Logo

Eurasianism and the European Far Right: Book Launch and Update on Events in Europe

April 12, 2016

Introduction

DAVID SPEEDIE: Welcome to everyone for this occasion. The title is "Eurasianism and the European Far Right."

The term "Eurasianism" is arcane. I will leave it to one of our panelists to explain it. On the one hand, it implies a sort of anti-Atlanticist—i.e., anti-U.S.-dominated—view of the world; but also one that aspires to a Russia that would regain its lost great-power status by forging new alliances.

We began this exploration of Eurasianism, Marlene tells me, at the end of 2013. It was originally to look at the issue of the new far right in Russia; but the exploration soon took us beyond the borders of Russia into Europe. In brief, both the intellectual forebears of the Eurasianist movement in Russia, the new assertive Russia, are Western European far-right thinkers. We will be hearing a bit more about that in a moment or two. Accordingly, there is a long history of association and engagement between far-right forces in Russia with their European counterparts.

This, then, led us to the European far right itself—a broad spectrum of forces, basically, on the one hand, anti-EU nationalists, who would disrupt the European Union from within; to the other end of the spectrum, outright fascist organizations. Again we will hear a bit more about that.

All these are discussed in the book, which we were proud to bring out last summer, Eurasianism and the European Far Right, with writers from, I think, nine different countries contributing to this panoramic view of the new far right. While we hesitate to say that we were prophetic in all this, certainly much of the recent upheaval in Europe over the past year or so has justified this project. The upheaval is fomented by, and also fuels the fire of, the far-right forces in Europe. The massacres in Paris and Brussels, the eurozone crisis in Europe's South, the refugee crisis from Syria and elsewhere that has created deep fissures within the European Union—all of these are clearly grist for the mill of the far right.

A final point that is relevant to this panel we have here: Why should we care? Simply put, in answer to that, we are not disconnected from these forces of disruption. There is evidence of communication and collaboration between the far right in Europe and on U.S. soil. This troubling and complex panorama will be described by three bona fide experts on different aspects of the far-right phenomenon. I will introduce them.

But before I do, I just want to acknowledge the support of this project from a number of key individuals who are very special to the Council. Krishen Mehta is with us. Krishen, in addition to involvement with such organizations as the Aspen Institute and Human Rights Watch, is also a loyal friend and supporter of the Council and this project. Also the Rockefeller Family and Associates and Wade Green, who cannot be with us. I should also mention that our good friends Eva and Yoel Haller are generous supporters of this program. They would have loved to have been with us, but they are traveling. So to Eva and Yoel Haller we also give our thanks.

I will just introduce our panelists in the order in which they will speak:

Dr. Marlene Laruelle: She is a research professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Most importantly, she really has been the shepherd for this project from the very beginning. She identified the writers and made sure that this book appeared in good and rapid time. Marlene will discuss the origins and genesis of the book, and also the far right in contemporary Russia.

Dr. Péter Krekó will follow up. He is with a European political research and consultancy firm in Budapest, as well as an associate professor of the Loránd University of Sciences in Budapest. Péter will pick up some of the threads in the book with reference, but not exclusively, to the situation in Hungary, but Europe in general.

Finally, Dan Stein is a researcher, writer, and organizer based in New York City. He is a bona fide expert on the far right in the United States. He will draw some trans-Atlantic connections that I think will pull it all together and answer that rhetorical question: Why should we care?

Marlene, would you please lead us off?

Remarks

MARLENE LARUELLE: Thank you so much, David. Thank you for being here today.

Let me begin by saying first, of course, that it is a great pleasure to have the book finished and out, and to be able to publicize it; but also to tell you that research is continuing on that topic, because, unfortunately, the topic is there and it is really important to study it.

The first point I would like to mention is that, as you all know, the far right in Europe has really deep social roots and political roots. It really a homegrown phenomenon. The goal of the book was really not to say that Russia is responsible for the rise of the far right in Europe. The goal was to say it is growing in Europe and now we will be looking at international implications and transnational connections that we can see with Russia. What is really interesting is to see how some political groups in Russia have emerged as a new kind of fellow travelers for the European far right, and the European far right are also becoming fellow travelers of contemporary Russia.

The second introductory point I would like to mention is that maybe during the discussion you will hear us using sometimes "far right," sometimes "extreme right," sometimes "populist party." This kind of terminology issue can be a little bit troubling.

To make it short, I think what is really important to realize is that in Europe there are two main trends. You have political parties and groups who want to get power. They want to be elected. They want to speak to a large electorate. Therefore, they want to normalize the far-right narrative. That is the tendency that we see with the Front National, for example, in France.

Then you have all the smaller groups that want to stay in the kind of anti-systemic tradition, countercultural tradition. They are fine with being marginalized and not being able to succeed on the European political landscape.

