Across Europe, far-right politicians have been lining up to voice their support for Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months. These leaders come from parties that have grown to prominence in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the subsequent Euro Crisis that has held Europe in political catastrophe and economic sclerosis for the better part of a decade.
While the specific parties vary in the details of their platforms from country to country, they are united by core tenets: nationalism, social conservatism, Euroscepticism and a dislike of immigrants – especially immigrants who are non-white and non-Christian. While these far-right parties do not currently pose a significant challenge in the general elections to the established, less-extreme parties, they have nonetheless become significant players in the politics of Europe. The far-right’s fledgling friendship with Putin bodes ominously for Europe’s liberal democracy.
Far-right leaders have voiced their support and friendship for Putin in a variety of ways: Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), went so far as to say that Putin is the world leader that he admires most.
A spokesman for the National Front in France, Ludovic de Danne, said, “You can see that the National Front is viewed very favorably in Russia. We are more than tolerated, we are seen as a friend.”
Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party, a far-right party in the Netherlands, voiced support for the Russian version of the events in the Ukraine, calling the Western-aligned Kiev government “National-Socialists, Jew-haters and other anti-democrats.” Ironically enough, Wilders himself has been accused of anti-Semitism by a Jewish watchdog group, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, for supporting openly anti-Semitic parties in other countries, such as the National Front in France.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, from the far-right Fidesz party, has been one of Europe’s most powerful leaders to voice his support for Putin (as I discussed in my previous article). In a July speech, Orban called on Hungary to emulate Putin’s illiberal state in Russia as a model of governance.
Lately, the far-right has risen to be a powerful force in European politics in reaction to two main factors: the ever increasing integration of the European Union and the influx of non-European immigrants in recent years (refugees have flowed in large numbers as the states close to Europe across the Mediterranean, such as Libya and Syria, face horrible domestic strife). A central doctrine of the European Union has been that the Union should continuously integrate its economies and societies, as stated in the Maastricht Treaty, the founding document of the European Union. With this integration has come open borders across much of the European continent and economic interdependence. The far-right parties associate this integration with the economic recession and political conflict that has consumed Europe since the financial crisis six years ago. Instead, the far-right parties would like to return to national economic independence, as Europe had before the start of the European integration project in the wake of World War II.
In recent years, the European Union has also allowed an influx of immigrants from non-European countries to enter its borders, including many conflict-torn African and Asian countries, such as Libya and Afghanistan. The European far-right parties have firmly protested these policies. UKIP, for example, wants the United Kingdom to stop allowing immigrants to settle in Britain for five years “while immigration policy is sorted out.”
Many far-right parties justify their anti-immigration views by using them as scapegoats for domestic policy failures, such as crime and economic stagnation. More broadly, the far-right parties have accused the new immigrants of destroying national cultures. In defense of these national cultures, far-right leaders have turned to their own nations’ Christian religion as a source of “authentic” national culture to use as a counterpoint to the immigrants’ “heretical” theologies. For example, Orban has claimed Christianity as the “religious cornerstone” of the Hungarian state.
Putin has repeatedly invoked the Orthodox Christian cause to justify Russia’s aggression and attempts to undermine the international system, just as the far-right of Europe invokes Christian language to justify their anti-immigration views. For example, Russia has vetoed many UN resolutions that would demand Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down from office because al-Assad had previously supported Christian groups within the country.
While the European far-right does not share Putin’s dream of a neo-Russian Empire or believe that Russia is persistently engaged in a clash of civilizations with Europe and the United States to the West, they share a disdain for European integration and modern European multiculturalism. Russia does not want a united Europe because only the continent together can stop Russia’s territorial ambitions in the near abroad. The European Union’s relatively weak reaction to Russian aggression in Ukraine has demonstrated that a fragmented European Union, even with its intermittent sanctions and damning rhetoric, cannot effectively stand up to Russia’s latest attempt at imperialism.
Should a critical mass of far-right powers rise to power within the European Union, as has already happened in Hungary, the liberal democratic peace that has underpinned European peace and stability since the end of World War II will face its most serious threat because they would regress the continent into a patchwork of rival states, as it was before the modern project of European integration began in the post-war era.
Since the far-right has become friends with Putin, its potential rise to office is even more dangerous, as a squabbling Europe that is unwilling or unable to stand up to Russia would allow Putin to pursue further aggression with impunity from Europe.
Putin justified the Russian annexation of Crimea by claiming it on historical and ethnic grounds. Many members of the European Union could make similar claims to territories held by other member states, such as Sweden to the substantial Swedish population in Finland or Hungary to the significant Hungarian-majority areas of Slovakia and Romania.
This newfound alliance between Putin and the European far-right poses a frightful challenge to the European Union that needs to be acknowledged for its significance. Should the far-right rise to power across Europe, there is no telling what they would allow Putin to get away with. Hopefully, the European far-right will be stopped before it can undermine the decades of European integration, possibly ending the peace and stability that has marked the post-war order.
– Ben Perlmutter is a College junior from Chappaqua, New York.