The failure of Bernier to gain any form of momentum during this past election illuminates the complicated relation that Canadians have with there racist past and attitudes. During the recent election Maxime Bernier and his Peoples Party campaigned on ideas and policies that were similar to those that many other populist and right leaning politicians would agree with. However long these ideas of immigration and national identity may have circulated in the spheres of other populist parties they had thus far avoided Canadian politics and with the resounding defeat of Bernier and his party will remain absent from mainstream politics for the current future. While this could be seen as a rejection of those kind of ideas by the Canadian people this idea of Canadians being unwilling to as publicly discuss and views towards racism and immigration has in many ways been along standing aspect of Canadian politics and ideas. Even within the last hundred years the government and with popular support banned all immigration from all Asia with the preteen of protecting people from race related riots and to maintain a white nation. Beyond that there is the other major issue of the treatment of natives and residential schools, issues the government and public are more than happy to allow to be kept quiet and instead discuss the greatness of Canadian multiculturalism and inclusiveness. However when push comes to shove the government have shown many cases of an unwillingness to acknowledge or apologize for these acts unless there is a great deal of public pressure and when members of the government or community leaders make strides to mend these issues they get called for apologizing to much and this is seen as an issue and a weakness. But when someone comes into the front and is more willingly to publicly to speak of these values and aspects of the Canadian past they are shunned and turned against by the public. How come Canadians are willing enough to practice and allow these values away from the light. As even to the present-day discrimination in employment and recognition are still rife in many sectors of daily life. Despite this coloured past and legacies Canadians remain proud of the fact that they steer clear of the more overt forms of racism as seen in the US or some central European countries such as Hungary, under there current presidents, however much it may continue to simmer under the surface. The reluctance to admit and resistance to this more overt form of racism show that despite the legacies and continual attitudes, especially in certain parts of the country, mean that hopefully leaders and the brand of far right populism promoted by the Peoples Party will remain as outsiders, and there ideas dwindle with the embracement of the multicultural past of Canada.
By: Julia Aguiar
Canada breathed a palpable sigh of relief when it was declared that the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader, Maxime Bernier, lost his riding of Beauce, Quebec. The public was quick to call the time of death on the PPC. Far too quick. If Canada writes off the PPC as a frivolous political experiment, then it fails to critically deconstruct the type of racism that the PPC made public. If we are to take the PPC’s resounding failure as a repudiation of the racism of right wing populism as has been suggested, then we fail to recognize the racism that the PPC propagated and indeed exacerbated, as a Canadian problem. A type of racism that is so acutely Canadian, so embedded in our institutions, yet constantly sidestepped.
For far too long, Canada has failed to acknowledge not only the place of racism in this country but its deeply structural nature. To be clear, this type of structural racism has existed in Canada for as long as Canada has been pursuing its fraught colonial project. For many Canadians, it is a lived experience.
As is typical with populist parties, the PPC was founded by breaking away from the established Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). There was a certain disillusionment with the way the CPC was perceived to be betraying its ring wing ideals. A similar genesis story can be seen in the formation of populist party Vox in Spain which had its roots in Spain’s more mainstream People’s Party. It is tempting to consider the PPC in a vacuum for the way that the party is more radical than that of the other four federal parties that made the national debate stage. However, this would be to discount the long established presence of populism in the country. Populism can be co-opted by parties that fall on both the left and right ends of the political spectrum. Canada has seen the populism of the Social Credit Party, the Reform Party of Canada, and the Canadian Alliance. All this to say, populism in Canada is not a new phenomena.
The PPC has been rightly condemned for its overt racism. But then again, the PPC was hardly the only political party that revealed itself to be racist during the federal election campaign. In many ways, throughout the election campaign structural racism in Canada was made explicit yet simultaneously pushed aside. The conversations around racism throughout the election were abysmal and deeply unsettling. Mr. Scheer frequently, and often nonsensically, deployed the language of racism to undermine the platform of Mr. Trudeau. Mr. Singh unfairly shouldered the burden of being the only candidate of colour often being the subject of deeply personal questions that his counterparts did not face. Moreover, Mr. Singh frequently had to steer the conversation away from himself and towards his platform. Mr. Trudeau continued to reveal to Canadians that he is not nearly as progressive as we were made to believe as photos of him donned in brownface and blackface emerged. Though, for how many times he did this, Mr. Trudeau is uncertain.
