The culture war for hegemony over the West

The spreading of anti-establishment, far-right and conservative political forces all over Europe starting from the 2010s seems not to be casual but can be interpreted as part of a long-term strategy led by Russia to extend its sphere of hegemonic influence over the West. Since the Cold War Europe has been the theatre of the confrontation between the West, particularly the United States, and Russia and nowadays the clashes among Moscow, Brussels and Washington have demonstrated to affect more the European political world.

In 1991, American sociologist James D. Hunter published “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America” introducing the concept “culture war” in the academic world. According to Hunter, the imposition of new social values and worldviews led by the New Left and the counterculture of the 60s would give rise to a conflict scenario between two sociopolitical factions: traditionalist/conservative and progressive/liberal, set against each other due to the different and incompatible views on world, society, economy, separation of church and state, family, abortion, sex, law and order, euthanasia, melting pot, immigration and multiculturalist ideology, drug use, LGBT rights, political correctness, affirmative action, importance of preserving judeo-christian cultural inheritance and approach to globalization.

The culture war was firstly exported in Latin America between the 70s and the 80s by the Nixon and Reagan administrations through a long-term strategy based on the suggestions and the guidelines provided by the Rockefeller Report on the Americas and the Santa Fe documents, both focused on the importance of funding a continental expansion of an Americanized Evangelicalism in anti-Communist and anti-Catholic function. In order to stop at birth a new season of 68-style protests in America’s backyard, the federal government started far-right financing parties and social movements, programs of proselytism of Evangelical churches and promoting the diffusion of social conservatism among intellectuals, academics and politicians.

Starting from 2010s, the European Union seems to have become the new battlefield of the culture war due to the tightening conflict between traditionalist and progressive forces, and between anti-establishment and mainstream political parties, caused by the social polarization, the failure of models of integration and their consequences on safety and public order, the Islamist terrorism and the alleged on-going Islamization of the West, the return in politics of Catholic and Orthodox Church, the risen Euroscepticism in some EU countries, the emerging Cold War 2.0 against Russia and the recent migration crisis.

In almost each EU country the mainstream political parties have lost consensus among citizens, while anti-establishment and conservative forces promoting a recovery of traditional values as a way to stop the decay of the continent have grown and have made international alliances especially with Russia, seen as the new core of the conservative revolution since the beginning of Putin era. Under the pressure of these forces the EU, founded on liberal democracy, laicism, pluralism, diversity and Atlanticism, started to crumble as well-shown by the Brexit and by the last political elections in Italy, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, France and in the Visegrád countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia), where the panorama is increasingly hegemonized by populist and illiberal forces.

With the exception of Poland, where russophobia keeps playing an important role in foreign policy, the rhetoric of anti-establishment and traditionalist parties is focused on the importance of creating a good partnership with Russia motivated by cultural, energetic, geopolitical and security reasons.

This wave of populism which is spreading almost all over the EU is not the result of a cause-and-effect logic, merely related to the economic and to the refugee crisis, but is likely to be part of a long-term geopolitical strategy led by Russia with two possible aims: the splitting of the EU from within in order to simplify a geostrategy for Europe based on divide et impera, or the formation of a new, influential axis more accommodating towards Russian national interests and world visions.

The second scenario is the most likely in the light of the convergence of purposes among the Eurosceptic forces and Russia: stop to mass immigration from Muslim countries, defense of traditional family and hostility towards LGBT rights and genderism, pro-life legislation, return to economic and political sovranism, exit from NATO, from US sphere of influence and from EU, or alternatively, a greater decision-making autonomy.

According to many institutions such as the Committee to Investigate Russia, the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Royal United Services Institute, the Russian government would be spending dozens of million of euros in funding anti-establishment and far-right political parties in the EU countries with the highest rates of polarization in public opinion and political panorama, like Northern League in Italy, National Rally in France (ex-National Front), Golden Dawn in Greece or Jobbik in Hungary and would be interfering in political elections, internal affairs and essential referendum with hackings, fake news, propaganda with the goal of building a positive image of its values and policies and, simultaneously, of creating disorder in the EU.

Beyond the accusations, some facts have been proven: after Euromaidan, the annexation of Crimea, the support of pro-Russian secessionists in Donbass and the intervention in Syrian civil war, United Russia party has been signing several official cooperation agreements with the central far-right, traditionalist and anti-establishment political parties of the EU, like Northern League, Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) and Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the Russian government has been accused of secretly funding the growing of Eurosceptic forces and of carrying out an information war with the purpose to divide public opinion and to create social chaos.

