The far right in Eastern Europe

Image: Rohan Hakani


The destinies of the West and the East are extremely intertwined, and they must work together so that the Europe of the past is not the Europe of the future

When the website the earth is round inaugurated the series of his interviews, the first guest, in July 2023, the teacher Paulo Arantes, asked about right-wing and extreme-right movements in the world, justified a vague memory of a title published in Brazil, in the mid-1990s, by an author identified by Hockenos, which highlighted the emergence of extreme-right groups in Eastern countries European, shortly after the disintegration of real socialism in the region. This was the clue that motivated the creation of this text.

This is not a review, but just some notes from HOCKENOS, Paul. Free to hate (Scritta, 1995), with a view to an overview of the work. Certainly, because this writing was published in Brazil in 1995, the reports of the events are limited to the period from 1989 to 1993. However, as the reader will deduce for themselves, such records have an impact on the current moment.

Paul Hockenos visits the countries of Eastern Europe shortly after the collapse of the Soviet system and its consequences in the disintegration of the now post-communist regimes of East Germany, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

The author is a journalist, and his writing has a great reportage focus, accompanied by a more restricted part with an analytical bias. The visit takes place between 1989 and probably 1992, and in this way, the author will observe political and social phenomena of the transition from real socialist regimes, in those countries, to the optimistic perspectives, at the time, with the building of democratic experiences.

However, what Paul Hockenos finds, and emphasizes in his text, is the emergence of far-right forces supported by ultranationalist ideologies, radical ethnic nationalism and fascist movements.

A constant appears in the countries visited by the author: with the fall of real socialist regimes (supported, sustained and pressured by the Soviet system), hatred against communists is common currency; a set of political forces characterized by democratic dissidents, nationalists, ultranationalists, centrist sectors, left-wing movements (critical of the Soviet regime) and fascist organizations try to reshape the destiny of their countries.

The first years after the authoritarian regimes (1989 to 1991) signal desires for the revival of the democratic experience surrounded by uncertainty and even distrust with former neighbors due to territorial disputes and ethnic discomfort. The elites participating in this political process, enthusiastic about the ideals of liberal democracy, and eager to be reincorporated into Europe, accept neoliberal economic precepts via the IMF and World Bank. The result, in the following few years, with privatizations, deregulation of market standards, an even greater reduction in the few social expenses, increased inflation and a sharp drop in state services accessible to the population, gave rise to great frustration regarding the future of countries in question.

Now, the most expected phenomenon in this situation would be the population of Eastern Europe to question the neoliberal economic model due to the poor social and economic results. However, what a large part of the population, in its different social strata, expressed was blaming another agent for the difficult results of the regime transition. This other agent was “the foreigner”. Be it the gypsy, the black, the Jew, or the border neighbor, in this case the Romanian or the Hungarian, or the “ideological brothers” who exchanged studies or work, in this case the Vietnamese, Cubans, and some Chileans, persecuted by the Augusto Pinochet regime. In the case of black people, particularly in East Germany, mainly in the early 1980s, there were work invitation programs due to the labor shortage, thus receiving Ethiopians, Angolans, and Mozambicans.

So, the blaming of foreigners caused part of the population (larger or smaller in each country) to shape the political situation in East Germany, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, thus enhancing ethnic nationalisms which, in turn, , constituted the basis of ultranationalist forces and fascist movements.

It turns out that this region, between the first and second world wars, and in the decades after 1945, already maintained a cultural broth of ethnic conflicts and mistrust. In the countries in question, there were (and continue to this day) conflicts based on territorial disputes and ethnic persecution. Example: in Hungary there is a Romanian community that suffers threats, not only from the population, but also from state institutions; in Romania there is a large Hungarian community in a similar situation, which was even persecuted by Nicolau Ceausescu; in East Germany, there are Polish workers who were seen as bums and freeloaders.

Slovakia was deeply critical and suspicious of the arrogance of the Czech Republic (which is more developed); In Slovakia itself, there is another Hungarian community that is also persecuted by the state bureaucracy. And there is a group of peoples and ethnicities that are persecuted in all these countries: firstly the gypsies; then the blacks; Jews; and the other peoples of the “third world” – so called, in a resentful tone, by local citizens.

