There are so many similarities between what is happening in Europe today and what happened in the first twenty years of the twentieth century.
Let us mention three cases which look so much alike … the revival of nationalism, a deep and long lasting economic crisis and the weakness of leadership in national government.
The second part of the eighteen hundred and the start of the nineteen hundred saw the rise of ethnic nationalism with moves towards unification in countries like Germany and Italy and border revisionism in central and eastern Europe. In the last twenty years nationalism has lifted up its head again with political parties all over Europe clamouring for ethnic purity in their countries. Follow the list of nationalist parties in Europe… Law and Justice (Poland), Swiss People’s Party (Switzerland), Danish People’s Party (Denmark), Finns Party (Finland), National Front (France), UKIP ( United Kingdom). Most of these are either in government or else give it outside parliamentary support. The refugee crisis in Europe and the rise of terrorism (although not necessarily connected) has sown the seed for xenophobia that potentially can create an era of terror (as in anarchy in the beginning of the twentieth century) and racism (against the Jews in the early 1900s, and against Moslems in this century).
The Great Depression starting in 1929 had a devastating impact on all countries with personal income, prices and profits dropping to historical lows. It was a long haul depression which lasted in certain countries for over ten years. Compare this to the Great Recession starting in 2008, followed by the debt crisis in Europe in 2011, and the fact that many economies in Europe are still experiencing either zero or negative growth. The effect that this has on business and consumer confidence has been devastating and it has widened the inequality gap and fostered poverty. All this is very similar to what happened between 1929 and the beginning of world war two.
The beginning of the twentieth century was characterised by countries led by weak governments throughout Europe as well as in Russia which paved the way to the rise of populism. The vacuum in strong leadership in Germany and Italy in the very early 1900s was swiftly manipulated by the charismatic leadership of Hitler and Mussolini or else by the growth in the class struggle mostly characterised by the communists toppling the monarchy in Russia. The situation today has similarities as one witnesses a certain helplessness by which Western governments are confronting the growing threats of terrorism from ISIS and similar groups of Islamic radicalism.
Where is this leading to? The social, political and economic situation a hundred years ago led to authoritarianism, racism and the holocaust, and a world war. The consequences meant more deaths, violence, poverty and deprivation. We should have learnt from that experience but humanity goes on repeating the same mistakes. It is concerning to see that a hundred years later we are unknowingly mirroring the same causes and symptoms. Humans have either a short memory, or pathological urge to self-destruction. It is difficult not to lose hope in humanity. But we shouldn’t.