By Hans Vogel
It seems outrageous to assert European rulers are stupid, yet there is no other qualification that better describes their current behaviour. You want proof? I shall give you proof.
Confronted with the biggest crisis of capitalism in more than a century, hardly any single politician currently in power in any European nation has had the courage to call a spade a spade and to tell the electorate what is going on. Not a single politician has told his voters: “we are in deep trouble, things are going to be even worse and no one knows when and where this will end. We are at loss, we don't know what is happening nor what measures to take, but please, let's stick together and ride out the storm. We will do everything in our power to ensure you and your loved ones will be safe. We can give no guarantees, we will protect you from harm as much as we can, but you must support us.” As a matter of fact, that would be the ONLY sensible and decent thing to say. Because, let there be no mistake about it, most societies in Europe are in jeopardy of utter desolation, of dissolution even.
Those in power are fully aware of this, but they don't know what to do. They are afraid—no, correction, terrified—of being thrown out of office by popular rebellion. I guess this is the only thing they are sure about since, like all political animals, they have developed a keen sense of danger, especially concerning their own survival. The governments of Iceland and Latvia, two small, peripheral countries, have already been brought down by angry crowds. It is merely a matter of speculation when the next government will fall. It is certain that more will follow the fate of the Latvian and Icelandic rulers.
When the government of the first major European country is toppled, this may be unleash a full-scale European revolution comparable to the great 18th and 19th century revolutions sweeping across the continent. We may indeed be witnessing the beginning of a profound change. As a matter of fact in Europe, such changes tend to take place every four or five generations, that means every century or so. However, these changes never coincide with the calendar, occurring instead some ten to fifteen years before or after turns of centuries.
Great Britain looks like the first candidate for violent change in the coming months. Already there is talk of an upcoming “Summer of Rage,” starting when the G-20 leaders will meet in London at the beginning of April. British authorities are certainly bracing themselves for what is coming, with 130.000 heavily armed policemen nationwide ready to quell street revolts. If that will not prove to be enough, army units will be deployed. Indeed, the British army has broad experience in controlling urban crowds. After all, that is essentially what the army has been doing all those years in Northern Ireland and Iraq (Basrah). Students are angry and have been occupying some 30 universities in protest against British government support of Israel trying to revive the Warsaw Ghetto in the Gaza strip. Pensioners are angry and desperate, the middle classes are fearful of joining the proletarian masses in Britain's horrid slums, and the millions of Muslims in Britain are also enraged. In short, Britain is a powder keg just waiting to explode.
Like the British, the French are angry. Despite the bitter cold only a few weeks ago, there have already been mass demonstrations against government policies, mobilizing millions of people. The French are particularly worried at President Sarkozy's agenda for converting France into a bastion of anglosaxon neoliberal capitalism precisely at the moment when this economic model has shown to be every bit as faulty as rigid stalinism. And let us not forget that in the 2005 referendum, the French massively rejected the proposed European “constitution!” Barely two years later, in 2007, the French government signed the Treaty of Lisbon, which is essentially the rejected constitution with some minor cosmetic adaptations. What a way to betray the voters! Such behaviour will certainly be punished one day, and that day might be nearer than many think.
Looking around, it is plain to see that many Europeans are enraged at their governments. They feel betrayed and left in the lurch. The Germans—beware when they get angry—are enraged about the imminent collapse of their fine industrial base. Germany is still one of the world's major powerhouses of industry and its demise would entail the end of Germany. The Ossis (the inhabitants of the former German Democratic Republic) have long been angry since 1989 for being relegated to the status of second-class citizens in Europe's richest country.
Many Italians are feeling cheated by Berlusconi and are angry, the Irish are enraged and desperate and barely a week ago came out in massive numbers to protest against the government's austerity measures. The Greeks (at least the younger ones, unable to find jobs), have practically destroyed the inner city of Athens in weeks of angry protests. The Spaniards (for instance the Galicians and the Basques) have expressed their anger at the polls last Sunday March 1, voting for parties that aim to turn Galicia and the Basque country into independent states.
On that same day, March 1, the leaders of the EU decided to leave the poor Eastern Europeans to their own devices. This betrayal is especially bitter, since the Eastern Europeans, after decades of hardship and isolation, had been putting all their hopes on their ties with Europe. Heaven knows what will happen next in the streets of Budapest and Sofia, in Croatia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. Millions will be thrown into misery as local factories producing goods with cheap labour are being closed. If anything, the current fate of Eastern Europe is telling proof of the bankruptcy of the “European Union.” Eastern European countries, eager to shake off their past and to join “Europe” have been exploited mercilessly for the benefit of ruthless “Western” capitalists.
