How do heartless leaders win elections? Part 1: In Europe

In the past month, around the world, heartless populist leaders have had successes in numerous elections. The Indian election occurred over 6 weeks, with 900 million registered voters, and 63 percent actively voting. The European elections were organized in 28 countries to renew the European Parliament where European laws are discussed and passed or not. It comprises 751 Members of the European Parliament, or MEPs. The European Elections presented a great danger for women and minorities. European populist groups have organized since 2013, creating a structure called “Agenda Europe”, promising to “restore the natural order”. This fabricated argument about a “natural order” is precisely unnatural and threatens violence against women, minorities and Nature.  Despite all its shortcomings, the European Parliament has, in general, over the years pushed for more progressive laws. In response, the current generation of heartless leaders have developed ultra conservative doctrines to curtail any possibility for inclusive and progressive evolution.  

As political scientist Rosalind Pollack Petchesky has noted, “Abortion acquires political volatility in periods when the social position of women generally is under siege.” Today, access to sexual and reproductive health has been challenged by the heartless leaders even in places where one would have thought these rights inalienable. The heartless movement materialized with neoliberal austerity measures and structural reforms. Neoliberalism opportunistically aligns itself with various strandsof neoconservatism and religious fundamentalism. 

Heartless populist leaders bear common features: an opportunistic mind guided by big data algorithm systems and an unfettered desire for power. They use nationalist – racist messages through social media without concern forethics or veracity. Theirtargets have included immigrants, feminists, Romas, Muslims, and more. The European and Indian elections have brought these neoliberal, conservative, propagandist, and rights-unraveling elementstogether. In Europe a resistance has also strongly emerged. In some countries, Socialists and European Green parties gained seats. Meanwhile populist parties having difficulty agreeing to form one group in parliament; their divisions appear deeper than expected. 

In France, the populist party, Rassemblement National, RN, finished with less than 1 % ahead of the center liberal party. Marine Le Pen’s RN party list led by Jordan Bardella garnered votes from the popular discontent represented by the Yellow Vest movement, mostly a vote of rejection of the liberal doctrine of the current President Emmanuel Macron. The surprise came from the Greens who became the third party ahead of the regular conservative and socialist parties. The German Green party became the second party in Germany this time, ahead of the populist party. Spain, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark sent more socialist and social democrats to the parliament with, again, a representation of the Green party.    

In Poland, the extreme right-wing/populist Law and Justice party (PIS) won 45.6% of the vote, sending 26 MEPs to the European Parliament, while the opposition European Coalition (Social Democrats) won 17 seats and the leftist coalition obtained 8 seats. The Law and Justice party increased its representation compared to the previous European election. Their conservative campaign was based on imaginary Polish values which included strict control of sexual and reproductive rights, reducing health services for women.  Although Polish women have had total access to abortion until 1993, conservative religious leaders in Polish politics have made Poland one of the European countries with the most restrictive laws on abortion. Currently, each year 150 000 Polish women get back-alley abortions. Women in Poland have organized to block a total ban on abortion. The PIS based its campaign on repetition of social media slogans against immigration, supporting family values and energy independence. Actually, they implemented the most xenophobic and anti-women’s rights policies, including lowering protection against domestic violence, reducing access to contraception, and keeping coal energy production, refusing to comply with reducing CO2 emissions according to the Paris Agreement. 

In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s ruling party won a landslide victory with 52.3%, giving 13 seats to Orban’s EEP, 7 seats to the opposition and 1 seat to the Fascist party. When Viktor Orban was first elected, only 3% of the Hungarian population thought that immigration was an issue. Orban’s domination took off when he met Arthur Finkelstein, an arch conservative Jewish American homosexual, just to challenge common assumptions. Finkelstein has built a discreet career using invisible parallel means of communication, such as negative messaging in public spaces and social media. He has been behind many elections of conservatives around the world from Ronald Reagan to Benjamin Netanyahu. The Hungarian slogan for the European elections was similar to the Polish one. Women had to curtail their desire for emancipation to serve the great country of Hungary, migrants had to back off from entering the country, and environmental issues were irrelevant in comparison with the rebuilding of Hungary’s great past.