These two groups have two different outreach strategies, because they have to reach different audiences. Some want to get a wide electorate. Some are less interested by that. But many of them, in fact, share the same values and same kind of ideological reference. Some may be defined as "far right," others as "populist," but very often their members are sharing the same ideological far-right references.

In the book we have been trying to identify the main countries with which Russia and the far right have been creating connections. We have been trying to do a chronology of these elements and identify the different networks.

Let me say two main points in my presentation.

The first one is that the links between the Russian and the European far right may seem very new, but in fact they are relatively old. It is just that the political visibility and significance has just emerged in this last, let's say, decade, or even these last three, four years. But these links we can identify. They were already there during the Soviet time. The Russian nationalists and dissidents, being part of the Soviet dissidents' underground circles, already had connections with the European far right in the 1960s and 1970s, and probably there was already a connection even before that. But to be really able to trace them, you need to do work in archives, which was not the part of the first book but is now what the project is going on. What we have been trying to do now is to identify, to kind of map, these different ideological connections. We see several groups of them.

The first one is the old kind of 1960s/1970s Soviet dissident tradition, some groups that we can call new right groups, who have been reactivated in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

One of the most famous, prominent figures of this far-right trans-European-Russian connection is Aleksandr Dugin, who has been relatively famous and studied, who has been one of the first in making the connection with what we call in France or in Belgium or in Italy the "new right"—far-right intellectual circles trying to re-create a kind of post-fascist ideology for contemporary Europe. The specificity of Dugin—and in that he is a relatively important person—is that he is the one also promoting this Eurasianist ideology. That makes him a little bit confusing, to have both Eurasianism and far right put together. But in fact, in many aspects, this Russian Eurasianist ideology is the Russian version of European far right. It is promoting more or less similar topics. I will be discussing them in a moment.

We have been identifying also other groups that are trying to make this connection between Europe and Russia. You have skinhead/white power-oriented groups. They are less intellectual. They are more interested in street actions. So that is another kind of circle.

Something which is also very important is the rule of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some circles inside the church—of course, not the church itself purely as an institution, but some radical circles—have been developing connections with the European far right through the tradition of being connected to the Russian émigré circles and to the monarchist circles. Now they are promoting a very reactionary political and social agenda through these connections.

We also see, of course, the big kind of populist party, like Jobbik in Hungary. Péter will mention that later. The Front National in France has also a large spectrum of connection in Russia, with several different kinds of groups and friends that can be identifiable on the Russian side.

If we look on the Russian side, what seems to me very important is to realize that one of the small political parties that is functioning in Russia, called Rodina, which means "homeland," is kind of the cornerstone, the driving force of making these connections between the Russian and European far right. It is led by Dmitry Rogozin, who is the deputy prime minister of Russia. This Rodina party has been trying to become a platform where all the different networks I just mentioned would be targeting their counterparts in Europe. In 2015 they organized a big forum of all the European so-called conservative forces—in fact, really kind of far-right forces—in St. Petersburg, and they will be organizing a new one in October.

What is really the big issue for us when we are studying this party is that they have huge connections among the European far right, but they also have connections inside some circles—and they are difficult to identify—of the Russian government and the presidential administration. That is why it is becoming a more political issue.

The second point I want to mention very briefly, which David already briefly mentioned, is the ideological connections between Russia and the European far right. There are several of them that we can identify.

Both the European far right and the Russian far right, and globally the Russian agenda, the Russian political establishment, today are all interested in having an anti-NATO/anti-U.S./anti-European Union agenda; something that would say that the liberal order is an illusion, it's a fake, that supranational institutions will not be good for Europe or for Russia. They are on both sides promoting a strong nation-state, the sovereignty of the state, having a strong leader. On that, they are, of course, in harmony. They are promoting what they call conservative values, very often so-called traditional family values. They are also refusing immigration and wanting to protect "white Europe" from immigration. Of course, the current refugee crisis is an easy element for them to play off of.

What seems to me the key issue—and this will be my last point—is that the values I just mentioned—being anti-liberal order, anti-EU, promoting nation-states, promoting so-called conservative values—very often, both by the European far right and the Russian one, it is labeled as conservatism. Conservatism is a legitimate trend both in the Russian political landscape and in the European political landscape. But those who are at the core of that connection are not conservative mainstream people; they are far-right people. So in a sense, what is happening now, both in Russia and in Europe, is the far-right hijacking the so-called conservatism values narrative to make it more mainstream and to be able to go beyond just their electorate's own limitation.

So what seems to me a key element that maybe we will have forthcoming in the discussion is: First, how can we explain this kind of strange continuum between conservatism and far right, and how can we study the porosity of narratives that suddenly make the far right become more and more legitimate because they play the conservative values cards? What can be the answer to that? Of course, what is happening in Hungary between Jobbik's and Orbán's party is a good example of this porosity between the far right and mainstream parties.

