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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.

In Europe, there is a growing concern about the growing acceptability of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Far from just being expressed by the extreme right wing, the anti-immigrant trend has entered the mainstream. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a gathering of young members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union party this weekend that multiculturalism has utterly failed. A recent German poll found 13 percent of Germans would welcome the arrival of a new "Führer," and more than a third of Germans feel the country is "overrun by foreigners." Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! spoke to the world-renowned philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who has the been called "the Elvis of cultural theory."

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: [translated] In Frankfurt, on the main, two out of three children under the age of five have an immigrant background. We are a country which, at the beginning of the 1960s, actually brought guest workers to Germany. Now they live with us, and we lied to ourselves for a while, saying that they won’t stay and that they will disappear one day. That’s not the reality. This multicultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and are happy about each other, this approach has failed, utterly failed.

AMY GOODMAN: The German chancellor later added immigrants were welcome in Germany and that Islam is a part of the nation’s modern-day culture. Her comments are seen as part of a rightward shift and come just days after a study by the center-left Friedrich Ebert Foundation found that more than 30 percent of people believe Germany is, quote, "overrun by foreigners." A similar number believed immigrants had come to Germany for its social benefits and, quote, "should be sent home when jobs are scarce." Earlier this year, a book by an influential bank executive in Germany created an uproar, because it blamed the decline of German nationhood on the alleged failure of many immigrants to integrate.

As the debates rage on in Europe, I’m joined here in New York by a controversial public intellectual who’s been called "the Elvis of cultural theory." Yes, I’m talking about the Slovenian philosopher and critic Slavoj Žižek. He’s the author of over thirty books. His latest, from Verso, is just out, and it’s called Living in the End Times. In a recent piece for The Guardian newspaper of London, he argues that "across Europe, the politics of the far right is infecting [everyone] with the need for a 'reasonable' anti-immigration policy."

Put everything together for us, from Angela Merkel talking about the end of multiculturalism—even what that means, "multiculturalism"—to the mass protests that are taking place in France and beyond.

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: I really think that usually we Europeans are a little bit arrogant, like we are the model of tolerance and so on. Now something horrible has happened, and what is really worrying is that it’s not only the countries, the parts of Europe, that we usually associate with intolerance, like southeastern Europe, Romania, Hungary and so on, it’s even the very models of tolerance—Netherlands, Norway and so on.

What really worries me is—I will say something very simple, almost commonsensical, that, you know, for me, I’m here always for censorship. Through democracy, tolerance, in an authentic sense, means that you simply cannot say certain things publicly. You are considered—you know, like if you say publicly an anti-Semitic, sexist joke, it’s unacceptable. Things which were unacceptable ten, fifteen years ago are now acceptable. And what I really am worried about is how the far right, what was twenty years ago the domain of the far right, is setting—even if they are a minority, they are setting the general agenda.

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