May 3, 2014
Neo-Nazis, Stalinists, Catholic fundamentalists and pacifists may seem like strange political bedfellows, but they have found common ground in a diffuse brand of anti-imperialism. This left-wing/right-wing alliance's online campaigning and its active support for the Assad regime have led to a lack of solidarity with the Syrian people not only in Italy but elsewhere in Europe too.
Almost exactly a year ago, the Piazza Venezia in the centre of Rome, where Benito Mussolini once addressed the crowds, became the scene of a very strange demonstration: outside the gates of the Syrian embassy, a few dozen people held up portraits of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and waved Syrian flags. Speakers took turns at the microphone, and finally, when the Syrian national anthem blasted out from the loudspeakers, some of the protesters raised their right arms in a Hitler salute, while the rest raised their clenched fists. This first "red-brown" demonstration was soon followed by others.
In the meantime, a movement known as the European Solidarity Front for Syria has become active. It unites numerous extreme right-wing groups from across Europe under the flag of the Assad regime. This brown solidarity front organises pro-Assad demonstrations and has already sent several delegations to Damascus, each of which has been received by the Syrian government in the national parliament.
One of these delegations paid the regime a visit shortly after the chemical weapon attacks in September 2012. Led by Ouday Ramadan, it also included Stefano de Simone and Giovanni Feola, leaders of the neo-fascist movement CasaPound, as well as Fernando Rossi, an ex-senator from the Italian Communist Party, who sought to close ranks with the radical right wing because of his support for Gaddafi and subsequently for Assad. This "poison gas delegation" was officially welcomed by the Syrian head of parliament Jihad Allaham, Prime Minister Wael al-Halqui, Information Minister Omar al-Zoubi and Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.
The reason for these fascist organisations' support for the Assad regime is partly historical. In 1954, Fascists such as Alois Brunner, leader of the SS special unit for the "final solution to the Jewish question" and Eichmann's closest associate, found a safe haven in Damascus. Hafez al-Assad, the current dictator's father, tasked Brunner with reorganising the Syrian secret service along Gestapo and SS lines.
Since the beginning of the people's uprising in Syria three years ago, there has once again been a remarkable mobilisation of radical right-wing groups. Bashar al-Assad's adepts are primarily of Italian, French and Greek origin, but they also come from Germany, Spain, Belgium, the UK, Poland, Serbia, the Czech Republic and Romania. They are a rather heterogeneous bunch: from Marine Le Pen's French Front National, to the Polish Catholic Falanga, which called for the citizenship of all Polish Jews to be revoked in June 2013, to the Russian Alexander Dugin's Eurasian Vision and the Greek national-socialist group Mavros Krinos, which has prided itself on providing Assad with several militias.
Italy is the hub of this red-brown pro-Assad alliance because it can count on open support from organisations such as Forza Nuova (Catholic neo-fascists) and CasaPound (who also refer to themselves as the "fascists for the third millennium"). The alliance also includes several smaller groups that consider themselves "socialist" and vaunt their links with nationalist and Stalinist parties and movements all over the world – from Russia to Venezuela and North Korea.
All of these organisations have networks and links to parts of a confused anti-imperialist and dogmatic left wing. Rooted in Stalinist thought, this branch of the left is convinced to this day that the world is mired in a constant conflict between Western imperialism (represented by the USA, the European Union and their allies) and the resistance of "sovereign states" such as Russia, China and Iran.
A "red-brown army" to serve Assad
In the name of this crude brand of anti-imperialism and an Islamophobia that varies in intensity from group to group, the fascist right, the Catholic fundamentalists and the Stalinists have spawned a small, but active "red-brown army".
To avoid any misunderstandings, it must be stressed that CasaPound and Forza Nuova have relatively few active followers: only of a few thousand members. Both groups failed miserably in recent polls. Nonetheless, they exercise an influence over young Italians that is not to be underestimated. In student elections at a few secondary schools in Rome they even won the majority of votes, which meant that the European Solidarity Front for Syria was allowed to hold speeches at these schools and elsewhere.
While Forza Nuova focuses on the defence of the traditional family and the fight against abortion, CasaPound is more involved in the social sphere: its members occupy vacant buildings and organise campaigns for people with disabilities – as long as they are Italian. Both groups share a fundamentally racist and xenophobic outlook and a categorical rejection of "mondializzazione" (globalisation), which they perceive as a rapid loss of national sovereignty.
This network of well-known political and cultural representatives is important for the support of the Assad regime. These representatives see the Syrian dictatorship as both a desirable societal model and a protective barrier against Israeli Zionism and Islamic fundamentalism.
Fear of Islam is playing an increasingly significant role in the politics of the right wing. In the run-up to this year's European elections, the leaders of various European extreme right-wing groups have met on a number of occasions – in Spain last November, for example, and in Rome in February 2014. Jens Pühse of the German NPD attended the Spanish meeting, as did members of the Syrian National Socialist Party (SSNP).
Syria's National Socialists
The SSNP is a close ally of Assad's ruling Baath party and has two members in the Syrian cabinet: the deputy prime minister and another minister. The party deploys its own units to fight side-by-side with the regime and the Lebanese Hezbollah militias against the Syrian rebels. The ideology of the SSNP, which was founded in 1932 in Beirut, as well as its symbolism are obviously modelled on that of German National Socialism: a raised right arm is used as a salute, and the emblem emblazoned on the flag closely resembles a swastika. The SSNP's Italian representative is the aforementioned Ouday Ramadan, who is in charge of organising support for the Assad regime in Italy.
The rapprochement between neo-Nazis, Catholic fundamentalists, Stalinists and pacifists under the banner of anti-imperialism is a crucial factor in the lack of solidarity with the Syrian people, particularly in left-wing circles. This small "red-brown army" is extraordinarily active on the Internet, with websites and blogs that initially seem to be left wing. Over the past three years, this army has managed to paralyse the Italian solidarity and peace movement for Syria by relentlessly invoking the spectre of a supposed NATO attack on Syria and a Zionist-Salafist plot against the Assad clan's "secular, anti-imperialist and socialist" regime.
Only in recent months have the mainstream media in Italy become aware of this phenomenon. Since then, they have reported on the activities of this dubious pro-Assad alliance. Furthermore, calls for democracy and humanitarian aid for Syrian citizens are increasingly being heard from the most influential peace organisations. Whether this is enough to diminish popular support for this ideological melting pot remains highly questionable.
© taz/Qantara.de 2014
Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor
Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de
Germano Monti is a freelance journalist living in Rome. He is one of the co-ordinators of the Freedom Flotilla Italia and has taken part in a number of international peace and solidarity missions in Gaza, the West Bank and in several Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Egypt. He is also one of the founders of the Italian Committee for Solidarity with Syria.