Ahead of the EU parliamentary elections in May, right-wing forces are trying to push their ideology into the mainstream under the guise of "family values." We need to stop them, writes guest columnist Krsto Lazarevic.
Last week, the Italian city of Verona hosted the World Congress of Families. But this innocuous-sounding name belies the fact that this was one of the world's biggest gatherings of right-wing homophobes, anti-abortionists and anti-feminists, who flocked to Italy to lash out against civilization's many accomplishments in recent decades.
They gathered in a magnificent palace in the city center, hosted by the municipality, which last October officially declared Verona to be a "pro-life city." While this, too, may sound relatively harmless, it effectively means that life is made very difficult for women who want to get an abortion.
Idealizing patriarchal families
Curiously, many of the things said at Verona's World Congress of Families had little to do with family life. Attendees repeatedly questioned the theory of evolution, and one participant even said the US should not have abolished segregated schools.
Evangelical Ukrainian parliamentarian Pavlo Unguryan expressed his hope that Europe would see the rise of a Bible belt spanning Italy, Romania, Croatia, Hungary and Ukraine.
Granted, attendees kept reiterating their belief that families are the basic building blocks of society. But the definition of family and gender roles can vary — and those differences are important.
Those who think blindly obeying an authoritarian father is a good idea will also be inclined to blindly follow an autocrat with no regard for his people. A person's idea of the perfect family, therefore, reveals a lot about his or her political convictions, and whether they are open to totalitarian ideologies.
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The theme of the congress was "Wind of Change," with organizers hoping that a political gust of air will come and blow away liberal democracy. The participants are against the kind of liberal policies pursued by countries like Sweden, Norway and South Korea; nations which have been relatively successful at creating more equal societies.
Instead, these conservatives idealize countries like Hungary and Brazil, where right-wing governments are implementing policies inspired by an anachronistic idea of what families should be, while also making life difficult for ethnic and sexual minorities. The Hungarian and Brazilian family ministers, incidentally, both spoke at the conference.
Rados Pejovic of Serbia's far-right Dveri party was also among the conference guests. His party glorifies convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic, also known as the "Butcher of Bosnia," and says the 1995 Srebrenica massacre carried out under his command that left 8,000 Muslims dead was necessary to "liberate Srebrenica." That a member of this party would publicly champion the sanctify of all human life is nothing but cynical.
Taking aim at liberal Europe
It's no coincidence that this far-right conference was held in Italy, just a few weeks before the European parliamentary elections at the end of May. The conference organizers wanted to demonstrate that not just countries like Hungary, where the 2017 summit was held with support from Prime Minister Viktor Orban, but also one of the EU's founding members is receptive to right-wing authoritarian politics.
They want to attack liberal Europe from within with the backing of Italy's ruling anti-migrant League party, whose most prominent member Matteo Salvini also attended the conference.
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The region of Veneto, which is governed by the League, provided financial support for the World Congress of Families — meaning Italian taxpayers contributed to a conference that openly attacked gays and lesbians, and questioned equal rights for women.
Krsto Lazarevic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina and fled to Germany with his family as a child. Today he lives in Berlin where he works as a journalist and commentator, writing for various German-language media outlets.