A Similar Story So Far…

By: Hannah Long

Neo-facism extends itself to many sentiments revolving with an ultranationalist outlook. It seeks to continue the narrative facism during its role in WWll, while transitioning its tactics to almost catch up in a sense with the then ever changing European political sphere. A past that in the hyperallergic article likes to point out isn’t exactly the past as there is a steady progression from the 1960s and 1970s to conceal or ignore rising neo facism. Each of the readings describe that while the major and blatant characteristics of facism have disappeared they have only been replaced by more subversive concepts by parties to get their message across, they find other ways such as appealing to the working class using terms then and even now like “shared values.” In the beginning neofascist movements were appealing to those who were angry (although that aspect has still remained)-at Europe’s departure from fascist ideology, the idea that this was no longer deemed acceptable and was being replaced with a suspicious and in their eyes week democratic system provided all the necessary tools to build up hateful attacks. Fast forwarding to the present day and not much has changed, the two major departures that can be seen across all European societies is the growing number of women at the forefront of extreme right wing parties and a discrepancy between government and the population. Both of which are factors of a population who feel left behind by their democratic counterparts, to the point where democracy seems as if it is actively working against the native (namely white) inhabitants. 

Sources:

Angelique Chrisafis, “From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: How the European far-right set its sight on women” The Guardian January 29, 2019

Charlie Jarvis, “Milan Museum Commemorates Fascist Past at Expense of the Present” Hyperallergic (August 2, 2021),

Grant Amyot, “The Shadow of Fascism over the Italian Republic,” Human Affairs 21, no. 1 (2011): 35–43

Op/Ed #1: Populist Parties in the Former Eastern Bloc; the USSR’s Last “Parting Gift”

Jacob Braun

The flag of the Soviet Union is lowered for the last time and replaced with the flag of the Russia, December 26th 1991. Source

On December 26th, 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was dissolved into its 15 constituents— signifying the end of the Cold War. The capitalist western powers were finally able to reach through the Iron Curtain and begin the arduous process of democratization within states formerly subjugated by the Warsaw Pact, marking an era of increased European political and economic interconnectedness. However in the liberalization process of states such as the former East Germany, Poland and Hungary, the USSR had left behind the perfect storm of conditions for today’s populist parties to emerge; steeped in anti-establishment, anti-elitist and ultra-traditionalist rhetoric. The democratization experiment was something unfamiliar to most, and certainly had the possibility for improvement following the western powers’ first attempts in the aftermath of the Second World War. In my opinion though, we’ve gravely mishandled this situation which has allowed for the growth of a dangerous “populist plague.” If not properly amended, the inevitable takeover of Europe by right-wing populist parties will have dire consequences. 

Life behind the Iron Curtain was very harshly regimented. One’s loyalty to their local communist party was of utmost importance to the authorities, lest they allow capitalist dissidents to run amok. Essentially, from 1946 to 1991 a herculean campaign of repression was undertaken across eastern Europe to foster the collectivization of society. After the dissolution of the USSR however, all of this oppressive architecture would vanish— finally allowing for these states’ transitions to democracy to occur. Initially, cooperation between western institutions and former communist states went smoothly. As time went on though, the groups most repressed by the USSR became more agitated and active in national politics; seeing organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) as no more than mimics of their former Soviet overlords. An odd combination of nostalgia for the Soviet period and hatred for its communist governance combined to propel groups like the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Fidesz and the Law and Justice Party into the forefront of European politics. 

East Germany was perhaps one of the more repressive states to have existed during the Cold War. So, how has a party rooted in authoritarian conservatism been able to rise to prominence? Under the auspices of the Soviet Union and the watchful eyes of the Stasi (East Germany’s secret police, one of the most effective in history), the East German identity was shifted away from the individual and instead towards the community. The state was to be the most important organ in everyone’s lives— and individuals were solely cogs in the machine of the advancement of socialism. Post-reunification, many young Germans born in the territories of the former East Germany felt they had no identity to rely on[1]; a major factor for AfD politicians to take advantage of. If populism can offer a solution for problems caused by the former East Germany, prospective voters are more than willing to overlook its racist and xenophobic leanings.

A German man holds up a sign reading “Respect for German Culture” at an AfD rally. Source

The Fidesz Party of Hungary adopted a similar strategy to that of the AfD— filling a void for voters with the promise of problem solving through direct democracy, as well as attacking democratic European institutions interpreted as detrimental to Hungary’s future[2]. Hungary too was subjugated under the Iron Curtain and was even invaded by its former Warsaw Pact allies in 1956[3], which would understandably cause many Hungarians to be weary of supranational institutions. Although a light amount of skepticism can be healthy, the skepticism promoted by Viktor Orban is rooted in antisemitism[4] and strongman authoritarianism that seeks to destroy the EU from the inside. Coincidentally, Orban is a close ally to Vladimir Putin.