According to Ludmila Acone, in Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italian right-wing party ‘The League,’ and current co-vice Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, won the most seats with 34,3%,which gave ‘Identity and Democracy’ 28 seats. Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the anti-establishment Five Stars movement, with whom Salvini shares executive power, received 17,1% of the votes, or 14 seats. Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the democratic party, came in second with 22,7%, or 19 seats. These elections strengthened Salvini’s power in Italy. At the last European election in 2014, The League only received 6.2% of the ballots and sent 5 MEPs to Brussels. His success is based on his ability to «speak to people’s guts. » Bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Italy is the main land of arrival, and often a place of transit, for migrants and refugees traveling by sea and seeking asylum in Europe. Salvini based most of his political program on the urgency of fighting immigration and the right to defend oneself against migrants who are supposedly more violent. The League, supported by Steve Bannon, extended its power by producing fake news, thanks to social media. Negative messages annihilated the discourse on climate change: Italy is not sending an MEPs of the European Green Party.

The League’s political agenda rests on ‘replacement theory.’ This approach claims to protect «the traditional family» against the danger of abortion, divorce, contraception, and gender equality. Salvini pretends to protect women, thanks to one of the Five Stars movement’s legislative initiatives: the code red laws, protective measures against domestic violence. Italy has one femicide every two days.

(Image Credit: European Views)

Mixing human rights, peace and violence against women

This year the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize. Was it for having the only human rights court in the world with binding judgments? Was it for its Erasmus program that has broken down nationalistic sentiments through education? Or was it for its new take on women’s rights with the nomination of a new commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy—Tonio Borg from Malta—who is notorious for his harsh positions against LGBT and also against women who resort to having an abortion for various reasons (including for malformations of fetus)?

Borg has been the foreign minister of Malta until his recent confirmation by the European Parliament of his nomination by 386 votes in favor and 281 against with 28 abstentions. The former commissioner John Dalli was from Malta as well, and had to resign for collusion with the tobacco industry to influence European decisions on tobacco legislation. This time, the commissioner will be in collusion with the anti women’s rights groups.

This new development highlights the ambivalence of the European Union’s women’s rights approach.

The parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1607 (2008) questions the antiabortion position of some member states: “The Assembly is nonetheless concerned that, in many of these states, numerous conditions are imposed and restrict the effective access to safe, affordable, acceptable and appropriate abortion services. These restrictions have discriminatory effects, since women who are well informed and possess adequate financial means can often obtain legal and safe abortions more easily.”

Article 7.5 insists on the means to address restrictions on access to safe and appropriate abortion services: “7.5. adopt evidence-based appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights strategies and policies, ensuring continued improvements and expansion of non-judgmental sex and relationships information and education, as well as contraceptive services, through increased investments from the national budgets into improving health systems, reproductive health supplies and information.”

Conservative MEP (Members of European Parliaments) have argued that Borg was right when he declared that the EU had no competence on abortion rights and should not interfere with member States’ affairs on this issue. On the other side, the opposition to Borg’s nomination have insisted, “Access to adequate public health rights, including sexual and reproductive health rights is a basic right”.

Once again the question of human rights is filtered through an individualistic patriarchal lens that distorts the reality of  the lives of women and LGBT’s.

Meanwhile, MEPs from nationalist groups declared the confirmation of Borg was “a victory of common sense over prejudice and intolerance.” How should we understand common sense, prejudice and intolerance? Are these notions associated with refusing sexual and reproductive health services to women, which is tantamount to promoting violence against women?

When President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, he approved the drone program and other violent interventions throughout the Muslim world. And now, true to form, the Prize is given to the European Union just as its commission has taken a retrograde step on women’s rights. In this spiral of discourses and praxis of rights and peace, the conservative dominant power legitimizes violence against women who are the majority of the Wretched of the Earth.

 

(Photo Credit: Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation)