From left to right: Italian fascist Roberto Fiore, Greek fascist Antonis Gregos, English fascist Nick Griffin, Spanish fascist Manuel Canduela and German fascist Jens Puhse at the Pineta Palace Hotel in Rome on Saturday (photo via)
For a couple of hours last Saturday, Rome became the epicentre of European neo-fascism. At the Pineta Palace Hotel, far-right parties like Italy's Forza Nuova, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Spain’s Democracia Nacional, Germany's National Democratic Party (NPD) and the British National Party (BNP) got together in an attempt to "give a voice to the political proposals of those countries that have been most affected by the austerity measures and by the dictators of the European institutions".
The meeting – dubbed "Europe Rises Again" – was announced with great fanfare by the organising party, Forza Nuova. Posters were flung up all around Rome in the days before the event, and a promotional video sound-tracked with music from The Dark Knight made the rounds on social media (though mostly as a joke).
The promotional video for the "Europe Rises Again" event, featuring lots of men shouting at other men.
Unsurprisingly, many Romans weren't happy about the pan-European fascist convention taking place in their home city. Gianluca Peciola, coordinator of the Left Ecology Freedom party in Rome's city council, for example, asked the Italian Minister of the Interior to ban the event, stating: "Rome cannot host conferences of political forces that are inspired by fascism. This parade of political groups, which brings back memories of the worst chapter in contemporary history, is a shame to our city."
Taking a more creative – but arguably less effective – route, on the 27th of February a group of anti-fascists delivered packets of horse manure and (for whatever reason) a dozen mice to the entrance of the Pineta Palace Hotel.
In short, the situation was pretty tense. But faced with the opportunity to meet the top brass of the European far right, I emailed Forza Nuova's press team and asked them to secure me a seat at the conference. After several hours of silence, I learned that in order to witness Europe "rise again" I would have to pay a €50 (£40) entrance fee.
I called Forza Nuova's local coordinator, who explained that the fee was a precautionary measure to discourage journalists "who come here just to discredit us. This way they have to think twice before going against us". I thought it over for about two seconds and decided that bankrolling the Golden Dawn and their friends just so I could do my job wasn't really worth it, so I stayed at home and followed the free live coverage on Forza Nuova's radio station instead.
Members of Forza Nuova protest in Veneto, 2011 (photo via)
After a brief burst of support, the past year or so hasn't been too kind to the various parties I spent the afternoon listening to. On the 20th of February, Greek magistrates asked parliament to lift the immunity from prosecution of nine Golden Dawn MPs, allowing criminal charges – relating to "participating [in] and running a criminal organisation" – to be brought against them. The request was the latest in a long line of blows for the Greek neo-Nazi organisation, the most notorious being the murder of the anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas and the assaults and murders of immigrants last year by people allegedly affiliated with the party.
Forza Nuova, who swept up a huge 0.26 percent of votes in the last Italian elections, have attempted to take the spotlight again – participating in Italy's "Pitchfork" movement and replicating the Golden Dawn's tactic of distributing food and organising street patrols – but have failed pretty horrendously.
Perhaps the steepest decline, however, has been that of the BNP. After managing to win two seats in the European Parliament in 2009, the party is now plagued with infighting, and leader Nick Griffin has declared bankruptcy. The growth of UKIP – a more moderate anti-immigration party – also hasn't done the BNP many favours, in that people are still more likely to support a party that boasts outspoken bigots like Godfrey Bloom than one that encourages its members to breed to ensure the preservation of the white race.
"We are in defensive mode," said Griffin on a recent trip to Brussels. "We were in survival mode for a couple of years. We have clearly survived."
Nick Griffin at a demonstration in London, September 2013 (photo by Tom Johnson)
Also facing a crisis is the German NPD, founded in 1964 as a successor to the nationalist German Reich Party. Over the last decade, the authorities have repeatedly considered banning the party, which is now on the verge of bankruptcy after a German Supreme Court ruling put an end to its public funding.
At the Pineta Palace Hotel, however, it seemed like none of these slip-ups, embarrassments and very public falls from grace had ever happened. The room was decorated with the flags of the various far-right groups in attendance, and a few hundred comrades had taken their seats. On stage hung a map of Europe, emblazoned with the tagline: "For a Europe of the People: Free, Sovereign, Armed."
