Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based Religious Right powerhouse, has urged Slovakia’s constitutional court to allow anti-gay activists to place a referendum on the country’s ballot that would reinforce the current bans on same-sex marriage, adoption, and domestic partner protections and add a provision making it harder for schools to offer sex education.
The court is considering a petition seeking a referendum submitted by the Slovak Alliance for Family. The measure calls for a vote on four questions:
· The definition of a marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
· A requirement that adoptive parents be married.
· Prohibiting registered partnerships between gay and lesbian couples.
· Permitting parents to opt out their children from sex education classes taught at public schools.
"The people of Slovakia should have the freedom to preserve marriage and family if they so choose," said Alliance Defending Freedom senior legal counsel Roger Kiska, who filed an amicus brief with the court. "This referendum will allow Slovaks to affirm current Slovak law and important social values, which is perfectly acceptable under the Slovak Constitution."
The opt-out of sex education classes, however, is not existing law.
More than 400,000 citizens signed the petition supporting a referendum, according to Roger Kiska—more than the required number of signatures. However, Slovak President Andrej Kiska asked the Constitutional Court to review the measure because of a provision in the country’s constitution that forbids holding a referendum to change “fundamental rights and liberties.”
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
Tumblr, can you please spread awareness of the riots currently breaking out in Glasgow city centre in George Square -
Union supporters have begun rioting in the city waving Union Jacks, saluting Nazis and attacking nationalists.
Absolutely nothing is being reported on BBC News, Sky News or ITV news! Spread the word!
These KIDS ( as you can clearly see them smiling) are loyalists, probably Rangers supporters, numpties, neds, bawheeds, it’s not a riot, more like an old firm game from the 80’s……….we don’t have riots in Scotland, more like a ‘bit of noise’ people are there to cause a nuisance because they don’t have lives.
BREAKING: The Scotland Independence Referendum has failed, will remain in the United Kingdom. #Scotland #IndyRef #ScotlandReferendum #ScotlandDecides
— Justin Gibson (@JGibsonDem)September 19, 2014
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking)September 19, 2014
Scotland will stay in the UK, likely with more devolved powers.
Scotland voters, vote YES to Scottish Independence! #YesScotland #Scotland #ScottishIndependence
Today’s the big day in Scotland, Voting starts at 1AM CDT (7AM Scotland Time) and ends at 4PM CDT (10PM Scotland Time).
Results will be coming out sometime late Thursday night or more likely Friday.
I have not leaned either way on the issue until now, but now I’m throwing in my support for the Yes Scotland movement.
Rachel Maddow reports on the role of partisan politics in the upcoming Scotland independence vote, where Scotland’s disdain for British conservatives could boost secession while empowering conservatives by taking Scotland’s liberals out of Parliament.
From the 09.17.2014 edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show:
Sweden's 2014 Elections: The rise of the far-right Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats) should frighten everybody
sometimes tumblr’s US-centric social justice makes me so fucking frustrated. Right now sweden’s third biggest party are literally neo-nazis and our elections couldn’t even get onto trending tags today, goddamit.
Okay, so the post is gaining notes and people are confused, so to explain what the hell is going on:
Swedish elections held were on last Sunday, 14th September. We’ve had a right-leaning government the past eight years and after this there will be a change of power. The new party, Socialdemocrats (S) gained a total of 31% percent. The old party, Moderaterna (M) gained 21%.
Sverigedemokraterna (SD) gained a total of 12.9%. Their policy is racist, Islamophobic, anti-immigration, anti-refugee, anti-diversity, anti-LGBT+, and anti-feminist. Basically, they tick every box on the douchebag lottery.
If you’re here to argue that they’re ~not actually~ Nazis: 1) Fuck you. 2) Fuck the horse the you rode in on. 3) I hope you get stepped on by a moose, you ignorant asswipe.
- they literally started as neo nazis. They have used a Neo-Nazi movement as campaign slogans,
- party members have assaulted immigrants with iron pipes (tw for racialised violence),
- worn Nazi symbols
- supported and helped build Neo-Nazi group SvP.
There’s probably more, but I don’t have links on hand.
They’ve been having rallies and demonstrations all over Sweden, and people have shown up just to turn their back on them and protest (this post explains it better).
In the 2010 elections, SD were pretty much considered no better than neo-Nazis and only got 5.7% votes - it put them in 6th place and was just enough to get them into parliament. In the elections before that, they got about 2.9%. In the past four years, they’ve grown exponentially in Sweden.
They’ve also run extremely extensive PR campaigns, appealing to the youth, kicking out members “exposed” of being racist, (note: these members often end up in SvP) and picking up buzzwords from the Socialdemocrats’ ideology.
29% of votes they gained this year were from swing voters who previously voted M, and the biggest gain have been in the south, in small towns and the countryside:
This is not something that’s just going on in Sweden. Europe has seen an influx of extreme-right parties over the last decade or so, often thinly disguised as a party that puts ‘traditional values’ and ‘national interest’ first.
In Greece and Hungary they’ve already been in power. In Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Finland France and UK, extreme-right-wing parties have been voted into the EU.
Because here’s the thing: we’ve forgotten what it looks like. We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve turned Nazism into a cartoonish lampoon of goose-stepping, uniforms and moral lessons that “we’ll never be like them~”, ignoring the fact nationalism is not as cut-and-dry two ends of an extreme but exists on a scale.
People have been apologising for SD’s actions for a while now because they’re not considered “extremist enough” to be neo-Nazis, because they don’t share the same beliefs, because they’ve “publicly denounced” SvP.
But the same people still get hurt. Still SD has the institutional and systematic power and privilege to oppress, degrade and humiliate people of colour, which they already have done. Stop making excuses for them. Stop making leeways for right-wing-extremists because that is how they gain tract.
Please spread this.
It was the same with the UK eu seats elections earlier in the year. We had UKIP, the uk independence party and as close to the tea party as we’ve ever seen in this country, get a majority of seats.
They once said that gay people cause bad weather, for a frame of reference, because i’m too tired to get all the relevant sources.
In breaking away from the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland would automatically find itself outside both the EU and NATO, and have to reapply to join both, officials from those Brussels-based organizations have stressed.
For the EU especially, Scottish re-entry could be a long and arduous process, with other countries dead set against letting the Scots retain the privileges awarded Britain: the so-called opt-outs from being required to use the euro single currency and to join the multination Schengen zone where internal border controls have been scrapped.
For NATO’s admirals and generals, the current Scottish government’s insistence on a sovereign Scotland becoming free of nuclear weapons would pose enormous strategic and operational headaches, even if a transitional grace period were agreed on. A new home port would have to be found for the Royal Navy’s four Trident missile-carrying submarines and their thermonuclear warheads, currently based on the Clyde.
This “risks undermining the collective defense and deterrence of NATO allies,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense has said. In what might be read as a warning to the Scots, the ministry has said a nuclear-free stance could constitute a “significant” hurdle to Scotland being allowed back into NATO.
