Castro’s death divided the left and the right. The controversial figure, who was adored as much as criticised, brought to the fore contrasting opinions on the left and right.
Those who sympathised with his communist vision of Cuba, and indeed Cuba’s impressive healthcare system and 100% literacy, tended to defend him to varying degrees. They sometimes pointed to America’s human rights records when rightly challenged on this front.
The right dismissed his achievements and instead focused on his shortcomings.
There was a clear difference of opinion between the traditional left and the traditional right.
Today, a different divide was more evident than ever: the far-right against the rest of us. Leftists across Europe, together with the centre-right establishment, released a sigh of relief when news broke that Norbert Hofer’s Freedom Party had been defeated.
There were fears that he would continue the success of the far-right in the West. Van der Bellen, the environmentalist candidate, received over 53% of the vote (so far), to the relief of a shaking Europe.
Following Trump’s victory and Brexit, today was an important day. The Left has been decimated by the rise of anti-globalist right-wingers across Europe. And Renzi’s referendum has just been defeated, which is yet another blow for the establishment.
That is why today’s result in Austria was celebrated across the political spectrum throughout our continent. It has been seen as a victory for the European Union and a defeat for the populists. It could also be looked upon as a victory for Europe itself.
The new President-elect, who campaigned on a platform of moderation and tolerance, said today that he will be “an open minded, liberal minded, and above all a pro-European president.”
Meanwhile, Freedom Party leader Norbert Hofer said that Nigel Farage’s endorsement of the party on Fox News was unhelpful.
Socialist president of France Francois Hollande congratulated Van der Bellen and said Austrians “made the choice for Europe, and openness,” while the French Prime Minister described Van der Bellen’s victory as a “blow for populism in Europe.”
Syriza MEP Dimitrios Papadimoulis said “The defeat of the far right’s Hofer in Austria is a breath for democracy in the EU,” while German Foreign Affairs minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said “The whole of Europe has heaved a sigh of relief.”
While we can celebrate this victory, Austria remains a deeply divided country. There is considerable support for the far-right, with around 47% of Austrians voting for the far-right candidate. This divide in Austria reflects a larger divide across the West.
However, the divide is not left-right, as it has been in the past. It has now become the so called “alt-right” against the rest of us. This underdog position that they have adopted only serves to strengthen their beliefs. They have created an information vacuum by distrusting the mainstream media. This vacuum can be filled with propaganda, as was seen by the circulation of ‘fake-news’- much of which originating in Skopje (FYROM) and its surrounding Balkan countries.
Populist parties have successfully capitalised on Islamist terrorists attacking Europe. They have also been feeding off the effects of the recession and the Syrian refugee crisis, claiming they are anti-establishment, anti-globalist and anti-immigration.
The ‘us and them’ mentality is divisive and usually counterproductive. But it might be necessary to defeat this recent phenomenon. Those opposing the rise of the far-right could form broad coalitions to defeat them. Cooperation will essentially create a large centre and a large right. Politics has moved to the right. They have stolen voters in traditional left leaning areas. Their concerns must be listened to by the establishment and taken on board also by the Left. But they must not bow down to those who want to destroy Europe.
A quote often attributed to Lenin comes to mind. “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” The dismantling of the EU could set us back decades in a matter of weeks. All eyes are on Italy this evening as the referendum results come in. It looks like Renzi will have to resign as it appears his constitutional changes have been overwhelmingly rejected. Soon, we will look towards France.
But today, for the moment at least, we can celebrate a small but important victory. Austria made a noble decision, and we can be proud of our fellow Europeans who voted for a tolerant and progressive Europe. The West is facing into a populist wind.
And Germany and Austria seems, today, to be the West’s best defence against the far-right.