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Slavoj Zizek: Why Far Right and Xenophobic Politicians Are on the Rise in Europe

Zizek: I really am worried about how the far right is setting the general political agenda, even while being in the minority.

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The typical rhetorical trick here is in two moves. First, you of course condemn the far right—"no place in our developed democracy." But then you add, "But they are addressing the real worries of the people," and so on and so on. So, in precisely—that’s the dirty sophistic trick—in order to prevent hatred outbursts, we have to control the situation. You know what is significant about Sarrazin, the banker, that you mentioned? You know that he was politically close to social democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Which means?

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Which means that they—really, the extreme right imposed their topic onto everyone. But let me tell you now something which may surprise you. I, of course, don’t accept this horrible logic—we have to do it more modestly to prevent real outbursts—but I think there is a failure in this standard, liberal, multicultural vision, which means every ethnic group, whatever, to itself, all we need is a neutral legal framework guaranteeing the coexistence of groups. Sorry if I shock someone, but I think we do need what Germans call Leitkultur, leading culture. Just it shouldn’t be nationally defined. We should fight for that. Yes, I agree with right-wingers. We need a set of values accepted by all. But what will these values be, my god? We neglected this a little bit. You know that it’s not just this abstract liberal model: you have your world, I have my world, we just need a neutral legal network—how we will politely ignore each other.

My second point would have been that it’s absolutely crucial how this anti-immigrant explosion is linked to the withdrawal of leftist politics, especially in the matters of economy and so on. It is as if the left, being obsessed by the idea that we shouldn’t appear as reactionary in the economic sense, that is to say that "No, no, no, we are not the old trade union representatives of the working class, we are for postmodern digital capitalism" and so on. They don’t want to touch the working class or so-called lower ordinary people. And here right-wingers enter. Do you know, the horrible paradox is that, apart from some small leftist fringe parties, the only serious political force in Europe today which still is ready to appeal to the ordinary working people are the right-wing anti-immigrants? So you see, we, the leftists, we have no right, absolutely no right, to take this arrogant view of offended tolerant people who are horrored—no, we should ask the question, how we enabled what is going on.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about this Christian Science Monitor poll that showed 13 percent of Germans would welcome the arrival of a new Führer. More than a third of Germans feel the country is "overrun by foreigners." Roughly 60 percent would restrict the practice of Islam, and 17 percent believe Jews have too much influence. Thirteen percent would welcome the arrival of a new Führer.

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: I think—now again, I will maybe shock you, but, you know, don’t exaggerate the meaning of this. No, no, I think that—OK, my first thesis, that Germany—and this makes it all the more tragic—from my personal experience, Germany is, for example, far more effectively, in everyday life, tolerant than France, for example, I claim with all responsibility. It’s not as general as it may appear. Go to mixed part of ex-West Berlin and so on, you will still see wonderful collaboration. Don’t worry about this. What I’m just saying is that we shouldn’t get too fascinated by these details.

We should ask more fundamental questions, like this is, for me, only part of a general shift, which I mention in the text you kindly referred to, how the whole political mapping of Europe is changing in a horrible way. To cut a long story short, very briefly, 'til now, we had the standard situation that you also have it up ’til now here: one big left-of-center party, one big right-of-center party—they are the only two parties which address the entire population—and then small fringe parties. Now, more and more in Europe, another polarity is emerging: a big liberal capitalist party, which can even be in social matters like abortion, women's rights, relatively progressive—pure, let’s call it, capitalist party—and the only serious opposition is the immigrant—anti-immigrant nationalists. It’s something horrible that has happened. The anti-immigrants are establishing themselves as the only authentic—of course, they are not authentic politically, but in the sense of really experienced as authentic—voice of protest. If you want to protest, the only way to do it effectively in Europe is this. So I think it’s a matter of life and death for a slightly more radical left to emerge.

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