Last week, two dark-skinned boys suddenly appeared on the wraps of the renowned Kinder chocolate bars. And this immediately caused increased traffic on one of Germany’s Pegida websites. Was this „a joke”, somebody asked: what had happened to the blonde child on the bar? Another wrote: „Do Turks and other countries put German children on their confectionary and food? Certainly not.”
When the manufacturer announced that they were childhood photographs of German top footballers, the protests were silenced. Pegida asked supporters „not to respond anymore”. They had „stumbled upon a hornet’s nest” – as if those hornets were already there before Pegida supporters got involved.
Europeans’ fuses are getting shorter and shorter by the day. This is also shown by the hysteria involving two media stars, Sylvana and Ebru Umar, in The Netherlands. The new Austrian president was assigned extra bodyguards: the very evening of his election victory there was a call for an attack on his house. Everybody insults everybody, all the time, because all feel their values being attacked. Why are newspapers and websites full of issues dealing with identity and cultural differences? Why do Europeans see everything through the prism of ‘values’ these days?
Because we do not have an ideology anymore. The only thing we have, American philosopher Mark Lilla once wrote, is a dogma: libertarianism. After the fall of the Wall we have stopped thinking. During the Cold War we belonged to the free, democratic West. But since we were caught in an ideological conflict with communism - a rival image of reality - we still continued to think. It kept us on our toes. Communism was not purely evil; it contained some good elements, although the implementation was poor. We read about it, we debated it. It kept us critical and curious: sometimes we adjusted our own vision. But we stopped doing this since 1989. After all, we had ‘won’. Now the rest of the world would become like us: democratic, individualistic, and free.
With our blind trust in the progressive, universalistic effect of freedom that was so precious to us, we have helped Arab and other peoples to make the transition, too. This became a disaster. Many Arabs do want freedom, but do they want gay marriage, or separation of church and state? No, thank you very much.
This backlash is now manifesting itself in Europe, too, as a result of the same intellectual laziness. Instead of recalibrating the idea of Europe, which was essential in a changing world (Is ‘No More War’ still relevant? Where does Europe end?) governments have blindly opted for economic expansion. They opened their economies, without too much consideration for the impact on national democracies. With progressive legislation on euthanasia and transgenders we continued to keep up with the times really well.
Now Europe is facing a couple of crises. But we don’t know anymore how to react. We didn;t see this coming at all. We are scared and unprotected. Everybody sticks up for themselves with the last remaining battle cries: ‘civil liberties’ and ‘democratic values’. These slogans allow us to advocate both for and against the EU, both for freedom in the Middle East and against freedom for Arabs to come here. We use it to justify both military intervention (Libya) and non-intervention (Syria). As a result libertarianism itself has now become meaningless.
Europe is becoming a barrel of contradictions. We don’t want any refugees anymore, but we disqualify the only country who can help us achieve that goal, namely Turkey – because Turkey is not a Western democracy. We want the state to protect us against unemployment, criminals and multinationals, but we glorify Edward Snowden – who undermines the strong state. Europe is stuck in an intellectual vacuum. All that is left is desperate howling.