Paul Hockenos presents data that highlight the existence of skinheads, even during the period of real socialism, in East Germany, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Poland. And such groups, sometimes persecuted and imprisoned by the old regime, sometimes tolerated, already established connections with far-right groups in Western countries, such as the Ku Klux Klan in the USA, and others in West Germany.

Ultranationalist and fascist movements materialized as a result of frustrations with the results of the neoliberal market economy and also due to the actions of members of the extreme right who, imprisoned during the period of socialist regimes, were later released due to the general amnesty that accompanied the last moments of socialism in the region.

Paul Hockenos does not say, but it is possible to infer a hypothesis about a central problem surrounding the refoundation of a new political order. Clearly, the transition in some of the countries in question suffered due to the lack of staff for public management. In certain countries, the low organization and diversity of civil society (resulting from the lack of political participation) combined with the absence of democratic experiences, meant that, in place of the employees of the previous bureaucratic state under real socialism, there were no competent leaders. for public management.

Thus, for the “new” State administration, a composition will be formed of former communists (now reinvented), democratic forces, ultranationalist and even fascist sectors, constituting a problematic ideological mix and, certainly, generating new instabilities.

The phenomenon of ethnic nationalism and the total absence of civic nationalism is what shaped the entire political situation of those countries in those early 1990s. And such nationalism, as is to be expected, resulted in ethnic conflicts, racial hostilities, persecution, deaths, etc.

All this political and cultural broth gave rise to large far-right movements in the region, made up of political parties and a diversity of groups with common ideological interests.

In the composition of the public administration, soon after the fall of the wall, and in the subsequent elections, other shadowy political articulations, specific or cyclical coalitions, appeared. It is known that the toughest sectors of the real socialist regimes, in the aforementioned countries, were located in the security area, for example, in the Stasi, which was the secret police of East Germany, in its related Securitate, of the Romanian State. The employees of these bodies, in addition to demonstrating authoritarian practices, harbored nationalist feelings and potential prejudices towards foreigners.

Now, with the disintegration of socialist states, such sectors will be incorporated into ethnic nationalist forces, whose political programs were clearly fascist, or will be reincorporated into state security systems when, through election, the country's leadership fell into the hands of some party. right-wing. It then happened that nationalist and ultranationalist forces, although anti-communist, had at their disposal the expertise of the former security forces of the former socialist bureaucracy.

Paul Hockenos' book helps to understand – considering objective facts – what characterizes the gains and vicissitudes of a revolutionary process in the states of socialist revolutions. In the countries mentioned, becoming socialist, from the point of view of the regime and governance, did not result from an involving revolutionary process, as was the case in Russia, or later, in Cuba. East Germany, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland became socialist through other conveniences and not as a result of an intense process of mass struggle.

It must be remembered, for example, that Hungary's participation in the Second World War was in support of the Axis countries. Therefore, in the structures of these States, and in their communist parties, there was a composition of socialist forces, with ethnic nationalist, anti-Semitic, and even xenophobic groups. With the disintegration of the regimes from 1989 onwards, specifically, such reactionary political forces, displaced from the socialist State itself in crisis, came to ideologically join other reactionary forces (anti-communist and fascist) and, in this way, constituted, in these countries, groups right-wing and extreme-right.

Precisely about Poland, the text by Paul Hockenos adds interesting information beyond what is already known in Brazil. In the 1980s, the Brazilian left followed the emergence of the Solidarity movement, of union origin, whose one of its leaders, Lech Walesa, would later become, with the resumption of the democratic process, the country's president. Solidarity was a trade union movement that began to confront the Polish socialist regime.

It turns out that this movement is made up of different political factions, from left-wing groups critical of the regime, to center and right-wing groups. In the movement, Lech Walesa was the union leader representing the Polish Catholic Church. A conservative Catholic, Walesa represented the Church's interests well in the political struggle. Poland, during this period, facing a political situation similar to other Eastern countries, cannot be understood without the presence of its Catholic Church. With 95% of the population linked to Catholicism, the country in question culturally maintains an inextricable link between Catholicism and nationalism. In other words, the idea of ​​nation for Poles is tied to the values ​​of Catholic Christianity.

