March 4, 2010
According to Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian Prime Minister who now leads the Liberals in the European Parliament, “The ultimate consequences of identity thinking are the gas chambers of Auschwitz“.
Politicians should be careful about dragging Holocaust references into everyday arguments. Even Churchill – who arguably had more right to make such references than the rest of us – suffered when he tried to draw a parallel between socialism and the Gestapo during the 1945 election campaign. Yet Euro-integrationists make the link so habitually and so matter-of-factly that they no longer realise what they’re doing.
During the last session of the European Parliament, both the Liberal and Socialist leaders said that Euro-sceptic MEPs made them think of the Nazis (see here). And who can forget the words of Margot Wallström, then Sweden’s European Commissioner, at the anniversary of the liberation of the Theresienstandt concentration camp: “There are those today who want to scrap the supra-national idea. They want the EU to go back to the old purely intergovernmental way of doing things. I say those people should come to Terezin and see where that old road leads.”
I am uncomfortable drawing contemporary political lessons from the Nazi genocide: I still can’t get this photograph out of my mind. But, if we must,*let us consider the Wallström-Verhofstadt theory that nationalism causes genocide. Something that struck me, both at Yad Vashem and when reading Robert Wistricht’s brilliant factual*chronicle, Hitler and the Holocaust, is that national sovereignty was often the only defence against the murderers. Almost all European states, including fascist and Quisling regimes, recognised their responsibility to their own passport-holders. The Jews who were most at risk of deportation were those who had arrived as refugees. The Nazis realised this which is why one of their first acts, on occupying a country, was usually to declare all Jews stateless.
Nation-states have, over the years, been a pretty sturdy defence against totalitarian ideologies, whether*fascism, Soviet Communism*or jihadi fundamentalism. Rooted as it is in organic loyalties, the nation is a naturally democratic unit. This is not to say that all nation-states are liberal democracies; simply that ideologies which claim to be bigger than national allegiances can be dangerous. They can even lead, as Mr Verhofstadt really ought to know, to mass murder.