The target of the agreements is to publicise the presence of Russian allies and supporters among the continent, especially regarding the existence of a shared vision about international relations, foreign policy, immigration policy and cultural and social values.

The results of this long-term strategy are already visible: the National Rally is the second-largest political party in France, the Northern League led the winning far-right coalition in the last Italian general elections, the AfD become the third-largest party in the previous German federal elections, the FPO entered in Kurz government as a junior partner following the last Austrian legislative elections, the strong opposition coming from Visegrád countries against the European immigration policy caused the stop of the plan for refugee redistribution among the EU countries and Putin’s international reputation keep increasing year after year as shown by many surveys and polls, like the 2017 survey by WIN/GIA, particularly in Balkans and Eastern Europe.

The culture war for hegemony over Europe is not only led by Russia, but also by other independent forces, such as the Catholic and the various Orthodox churches, the growing Islamic community and the longstanding Eurosceptics, like the Law and Justice party (Poland), the UK Independence Party, the Dutch Freedom Party and the FPO.

In Eastern Europe, the post-communist governments have signed unspoken alliances with the revival Orthodox churches, whose substantial support among population enabled them to re-enter in politics, where they act like anti-progressive pressure groups. In Romania, the Orthodox Church led a petition last year, which obtained over three million signs, requesting the enshrining of the constitutional definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman, in order to prevent any future opening to LGBT rights.

In Slovakia and Bulgaria, the respective conservative governments of Robert Fico and Boyko Borissov denied the ratification of the Istanbul Convention under the pressures coming from religious groups which accused the text of being a trojan horse for gender ideology.

In Poland, the Catholic Church is considered the most prestigious social institution by the citizens and its great popular following means that secularisation and liberalism have not rooted yet, an event largely due to the spiritual renaissance occurred under the papacy of John Paul II.

The Franco-German axis is very concerned about the actions of the Law and Justice, the ruling party, in domestic and foreign policy. The government converted the Visegrád Group in a sort of Eurosceptic alliance within the EU by exploiting the growing discontent caused by the refugee crisis and by the new wave of Islamist terrorism and is also spreading traditionalist and conservative trends in and out the group, like Austria and former Yugoslavian countries.

The ruling parties of Visegrád countries are characterized by their traditionalist and conservative views regarding issues as abortion, euthanasia, sexual education, immigration, national identity, sex and violence in the media, homosexuality and LGBT rights and immigration, which are treated from a liberal perspective by EU.

In the recent years, the European right-wing and far-right parties have been making international alliances with their American counterparts involved in the overseas culture war, mostly Evangelicals and alt-right leaders, whose power and influence are increasing after eight years of Dem- political and cultural hegemony. It is not a case that Russia has been accused by CIA of interfering in the last presidential elections in favor of Donald J. Trump, who gained the support of WASP and alt-right voters with an electoral program based on neo-isolationism, conservatism and sovranism – the ideal leader to restore the Washington-Moscow relations and, consequently, the Bruxelles-Moscow axis.

Although the pro-Russian movements are raising consensus in all EU simultaneously the tensions between Western bloc and Russia are getting worse as enlightened by the neo-McCarthyist epidemic hovering among American and European politicians, intellectuals and secret services, also arisen due to the culture war led by the Kremlin.

References

Foster, M. Holehouse, (16/01/2016), Russia accused of clandestine funding of European parties as US conducts major review of Vladimir Putin’s strategy, The Telegraph, URL (accessed: 19/03/2018)

Wesslau, Putin’s friends in Europe, Ecfr.eu, 19/10/2016 (accessed: 19/03/2018)

Sheth, (06/08/2017), Russia is trying to ‘break apart Europe’ with disinformation and propaganda, Business Insider, (accessed: 19/03/2018)

Nascimbeni, (25/11/2014), Russia funds French National Front: is Moscow sowing European unrest?, The Week, (accessed: 19/03/2018)

Gallori, (23/11/2016), Parlamento Ue contro Russia: “Finanzia gli antieuropeisti”. Putin: “Degrado politico occidentale”, La Repubblica, (accessed: 19/03/2018)

David Hopkins, (27/11/2017), Who’s Winning the Culture War? Corporate America, The New York Times, (accessed: 19/03/2018)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Association of Studies, Research and Internationalization in Eurasia and Africa.


Author

Emanuel Pietrobon. Graduating in International Sciences, Development and Cooperation at the University of Turin. Currently, he is enrolled at the University of Economics and Humanities in Lodz (Poland) thanks to the scholarship for the study of Information and Communication Sciences. Passionate about religious and energetic geopolitics, religion in international relations, sociology of religions and the masses. I speak English, Spanish and Romanian correctly.