While environmental concerns can be used to advance an egalitarian and left-leaning agenda, by linking the climate crisis to class struggles and the need for social justice, these issues are increasingly being taken up by the far right.
Zold Ellenallas (Green Resistance) is a Hungarian Facebook page for nature lovers, covering news and offering tips on how to best interpret and resolve often unintelligible and technically complex environmental issues. Among other things, it offers creative options to irrigate your crops, reduce your carbon footprint, recycle and help animals. At the same time, it takes potshots at shallow environmentalism, offering a critique of tech-savvy influencers and environmental activists. The author(s) of Green Resistance believe such environmentalism is championed by “the ‘look at me’ generation”, using environmental protection as a means to virtue-signal by interrupting events, having risky encounters with wildlife, and pushing for short-sighted and ultimately detrimental solutions to the climate crisis.
However, behind the somewhat warranted criticism of certain environmental activism and policies, Green Resistance seems to go a few steps further, offering an ideological – even if green – alternative to the presumed “mainstream” environmentalism. This alternative highlights the (big) ecological footprint of the Global South, the polluting migrants, the need for “nationally-produced” superfoods, and promoting hunting as the way to manage nature but also to ‘re-masculinise’ the nation. Such proposals appear overtly anti-globalist and covertly nativist, the latter not commonly associated with ideological ecologism.
Much as environmental concerns can be used to advance an egalitarian and left-leaning agenda, by linking the climate crisis to class struggles and the need for social justice, these issues can also be used as a proof of the ‘right’s righteousness’. This is visible in the calls against globalised, elitist and technocratic governance, the free markets destroying national identities, cultures and livelihoods, or environmental regulations detached from the experiences of ordinary people, all while the real polluters avoid assuming responsibility.
All these examples show how our relationship with the natural environment is unavoidably ideological. In my book that was recently published by Routledge, I suggest that the way in which Green Resistance and similar Facebook accounts explain this relationship can be best termed as its title: Far-Right Ecologism.
Follow the money
Far-Right Ecologism is about the ideological glue that binds seemingly unrelated and even possibly conflicting arguments. This may seem a bit unfair, bundling together a climate denialist with someone afraid for their job as a miner or a “right-wing hippie” nostalgic for the past. But these ideological glues are not particularly strong or adhesive: do not count on them if you expect a consistent and universal reading of the world.
In Hungary and Poland, countries that have been championing the far-right agenda over the last decade or so, far-right ecologism has a head start. This head start is yet to be translated into actual policies, but the policy preferences and types of environmental communication, including a survey of the social media posts by far-right organisations, indicate how far-right ecologism has become a significant voice in discussions on how our societies should function.
As usual, the far right is doing much better on the rhetorical level, even though such rhetoric is at times comical. Statements in which Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister and leader of the far-right Fidesz party, claims his country is a “climate champion” when he announces investments in the environmental sector are no longer surprising. This has to do, in part, with the huge sums of money being invested in environmental transition around the world: where there’s money, there’s politics.
At the same time, the relevance and the dire consequences of the climate crisis have also attracted the attention of voters, especially the younger generations. Far-right parties and organisations around the world first ridiculed Greta Thunberg and Fridays For Future, only to later (tacitly) acknowledge the importance of the topic and call for more engagement with environmental issues, suggesting a “rational environmentalism” as an alternative.
However, my book suggests that the far-right’s interest in the environment cannot be reduced to mere political strategy and a “pragmatism” characteristic of power games. There is something fundamentally ideological about the need to associate environmental protection with religious beliefs, the well-being of the nation as an abstract collective, and comparing immigrants to an invasive species threatening “the garden of the nation”. Building on the interactions with the very producers and consumers of this ideological content, the book sets out to understand the cornerstones of that ideology, and how these cornerstones or political concepts relate to the broader currents in environmental politics and thought.
This is where it gets interesting: far-right ecologism not only shares a lot with the far right, but also with the latter part of its ideological amalgam. In other words, the discourse of far-right ecologism overlaps to a large extent with most environmentalisms, making distinctions in real life sometimes excruciatingly difficult. Green Resistance is arguably a good example, in spite of its ideological transparency with the page hashtag #greenisnotleft. Ridiculing wannabe pop-stars of environmentalism over TikTok or Instagram is way too easy a task – especially for irony-laden eastern Europeans.
Lessons from the east
Learning from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is another experience that this book offers. The eastern perspective has long been ignored in understanding some of the most pressing issues of our times.
EU accession, in particular, highlights the conditionality of the EU negotiations, in which the process is ultimately unidirectional, with the EU/West generally envisaged as the bearer of knowledge and good practices, and the East a mere recipient of these values.
On different levels, such logic operates in scholarly circles too, where the (semi)-periphery of the Global South (e.g., India) and particularly, as this book shows, CEE has a lot to contribute to what we do and do not know about far-right ecologism.
Hungary and Poland have a history of environmental activism, thought and politics that is not always following the established trajectories of environmentalism in Western democracies: the right-leaning conservationists of the late 19th and the early 20th century, or the anti-nuclear (and nationalist) mobilisation in the 1980s are cases in point. In spite of being a book about the here and now, Far-Right Ecologism tries to unfold how these contexts impact the far-right environmental strategies of today.
Even though this book is primarily about ideologies and morphologies, it exists thanks to the stories of and about its protagonists and my interlocutors. The purpose of these stories is not only to amuse the reader or understand the hardships of the “incomplete ethnography” as a method. What the stories fundamentally show is how broad and diverse far-right ecologism can be. From the green conservatives and Christian environmentalists to national feminists, green technocrats and ecofascists; from factory workers, farmers and economists to artists, sportspeople and historians, far-right ecologism is a lot more diverse than we might imagine.
This “diversity” speaks volumes about the far right, stereotypically represented as a bunch of angry and inarticulate men with reactionary worldviews. But as the mainstreaming of the far right shows, this simplistic interpretation fails to comprehend why the far right – including far-right ecologism – has become so appealing and normalised. This normalisation is not something to be “feared of”, as it is already happening: the ideas of overpopulation, mysticism, technocratic futures for the select few, and “wilderness zones” devoid of indigenous people are as mainstream as our contempt towards immigrants or turning a blind eye to the struggles of the elderly or the LGBT community.
As unsettling as this revelation may be, it is the first of many steps to a catharsis that may, among other things, increase our chances of being able to survive and thrive on this planet.
Source : Balkans Insight