Europe’s culture wars
This session is part of Battle of Ideas Berlin. Entry is free. More details at MeetUp
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was greeted with elation, as many observers saw the ‘reunification’ of Europe as the fulfilment of the continent’s destiny as a beacon of democracy, liberalism and enlightenment. ‘Now what belongs together will grow together’, declared former German chancellor Willy Brandt that autumn.
A generation later, many observers look at the newest developments with a trepidation that recalls the height of the Cold War. The spectre haunting Europe is not communism but populism, which many feel has been spreading from the East to the West. ‘Viktor Orban is Europe’s enemy within’, claims political scientist Jan-Werner Müller, while the EU Observer sees Orban’s election victory in Hungary in April as a boost to Europe’s populist forces.
And indeed, several European states now have governments that have been termed populist, illiberal or chauvinistic. The list now includes Italy, Austria – and even some German federal states like Saxony, where the AfD made great gains, too. Imperceptibly, a silent and not-so-silent culture war has erupted, with allusions to the Weimar Republic and dark forebodings about a new totalitarianism.
While each country is, of course, quite different, the issues driving the changes seem to be surprisingly similar: a rejection of the EU and of mass immigration. What can we make of the changes taking place? No one can deny that the rise of the so-called populists has also opened up the debate. But is this debate going in the right direction? Are we experiencing a new backwardness or a democratic awakening?