How Europe’s Left Lost Its Popular Touch

Op-Ed: Conservatism is on the rise in Europe as once popular social democratic parties fail again and again to energize voters. The left has only itself to blame, having jumped blindly on the free-market bandwagon and abandoned its traditional working-cla

Socialists have now lost their footing in Spain as well (lucas deve)
Socialists have now lost their footing in Spain as well (lucas deve)
Jean-Claude Guillebaud

PARIS - Populism is not the only thing sweeping over Europe these days. Conservatism is also making a major comeback.

The "sweet monster," as Italian linguist and philosopher Raffaele Simone called conservatism last year, is making its presence felt everywhere, and gaining real strength in some countries. The rightward shift is bringing with it social hardship and ushering in police states. As a result, social-democratic ideas are further undermined, and the political parties that espouse them aren't benefitting – at least not yet – from people's indignation.

European societies are facing job insecurity, exclusion, mass unemployment and inequality. People have become financial "variables." All of this should theoretically make left-wing parties more popular. But that clearly hasn't happened. Repeating ad nauseam that the left has "lost the trust of the working class' doesn't get us anywhere. It might describe the situation, but it certainly doesn't explain it. What's needed now is a concerted effort to figure out why and how the left fell out of favor.

The answer cannot not be purely political. German sociologist Ulrich Beck's concept of "sub-politics' would be better fitting. Sub-politics refer to the cultural climate, fashionable ideas and prevailing media thinking. In short, the current times. Therein lies the gap between social-democrats and their traditional voters.

In France, like in the rest of Europe, socialists haven't properly taken into account a phenomenon that, in a just a few years, has caused a major shift in its relationship to the poor. This shift began with the collapse of communism, which made the concept of egalitarianism quickly outdated. After 1989, it was no longer "fashionable" to talk about equality. Blue-collar workers, once celebrated as the heart and soul of a society, are now dismissed as hopeless hicks.

Leftist intellectuals were quick to turn their backs on social issues. There have been a few exceptions, such as French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, but they now tend to be intellectually ostracized. Europe's Socialist parties gave in to free market ideology without predicting its ills. They thought they could make morality their new distinctive marker. Social Democrats tout themselves as leftists because they are "tolerant," even if they support liberal economic ideas.

Break with far left

Left-leaning media made a habit of admiring the new hotshots of the finance world, in some cases treating them like rock stars. It began denouncing both populism and republicanism. The mainstream left, in turn, was pressured to break off with the far left in order to enter the famous "circle of reason," meaning the circle of group think.

As a result, the rift deepened between the left and its voters. We tend to forget that in France, nearly 6 million people are blue-collar workers, more than the number of civil servants, and they feel abandoned, just like parts of the middle class and a growing number of people holding insecure jobs. That's a lot of voters.

The final touch of this desertion came with a staggering report from a progressive think tank, which openly recommended that Socialist parties turn away from the working classes in favor of urban youth, women and immigrants. That's where we stand in Europe. In France, it is certainly important that Social Democrats take a moral stand against maneuvers by the far right. But it won't be enough. Comrades, you need to try harder.

Read the original article in French

Photo - lucas deve

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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