Europe’s New Divide

Europe’s New Divide

How can you doubt the progressive nature of NATO missiles when they are blessed by Europe’s socialists and the radical heroes of the sixties?


How can you doubt the progressive nature of NATO missiles when they are blessed by Europe’s socialists and the radical heroes of the sixties? To say that the leftish governments of Western Europe long ago lost any connection with socialism or that Daniel Cohn-Bendit, once known as Danny the Red, is not the first turncoat in revolutionary history would be a correct but insufficient answer. One must also explain why the protest movement against the bombing has not been louder and wider at a time when it is becoming increasingly obvious that what is at stake in this conflict–even more than the Kosovo tragedy–is the prospect of a US-led NATO acting as a world gendarme and the formation of a new Holy Alliance for the post-cold war period.

One explanation is the climate of public opinion. Shaped by a moral pressure that unscrupulously relies on the ghost of Hitler as well as the Holocaust, and an undeniable bias in the media, the mood here is quite similar to that on your side of the ocean. Milosevic is rightly branded as a bloody purger–but strangely singled out, as though "ethnic cleansing" were an exclusively Serbian disease. This distorted picture has had an impact. Here in France, for instance, where the war was first greeted with strong reservations, the horrors of deportation shown on the little screen day after day did sway the public in favor of intervention. But the mood is now slowly changing as people begin to grasp that the "credibility of NATO" matters more to the Allies than the fate of the Kosovars or the lives of the Serbs. As the bombing of Yugoslavia claims more and more victims, the spin doctors in Brussels can no longer get away with "collateral damage" and the rest of the slick, antiseptic vocabulary of computerized slaughter.

The alignment of the European socialists behind the US leader is not really surprising, and the British poodle, often barking louder than the master, shows the reason. Tony Blair’s Third Way, stripped of propaganda, is really the American model adapted for European consumption, and New Labor was, therefore, naturally enthusiastic about any scheme aiming at Euratlantic rule. While other socialists were less eager to follow the American example, they never offered an alternative project, and so, when it came to choosing sides, they opted for NATO command over Europe today and over the world tomorrow. (It is interesting that this recipe for US domination is greeted much more critically throughout Asia and in the Muslim Middle East.)

What is striking in Europe is the absence of differences between left and right within the establishment. On this issue nothing separates Lionel Jospin, the Socialist Prime Minister, from President Jacques Chirac, allegedly Gaullist, though his acceptance of American pre-eminence must have General de Gaulle spinning in his grave. The phenomenon of Social Democrats rallying to the Atlantic banner is not really a novelty. The leaders of the Greens, on the other hand, show on this occasion the zeal of new converts. Not that their conversion has been sudden or limited to military matters. The street-fighting days of Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister, or of Cohn-Bendit, who will lead the French Greens in the June elections to Europe’s Parliament, seem very far away. For them one must reserve the famous words of Shelley to Wordsworth, meant for all those who forsake their earlier principles: "Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,/Thus, having been, that thou shouldst cease to be."

But if Germany’s Green leaders have become "realistic," the rank and file are reluctant to give up their pacifist traditions. At a tense special congress, held in Bielefeld on May 13, 42 percent of the votes were cast for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire. The leadership survived, winning 58 percent for a provisional halt in the NATO bombing aimed at facilitating talks–a sop to the dissidents that is not binding on the foreign minister.

If the war goes on, piling up corpses and leaving the Kosovars to rot in refugee camps, the Greens will split (leading Gerhard Schröder to seek a coalition with the Christian Democrats)–and not just in Germany. Nor will they be the only party of the left to be torn asunder. The French Communists will not be able to keep up their acrobatic performance, marching in the protests against the bombing while Communist ministers remain in the government firing the missiles. In Italy, where the antiwar movement is strongest (except for Greece, a separate case for nationalist and religious reasons), the converted Communists in Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema’s ruling coalition may not be able to stick together, in which case the government will fall.

It would be utterly wrong to give the impression that all the European leftists favoring intervention are timeservers or apparatchiks. The left is bewildered and divided because it is struck by the horrors of the war and by its own impotence. The antiwar movement is relatively weak because it has no certitudes to offer. It must condemn both Milosevic the purger and the NATO bombers, while the advocates of war claim to be the knights in shining armor. They don the mantle of champions of the Rights of Man, while the antiwar movement points out that you can’t have universal laws based on double standards, one for Kosovars and another for Rwandans, Kurds and Palestinians. Indeed, one role of the peace movement is to reveal the real issues beneath the hypocritical smokescreen. Aside from that, because it is not yet strong enough to impose its own solutions, it is reduced to a minimum program, designed to give peace a chance–stop the bombing and introduce troops genuinely not under NATO command to supervise the return of refugees.

Although the antiwar movement is only gathering momentum, it already foreshadows entirely new cleavages. The Kosovo conflict, one unavowed purpose of which is to institutionalize NATO as an instrument of US hegemony, may have the opposite effect. The protesters who are seeking universal human rights and a European policy that is really independent are rapidly discovering that they will not redress the imbalance by building a stronger European pillar of NATO. To question US domination one must challenge the social order it seeks to impose throughout the world, and this can be done only by offering an alternative project, carrying the vision of a radically different society. Nor is it paradoxical that those who think in those terms regard the US antiwar movement as potentially their most important ally. For nothing dooms the United States to be eternally the international gendarme, the keeper of the old order in the new millennium.

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