Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Finding a Hero in Putin: Snubbing the U.S. and the EU, Europe's Fringe Parties Look Towards Russia

At a rally last week near the Palace of Versailles, France’s largest far right party, the National Front, deployed all the familiar theatrics and populist themes of nationalist movements across Europe
reports Andrew Higgins in the New York Times;
the event, part of an energetic push for votes by France’s surging far right ahead of elections this week for the European Parliament, also promoted an agenda distant from the customary concerns of conservative voters: why Europe needs to break its “submission” to the United States and look to Russia as a force for peace and a bulwark against moral decay.

While the European Union has joined Washington in denouncing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the chaos stirred by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Europe’s right-wing populists have been gripped by a contrarian fever of enthusiasm for Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin.

“Russian influence in the affairs of the far right is a phenomenon seen all over Europe,” said a study by Political Capital Institute, a Hungarian research group. It predicted that far right parties, “spearheaded by the French National Front,” could form a pro-Russian bloc in the European Parliament or, at the very least, amplify previously marginal pro-Russian voices.

 … among far right groups, the sympathy for Russia and suspicion of Washington are in part tactical: Focused on clawing back power from the European Union’s bureaucracy, they seize any cause that puts them at odds with policy makers in Brussels and the conventional wisdom of European elites.

But they also reflect a general crumbling of public trust in the beliefs and institutions that have dominated Europe since the end of World War II, including the Continent’s relationship with the United States.

“Europe is a big sick body,” said Alain de Benoist, a French philosopher and a leading figure in a French school of political thought known as the “new right.” Mr. de Benoist said Russia “is now obviously the principal alternative to American hegemony.” Mr. Putin, he added, is perhaps “not the savior of humanity,” but “there are many good reasons to be pro-Russian.”

Some of Russia’s European fans, particularly those with a religious bent, are attracted by Mr. Putin’s image as a muscular foe of homosexuality and decadent Western ways. Others, like Aymeric Chauprade, a foreign policy adviser to the National Front’s leader, Marine Le Pen, are motivated more by geopolitical calculations that emphasize Russia’s role as a counterweight to American power.

Russia has added to its allure through the financing, mostly with corporate money, of media, research groups and other European organizations that promote Moscow’s take on the world. The United States also supports foreign groups that agree with it, but Russia’s boosters in Europe, unlike its leftist fans during the Cold War, now mostly veer to the far right and sometimes even fascism, the cause Moscow claims to be fighting in Ukraine.

Hungary’s Jobbik, one of Europe’s most extreme nationalist parties and a noisy cheerleader for Moscow, is now under investigation by the Hungarian authorities amid allegations that it has received funding from Russia and, in a case involving one of its leading candidates for the European Parliament, that it has worked for Russian intelligence.

No longer dismissed, as they were for decades, as fringe cranks steeped in anti-Semitism and other noxious beliefs from Europe’s fascist past, the National Front and like-minded counterparts elsewhere on the Continent are expected to post strong gains in this week’s election, which begins on Thursday in Britain and the Netherlands and then rolls across Europe through Sunday.

But they are unlikely to form a cohesive bloc: Nationalists from different countries tend to squabble, not cooperate.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, a group zealously opposed to the European Union, and a critic of American foreign policy, is already engaged in a bitter feud with Ms. Le Pen.

But Mr. Farage and Ms. Le Pen have at least found some common ground on Russia. The British politician recently named Mr. Putin as the world leader he most admired “as an operator but not as a human being,” he told a British magazine.

Ms. Le Pen has also expressed admiration for Mr. Putin and called for a strategic alliance with the Kremlin, proposing a “Pan-European union” that would include Russia.

In general, said Doru Frantescu, policy director of VoteWatch Europe, a Brussels research group, the affections of far right Europeans for Mr. Putin are simply opportunistic rather than ideological, “a convergence of interests toward weakening the E.U.”

  [At the recent election rally, Mr. Chaprade lambasted Washington for trying, unsuccessfully, to pressure France to cancel a contract with Russia for the sale of two amphibious assault ships. "We have the right to be partners with whomever we want without referring to the State Department of the United States," he said.]

The European Union, said Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a member of the French Parliament and the niece of Marine Le Pen, “is the poodle of the United States.”

Russia offers the prospect of a new European order free of what Mr. Chauprade, in his own speech, described as its servitude to a “technocratic elite serving the American and European financial oligarchy” and its “enslavement by consumerist urges and sexual impulses.”

The view that Europe has been cut adrift from its traditional moral moorings gained new traction this month when Conchita Wurst, a bearded Austrian drag queen, won the annual Eurovision Song Contest. Russian officials and the Russian Orthodox Church bemoaned the victory — over, among others, singing Russian twins — as evidence of Europe’s moral disarray.

At the National Front’s pre-election rally, Mr. Chauprade mocked the “bearded lady” and won loud applause with a passionate plaint that Europeans had become a rootless mass of “consumers disconnected from their natural attachments — the family, the nation and the divine.”