The second element is: How can we break this porosity of narrative and try to find a new political offer that would help the electorate of the far right to come back to a more constructive political agenda? That is, of course, a big issue for which there is no answer, neither in Europe nor in Russia.

The last point I wanted just to mention—because the book was really about looking at the role of Russia in this European panorama—is: How can we discuss the role of Russia in the European political landscape without having to look only at these kinds of far-right connections? Russia is really shaped by European culture, by the European normative agenda; but at the same time, Eurasia is also legitimate in thinking it has its own rule and its own voice to spread in Europe. But, of course, with the current crisis after the Ukrainian events, things have become so difficult and politicized that we are really at a difficult moment of finding a way where we can build relations with Russia that will not be built on these kinds of far-right connections. Unfortunately, that is what is growing now.

Unfortunately, the kind of mainstream that we see emerging now is both this European far right, based on its own homegrown socially troubled times that we see in Europe, and some well-connected political groups, radical white groups, in Russia, both of them working together to try to create a general agenda, a pan-European agenda, that would destroy the democratic kind of values and try to promote these far-right theories.

In many aspects, all these groups are very deeply rooted in fascist and post-fascist ideologies. But, as I said, they have been able to kind of hijack this narrative about conservative values. That is really the main trend that we see now. The real point is: How can we deconstruct that, both intellectually as scholars, but also politically as citizens?

Maybe I will stop here so we have time for the discussion.

PÉTER KREKÓ: First of all, thank you much for the opportunity of being here. I think it is a great opportunity, in the sense that I would feel bad if the book itself would be something that I would not be happy to promote. But the thing is that I am happy to promote it because it is a really good and well-written book.

At the time when Marlene and her colleagues started to write it, this issue was absolutely not in the mainstream discourse, in 2013, maybe. Right now it is more or less becoming commonplace that people know that Russia has some connections with far-right forces, and obvious for everyone. But at the time that they dug in, investigating that, it was not the case.

When we at our institute, Political Capital, published a piece on this topic in March 2014, it even came for many as a surprise that these kinds of things exist.

But an advantage of the book—and I would like to underline it—is that it avoids overstatements. I think it is pretty important to have solid analysis on this issue, and to not state links that do not exist. I do think for good policymaking solid analysis is important and we should be cautious with making causal links.

There are sometimes more coincidences than causal links. In some cases, for example, in the case of Front National or in the case of Hungary and Jobbik, there is pretty obvious proof that there are financial links, there are personal links, and there is political coordination. But there are many more useful idiots, I would say, around in Europe, than mercenaries who get something in return directly for their political support for Russia.

I think what is also important is that the book focuses on Dugin and his work, but doesn't claim, as many claim, wrongly, that Dugin is the mastermind of the Russian system and he is, let's say, Putin's ideological puppet master. That it is simply not true. He is someone who is influential, but he is not the most influential person in Russia. Even as an ideologue, he was a bit more sidelined in the last period.

So my first point would be that it is important to recognize that these issues are complex. I think the advantage of this book is that it fulfills this duty perfectly.

The second point I would like to make is—it might be a bit of a provocative statement, and it is not directly written in the book in this way—I would say that the Russian policymaking is, in a lot of ways, much more similar to, for example, U.S. policymaking than it seems to be at first sight. Why? For example, because of what Marlene mentioned, that there is a variety of players. Usually they used to think that, because of the vertical power structure it is Putin himself who decides on everything, which is wrong. It is a complex system, with many players.

The deputy prime minister, for example, Dmitry Rogozin—of course, he is the deputy prime minister, so he represents the system—but, on the other hand, he has a bit different agenda than Putin himself. There is the Russian Orthodox Church. There are Russian businessmen, like Malofeev. There are other political players, like Alexander Babakov. I would say that there is a semi-coordinated network of players, but we cannot say that it is totally orchestrated.

I think there is a general visual illusion that we always see the enemy—or let's say the rival—as over-coordinated, that they coordinate everything, they work in a very sophisticated, orchestrated manner. We can say that in a lot of cases—for example, in the connection between a wide range of Russian players and the far-right players—this is not necessarily like that.

So I would say, for example, we know that there are think tanks as well, such as the Valdai Club. The Valdai Club, let's say, tries to serve in a similar manner as Western think tanks do, for example. My third point is I do think that the actors, policymakers, in Russia in a lot of matters copy a lot from the Western models, even if the Eurasian ideology as such is essentially anti-Western, anti-American. It is mentioned in the book—and this is the major contradiction—that neo-Eurasianism itself is an ideology that was created under strong Western intellectual influences—the French far right, Julius Evola's work, and many others. So it is not something that we can say is genuinely in the Russian ideology. It is under Western influence.

