Politics in the Western world have become a tool for the deracinated elite to control the masses and simultaneously ensure that ideologically preordained outcomes still retain some semblance to the democratic process of yore. There are millions of Europeans who see what is going on, but their voices are muted. And for European public figures who seek to counter the oppressive trend of simultaneous depoliticization and demoralization of their nations, finding a role in the political and public life of their countries is ever more difficult.
They have not given up the fight, however. I met eight of them last week in the Serb Republic—one of the two entities forming Bosnia and Herzegovina—at the Olympic winter resort of Mt. Jahorina, near Sarajevo. This was the venue, for the fifth time, of an international forum on current economic and social issues: a two-day extravaganza with over 500 registered participants. Attending for the second time, I was asked to moderate the panel, “Democracy in Europe,” on April 26. Five participants came from Italy, and one each came from Germany, Austria, and Belgium. (The French could not come, due to the second round of their presidential election.) This panel turned out to be a dynamic, provocative, and enjoyable 90-minute gathering. It continued informally for many hours over strictly carnivorous Balkan food and prolific libations.
Dressed in a light Brioni suit and moccasins, Fabrizio Bertot—the first speaker at the panel—exuded the air of an extroverted Italian, which indeed he is. A former member of European Parliament, an entrepreneur, and a prolific author, Bertot published his latest book, Ukraine: The Geopolitical War between the United States and Russia, in 2020. The book proved prescient in warning that the policies pursued by the U.S. and NATO in Russia’s near abroad were likely to cause a violent reaction from Moscow.
Bertot is the national spokesman for the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), a party which is accused by the left of having neofascist leanings and which has provided a breath of fresh air on the Italian political scene over the past decade. At the forum, Bertot reiterated his guiding motto in politics, that “those who do not govern to serve should not be allowed to govern.” He supports the idea of “Europe”—but one based on the principles of national sovereignty and independence. “Justice,” in his view, must include rewards for merit as well as fiscal responsibility, and a respect for the will of the people, especially on immigration. Bertot supports the Europe of nations, which would be vastly different from today’s European Union (EU) and which would maintain respect for the sovereignty, independence, and national unity of each state.
The only woman on the panel, Olga Petersen, was born into a Russian-German family in the Siberian city of Omsk, and moved to Hamburg with her family when she was 16. She served on the state executive board of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Hamburg, and in the 2020 state elections, Peterson became a member of the state parliament, achieving the third-best result of the AfD Hamburg candidates. A mother of four, she is known as a strong opponent of the manipulative, ideologically rooted indoctrination of children in state schools—especially in the areas of sexuality and gender identity.
In her address to the forum, Petersen focused on the transformation of the European Union to the point where it has become a tool of ideological oppression. “Many people in the EU still imagine that Europe means democracy,” she said, adding that democracy hasn’t been a reality for a long time. “An ordinary citizen of Germany has no influence over the apparatus of power, while the latter has an enormous impact on the life of that citizen, and often acts contrary to his interests,” she said. The same pattern is replicated at the level of the European Union: member countries transfer most of their sovereignty to Brussels and are then forced to comply with laws and decisions that are passed down to them from above.
Petersen believes that the game is not over either for the true Europe or for Germany. Nevertheless, she expects some challenging times ahead as mechanisms of oppressive control become ever more stringent. In subsequent conversation, to illustrate the problem, she singled out the recent ruling by a German court that the AfD can be classified as a “threat to democracy.” This paves the way for Germany’s domestic intelligence agency to spy on AfD members on the grounds of countering “right-wing extremism,” tapping their communications and employing undercover informants. “In my view this is no democracy,” Petersen said.
The next speaker came from Italy’s small libertarian camp. Alessandro Bertoldi is executive director of the Milton Friedman Institute in Rome, which supports tax disobedience against the Italian government, who Bertoldi says is composed of “incapable and irresponsible figures.” Most recently, Bertoldi caused a stir when he accused Prime Minister Mario Draghi of demagoguery for saying that renounce Russian energy supplies would force the EU to make a choice between “pursuing peace and keeping air conditioners on.” In reality, Bertoldi explained, it would be a matter of giving up the energy that the Italian industry needs to be productive.
Bertoldi drew particular attention to the fact that in the European Union, the economy is becoming a victim of politics. This is especially obvious in Germany and Italy, he said, which are the last major European nations with a significant yet financially fragile industrial capacity. Speaking informally after the panel, Bertoldi expressed suspicion that the U.S. administration is exerting pressure on Europeans to comply with self-destructive sanctions against Russia in order to undermine the resilience of Europe’s remaining industrial economies.
Johann Gudenus, the panelist from Austria, was a key Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) figure and a close associate of its former leader Heinz-Christian Strache until 2019, when Gudenus was forced to resign after an undercover video taken at a meeting in Ibiza, Spain, painted Gudenus and Strache as receptive to a proposal to exchange government contracts for positive news coverage. Gudenus denied wrongdoing and described the affair as “a manipulative, dirty journalistic performance.”
Gudenus comes from a distinguished aristocratic family with a military pedigree. He is deeply worried about the demographic, moral, and cultural future of the Old Continent, and he warned that today’s misnamed liberals have far different goals from those of their predecessors. “The left is aiming to destroy the remnants of civilized life both at home and abroad,” he said. At the same time, the resistance is weak and faltering. As a Roman Catholic, Gudenus is also saddened and dismayed by the ultra-progressive pronouncements, gestures, and policies emanating from the Holy See.
“Five years ago, we discussed here the challenges of our time,” Gudenus said in his opening remarks, “and we agreed that the situation was alarming. But now it is clearly getting worse.” In particular, he said, freedom of speech and freedom of thought are increasingly limited in the EU.
For example, anyone who tries to say something positive about Russia is ostracized. This is no longer the Europe that stood for peace and freedom. The EU has betrayed all of the principles on which it was founded.
The Brussels machine and its subservient regimes, Gudenus told me over dinner, are elitists led by the Davos coterie, whose rule is less “democratic” in any meaningful sense than that of the old Austria of the Habsburgs. At the same time and somewhat paradoxically, he said, some parts of the Balkans—notably the Serb lands—remain an island of freedom in Europe. Gudenus ended his talk by calling on the hosts to ask themselves one more time whether they really want to join the EU, which he sees as the road to perdition.
“I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835, observing that the country’s controlling majority resolutely limits the liberty of opinion. “Within these barriers an author may write what he pleases,” the author of Democracy in America went on, “but woe to him if he goes beyond them.” The offender will be allowed to live, but he will be exposed to continued persecution: “His political career is closed forever … Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is refused to him.”
It is remarkable that these lines were written almost 200 years ago. They accurately describe the current climate of “soft despotism,” not only in America but perhaps even more so in Europe. As my European friends warn in unison, the EU is just as draconian as the U.S. in enforcing uniformity of thought and public expression. And in some European countries—notably in Germany—the enforcers of permitted discourse are even more zealous than their American counterparts.
It is a pity that most American conservatives seem to be both disconnected from and uninterested in European political and intellectual life. On all issues of existential import, we are in the same boat, battling the same enemy. After the encounters in the western Balkan Mountains, I am even more convinced than before of the need to develop and cultivate the intellectual and spiritual ties that still bind the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean in one common civilization.
Image: a Western Union map of transatlantic communication cables, circa 1900 (Western Union Telegraph Company / U.S. Library of Congress)