One day in June I woke up and found out that an old ideology in a new costume had brainwashed half a country to vote to leave the EU.

I was shocked and I couldn’t believe this, because as a German I know our history very well and I had thought that this kind of ideology would never appear in Europe again. I had faith that people of Europe would remember that this kind of ideology destroyed the whole continent 70 years ago and that we all would not wish to repeat it.

But it seemed that I was wrong and as I started to look around Facebook, I found so many comments and posts full of hate and inhumanity that I almost felt ill. Today in Europe we have right wing populist voices in the form of Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in Holland, Norbert Hofer in Austria and of course, Nigel Farage in the UK. And as unlikely as it seems, even in Germany, we are witnessing the rise of the far right in the form of the AfD party with its pretty poster girl, Frauke Petry. AfD are taking a jump in the polls here and if there was an election tomorrow, it’s likely that they would gain significant ground. We are still hearing the old propaganda phrases like ‘national pride’, ‘control’ or ‘different races and cultures should not mix’, but I was shocked to find that there are so many people, particularly in my own country, who believe in this populist jargon and who will ignore all logical arguments, facts, history and above all, common sense.

These groups and parties claim to be capable of giving the people of Europe what they really want: an alternative to the so-called overtly liberal agendas that are allowing the states of Europe to be swamped by ‘migrants and degenerates ‘ while they cream off the profits of an over taxed system that they have created.

But are we really seeing what the right likes to describe as their ‘alternative view’, or is it simply a case of them capitalising on protest vote? There is no doubt that since the economic crash of 2008 the leaders of Europe have been caught in the headlights so to speak and have in many ways indeed failed to give the citizens of their states a decent break. But turning to the plot of fear, mistrust and ultra-conservatism is not the answer. The centre needs to provide the own real alternative: more direct democracy, better health care, social housing and a definitive solution to the Euro, the refugee crisis and distribution of wealth and debt throughout the European Union.

The new populist parties use old methods by spreading lies, propaganda and use the media to insight their rhetoric of fear and hate and guilt. They are constantly creating a picture of doom and declare themselves as the only way and saviours out of this so-called mess that we are currently in. They use social media as a rallying point, to spread rumours and allegations while hiding real news to feed the haters and racists while all along providing no solutions to the real problems such as lack of investment in jobs, social services and local community integration. Foreigners, and in particular Muslims, are the new demons that are to blame for what’s going wrong in Europe and they don’t care if these people are fellow Europeans, refugees or even citizens of their own country.

The traditional goal of the right is to divide society and isolate the weakest by telling others that they are worth nothing or even dangerous and planning to overtake the country – in effect demonising them.

And this happened 70 years ago, too, and we all know the consequences, or do we?

Guys like Petry, Farage and co are not interested in truth and peace, or human rights for all. They don’t even care about the people who vote for them. It’s a personal agenda. If you read their party literature, for example AFD , there are claims to cut the social payments and reduce taxes for the rich.  Most of these guys are good speakers, able to entertain people and seem trustworthy on first impression. They declare that they are ‘different’ from the established politicians and that all others are lying and hiding facts. A perfect example of this tactic is the utter nonsense that was used by UKIP during the Brexit campaign. But what is incredible is that people believe this without checking the facts: people want to believe their easy solutions for all kind of problems. It’s a lazy attitude which is dangerous, because it allows our emotions to rule us when a logical assessment is required. It’s the headline problem; people read the headline and make their minds up without actually reading the articles and checking the content.

But there are no easy solutions for difficult problems and while blaming others for what is going wrong in our lives might provide a moment of content it won’t solve the real problems. Expecting a political party to solve it for you is even crazier. No matter which side of the political divide a party is on, it does not want to solve individual cases. Yet, unfortunately, there seems to be a situation where people new to social media seem to think that they are closer to their leaders, but in fact it is the opposite; they are in your head but you are not in theirs.

But we need to be optimistic and active.

We achieved so much together, 70 years of peace with friendships and marriages across the whole continent. Germans and French are enemies no longer, we can travel without waiting at borders and we can work wherever we want in Europe. We can express our feelings without fear of reprisals. We cannot forget that.

We are no longer lonely stars, fighting each other. Together we are stronger and able to face a globalised future with common trade deals and solidarity for each other in Europe.
Of course, a lot could work much better and needs to be changed in Europe and the EU, but people like Petry, Farage, Le Pen are not the answer. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing, who are only interested in themselves and in power. They want to destroy, not to build.

We are the answer and we must stand up and raise our voices against populist lies and above all, we must never, ever repeat the ills of our history.

Martina Brinkman
German businesswoman who studied political science, history and economy in Trier. Co Founder of Europa United.

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