Opinion: Observations about ‘civilizationism’ after a trip to Central Europe

You might be surprised to know that the Jewish community in Hungary, in the heart of central Europe, is statistically safer and less likely to be a victim of an antisemitic act, than all other European states, and the government is emphatically pro-Israel.

At the same time, there is a roiling controversy about remembrance of the Holocaust and the Hungarian role in aiding and abetting the suffering of the Jews.

Andy Palec

You might also be surprised to know that Poland, whose capital city Warsaw had the largest Jewish community in the world, next to New York City, prior to the Nazi invasion, is now home to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, an inspiring and expressive display dedicated to telling the story of Jewish life at the site of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Yet recently, during an Easter ritual in the Polish town of Pruchnik, a doll figure meant to depict a Jew as Judas was burned in effigy. To complicate matters, the Polish government, pro-Israel in almost all respects, is currently embroiled in a semantic, legal and diplomatic dispute with Israel over Polish involvement in perpetrating crimes against Jews. 


Andy Palec works in commercial real estate and writes about politics and foreign affairs. He is a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership Council and lives in Wauwatosa.

These and many other contradictions were explored and studied during a late-May trip to Central Europe, led by Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, to better understand the complicated politics and practical issues leading this part of Europe to embrace what is inadequately and misleadingly called nationalistic, “far-right” programs.

In fact, Dr. Pipes, a historian and commentator whose expertise is the Middle East and Islam, has coined a new phrase, “civilizationist,” to better describe the emerging political parties that are surging throughout Europe. Civilizationism can be defined as the erratic, but quickly growing movement to preserve Western mores and culture.  Many of the “far-right” parties, succeeding in European elections recently, have elements of an antisemitic fringe, but this fringe is weakening. The parties are moderating and improving. This stands in sharp contradiction with the “far-left” in places like France, Spain and England, where antisemitism appears to be resurgent in the political discourse.  

The Middle East Forum Mission to Central Europe – Poland, Hungary and Austria – in which I participated, met with representatives of these civilizationist parties, in addition to many stakeholders and thinkers who have a first-hand understanding about local conditions and circumstances. One after another, our speakers brought forth the distinction between Western Europe and Central Europe which could not be more pronounced – one has open borders and mass migration and the other has severely controlled borders and is opposed to mass migration. And the issue that matters most to one and almost not at all to the other – the lack of assimilation, in fact the intention not to integrate, the Muslim rejection of Western values and mores – is beginning to define Europe. Some would argue, portend its very survival.

While the Daniel Pipes delegation was cached in Central Europe for 10 days, a variant of the same subject appears to be swirling throughout the Western world. In the EU elections, also in late May, both the open borders left and the civilizationist parties saw gains while the center parties lost. The British people demand Brexit. The left in France, Sweden and other states brandish efforts to integrate and assimilate Muslim populations as “racist” and “bigoted.” The United States battles over its minimally controlled border with Mexico, its “Sanctuary Cities” and rejecting migrants from some Muslim majority states.

It reminds me of something I have observed. When Jews are attacked by cranks and neo-Nazis, we condemn without hesitation. When Jews are attacked by jihadists or Islamists, it’s better to keep quiet about it. It is prudent to be politically correct to avoid demonization. In Central Europe, the public has turned against refugees because of what they see. They worry about what happens if millions of refugees come. They think about the experience of Germany, the Netherlands, France. They don’t appear to want to make the same mistakes.

See also, related stories by Rob Golub and Leon Cohen.