Paris Gourtsoyannis: We're no longer shocked by praise for Mussolini

Extreme views that would have been condemned a decade ago barely get attention today, writes Paris Gourtsoyannis.

Steve Bannon
Steve Bannon

Are we too exhausted by the crush of political events to be shocked any more? When spoken by people who trade in the controversial on a daily basis, even the most extreme views barely seem to register.

In one of the first articles published by a new US edition of the Spectator magazine, the writer Nicolas Farrell interviews Steve Bannon, the former adviser to Donald Trump, who addressed a recent conference in Switzerland.

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Farrell, a biographer of the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, is told by Bannon: “He [Mussolini] was clearly loved by women. He was a guy’s guy. He has all that virility. He also had amazing fashion sense, right, that whole thing with the uniforms. I’m fascinated by Mussolini.”

Don’t bother reading the piece for the awkward moment when the interviewer asks about, for instance, the thousands of Italian Jews deported to Nazi concentration camps. It never happens.

Nor is there any challenge when Bannon, the architect of Trump’s attempt to ban immigration from a handful of Muslim countries, says “there is nothing about banning Muslims … we can live with Islam”. Another interview by the Politico website went as far as asking about Bannon’s relationship with the US President. “I still love the guy,” we learn.

Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, would endorse many of Bannon’s views. His Fidesz party is expected to win parliamentary elections next month by a landslide. Orban’s dog-whistle vendetta against the billionaire George Soros is well known, as is his party’s opposition to migration, particularly from Muslim countries. But it takes hearing Orban’s rhetoric, undiluted, to reveal the significance of those views.

At a rally last week, he said: “We are at the epicenter of a civilizational struggle … we are not fighting the anaemic little opposition parties, we have to fight an empire-like international network. The great plan is to break Hungary, which stands in the way of the migrants … [Brussels] wants to dilute, to replace the population of Europe. They throw away our culture, our way of life, everything that makes us European and distinguishes us from other nations in the world.”

Orban concluded that “after the elections we shall, of course, seek recourse — moral, legal, and political recourse”. Or to put it another way, revenge.

A campaign video by one of Orban’s ministers is even clearer. Lázár János speaks into the camera from what he calls one of Vienna’s “infamous districts” — a shopping street in the Austrian capital that could be Lothian Road, with familiar mobile phone shops and McDonalds outlets. It soon becomes clear what the problem is. Panning around the scene, the footage slows to a sinister crawl to focus on shoppers in headscarves and turbans.

“It’s clear that these streets are more dirty,” János says, standing in a street tidier than any in Scotland. “The white Christian Austrians moved out and the immigrants took control of this neighbourhood. If we let them in and let them live in our cities, then there will be crime, impoverishment, dirt and impossible urban conditions.”

In response to the democratic endorsement of Orban’s view, the former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy suggests the problem is democracy. “Where you see a great leader, there is no populism,” Sarkozy said in a speech to a conference in Abu Dhabi, forgetting that he was elected on a promise to blast clean Paris’ multi-ethnic ghettos with a power hose. His message: democracies are weak, autocracies are strong, and elections get in the way of visionary progress. “Where is the populism in China?” Sarkozy asked. “Where is the populism here? Where is the populism in Russia? Where is the populism in Saudi Arabia? If the great leadership leaves the table, the populist leaders come and replace him.”

Longevity in power clearly concerns the former French president, who voters ousted at the earliest opportunity. “The great leaders of the world come from countries that are not great democracies,” he said.

The various comments above – by different politicians in different countries – are either proudly xenophobic, unambiguously autocratic, or express deep admiration for fascists. They were all made in the past two weeks, and all went largely unremarked — possibly because in the current climate, they are no longer remarkable. What are we walking into?