Europe, is there some truth to this trend?

Europe’s number one enemy

During Ukraine’s revolution, there were a numerous reports of further anti-Semitic instances including the burning down of two synagogues and Molotov cocktails being thrown at another synagogue in the southern city of Nikolayev. In response to a reported increase in anti-Semitic incidents, Germany made a decision to ease immigration restriction for Jews coming from Ukraine, as thousands from the country’s Jewish community pack up their things and flee.

The disturbing evidence of neo-Nazi factions in Ukraine, many of which helped to overthrow the Yanukovych regime but have now gone rogue, has come to be recognized by the international community as well.

Beyond Ukraine, recent events indicate that the extreme right has made inroads in Western Europe as well. The May 2014 European Parliament elections saw far-right parties “march on Brussels” and gain a record 52 seats.  Although not all of these parties carry with them anti-Semitic traits, France’s Front National, which was the outright winner in France, sending 24 MEP’s in Brussels, the Greek Golden Dawn party, and the National Democratic Party of Germany, are known for their neo-Nazi past and ideas. 

While Marine le Pen’s Front National failed to gather enough allies to form a parliamentary group, there is no doubt that these newcomers will continue to wreck havoc in the EP, and their very existence in the EU order have sparked concern among Jewish communities who feel increasingly threatened.

To make matters worse, in July 2014, neo-Nazi MEP Udo Voigt took his seat on the Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee.  Known for his appraisals of Hitler and Holocaust denial, Voigt’s appointment is a new blow to Jewish communities in Europe and an outrage considering his continued efforts to “undermine [civil liberties] and to purvey a racist and intolerant agenda”, as a European Jewish Congress Spokesman has put it. 

Where is Europe’s political ammunition?

The persistent anti-Semitic acts taking place in Europe, evidenced by the shooting at a Brussels Jewish Museum that killed four, attacks on Jewish communities and synagogues in Paris, and the Greek Golden Dawns’ racial assaults (not to mention their swastika look-alike flag and Hitler salutes) stand as clear indications of unjustified and disturbing attacks on Jews.  The current Gaza crisis only continues to exacerbate these tendencies, with Jewish communities increasingly being blamed and targeted for the actions of the Israeli government. 

President of the European Jewish Congress blames the rise of the extreme right on Europe’s passivity and failure to address citizens concerns, claiming that “the European Union is supposed to be the bulwark against the rise of racism and intolerance but it has become the catalyst for the justification of its citizens to vote for extremists and racists”.

The reality is that today, whether in Ukraine or in the EU, fascism and anti-Semitism is gaining ground and Europe’s leaders must do more to battle with xenophobia through education and legislation, rather than remain passive in the eyes of these disturbing threats. After all, history has taught us that silence can be a very dangerous sound.

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