The way that racism has been spoken about in terms of individuals or in the more radical politics of the PPC rather than as a national problem further points to the failing of Canada to critically engage and dismantle structural racism. As much as Canada likes to think of itself as a haven for marginalized peoples, in actuality, it is something quite different. Moreover, the pronouncement of the PPC as irrelevant without deconstructing the hate they propagated against marginalized peoples should be taken as a profound failing on the part of journalists, political theorists, and Canadians writ large.
The violence and genocide of racism was woven into the fabric of Canada from the outset of its settler-colonial project. Structural racism in Canada was cemented with the building of the transcontinental railroad and continues to endure as Canadians put it off as something that happens down south.
As we are conditioned to see the racism of the PPC as an anomaly, and even un-Canadian, we must remember that these are not the issues of a populist party alone.
To dismantle systems of racism, Canada first has to acknowledge and interrogate them. In doing so, Canada will have to leave abstractions of Canadian niceties and goodness at the door.
Canadians said no to the PPC, but they still have yet to say no to structural racism.
BY Vadzim Malatok
In recent years, the Italian streets have witnessed an increase in the usage of fascist symbols and rhetoric being used by protesters and right-wing politicians, alike. One of the perpetrators of reviving Italy’s “traumatic” past has been said to be none other than Matteo Salvini. And for good reason. The 46-year-old leader of the Italy’s right-wing populist party Northern League was recently involved in yet another daring venture that generated much debate over his supposed admiration for the Italian dictator of the 20th century, Benito Mussolini.
On October 19, 2019, thousands of Italians gathered together in Rome to protest against the newly formed coalition between the center-left Democratic Party and a populist Five-Star Movement. The so-called “Italian Pride,” led by the centre-right coalition leaders, reminded many of the infamous “march on Rome” that took place on October 27, 1922, and marked Mussolini’s rise to power.
Not only does the date proximity evokes connotations to the march, but also the overall message of protesters that was delivered by Giorgia Meloni, leader of Brothers of Italy, who said: “[w]e’ll be a strong opposition and won’t let anything go with this government.” Similarly, Mussolini once stated that “[e]ither the Government will be given to us or we shall seize it by marching on Rome.”
Of course, Meloni, unlike Mussolini, chose a softer tone in her rhetoric because an overly aggressive approach wouldn’t be tolerated by the international community of the 21st century – at least not yet. But the message was loud and clear.
What is unclear is to what extent the Italians will entertain this idea of having their fascistic past revived while allowing one of the country’s leaders to imitate Il Duce. The fact is, Salvini has been the center of criticism over his appeal to fascism in the past but without any serious harm to his reputation among the electorate.
On March 4, 2019, Salvini, a de facto Italian Interior Minister, posted a tweet quoting an American poet, Ezra Pound, in an attempt to address his neo-fascist followers.
The tweet, which reads out as “[i]f a man is not willing to take some risk for his own ideas, either his ideas are worthless, or he is worthless,” received a backlash due to its linkage to the author who’s been criticized for his anti-Semitic remarks and fascist appeal.
On another occasion, Salvini tweeted: “Tanti nemici, tanto onore!” in response to criticism that was directed at him over his racist and xenophobic remarks. The quote, which means “so many enemies, so much honor” was not only borrowed from Mussolini’s famous “[m]olti nemici, molto onore,” but was also posted on the late dictator’s birthday.
On May 5, 2019, Salvini addressed his supporters from the balcony in the town of Forli – the same balcony where Mussolini witnessed the execution of four partisans in 1944.