We know, for example, that Putin's political advisors are copying a lot of the models or techniques of the U.S. election campaign. They are watching it closely, and if they see something that they think is pertinent, they are happy to use it in the campaigns.

There are the election observation missions—I would say the so-called election observation missions—of Russia that are run by Kremlin-close actors and think tanks. They, for example, serve the goal of providing Western legitimacy to elections that do not have a Western legitimacy. For example, there were fake election observation missions of extreme right/extreme left forces in Eastern Ukraine. The Russian state media introduced them as the members of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) mission, which was obviously wrong. OSCE didn't recognize this election. But it was good for the Russian audience to say that "even the West recognizes this election."

So the Eurasian ideology is essentially anti-Western, but the Russian regime still always needs this legitimacy from the West.

We have done research together with the Institute of Modern Russia looking into the votes of the European Parliament. What we have found is that there are about 20 percent of members of the European Parliament belonging to groups of the radical left and the radical right who are happy to vote in line with Russia's interests, be it a resolution on the Nemtsov murder, be it a decision of financial assistance on Ukraine, or anything like that.

Why is it important? Twenty percent is not a majority. Why is it important then? Because in the Russia media they are always introduced just as the members of the European Parliament who are supporting Russia's foreign policy goals. When Béla Kovács, the member of the far-right—or I would even say extreme-right—Jobbik party, was an election observer at the last presidential election in Russia, he was introduced to the Russian media just as a member of the European Parliament. There was no mention of his political affiliation, that he is an extremist politician. So they are introduced as mainstream.

When Vladimir Chizhov was at the hearing at the European Parliament and there was a question about why Russia doesn't pay attention to the fact that, for example, the Crimean moves are not legitimized by the international community, he said: "Why, gentlemen? Members of the European Parliament were there. They said that Crimean elections were free and fair. What's the problem then?" So it is a quite cynical move of using these people for the internal legitimization of the system.

The last point I would like to raise at is that what the book emphasizes is that ideology is important. We always hear—and it is partially right—that illiberal regimes are so cynical that they are just using ideology as a tool, which is partially true. But ideology has huge power. Ideology has huge power over supporters domestically and, we can even claim, internationally. Ideology is a tool that shapes political actions, political world views. Neo-Eurasianism is definitely an ideology that, we can say, works in practice and at sudden moves. For example, the annexation of Crimea is becoming, let's say, a dominant narrative that even helps the Kremlin to explain and justify its moves.

I will leave the Hungarian situation to the Q&A session. I'm sorry. I don't want to eat up the time.

DAVID SPEEDIE: If I may just say, Péter made reference to the Valdai Club. The Valdai Club is, I suppose, loosely speaking, a kind of Russian Davos, where aspects of Russian policy are discussed. We follow it with great interest here at the Council—we had a meeting here a few months ago—because it really has emphasized Russian values and the values underlying policy. President Putin has appeared, I think, at least the last three years. That is just by way of clarification.

DANIEL STEIN: Thank you, David. Thank you to Péter and Marlene for your excellent talks and to the Carnegie Council and everyone involved for putting this together.

I am going to start by mentioning some Americans who are explicitly mentioned in the text and then talk about how Dugin's work is getting play in the Americas and in English, and then do a little bit of sort of a fake history of what the people who are promoting him believe, to talk about how we got to this current situation and what it looks like. Our roots here in America are a little different than our European roots.

I am going to start with a journal called Radix. It is an imprint of the Washington Summit Publishers, which is part of a group called the National Policy Institute, which was set up by a gentleman named Richard Spencer, who lives out in northern Idaho. I believe he is outside of Coeur d'Alene. He moved up there because there were more white people up there and he wanted to be left alone. An explicit goal of the National Policy Institute is for separation.

Last year it was Radix that published Dugin's book about Heidegger. In addition, they do conferences where they invite Dugin and many of the other folks who are mentioned in the book to Washington, DC to give lectures. Alain de Benoist, who is a Belgian, spoke at the 2014 conference about the need for white separatism.

There is another American, whose name is Jared Taylor, who is involved with the American Renaissance Institute. I'm going to come back to this word "renaissance" later. He also publishes something called Occidental Quarterly, which is a more refined, dignified look at why it is important that the white people dominate everywhere, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

In 2010 they published a biography of a gentleman named Francis Parker Yockey, who is an important postwar American fascist who went to Europe to help found the European Liberation Front, which many of the folks listed in the book draw their ideas from. In fact, the article explicitly mentions, in 2010, that the ideas for Dugin and Thiriart and de Benoist can be drawn back to Yockey.

The other American publishing house that is listed in the book is something called Global Revolutionary Alliance, which is run by a gentleman who is at the Moscow State University Sociology Department, who has a lovely, fantastic chapter in the book. Their American networks here are called Open Revolt, Green Star, and New Resistance. Their website and their journals publish Dugin and a bunch of other gentlemen associated with the American Front.

