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Europe’s xenophobic parties are no longer seen as extremists, but as political alternatives

The rise of the National Front in France, which may win as much as 24 percent of the vote at the next European elections, is by no means an inevitable development, created by unemployment and the fear of economic insecurity. Rather, as history shows, it is caused by miscalculations on the part of the major parties. If this result materializes, it will be the consequence more of decisions made in the name of "pragmatism" than of an apparent tsunami of public opinion. The objectives of electoral efficacy, just as unquestioned now as the appeasement of authoritarian powers was in the past, will no doubt have the same result: a dangerous weakening of democracy.

Leaders who accept the abridgement of civil rights, spokesmen who share the authoritarian language of extremists and social groups who only make weak gestures in defense of democracy will be responsible if someday these extremists come to occupy extensive areas of power. They will blame it on the disgruntled unemployed, or on the scared middle classes, just as they now blame the citizens for having caused the collapse of the markets by their runaway consumption. But the responsibility will lie with those who, while being believers in democracy, have fallen, carrying us with them, into the worst of traps: speaking of the issues, the agenda and the interests of those who do not believe in democracy.

The National Front, and the similar groups that are on the rise throughout Europe, are no longer seen as extremists, but as political alternatives. And this is happening because "the mainstream groups have played into their hand by speaking of their favorite issues: immigration, security and crime," as Miguel Mora, this newspaper's Paris correspondent, explained the other day.

Mainstream groups have played into their hand by talking about immigration, security and crime"

Why do we allow the debate on immigration to occupy such a prominent place in the context of the European crisis? The immigrants have nothing to do with it. It doesn't matter that millions of French people believe they do - it isn't true. Millions of Germans came to believe that the Jews were responsible for the crisis of the 1920s and 1930s. Then they, too, were pointed at as people with funny habits and dirty clothes. They, too, were blamed for all sorts of crimes. What did they have to do with the crisis of the 1930s? Absolutely nothing. What do the Romanians, Moroccans and Senegalese have to do with the economic stagnation of Europe? With the millions of unemployed in Spain, Greece and France? Absolutely nothing.

We accept talk about laws against immigration as if this would bring some solution, and we believe that this is political pragmatism. We allow the line between emigrants and refugees to grow fuzzy; when we see a foreigner we think that he is necessarily an immigrant, and the idea that he may be an exile never crosses our mind. And while our minds are occupied with these things, money crosses borders and rests in tax havens, and the politicians act as if this traffic has nothing to do with the crisis. And, in the hope of calming their voters and appeasing the extremists, they treat the Transylvanian gypsies as if it was they who threated our jobs and our savings.

Nobody is trying to deny that there are organized gangs of Romanian and Bulgarian thieves. We see them on the streets, and they are dangerous and a nuisance. As much as British or Spanish thieves. The issue is the law that is applied to each. What way is this of respecting the basic principle of democracy, that we are all equal before the law, if we create different laws, according to caste or ethnic stock? Equal before the law? Yes — but of different laws, according to your passport.

They want us to forget what we learned. It is not a conspiracy, but something more dangerous: a necessity derived from pragmatism. But if we forget, we will leave no evidence behind that things didn't have to be like this.

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