One may wonder why Salvini is so obsessed with the late dictator and the answer is: it is not just because he is Italian. In fact, Salvini and Mussolini have more in common than one might think.
Salvini, just like Mussolini, began his political career on the far-left before moving to the opposite side of the political spectrum. In 2015, he commented by saying that “I’m an old fashioned communist, I know more factories than bankers do.”
Most importantly, however, Salvini has shown his ability to attract masses, exploit popular discontent, and sway public opinion – the talents that Europeans have witnessed before in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
Of course, other right-wing politicians across the globe share similar prowess in using the language of political populism to influence public opinion, but only Salvini has taken it to the new extremes. Another populist with neo-fascist inclinations is the 2017 French presidential candidate Marie Le Pen, who works side-by-side with Salvini on a number of issues.
While the likes of Salvini and Le Pen haven’t exactly gone the same route as their predecessors such as Mussolini and Hitler, they have been heavily criticized for influencing the rebirth of fascist movements. In Italy, the fascist-like attitudes have been on the rise and will continue to rise while Matteo Salvini is at the center of the Italian political turmoil.
By Christine Collins
In a year packed with nail-biting elections, one political phenomenon has remained constant: the rise of populism. And while its impacts are varied, scholars agree that populism is here to stay. Populism can be understood as a mobilizing discourse characterized by its “us vs. them” mentality. Ultimately, what sets populism apart is that it driven by “the people.” But who are the people? Well, it depends on whom you ask.
Distinctive and even contradicting at times, it is important to distinguish forms of left and right-wing populism:
- Left-wing populists can be defined as anti-elitist, fighting for the rights and equality of the common people
- Right-wing populists restrict the identity of the people, notably, on the basis of ethnicity and country of origin
One defining trait of right-wing populist political parties is that they tend to be led by charismatic leaders. And in Europe, a number of these leaders are women.
From Marine Le Pen of the National Rally in France to Alice Weidel of Alternative for Germany (AfD), women are making their mark in this traditionally male-dominated field. While usually this would be a call for celebration, as women have long been outnumbered by their male counterparts in the political arena, the case of women leading right-wing populist parties requires a double-take. Mainly, since these parties are known for female subordination: in Germany, the AfD has reinvigorated an Aryan vision of the nuclear family, composed of the breadwinning father going to work and child-rearing mother in the home. Further, its policies are anti-abortion, and hostile towards gay and lesbian relationships. This raises the question: what motivates women to represent right-wing political movements that shrink away from modern-day feminism? And how are they elected in a traditionally male-dominated playing field?
To answer the later question, while we may see women’s rise to the top of right-wing populist political parties as an unexpected turn of events, what is perhaps more surprising is who is voting them into power: according to a 2018 study, women across Europe are increasingly drawn to right-wing populist parties. This was demonstrated in the 2012 French presidential race, where Le Pen garnered votes from an almost equal number of men and women. This gender gap is projected to remain narrow, as a 2017 study found that women make up 48 percent of the Front National’s (now National Rally) voting base.
So what makes right-wing populism so appealing to women? Well, if you can move past the patriarchal ideology, researchers found women voted for parties who promised to strengthen state welfare systems. As European women (especially mothers) are more likely to have lower paying jobs and require state support than their male counterparts, it is reasonable to understand this voting pattern.
At the same time, right-wing populism is defined by its fiercely anti-immigration rhetoric. This likens back to nationalist movements of the 20th century, where the drive towards a collective unity coupled with a sense of superiority set fascist ideologies apart. As only certain women benefitted from fascist regimes—Aryan, middle-class—so too does modern-day right-wing populism only advantage select women. In this case, “the people” are more narrowly defined based on ethnicity and country of origin.
To those who view the surge in female representation and participation in politics as a nod to gender equality, think again. Although leaders such as Weidel and Le Pen may look the part, they routinely co-opt the notion of women’s rights as it suits their right-wing agenda. While every woman must be protected in her right “to wear shorts or a miniskirt,” this same privilege does not extend to those wishing to don a hijab in public spaces. So when making your way to the ballot box next election, be mindful that a vote for a female leader is not necessarily a vote for feminism, especially if their name shares the banner of a right-wing populist party.
