A reckoning for Putin's far-right anti-LGBTQ+ European allies

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Adam Long takes a look at who among the European far-right is still supporting Putin.

Photograph of Adam Long and Averil Power outside the Russian Embassy in Dublin. They are holding up posters of Putin with a rainbow coloured Hilter-style moustache.
Image: @adamlong80

In the midst of escalating violence in Ukraine, Adam Long asks where do the European far-right go from here?

For the past two weeks, the world has looked on in horror as Ukraine has been subjected to a brutal invasion by neighbouring Russia.

Here in Ireland, the outpouring of support and solidarity for the besieged citizens of Ukraine has been an uplifting sight at such a grim time in international affairs. Many of our streets are festooned in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian nation. In addition, the country cheered when the Russian Ambassador to Ireland was excoriated in a memorable RTE interview for the crimes of the regime he speaks on behalf of. This was public service broadcasting at its best where objective fact trumps contrived neutrality.

As the war being waged against Ukraine drags on, we can only hope that reason soon prevails and the bloodshed is brought to an end. Most of us also hope that those responsible for the war crimes being perpetrated against the Ukrainian populace will eventually be held to account, not least Vladimir Putin himself.

The appalling events of the past few weeks have also been impactful for another group of people, namely those far-right actors in the European Union who for many years have openly praised the Russian dictator and who stand to benefit directly from the web of disinformation that Russia has been weaving across Europe for quite some time now. Putin’s western cheer-leaders all share a desire to replicate his authoritarian style of rule in their respective countries and fundamentally undermine the liberal democratic order.

From Orban in Hungary to Le Pen in France and Salvini in Italy, their attempts to emulate the Putin playbook have had varying degrees of success. The most blatant example is Hungary where their far-right government has launched an all-out attack on basic democratic norms, on everything from an independent judiciary to a free media and, of course, a free LGBTQ+ community.

That we have allowed such an ugly authoritarian regime to develop in the heart of our European Union should be a cause of grave concern, and the strategy of those European leaders who sought to mollify Viktor Orban has, to put it mildly, been an abject failure.

Thankfully, the close links of the European far-right to Putin is now coming under much more scrutiny since the Ukraine invasion and the removal of any doubt regarding the warped intentions of the Russian leader.

Marine Le Pen, currently polling second in next month’s French Presidential Election, has been busy shredding thousands of campaign literature adorned with her and Putin smiling and shaking hands. Italy’s Matteo Salvini meanwhile was given a rude awakening only last week in a Polish border town with Ukraine when his attempts to suddenly reinvent himself as a critic of the Russian ruler was wonderfully disrupted by the town’s Mayor holding up a T-Shirt that the Italian ‘populist’ proudly sported during a visit to Moscow which left no-one in any doubt about his love of Putin.

In the UK too, which has been a favoured destination for Putin supporting Oligarchs, and whose Tory government has been condemned for its response to the plight of Ukrainian refugees, there is now, thankfully, renewed attention on the well-documented role that Russian state interference and disinformation played in their Brexit referendum, which the Johnson government and associated Brexiteers have done their best to obfuscate and deflect from. But, as with their continental cousins, a paper trail of prominent Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage expressing fulsome admiration for Putin is now causing acute embarrassment in such circles.

To say that a reckoning is overdue for the European far-right and their links to Putin would be an understatement. For this rogue gallery of political players, the attraction of Putin is obvious: A central theme of his authoritarianism has been the need for Russia to embody the very opposite of ‘the west’, where liberal democracy is equated with ‘weakness’ and ‘decadence’. His European fan club would dearly love to replicate that in their own countries.

For Putin, it’s about attacking the European project and everything it represents, which, for all its faults, remains the World’s greatest peace project and exemplar of liberal democratic standards. And while the far-right has been the best vehicle for these objectives, he has also managed to co-opt some on the far-left who seem to believe that any opposition to ‘the west’ is automatically right and noble.

It is within such a context that the coordinated attacks against LGBTQ+ progress in recent years deserve to be viewed. Our Rainbow communities are often the canary-in-the-coalmine when it comes to those whose acts of homophobia and transphobia invariably harbour a much wider agenda than simply rolling back the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people.

Of course, all of this has been only too obvious for those of us who protested Putin’s so-called gay ‘propaganda’ law – which effectively outlaws any public portrayal of LGBTQ+ identities – back in 2013. Since then, an almost identical homophobic law has been introduced in Hungary while odious ‘LGBTQ Free-Zones’ have sprung up across Poland.

LGBTQ+ rights are but one of a number of elements that are symbolic of the struggle between liberal democracy and authoritarianism but it is no surprise that those so enamoured with the latter see us as such a rich target for their activities and why anti-gay and anti-gender pronouncements form a central plank of their toxic political offerings across Europe.

The European reporter of ‘Byline Times’, Sian Norris, wrote recently about how millions of Russian Roubles have been funding far-right discord in Europe. She points out that in 2018-19 alone, nearly $200m of Russian money was funnelled into anti-gender causes across Europe.

She writes that ‘throughout Europe, Putin’s influence machine has worked hard to undermine women’s and LGBTIQ rights – sowing disinformation, funding anti-gender campaigns, and supporting far-right political parties which have adopted an “anti-gender-ideology” or “pro-family” mantle.’ 

Meanwhile, Remy Bonny, whose ‘Forbidden Colours’ Foundation supports LGBTQ+ rights across Europe, has done incredible investigative work in exposing how some EU states have been collaborating with the Putin regime to attack LGBTQ+ communities.

In the case of Hungary, he writes that ‘Russia’s international fight against LGBTI-rights is an inherent part of their strategy to undermine the European Union’s liberal democracy. Through international homophobic networks, Russian intelligence made contacts with Hungarian government representatives. Since then, LGBTQI-rights in Hungary are going backwards and the country has been vetoing the evolvement of LGBTI-rights on an EU-level.’ 

While similar efforts here in Ireland have thankfully proven less successful, with far-right/anti-LGBTQ+ candidates usually failing to even retain their deposits in Elections, we cannot become complacent. Such forces are very active online and taking full advantage of the failure of platforms to properly regulate hate and disinformation.

And there’s a despotic regime in the Kremlin more than happy to aid them in their efforts.

A photograph of Adam Long seated in an office space. He is wearing a brown turtle neck sweater with a beige blazer.

Adam Long is a Dublin based LGBTQ+ equality advocate who has written extensively on issues affecting our Rainbow communities.

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