Or: why is the Left so silent on the rise of intolerance in Central and Eastern Europe?
Over the weekend I wrote to Norman Geras - author of Normblog, Britain’s best political blog and co-author of the much talked about Euston Manifesto (more of which later) – informing him of the Tolerance Parade this weekend in Warsaw. I asked him about the lack of coverage on the Left in Britain about Poland’s rising xenophobia and homophobia when they are very active highlighting other bigotry – or what some call Islamofascism.
Being the gentleman he is, Mr Geras emailed promptly: ‘It only needs someone to draw attention to it.’, he said.
He also wrote a short post on the subject, which you can see here.
And thanks for that.
But. Quite apart from the fact that there has been quite a lot about the homophobic nature of the present government in the international news media, and some of the coalition’s dubious members (but still little comment from the British left) my point was slightly broader than a few Polish queer bashers.
The close relationship between the government and the ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja; the fact that the two deputy prime ministers are from the far-right and left extremes with views that the Euston Manifesto group would feel very uneasy about; the fears of countries like Israel about the new coalition; the continued lack of abortion rights for women, one in five out of work, (the harassment by the police of dog owners when they let their dogs of the leash!)…you would think the European left would be screaming with outrage.
But, strangely, it’s only a few gay activists who have been doing the shouting. From the left, hardly a squeak.
The Euston Manifesto
Born in a pub in Euston, north London, the Euston Manifesto is a statement of principles by what could be called left wing neo-con bloggers and the odd journo columnist. It’s a reaction to the anti-Iraq war left of George Galloway and the strange alliances with religious bigots, and a welcome anecdote to the relativism of much of the touchy-feely liberal-left. They stand for the values of the Enlightenment and universal human rights.
So far, so good, so necessary. Though it is written in the shadow of Islamic fundamentalism it is meant to be applicable to all societies at all times.
On human rights:
We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal, and binding on all states and political movements, indeed on everyone. Violations of these rights are equally to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context.
Of course it is against racism of all sorts, including anti-Semitism. On equality in general:
We look towards progress in relations between the sexes (until full gender equality is achieved), between different ethnic communities, between those of various religious affiliations and those of none, and between people of diverse sexual orientations…
On freedom of ideas:
We uphold the traditional liberal freedom of ideas. It is more than ever necessary today to affirm that, within the usual constraints against defamation, libel and incitement to violence, people must be at liberty to criticize ideas - even whole bodies of ideas - to which others are committed. This includes the freedom to criticize religion: particular religions and religion in general. Respect for others does not entail remaining silent about their beliefs where these are judged to be wanting.
All quite obvious stuff, really. The controversial bit is that it is really a justification for humanitarian interventionism –something that began when these people supported NATO action against the Serbs during the Balkans conflict. And now they support the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Islamofascism is what they fear most and they support secular groups within countries fighting the oppression of religious extremism and dictatorship.
While nobody would be that silly to pretend that conditions in Poland or eatern Germany, Romania, Russia – all formal democracies – are anything like as bad as what people have to suffer in much of the middle east and elsewhere in the developing world, there are issues, applicable to the Manifesto, that you would think the British and other European left would be interested in. But apart from the occasional mention in the occasional blog, there has not been very much interest at all.
One of those issues is homophobia and the Tolerance Parade on Saturday. Nobody is asking people who support things like the Euston Manifesto to call for George Bush and Tony Blair to invade Poland (!) but a little political support would be nice.
Another arrest linked to fascist Internet site, Radio Polonia, June 5
Poland: Official Homophobia Threatens Basic Freedoms, Reuters AlerNet, June 5
Anti-semitism live, Guardian, June 5
Polish President Promised US to Calm Down Extreme Right, Axis, June 5