A story that made that made the headlines last year in many newspapers around the western world resurfaces as the struggle for the Northern Irish advocators for an abortion ban lift approaches a conclusion. Interestingly, in the UK the Abortion Act of 1967 liberalized rules on abortion in England, Scotland and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland. So, Northern Ireland was the only part of the United Kingdom that was still holding a legislated ban on abortion which originated from the conservative political influence of its governance and the important place of religion in the area. Ireland voted for the legalization of abortions only last year in May. It is interesting that it is only now that we see a movement by the government for change in the legislation. Finally, on October 22 at 12am, the ban was lifted.
However, there is still much debate to come and a long way to go before any kind of substantive change is instituted in Northern Ireland. The ban repeal is good, a step in the right direction, but until regulations are provided, it remains similar to the status quo and even goes backwards to previous practices instead of moving forward with the legislation. It is also noteworthy to mention that Northern Ireland has had a very substantive opposing faction to this repeal : the Church(es) (i.e. Catholic and Protestant churches). The abortion issue, in which in the Catholic Church has taken a more pronounced stance, has always been debated against by the church. A member of the Catholic Clergy has gone as far as saying that being pro-choice was committing a mortal sin. Historically, Northern Ireland, or even just Ireland as a whole, has been a very religious country and a great deal of the population (including the leading political parties like the Democratic Unionist Party and to some extent the Sinn Féin) is very conservative in nature. This means that once a government is reinstituted with the conservative parties (as it has not been standing since 2017 in Northern Ireland), debates on the matter will likely restart as this reform was voted by London and not necessarily by the leading political parties of the area.
So, ban lifted, great! Now what? What should we think of this and how should we understand these changes? I am in total accordance with the idea that abortion should be decriminalized and that it should have been done long ago, however, in this instance, the decriminalisation of abortion also means its deregulation as the government was allowed until late March 2020 to regulate abortion. Ironically, this means that Northern Ireland just went from having some of the strictest abortion laws to the most liberal abortion laws in the European context. Now the Northern Irish population is very confused about the law and what is legal as it has no clear legislation or regulation. It should be understood that apart from the dropping of prosecution cases against healthcare professionals and women having sought abortions, not much as changed and not much will change until the new regulation in 2020. Women and girls are still required to go to England to terminate their pregnancies. There is no telling hat kind of restrictions or regulations will be put in place in march of next year.
This “good news” can also be seen as a step back as Northern Ireland is simply looking to go back to practices from 2012 when it comes to abortion. Also, as mentioned previously the fact that this was done without an actual standing government in Northern Ireland will complicate the matter once it comes back to power because of the conservative nature of the area. Even the Irish Times are sensitive to the matter, but frame their pro-choice opinion on bringing Northern Ireland back into the “European mainstream” while remaining conscient of the fact that many of the readers have conservative views tied to their faith.
Therefore, my opinion on this matter remains clear : it is a case of the “one step forward, two steps back.”
By Daniel Williams
When growing up, one of the most common things I heard from my parents is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” The goal is to prevent stupid arguments by understanding both sides. That’s a lot harder to do when you’re facing particularly complex issues.
Spain faces a very complex issue ahead of it, in trying to reckon with its fascist history. This past Thursday the government finally achieved one of its longtime goals, exhuming the remains of dictator Francisco Franco, removing them from a national monument at the Valley of the Fallen. While the remains have been reburied in a small mausoleum, there is no denial that this political move by the government will not be forgotten by its opposition. This sort of maneuvering is not new for formerly fascist countries to deal with. Tensions between resurgent far-right political parties and installed liberal democratic governments have a tendency of sparking whenever old fascist elements get criticized or changed. In turn, far-right governments tend to try and protect the same things that liberal democratic governments try to pull down.