A Fidesz Party poster depicts George Soros and other Orban rivals holding wire cutters, insinuating they will cut the border fence and allow migrants to enter the country. Source

While AfD and Fidesz take advantage of the nostalgic aspects of populism, the Polish Law and Justice Party associates more with its religious aspects. Under Soviet State Atheism, Poland’s majority Christian population was severely repressed. Following the dissolution of the USSR however, this bottled-up religiosity was allowed to run wild; entrenching itself among far-right politicians and used as a tool to demonize the decadent west. Poland’s Law and Justice Party seek a return to Christian tradition and to do away with western degeneracy, such as abortions (which they have banned outright since 2021)[5] and homosexuality (which has been banned in entire regions of the country since 2019)[6].

Law and Justice Party supports using religious imagery in support of the party’s controversial judicial reforms. Source

It is apparent that populist parties have their roots in the totalitarianism of the former communist sphere. The USSR laid the foundations for today’s turbulent political climate, which has been exploited by its successor state, Russia, as a means to destabilize the west. This is an issue which must be recognized— if we do not prescribe the accurate antidote for the plague of populism, we will certainly lose this second Cold War we find ourselves in.

Sources:

Why young eastern German voters support the far-right AfD – Deutsche Welle

The Secrets to Viktor Orban’s Success – Foreign Policy

Remembering the 1956 Hungarian Uprising – Radio Free Europe

Viktor Orban’s anti-Semitism problem – Politico

How woman are resisting Poland’s abortion ban – Aljazeera

Polish Court Rejects Case Against ‘LGBT-Free Zones’ Activist – Human Rights Watch

OP/ED#1 – Modern Authoritarian Snapshot: Viktor Orbán and his Anti-LGBT Legislation

Viktor Orbán is a classic example of a modern day authoritarian that I have noticed in spite of many headlines featuring him, he has slipped under the radar when it comes to general discussions that criticize him. The Hungarian Prime Minister’s recent legislation preventing LGBT content from being in schools or kids TV, shows that he is a man who wants more and more control of the nation he presides over. He is however not the first case in recent European history of anti-LGBT mobilizations. Starting as early as the mid-2000’s, “the Catholic Church, conservative groups and political parties mobilized against the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the same-sex marriage bill from 2004 (Aguilar Fernández, 2010, 2013).”1 Another example can be seen with Russia’s 2013 law against “gay propaganda.” Similar circumstances like these would also pop up in Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, France, Slovakia, and all share in common that they come down to petty policy debates, and only really seek to combat what is labeled as “gender theory” or “gender ideology”.2 Just like with Orbán, these incidents also all share in common that they represent a gross overreaching of authority that undermines the idea of democracy to the core.

The aforementioned legislation regarding LGBT content being blocked off, showed a complete disregard for the basic rights of the LGBT community, and in spite of pleas by European Human Rights officials and boycotts by politicians not in favor of the change, it still went through. These actions against the LGBT community only serve to erode relations with them that have so carefully been built upon not just in Hungary, but globally over many decades. Orbán has been labeled as a result of these actions as a tyrant, bigot, and autocrat, while his party has even been called out for essentially acting as a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” On the note of this last label, he is also alleged to have Hungarian state media under his control, and even has supposedly rigged elections in his favor, but whether this is true remains uncertain, though evidence points towards it indeed potentially being the case. If it is true, election rigging is certainly one of the hallmarks of an authoritarian leader.

It is evidently clear that Orbán seeks a traditionalist and conservative society that is not very inclusive. In fact, Orbán aligns himself with the idea that he is establishing an “illiberal state”, and even went as far as to say on the matter, “Societies that are built on principles of liberal democracy will probably be incapable of maintaining their global competitiveness in the upcoming decades and will instead probably be scaled down unless they are capable of changing themselves significantly” (Orbán, 2014). Yet again we see another hallmark of an authoritarian leader, labelling anything that is progressive in the slightest as being in some way, shape, or form an inferior system with inherent flaws, that make it a less desirable option. Based off of what has been looked at thus far, I think it is fair to say that Orbán is a man that bears some of the traits of an authoritarian leader.

The primary issue with the new legislation above all else is that it fundamentally ignores the potential for it to have “tragic effects on the mental wellbeing of young LGBT people.” For a legislation that seems to pride itself on the fact that it is protecting the young minds of those who are under 18, it simultaneously does the exact opposite. Dunja Mijatović, who is the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights exclaims, “The proposed legislative amendments run counter to international and European human rights standards. It is misleading and false to claim that they are being introduced to protect children.”

So what can be done on the matter? It is difficult to say as a regime change is likely the only chance for the new law to be reversed. Though with how much authoritarian control Orbán has over the country and its media, this may be a difficult task that will take some time.

Viktor Orbán – Image from www.populismstudies.org

HIST4606A Sources:

1 David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe Politics and Governance Vol. 6, No. 3 (2018): 7.

2 David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe Politics and Governance Vol. 6, No. 3 (2018): 7-8.

Outside Articles:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/15/hungary-passes-law-banning-lbgt-content-in-schools

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/20/russian-gay-propaganda-law-discriminatory-echr-european-court-human-rights

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/09/15/viktor-orban-hungary-eu-funds/

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/breaking-fresh-evidence-hungary-vote-rigging-raises-concerns-fraud-european-elections/

https://www.populismstudies.org/viktor-orban-past-to-present/