In rescuing dogs and promoting ‘traditional’ rural life, far-right groups are seeking to encroach on the political mainstream in Europe. Anastasija first came across Levijatan [Leviathan] in 2017 on Facebook. The 23-year-old student from the Serbian capital, Belgrade, had long been interested in environmental protection and ecology, and was drawn to the group’s focus on concrete action to protect defenceless animals from cruelty. “At last someone is actually working on the ground to protect animals,” she recalled thinking. But the burly, tattooed men of Levijatan aren’t your average dog rescuers, as Anastasija eventually found out. “It took me more than a year to discover and understand that Levijatan isn’t quite as caring as it makes out and that behind the protection of animals stands the spread of intolerance of and hatred towards different social groups,” Anastasija, who declined to give her surname, told BIRN. In fact, with more than 220,000 followers on Facebook and roughly 22,600 votes in Serbia’s last parliamentary election in June, Levijatan is the latest offshoot of a Europe-wide phenomenon that has appropriated the fight for animal rights in the service of a far-right political agenda targeting minorities. But while ‘far-right ecologism’ – as PhD candidate Balsa Lubarda of the Central European University, CEU, calls it – can be traced to underground movements of the 1960s and 70s, its newest practitioners are encroaching on the mainstream in countries like Serbia and Hungary, where their discourse frequently dovetails with the policies espoused by increasingly authoritarian and populist governments.
“The whole spectrum of right-wing politics is invariably actually contributing to thinking about the environment, thinking about ecologically sustainable politics and that link is exactly what far-right and right-wing populism is now trying to play on, given the salience of the topic,” Lubarda said in an interview. Via grassroots activism, they seek to influence public policy and infiltrate state structures. Far-right parties with similar interests in the environment are represented in parliaments across Europe. Where Levijatan traces its founding five years ago to the rescue of a tortured pit bull called Grof, the Hungarian organisation Szurkolok az allatokert [Sports Fans for Animals] began with a dog called Fulop. Dogs Grof and Fulop. Photo: Levijatan Movement Foundation and Szurkolók az állatkínzás ellen Facebook pages Both groups reject the label ‘far-right’, but their politics are clear: Levijatan used to share an office with the Serbian Right, a far-right political party, and Levijatan’s leader, Pavle Bihali, is seen in pictures on his social media accounts posing with neo-Nazis. In an emailed response to questions for this story, Bihali said that, on the current Serbian political spectrum, Levijatan is “right of centre” and committed to fighting against “the remains of communism that have brought us to where we are.” Its tactics can be brutal. In mid-October, Serbian police arrested six members of the group on suspicion of attacking a man on a street in Belgrade, the Serbian daily Danas reported. According to prosecutors, the six – identified only by their initials – demanded the victim repeat certain words while they filmed on a mobile phone and, when he refused, they beat him. Two days later, prosecutors say one of the suspects threatened the victim, telling him to apologise on Facebook for his earlier criticism of Levijatan. Szurkolok az allatokert, meanwhile, has received coverage on media outlets close to Hungary’s ruling right-wing Fidesz party and Jobbik, a once virulently anti-Semitic far-right party that has sought in recent years to move closer to the centre. Szurkolok az allatokert, which did not respond to questions for this story, has shared speeches on social media by members of Our Homeland Movement, a far-right offshoot of Jobbik, while the think-tank Political Capital featured the group in its 2017 and 2018 reports on the far-right. Animal rights activism is a shield, said Florian Bieber, director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz in Austria. “It is a very good way of avoiding and deflecting criticism.”
via balkna insight: In ‘Far-Right Ecologism’, European Extremists Pursue Broader Appeal