But Spain is a particularly unique case. Spain’s Francoism was not the same as various other forms of European fascism. Franco’s regime reformed several times, liberalized near its end, and relied extensively on Spain’s heavy Catholic tradition. These, along with the bloody civil war, ensure that Spain’s Francoism stands alone compared to other regimes.
Here’s the thing: Franco isn’t a taboo for many in Spain. Indeed, at the exhumation and reburial ceremony, protesters showed up to praise Franco’s legacy. And this isn’t a fringe movement the same way that many neo-nazi groups are across Europe. Spain’s far-right is modelled in large part on Franco’s politics, and includes political support. And as an election approaches, the far-right party Vox seems poised to gain politically from the exhumation.
The issue here is not that there are a high number of Spanish fascists that are out to overthrow the government. Francoism is not exactly the most popular ideology, even though it still exists and has weight in Spain. The issue is that Francoism is so complex. There are elements of Franco’s rule that appeals to many centrists and conservatives. Further, fascism intentionally obfuscates itself, contradicts itself, and attempts to create confusion surrounding the ideology. In historic and political terms, this makes understanding fascism very difficult.
Franco’s legacy can, as a result, be perceived a million and one ways. He can be seen as someone who saved the nation from communist interference. He could alternatively be seen as a leader who promoted a sense of national identity, or as someone who defended the catholic faith in Spain, or even as a controversial leader with any number of mixed traits. The key is ensuring that Franco’s policies are hard to separate from him as a person, and as a result many social conservatives see attacks on Franco’s legacy as attacks on their beliefs. This drives moderates directly into the hands of far-right beliefs.
Franco’s political base was founded on this sort of activity, as the fascists incorporated and integrated various other conservative ideologies into their Nationalist banner. From Carlists to staunch Catholics, fascists and military supporters, Franco’s support base was a melting pot for right-wing belief. In the modern context, this ensures that conservatives from all walks of life can look to Franco as a single unifying leader. Especially in light of what some describe as disturbing a tomb, this latest activity specifically draws the attention of Spain’s large catholic population and drives them away from the Socialist government. This attempt at a political power play from the Socialist government has effectively backfired.
So how do governments break free from legacies as powerful as Franco’s? How do we seek first to understand, when dealing with something as contentious as fascist ideology? This issue has wracked Europe for decades, as various nations deal with fascism in their own ways. And unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. The only thing we can be certain of is that failure to understand will lead to more of this, attempts to change the narrative that simply lead moderates into the arms of those who would very gladly have their pragmatic support.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, made the commitment that either “do or die” by October 31st Britain would be leaving the EU. Though as that date comes closer, it is evident that that is not going to happen. Rather, after his return from Brussels with a new Brexit Plan, his plan to remain loyal to the October 31st date fell through in parliament. Today the EU has approved the extension of the the Brexit date to January 31st 2020. Johnson is facing backlash on all ends, from those in support of Brexit and those in opposition.
Johnson has proposed for an election to take place in December in the hopes that it will help his campaign and his plans to push his plan through parliament. He wants the votes in the hopes that he can secure a majority government which will in turn make passing his plan easier. It is evident that his concerns are not focused about leaving the EU with no deal, his “do or die” and a promise of a break soon do not leave room for a deal.
No one wants a no deal break.
The deal is what will make the transition out of the EU as successful for Britain as possible. Johnson is more focused on the break, rather than the success of the break, as seen in his “do or die” rhetoric. Regardless of being for or against Brexit, the deal provides the people of Britain with the opportunity to situate themselves in a Britain outside of the EU.
It is in the face of the Boris Johnson’s failure to live up to his “do or die” claim that Brexiteers have come to criticize Johnson who was supposed to be a pioneering figure for Brexit. As a Brexiteer himself, he had already faced opposition from the those who would like to remain in the EU.
