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Il Duce's flame burns bright again

Continued from Page 3

English fascists in the British National Party have been known to say: "We prefer to be poor and English rather than wealthy and multicultural."

That slogan, with its rejection of borderless capitalist materialism and its embrace of humble cultural authenticity, sounds strikingly like some of the slogans uttered by people on the left-wing fringes of another important European force, the anti-globalization movement.

This is perhaps the most surprising development -- and another echo of the 1930s, when the communist left and the fascist right became almost indistinguishable in their policies and views.

It has sprung to life most dramatically this month in France, where the nation is embroiled in a debate over whether to accept the EU's 474-page constitution in a referendum vote on May 29.

A No vote, which polls show is highly possible, will kill the constitution, and therefore the expansion of the de-nationalization of economies, for all of Europe.

But most critics had expected the opposition to come from Mr. Le Pen's right. Instead, it has emerged from a left that has embraced "neo-nationalism," a movement that has taken off in France, Germany and Italy.

Europe's most eloquent neo-nationalists, such as German-born British writer Ralf Dahrendorf, argue that because "democracy and the nation-state are tied to each other," the "weakening of the nation-state by a process of internationalization is by the same token a weakening of democracy." By raising powers above the merely national level, these thinkers argue, ordinary people lose control over their services and specific cultures, such as the French practice of short working weeks and long vacations.

This argument does not sound very similar to fascism, and is certainly couched in a far more sophisticated voice. But it has caused deep concern among other European observers, who fear that it is precisely the sort of argument that will be taken up by the extreme right and used to break up Europe into feuding ethno-nations again.

"Europe needs critique, without doubt," German sociologist Ulrich Beck warned on Wednesday, addressing a French audience in an attempt by German intellectuals to push France to the Yes side.

"But not blind, nostalgic critique, based on grand delusions," he continued, making a clear reference to fascism. "Common solutions are more fruitful than unilateral actions on the part of nations. The 'Europe of differences' does not represent a danger. It will renew, transform and open up the nations and states of Europe to the global era. Such a Europe may even become a beacon of freedom in a turbulent world."

Ironically, people such as Mr. Holmes argue that it is this kind of argument that produces an ultraright backlash. So in Europe today, it is possible to argue that both the EU and its left-wing opposition are possible triggers of fascism.

On the streets of Latina, where people are concerned about the flood of foreign workers who are brought in to harvest the crops starting around this time of year, and about the rising prices caused by the euro, some of these arguments have some resonance.

But there is a far greater sense of quiet patience, as if everyone is just waiting for the right moment for the good old days to return.

Doug Saunders is a member of The Globe and Mail's European bureau.

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Reading the ashes

Tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the most devastating military conflict in human history -- and of its most lasting aftermath, the creation of a new European society from the war's ashes.

Today and for the next five Saturdays in Focus, European bureau chief Doug Saunders will explore the shadows of the war and how they continue to influence Europeans' daily life even as they engage in the world's most ambitious experiment in social change.

As the series takes him from Italy through stops in Germany, France, Poland, Britain and finally Belgium, Mr. Saunders will examine a continent that is poised precariously between erasing its horrific past -- and repeating it.

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