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Thursday, January 23, 2020
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”
Polonius in Hamlet
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Mar 18 2019 (IPS) - EU Parliament elections take place every fifth year and votes have steadily been decreasing. In the last 2014 election, the overall turnout was 42.54 percent of those entitled to vote, in some nations it was just around fifteen percent. Nevertheless, results will not only be eagerly awaited by pro- and anti-EU activists, but also by ideologist from non-member countries. Particularily vociferous among such people are Steve Bannon, who wants to “Make America Great Again” and Aleksandr Dugin who wants to “Make Russia Great Again”.
Bannon, former Chief Strategist in the Trump administration, has identified “EU globalism” as his main enemy, “if I drive the stake through the vampire, the whole thing will start to dissipate.” To that end he has in Brussels founded The Movement to support right-wing populist groups opposing the EU. However, the initiative has so far not been particularily successful. It is hard to unite nationalistic secessionists. Marine Le Pen´s right-wing party Rassemblement national constitutes the biggest section of Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), a EU parliamentary group comprising far-right parties from across Europe. In spite of agreeing with most of Bannon´s ideas Le Pen does not want his support: “He is an American, not European and can thus not play a leading role in a nationalist drive to save the real Europe.” She would probably state that neither can a Russian like Aleksandr Dugin.
Describing himself as the only “ideologue” Donald Trump listens to, Bannon might nevertheless be a useful ally for European far-right wingers. He has his tentacles all over the world and did for example tell Brexiter Nigel Farage: “You’re going to have to fight to take your country back, every day. Whether it’s Italy, France, England, or the United States. If we quit, they [the Liberals] are going to be in control.””
Even if he has been called Putin´s Rasputin, Dugin has probably not the same hold on his President as Bannon has on Trump. Yet, after criticizing him for “ignoring ideas and history”, Dugin later became convinced that Putin had improved and now declares that the President´s later speeches are inspired by Dugin´s ideology and he hails Putin as an incarnated tsar:
Bannon might agree, since he repeatedly has acclaimed Putin´s intelligence and pointed out that the Russian President shares his views of traditionalism and nationalism: “Putin is very, very, very intelligent. I can see this in the United States where he strongly reaches out to social conservatives with his message about more traditional values.” Bannon would probably also agree with Dugin when the Russian “philosopher” exposes opinions like:
Is an ideologue like Dugin really capable of influencing European politics? Maybe. Recently, the Italian weekly L´Espresso provided an example of Russian alleged covert support to a nationalistic party.1 By following tracks left by the Russian oligarch Igor Rotenberg, who had avoided paying off huge Italian debts, L´Espresso unveiled a complicated pattern of suspicious bank accounts in tax havens and well-known banks. Igor is the son of Putin´s close friend and judo instructor Arkady Rotenberg. Arkady and his brother Boris gained billions of rubles through lucrative state contracts; like a new highway between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, huge building projects in Sochi, a bridge between Kertj on Crimea and Krasnodar Kraj, which with its 18 kilometres is Europe´s longest. The Rotenberg brothers also invest in real estate abroad. Due to their economic support to the war in Ukraine they were blacklisted by the US and the EU. Like many other oligarchs they have found various means to circumscribe the sanctions, one is covert support to European populist parties.2
The Rotenberg family has interests in Gazprom, Russia´s biggest, mainly state-owned company, though it is also supported by oligarchs close to Putin, among whom we find Konstantin Malofeev. He is not only a wealthy man providing economic support to the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass, he has a life mission as well – fighting “moral disintegration” in the form of atheism, liberalism, feminism, abortion, immigration and homosexuality. Malofeev supports several European fringe groups, as well as established xenophobic political parties.
In July 2018, Italy’s Supreme Court ordered the nationalist party Lega Nord to repay 49 million euros misappropriated from the Italian State, while freezing 1.5 million euros deposited in Lega Nord’s bank accounts. The ruling might be withdrawn and the party assets released if Lega Nord begins to repay the embezzled funds. According to L´Espresso Matteo Salvini, leader of Lega Nord, as well as Italy´s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior has with Konstantin Malofeev worked out a scheme meaning that Lega Nord will receive a four percent commission from the sale of 3 million tons of diesel administered by Malofeev´s Avangrad Oil & Gas.
Aleksandr Dugin is assumed to have played an important part in the deal. His influential foundation Edinenie, Unity, is headquartered at the same address as Konstantin Malofeev’s company. Dugin is a frequent visitor to Italy and serves as a contact with Malofeev. His involvement is more ideologically than financially motivated. He considers Italian culture to be opposed to “detrimental influences” from the US and has declared that “Italy will be at the forefront of a great populist revolution that will change the world.” What Dugin probably refers to is Lega Nord`s “achievements”, like turning away immigrants and asylum seekers. He also appreciates that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte from the beginning of his term has promoted a foreign policy characterized by an increasing rapprochement of Italy with Russia. He has advocated termination of international sanctions, which according to him is damaging to Italian economy and has offered Russia a strategic partnership in the fight against Islamist terrorism.
Bannon is also a great friend of Italy and as a conservative Catholic he would probably agree with Dugin´s declaration that:
However, Bannon´s piousness and earnest belief in “family values” might be questioned. He has been married and divorced three times and his ex-wives have accused him of misdemeanour, domestic violence and battery. Bannon considers Pope Francis’s influence as detrimental to the “true” Catholic Church and has in Italy joined ranks with ultra-conservative Catholics who actively oppose Pope Francis, among others Istituto Dignitatis Humanae, a faction that within the Catholic establishment attempts to undermine the Pope’s position with the hope that he will resign.
Whatever we may think of Dugin´s and Bannon´s influence over the leaders of their respective nations and their nutty ideas, based on ultra-nationalistic nativism, fascist ideologies, Oriental mysticism and conspiracy theories, it cannot be denied that they in Europe, Russia and the US are influencing nationalist and xenophobic movements. An effort to counteract these dangerous notions would be to vote in the upcoming EU Parliament elections.
1 L´Espresso No. 9, anno LXV, 24 febbraio.
2 In 2018, Forbes Magazine estimated Arkady Rotenberg´s personal wealth to 2,7 billion USD.
Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.
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