Not liberal any more

It is well known that the EU has a democracy problem. Now there is also a liberalism problem. We are witnessing an illiberal turn in the EU – and just before the European elections.

The most recent example was the eviction of the Free University in Berlin after students had set up a protest camp in favour of Palestine and against the war in Gaza. Dialogue? No dialogue! The FU immediately called the police.

Now 143 professors and lecturers are protesting against the FU’s hard line in an open letter. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly must be protected, even in the tense situation caused by the conflict in the Middle East.

But this will not happen. Not in Berlin, where politicians are explicitly backing the FU and the police – but also not in Brussels or Paris, where universities have also been evacuated and students arrested.

The war crimes in Gaza – some speak of “genocide” – are to be hushed up. Germany and France do not even shy away from entry and speech bans in order to enforce the hard line.

But it’s not just about Gaza and the new student movement, which is being systematically suppressed. It is also about Italy, where journalists are going on strike because of the “omnipresent control by politicians”.

And it’s about EU accession candidates such as Ukraine and Moldova, where a succession of unpopular broadcasters are being banned and television is being synchronised in a state-controlled so-called “telemarathon”.

So far, this has only happened in “illiberal democracies” such as Hungary. The idea goes back to the Italian Duce Benito Mussolini, who propagated the downfall of liberalism and the rise of illiberal Europe.

The wars in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza are now bringing back this authoritarian spirit. However, this time it comes in a liberal guise. Bans and censorship measures are supposed to protect “liberal democracy”, it is said.

But what kind of democracy is it in which even prominent European politicians such as Varoufakis are banned? And what kind of liberalism is it that increasingly restricts the range of what can be said?

Even the FDP, which claims to stand for liberalism, has to ask itself this question. FDP Education Minister Stark-Watzinger, of all people, said that the statement made by teachers in Berlin in favour of freedom of expression left her “stunned”…

The original post (in German) is here