Global Attendance At Radical Right Rallies Highlights Transnational Threat
Dr. Ariel Koch is a postdoctoral researcher at the Lauder School of Government Diplomacy and Strategy, at The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Dr. Koch’s research focuses on transnational violent extremist ideologies and movements.
“Death to Jews,” chanted the crowd while a man burned a book with the “Statut Kaliski” (Statute of Kalisz), a document from the Thirteenth Century that regulated the legal status of Jews in Poland. This symbolic manifestation of hate occurred at the Polish Independence Day, during a small rally in the city of Kalisz. The main rally in Warsaw was organized by the neo-fascist party National Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny, ONR), and it attracted tens of thousands of nationalist groups and individuals.
Marchers in Warsaw waved Celtic Cross flags while others burned German and anti-fascist flags. The migration crisis at the Poland-Belarus border was exploited in order to attack countries who pose, according to the Polish nationalists, a threat to Poland. For example, Robert Bakiewicz, the main organizer of the rally, said that “Poland is being attacked on its eastern border by Moscow, which is using Belarus to apply pressure via migration” and that Poland is “also being attacked by Germany, which is using European institutions to take away our sovereignty.”
Building a transnational movement
In recent years, such rallies have played an important role in the transnationalization of the radical right. They became one of the useful tools to gather, openly and publicly, white nationalists from around the world. For these foreign actors, local events are an opportunity to establish relations with their fellow-nationalists and to advocate for a wider (white European) identity based on shared views, concerns, and enemies. As noted in the HOPE not hate’s 2021 State on Hate Report, “While activists will generally be primarily preoccupied with local or national issues, they invariably contextualize them continentally or even globally.”
In light of the above, a number of questions arise: First, what annual rallies in Eastern Europe attract white nationalists from other countries, with an emphasis on Western Europe and the United States? Second, what can be learned from the participation of the radical right from Western Europe and the United States in such marches? Another interesting question is how, and where does the mobilization of the radical right in favor of participation in such events take place? – deserves a separate study and will not be addressed here.
As it seems, the main annual rallies that attract local and international radical right groups and individuals take place in Poland during the Independence Day (November 11), Hungary during the “Day of Honor,” (February 11), and Bulgaria during the “Lokov March” (February 22). Although there are obvious and known differences between these countries’ attitudes towards such rallies (Poland and Hungary are more illiberal than Bulgaria, which, for example, banned the Lukov March), these annual manifestations of hate continue to serve as gathering hubs for local and foreign neo-Nazis, neo-fascists and white supremacists.
White supremacists from Hungary, Europe, and elsewhere attend the annual “Day of Honor” rally, organized in order to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Nazi and Hungarian forces killed by the Soviets during the 1945 Siege of Budapest. The rally was started by a now-jailed neo-Nazi named István Győrkös, who re-established the Nazi-era Arrow Cross party and founded a paramilitary militia called the Hungarian National Front (Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal). In 1997, Győrkös popularized February 11 as the “Day of Honor,” which attracted neo-Nazis from Hungary and beyond who traveled to the country to commemorate Nazi forces and their allies.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM), a US-based white supremacist organization with ties overseas, attended the 2020 “Day of Honor” rally that was organized by the Hungarian branch of the neo-Nazi skinhead international network Hammerskin Nation. In this rally, a member from the German neo-Nazi party Die Recht (The Right) said that “We have the same enemies today, like we did 75 years ago […] The enemy isn’t named Muller or Mayer. No, our enemy is named Rothschild or Goldman and Sachs.”
The “Lukov March ” has taken place in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia every February 22 since 2003. It is organized by the radical right Bulgarian National Union party and like the Hungarian rally, it also attracts local and foreign neo-Nazis. The rally is dedicated to commemorating the death of Hristo Lukov, a Bulgarian pro-Nazi politician and the Minister of War from 1935 to 1938 who was assassinated by two members of the Bulgarian resistance movement in 1943. For example, in the 2018 Lukov March presented members of the German neo-Nazi party Die Rechte and members of the French Les Nationalistes, a group that has had its leader banned from the National Front in 2011 after he stated that he is “anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish.”
One of the Bulgarian groups that participated in this rally was called White Front. It is a neo-Nazi group that modeled the American neo-Nazi terrorist organization Atomwaffen Division (AWD), and which had contacts with AWD members via the now-defunct Iron March forum. In 2020, the Lukov March was banned by Sophia’s mayor, but it turned into a torch-lit demonstration of neo-Nazis and nationalists who placed flowers in front of Lukov’s former home.
The Polish Independence Day rally on November 11, which attracts tens of thousands of people including families for the festive, was started in 2010 by the neo-fascist All Polish Youth movement, the National Movement, and the National Radical Camp (ONR), which organizes pro-Nazi events since the early 2000s. However, it was “internationalized” in the 2017 rally, as marchers waved Celtic crosses, raised banners with slogans such as “White Europe of brotherly nations,” “Clean Blood,” and “Deus Vult.” The latter, which translates from Latin to “God wills it,” was used during the First Crusade in the 11th century, and it resurged as a call for violence against Jews and Muslims by contemporary radical right extremists.
The latest rally in Warsaw was promoted on Telegram and other social media sites by white supremacists who translated the Polish invitation to the event that was produced and disseminated by Polish neo-fascists and neo-Nazis. In the rally, we can see members of the Third Position (Trzecia Droga) and members of the loose, decentralized international neo-Nazi network known as Autonomous Nationalists. Furthermore, there are indications that foreign neo-Nazis were also present in this rally. For example, at least one Spanish neo-Nazi, a member of the neo-Nazi group Bastion Frontal, traveled to Poland. participated in the rally, shared his documentation of the event on his since suspended Twitter account, and even called to follow Polish nationalists.
When nationalists are traveling overseas and attending local events, it is more than an expression of solidarity. It can be seen as a statement; a declaration that says that the local organizer is supported not only by local sympathizers, but also by foreign elements. At the same time, the foreign elements show that they are too connected to friends overseas, and that they are willing to travel far away to support them. This mutual solidarity may lead not only to mobilization to rallies, but maybe to more violent fronts.
The participation of foreign extremists in local events that were organized by local extremists from the same ideological camp raises an interesting question – if they are willing to travel overseas to participate in a rally or an event with a potential to escalate to violence – would they travel abroad to join a war overseas? This question is highly relevant due the known participation of radical right individuals and groups in the war in Ukraine, Syria, and future arenas.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world. Rantt has been partnered with CARR for 3 years. We’ve published over 150 articles from CARR’s network of PhDs, historians, professors, and experts analyzing extremism and combating disinformation.