Last summer I was interviewed by the French ‘right-wing’ radio station Radio Courtoisie. The subject was Putin’s Russia, the length was an hour and a half, the language was French.
That last aspect stretched my modest linguistic attainment to breaking point or, as I actually thought, beyond it. However, the interviewer assured me I did just fine.
Yet minutes before the recorded interview was to go on air, the station manager cancelled it because he feared that “the Russian embassy would be offended”.
Why, you might ask, should an independent radio station worry about the delicate sensibilities of a foreign embassy, especially one representing a country openly hostile to France and her allies? After all, I cited no facts one couldn’t read in hundreds of publications, including a small library of books.
There’s only one possible explanation: the station isn’t independent. It has close links with Marine Le Pen’s party, which is financed by Putin’s government. Hence my interview would have left bite marks on the hand that feeds Radio Courtoisie, and that simply couldn’t be allowed.
I remembered that incident when reading about the scandal that has destroyed the governing coalition in Austria, tipping the country into political chaos.
The junior partner in the coalition was the Freedom Party, which is ideologically close to Le Pen’s National Rally, German AfD, Italian League and a raft of similar European groups (including a few in Britain) usually described in the press as ‘populist’ or ‘far-right’.
Both terms are inadequate, suffering as they do the hyperinflation of overuse. First, all parties in universal-franchise democracies are populist – if they weren’t, they would win no elections. They all rise to the top by expert demagoguery designed to swing the largest blocs of voters.
Since most voters aren’t trained to ponder political nuances and complexities, the demagoguery is typically reduced to catchy slogans activating the salivary glands of the electorate. If the slogans are spouted by a charismatic, persuasive leader, his party has a chance of forming the government – especially if the slogans wielded by the previous lot have been proved to be lies.
As to the far-right tag, it’s less universal but equally meaningless. Both Hitler and Margaret Thatcher have been thus described, and it’s hard to think of two politicians further apart.
The left-leaning press often sticks this tag on economic libertarians, and they indeed may be on the right of the political mainstream in most countries. But, say, Le Pen’s lot preach the kind of economics that isn’t a million miles away from our dear Jeremy or, for that matter, France’s own Trotskyist Mélenchon.
Le Pen’s party is both nationalist and socialist, which blend has some history in European politics. Austria’s Freedom Party is as nationalist but less socialist, Italy’s League is even less socialist but equally nationalist, while Germany’s AfD isn’t socialist at all, but even more nationalist, much given to bandying about words like Volk and Vaterland, which have a certain ring to them.
While they all swear by national identity, their opposition to the European Union isn’t always the same as, say, our own Brexit Party’s or Ukip’s. All those continental parties mainly hate one aspect of European federalism, unrestricted immigration, especially of Muslims.
But some of them don’t hate the EU as such. Marine Le Pen, for example, has softened her anti-EU position considerably, and AfD doesn’t mind the EU, provided the Muslims and other undesirables are kept out.
The palette is quite broad, as you can see. But all these parties have one thing in common: they enjoy Putin’s support and (some definitely, others probably) financing. Hence all of them profess admiration for Russia’s kleptofascist regime.
This brings into doubt their own conservative credentials, when these are claimed – and Austria’s Freedom Party does claim them.
If such credentials were real, the leaders of these parties would be hard-pressed to explain their admiration for a regime that murders its opponents at home and abroad, imprisons dissidents, suppresses elementary liberties, blocks opposition websites, runs an economy criminalised from top to bottom, pounces on its neighbours like a rabid dog, attempts to subvert the political process in Western countries, and in general positions itself, both in word and in deed, as an enemy of the West.
One can understand why such parties take Putin’s rouble. Political parties are always starved of funds, and those outside the mainstream especially so. But this neither explains nor certainly excuses their seeking support from avowed enemies of their countries and the West in general, who openly confront the West all over the globe and threaten it with nuclear Armageddon.
We must also remember that some 87 per cent of Russia’s ruling elite led by Col. Putin are KGB/FSB officers trained in recruitment and seduction. Why do you suppose they spend billions to cultivate marginal political groups, both on the right and extreme left, in Europe? Do they do that out of a disinterested charitable instinct?
They don’t. They clearly expect a quid pro their quo.
Some of their ends are purely fiscal – let’s not forget that the Russian KGB government is organically fused with organised crime, and most of its key figures are billionaires who’d like to make even more billions.
But mostly they want to destroy Western politics they hate by sowing as much chaos as their purloined cash can buy. How and by whom the chaos is created doesn’t matter to them, as long as it’s destructive.
They don’t have an ideology as such, although they claim they do. They just use KGB methods to create troubled waters in which they can fish for their billions unimpeded.
Accepting support and especially money from such a regime ipso facto makes the recipients as evil as the donors – they dine with the devil, forgetting that at such a table no spoon is ever long enough.
This is the background to the scandal that has destroyed Austria’s governing coalition. The Freedom Party’s leader and the country’s vice-chancellor-elect Heinz-Christian Strache was filmed trying to strike a deal with the putative niece of a Russian oligarch.
Strache solicited donations from the woman, promising in return to help her invest €250 million of “not entirely legal” money in Austria. This, although it could be confidently expected that such a transaction would then be used as a blackmail weapon to secure political concessions as well.
Strache’s second-in-command Johann Gudenus also met with the woman’s representatives in 2017.
When the story broke, a spate of sackings and resignations followed, and the chaos so beloved of the Russians has materialised. Now the question is, would the Austrians have entered into similar negotiations with other evil regimes, say North Korea?
Perhaps, though somehow I doubt it. It’s just that so many people, including otherwise decent folk like Nigel Farage, have been successfully seduced by Putin’s KGB tradecraft into refusing to believe that his regime is indeed evil.
They have chosen to take at face value the nauseatingly cynical conservative noises emanating from Russia, to pretend to others but above all to themselves that some affinity exists between their parties and Putin’s kleptofascist gang.
All I can say is that I hope this isn’t the case – although in practice the distinction between wicked politicians and duped ones is often blurred.