Echoes of McCarthyism in Modern Europe: The Thin Line Between Vigilance and Witch Hunt

EU's resolution against Russian interference revives McCarthyism, risking freedom rights and pushing towards an unwanted prophecy of war.

The article discusses the resurgence of McCarthyism in Europe, highlighted by a resolution of the European Parliament aiming to combat Russian interference in European democratic processes, likening it to the witch hunts of the 1950s in the USA. This resolution, according to the author, tramples on fundamental rights and promotes closer cooperation with NATO to combat disinformation and foreign interference, branding those who dissent as enemies. The article warns against the dangerous prophecy of an inevitable war with Russia, calling for a greater predisposition towards peace.

European McCarthyism Dreams of 20 Years of War

by Domenico Gallo

The term “McCarthyism” originates from Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy who, in the 1950s, led the U.S. Senate’s Committee on the suppression of “un-American activities”. The Committee’s operations constituted what was termed a “witch hunt”. The Cold War engendered a strong international opposition between military blocs that faced off in Europe in a simulated war around a border perceived as an “iron curtain”. Domestically, the war was fought by identifying as enemies Communist Party activists, public officials, intellectuals, artists, and writers, suspected of communist sympathies or simply of being anti-fascists. Professing ideas non-conformist to the official ideological narrative, or merely being suspected of having them, entailed all sorts of discrimination or exclusion from social life.

Woody Allen’s movie The Front (1976) masterfully recalled the condition of the cultural industry during the McCarthy era when hundreds of actors, directors, and screenwriters, suspected of subversive ideas, were blacklisted following investigations by the Committee for Un-American Activities, losing any possibility of continuing their work.

Now that the spirit and culture of the Cold War have returned to vogue, through the hot war fought against Russia on the skin of the Ukrainian population, we are also witnessing the return of McCarthyism. The European Parliament, which should be the cradle of freedom rights, incredibly has resurrected McCarthyism, trampling the principles solemnly enshrined by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the constitutional traditions of its Member States. It did so with a Resolution adopted on February 8, 2024, concerning Russian interference in European democratic processes. The leitmotif of the Resolution is the same underlying McCarthyism: there is an enemy state (Russia) whose “agents of influence actively target all sectors of public life, particularly culture, historical memory, media, and religious communities, as well as politicians and their families,” spreading information manipulation. There are political figures who, bribed or not, take pro-Russian positions, aimed at easing sanctions and the international isolation of Russia, with the risk of influencing governments and the European Parliament itself. Those who dissent from the official truth of the European Parliament, which has identified Russia (already qualified as a state sponsor of terrorism), as the enemy against which we must prepare to fight, are the enemy’s fifth columns, which must be unmasked and silenced. To better combat disinformation and the threat of foreign interference, the Resolution recommends “closer cooperation with NATO”.

Thus, the so-called “un-American activities” that haunted Senator McCarthy return in a European guise, pushing the declaration that Russian interference, through European fifth columns “must not go unpunished”. The Resolution finally “emphasizes the key role of investigative journalism in revealing attempts at foreign interference and covert activities”, evidently appreciating those newspapers that, even in Italy, have constructed blacklists of the alleged “Putinians”, while forgetting Julian Assange, who risks rotting for life in American prisons.

It is said that historical tragedies, when repeated, turn into farces; in this case, McCarthyism in a European sauce tastes of farce, especially because in Europe, witch hunts are a bit more difficult to implement due to the annoying constraints of the law. However, the farce can turn into tragedy as the political delegitimization of every critical thought can foster the fulfillment of the dark prophecy of an inevitable war with Russia, recently relaunched by Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer, chairman of the NATO Military Committee. On January 18, Bauer declared: “Living in peace is not a given. That’s why we are preparing for a conflict with Russia,” which could break out within “the next 20 years”. We must prevent Admiral Bauer’s prediction from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. During the most acute phases of the Cold War, no political or military leader ever dared to declare total war with the USSR inevitable, which indeed was avoided. Perhaps it would be appropriate to resign ourselves a little less to war and prepare for peace, valuing the natural survival instinct of humankind.

Il Fatto Quotidiano, February 16, 2024


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