Until Scotland rejoined the alliance, to which it’s belonged with the rest of Britain for 65 years, new arrangements would also need to be found to patrol vital shipping routes in the North Atlantic and North Sea. If Scotland were to choose not to rejoin, it would pose a conundrum for NATO for which there is no real precedent: what to do following the loss of a developed, democratically governed part of alliance territory that has opted for neutrality, said Daniel Troup, research analyst at the NATO Council of Canada.
Emergence of a new Western European country of 5 million inhabitants with roughly the land area of the Czech Republic or the U.S. state of Maine or would also set in motion political and social forces whose effects are impossible to predict. Because of British voting patterns, the political groups in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that are seeking Britain’s exit from the European Union would become proportionately stronger in Parliament.
Meanwhile, on the continent, from Catalonia in Spain to the Dutch-speaking Flemish areas of Belgium, other European peoples that do not have their own states would likely be emboldened to follow the Scots’ example.
Loss of Scotland would also weaken the influence of Britain inside the 28-nation European Union. For the moment, the British, along with the Germans and French, constitute the trade bloc’s Big Three. Without Scotland’s population, Britain would drop to No. 4, behind Italy.
That would mean fewer British members of the European Parliament, as well as a reduced say in population-weighted decision-making in the EU’s executive.
"In the European Union, size matters," said Almut Moeller, an EU expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations. "It will be a rump United Kingdom."
This would have major policy implications. A whittled-down Britain would have a weaker hand in pressing for the kind of EU it favors: more of a free market, and less of a political union.
Simultaneously, said Professor Richard G. Whitman, director of the Global Europe Center at the University of Kent, politicians and civil servants in London would be “massively preoccupied” for years in disentangling England from Scotland, following more than three centuries of political and economic unity.
The result would be “a much-reduced bandwidth for defending a more liberalistic agenda” in Europe, Whitman said, including the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the United States.
Under both NATO and EU rules, any existing member could blackball Scotland’s application for admission, and some might find domestic political cause to do so. Spain, for example, might want to discourage independence-minded Catalans. For the English, divvying up the common assets with the Scots might turn as acrimonious as a Hollywood divorce, Whitman said.
If Scotland sought special arrangements while trying to get back into the European Union, that could provide a wedge for other countries to demand renegotiation of their own terms of membership, and calls to revise the treaties that are EU’s constitutional basis, Moeller said. Germany, the bloc’s richest and most influential nation, would be adamantly against that, she said.
A dissenting prediction comes from a Swedish expert on the EU. The 18-month interlude between Thursday’s vote and the start date of actual Scottish independence would be enough to allow the Scots and EU to negotiate a deal so that on the very day it became a country, Scotland could seamlessly become an EU member in its own right, said Niklas Bremberg, a research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.
The most fateful consequence of a Scottish vote in favor of independence could be very close to home: in neighboring England. The English have already soured sufficiently on the European Union to the extent that in the March elections for the European Parliament, they cast more votes for the anti-EU UKIP party than any other.
Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank, predicted the Scots this Thursday could set an example of sorts_for the English.
"The exit of Scotland from the UK would increase the chances of the exit of the UK from the EU," Zuleeg said.
ROME — On a hot Friday in late June, the walls of a 15th-century marble palace in a secluded corner of the Vatican were lit up with the face of Breitbart News Chairman Steve Bannon.
“We believe — strongly — that there is a global tea party movement,” declared Bannon, who took over the American conservative new media empire after the death of its founder, Andrew Breitbart, in 2012. Speaking via Skype to a conference on Catholic responses to poverty, he said, “You’re seeing a global reaction to centralized government, whether that government is in Beijing or that government is in Washington, D.C., or that government is in Brussels… On the social conservative side, we’re the voice of the anti-abortion movement, the voice of the traditional marriage movement.”
Events across the Atlantic do look familiar to American eyes: an uprising against long-established parties in Brussels amid economic stagnation. But these elements have been around a long time in European politics. What is new — and what feels so American — is represented by the group Bannon was addressing: Europe is getting its own version of the religious right.
“There is an unprecedented anger because the average citizen [sees] what is being done in their name without their consent,” said Benjamin Harnwell, who founded the group that organized the conference, called the Human Dignity Institute. Harnwell is a former aide to a longtime Eurosceptic member of the European Parliament, who founded the organization in 2008 to promote the “Christian voice” in European politics. It is one of many new groups that have sprouted on the continent in recent years with missions they describe as “promoting life,” “traditional family,” and “religious liberty” in response to the advance of laws to recognize same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Some are technically secular organizations, but their strength, their leaders concede, largely comes from churchgoers.
The analogy with the tea party isn’t perfect for these groups, and some bristle at the comparison because they aren’t uniformly conservative on other issues. Harnwell prefers “silent majority,” but said he draws inspiration from the tea party movement because they also see their battle in part as a fight with a political establishment that has long ignored them.
These groups are still learning to work together, but after years on the political margins in much of Europe, they have suddenly begun flexing political muscles that progressives — and maybe social conservatives themselves — never knew they had. They have made themselves a force to be reckoned with in Brussels by learning key lessons from American conservatives, such as how to organize online and use initiative drives. European progressives, who long thought debates over sexual rights had mostly been settled in their favor, were blindsided.
“A bomb with a long fuse has been lit,” said Sylvie Guillaume, a French MEP supportive of abortion rights and LGBT rights, who recently stepped down as vice chair of the largest center-left bloc in the European Union’s parliament. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
One month before Bannon addressed the Human Dignity Institute, elections for the European Parliament sent a shockwave through the political establishment in Brussels. Far-right parties calling for an end to the European Union doubled their numbers to hold around 20% of seats. Parties like France’s National Front and Britain’s UKIP won pluralities in their countries.
Some of these parties ran on explicitly anti-LGBT platforms, particularly in Eastern Europe. (Hungary’s ultranationalist Jobbik Party, for example, printed posters featuring a blond woman with a Hungarian flag standing opposite drag Eurovision champion Conchita Wurst with an EU flag, along with the caption: “You Choose!”) For the most part, though, issues dear to social conservatives were a side issue in elections driven heavily by economic frustration. Some on the far right even support LGBT rights, most notably Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom, who has tried to recruit LGBT voters for his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform.
Social conservatives made themselves a force months before the election. In December, the European Parliament took up a resolution known as the Estrela Report that called on member states to provide comprehensive sex education in schools, ensure access to safe abortions, and take other steps that its supporters consider basic to safeguarding sexual health and rights. The resolution would have had no practical impact — the EU’s own rules bar it from regulating such issues — and its supporters considered it consistent with previously adopted resolutions. The vote was expected to be perfectly routine.
