The Russia-Ukraine War: Rising Fascism in Europe and the Return of the “Western Problem”

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The Russia-Ukraine War, which began on February 24, 2022, fueled the growth of the far right in Europe’s conventional norms and accelerated developments that demonstrated that principles like democracy and human rights were only just rhetoric. These processes began with the rise of Islamophobia following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and hence the casting of “Islam” as the “other.” The global economic crisis in 2008, the Arab Spring that broke out in 2011 and the resulting migration movements, the Ukraine Crisis in 2014, the Brexit that took place as of December 31, 2020, and the outbreak of Covid-19 made the process of nationalistic ambitions ever clearer in European societies.

Two prominent issues bring Europe’s fears to the forefront in the context of the Russia-Ukraine War. These are security and the economy. While it is possible to discuss a multidimensional situation in terms of security, particularly energy, food, migration, and even borders; economically, Europe is facing the reality of hyperinflation just like during the interwar era. This produces economic challenges, which subsequently lead to social and political crises.

Indeed, Europe, which is becoming increasingly unstable by the day, is confronted with resigning governments, sharpening nation-state reflexes, and a burgeoning far-right reality. In this way, one could argue that the circumstances that gave rise to Adolf Hitler in Germany or Benito Mussolini in Italy are repeating themselves today. The election victory of the Brothers of Italy led by Georgia Meloni in Italy, the far right coming to power in Sweden, the “cradle of social democracy,” the Conservative Party’s continued leadership despite the political turmoil in England, the growing influence of neo-Nazi groups such as PEGIDA in Germany, and the rise of the National Rally in France confirm that Europe is being plunged into the pre-World War II atmosphere.

Furthermore, protests in countries such as Germany, France, and Czechia in response to the energy crisis and criticizing their nations’ Russian policies demonstrate that governments are under intense public pressure to pursue a strategy that prioritizes their national interests. Because sanctions intended at weakening Russia have a “boomerang effect” on Europe, which attracts the reaction of impoverished societies. As a result, even though many experts’ assessments neglect the public component, it is apparent that the pressure in question will rise even more. In other words, not only far-right parties but also governments across the continent tend towards far-right discourses. Thus, it might be argued that the continent’s divisions will trigger some political ruptures in the future.

To summarize, opportunist pragmatism comes from the idealist discourses produced by the European Union (EU) through values, in which each nation prioritizes its interests and shows a desire to return to its own historical rules. Of course, this position opens the door to a process known as the “European Crisis” in particular and the “Western Crisis” in general, just as it did before World War II.

The most serious challenge confronting the West is the lack of self-confidence caused by the leadership of the United States of America (USA). Because the EU countries feel the humiliation experienced by Hitler’s Germany to the core. Although the American leadership has established a secure environment for the continental nations, the differences that arise in Trans-Atlantic ties from time to time raise the question of “Which West?” This may lead the actors to turn to a revisionist policy.

The most pressing issue at this juncture is Continental Europe’s leadership. The recent escalation of conflicts and rivalry between Germany and France also calls to mind the fight for European leadership before World War I and II.

The armament decision demonstrating the revival of the national ambitions of Germany, the economic giant of the EU, and France’s European Political Community (EPC), indicates that the Berlin-Paris divide may spiral out of control, particularly in the EU-EPC debates.

Furthermore, Germany’s Chinese orientation, which is supposed to have learned lessons from World War II and the Russia-Ukraine War, demonstrates that Berlin’s aims may become disastrous. Therefore, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Beijing on November 4, 2022, has considerable symbolic significance. At this stage, it is important not to overlook the “Emerging Asian Powers” that emerged before World War II, as well as the “Fascist Alliance” ideology that developed in Japan. Because the world is once again experiencing discussions on the concept of “Rising Asia.”

Furthermore, French President Emmanuel Macron’s transformation of his country into an actor deeply interested in former colonial geography within the framework of Napoleonic policies, while making room for the extreme right in domestic politics in the context of the “yellow vests,” recalls times when rising nationalism triggered colonialism. It also demonstrates that actors are seeking methods to revert to their colonial pasts by abandoning integrationist policies.

Of course, the issue is not limited to Continental Europe. Because Britain is also looking for ways to return to its glorious imperial days. Brexit was a tool to achieve this goal. Britain, which seeks to be prominent in Eurasian geopolitics by participating in the “New Great Game” and being the main subject of the “Great Game” in history, seeks to open up to Eurasia through Eastern Europe. The defense-based cooperation agreement signed between Britain, Poland, and Ukraine shortly before the Russia-Ukraine War is an outcome of this policy. This purpose also explains why London stands apart from other EU capitals in its approach to Kyiv and Moscow, taking a considerably more radical stance.

As it will be remembered, one of the features of the process leading up to World War II was the failure of the League of Nations, which was established to prevent wars from happening. Today, the United Nations (UN), which has drawn criticism for its ineffectiveness in dealing with crises, may suffer a similar fate. As a result, if some UN structural reforms are not implemented, it may be impossible to prevent Europe’s shift from right-populism to right-wing fascism. This could turn Continental Europe into a geography where wars take place. This is the painful truth that history has shown.

