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‘Detachment from real life’: Bono talks populism in Europe with Zakaria

‘Detachment from real life’: Bono talks populism in Europe with Zakaria
In poverty-stricken Kiev, Ukraine, a millionaire TV host and Washington Post writer sat down with a multimillionaire musician to discuss Europe’s rising tide of populism. Unsurprisingly, readers learned little.

Journalist Fareed Zakaria, a Harvard-educated millionaire with his own CNN show on Sundays wanted to understand how Europe, a continent finally at peace after centuries of conflict, could be succumbing to the rise of “populism and nativism.” What, he wondered, could be fuelling Europeans’ newfound Euroscepticism and “hostility toward strangers, foreigners, anyone who is different.”

Rather than ask a Spaniard watching migrant boats plow ashore on his country’s beaches, or a Dutchman whose picture-postcard village now features a mosque and ten kebab shops, Zakaria sat down with U2 frontman Bono, for an article published in the Washington Post on Thursday.

“Europe needs to go from being seen as a bore, a bureaucracy, a technical project, to being what it is: a grand, inspiring idea,” the singer opined. He argued that while the EU has enacted mountains of legislation, it has failed to capture the imagination of Europeans.

“That idea of Europe deserves songs written about it, and big bright blue flags to be waved about,” he wrote in a German newspaper recently. To that end, Bono has taken to unfurling a gigantic blue EU flag at U2 concerts, a gimmick he described as “a radical act.”

However, are Europeans interested in Bono’s song-and-dance brand of Europhilia?

Well, the thing about populism is that, by definition, it’s popular. In his article, Zakaria points out that anti-immigrant sentiment runs high in countries like Hungary. Elsewhere, Sweden’s anti-immigration Sweden Democrats took the second-largest share of the vote in elections two weeks ago; Italy’s eurosceptic government enjoys record approval ratings; and Austria’s right-wing government has made strengthening its borders a national priority.

Talking to Zakaria, Bono called for a different type of patriotism, one that seeks “unity above homogeneity.” However, his own acts to heal the divide and foster this new patriotism have planted him firmly in the social justice warrior camp.

As Swedes went to the polls earlier this month, Bono called them Nazis at a concert in Paris. Dressed as a ‘devil clown,’ the singer performed a Nazi salute while shouting “Akesson,” the surname of Jimmie Akesson, the Sweden Democrats’ leader. After calling Swedes “potential Aryans,” he then insulted French populist Marine Le Pen, as part of a wider tirade against the right in general.

On immigration, Bono has gone beyond simply calling for Europeans to accept refugees from war-torn countries. Jamie Drummond, CEO of Bono’s own anti-poverty NGO, ‘ONE’, has argued for mass African immigration to Europe.

“As Africa’s population doubles, a lot of them, whatever the circumstances, will be coming to Europe, as economic migrants or as refugees, they will be coming, and that is a good thing” Drummond told an Irish government committee last year. “We will be senescent demographically. We’ll need their youthful energy.”

Zakaria and [Bono] Hewson reach no further understanding of European populism in Zakaria’s article, other than that it’s bad, and can maybe be stopped with catchy songs and shiny flags. At least that’s the position of a singer with a beachfront villa in Monaco and a $700 million fortune who seemingly pays taxes in any country but his own.

Like many of Bono’s endeavors, the article was relentlessly mocked online.

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