Then, as if someone had thrown a switch, emails started pouring into MEPs’ offices calling for the resolution to be rejected weeks before the final vote on Dec. 10. After an acrimonious floor debate, the center-right bloc helped defeat the Estrela Report by a small margin in favor of a conservative alternative that essentially said the EU has no business talking about these issues. The result stunned progressives, who couldn’t recall another time that the parliament had rejected language supportive of reproductive rights.
In a sense, someone had indeed thrown a switch. A few months earlier, a new online petition platform called CitizenGo sent out its first action alert. CitizenGo was conceived of as a kind of MoveOn.org for conservatives. It was based in Spain, but it had aspirations to be a global platform and now has staff working in eight languages, with plans to add Chinese and Arabic. It has an organizer in the U.S., too, named Gregory Mertz, who works out of the Washington offices of the National Organization for Marriage — Mertz actually wrote some of CitizenGo’s Esterla Report petitions. In the weeks leading up to the Estrela vote, several petitions appeared on CitizenGo, garnering 40,000 signatures here, 50,000 there.
These kinds of campaigns are so common in the U.S. that they are little more than background noise. But they were new in Brussels, especially in the hands of conservatives. Grassroots mobilization on sexual rights hadn’t been common on either side, and progressive advocacy groups had won many important victories relying heavily on an elite lobbying strategy.
MEPs had no idea what hit them and many of them folded, said Neil Datta, of the European Parliamentary Forum for Population and Development, which promotes reproductive rights.
“If you have a big cannon, the first [time] you shoot it, everyone runs away scared,” Datta said.
CitizenGo’s founder, Ignacio Arsuaga, had spent more than a decade adapting online organizing techniques from U.S. to Spanish politics before launching the group. He had been drawn into internet advocacy while studying at Fordham Law School in New York in the late 1990s. He had been “amazed” by MoveOn.org, he said in a phone interview from Spain, and he began signing petitions by groups such as the Christian Coalition, Americans United for Life, and other organizations that were “defending the rights of religious people — specifically Catholics — to express our faith in the public sphere.”
“That’s real democracy — that’s what I lived in the U.S.,” Arsuaga said. “Spanish citizens aren’t used to participating. They’re used to voting to every four years, and that’s it.”
To change this, he created an organization called HazteOír (a name that means “make yourself heard”) in 2001. It ran some campaigns throughout the early 2000s, often under separately branded sites, but it was the group’s mobilization against a 2010 bill to liberalize abortion laws passed by Spain’s socialist government that made the group a beacon to conservatives around the world. It helped get hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets of Madrid and kept up the drumbeat through the 2011 elections when the conservative party Partido Popular won control. Its efforts appear to have paid off. In December 2013, the cabinet approved legislation that opponents say would give Spain the most restrictive abortion laws of any democracy in the world, and it seems to be on track for final approval by the parliament this summer.
Arsuaga has steadily been working to build a broader movement. His group hosted the 2012 World Congress of Families in Madrid, a global summit of social conservative leaders organized by an institute in Rockford, Ill. It bussed supporters across the border to France in 2013 when a new organization, La Manif Pour Tous (Protest for All), organized large protests against a marriage equality law reminiscent of Spain’s anti-abortion protests.
The protests organized by these two groups were a turning point for conservatives throughout Europe, said Luca Volontè, a former Italian MP who now runs a social conservative foundation in Rome and sits on CitizenGo’s board. They showed that a progressive victory was not inevitable. And, in their aftermath, conservatives have won victories, especially in Eastern Europe — in recent months, Croatia and Slovakia both enacted marriage equality bans in their constitutions.
“So many people in Europe are standing up, because this ideology appears and [is] felt, really, as totalitarian,” Volontè said, referring to advances for marriage equality.
La Manif Pour Tous is now following the same path as HazteOír, continuing the fight against marriage equality in France even though it became law in May 2013 and reorganizing itself as a permanent, international organization. The group launched a “Europe for Family” campaign in the lead-up to the EU elections in May, and 230 French candidates signed its pledge opposing marriage equality, trans rights, and sex education.
Twenty-three signatories won won seats in those elections, 11 of them members of the far-right National Front.
The suddenness with which social conservatives became a force in Brussels has many progressives speculating that they are the creations of American social conservatives seeking to “export the culture wars.”
“As far as I understand [social conservative groups] have quite some money in them [from] the U.S., similar to all those missionary and evangelical groups that do work in Uganda,” said Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian Green Party MEP who is now vice president of the European Parliament. Lunacek, who co-chaired the Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights in the last session, authored a report on LGBT rights that groups like CitizenGo and La Manif Pour Tous tried unsuccessfully to defeat this winter.
A review of tax disclosures conducted by the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way found that several U.S. groups — many of which boomed in the 1990s — had recently invested in conservative drives across Europe: The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson, sent $1.1 million to its European branch, the European Center for Law and Justice, in 2012, which is the most recent year for which tax disclosures are available. Another group founded by well-known American social conservatives called the Alliance Defending Freedom spent more than $750,000 on European programs that year. The Federalist Society, which promotes conservative legal philosophy, reported spending nearly $800,000 in “conferences and seminars” in Europe that year. Personhood USA, a small Colorado-based group that has tried to pass ballot measures that would give fetuses the legal status of “persons” — a strategy for rolling back abortion rights that is controversial even among pro-life activists — poured $400,000 into Europe in 2012, just after one of its ballot measures went down in flames in Mississippi. (Personhood USA President Keith Mason declined to answer questions from BuzzFeed about which organizations received the funds or what they were used for.)
But while there are links to the U.S., the movement is very much homegrown. Arsuaga said neither HazteOír nor CitizenGo get funding from U.S. groups — and they don’t need it. Arsuaga said 99% of HazteOír’s 1.9 million euro ($2.5 million) annual budget comes from donations from Spanish citizens. CitizenGo has been raising 30,000 to 40,000 euros (roughly $40,000 to $55,000) each month from the 1.2 million members it’s signed up worldwide since its October launch.
Today, American ties seem much more about a shared vision to build a global conservative movement rather than leaning on stronger and wealthier U.S. partners for support. Arsuaga, Volontè, and La Manif Pour Tous President Ludovine de La Rochère were all in Washington on June 19 to support the National Organization for Marriage’s March for Marriage. Their more important business, however, might have been in a closed-door summit the next day, where representatives of around 70 countries met to discuss creation of an International Organization for Marriage, according to Volontè and another participant. A follow-up meeting is planned for next year.
Many LGBT rights supporters mocked the March for Marriage’s paltry turnout. So these Europeans appeared as if they were there to encourage a beleaguered movement, not the other way around — they now possess the vigor that has evaporated from the U.S. movement as opposition to marriage equality has collapsed.
European social conservatives contend that they may have a new energy and sophistication, but Europeans have never been pro-abortion rights or pro-marriage equality. Dissenters just weren’t given the floor, and they didn’t know how to fight back. “[We] didn’t know how to arrive here at the European [Union] level and make their voice heard in parliament,” said Sophia Kuby, director of a four-year-old organization based in Brussels, European Dignity Watch.