There is a gentleman in Boston by the name of James Porrazzo, who prides himself—this is sort of a post-skinhead American appeal that is slightly more dignified, but have the same goals. He is the disciple of a gentleman named Tom Metzger, who we will get back to later, who is a heavy hitter in the California Klan.

But I think, before I can go a little bit deeper into who these folks are, it is helpful to get some ancient American history, going back to our pre-Revolutionary days. This is the sort of tortured history that you must believe if you are a subscriber to these journals, in which the great and glorious white people came to this continent from the 1400s to the 1700s and took a solemn vow to annihilate the "savages," whether they are native tribes or are from Mexico or wherever else.

I am not going to go through the full history of the American Indian Wars here. Suffice it to say that many Americans did serve with valor and took a lot of pride in their service. It was, even 300 years ago, very difficult to decouple this pride in what it means to be an American from this dehumanization.

This American system of white power took its next major shock after the Civil War, when, shockingly enough, people who were disenfranchised and dehumanized suddenly were not, in slight ways. The backlash to this led to the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan. I think everyone is relatively familiar with their efforts to put down and quell revolts and riots. In the next couple of decades they were being used for anti-union violence. They were taking a big role in the anti-American Indians who still resided in parts of the South.

They then made their way up—they were also very anti-Catholic or anti-German, anti-Jewish—to the Pacific Northwest, where they had a key role in making sure that the Asian population was not impeding on the white power. Like anything else, there was a political side to the violence. The Klan was very helpful in electing the governor of Oregon in the 1920s.

But at that point, we were already into World War I, which presents a couple of other shocks for the system. About a million Americans went over to Europe, where they were introduced to a lot of the ideas that many Europeans had been talking about for 40, 50, 60 years at that point, but they were relatively inoculated from that in America.

In addition, a lot of people came home and found that their jobs were no longer there because of the roots of the Great Depression or they had been taken by recently freed slaves at much lower rates. So you add on this sort of racial crisis with this labor crisis and we get—I don't want to reduce it too much, but I am aware of my time constraints—into the Red Summer of 1919, where there was political violence, racial violence in Seattle, Chicago, Washington, DC—our nation's capital is in flames, one of many times our nation's capital has been in flames.

With the outbreak of Nazi Germany, there are a lot of Americans who, because they are very tied in with this European system and want to see Europe defend itself and purify itself, or they are staunch anti-communists themselves, form a variety of organizations. I will just list a couple here, because they are important.

A gentleman named William Pelley starts an organization called the Silver Shirts, with the "SS" clearly designed to recall his colleagues in Germany.

We have the German American Bund, which in 1939 held a rally at Madison Square Garden where they had a giant George Washington painting flanked by American flags and swastikas, which is terrifying.

Like anything else, there was a political side to this. The America First Committee had the support of many Midwestern politicos. Much of their financial base was in Chicago, with several well-known financiers. The one I want to mention is named William Regnery, whose grandson today is the main publisher who is getting out Dugin's works.

After the war there is a little bit of a die-down, but this racial and labor violence comes out again both with the Cold War and the Red Scare here. This started with Brown v. Board and into the Civil Rights Act during the civil rights era in the United States.

As part of that we have more right-wing organizations that are building up to fight this. There are a couple I want to mention—including Robert Welch starting the John Birch Society, which is pure in its anti-communist message—and tie it with our current political situation. It gets a lot of support from Fred Koch, the father of the brothers who are in the news today. That was 1958.

In 1959 George Lincoln Rockwell and Matt Koehl formed the American Nazi Party. So 15 years after World War II, we are again starting this in America. Matt Koehl comes from something called the National Renaissance Party. So again we see this "renaissance," not in relation to what was going on in Italy in the 14th century, but a specific reference to what Hitler was talking about in his last writings, about the need for a renaissance to restore what he was fighting for.

Out of these organizations, because of our Civil Rights Act and our school integration, the Klan is reborn. Again it is all over the country. At this point it is in California.

A gentleman named Tom Metzger, who I mentioned earlier, comes in again. He comes out of this Birch Society network. He says to his friend David Duke in 1979, "Well, let's form something called the Klan Border Watch. We will deputize a bunch of gentlemen. We'll arm them heavily. We'll have them patrol the Southwest border to make sure that this area stays white." They have undergone many name changes and many organizational changes, but today they are what we commonly refer to as the Minutemen. I am not going to go into their violent history. But they are still out there today, if you were to go down to our Southwest border.

I think Marlene posed an excellent question about how we differentiate legitimate conservatism from what qualifies as the new right. At least in America, I think that the use of violence is very helpful. Both people's initial reaction to the use of it and their willingness to deploy it against enemies I think is very telling of where someone is on that spectrum.