Boris Johnson knows that he is losing momentum, he wants to fuel anger. He wants people to back him in the polls in December if the election takes place, as this would help in pushing his Brexit plans through parliament. Johnson is no stranger to utilizing populists concepts within his own rhetoric. Populism is the idea of “the people” against “the elite” and the elite making decisions for the people. Johnson is known to stand behind this ideal and has built a rhetoric around this ideal. Using the terms like the “surrender bill” and the government holding the country “hostage” he attempts to build up anger against the government in the hopes that it will call for an election, and that he will keep the support of the people if that election were to occur. Even through this rhetoric we can see that:
Boris Johnson is not a successful populist.
However, he is using populist rhetoric to persuade the country to continue backing him, regardless of their growing contempt for his failure to pass a deal within parliament. In the wake of his desire for an election, this rhetoric will not be successful. For one, he does not fully believe in it as he seems to be more concerned with leaving the EU than leaving with a deal. It is also difficult to unite the country against the government when the people themselves are not united. There is great division within the country, as illustrated in the protest orchestrated by the People’s Vote Campaign in London on October 19th; a campaign that fights for the voice of the people in decision making, pushing for a new referendum. The people’s voice is divided and everyone is frustrated with Johnson. His populist rhetoric approach is strengthening this division, rather than the division of the people and the government.
Johnson seems to believe that fear mongering with his populist rhetoric will help him gain the traction that he desires to end up with an election on December 12th. This is not the case. Johnson’s dance with populism has hindered his ability to maintain a backing that would urge for this election date. It is a last attempt at trying to show that he will “do or die” and get a deal passed to leave the EU. One will have to wait to see the success of this rhetoric when he proposes to amend the fixed terms act tomorrow, as he failed to get a majority of the government to an election on the 12th of December.
The movement that brought John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives to power in 1957, was not motivated by platform promises. People were motivated by their lack of trust for PC opponents. In the absence of Liberal Louis St. Laurent, Quebecers had to choose which anglophone to trust with Francophonie advancement and those in the West had to decide who would champion their values given the diminishing nature of the Social Credit party. Having to choose when there is no party to be trusted led to a system of diminishing trust in the twentieth century and has plagued our electoral process in the twenty-first. There is no guarantee that those who are governing nor those who stand to govern will abide by the plans they put forth. This has ostracized the public from the electoral process and resulted in diminishing voter turnout. Canadians have been left uncertain as to whether their government will deliver for them but when Canadians are certain is deciding the time for a government to go and they have consistently demonstrated this at the polls.
Whenever historic levels of voter turnout have been achieved, it would has not favoured the incumbent. This proved successful for Joe Clark’s minority government in 1979, Brian Mulroney’s majority in 1984 and Harper’s minority in 2006. Each time there was a significant rise in voter turnout it resulted in a change in government. However, while the rise in voter turnout had increased from the respective previous election it did not achieve the level of the last major change in government. 1979 had a 75.7 percent voter turn out followed by 75.3 percent in 1984 and 64.7 percent in 2006. While Canadians voting in mass still vote for change the electoral utility of the ‘mass vote’ is diminishing. While the Liberal victory in 2015 benefited from a 68.3 voter turnout, a 7.2 percent jump in voter turnout compared to 2011, it remains vastly diminished compared to Canada’s largest voter turnout, 79.4 percent, that occurred in the 1958 election that brought Diefenbaker’s super-majority to power (data provided by Elections Canada, Voter Turnout. 1867-2015).
As more Canadians opt not to cast ballots, they are embracing an ostracization from the electoral process, leaving them outside the system that determines their governance. If we consider Fascism as a revolutionary form of systemic revolt there is no need to depart from the arguments of Gilbert Allardyce’s “What Fascism Is Not” and Federico Finchelstein, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past”. Both authors asserted a form of Fascism that is obsessed with newness, a breaking of the past and as Roger Griffin (quoted by Finchelstein) pointed out “a longing for a new order, a new nation, not just a reformed old nation”. If Canadians can not trust the current system to work for them then calls for separatism that has taken hold in Quebec and will continue to evolve in the West in the form of ‘wexit’, will remain the only means of breaking from tyranny.
