Donald Trump. PAimages/Evan Vucci. All rights reserved.As the US presidential race is nearing its final stage, the suspense is mounting on a global scale. Non-American observers, in particular, remain puzzled over the foreign policy agendas of the two candidates.
A long sequence of commentaries in the international press have hinted at the ‘suspicious’ admiration that Donald Trump has often displayed towards the Russian president. Meanwhile, certain populist and more extremist right-wing parties across Europe have voiced, to varying degrees, their preference for the Republican nominee.
Consequently, some commentators rushed to interlink these parties’ favourable inclination towards Trump with their simultaneous endorsement of Vladimir Putin. However, can one speak of an almost logical and standard correlation between support for Donald Trump and admiration for Vladimir Putin among the populist and radical right?
A more meticulous examination will demonstrate that this would be a precarious assessment. Instead, the outlooks on Donald Trump within this party family are highly diverse and subject to the interplay among ideological prerogatives, micro-political objectives, and geopolitical considerations depending on the specificities of each context.
For the purposes of this piece, I have nominated three parties from the populist and the extremist right: one from southeast Europe (Greece’s Golden Dawn), one from central-eastern Europe (Hungary’s Jobbik), and one from northeast Europe (Estonia’s EKRE). The nomination of these three cases is not random, considering the geopolitical importance that the eastern part of the Continent, as a whole, possesses for Russian foreign policy.
Golden Dawn: old fashioned anti-Semitism and its persistence
Golden Dawn’s second-in-command, Ilias Kasidiaris, recently expressed his party’s official endorsement of Donald Trump’s candidacy. In a rather tense session of the Hellenic Parliament, Kasidiaris reiterated that the Republican nominee is a ‘genuine patriot’ who enjoys the full approval of Golden Dawn.
Moreover, he condemned Syriza and New Democracy for their pro-Clinton sympathies and highlighted the, allegedly, ‘anti-Greek motives’ in the Democrat nominee’s foreign policy agenda. Other leading members of the party (e.g. Ilias Panayiotaros) have repeatedly stressed how the American establishment feels ‘threatened by Trump’s popular appeal’ and, therefore, has been conspiring in order to ‘sabotage his campaign’.
Meanwhile, Kasidiaris has previously declared that ‘one of the first tasks of the nationalist government will be to place Greece inside Russia’s orbit of geopolitical influence’. However, is it possible to trace any link between Golden Dawn’s pro-Putin and pro-Trump sympathies? A more diligent investigation can demonstrate that these two form distinct components in the party’s agenda.
At a first instance, Golden Dawn has sought to justify their disapproval of Hillary Clinton on the basis of her husband’s legacy during his tenure in the US presidency. In accordance to the party’s leadership, this era was marked by Bill Clinton’s ‘unscrupulous encouragement of Turkey’s upgraded geopolitical status’, his ‘blatant apathy towards Greek sensitivities over the Macedonian and Cyprus issues’ and ‘the shameless promotion of Greater Albanian irredentism in the Southern Balkans after NATO’s bombing of FR Yugoslavia’.
Most importantly, Golden Dawn has been emphasizing Hillary Clinton’s Jewish family origins and her affinities to influential Jewish American interest groups with an, allegedly, profound ‘anti-Greek disposition’. Having evolved out of a National Socialist core, the party never denied or attempted to disguise their anti-Semitism.
By contrast, Golden Dawn portrays the economic and the refugee crisis as ‘parts of a master plan elaborated by global Zionism with the aim to acculturate and, then, take over Europe’.
In this light, Donald Trump’s apparent endorsement of an international system shaped by (regional) spheres of influence seems to the party’s leading core as a much more preferable alternative to the ‘Zionist-driven’ globalism espoused by the Democrat nominee.
Jobbik: silent with a reason
In a string of public statements, Jobbik’s leadership has been envisaging Hungary as ‘a bridge between east and west’. In its 2010 Party Manifesto, it concretizes a ’sovereign and independent foreign policy’ that will maintain an equal distance from east (e.g. Russia, China) and west (e.g. EU, the US)’.
Gábor Vona’s frequent contacts with Russian government officials and notorious Kremlin advisors (namely Aleksandr Dugin) were accompanied by a sequence of, yet non-substantiated, allegations in the Hungarian as well as the international press over ‘Jobbik’s funding by Moscow’.
Nevertheless, Jobbik has remained suspiciously quiet in regards to its preferences for the US presidency. Meanwhile, the Hungarian PM and FIDESZ leader, Viktor Orbán, rushed to voice his endorsement for Donald Trump largely on the grounds of the Republican nominee’s reservations over Islamic immigration towards Europe and his objections to the soft borders principle.
Vona’s apparent passivity over the US presidential elections can be comprehended within the broader context of FIDESZ’s further turn towards the right and the toll that this has taken on Jobbik’s popularity. In accordance to the latest opinion polls, Orbán’s capitalization on public anxieties over the refugee crisis has cost a non-negligible percentage of voters to Jobbik.
Whereas, until recently, the ruling party’s gradual shift towards the right also facilitated Jobbik’s political engagement, now this seems to be evolving into a boomerang for Vona and his associates. Consequently, Jobbik assumed a neutral stance during the recent (unsuccessful) referendum called by the Hungarian PM over the EU’s refugee quotas directive.
In this light, Jobbik’s visible apathy vis-à-vis the US presidential elections can also be interpreted as part of the party’s further-reaching endeavour to prevent potential charges of passive alignment with Viktor Orbán as well as its ongoing quest for an alternative platform to FIDESZ.
EKRE: Trump good, Putin bad
EKRE remains highly suspicious of Russia’s engagement in its Baltic neighbourhood. Meanwhile, Trump recently stated that if the new NATO member-states expect to be automatically defended in the event of an external attack, they must first fulfill their obligations to the alliance.
This ambiguous remark spurred widespread discontent and generated a wave of controversy in Estonia. EKRE’s vice-chairman, Martin Helme, underlined that Estonia is a punctual and committed NATO ally. However, he justified Trump’s statements along the lines that ‘it sounds very logical that the new member-states must, first of all, arrange themselves for their defense and security policy’.
He later added that this is in firm accordance with EKRE’s calls for upgrading the potential of Estonian armed forces to such an extent that they, themselves, would be highly capable of resisting a Russian offensive efficiently. In a recent interview, Helme literally stated to me that he expects ‘Russian aggression against the Baltic States to escalate within the next couple of months’. In this light, EKRE endorses Trump for the US presidency because, unlike Clinton, he has no hesitations to ‘say aloud what everyone else in NATO thinks about regional security’.
Nevertheless, apart from geostrategic considerations, a set of shared political values also help provide a common ground between EKRE and the Republican nominee. Starting with their high emphasis on the principle of state sovereignty, both Trump and Helme’s party granted their assent to the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.
Moreover, EKRE is a party with a socially conservative agenda which has largely capitalized on certain aspects of identity politics. These are, namely, its opposition to LGBT rights and to the admission of war refugees from the Middle East. Therefore, adherence to conservative values has helped strengthen the link between Trump and a populist right-wing party with a growing appeal among the Estonian electorate.
This brief discussion demonstrates that, at least along the eastern part of the Continent, one cannot discern a standard correlation between the respective stances of populist and radical parties towards Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Even parties with variably favourable outlooks on the Kremlin, such as Golden Dawn and Jobbik, tend to differentiate the one area from the other.
The landscape seems to be highly diverse and conditional upon uneven constellations among ideological prerogatives and political values, micro-political motives, and geopolitical insecurities. Therefore, one should not jump to simplistic and reductionist judgments so hastily.