Polling data doesn’t appear to bear this out, at least in Western Europe. Support for marriage equality ranges between 52 and 79% in all seven Western European countries included in a June Ipsos poll. Less than a third of respondents from the two Eastern European countries included — Poland and Hungary — support same-sex marriage (and both countries have banned it in their constitutions), but more than 50% support some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples. Opinion seems to range more an abortion, which is available in most countries at least before 12 weeks, though waiting periods and other restrictions are not uncommon. An April Pew study found substantial pluralities in countries including France, Spain, and the Czech Republic say they believe abortion is “morally acceptable,” while there are even more lopsided pluralities saying abortion was “morally unacceptable” in places such as Poland and Greece.
But anti-abortion activists effectively used a new mechanism for direct democracy that the EU introduced in 2012 — called the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) — to make a show of popular support. One of the first ECIs ever launched, dubbed “One of Us,” was a proposal to cut off EU funding to any activity that destroys a human embryo, which in practical terms would mean ending support for stem cell research and foreign aid to family planning programs that perform abortions. If organizers could get at least 1 million signatures from seven countries, the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, would have had to hold a hearing on it.
The signature drive was led by Grégor Puppinck of the European Center for Law and Justice, but the continental campaign itself was funded entirely by Spanish and Italian foundations. It quickly sailed past the 1 million signature hurdle, collecting over 1.8 million signatures from more than 20 countries by the time the hearing was held on April 9. Despite this impressive show of popular support, there was little doubt that the commission would reject the proposal even as the witnesses for One of Us walked into the hearing room — Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn had said as much in a January press conference.
The commission summarily dismissed the proposal in a seven-page statement issued on May 28 — just three days after the European elections, which left some organizers feeling like the commission was deliberately trying to prevent it from affecting the vote.
But that doesn’t mean it was a defeat for opponents to abortion rights. Well before the process had come to an end, the One of Us campaign signalled on its website that it had bigger goals than just changing EU funding policy.
The drive “could be a starting point of a new Europe-wide mobilization of the pro-life movement,” the site said. “Every experience we collect here can be used for campaigns on other pro-life issues in further course. In that sense, it can be expected that the outcome may be very enduring.”
It also taught anti-abortion rights activists that they didn’t have to pull their punches.
“For too long a time in Europe, pro-life people did not really say clearly and directly what they believe because [they feared] it was too much” for most Europeans to accept, Puppinck said in an interview in his Strasbourg office. “We are more direct, more open, more clear, we don’t really try to negotiate on the truth…. This is why, for us, the most important [thing] is to be able to speak.”
And from a political standpoint, the rejection of the One of Us initiative may have been a blessing for social conservatives hoping to build a movement. The U.S. anti-abortion movement was built in response to the 1973 Supreme Court decision establishing abortion rights, a ruling that thrust abortion into the center of American politics for the last 40 years. And they can now frame it as a question, not just abortion.
That’s exactly how the Parliament’s largest bloc, the center-right European People’s Party, is already poised to embrace One of Us’ cause. The EPP chair, German MEP Manfred Weber, told BuzzFeed he was “disappointed” that the European Commission did not act “when there are so many people standing behind an initiative.”
“We have to bring people closer to the European process,” Weber said, adding that the EU must not go beyond its mandate. “Europe should not be the political body which is intervening … in this question of family rights, of abortion. Very crucial and very important.”
This battle now heads to the courts. On Friday, Puppinck filed a challenge before the EU’s judicial arm asking that it take away the European Commission’s veto power over initiatives. The suit “is not only about the right to life, but firstly about democracy,” Puppinck stated in a press release announcing the suit.
In this fight, Puppinck said, “You can really say it’s the opposition between the people and the elite.”
Ukraine says two warplanes downed Wednesday were out of reach of shoulder-fired missiles.
KIEV, Ukraine — Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned as Ukraine’s prime minister Thursday after the ruling coalition in parliament collapsed, accusing lawmakers of imperiling the nation by putting politics above urgent needs during wartime.
The resignation threw the government into disarray at a critical moment in its war against pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. The Ukrainian military is in the middle of an offensive, regaining control over towns and cities that had been held by the rebels, who are being forced to recede into more defensible positions in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
One piece of legislation before parliament would authorize a budget increase to fund the expanded military campaign. Ukraine’s depleted armed forces were caught flatfooted when the rebellion in the east began, and the military has scrambled to pay for adequate training and equipment to combat the separatists.
The immediate cause of Yatsenyuk’s resignation was the decision by two major parties earlier in the day to pull out of the coalition government that took over after President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February. Yanukovych fled the country amid large and raucous protests that he was drawing Ukraine closer to Russia and away from the European Union.
The pullout of the Svoboda and Udar parties was widely viewed as a maneuver calculated to nudge reform along by allowing President Petro Poroshenko to call elections this fall, two years early.
As volunteers were combing the crash site for bodies and debris, friends and family members were trying to cope with their loss.
Many critics argue that the existing parliament, elected in 2012, is riddled with corrupt and intransigent lawmakers held over from the previous government that the protesters fought to get rid of. The parliament is viewed as particularly resistant to many electoral and government reforms that Poroshenko vowed to have enacted when sworn into office in June. The Justice Ministry is trying to ban members of the Communist Party from parliament, saying the party should be outlawed because it has supported the pro-Russian rebels.
“We believe that in the current situation, such a parliament which protects state criminals, Moscow agents, which refuses to strip immunity from those people who are working for the Kremlin, should not exist,” Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok told parliament in announcing his nationalist party’s withdrawal from the coalition.
Poroshenko signaled his approval of the coalition’s death, swiftly issuing a statement that the collapse demonstrates that “the society wants a complete reload of state power.”
But the end of the coalition, Yatsenyuk said, means parliament would be politically hobbled as it tries to pass needed laws such as the budget increase and controversial government reforms.
“Who wants to go to elections and simultaneously vote for unpopular laws?” he said in announcing his resignation in parliament. “Putting narrow political interests above the future of the nation is impermissible. It is a moral and ethical crime.”
Yegor Firsov, a lawmaker from Donetsk who is in the Udar party, said that the faction was prepared to support government initiatives on reforms and more funding for the military and that he was surprised Yatsenyuk attributed his resignation to government paralysis.
“Now, it’ a kind of a vacuum,” Firsov said. Noting that Friday is a day set aside for cabinet ministers to ask questions of the prime minister, he said, “maybe he will change his mind and come to us.”
Meanwhile, artillery explosions could be heard around Donetsk on Thursday, a day after separatists fighting the Kiev government claimed responsibility for shooting down two warplanes near where a passenger airliner crashed last week after being struck by a missile. The most intense fighting appeared to be coming from a contested area near the city’s airport. Despite the clashes, Australia’s leader said Thursday that he was readying a policing team of 50 officers who he hopes will join an eventual United Nations mission to secure the airliner’s crash site, which is about 40 miles east of Donetsk.