There are too many instances of political violence for me to mention in my short period of time. There are a couple I want to point to, like the shootings in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a synagogue in Kansas, and the black church in South Carolina, all of which were in the last year. There is also anti-abortion violence that has taken the lives of abortion doctors all over the country—in Buffalo and the Kansas-Nebraska area.

The political side to it, too, is not just racial violence, but is going after sexual and gender minorities in much of the American South, including states with about the same population as Hungary.

There is a very real and a very troubling dehumanization and disenfranchisement that the American right is experiencing. They look to their European allies and say, "We are also losing our identity to Western capital." It is very troubling that there is a very limited response to that.

I think part of what we are talking about is decoupling nationalism from racism, and that is always going to be very difficult. But at some point you are looking at the people who live between the Atlantic and the Pacific, between the Rio Grande and the 49th parallel, and saying, "If we are going to remove all of the people who are of different races, we are at over 10 million." Our number is going to dwarf what Europe looked at. And we are also, as we are very ready to point out, very well-armed. I think that makes an incredibly dangerous situation.

Part of this trouble is that the distribution means are so easy. Anyone in this network can pump out any information to their supporters through the use of modern tools. If you wrote a book in German in 1920 and you wanted everyone in Europe to read it, you would have to get it translated and it would take weeks. That is simply not the case now. It is much easier.

But there is a lot of culture here. There is a lot of wonderful culture. We are aware of this identity thing. There are ways to do it. I would much rather be talking about all the lovely ways that we could unify our culture in this. But we will save that for our talk afterwards.

Questions

QUESTION: Don Simmons is my name.

In my lifetime I have thought that the great debate of right versus left was related to the size of government—the people on the left wanting government to do more, be bigger, spend more money; those on the right, the opposite. You haven't discussed that so much. The version of that dichotomy that is in the news, anyway, is austerity versus more deficit spending.

Are there any links or correlations between views on that economic or financial side of right versus left and those of the nativists or the anti-immigrants or anti-Muslim Europeans?

MARLENE LARUELLE: That is a good point. What seems to me very important in unifying all these kinds of narratives is, as I said, this kind of narrative about the liberal order being an illusion and a kind of fake system that is in fact not participating in the wealth distribution generally in our society.

The second element that seems to me very important is that you don't have any more political offer for people who have become the electorate, the kind of natural electorate, of the far right, a little bit in this country and in Europe, and more kind of indirectly in Russia, which is kind of white, blue-collar. There is no more political offer coming from the mainstream parties for this part of the population. That is, I think, the moment where you have this link between the economic aspect and the political one.

Clearly in the European political landscape today, especially if you look at the example of the National Front in France, combining a nativist narrative with a kind of anti-EU narrative, with a more socialist worker-oriented narrative, is the key of the success for explaining Marine Le Pen.

So you have this kind of paradoxical combination of having something that looks like a more leftist economic narrative with really a kind of far-right action and agenda in terms of political values and identity issues.

PÉTER KREKÓ: An illustration to that: When Tsipras first won the election, the European far-right players were cheering that. They were quite happy. They said that there is a new promise that Europe can be transformed because Syriza and the Greek government are promising a new future of Europe. They are on different sides of the political spectrum, different ends. Still, in their Eurosceptic, anti-American narratives, and even in their economic policy, they have a lot in common.

DANIEL STEIN: Just briefly, Marlene mentioned the paradox. I think there is a great paradox at the heart of this in America, because much of our government is—the size of it is for protecting minorities. There is a lot of white culture that is worried about being a minority that is, on one hand, dismantling the Rights Act and a lot of our civil protections, and then is also wondering what is going to happen if they are in the minority. So it is a very big paradox. That is an excellent question for bringing it up.

QUESTION: Allen Young.

Since 2008 Europe has done very poorly in terms of economics. To what extent do you think the growth of the far right is attributable to the fact that the economy in Europe has basically stagnated? And to what extent do you think the far right would be less popular if the European economies began to prosper again?

MARLENE LARUELLE: Here also I think you are continuing the same kind of discussion we just had, which I think is really a good point. You don't have any more upward social mobility now in Europe that you can offer to the population. You have growing unemployment. Therefore, that also creates a big stress and anxieties for a large part of the society.

The problem is that, as you don't see any more a credible narrative coming from the left in Europe, then what is coming is an answer coming not at the economic level but at the identity level. So you replace the fight for social rights with a fight for the protection of what you consider your identity being threatened by external groups of the population. So I think it is very much linked.

But I think it is not purely economic. I think you have also a deep crisis of the democratic legitimacy in Europe. The shift from the nation-state to European institutions is still largely dysfunctional. People do not really identify European institutions as being exactly the projection of their rights as citizens to participate in a democratic system. So I think it is also a political issue and not only an economic one.

