Europe's Fascist Far-Right Wants to Exploit the Charlie Hebdo Attack - and Putin Will Benefit
France’s far-right National Front party seems determined to capitalize on Wednesday’s bloody attack at the headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo, where Islamic militants killed 12 people by storming into the offices and opening fire with automatic weapons.
Less than a day after the attack, The National Front’s leader Marine Le Pen immediately pointed the finger at radical Islam and told the press that she wanted to see a referendum on the death penalty, which was abolished in France in 1981. The National Front’s treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just told Al Jazeera that “Islam has a tendency to create fanatics more than any other religion. The facts on the ground prove this.”
Campaigning on anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric, The National Front has made significant gains in French elections, winning 25 percent of the vote in a recent national election. The swelling power of the party also threatens unity of Europe, where the National Front and several of far-right parties that favor shrinking or abolishing the EU won seats in the European Parliament.
One country that would certainly benefit from a weakened European Union is Russia. And indeed, Moscow has been supporting the far-right, ultra-nationalist political parties in Europe.
At least six of Europe’s right-wing parties, most of which promote neo-Nazi ideology, can be linked to Russia. The parties are the Britain's Independence Party (UKIP), France's National Front, Germany's National Democratic Party, Hungary's Jobbik, Greece's Golden Dawn, and Bulgaria's Attack.
For instance, France’s National Front borrowed $11.7 million from a Russian bank to finance its campaigns. Party leaders said that they turned to Russian lenders after they were unable to obtain loans from French banks.
The National Front’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has retired, suggested earlier this year that “Monseigneur Ebola” could be the solution to Europe’s immigration problems. He has also repeatedly denied the Holocaust and been regularly convicted of violating France’s race hate laws.
In April, Le Pen took a $2.5 million dollar loan from a Swiss holding company belonging to a former KGB agent, according to the investigative news website Mediapart. The loan went to an association created by Le Pen to finance the National Front’s political campaigns.
Le Pen no longer heads the National Front. Instead, his daughter Marine is the party’s new leader and is expected to run for president in the next elections. The Le Pen family has frequently visited the Russian embassy in the last several years and Marine Le Pen has publicly expressed admiration for Putin and favors a closer relationship between Russia and France.
Aymeric Chauprade, a member of the National Front who was recently elected to the European Parliament, was part of team that traveled to Crimea in March to oversee the referendum to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The observers concluded that the Crimea referendum was free and fair. However, The mission was organized by the pro-Russian Eurasian Observatory for Elections and Democracy and included members of other far-right European parties that are friendly with Russia. One member of the team, BÃ©la KovÃ¡cs, an influential member of Hungary’s neo-Nazi Jobbik party, was accused in May of being a Russian spy.
Jobbik is the second most powerful party in Hungary and earned 21 percent of the vote in the last national elections. Although the country’s leading party is also outspokenly pro-Russian, Jobbik has distinguished itself by eagerly advocating for revisions to the Treaty of Trianon, which redrew Hungary’s borders after World War II. Because of the treaty, many ethnic Hungarians live in neighboring countries. Jobbik’s desire to revisit the treaty as caused alarm in Romania and Slovakia, which, like Hungary, are members of the European Union and NATO.
Jobbik’s brand of radical nationalism is unapologetically anti-Semitic. Although the main focus of the party’s hatred is Hungary’s Roma minority, Jobbik officials have said that politicians of Jewish ancestry pose a threat to national security and have suggested that Jewish Hungarians should be required to sign a special register.
Hungarian counterintelligence discovered that KovÃ¡cs, who was recently elected to European Parliament, engaged in regular clandestine meetings with Russian officers. He also lived in Russia for many years and is such a champion for Moscow’s interests that many in his own party have given him the nickname “KGBÃ©la.” KovÃ¡cs has also channeled large sums of money to his party. The source of the money is unknown but many suspect it has Russian origins.
An investigation by Index Magazine also discovered that KovÃ¡cs’ wife, Svetlana Istoshina, was married to several powerful international figures, including a Japanese nuclear physicist and an Austrian gangster with soviet ties, suggesting that she may be a Russian intelligence officer.
KovÃ¡cs has been accused by the Hungarian government of treason and prosecutors are working to revoke his parliamentary immunity.
KovÃ¡cs is also the President of the Alliance of European Movements, an organization that represents many of the far-right fascist groups from around Europe.
For Putin, the increasingly popular fascist groups in Europe serve as a counterbalance to U.S. policy. If the Charlie Hebdo attack furthers provides more support to Europe’s far-right, that would benefit Putin, who hopes to weaken the EU and divide NATO, allowing Russian interests to take root and thereby furthering Russia’s global influence.