Nazi Speeches & Fascists ReturnEurope’s Summer of Turmoil
While we’ve all been distracted by Westminster drama, what’s been happening across the Channel? Sian Norris takes a look at the latest political news from Europe
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The spas, Soviet-era trams and baroque architecture of Budapest may feel a long way from the ranches and skyscrapers of Texas. But this month, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took a trip to the Lone Star State to bring European white nationalism to the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Hungary under Orbán’s leadership has become the hostess with the mostest for far-right and Christian nationalist activism in recent years – Budapest was the venue for 2017’s World Congress of Families, a CPAC event in May, and the international gathering of the Political Network for Values which brings together anti-gender leaders from around the world. The transatlantic summit was starstruck when the Hollywood movie star Mel Gibson, who has a history of making misogynistic and antisemitic comments, made an appearance.
The trip to Texas followed a controversial speech by the increasingly authoritarian European leader where he claimed that Hungarians are “not a mixed race” and said that that countries where European and non-Europeans – by which he means white and non-white people – mingle were “no longer nations”.
His comments were shocking enough to force his adviser Zsuzsa Hegedüs to resign, over what she called a “pure Nazi speech”. The speech riffed on the Great Replacement conspiracy theory and claimed that migration, demographics and gender were the main battlefields facing Europe.
But such criticism did not put off the CPAC crowd, who aren’t adverse to a bit of Great Replacement theory themselves. Orbán has long been praised by Trump supporters for his comments on migration and his Family Protection Programme which rewards ethnic married Hungarians for having multiple children. His speech continued on the theme of demographics and so-called gender ideology, adding in antisemitic dogwhistles about billionaire philanthropist George Soros before urging US and European Christian nationalists to join forces.
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Return of the Fascists
When it comes to joining forces, Orbán has pinned his hopes that Italy will become the latest EU member state to elect a far-right Government, following the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month. In a mirror to the UK’s news, Draghi had lost a vote of no-confidence but has remained on as a caretaker leader until elections take place.
The far-right leader of the Brothers of Italy Party, Giorgia Meloni, is tipped to win the election. A right-wing alliance made up of Brothers of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s Lega is on track to win 40% of the vote when elections take place on 25 September, with the former leading the pack on 23%, according to a poll published by Politico.
The Brothers of Italy can trace its roots to Mussolini’s fascist party – the fascist dictator’s violent regime lasted from 1922 until 1923, brutally repressing the left and allying with Hitler during World War Two. His blackshirt militia tortured and murdered thousands, including by pouring castor oil down people’s throats.
Unashamed of its past, when the far-right took over Rome in 2017, it succeeded in naming a square after Giorgio Almirante, a minister in Mussolini’s dictatorship and founder of the neofascist Italian Social Movement. Meloni denies any link with Mussolini’s ideas, but she is also careful not to condemn his rule.
The party shares Lega’s anti-migrant, Euro-sceptic and socially conservative views – presenting itself as the guardian of Italian national identity and traditional values, particularly when it comes to the family. Meloni’s oft-repeated slogan is: “I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian and you will not take that away from me”. The party wants to incentivise Italians to have children and to block migrant people from entering the country from Libya.
“While defending Italian sovereignty we must not forget to defend the sovereignty of Orbán’s Hungary and Kaczyński’s Poland,” Meloni has said, signalling her allegiance to Europe’s other far-right leaders.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a freezing of relations between Poland and Hungary, countries which have previously been close. Poland has taken a strong stance against Putin’s aggression and, in a rare move for the anti-migrant leadership, has welcomed refugees from Ukraine. It has also provided arms to Ukraine and shown itself to be one of Kyiv’s closest allies in Europe.
In contrast, Orbán has blocked sanctions against Russia, causing Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to accuse Orbán and Putin of “wanting the same thing”.
There is one policy area where Poland’s Law and Justice Party, Hungary’s Fidesz Party and Russia’s leadership are in agreement, however: LGBTIQ rights. All three countries have clamped down on LGBTIQ people’s freedom of expression, with media repression, LGBT free zones’, and ‘gay propaganda’ laws creating a chilling effect on the community.
Now hoping to continue that trend is Romania, which decriminalised homosexuality in 2001. The Government is seeking to introduce a so-called ‘gay propaganda’ rule in the latest assault on LGBTIQ rights in the country. The proposed amendment to Romania’s Child Protection Law bans discussion of homosexuality and gender identity in public spaces and echoes a similar ban in Hungary.
If countries in Eastern Europe are declaring war on gender issues, in France Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has created the new position of ambassador for LGBTQ rights in efforts to fight discrimination across the world. But the country is still grappling with the surging success of the far-right. Keen to build on the progress Rassemblement Nationale made in June’s Parliamentary elections, Marine LePen is seeking to normalise her party, even voting alongside Macron on cost-of-living measures.
LePen has long attempted to detoxify her party, including by expelling her father Jean-Marie over Holocaust denial and changing its name from Front National. Now she is going further, with a normalisation strategy that she believes will win over the centre and allow her to win the Presidential election in 2027.
Such moves are cause for concern: RA remains an anti-migrant, anti-EU and increasingly anti-gender party, and LePen instructing male staffers to wear ties is not going to change that.
We’re Watching You
Greece tends to be on people’s minds in August as a popular holiday destination, but the Mediterranean country is embroiled in a political scandal that has turned up the heat on the New Democracy Government led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The head of the country’s intelligence office, Panagiotis Kontoleon, has been forced to step down amid a scandal over the alleged usage of surveillance malware, after PASOK politician Nikos Androulakis filed a complaint with the supreme court over “attempted” spying on his mobile phone with Predator malware. Kontoleon contends these were “mistaken actions”.
However, Kontolen has already admitted that his service spied on leading financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis, who works for the local branch of CNN.
The Head of the Intelligence Office is a personal appointment by Mitsotakis. The Prime Minister’s Secretary General, Grigoris Dimitriadis, has also resigned over the alleged spying scandal. He just happens to be Mitsotakis’s nephew.
Rising far-right feeling, allegations of cronyism, a battle to be the next Prime Minister, increasingly anti-migrant policies, and attacks on the LGBTIQ community. Sound familiar? The UK may have left the EU, but our shared political crises suggest we are still very much part of Europe.