The only European nation with a brighter outlook is Russia. Its leadership is responsible and competent and the country is basically self-sufficient as far as energy and basic needs are concerned. Perhaps Norway shares this distinction, but that is about all. Note that neither Russia nor Norway are members of the “European Union.” The rest of Europe is in deep trouble and will be in even deeper trouble within a few months.
The present-day situation in Europe shows some striking parallels to the situation prevailing in France just prior to the revolution of 1789. The rulers have no clue as to what is happening, let alone as to what is brewing under the surface. They are merely gripped with a general sense of fear and apprehension. The chasm between rich and poor has been widening at an accelerated pace. The elites have been engaging in an orgy of conspicuous consumption, spending themselves silly, surrendering to debauchery, neglecting the education of their children, in apparent denial of the fact that the wheel of fortune tends to turn eventually, be it ever so slowly.
With poverty spreading and increasing, the middle (or professional) classes are becoming terrified of losing their livelihoods and joining the urban poor. Just look around you and you will see this happening already. People are being forced out of their homes because they can no longer afford the mortgage. Millions have been losing their jobs since the crisis began late last summer and millions will follow. Pensions have been eaten away as a result of the stock markets losing 50% of their value in a matter of months. While for the moment, prices seem to be stable or even dropping in some instances, hyperinflation is on its way. Governments have found no better answer than to slash spending for social services, health care and education, while giving big handouts to irresponsible, corrupt and spendthrift bankers. A volcano of rage is brewing under the surface, mainly visible in the form of angry comments on news sites and blogs.
The media do not report what is going on. No wonder, since most mediaoutlets are state-owned, state-influenced or mercenary. Serious, critical journalism has all but vanished. However, at the margins there is still some of it left, mainly in the form of weblogs and sites for civic journalism. By trying to achieve full spectrum media control over the past decades, governments have blinded themselves as to what the public thinks. They have absolutely no idea about the extent to which people despise them or even hate them. How stupid indeed! Today, no government in Europe is being taken seriously by anything resembling a plurality, let alone a majority of the citizens. Most people no longer believe anything the government tells them. Grudgingly, they pay their taxes and assorted fines, often exceeding 60% of what they earn, because they simply have no choice. Taxes are universally high, but nothing is being offered in return. Quite the contrary, over the past decades, most European governments have become channels for the distribution of tax money to the corporate world. Crime is on the rise, the streets are insecure. Invoking the bogus War on Terror unleashed by their masters in Washington, European governments have turned entire populations into suspects. As a matter of fact, every citizen in almost every European nation is under constant surveillance by the police and the secret services who are listening in on his phone conversations, reading his emails and checking the web sites he visits. No wonder respect for authorities has been universally replaced by contempt.
Governments and elites, badly educated and woefully shortsighted as they are, not only are ignorant about their own history, but they have apparently forgotten the basics of traditional European civility and decency, that mix of Christianity, folk wisdom and plain common sense. Ah, yes, of course, they might never have learnt these in the first place. Such as the maxim “noblesse oblige,” (with nobility come responsibilities), meaning that someone in a position of power, wealth and influence is morally obligated to come to the aid of the poor and the socially weak. You cannot just go away and hide behind the walls and gates of your closed neighbourhood. After all the French nobility did the same thing back in the 18th century, exploiting the peasants and hiding in their castles. Just look at what happened to them! Many were dragged out by enraged villagers and butchered.
Nor have most members of governments and elites today done any military service or been with the boy scouts or girl scouts. Every scouts and military leader or officer knows that one should NEVER claim any special treatment under hardship. Instead, one should suffer along with the rank and file. When they sleep rough, skip the comfort of a tent and sleep rough with them. When they have less to eat, do not binge yourself. These rules are very simple. They are to be found in every military handbook published in Europe since the printing press was invented. Marshall Chuikov, the highly effective and popular Soviet commander, reiterated these rules in his memoirs, thus joining such famous military leaders as Maréchal de Saxe, Montecuccoli and others. If one ignores these rules, one's authority will evaporate and can never be recuperated.
Therefore, from the behaviour of Europe's leaders and elites today, one may conclude they are not well-read (despite their academic titles), have no moral decency, and no values (despite their assertions as to the contrary). In other words, they are stupid, no matter how shrewd they might be. I am afraid there is no other word to describe them.
Now I must confess I am indeed quite worried. In times of crisis, the more stupid the leaders, the worse the effects of the crisis will be. Yet there may be a way to mitigate the crisis: the current leaders need to be forced out of office as soon as possible and replaced by responsible ones who truly represent the voters.