The attack on the warplanes came just six days after the Malaysia Airlines disaster, which has drawn international outrage and showcased the advanced firepower that apparently is available on the ground in the region. The Ukrainian military said Wednesday that the two Sukhoi Su-25 strike aircraft were flying at nearly 17,000 feet — an altitude that is out of the reach of the shoulder-fired missiles that the rebels said they had used to down the jets. Neither the government’s nor the rebels’ claims could be verified.
Ukraine has accused Russia of supplying fresh firepower to rebels over the porous border between the two countries in recent days, even as international attention has focused on a possible Russian role in the attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Although the details of Wednesday’s incident remained unclear, it was a sign that the rebels may still be able to inflict significant damage on the Ukrainian military, whose major advantage over its rivals is in the air.
Countries whose citizens were among the 298 people killed in the crash of Flight 17 began to discuss how to secure and investigate the debris site, which has been left almost completely unguarded in recent days.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday that he has sent 50 police officers to London to prepare for a potential U.N. mission that would deploy at the final resting place of the Boeing 777.
“We are ready to deploy Australian police to Ukraine to help secure the site as part of an international team under United Nations authority,” Abbott said in Canberra, the Associated Press reported.
The pilots of the two Su-25 jets, which were among four planes that were fired upon as they were returning from a mission near the Russian border, are thought to have bailed out over rebel-held territory. Their conditions and whereabouts were unknown, and both the rebels and the government said they had initiated search missions.
“We shot them down with MANPADS,” said rebel spokesman Sergey Kavtaradze, referring to shoulder-fired missiles that can reach a limited altitude.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told reporters in Kiev that the planes were flying too high to be hit by such a weapon.
“It can be reached only by heavy missile complexes,” he said.
Lysenko alleged that the missiles that hit the two planes were fired from Russian territory.
“They were shot down very professionally. The terrorists do not have such professionals,” he said in reference to the pro-Russian rebels.
Photos that have emerged since the Flight 17 crash last Thursday suggest that Buk missile launchers that apparently were in the rebels’ possession — and one of which Ukraine said was used to down the jetliner — have been transported to Russia. But U.S. officials have said that tanks, rocket launchers and other arms continue to flow into Ukraine from Russia.
The warplanes were shot down as the first 40 bodies of Flight 17 victims were en route to the Netherlands, where they are to be identified through DNA testing.
The Wednesday crashes in the vicinity of the Flight 17 site — about 25 miles south of its perimeter — provided an eerie reminder that the international shock over a missile strike on a passenger airliner has done little to deter the rebels from continuing to shoot down aircraft. It may even have given them some latitude, because commercial airliners now avoid flight paths over eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military, which says it is observing a cease-fire within a 25-mile radius of the Flight 17 crash site, is engaged in an operation to squeeze separatists out of the towns and villages encircling their stronghold of Donetsk.
Military officials say rebel forces are abandoning positions on the outskirts of Donetsk and regrouping in the city’s center.
A top rebel leader dismissed the retreat’s significance. “It’s a tactical retreat,” Pavel Gubarev told Russian state-run Rossiya 24 television. “It was all planned. Nobody has orders to fight to the bitter end. Tactical retreats are permissible. It’s normal military tactics.”
The government claims to have regained control of several cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where the separatists rose up in April and established “people’s republics,” appointing new mayors and officials.
Ukraine’s anti-terrorism operation, as the government calls its military campaign against the separatists, said Wednesday that it had “liberated” the towns of Karlivka, Netaylovo and Pervomayske near Donetsk. It said the Ukrainian flag is flying again in the towns, “as a symbol of peace returning to these places.”
Aleksey Dmitrashkovsky, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, said that in the city of Kramatorsk, also in the Donetsk region, separatists are shedding their uniforms and dressing as taxi drivers and market vendors. But he said the government will find and punish those who fought against the Ukrainian state and military.
“We’re going to find everyone,” he said. “Everyone who ever raised a hand to a Ukrainian soldier. Everyone who ever committed a crime against the state of Ukraine. Each and every one who caused women to shed tears and who stole the smiles from children. They will be held responsible under Ukrainian law.”
The sounds of pitched battles could be heard through a wide swath of rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, including near the crash site.
In the town of Torez, a large explosion rattled shop windows and halted conversations. All afternoon — both before and after the Ukrainian warplanes were shot down — jets could be heard over the region, but they could not be seen on the partly cloudy day. They circled at a high altitude, even as an observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was directly beneath in the village of Petropavlivka.
There, OSCE officials were examining for the first time a fragment of the Malaysia Airlines plane’s fuselage that is marked with small dents, as though from shrapnel — a potentially key piece of information for investigators that has been sitting unguarded for days, propped against a light pole on the street.
Even the rebels apparently now agree with U.S. and Ukrainian assertions that a Buk antiaircraft missile system downed Flight 17, although the separatists continue to blame the Ukrainian military.
“In an attack from the air, say by a fighter or other aircraft, the missile reacts to heat and, as a rule, hits the engine. Here the picture is somewhat different,” a rebel leader, Andrei Purgin, told the Russian news agency Interfax on Wednesday.
“The distinctive feature of Buk-type systems is that they attack the forebody of the aircraft,” he said. “The cockpit is actually torn off from the rest of the fuselage, which apparently also happened this time when the cockpit fell much earlier and lies farther away from the rest of the fragments.”
The Chamber of Deputies of Luxembourg on Wednesday approved a bill which seeks to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry and adopt children in the European nation.
Only 4 out of 60 deputies voted against the bill.
The vote came after conservative groups failed in a last ditch attempt to force a referendum on the issue.
The group behind the petition, Schutz fir d’Kand (Protector of the Child), said it was opposed to marriage equality because it would “weaken family ties, to the detriment of all.”
Gay couples are currently allowed to marry in 8 European Union (EU) countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Denmark, France and the UK.
Luxembourg’s openly gay prime minister, Xavier Bettel, the leader of the Democratic Party, has previously said he expects the nation will have marriage equality in 2014.
This week concluded the 2014 European elections, in which a wave of previously fringe, far-right political parties made significant gains in the European Parliament. These parties, all “eurosceptic” — opposed to membership in the European Union — although distinct, are unified in their racist, Islamophobic, and homophobic tendencies. Nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment dominate their plans for a more exclusive Europe.
The European Parliament (EP) is one governing body of the European Union, the only one directly elected by the people. The EP implements EU-wide legislation, so the success of these political parties in this year’s election will have significant impacts on Europe as a whole over the next five years — so long as they can come together and vote as a bloc. Some may have heard of Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party that openly admires Adolf Hitler that has been on the rise in the past few years in Greece, but here’s a guide to six far-right European political parties you might not have heard about.
