Migrant Crisis Exacerbates European Culture War

Leaders won’t contain xenophobia by admitting more immigrants than their voters are ready for.

Migrants cross the border from Greece into Macedonia near Gevgelija, August 18
Migrants cross the border from Greece into Macedonia near Gevgelija, August 18 (IFRC/Stephen Ryan)

Europe’s inability to stem a growing flow of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East is exacerbating what Andrew Sullivan, a British blogger, has called Europe’s “blue-red culture war over modernity.”

The Atlantic Sentinel has used Sullivan’s construct before to explain the outcome of the recent Danish elections and rising Euroskepticism. It’s a particularly useful model to understand contrasting attitudes toward immigration.

“Blue Europe,” according to Sullivan, is “internationalist, globalized, metrosexual, secular, modern, multicultural.” Blue Europeans tend to be better-educated and traveled. Most leaders belong in this category.

“Red Europe,” by contrast, “is noninterventionist, patriotic, more traditional, more sympathetic to faith, more comfortable in a homogeneous society.” It is less mobile and struggling to maintain its high living standards in an era of rapid economic and social change.

“Mass immigration or migration across Europe,” according Sullivan, has “only made things worse, leading to resentment and racism when it has occurred in already beleaguered working-class Europe. The emergence of an unassimilated Muslim population didn’t help things either.”

This year’s migrant crisis has exposed the divide between the two Europes Sullivan described.

107,500 migrants arrived in July alone, according to border agencies — a record number.

Germany, which expects to take in as many as 800,000 this year at the cost of €10 billion, has warned that it will not be able to bear the strain. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said last week that attitudes toward migrants could shift dramatically if local governments were forced to choose “between caring for refugees and renovating a school or financing a swimming pool.”

Attitudes in other European countries are already shifting.

Austria is thinking about taking legal action against the European Commission to prevent being forced into accepting more immigrants under a quota system. Slovakia said it would only admit Christian refugees anymore, not Muslims. Hungary is building a fence on the Serbian border to keep people out. In the Netherlands and Sweden, Euroskeptic and anti-immigration parties are now the biggest in the polls.

Europe’s “blue” leaders have themselves to blame, argues The American Interest‘s Walter Russell Mead. Nationalism in Europe is not unproblematic, he admits. “But when European technocrats ignore the importance and validity of the social bonds, and miss the importance of the coherence that national identity gives to political institutions, then equally destructive problems can arise.”

Soviet history should show us what can happen when technocrats obsessed with ideological designs seek to remake societies without respect for the cultural and social values and traditions that have helped those societies cohere.

According to Mead, Europe’s cosmopolitan-inclined elites have leaned too far ahead over their skis and one of the consequences is the revival of the ugly side of nationalist politics.

The way to contain xenophobia and depress support for nationalist parties is not insisting on a multiculturalism that isn’t working and letting in more immigrants than the body politic is ready for. That is a way to stoke and empower them, Mead warns.

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