The first speaker was Manuel Canduela, leader of Democracia Nacional. Founded in 1995, the party picked up 0.05 percent of votes in Spain's last elections. But if being a racist is the kind of thing that impresses you, then you might be more enamoured with Canduela and his personal history. In his youth, the party leader was the lead singer of the Nazi-rock band División 250, and, in 1995, was charged with "illicit association" for being a member of the neo-Nazi group Acción Radical.
In 2007, his party made headlines with the murder of Carlos Palomino, a 16-year-old anti-fascist. The teenager was stabbed to death in Madrid’s subway by the neo-Nazi militant Josué Estébanez, who was then sentenced to 26 years in prison.
Canduela’s speech touched on classical themes from the extreme far-right rhetoric: the "ethnic destruction" of the nation caused by savage immigrants; "the crime of abortion", which kills millions of innocent potential patriots every year; the "destruction of the traditional family"; and, of course, "the fight against the world order" that Zionists are trying to impose over Europe. He closed with a nostalgic but ultimately meaningless quote about how Spain was different four decades ago: "When Franco died, Spain was the eighth industrial power in the world," he said. "Forty years of democracy later, Spain is at number 20."
Nick Griffin followed Canduela and got straight to the point, claiming that "what they call globalisation is actually destruction" of the economy, traditions and identity of English society, caused by a "vampire capitalist system" and – it goes without saying at this point – immigrants, who are slyly sneaking into this "demographic gap". According to Griffin, European nations are starting to run out of time: "This is the last generation in which the peoples of Europe are potentially the demographic masters," he warned. "One more generation, and it will be too late."
Members of the Golden Dawn protest against the arrests of their leaders (photo by Alexandros Katsis)
The most eagerly awaited speaker was Antonis Gregos, deputy leader of the Golden Dawn. Before becoming a Golden Dawn MP, Gregos worked in the treasurer’s office at the municipality of Thessaloniki. In February of 2013, the treasurer, Panagiotis Saxonis, and former mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, were found guilty of embezzling nearly €18 million (£14 million) from the municipal treasury. The trial turned up the fact that Gregos was a bouncer in one of Saxonis' clubs, which didn't go down very well, as, being a Greek state employee, he wasn't supposed to have a second job.
He started his speech with a complaint that didn't make much sense coming from a fascist: "In Greece, democracy has been destroyed," he said. "It's ironic, if we remember that democracy was actually born in Greece."
The rest of his soap-boxing was mostly an extended grumble about illegal immigrants and a government that "drove us to a disaster and caused the death of hundreds and hundreds of people". He closed by inviting "European citizens" to "unite their powers to fight against [our] extermination".
Jens Puhse, the German representative, played the victim card, protesting about "judicial persecution" against the NPD, before proudly recalling the time in 2003 that federal authorities unsuccessfully tried to ban the party. He finished by rousing the audience into uniting at the end of this year's European Parliament elections. "On the 25th of May [the last day of elections]," he said, "we, the English, the Italians, the Spanish and the Greeks will form a cohesive group at the opposition of the European Parliament."
Roberto Fiore (Screen shot via)
The final speech was given by Roberto Fiore, leader of Forza Nuova. To rapturous applause, he said: "We want to create an executive élite, an avant-garde, a political class that could actually give a strong sign of rebirth in a moment when everything seems to be going down."
Fiore’s words reminded me of a 2012 interview I read with Theodoros Koudounas, a member of the Golden Dawn’s central committee. Pre-empting the Forza Nuova leader's call to arms, he said: "You Italians – and the Spanish – are five years late compared to us, in this process of rebirth. You are just richer and less corrupt. But be ready – the moment is coming."
Two years later, it looks like it's finally time to ready ourselves for the moment the far-right coalition fulfil their promise, conquer the continent and restore Europe to however they imagine it looked 5,000 years ago, before the ancestors of Europe's immigrant mass first started crossing borders. But remember to save that £40, because it would be a real shame to miss out on the spectacular rebirth of our five glorious nations.