United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SANG TAN
United Kingdom Independence Party, led by charismatic, far-right Nigel Farage, is a reflection of Britain’s increased euroscepticism. Many of its members, spearheaded by Farage, have taken a firm anti-immigration stance following the influx of Bulgarians and Romanians relocating to the UK following their entrance to the European Union in 2007.
Farage, whose wife is German, has been quoted as saying he would feel uncomfortable if a Romanian family moved in next door to him. When asked the difference it would make if the family was German, he replied, “I think you know the difference. We want an immigration policy that is not just based on controlling not just quantity, but quality.”
Farage’s idea of “quality” has translated to overt racism in the UK, which has become so intolerable that the UK’s only Chinese-born parliamentarian, Anna Lo,announced she was quitting politics because of it, and rising-UKIP member Sanya-Jeet Thandi, a British-born Indian, left the party just weeks before the European elections for the same reason.
In January of 2013, the Sunday Mirror posted excerpts from UKIP’s official online forum where some of its top officials compared the gay rights movement to pedophilia. “As for the links between homosexuality and paedophilia, there is so much evidence that even a full-length book could hardly do justice to the subject,” said Dr. Julia Gasper, a former, top-UKIP official who resigned after her comments were made public.
Despite UKIP’s anti-immigration, racist and homophobic views, the party secured 24 seats in this year’s European elections making them the top political party coming out of the UK.
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CLAUDE PARIS
The Front National (FN) took first place in France’s elections, with 25 percent of the electorate, and a whopping 24 seats in the European Parliament. Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the party in 1972, as a coalition of various French nationalist groups. Although the party shares the name of the French Resistance movement, a far-left organization led by members of the French Communist Party that resisted the Nazi occupation, it could hardly be any more different. The far-right contemporary FN has been widely characterized as racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic. Its founder has been accused on numerous occasions of anti-Semitism, and even Holocaust denial. He was convicted in 1987, 1999, and 2009 for “minimising the Holocaust,” describing Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers as “what one calls a detail” of history.
Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie, has devoted herself to doing damage control for the party’s image, ousting many of the parties more notorious members. She has even gone so far as to threaten to sue those who call the party “extreme right,” yet many are not convinced that her attempts are genuine, seeing them not as ideological changes, but mere cosmetic ones, to appeal to less conservative voters. In the London School of Economics and Political Science blog, Aurélien Mondon writes, in spite of its attempts to appear otherwise, “The French Front National is still an extreme right-wing party.”
Mondon explains Le Pen has “made it increasingly clear that her moderate stance [is] little more than a façade.” He details several instances of the party engaging in overt racism, including calling people of color “monkey.” One can find “prevalence and public acceptance of crude racism beyond the elite of the party.”
Their antipathy has been particularly directed at Muslims. Unifying virtually all of the parties in this list is an overt hatred for Muslims—or, more specifically, at those of Muslim cultures. FN’s hatred is particularly intense. In July of last year, Le Pen likened Muslims praying to Nazis, saying “some people are very fond of talking about the Second World War and about the Occupation, so let’s talk about Occupation, because that is what is happening here.
The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom [Partij voor de Vrijheid]
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PHIL NIJHUIS
The Netherlands’ far-right Party for Freedom did not do as favorably as it has in past elections in following the recent racist remarks of its leader Geert Wilders.
While addressing voters in the Hague, Wilders asked, “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?” When responded with chants of “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!”, Wilders told the crowd, “We’ll take care of that.”
In the past, Wilders has likened the Qur’an to Mein Kampf and claimed “Islam threatens the whole world.” Dutch voters did not take kindly to Wilders’ comments, and the Party for Freedom lost two of its five seats in the Parliament after acquiring just 12.2 percent of the total vote in the Netherlands.
Freedom Party of Austria [Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs]
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RONALD ZAK
Despite its blatant Islamophobia, The Freedom Party ended up doubling its seats in the European Parliament after this year’s elections after its third-place finish in Austria.
Party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache was interviewed by The Telegraph where he defended his party’s stance by saying, “It is not about keeping Austria white, just about protecting its traditional community. We see Europe as a Christian, and we believe it’s at risk of Islamisation.”
He also echoed fears similar to UKIP’s Farage saying, “I have heard that every second name in some schools in Britain will soon be Mohammed, rather than John or Paul. Do you want the residents of Britain to become a minority and to have English as a minority language in a school?”
The party’s success may be attributed to the Hans Peter Martin List, another anti-EU party, not running in this year’s elections. In 2009, the party won more than 17 percent of the vote.
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MTI, JANOS MARJAI
The Jobbik party in Hungary garnered 14.7 percent of votes cast (the same in the 2009 elections), and now boasts three MEPs. It is said the party is linked to Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and the UK’s far-right British National Party.
In a parliamentary debate in 2012, Jobbik deputy Márton Gyöngyösi illustrated the party’s overt anti-Semitism by suggesting the government create a list “to see how many [citizens] are of Jewish origin and present a certain national security risk to Hungary.” The party has also called for the construction of detention camps for what it calls Roma “deviants.”
Danish People’s Party [Dansk Folkeparti]
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/POLFOTO, PETER HOVE OLESEN
The Danish People’s Party (DPP), which previously had only two seats, now occupies four of Denmark’s 13 allocated seats in the European Parliament, with 26.7 percent of the vote. According to The Party Program of the Danish People’s Party, as established October 2002, the party emphasizes a “need for a strong national defence, and secure and safe national borders,” stating it feels “a historic obligation to protect our country, its people and the Danish cultural heritage.”
In spite of the frequency of use of the terms, the program tends to be somewhat ambiguous in regards to how exactly concepts like “Danish independence and freedom” are defined. The program does however explicitly state opposition to the European Union, while insisting Denmark should remain in NATO and the UN. It furthermore maintains that “Denmark’s constitutional monarchy must be preserved” and that the “Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church is the church of the Danish people.”
As is common among right-wing groups, the DPP boasts a “tough on crime” policy, speaks of the family as “the heart” of society, and insists on the importance of preserving and strengthening its national heritage. The party takes this third position to its nationalist extreme, however, insisting that, in its own words, “Denmark is not an immigrant-country and never has been. Thus we will not accept transformation to a multiethnic society.”
The DPP has by no means shied away from engaging in racist stereotypes in its critique of immigration. DPP founder Pia Kjærsgaard told a critic, “If they want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Øresund Bridge.”
