The European Crisis
Michael Walzer 21 September 2015

In 1938, in an earlier European crisis, with refugees clamoring to enter France, Leon Blum, the leader of the Socialist Party and the prime minister of the short-lived Popular Front government of 1936, gave a speech whose key sentences are worth repeating today. This is what he said:

“Your house may already be full. That may be. But when they knock on your door, you will open it, and you will not ask them for their birth certificates or criminal records or vaccination certificates.”

What a joy it would be to hear a Socialist leader in Europe today speak like that! François Hollande came close: “It is the duty of France, where the right to asylum is an integral part of its soul, its flesh. . . .” But he then announced that France would admit 24,000 refugees over the next two years—too few, given the numbers knocking on the door.

Blum in ’38 went on to say that the refugees would not necessarily stay in France. A more general solution to the crisis was required, as it is today, permitting the return of people to their homelands or their resettlement in different countries, which would share the burden of providing for them. But they needed a place, they need a place, right now: “How can you refuse them shelter for a night?” Blum asked. In Europe today, only the Germans and the Swedes have opted strongly against refusal; Italy and Greece are overwhelmed and eager to help the refugees on their way to other places. The EU as a whole is once again, as Europe was in the 1930s, a world of borders and refusals.

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Article published on Dissent Magazine on September 4th, 2015.