All these assessments reflect the divergence experienced in Europe in particular and in the West in general in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian War. The answers to the question “what kind of a future” in the context of Ukraine may influence European security architecture and trigger vulnerabilities in Continental Europe. Because the current picture is, in every way, reminiscent of World War II.

Finally, the EU is confronted with the devastating threat of the acute nation-state mindset that has been on the rise among the far right. In this context, it is possible to assert that the separation processes triggered by Brexit tend to deepen and broaden with new challenges focusing on “Mediterranean Europe” and “Eastern Europe.” The world is once again confronted with a “Western Problem” centered on Europe. The ghosts of Hitler and Mussolini are looming over Europe. Undoubtedly, this process has an Asian component that must be addressed later.

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin EROL
Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin EROL
Born in 1969, Dörtyol-Hatay, Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol graduated from Boğaziçi University (BU), Department of Political Science and International Relations in 1993. After completing his master's degree at BU in 1995, Erol was accepted to the PhD program at BU in the same year. After completing his PhD at Ankara University in 2005, Erol became an associate professor in the field of “International Relations” in 2009 and a professor in 2014. Erol worked at the Eurasian Center for Strategic Studies (ASAM) between 2000 and 2006 and and served as the General Coordinator of ASAM for a period. In 2009, he served as also Founding Chairman and Board Member of the Institute for Strategic Thinking (SDE). He is also the Founding President of the Center for International Strategy and Security Studies (USGAM) and the President of the International Relations Institute of the New Türkiye Strategic Research Center (YTSAM). Prof. Erol has also served as the Director of Gazi University Strategic Research Center (GAZISAM). In 2007, Prof. Erol received the “Turkish World Service Award” from the Writers and Artists Foundation of the Turkic World (TÜRKSAV), and has received numerous awards for his academic work and his activities in the media. Some of them can be listed as follows: 2013 “Print Media of the Year Award” by the Association of Contemporary Democrats, 2015 “APM 10th Year Service Award”, “2015 Press-Intellectual of the Year Award” by the Writers' Union of Türkiye (YTB), “2016 Volunteer Ambassadors Media Honor Award” by the Anatolian Village Guards and Martyrs' Families, “2016 Türkiye Honor Award” by the Yoruk Turkmen Federations. Prof. Erol has 15 book studies. The names of some of them are as follows: “The United States of Turks from Dream to Reality”, “Türkiye-EU Relations: Foreign Policy and Internal Structure Problems”, “The New Great Game in Eurasia”, “The Search for Strategy in Turkish Foreign Policy”, “The Search for Security in Turkish Foreign Policy”, “The Republic of Türkiye-Russian Federation Relations”, “The Cold Organization of Hot Peace: The New NATO”, “Theoretical Approaches in Foreign Policy Analysis: The Case of Turkish Foreign Policy”, “Crises and Crisis Management: Actors and Case Studies”, “Kazakhstan” and “Current Issues in International Relations”. Since 2002, Prof. Erol, who has carried out radio programs such as “Eurasia Agenda”, “Strategic Perspective”, “Global Perspective”, “Analysis”, “File”, “News Desk”, “The Other Side of the Agenda” on TRT Türkiye's voice and TRT Radio 1 (Ankara Radio), made the programs “Arayış” on TRT INT television between 2004-2007, “Beyond the Border” on Kanal A television between 2007-2010 and “Foreign Policy Agenda” on BBN TÜRK television in 2020-2021. Prof. Erol, whose foreign policy column “Arayış” was published in Milli Gazete between 2012-2018, is consulted for his expertise in numerous national and international media outlets such as television, radio, newspapers, news websites and magazines. Prof. Erol, who also taught at Gazi University Department of International Relations and Ankara University Latin American Studies Center (LAMER) between 2006-2018, has been continuing his academic career as a faculty member at Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University Department of International Relations since 2018. Since 2006, Prof. Erol has also taught in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Ufuk University. The main areas of interest and expertise of Prof. Erol and the titles of his courses at the undergraduate, master's and doctoral levels in this area are as follows: “Geopolitics”, “Security”, “Intelligence”, “Crisis Management”, “Current Issues in International Relations”, “Turkish Foreign Policy”, “Russian Foreign Policy”, “US Foreign Policy” and “Central Asia and South Asia”. Prof. Erol, whose articles-evaluations have been published in many journals and newspapers, has been editor of academic journals such as “Eurasia File”, “Strategic Analysis”, “Strategic Thinking”, “Gazi Regional Studies”, “The Journal of SSPS”, “Black Sea Studies”. He is currently in the editorial boards of “Regional Studies,” “International Crisis and Political Research,” “Gazi Academic View”, “Ege University Turkish World Surveys”, “Ankara International Social Sciences”, “Democracy Platform”. Prof. Erol, who has been working as the Founding President of the Ankara Center for Crisis and Political Studies (ANKASAM) since 2016, is married and has three children.