Opinion: What if Youth Now Fight for Social Change, But From the Right?
Social change from the right
In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, takes young voters’ support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Mar. 17 elections as the starting point for looking at how young people in Europe are moving to the right.
ROME (IPS): The “surprise” re-election of incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Mar. 17 elections has been met with a flood of media comment on the implications for the region and the rest of the world.
However, one of the reasons for Netanyahu’s victory has dramatically slipped the attention of most – the support he received from young Israelis.
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, 200,000 last-minute voters decided to switch their vote to Netanyahu’s Likud party due to the “fear factor” and most of these were voters under the age of 35.
Perhaps the “fear factor” was actually an expression of the “Masada factor”. Masada is a strong element in Israeli history and collective imagination. The inhabitants of the mountain fortress of Masada, besieged by Roman legions at the time of Emperor Tito’s conquest of the Israeli state, preferred collective suicide to surrender. Israelis today feel besieged by hostile neighbouring countries (first of all Iran), the continuous onslaught by the Caliphate and the Islamic State, overwhelming negative international opinion and growing abandonment by the United States.
Netanyahu played a number of cards to bring about his last-minute election success, including his speech to the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress on Mar. 3, which was seen by many Israelis as an act of defiance and dignity, not a weakening of fundamental relations with the United States.
His support for Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, his denial of the creation of a Palestinian state and his show of contempt for an international community unable to understand Israel’s fears led Netanyahu’s Likud party to victory.
In Israel, being left-wing mean accepting a Palestinian state, being right-wing means denying it. In the end, the Mar. 17 vote was the result of fear. Israeli’s young people are not alone in moving to the right as a reaction to fear. It is interesting to note that all right-wing parties which have become relevant in Europe are based on fear.
Growing social inequality, the unprecedented phenomenon of youth unemployment, cuts in public services such as education and health, corruption which has become a cancer with daily scandals, and the general feeling of a lack of clear response from the political institutions to the problems opened up by a globalisation based on markets and not on citizens are all phenomena which are affecting young people.
“When you were like us at university, you knew you would find a job – we know we will not find one,” was how one student put it at a conference of the Society for International Development that I attended.
“The United Nations has lost the ability to be a place of governance, the financial system is without checks and corporations have a power which goes over national governments,” the student continued. “So, you see, the world of today is very different one from the one in which you grew up.”
As Josep Ramoneda wrote in El Pais of Mar. 18: “We expected that governments would submit markets to democracy and it turns out that what they do is adapt democracy to markets, that is, empty it little by little.
This is why many of those of who vote for right-wing parties in Europe are young people – be it for the National Front in France, the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain, the Lega Nord (North League) in Italy, the AfD (Alternative for Germany) in Germany and Golden Dawn in Greece, among others.
Taking refuge in parties that preach a return to a country’s “glorious” past, blocking immigrants who are stealing jobs and Muslims who are challenging the traditional homogeneity of society, country, and bringing back to the nation space and functions which have been delegated to an obtuse and arrogant bureaucracy in Brussels which has not been elected and is not therefore accountable to citizens, is an easy way out.
This is a major – but ignored – epochal change. It was long held that an historic function of youth was to act as a factor for change … now it is fast becoming a factor for the status quo. The traditional political system no longer has youth movements and its poor performance in front of the global challenges that countries face today makes young people distrustful and distant.
It is an easy illusion to flock to parties which want to fight against changes which look ominous, even negative. It also partially explains why some young Europeans are running to the Islamic State which promise a change to restore the dignity of Muslims dignity and whose agenda is to destroy dictators and sheiks who are in cohort with the international system and are all corrupt and intent on enriching themselves, instead of taking care of their youth.
What can young people think of President Erdogan of Turkey building a presidential palace with 1,000 rooms or the European Central Bank inaugurating headquarters which cost 1,200 million euro, just to give two examples? And what of the fact that the 10 richest men in the world increased their wealth in 2013 alone by an amount equivalent to the combined budgets of Brazil and Canada?
This generational change should be a transversal concern for all parties but what is happening instead is that the welfare state is continuing to suffer cuts. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), young people in the 18-23 age group will retire with an average pension of 650 euro. What kind of society will that be?
Without the safety net now being provided by parents and grandparents, how can young people in such a society avoid feeling left out?
We always thought young people would fight for social change, but what if they are now doing so from the right?
(INTER PRESS SERVICE)