In an effort to increase its legitimacy, the party has striven to distance itself from the French National Front and attempted to form an alliance with the UK’s Conservative Party, headed by Prime Minister David Cameron. DPP member of the European Parliament Morten Messerschmidt explained “We want as much influence as possible in order to pull Europe in another direction, namely in the British direction.”***
What is responsible for this surge in far-right politics? Most point to the widespread acceptance of austerity measures across the Eurozone, imposed in response to the 2008 economic crisis, that have only proven an absolute disaster, plunging European workers into even worse conditions. The European Commission’s own economist Jan in ’t Veld argued austerity made things significantly worse. Unemployment has increased so greatly it has broken records, social spending has seen drastic cuts, and Eurozone debt hit its all-time high, even while economists like Paul Krugman warned “slashing spending in a depressed economy depresses the economy even more.”
Overall, European voter turnout was estimated at about 43 percent of the population, evincing widespread disillusionment with the contemporary political climate, and, given the prominence of these parties in some of Europe’s largest countries, the fate of the EU looks grim.
Although all of the above parties are eurosceptic, it should be noted that not all eurosceptic parties are technically right-wing. Some leftist parties criticize the EU for promoting what they see as anti-democratic, top-down, neoliberal policies, creating “free trade” agreements and zones that undermine local economies and facilitate exploitation by large, multinational corporations. Most eurosceptic parties, however, oppose the EU not for these reasons, but because they prefer nationalist, protectionist policies.
Instead of uniting against austerity measures (although anti-austerity popular movements certainly have been active), many citizens have been attracted to this nationalist and protectionist politics, buying right-wing myths about immigrants “stealing” natives’ jobs. The elementary economic fact that, by expelling fellow citizens, demand will decrease, and jobs will ergo be destroyed, appears to elude these parties. Progressives in the European Union do have some bright spots to look toward in the aftermath of this election, but the rise of the far-right remains a worrying trend for the continent.
Shannon Greenwood and Ben Norton are interns at ThinkProgress.
Gay Rights Legislation in Europe
U.S. abortion opponents are giving new life to the movement abroad, where once-stagnant European allies are pushing changes that could affect the whole continent.
A younger generation of anti-abortion activists has turned to the United States for legal advice, strategic training and transatlantic inspiration. They credit a distinctly American approach with forcing abortion, long a deeply private issue in Europe, into the public conversation. And for the Americans who travel overseas to assist, strengthening their cause internationally also strengthens their position at home.
“Let’s face it, the world is getting smaller every day,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, reached during a week of conferences and events in Rome. Any new abortion rights in Europe would be a “distinct threat to American law,” she said, because they give ammunition to domestic judges looking for an international consensus.
Yoest was in Italy to speak at several gatherings of international activists ahead of Sunday’s March for Life there, one of many European offshoots of the annual American demonstration. Last year, the Rome march drew up to 40,000 people, soaring from 800 two years earlier. Organizers hope for more than 50,000 this year.
That visibility has contributed to new restrictions. The legality of abortion itself, and what point in pregnancy it can be performed, is still up to individual European countries, and the continent has a broad range of laws. But pressed by the resurgent activists, some nations are passing more stringent laws. Liberal Norway this year moved to ban most abortions after fetal viability. Spain, which liberalized its abortion laws just four years ago, is poised to enact a near total ban.
In some respects, the European landscape is the opposite of the American movement, although the tactics and goals are similar. Here in the U.S., the Supreme Court ruling upholding abortion rights has been in place for 41 years, so the anti-abortion groups have been chipping away at abortion at the state and local levels. In Europe, the anti-abortion groups are fighting both at the national level as well as through the courts and commissions of the European Union, which can influence all 28 member countries.
The Americans are also trying to help their European allies shake things up and fight complacency, in part, by making their organizations more professional and their fights more public. For instance Lila Rose, the 25-year-old president of Live Action, spent part of April in London training other young activists on how to do media-ready exposés of abortion providers and shed light on the “hidden abuse” of abortion through stories of women who regret having ended their pregnancies.
“They are looking to see what has worked in the United States,” Rose said of her Europeans colleagues.
Terrence McKeegan, an American lawyer who has consulted with anti-abortion groups around the world for a decade, sees the impact.
“Until recently, the way that Europeans looked at everything was from a very academic, philosophical perspective,” McKeegan said.
“It’s not enough to just have good ideas and have the right ideas, but you have to have a very practical plan, a very strategic plan,” he added.
Not all the U.S. groups are active abroad. The National Right to Life Committee, America’s biggest anti-abortion group, has long coordinated with its European counterparts in the United Nations to prevent a declaration of a global right to abortion. But it hasn’t been doing on-the-ground work in Europe.
“Our laws are actually much worse than many European countries,” NRLC President Carol Tobias said. “We have enough work to do in our own backyard.”
The abortion rate in the U.S. in 2011 was actually lower than the most recent European Union average: about 17 per 1000 American women of childbearing age compared to 30 per 1000. But the rate varies in Europe. Western Europe has some of the lowest rates on the planet, according to the World Health Organization, closer to 12 per 1000. Eastern Europe is higher, but the rate is dropping.
But Americans are helping with transatlantic efforts to fight what they see as multiple threats to the unborn.
Capitalizing on a new citizen petition procedure, an anti abortion coalition recently compelled the European Commission to consider an embryo protection measure. The bid involved an unprecedented level of coordination among an American-affiliated legal group and grass-roots groups in European countries.
Known as the One of Us campaign, anti-abortion groups from 20 European countries collected nearly two million signatures on a petition calling for a ban on E.U. funding for anything that might entail destruction of an embryo, including international development and biotech research.
Those 1.8 verified signatures earned the bill a widely viewed public hearing before the European Commission, which now must decide whether to introduce the measure into the union’s legislative body.
The broad measure is not likely to become E.U. law. Yet the campaign’s show of strength startled family planning advocates and scientists, who saw it as a bid by the Catholic Church and American evangelical “extremists” to bring abortion fights to Brussels.
The anti-abortion movement is “getting a lot of visibility right now,” said Thilde Knudsen, head of the Europe Office at Marie Stopes International, which funds reproductive health and family planning programs, including abortion. But, she added, “I’m actually questioning how successful it is.”
As Grégor Puppinck, director general of the European Center for Law and Justice, presented One of Us’ measure at a crowded EU hearing in early April, opponents questioned his ties to the Rev. Pat Robertson. Based in Strasbourg, France, the European Center is an affiliate of the American Center for Law and Justice, which was co-founded by the conservative broadcaster, but Mr. Puppinck said in an interview that he and Robertson have never met. Jay Sekulow, a prominent conservative U.S. litigator and radio host, is chief counsel for both groups.
As important as the legal maneuvering, Puppinck said, was creating grass-roots ties between the national anti abortion organizations. He predicted that the online network built for this initiative could yield five million supporters for the next campaign.
“The professionalization comes a lot from the U.S.,” said Puppinck, echoing other activists, many of whom worked for groups affiliated with American organizations.
Ignacio Arsuaga, for instance, spent time observing anti-abortion movement while he studied law in the U.S. in the 1990s, and he brought home to Spain some of what he learned. His organization, HazteOir, is considered one of the most innovative in Europe, and it has been pivotal in the move to replace Spain’s liberalized abortion laws with a near total ban.
