Euro elections 2014 were a political flatulence

Translation of Marko Maunula‘s column “Eurovaalitulos on poliittinen pieru” that was published on the website of Suomen Kuvalehti on May 29, 2014.

This piece compares modern-day Europe with the time of the Great Northward Migration in the USA that took place in the 1910s and 1920s. Some good webpages on this important period include: Jill Lepore’s New Yorker article “The Uprooted” and Prof. James N. Gregory’s website about his book “The Southern Diaspora” (photos and links)

The right-wing populists and euro-skeptics had a great win in the 2014 Euro-Parliament elections of the European Union. But does that really mean anything?

The Front National took a fourth of the votes in France. The Danish People’s Party did even better and the Independence Party in the Britain got a genuine jackpot. The Golden Dawn, an openly fascist Greek party, got a ten percent share of votes.

Now the representatives doubting the whole European project have 108 of the 751 seats in the European Parliament. That means that those ultimately believing in the unity of the continent are holding on with 643 seats.

Europe has been in the midst of a serious crisis for a good half a decade. The various issues that have tested the stability of Europe: the economic disaster in the Mediterranean Europe, the wave of immigrants, the conflicts between the leading economies in Europe, the flexing of Russia, the intensified criticism on the Euro currency, the rapid changes in the values and economy. The state of crisis has become the default modus operandi of Europe, and yet, the opponents of EU got only some 14 percent of the representatives in the EU Parliament.


There is no way back to nationalism and that is definitely a good thing.

Populists are grasping at straws and offer easy answers, but their appeal, fortunately, quite limited.

Those vying for the return of Mark in Finland, the populists on the left and on the right, often take Sweden as an example for us: its successes are because of holding on to krona. But, in fact, Sweden has restructured its economy with a heavy hand in the last decades and driven its economy much to the right.

The current situation in Europe offers interesting parallels with the America – but the one from a hundred year ago.

Today’s Europe and the United States a fair hundred years ago both well remembered the bloodiest wars of their continents. Having survived the wars, both realized that peace, if it is to endure, requires a closer-knit geographic identity and integration. After the civil war, the USA was no more “a union of states”; “These United States” was passed to history having been replaced by “The United States”. Europe embarked on its way towards EU.

The United States in the early decades of 1900s and Europe today were in the midst of an enormous demographic and economic upheaval. The northern cities, previously purely white, Anglo-Saxon and protestant, got their streets trampled by millions and millions of Russian, Polish, Italian, Jewish, Finnish and other types of immigrants. Chicago became the world’s second largest city of the Polish people. One of the largest mass migrations in the world’s history was the moving of the African-American from the farming country of the South to the industrial cities of the North.

Posing in blackface for a Chicago Daily News feature in 1929, Freeman Gosden and Richard Correll were the voices behind Amos ‘n’ Andy, the most popular program on radio. The nightly radio skits helped change understandings of American racial geography while disseminating powerful images of black southerners in the big cities of the North. (Chicago Historical Society)

The boom of industrialization in the United States in the early 1900s and the decay of old industries in modern Europe were the causes of great economic and societal problems. The passing of the old ways of living and the economic uncertainty were the main problems that fueled the far-ends of the political spectrum – and became the things that populists aptly exploited.

The protest movement by the farmers demanded inflation-powered financing in the US, not much unlike many in the European left who are now demanding more government spending by printing money. Socialists and anarchists raged against capitalism in waves of crippling strikes. This was the golden era of the American left.

Ku Klux Klan protested against the change from the right. The Klan’s popularity and power were the strongest in the 1920s. It preached anti-semitism, anti-Catholicism and hatred of migrants, and that was what millions of Anglo-Americans, terrified by the increasing ethnic diversity of “their” America, were prone to listen. An anti-immigration stand is now the shared war cry of today’s right-wing populists in Europe.


What is the meaning of all this?

America came through these problems of change. It did require difficult decisions and took several decades but the nation was welded as one. Time worked its magic and Americanization happened.

This is the fate of Europe as well. Although, Europe’s different kind of history and the background of the immigrants can make the change more challenging there.

Former president of Finland Mauno Koivisto once called the youth radicalism the flatulence of the welfare state. This election was a populist fart. It stinks, but eventually it helps Europe get its digestion working again.