Thus, in the transition from the socialist regime to the possible subsequent democratic management, the Catholic Church assumed the role of mediator between the forces of the communist bureaucracy and the new democratic forces. It turns out that the Polish Catholic Church, at the time – and certainly still today – one of the most conservative of all Catholic Christianity in the world, manifested an ambiguous relationship with Solidarity and democratic forces: on the one hand, the summit legitimized the participation of its base (clergy and laity) in the political struggle and even within Solidariedade; on the other hand, the summit itself was far from such involvement.

Strictly speaking, as Paul Hockenos points out, the elite of the Christian institution contributed to what it understood as the revival of democratic experiences, but closely followed the democratic forces with the aim of “not getting out of control” in the sense of defending propositions of an experience more radical democracy, including in the field of customs. In this matter, by way of clarification, an analogy can be established between the Polish Catholic Church and liberalism in the West: both manifest the same ambiguity regarding democracy, as they support democratic exercise with distrust and, as a result, create objective obstacles to democracy. management that aims to be broader and that includes substantive values ​​of equality and effective tolerance to new customs.

In the election that took place in the country, after the fall of socialism, no party dared to confront the Church, and the Church worked at crucial moments to make Walesa president, and marginalize the most left-wing forces (an action that it was already carrying out in the internal divisions of the Solidarity). But something darker happened with the Church's interventions in the Polish political process. In the 1980s, Poland was perhaps the experiment and hope of the Vatican leadership in recreating a Christian society, a pure and incorruptible Catholicism to be a model for Europe.

His mission was not to reform values, but something more, that is, to reorganize European Christianity and project the liberation of the morally sick West (HOCKENOS, 1995). It must be remembered that, in this same period, the Polish Catholic Church had a great representative in world Christianity, and a politician for the secular world: the Pope, also Polish, Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II). This Pope, as we already know, was a profound ally of the conservative and neoliberal forces of the time (Margareth Thatcher and Ronald Reagan), as well as an international coordinator in actions aimed at shortening the regimes of real socialist countries, starting with Gorbachev's Russia. .

But supporting neoliberal forces does not mean total commitment to the dominant ideology in the West. John Paul II and his secretary Joseph Ratzinger (future Benedict XVI), disapproved of certain traits of the West, such as the relativism of values, laxity in customs, and extreme consumption. Thus, for example, in Poland in the 1990s, any politician who indicated a certain tolerance towards abortion practices was clearly excluded from the political process. This meant that, at that time, Polish institutions and their laws had (along with Ireland) one of the most brutal laws against doctors and pregnant women who were involved in abortion procedures. Evidently, the Pope and the Polish Catholic Church had a critical stance not only against the previous socialist experience, but also against certain bases of Western culture.

This concern is shown institutionally in the political party most representative of the interests of the Church, the CNU (National Christian Union) which, between 1991/1993, was part of the Polish government coalition, with its clearly right-wing program, whose principles are called “Christianity , Church, Country and Honor”. This party behaved as a loyal soldier of the Church hierarchy, defending a program of ideas for a Poland defined as a Catholic nationalist state; a critical stance towards liberalism through the rejection of the market economy; the condemnation of premarital sex; rejection of divorce and the use of contraceptives. For young people, the party had a very specific mission:

Young Poles must assume the role of “moral crusaders” if they want to overcome “petty criminals, alcoholics and anarcho-pacifists”, because 'a true Catholic is not a little lamb who conforms easily' (HOCKENOS, 1995, 294).

The CNU's political program projects the country as an expression of national and Christian unity. Therefore, nation and spirit are intertwined, both in the party's project and for the Church. For the party, the nation is at once an ethnic community of Poles and a spiritual community of Catholics. Now, such a conception that links race and religion can only result in a sinister political project. And this value materializes in the party's defense of the idea of ​​building a “vital spiritual community” in Poland, which, to be achieved “[…] depends on a strong Polish nation, which is based on the community of ethnic Poles, devoted to Christianity. The most elementary unit of this ethnic community is the Catholic family. The construction of a Catholic nation-state must, therefore, begin at the base of the nation's weakness, that is, the family, and its contemporary moral crisis” (HOCKENOS, 1995, 295).

