Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

Pope warns populism could lead to 'saviours' like Hitler

  • Pope Francis said citizens are looking for leaders to restore their identity (Photo: European Parliament)

Pope Francis has warned that the rise of populism in Europe could pave the way for the election of supposed "saviours" like Adolf Hitler.

In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais published on Sunday (22 January) the pontiff drew parallels between 1930s Germany and today's Europe.

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"Crises provoke fear, alarm," the pope said, citing the example of Germany in 1933.

He said Germany felt it had lost its identity and wanted a leader who could restore it. "And there is a young man named Adolf Hitler who says 'I can, I can.'"

The pope warned that democracy could destroy itself as people look for a "saviour" in times of crisis.

"Hitler didn't steal the power, his people voted for him, and then he destroyed his people. That is the risk," he said.

He noted that Germans were looking for someone who could defend their identity "with walls, barbed-wire" from others. He said that the case was "typical" and that Hitler eventually gave Germans a "distorted identity and we know what happened".

He said countries have the right to defend their borders, and know who crosses them, but he urged dialogue instead of building walls.

"That is why I always try to say: talk among yourselves, talk to one another," he said, adding that "no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility to talk with their neighbours".

Francis gave the interview a day before a meeting in Koblenz of European far-right parties, where leaders like France's Marine Le Pen, the Netherlands' Geert Wilders and Germany's Frauke Petry pledged that 2017 will be a year of nationalism.

Ahead of national elections this years, their parties, the National Front, the Party of Freedom and the Alternative for Germany, all promise tough immigration laws, stricter border control and advocate for stronger nation states at the cost of European integration.

But the pope did not want to pass judgement on the new US president Donald Trump.

"We must wait and see. I don't like to get ahead of myself nor judge people prematurely. We will see how he acts, what he does, and then I will have an opinion," he said, adding that "being afraid or rejoicing beforehand ... is quite unwise".

In a message released by the Vatican, Francis urged Trump upon his inauguration to take care of the poor and the outcast.

He added he hoped Trump's decisions would be guided by "the rich spiritual and ethical values" that have shaped America.

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Far-right leaders Le Pen, Wilders, Petry and others gathered in Koblenz in the hope of gaining political momentum ahead of national elections this year. The event was met with thousands of protestors.

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In a speech strongly criticising European leaders, pope Francis urged the EU to welcome migrants and revamp its economic policies to make them fairer toward young people.

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Populism is something to be understood, says Paolo Graziano, professor of political science at the University of Padua.

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