It seems to be a universal truth that one of the most difficult concepts for any young teenager to grasp from secondary school history is how Adolf Hitler was able to rise to power. I was baffled during Year 9 history when we found out that Hitler, who as far as any of us were concerned was the devil reincarnate, not only took over Germany but was elected to do so by the very people he would send to their deaths. It’s a story that was borderline satirical; a failed artist leading his country to it’s downfall under a flag of hatred and jealousy. The concept of ‘Nazis’ was something to make fun of and ridicule. The tale of fascism was nothing more than a fable of the evils of 1940’s Germany. ‘Surely an enlightened society such as ours would never let such a thing happen’ we thought smugly to ourselves, resting on the laurels of a dead generation. We could never have been more wrong.
Take central Europe for example. The original seat of fascism seems to be determined to repeat history in the form of Hungary’s little-Hitler, Viktor Orban. Back in 2005, Hungary was a front runner for democracy, named ‘one to watch’ by Freedom House Press. However, since the election of Orban, Hungary has gone from being categorised as a ‘Consolidated Democracy’ to a ‘Transitional Regime’. Right under our noses, Orban has single-handedly readjusted central Europe to be a foothold of fascism. Through a culture of bullying and censorship, Orban has centralized government power to put himself and his trusted members directly in control of national legislation. If this wasn’t enough, his government has also usurped the national media, censoring opposition to the regime. Regardless of which toxic brand of fascism a country chooses to follow, we will see that themes of censorship crop up again and again regardless of the region. Without censorship, fascist regimes find it harder to control its populace.
Orban goes a step further: not only has his government censored national news, it has also recently attempted to censor the arts. A law was passed as recently as 2019 that refused financing to any theatre or entertainment outlet if their content did not pass through the ‘National Cultural Council’, effectively shutting down theatres that did not show government approved content.
In 1933, Hitler passed the infamous ‘Enabling Act’. This act allowed him to pass laws without the consent of the German Parliament, effectively establishing Nazi dictatorship. On the 11th of March 2020, Hungary enacted its own enabling act, giving unfettered power to the ruling Hungarian party run by Viktor Orban. This was in response to the COVID-19 crisis, however, it will undoubtedly be used to pass yet more archaic laws such as the most recent one that no longer allows people who identify as transgender to legally change their gender. This is a humiliating regression for Hungary and central Europe as a whole. Without international intervention, Orban may soon be able to totally convert Hungary’s political system into a dictatorship with him at the top.
The fascist fandom doesn’t stop at central Europe. While not necessarily being as overtly power-grabbing as Orban, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president, deserves at least an honorable mention. Similar to Orban, Bolsonaro goes all in on the ‘us vs them’ attitude seen throughout fascist history. Famously quoted as saying ‘We feel profound repulsion towards those who are not Brazilian’, previous targets of Bolsonaro include: LGBTQ, Non-Brazilians, Afro-Brazilians, Northern Brazilians, basically any group of people who aren’t hard right fascists.
Bolsonaro is by no means as subtle in his oppressive tactics as Orban, his Brazilian government deliberately riles up its supporters to the point of murder. After his election, from the months of January to September 2017, 62 people who work for the Brazilian Committee of Human Rights were murdered, alongside a left-wing member of the city council of Rio de Janeiro. His followers also have been known to attack journalists during rallies. Despite these obvious violations of human rights, the Brazilian government remains unchecked by western society and is largely ignored by international press. Bolsonaro and his supporters freely take censorship to its most extreme form: murder.
A conversation about the rise of fascism would be amiss without discussing the actions of President Trump. When Trump was first elected, he was touted by many critics as being the first fascist US president. At the time I rejected this notion. Sure, Trump was a right-wing nutcase who looked and acted like a racist penguin in a suit but to name him as a fascist would be going too far. Or so I thought.
Since the beginning of his presidency, Trump has continuously called into question the validity and reliability of hundreds of reporters and media organizations. His famous and continuous use of the term ‘fake news’ to degrade the press has allowed him to manifest the idea of ‘subjective truth’. To his supporters, nothing that any critics of Trump say is true, regardless of fact or evidence. Recently, after publishing an opinion poll done by the public that gave Trump a negative rating, CNN was issued with legal threats by the Trump administration. This act in itself is a serious attempt at censorship by the government, and should be seen as a huge red flag for all Americans.
One of the key features of fascism is the oppression of opposition voices. Whether that be voices of the people or voices of a movement, to suppress those voices which disagree with the current government is the poster-child of fascism. I believe that all of Trump’s actions during the BLM protests push his government dangerously close to the precipice of democracy. He brought in the National Guard to suppress protestors, declared ANTIFA a terrorist organization and most recently placed sanctions against employees of the International Criminal Court. People investigating possible US war crimes in Afghanistan have had sanctions placed on them for nothing more than representing the victims of international atrocities. It’s no wonder Bolsonaro submits to Trumps every word. Combine these events with recent legislation such as the removal of sexual orientation or chosen gender from the protected category of healthcare, the true colours of the Trump administration shine through.
Despite the supposed progression of the modern world, it only takes a few leaders to show how easily fascism can return as quickly as it was eradicated. It is no longer difficult for young teenagers to imagine how someone like Hitler was allowed to get in to power when the lessons of our past are taking place before our very eyes. Democracy is dying the same way it did 80 years ago; to the sound of thunderous applause.
Words by Olly Singleton