The call of young people and the demand for the creation of a strong community, as a true Catholic is not a lamb that easily conforms, highlights the purpose of the ethnic bias present in the CNU program: a eugenic project, therefore, an intention to improve the race to create strong citizens in order to confront, through moral crusaders, the “decadence of Western values” that is approaching Polish culture. This party program was carried out with the support of the local Catholic Church.

In this aspect, in Poland, after the difficult journey towards the revival of democratic ideals and the frustrations arising from neoliberal economic results, there is a link between the conservatism of the Catholic Church and the project of fascist right-wing movements.

Added to this is the consideration that Opus Dei began to penetrate Polish society under the blessings of John Paul II. This reactionary organization, registered in the institutional world of the Church in many countries, defending an extremely conservative Catholicism and with almost military hierarchical symbols, approached the country through the popularization of translations of the texts of its founder, the Spanish priest Jose Maria Escriva de Belaguer. The pontificate of John Paul II demonstrated sympathy for Opus Dei, and raised believers of that organization to high positions in the Vatican. Furthermore, the Pope, bypassing the time requirements for canonization (between fifty and one hundred years), just 17 years after Belaguer's death (death in 1975), begins the process of his beatification (HOCKENOS, 1995).

Throughout this report on politics and the situation in Poland after the disintegration of the real socialism inscribed there, the text by Paul Hockenos (1995) situates the dark and very refined plot of shared interests between the Vatican, the Polish Catholic Church and the fascist parties .

A penultimate aspect to highlight is the author’s position on the subject of his book. Paul Hockenos, being an American journalist, does not escape a certain belief in defense of the market economy. Strictly speaking, throughout his text, the author hesitates to state that Eastern European countries were deluded by the neoliberal project, the nature of which would not bring good economic and social results in the short and medium term; on the other hand, it also implicitly professes that the scope of politics and social life must be supported by the market economy, as this is the most advanced, modern path and committed to democratic ideals.

From this perspective, between the lines of his text, he suggests that there is greater development in Western countries and this already signals superiority in relation to Eastern Europe. Following this motto, it presents a comparison between constituent values ​​of a national project. For the author, structuring a forced argument, the socialist experience with a Stalinist bias strengthened, in Eastern European countries, ethnic nationalism with all its consequences: racism, xenophobia, fascism of different shades and articulations of far-right movements. In this sense, the opposite occurred with the West, which managed to better discipline its right-wing political forces, and converged them on commitments to democratic ideals.

Therefore, in Paul Hockenos' opinion, the equation is simple: the authoritarian experience of real socialism contributed to the advance of the extreme right in the region in question, while in the West, there was a containment of extremism, compelling it to accept the rules of the game. democratic. Now, such an argument is forced because it does not hold water. What the author does not say or even mention: the great fascist movements of the 20th century had their origins in Western countries, in this case, the birth in Mussolini's Italy, the darkest in Hitler's Germany, and the longest-lived, in Franco's Spain.

In fact, the author seeks to state, implicitly, that fascism in Western Europe was limited only to the period before the Second World War and then disappeared, but he forgets that, in the case of Spain, it had a long life, starting in the mid-1930s and reaching the mid-1970s.

Paul Hockenos admits some weaknesses of the West, but presents them as something specific: he mentions the presence of skinheads in West Germany; contextualizes the contribution of extreme right-wing groups from Western countries to sister organizations located in the East and, in the conclusion of his book, states very well that the European West promised more than it delivered with projects and programs that aimed to incorporate Eastern countries into the community of Europe. Coming from the West, there was not only the predictable damage strategy of the deregulated market policy and other demands of the IMF/World Bank. There was also deliberate action to define high requirements for Eastern countries to integrate into Europe, thus creating purposeful obstacles arising from suspicions of the high cost of such a decision for the economy of the wealthy part of the region. In this aspect, the author warns:

The West cannot count on forty years of stability alone, nor can it close Eastern Europe as if the walls of the Cold War were still standing. The destinies of the West and the East are extremely interconnected, and must work together so that the Europe of the past is not the Europe of the future (HOCKENOS, 1995, p. 365).

Placing due reservations on the suspicious idea that “the West has had forty years of stability,” Hockenos’ warning is pertinent.

*Eurico Pereira de Souza He has a master's degree in Philosophy from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP).

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles