After the Iron Curtain, the Cultural Curtain
The political class’s attacks on climate-change-denying, homophobic Eastern Europeans is dividing Europe anew.
‘I am acutely aware that the stigma… causes great distress to many people and my use of language, which could be considered derogatory, was entirely unintentional.’
So grovelled Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg last week after he claimed, during the second televised leaders’ debate, that Conservative Party leader David Cameron was aligning himself with strange Eastern European parties, ‘a bunch of nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists and homophobes’.
So was he directing his apology towards those Eastern European parties who work with Cameron’s Conservatives in the recently formed European Conservative and Reform group within the EU, which includes the Law and Justice party of Poland and the Civil Democratic Party of the Czech Republic? Was he saying sorry for tarnishing them all with the same brush and dismissing them as ‘nutters’?
No. Far from it. Actually Clegg’s apology was to people with mental health problems who may have been offended by his use of the term ‘nutter’.
Jonathan Naess, director of the UK mental health charity Stand to Reason, lodged the complaint about Clegg’s use of the n-word, arguing that ‘used as a slur in this way by politicians campaigning, [the word “nutter”] can legitimise laughing about people affected by mental illness. It’s not okay to joke about someone in a wheelchair, so what’s so funny about mental illness?’
So there you have it. It is not acceptable in modern Britain to say anything offensive about mentally ill people. But it is perfectly okay to make slurs against Eastern European political parties and to label them bigoted, backward barbarians at the gates who are in urgent need of re-education or, better still, expulsion from the enlightened club of the civilised EU. Evidently, that prejudice is acceptable in Nick Clegg’s circles, and in the liberal media more broadly.
One doesn’t have to be an apologist for the views of certain Eastern European parties to recognise that there is a problem with the way they are now discussed by numerous British journalists and politicians. In the name of scoring points against Cameron by accusing him effectively of siding with Eastern fascists, many are now heaping bile on the apparent ‘weirdos’ of that strange, dark, Eastern part of Europe, and in the process are ironically behaving in as bigoted and prejudiced a manner as any of those Eastern European parties themselves.
In a recent article, Labour MP Denis MacShane was keen to align his own prejudices against the East with Clegg’s, boasting of having ‘teased’ Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions in parliament about his party’s links to ‘weirdoes’ in Eastern Europe. (At the time he actually called them ‘loonies and weirdoes’ – has he now self-censored his use of the word ‘loony’ because he fears the wrath of Stand to Reason?)
The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, happily scaremongers about the Tories returning to their ‘true nature’ and ‘turning back progress’ through their association with ‘homophobic, racist parties’ in Eastern Europe. The secretary of state for transport, Geoff Hoon, talks of Cameron’s ‘new allies on the fringes of Europe [who] are seemingly happy with making homophobic comments’.
These homophobic ‘fringes’ are often said to incorporate much of Central and Eastern Europe. As one journalist puts it: ‘Great swathes of Eastern Europe, from Serbia through Slovenia, Poland, Russia and Ukraine, are places where gay people suffer terribly through discrimination, stigmatisation, violent attacks and state harassment.’ Eastern European leaders, including Polish MEP Michal Kaminski – head of the European Conservative and Reform group – are frequently said to symbolise the rise of ‘respectable fascism’ across Europe.
These Eastern parties – in said: ‘Everyone says you are in bed with Holocaust deniers and homophobes…’
And how does David Cameron respond to these accusations? Until recently he did it by trying to convince us that in Eastern Europe his political allies hardly stand out as unsophisticated savages… because all Eastern European parties are as bad as each other. As he told one journalist: ‘All the parties in Poland are equally bad on gay rights.’ In the same interview, he said: ‘The fact is, in some Eastern European countries they need to make progress towards equality and rights.’
However, when his rhetorical approach failed to satisfy the liberal classes scaremongering about the Tories’ association with backward Easterners, Cameron decided to send Nick Herbert, his shadow environment minister and the Tories’ most senior gay politician, on a ‘tolerance mission’ to Poland to ‘convert hardline Polish homophobes to the virtues of tolerance on the issue of homosexuality’. Cameron said: ‘Particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, there are parties that have still got some way to go on the journey of recognising full rights for gay people. We are helping them make that journey.’
It seems that Eastern European politicians are deemed such ignorant wretches that they need to be led on a ‘journey’ of enlightenment towards sophisticated Western liberal values by better men like David Cameron, egged on by the British media. And should these Easterners reject the Cameroon values of tolerance and fair play, they will be dismissed as being ‘beyond the pale’ and – as in the case of Lithuania – possibly unworthy of membership of the elite EU club.
Despite the attempts to depict these Eastern politicians as ‘marginal’ figures, many of them – such as the late Polish president Lech Kaczynski – were in fact elected to office by a majority of voters. Therefore, say the arbiters of tolerance in London’s media and political circles, it is clear that unacceptable prejudices extend to the Eastern European public itself, who, intoxicated by the politicians’ ‘witches’ brew of intolerance and political nihilism’, elected these crude, misguided philistines. Perhaps Nick Herbert should visit every school, workplace and home in Eastern Europe to stamp out homophobia everywhere.
Liberal observers are speedily turning Eastern Europeans into the rednecks of Europe, the backward, inferior tribe against which Western liberals can advertise their own superior virtues of tolerance and open-mindedness, in a similar way that enlightened American commentators label ‘Bush country’ as a terrifying place. They are effectively erecting a new Cultural Curtain to replace the old Iron Curtain, dividing Europe into a civilised Western camp and an uncivilised Eastern camp. The extent to which this is about British politicians and commentators bigging up their own values can be seen in the fact that the weirdo, loony, nutty Easterners are attacked not only for being racist and homophobic, but also for doubting climate change and criticising the EU. Here, everything from irrational hatreds to political or scientific scepticism gets lumped together as evidence of Easterners’ moral turpitude. The message of today’s widespread Eastophobia is: ‘They are so unlike us.’
This is one of the most nauseating yet least commented-on aspects of the General Election campaign – the way in which Britain’s liberal politicians and observers have spread fear about the peculiar East in a desperate bid to dent Cameron’s campaign. In the process they have really exposed their own prejudices and smugness.
Patrick Hayes is a co-founder of the Institute of Ideas’ Current Affairs Forum and one of the organisers of the Battle of Ideas festival.
Previously on spiked
Frank Furedi examined the rise of the far right in contemporary Hungary. He also attacked the use of ‘fascism’ by EU oligarchs to force us to be pro-EU. Tim Black attacked New Labour’s phoney battle with East European ‘fascism’. Nathalie Rothschild argued that the British would miss the polish plumber when he’s gone. Or read more at spiked issue Europe.
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