The recent election of Syriza in Greece (Report, 26 May) offers a vibrant glimmer of hope for the future of social and economic democracy in Europe. At the same time, however, the rise of rightwing nationalism, stoking racist and antisemitic sentiments, threatens the ideals of a plural and democratic Europe. Media accounts that misrepresent the importance of the growing electoral support for Syriza as the rise of leftwing “extremism” must be countered in the strongest of terms. There is no contemporary symmetry between the so-called “extremism” of left and right.
The efforts to dismiss the emphatic call for economic justice in both Greece and Spain (Podemos gathered 8%) as “populist”, “anti-European” or “scepticism” misreads their political reach and importance. These radical left victories cannot be compared with the rise of the Front National in France, Ukip in England, the strengthening of antisemitic parties in both Greece and Hungary as well as anti-immigrant populism in Belgium and Denmark.
The rise of the “Eurosceptic” right wing, with its clearly racist platforms, is a direct result of austerity policies. The rise of the left, on the other hand, offers a critique and alternative to social and economic inequalities spawned by austerity policies. To prevent violence and despair spreading further, the European Union needs new alliances across national borders and a radical rearrangement of its institutions to achieve greater democracy and economic equality. A major public debate should be launched to discuss the future of the EU, the role of solidarity and social justice, and the contemporary meaning of the “idea of Europe”.
The success of a democratic public debate, however, depends upon truth and transparency in the media representation of political movements and their claims. We demand vigilant attention to the difference between political objections to austerity that seek greater inequality and those that seek greater equality. Only then can we see more clearly how the future of democracy is at stake.
Judith Butler, Etienne Balibar, Costas Douzinas, Wendy Brown, Slavoj Zizek, Chantal Mouffe, Toni Negri, Joanna Bourke, Sandro Mezzadra, Drucilla Cornell, Engin Isin, Bruce Robbins, Simon Critchley, Jacqueline Rose, Eleni Varika, Micael Lowy, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jodi Dean