Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lega Nord, Flemish Separatists, Others at Secret Vienna Summit Plot Far-Right Slate for Strasbourg

On November 15th, in Vienna, Austria, history of a sort was made as seven far-right parties from across Europe met in secret to form the beginnings of a coherent voting bloc that could try to push their shared decentralist, anti-Brussels, anti-immigrant agenda in the May 2014 European Parliament elections.

Flemish nationalism and religious bigotry on display at a Vlaams Belang rally
The parties involved were: Belgium’s ethnic-separatist Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang, or V.B.) party, France’s notorious but influential National Front (Front national, or F.N.), the NetherlandsParty for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, or P.V.V.), the neo-Nazi-tinged Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, or F.P.Ö.), the Swedish Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, or S.D.), the Slovak National Party (Slovenská národná strana, or S.N.S.), and Italy’s Northern League (Lega Nord), which seeks a separate republic called Padania.   Two other parties which planned to attend cancelled at the last minute: the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which wants the U.K. to leave the European Union (E.U.), and Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD), a rather ideologically mild party by this summit’s standards, which wants Germany to abandon the euro but not the E.U.  The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, or P.V.V.) was also not at the summit, but its membership in the new alliance is assumed; two days earlier, its founder, Geert Wilders, had met with the F.N.’s leader, Marine Le Pen, to declare a new working relationship.  (Wilders, whose party is unlike the F.N. not anti-gay or anti-Semitic—they prefer to focus their energies on hating just Muslims—had earlier been wary of associating too closely with the F.N. and even forbade P.V.V. members of European Parliament (M.E.P.s) from sitting next to F.N. ones.)

The Dutch ultranationalist GeertWilders
Not all of these movements believe in the same kind of decentralism.  Vlaams Belang would like to see the Kingdom of Belgium dissolved and replaced by the separate independent states of Flanders, Wallonia, and maybe even Brussels and the German-Speaking Communities (an autonomous sliver of Wallonia along the German border).  And Lega Nord would like to see a Federal Republic of Padania with significant self-rule for regions such as Lombardy, Liguria, and Venetia, as well as enhanced linguistic rights for German-speakers in the South Tyrol, speakers of Arpitan/Savoyard French and Walserdeutsch in Val d’Aosta, and speakers of Friulian and Ladin near the borders with Switzerland and Austria.

Umberto Bossi, founder of Italy’s Northern League
The Swedish Democrats, on the other hand, want the trans-national and ultimately toothless Sami Parliament, which represents indigenous northern (Lappish) people in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, shut down, while the Slovak National Party pounces on any attempts by the Hungarian-speaking minority in the Slovak Republic to secure more linguistic or cultural rights—fearing the kind of Magyar irredentism that haunts autonomy movements in Serbia’s Vojvodina province (see my recent article) and Romania’s Transylvania region (see my article on this).  And, even though the National Front’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was born in a village in a Brittany, his party recently called any government efforts to preserve minority languages like Breton, Occitan, Basque, Catalan, and Alsatian German “pure madness” (ironically, since France already has the nastiest policies in western Europe when it comes to linguistic rights).

The National Front’s Marine Le Pen, as portrayed at a controversial Madonna concert
But one thing all parties can agree is an opposition to European integration and hostility toward immigrants, especially Muslim ones.  The F.P.Ö. leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, said, in announcing the meeting after the fact, “There are many important patriotic parties in Europe that have recognised problems and are prepared to work together,” adding that there is now “a real chance that with the partnership that we’re working on we can have a strong parliamentary group.”

Make no mistake, this is not a move of desperation by these disparate groups but an attempt to capitalize on existing momentum.  The F.P.Ö. currently has only two seats in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, won with 12.7% of the Austrian vote in 2009 elections, but earlier this year it took more than a fifth of the popular vote in national parliamentary elections and is considered to be on a roll.  The F.N. is also expected to enlarge its current three-seat delegation.  The Slovak nationalists have one of Slovakia’s 13 European seats, but none in the national body.  Many expect UKIP to dislodge the U.K.’s ruling-coalition junior partner, the Liberal Democratic Party, as the country’s number-three party, at least in Strasbourg.  Vlaams Belang is also optimistic: the more moderate separatist party, the New Flemish Alliance (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie, or N.-V.A.), is expected to become the ruling party in Belgium in next year’s national elections, which will only raise V.B.’s profile and influence.  The euro crisis has obviously played a large role in all of this.

One of Vlaams Belang’s more controversial ad campaigns
But in order to form a functioning, recognized slate in the European Parliament, a coalition needs seven parties from seven different E.U. member states and 25 seated parliamentarians.  To fill this out, they have had not much luck in reaching toward the more moderate end of the Europhobic spectrum.  The Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, or D.F.), which controls 13.8% of Denmark’s parliament, turned down an offer to join the group, citing mainly fear of association with the Le Pens and their anti-Semitism.  That might leave the extremist F.P.Ö., which is spearheading the slate, to reach out to the farther right fringe for new allies, such as Hungary’s Jobbik: Movement for a New Hungary (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom), the neo-Fascist Tricolor Flame Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Fiamma Tricolore, or M.S.–F.T.) in Italy, Spain’s Phalangists, Romania’s New Right (Noua Dreaptă), or the openly neo-Nazi paramilitary movement in Greece, Golden Dawn (Laïkós Sýndesmos–Chryssí Avgí), which has benefited from anti-northern, anti-Brussels feeling in the recent currency crisis but has recently been all but shut down by the Greek government.

Members of Greece’s Golden Dawn party.  That kind of angled curly thing in the middle of their flag?
Um, that’s, um, that’s supposed to represent Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth.  Yeah, that’s it.
(It would be less politic perhaps for the alliance to reach out to the neo-Fascist British National Party (B.N.P.) or Anglo-separatist English Democrats—largely in some ways an outgrowth of the B.N.P.—for fear of alienating the more moderate and successful UKIP.  (See a recent article on the English Democrats from this blog—which even features its founder, Robin Tilbrook, chiming in critically on the comment thread!).)

Robin Tilbrook of the English Democrats
This right-wing fringe constitutes more natural allies for the extremist F.P.Ö.  The party rose to prominence under the leadership of Jörg Haider, a confidante of Saddam Hussein and Moammar al-Qaddafi who once called the Waffen-S.S. “decent men of good character” and referred to Nazi death camps as merely “punishment camps.”

The late Austrian neo-fascist leader Jörg Haider.
Most Europeans’ complete and utter lack of any kind of gaydar whatsoever
(I mean, come on, people—right?) preserved his reputation until his death.
(Haider, who was married and loudly homophobic, died in a car crash in 2008—on his way, as it was revealed posthumously, to his grandmother’s 90th-birthday party from a gay bar in Klagenfurt, where he had had a lover’s spat with his “LebensmenschStefan Petzner.  As further evidence that there is an element of self-loathing in all bigotry, the head of Hungary’s virulently anti-Semitic Jobbik movement, Csanád Szegedi, was revealed last year—as reported at the time in this blog—to be Jewish himself.  He has since experienced a personal political transformation and has embraced his Judaism.  There is little of such wisdom or courage—belated though it was—among most of Europe’s far-right fringe.)

Csanad Szégedi’s new look.
Which way the new far-right alliance will swing as it seeks sufficient breadth to secure a place at the table in Strasbourg will depend on the volatility of European politics in this time of financial crisis—and ultimately it will determine the success of the movement, and its effect on European policy, as well.

Strasbourg or bust?  The Slovak National Party on parade

[You can read more about many of these and other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]

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