Europe’s far right are inspiring Russians

Today I am happy to have contributed my first post to the RuNet Echo project, edited by Kevin Rothrock – Managing Editor of political science journal Polity and the author of ‘A Good Treaty’ blog. The RuNet Echo is part of Global Voices platform, which I would definitely encourage anyone to explore. It is so vast that you would probably find it useful in ways I can’t think of, but for me personally the value of the platform is the authenticity of its contributors.

Understanding today’s world events seems to be an eternal battle against bias and propaganda. Everyone with influence pursues some kind of agenda, every single event is exploited by different players to the point where you struggle to discern facts that actually took place on the ground. It’s all happening really fast and getting confusing even faster. Global Voices deals with ‘native’ perspectives. Here is a look at the tribute to Claudia Silva Ferreira, for instance – “the woman who was dragged“. An event this tragic can be milked by mass media to achieve all kinds of aims, while all I really want to know is how regular people in Brazil see it inside their own society. And Global Voices is a platform that provides me with such an opportunity.

As part of RuNet Echo I have started with exploring how 2014 elections to the European Parliament resonated in Russian social media, and going forward am hoping to be able to contribute more. You can follow RuNetEcho on Twitter here.

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With the relationship between Moscow and Europe tenser today than at any time in the past twenty years, Russians have followed with interest the recent electoral success of far-right parties in the European Parliament. While this development worries some in the European community, many Russians have welcomed the surge in Euro-skepticism as a vindication of Moscow’s anti-EU posturing. The day after voting throughout Europe and Ukraine, pro-Kremlin blogger and columnist Maxim Kononenko wrote on Facebook:

Common human values are wonderful, of course. But there are, first and foremost, personal values, which people aren’t willing to sacrifice in the name of something uncertain. Percentage points gained by Euroskeptics grow year after year. That is, Ukraine votes for integration with Europe, while Europe, on that very same day, votes for its own disintegration. And I don’t know about you, but to me personally this seems like movements in opposite directions.

French politician Marine Le Pen drew wide attention on the Russian Internet back in March 2014, when she recognized the results of the secessionist referendum in Crimea. Within hours of Le Pen’s announcement, popular Russian microblogger Konstantin Rykov launched a “Merci Marine!” Twitter campaign, urging his followers to send her words of gratitude. According to a Kharkov-based news portal, thousands of Russians actively supported Rykov’s initiative, flooding Le Pen’s Twitter feed with thanks. The leader of France’s National Front has been popular among Russian bloggers ever since. Indeed, Rykov has even created a dedicated Twitter account, where he publishes updates about Le Pen’s pro-Russia public comments. Other Russian Twitter users are fond of translating her comments about the right of the “great Russian people” to seek “reunification.” One such translation on May 26, 2014, for instance, attracted almost 300 retweets:

Marine Le Pen says the French voted to reject the European Union. [Picture reads, “We should all recognize the great Russian people’s right to reunification. They live both in Russia and on the left bank of the Dnieper.”]

Despite Russians’ general excitement, however, few demonstrate a thorough grasp of right-wing European politicians’ actual agendas. Russian mass media carefully downplay issues like Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and so on. It seems that many pundits, rather than explore the nuances that complicate the image of “pro-Russia Euro conservatives,” instead depict Europe’s right-wingers simply as patriots defending national sovereignty. Opinion pieces appear with titles like “British Independence Day” and “The Liberation of a ‘Europe of Nations.’” With coverage like this, it’s not uncommon to find among Russians the expectation that Europe’s right-wing parties are on track to unite into a single coalition, which would then pursue major reforms in the EU. Whether or not this presumption is at all realistic, Russian civil society is already primed to hail such a turn of events. It is also perhaps true that this year marked the first time in history that Russians followed the European Parliament’s elections with any significant interest. In one small example, Paris-based Russian LiveJournal blogger Tutuskania achieved momentary popularity on Election Day, after posting a satirical photo-report that included pictures of Femen activists trying to “inoculate” against Le Pen’s “fascism.”

Before [Le Pen’s] arrival, near a school that served as a polling station, half-naked Femen activists carrying syringes encouraged voters to get vaccinated against racism. When Marine showed up to cast her vote, they were already gone. Journalists rushed to find out whether she had seen them. “You were lucky [enough to see them], but I wasn’t,” Marine joked away.

Concluding her post, LJ user Tutuskania asks:

If you guys are interested, I can tell you all about how Europe and France are reeling from [Le Pen’s] victory. Let me know in the comments.

Dozens of Tutuskania’s readers responded, affirming that they do wish to know more about the impact of the right wing’s successes in the EU. While the sophistication of these RuNet conversations about Europe’s right wing remains low, Russians do appear to be showing new interest in European politics. In the new era of heightened tensions between Russia and the European Union, it seems reasonable to expect that Russians’ interest in this subject will continue to grow in the months and years ahead.


Featured image mixed by Kevin Rothrock, used with his kind permission 🙂

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