It is not enough for those that form government to declare that despite the distribution of votes government will deliver for all. While that is a necessary part of the democratic process, it should not permit parties to play regional favourites as we have seen in the 2019 election. The decision of parties to build trust in certain regions as the Liberals have done in Toronto, the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec, and the Conservative in the West fragments the country. Regional nepotism allows for our governing process to pin Canadians against each other and force some to live under the tyranny of the policy priorities of the other. It is this need that fascist ideology seeks to satisfy. The idealist Fascist cause that George L. Moose argued satisfies “a deep need for activism combined with identification,” and Canadians distrusting of the governance process to deliver and driven outside the electoral process will need both if government does not get into the business of trust building in through the process that bring them to power. Political parties favouring vying for power rather than building trust will only further divide the country until regional actions are so distinct that the formation ‘new nations’ is unavoidable.
By Absalom Sink
Things fall apart; the centre looks less like it’s able to hold, as the European Union continues to be buffeted by the widening gyre of euroskeptic nationalism. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the rise of the European far-right isn’t exactly organic. In fact, you’d almost need to be willfully ignorant in order to miss the signs of Russian influence. The Kremlin has a well-established habit of supporting right- and far-right euroskeptic political parties and movements in Europe and beyond. In the short term, Russia’s goal is to agitate for the lifting of sanctions imposed on it following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. But its long-term goals are no less transparent: Russia wants to weaken NATO and the EU, and reestablish its hegemony over former Soviet Bloc countries. Vladimir Putin did, after all, call the break-up of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.”
Hence, Russia’s support for nationalists, particularly the euroskeptics: illegal funding for Italy’s Lega Nord; the Ibiza scandal involving Austria’s far-right deputy chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache; potential links between Russia and Germany’s AfD, the official opposition party; the miraculous loan from a mysterious Russian bank that kept Marine Le Pen’s Front National afloat in 2014; the list is long, and that’s without even touching on the likelihood of Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum or the 2016 United States presidential election. Still, if we remove the latter two—obviously huge wins for Russia if they tipped the scales in either case—the win-loss record is decidedly mixed. While Lega Nord did end up in a ruling coalition Italian government, Marine Le Pen was soundly defeated by Emmanuel Macron, and the Ibiza affair led to Strache’s resignation in Austria, to say nothing of apparent far-right failures in a handful of other European states recently.
But Russia’s record is spotty only if we count a Russian victory as being the installation of a sympathetic party in those countries. In reality, the Kremlin may be playing a much more nuanced game, one that instead harkens back to the Great Powers competition of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Before World War I, European states sought any advantage they could to tip the continental balance of power. An increasingly common tactic over that period was to back anti-colonial nationalist movements in opponents’ colonial empires, as a way to force that opponent’s focus inward. The Russian Empire themselves supported Armenian and Kurdish nationalists as a way to destabilize the Ottoman Empire. Nazi Germany revived the practice during World War II, hoping to undermine the British war effort by supporting Indian and Arab nationalist movements.
Remember, Russia’s goal is the disruption of the NATO and EU status-quo. In that regard, anything that weakens either is a point for Russia. The Kremlin certainly would have benefitted from a victory by Marine Le Pen, but it would be naïve to think that they haven’t benefitted simply from the uncertainty and political polarization that came with the contested 2017 French election. Even the renewed majority government that Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS)—famously frosty in its relations with Russia—won earlier this month is something of a minor victory for Russia, given PiS’ euroskepticism. If the Kremlin’s playbook in Europe is a throwback to those pre-WWI great power tactics, Putin and pals’ implementation is remarkably effective.