PÉTER KREKÓ: I would follow up on that. Most of the studies did not show a very persuasive strong correlation between the economic problems and the rise of the far right. The support of the far right more seems to be an identity issue that is strengthening the nation-state, expressing cultural fears.

But, of course, economy matters as well, unemployment matters as well, but they seem to matter less than identity-related issues. Given that some of the far-right parties—the Front National in France or Jobbik in Hungary—have a voter base of more than 20 percent of the population, it means that you cannot describe this group with very easy social demographic indicators, because it is a huge group.

What we have also found is that in the case of the radical left it is pretty much praising Putin as well, which is even more bizarre than the radical right. If you are a pacifist egalitarian, what can you find so attractive in Vladimir Putin's Russia? But in the case of the radical left, in the countries where it could show a significant rise, the austerity has played a very important role in that, most importantly in Greece and Spain, Syriza and Podemos.

But in the far right identity and symbolism seem to play a bit more of a role.

QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Youssef Bahammi.

My question is in regards to Western Europe. I want to get back to the situation of the Front National in France. My question: We have Jean-Marie Le Pen who is already a member of the European Parliament. Can we consider the Front National still a secular nationalist party when its historical leader is a member of the European Union?

And what do you think about the historical splits between Marine Le Pen's policy and her dad's policy? The Front National right now is led by Marine Le Pen and Jean-Marie Le Pen is trying to create a new party. Do you think there is a historical change in the Front National, and also in the parties that are close to France in Western Europe, the Front National Belge and the Vlaams Belang?

MARLENE LARUELLE: I think you have several elements. There is a change in the strategy of the National Front. That is what Marine Le Pen is trying to play on. She is trying to normalize her own party and her own public ideology outreach in order to get a larger support, and therefore get elected at another level; while Jean-Marie Le Pen is staying on a more anti-systemic level and being ready to be more provocative, and therefore to get also less electoral success. I think that is a change in the outreach strategy.

I don't think that is a big deep change inside the structure of the National Front itself, where you have the sense still of radical groups that are functioning inside. What is a change also is the change of generation, that now if you want to get a popular electorate in France, you have to be anti-Muslim and not be anti-Semitic or anti-secularism, because that doesn't speak to the newer generation. What is speaking to the newer generation is the anti-Muslim narrative. On that she has been making the shift very well.

On your first point, I think for the Front National, before all, the most important thing for them is to get the kind of representation at the regional or the parliamentary level and, if possible, to have Marine Le Pen at the second round of next year's presidential election. Of course that will be the big symbol.

But they have a European strategy. They try to connect with several European parties in order to get the kind of status as a European far-right movement at the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen, almost even more than Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been really friendly with Russia. So they are both having their national strategy, but also clearly a pan-European one and a pro-Russian one.

QUESTIONER: What do you think about the French politologue that thinks that the Front National is no longer far right, that it is mostly moderate right, leaning to the center? Is it true?

MARLENE LARUELLE: That's why I mentioned at the beginning that it is kind of a terminological issue. I don't think we have time to go into that.

I think you have a change in the outreach strategy, that is for sure, which is the goal for Marine Le Pen is to speak to more centrist or mainstream right people. That doesn't mean that inside the party the real ideological structure has been the far right at times. I think it is much more complicated than that.

QUESTION: Olga Khvostunova, Institute of Modern Russia.

My question is a little bit on the sidelines of the topic and has to do with the recent Dutch referendum in which the Netherlands basically voted against accepting Ukraine. Do you think it is the result of the Kremlin's influence in Europe, or is it more the result of the failure of the reforms in Kiev, or is it the reflection of the general sentiment in the European Union towards the Ukrainian issue?

PÉTER KREKÓ: I think it is a very important and good question. I'm happy that there is nobody from the Netherlands on the panel, hopefully no one in the audience either, so no one will be able to correct me if I say something wrong.

For me, it rather looks like the Dutch referendum's message was much more about any EU candidate country than about Ukraine itself. In the Dutch political discourses there are more and more messages, even on the government side, about that. It is not just that "We shouldn't enlarge the European Union any more because we just"—say the Dutch people—"pay a lot of money into that, but nothing is received in turn." But even the new Member States of European Union are performing pretty badly.

For example, the Dutch nationalists, such as Geert Wilders—Geert Wilders years ago launched a website in which you could report all the "sins" that Eastern European immigrants made—Polish, Romanian, and so on. There is one reason why the Hungarians were not included: because Geert Wilders has a Hungarian wife. So at least, fortunately, Hungarians were not attacked in this campaign. [Laughter]

But generally there is the anti-Eastern European sentiment, which is rooted in this anti-EU sentiment. But for me it is much more about welfare chauvinism than real support for Russia and a real rejection of Ukraine as a country, as such. So I would rather think it is a coincidence. And in this case I would argue that most of the analysts that say that it was Russia's direct influence—it might be, but I haven't seen any solid evidence for that.

