Germany Wins And Europe Is Free: As the Nazi regime reeled before Stalin's armies, the focus of its propaganda shifted from glorifying German arms and aims, to one of providing Europe's last desperate defence against the bestial threat from the East. Worrying echoes of this propaganda theme can now be detected on the streets of Dresden and, increasingly, across the entire Western World.
IN THE FINAL desperate months of the Second World War, Nazi propaganda underwent a subtle but significant shift of emphasis. In the glory days of victory, when Europe lay at Hitler’s feet, it was Germany’s triumph that was celebrated. But, as Stalin’s divisions rolled inexorably across the Great European plain, and all prospect of a Nazi victory retreated before them, the war was re-presented as a titanic clash of cultures in which a bestial Bolshevism sought to obliterate 3,000 years of European civilisation and extinguish forever the light of the West.
The threat from the East is as old as Europe’s memory of Attila and his marauding Huns. That is to say, a strategic nightmare extending all the way back to the dying days of the Roman Empire. Nor was it an empty threat. In the Thirteenth Century the all-conquering armies of the Mongol Khan stood poised to make their final push to the English Channel. Only the untimely death of the Khan in faraway Mongolia spared Europe from the fate that overwhelmed the civilisation of the Han Chinese.
The other great threat from the East arrived in the form of the armies of Islam. The first onslaught came via Europe’s soft underbelly in the Eighth Century. Spain fell, and the armies of the Prophet were only finally halted at Poitiers in Central France in 732AD. The second onslaught, led by the Ottoman Turks, hit its stride in the Fifteenth Century, snuffing out the Byzantine Empire, swallowing Greece and the Balkans and striking deep into Eastern Europe. It was only decisively checked at the gates of Vienna in 1683.
Existential threats to the survival of Christendom cannot, therefore, be dismissed as mere fever dreams of the racist European Right. From the Fifth to the Seventeenth Century the survival of Christian Europe was, to quote the Duke of Wellington’s pithy description of the Battle of Waterloo: “A damned near run thing!”
Precisely because they were real, these threats have become deeply embedded in Europe’s collective memory and are, thus, available to propagandists of every hue. Though the Nazis were defeated, their imagery of a defiant West holding the line against the Godless Communist threat from the East, slotted seamlessly into the propaganda of the Cold War.
Old memes, it seems, die hard. Just over a week ago, in the German city of Dresden, more than 18,000 people participated in a demonstration organised by a political organisation calling itself “Pegida” – which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. Demonstrators wore black armbands in memory of the 12 people slain at the offices of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.
Pegida is an odd political phenomenon. Its tactics and slogans borrow heavily from the mass protest movements that contributed to the fall of Communism 1989. This has not, however, prevented Germany’s Chancellor (and fellow former East German) Angela Merkel, from accusing Pegida’s followers of having “hate in their hearts”.
Certainly the opinion of the German Left is that Pegida is a manifestation of the extreme “Neo-Nazi” Right. Counter-demonstrations attacking Pegida’s “Islamophobia” have attracted tens of thousands in Berlin, Cologne and other large German cities.
Many Germans are worried that their country’s erstwhile deeply-ingrained anti-Semitism, of which the Nazis took such deadly advantage in the Twentieth Century, has mutated into an equally irrational, but no less vicious, hatred of Muslims in the Twenty-First. After all, it’s not as if the modern-day equivalent of Suleiman the Magnificent is encamped in the outer suburbs of Dresden. Or that the self-aggrandizing “Islamic State” (barely the size of a single province of the mighty Ottoman Empire) constitutes an existential threat to European civilisation. Even thirty-five years from now, in 2050, the best demographic projections put Germany’s Muslims at just 7 percent of the German population.
What, then, is Pegida so frightened of?
Perhaps it’s the realisation that the rest of the world is crowding in on Europe. That European civilisation no longer commands the power and prestige of a century ago, when its empires bestrode the planet like armoured colossi.
As refugees from Africa and the Middle East clamour to be admitted to the member countries of the European Union, perhaps its peoples hear faint echoes of the Barbarian hordes clamouring to be admitted to the grandeur that was Rome.
Perhaps Europeans have been seized, like the Nazis in 1945, with the terrifying realisation that the world, upon whose resources they have all grown so fat, is very, very large; and that Europe, her 3,000 years of civilisation notwithstanding, is actually rather small.
Perhaps, like the Jews before them, Europe’s Muslim population has become an alarming reminder that history does not stand still, and neither do the peoples who make it. For five centuries Europe has been pushing against the world. Now the world is pushing back.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 January 2015.