Still, it’s not all sunshine and roses for Russia. Their short-term goal of getting economic sanctions lifted is seeing little success. And even though Putin still looks to have his strongman hold over the country, “the shrinking economy, the shrill nationalism as a distraction from internal decay, an inward-looking elite feuding over the division of spoils while taking its monopoly on power for granted” might be signals of a crumbling grip, that some new revelation is at hand. If that’s the case, it yet remains to be seen what rough new beast will slouch towards Moscow to be born.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italian Lega Party is a political chameleon as many sources claim including former party members. He is also a twenty-first century politician who masters the art of social networks and likes to provoke reactions with his statements. His recent political career started off when he became the leader of the Lega Party. The Northern League or Lega Nord is a political party that participated in the 2018 General Election in Italy. Started as a coalition of regional political parties from Northern Italy at first, it has been in place since 1991 and led by Matteo Salvini since 2013. If the party favoured regionalism and federal state at its beginning, it now has changed to a more nationalist view, targeting illegal immigration and particularly non-Europeans and Muslims immigrants. Whilst flirting with other far-right parties within Europe such as the National Rally in France and the Freedom Party of Austria, the Lega has progressively gained popularity within the country and stands as the third largest movement at the latest 2018 General Election.
Many newspapers and magazines wrote about the far-right rally that took place in Rome on October 19th and how it echoed the “March on Rome” that led to the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini on October 27th, 1922. Was the date chosen on purpose? It is hard to say but the coincidence seems significant whether Salvini accepts it or not. In an interview published on October 19th in a French magazine called Le Point, Salvini when asked about the similarity refutes the term of “March” and eludes the question asked by the reporter to finally blurt out that fascism like communism was not existing anymore. The association of these two regimes is surprising and contradictory but like mentioned above, Salvini likes to create polemics.
An interesting fact mentioned in the interview is Salvini’s interest in the Middle Age period. Many articles and books demonstrated that the myth of medieval era was adopted by far-right politicians as a justification for nationalism and Judeo-Christian traditions. As Salvini defines the Middle Ages as a romanticized vision of gothic times, it reinforces his ideological views as closer to Mussolini than he wants to admit.
Opposed to Matteo Renzi, the prime minister and member of the Democratic Party , Salvini plays the card of autonomy and regionalism but nevertheless acknowledges that unity is primordial to win. When told that he is perceived as a populist by Europe, he brushes it off by taking it as a compliment.
It is tempting to make a parallel between Salvini and Mussolini’s rise to power. Although violence and repression have not been present with the Liga yet (the actions of external violent movements are considered opportunistic for now), Salvini started in politics as a socialist like Mussolini. Whereas Mussolini expressed strong anti-Semitic feelings, Salvini is determined to fight the illegal immigration which is mainly represented by non-European Muslims.
Benefitting from a major support from the Italian population who grow tired of illegal immigrants, Salvini used this situation to build a solid political agenda in which he relied on the population’s opinion, hence his definition of being populist. Playing on his image of regular Italian man and using humour, he made himself the only possible opponent to Renzi’s socialist government. But his statements about immigrants are not without consequences. As mentioned in the BBC article from September 24th, the stigmatization of immigrants was after all the beginning of persecutions during the Mussolini’s era. Also, his association with far-right European movements is not pleasing everyone, including the French president Emmanuel Macron who strongly opposed him in the matter of European unity. His skepticism about the European Community echoes the idea of nationalism and his alliance with far-right parties (Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia), are just examples proving his determination to make some changes nationally and if possible in the European Community.
With Italy politically divided and weaken inside its own government and with a vengeful return of Salvini after he resigned from his position of Deputy Prime Minister last August, it is likely that the populist leader has not said his last words.
Geary, Patrick. Myth of Nations. The Medieval Origins of Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.
Giuffrida, Angela. “Thousands Take to Streets in Rome for Far-Right Rally.” The Guardian, October 19, 2019.
Le Fol, Sebastien and Anna Bonalume. “Je Crois au Paradis , Je Crois à L’Enfer”. Le Point, Octobre 17, 2019.
Mackay, Jamie. “The Far Right in Italy is Blocked but Not Banished.” The Guardian, September 26, 2019.
Reynolds, James. “Matteo Salvini: Can Italy’s populist leader return to power?.” BBC News, September 24, 2019.