Russia is not needed to create all the problems in Europe. It was mentioned that there are economic problems—unfortunately yes—there is Euroscepticism—unfortunately yes—but this would be there even without Russia. Russia just tries to amplify these tendencies.

MARLENE LARUELLE: If I can second Péter, I think all these kinds of referendums done on a foreign policy issue should be really understood in their domestic context. It is just the Dutch public opinion also sending a message to its own government and saying they are unhappy. In a sense, the foreign policy issue is kind of secondary in the vote against the general decision.

When we look at Russian influence, we can identify it as some people having connections with Russia. But you cannot say that there is a Russian influence on the average public opinion of Europe. People don't take decisions based on what Russia says about the world. They take the decisions based on their everyday lives and, therefore, domestic issues are in fact prevalent in these foreign policy issues.

QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.

I would be interested in some comments about the role of religion in some of these examples—in the United States perhaps, in Turkey, possibly in the generalized view of what some Europeans call Christian Europe. I will just leave it at that.

MARLENE LARUELLE: I think that is a great point. On that, I think we would probably all have examples.

The Russian political side has been really playing the card of Russia as the symbol of Christian Europe, reminding Europe about its Christian values in this search for promoting what they call conservative values or traditional values. On that, the Russian message is very clear.

That is why it also has the backup of the Russian Orthodox Church. That is why I mentioned the church, because I think it is really an important element. The Russian Orthodox Church has been at the forefront of making connections with radical Catholic groups in Western Europe and with the radical right in the United States.

Before the Ukrainian crisis, these kinds of connections were relatively important. The World Congress of Families was very much having the pro-Russian narrative, and many people on the U.S. radical side, having a kind of creationist narrative, are very pro-Russian on that aspect. So I think it is a critical element.

DANIEL STEIN: I would add, I don't want to go too—let's focus on the very far right. When we were starting the Silver Shirts—this was the start of the Christian Identity movement, which is religious backing for all of this, a way of saying that it is only the souls of white people that are going to be saved.

This religion sort of spread out, and much of the Patriot movement and the posse comitatus movement embodies this, both as a way to scare off any members from marrying or dating elsewhere, that their children will not, and also as a very strict, blood-and-soil approach.

This is different from the mainstream right-wing church appeal that is definitely its own story—how that has grown in America over the last couple of years. But it was this very specific Christian Identity movement. If you look into it and follow that deeply, it unifies much of the American Front and the American Nazis. A lot of people picked this up as a way to religiously justify their beliefs. It was very powerful.

PÉTER KREKÓ: Thank you very much for the question because it allows me to fulfill David's request to talk a bit about Hungary as well.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Last but not least. Thank you.

PÉTER KREKÓ: In the case of the Hungarian government, this argument—the Hungarian government is one of the most supportive governments towards Russia nowadays, but not the only one in the very supportive club. We have Greece, Cyprus, I would say even Austria and others.

But still, what differentiates Orbán from others is that he is quite open and vocal about his support towards Russia, while most of the European leaders are more reserved and pragmatic in their approach. What Orbán said, in a speech that he delivered to Hungarian diplomats, when he was asked about why he talks about Russia as a friend—which came as a surprise for many, because back two, three years before, Orbán was one of the fiercest critics of Putin's Russia. The question was why they are friends. For having partners, economic interest is enough; for having friendships and diplomacy, you need common values. What is the common value? Orbán's response was that it is Christianity.

But to make a bit of a cynical note, I think that these kinds of value-based arguments are sometimes just there to hide the very pragmatic, very rational interest—and not just all the interests of the country itself, but of some specific business interests, groups very close to the decision-making.

Regarding Jobbik, Jobbik also always emphasizes the role of religion in Hungary and Christianity to the far-right party in Hungary. Even the cross is in their logo. But what is quite striking, though, is that in the opinion polls we can see that Jobbik has the least religious voter base. This is the youngest voter base, and these voters simply don't care about Christianity at all. The only role Christianity, as a label, has in Jobbik's ideology is that this is an identity code. If you are Christian, it means you are not Muslim and you are not Jewish. But that's all. It is nothing about the real content and the real religious values.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I began by asking at the beginning what really is a rhetorical question: Why should we care? I think we know the answer to that, most directly in Dan's comments about the nexus of the far right. "What happens in Europe doesn't stop in Europe" may be one way of putting it. But there is that connection.

It is also the fact that, as we have mentioned before, regardless of pivots to other parts of the world, Europe remains the densest cluster of our natural historical allies. That is something that this project has certainly had in mind all along.

With that, I want to thank our three panelists for being with us and giving us a tremendous assessment.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Read MoreRead Less