Arsuaga said he learned about online petitions and action alerts from the Christian Coalition, Americans United for Life, the Catholic League and even the liberal MoveOn.org. But one of the most effective tools he picked up in the U.S. is decidedly low tech: direct mail.
“People said this American model would never work in Europe,” said McKeegan. But Arsuaga tried snail mail in 2010, and his success with the fundraising technique has since spread.
Public displays of opposition like the annual March on Life in Washington were also unseemly to older generations of European anti-abortion advocates, but they inspired younger ones. Virginia Coda Nunziante spent years trying to convince the main Italian anti-abortion group to create a Rome march. She finally created her own group to organize it.
“They always said no, no, no, Italy’s a little bit different; we don’t have to go on the public square,” she recalled. They preferred private outreach, like crisis pregnancy counseling.
Of course the public square is a bit different in Rome. In Washington, the March ends at the Supreme Court. In Rome, it ends near the Vatican. Last year Pope Francis addressed the crowd.
At this point, said McKeegan, the European movement has fully matured — perhaps in some ways beyond its American mentors.
In the U.S., there are “a lot of turf battles,” he said, as multiple national anti-abortion groups jockey for prominence and donations. In Europe, however, there is generally just one dominant group in each country, making it easier to cooperate in Brussels without feeling competitive.
Sunday night, France was shocked—yet again—by appalling polling numbers: voters had been called to cast their ballot throughout the country for the first round of the nation-wide municipal elections, and their response screamed distrust, distress and disunion. First came the bad news: the turnout had reached a historical low of 63.5 percent—a number unheard off in France when it comes to electing mayors and municipal counselors, the last political figures whom French people seem to still trust. Then came the ugly news: Marine Le Pen’s party, the far-right National Front, had come in first in seventeen cities of over 10,000 inhabitants, leading the race with an impressive 45 percent of the votes in Béziers (a town formerly known for being the birth place of Resistant fighter Jean Moulin), 42.5 percent in Saint-Gilles, 40 percent in Fréjus, 39 percent in Tarascon, 34 percent in Perpignan (a city of 120,000) and 29 percent in Avignon.
Moreover, the National Front managed to win from the onset the symbolic city of Hénin-Beaumont, a mining town in the north that had been faithfully communist, then socialist for over sixty years: 41-year old Steeve Briois, himself the son of a miner with over twenty years of political activism on the ground under his belt, got elected in the first round with 50.2 percent of the votes, topping the score of his chef Marine Le Pen in the last Presidential elections by fifteen points. And then there are the 323 cities where the National Front scored high enough to remain on the ballot for the second round of the elections next Sunday: on average, it scored 18 percent in these cities, becoming if not the actual winner, at least the king-maker. There is little doubt that come the results next Sunday, the National Front will have fulfilled its bet to get over a thousand municipal counselors, plus a few cities as cherry on the cake.
One wonders what is more bewildering: that in spite of numerous warning signs the Socialist Party and the Hollande administration seemed surprised by the rise of the far right and their own demise, or that Marine Le Pen managed to implement from A to Z the political strategy she had publicly announced more than a year ago without encountering any push back? Instead of crying wolf and waving the red flag of fascism (to which the National Front cannot be seriously compared), it is vital to understand what motivates those who voted National Front and to address the sometimes legitimate concerns they have thus expressed.
A number of factors can help explain the National Front’s breakthrough. These being municipal elections, some are local factors: the far right party scores the highest in towns with unemployment above the already high national rate of 11 percent (for instance Hénin-Beaumont, with an unemployment rate of almost 18 percent; or Béziers, with 16.8 percent unemployment) and in cities plagued by corruption (Hénin-Beaumont’s former mayor, Dalongeville, was indicted with embezzlement; Fréjus’ Elie Brun ran for reelection in spite of having been found guilty of illegal conflicts of interest). The southeast of France, which vividly experienced the aftermath of decolonization when repatriated Algerians settled in, has a long history of leaning towards the National Front. But there are also national factors: people voted to send a punishing message to the government. President Hollande ran in 2012 on the slogan “Change is Now.” Nothing came. “Now is the time to change elected officials,” voters seem to have replied.
On top of these socio-economic factors, the National Front itself has done a tremendous job of recruiting new, respectable candidates, of canvassing the electorate on the ground, and of adroitly channeling the distrust and dissatisfaction felt by so many. The party has also played down its ideological extremism in favor of down-to-earth city management measures, from filling in potholes to fixing city lamps. Far from running on polarizing agendas, its candidates have “played nice,” posing as prudent managers of cities in disarray rather than revolutionaries. Marine Le Pen herself made it very clear that her candidates would not try to implement at the local level her national platform of “national preference,” a set of anti-immigrants discriminatory measures that would cut social and health services to immigrants (this would have been illegal anyway, but this is what the National Front tried to do when it conquered three cities in the south of France in 1995). By adopting a low profile at the local level, she hopes to build a bond with a wider base of voters and sneak in her more poisonous ideas later on once trust on less controversial, day-to-day issues has been established.
A few weeks ago, we explained how Marine Le Pen was in the process of winning over France’s public opinion, thanks to her sharp political acumen and a careful media strategy. Now she has the popular vote to attest that her party has truly become a serious, credible alternative for an increasing number of citizens. What is worrisome is that more elections are to come.
Some point that the National Front is “just” back to its 1995 levels, when it won the three southern towns of Toulon, Marignan and Orange, followed by Vitrolles in 1997. That alone would be cause for concern. But this time around, the National Front has launched a much more comprehensive national campaign: it canvassed the whole territory systematically, including towns that had been until now reluctant to cast their vote in its favor. To put this into context, when he was head of the National Front until 2011, Jean-Marie Le Pen focused his attention on national elections only: he showed no interest in local elections. After the 1998 secession from his second-in-chief Bruno Mégret, he even consciously avoided creating local strongholds, fearing competition from would-be rivals. On election night last Sunday, Marine Le Pen was right to assert that the National Front “is now a great, independent political force not only nationally, but also locally.”
This is an important first step in a much more far-reaching strategy to rise to power. Sylvain Crépon, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Nanterre who has covered the National Front on the ground since 1995, particularly in Hénin-Beaumont, explained it to me this way: “A number of staff members of the National Front admitted, on condition of anonymity, that they feared to take over too many cities because they lack a cadre of competent personnel to manage them efficiently. This is why the National Front wants to invest massively into municipal counselors so that they can learn on the job and become local nobilities. Then [the party] will capitalize on this new political personnel with strong local ties for the upcoming elections. The strategy is essentially mid- and long-term.”
Marine Le Pen is counting on a snowball effect that would push her to the top in the upcoming European Elections, then the elections to the Senate, and the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2017. Short of a long overdue wake up call, she is well positioned to surprise us a few more times.