How would you react if I told you that we are on the edge of a familiar precipice, ready to plunge into a past we desperately want to forget?
The current rise and growth of far-right parties in Europe present alarming parallels with the period preceding the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s. It’s a scary idea and, at the same time, perhaps too unimaginable to be true. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we confront this fear and explore these uncomfortable truths.
First and foremost, let’s be clear: we’re not claiming that history repeats itself exactly or that it will repeat in the near future. However, there are patterns, signs, and alarm signals that we cannot ignore. One of the most disturbing is the language used by politicians.
Language becomes a weapon
In the 1930s, when the Nazis came to power, language was used as a weapon. Hitler and his followers used powerful and emotional rhetoric to win people over to their ideology. They spread fear, agitation, and hostility towards “the other” – primarily Jews, but also other minority groups. They employed images and metaphors that evoked these emotions, creating a hostile and divided climate.
In the 1930s, Hitler and his Nazi party manipulated language to create a toxic atmosphere of hatred and hostility. Let’s look at two striking examples.
One of the most striking and troubling examples is the use of the term “Untermensch.” This word, which literally means “subhuman,” was used by the Nazis to dehumanize Jews and other minority groups. It suggested that these individuals were inferior, not truly human. Imagine how it feels to be labeled like that, constantly seen as “lesser than others.” This kind of language creates an atmosphere of fear and hatred. It divides people and creates an environment conducive to terrible things.
Another example is the use of the term “Lebensraum,” which means “living space.” Hitler used this concept to justify the expansion of the German Empire. He claimed that the German people needed more space to live and grow, and that it had to come at the expense of other peoples and nations. This idea was used as a justification for aggression and war, portraying “the other” as an obstacle to be eliminated. This rhetoric helped create a climate where violence and conquest were considered normal, even necessary.
These two examples demonstrate the power of language. How it can be used to manipulate, oppress, and destroy. They remind us that we must always be vigilant, pay attention to the words used and how they are used. Because, as we have learned from the past, language can be a weapon – and a dangerous one at that.
The resurgence of far-right parties…
We are witnessing the reappearance of this kind of discourse. Across Europe, far-right parties are using similar rhetoric to instill fear and hostility towards immigrants and refugees. They portray them as a “threat” to our culture, our security, our way of life. They use words like “invasion,” “mass immigration,” and “Islamization” – words that evoke powerful emotions and pit people against each other.
Unfortunately, it is not difficult to find examples of similar rhetoric used by far-right parties in our contemporary politics. Let’s focus on two specific examples, one from the Netherlands and another from France.
In the Netherlands, we have Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV). Wilders is known for his vehement rhetoric against Islam and immigrants, with statements that often provoke shocking reactions. He has compared the Quran to Mein Kampf and called for “de-Islamization” of the Netherlands. He has spoken about the “tsunami” of Islamization that would engulf Europe. This rhetoric aims to incite fear and hostility towards a specific group of people based on their religion and origin.
In France, we see a similar rhetoric with Marine Le Pen and her party, the National Rally (formerly known as the National Front). Le Pen has repeatedly spoken out against immigration and propagated the idea that France is being “invaded” by immigrants who threaten French culture and identity. She has claimed that France is being “swamped” by immigrants and emphasized the need for “national preference.”
In both cases, we see how far-right parties use language to create an atmosphere of fear and hostility. They paint a picture of “us” versus “them,” presenting “them” as a threat to be fought against. It’s alarming to see how similar this rhetoric is to that of the 1930s. It reminds us of the importance of remaining vigilant, recognizing what is happening, and taking action before it’s too late.
Beyond language… a growing concern
But it goes far beyond mere language… It’s a reality that evokes an increasing sense of anxiety. This type of rhetoric is often followed by policies that legitimize and reinforce this hostility. We witness increasingly stringent immigration laws, relentless attacks on minority rights, and a constant exacerbation of inequalities and divisions within our society.
What does all this mean? It means we must remain constantly vigilant, on guard. We need to recognize and take seriously these warning signals that resonate with a growing concern. Underestimating the power of words is out of the question, as they shape our perceptions and actions.
Let’s be honest: considering these troubling parallels is more than just worrisome. It stirs within us a palpable anxiety, a lingering worry about the potential consequences. Yet, we cannot afford to look away, to succumb to resignation. For if we yield to apathy, we risk repeating the mistakes of the past, witnessing the resurgence of harmful deviations.
History is a teacher, but only if we are willing to listen with keen attention. Let us not disregard this resonating lesson within us. Let us maintain unwavering vigilance, sharpened awareness. And despite these torments, let us keep a glimmer of hope alive within us. Because when we are conscious of these signals, we can act to counter them, to shape together a better future imbued with wisdom gleaned from the lessons of the past.