Why are Europe’s far-right parties so opposed to compulsory vaccination?

Why are Europe’s fascists so opposed to compulsory vaccination?

27 November 2021

9:00 AM

27 November 2021

9:00 AM

  Dante’s Beach, Ravenna


Thanks to soaring infection rates in Europe, the war against Covid has entered a new phase, with the prospect of tougher restrictions and compulsory vaccination. Tens of thousands marched in protest through the streets of Vienna and Brussels at the weekend, with many chanting ‘Freedom’ and ‘Down with Dictatorship’. Prominent in their ranks were supporters of the far right, a.k.a. fascists.

It is easy enough to understand why libertarians of the right such as Boris Johnson, and many, though by no means all, Tories would oppose the suspension of the fundamental civil liberties of the unvaccinated. But far-right fascists? Aren’t they the ones supposed to be hell-bent on the imposition of dictatorship and the suppression of freedom? In the case of the Covid vaccination, wouldn’t any fascists worth their salt be dead keen to force everyone to get jabbed — at the point of a bayonet if necessary? Not these days. Ironically, it is far-right parties, whether national-populists, identitarians or fascists, who are opposed most loudly, sometimes violently, to these new restrictions.

In Nazi Germany vaccination was compulsory — though only for Germans, because it was considered a privilege. In 1942, the Führer himself reminded high-ranking Nazis of this while discussing his plans for Russia once conquered: ‘In the field of public health there is no need whatso-ever to extend to the subject races the benefits of our own knowledge. This would result only in an enormous increase in local populations… Compulsory vaccination will be confined to Germans alone… It is stupid to thrust happiness upon people against their wishes.’

Today however, Germany’s far-right AfD is one of the few parties anywhere in Europe opposed not just to the vaccine pass but to the vaccine itself. Vaccination rates are particularly low in AfD strongholds in eastern Germany — just 57.5 per cent in Lower — and Covid cases are rising rapidly. But plenty of Germans are deeply nervous about the fascistic implications of forced jabs (which German politicians are now discussing as a possible option) and it is their support AfD is looking to win.

A similar story is true across Europe. The most notable, if not the most numerous, opponents of vaccine passes and Covid restrictions are supporters of far-right parties. In Vienna, the national–populist Freedom party helped organise Saturday’s protest, which was attended by 35,000 people. The protestors were demonstrating against the centre-right coalition government’s decision to make Austria not only the first European country to re-impose lockdown since the arrival of the vaccines, but also the first western democracy to make vaccination compulsory (albeit not until February).

‘From today Austria is a dictatorship,’ proclaimed Herbert Kickl, leader of the Freedom party, as he urged Austrians to protest in defence of ‘freedom and human dignity’. At Sunday’s demonstration in Brussels, where a similar number protested, the far right, including the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang party, was also prominent.

Two key elements of the traditional fascist mindset help to explain why today’s far-right parties are leading the charge to protect the civil liberties of the unvaccinated. Fascism, which was founded by the revolutionary socialist Benito Mussolini, regards big banks, big business and big pharma, the global and the multinational, as the enemy. This way of thinking springs from the basic difference between communism and fascism: communism is international socialism; fascism is national socialism.

Fascism also contains a back-to-nature gene that makes it embrace nudism, vegetarianism, natural remedies and folklore. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, for example, enjoy cult status in Italian fascist circles. They love the story of the little guys led by Benito Baggins taking on the multi-national evil eye: Sauron. And they are prone to believing the incredible.

At the Vienna demonstration, protest banners included ones referring to a current favourite far-right conspiracy theory: the Great Reset. Believers think that an unholy alliance of capitalists and the liberal-left is busy laying the building blocks for a world dictatorship which would abolish national borders and lead to more profit for the global elite. Covid lockdowns and vaccine passes were introduced — according to the conspiracy theory — not to curb the spread of the virus but to bring about economic collapse and the new world order.

It is Italy, where I live, that remains the country whose vaccine pass — ‘il green pass’ — is the most draconian of any western democracy’s, despite a still low (though rising) infection rate: roughly 11,500 new cases a day compared with 40,500 in Germany and 45,000 in Britain, and a high vaccination rate (74 per cent of the population). Italy’s unvaccinated are banned not just from most forms of social life and public transport but, since mid-October, even from going to work. All this has been done by a government of national unity, appointed in February and led by Mario Draghi, former boss of the EU’s central bank, who is not even an elected parliamentarian. It doesn’t scream democracy.

It would be a mistake to think that all those protestors are swivel-eyed conspiracy theorists or ‘no vax’ like Germany’s AfD. A far larger number are, like many ‘normal’ people, ‘pro vax’ yet against ‘il green pass’. This is the position of Italy’s post-fascist party, Fratelli d’Italia, which vies for pole position as most popular party in the polls with the post-communist Partito Democratico. It is the only major party in Italy that opposes the pass and refuses to join Draghi’s national unity government.

But despite the growing opposition across Europe to the new restrictions, Covid lockouts and lockdowns are still very popular, which explains why politicians are happy to enforce them. In Italy, demonstrations against ‘il green pass’, though regular and noisy, are rarely attended by more than a few thousand people. Draghi and his draconian decrees are extraordinarily popular with voters. In poll after poll, well over two-thirds of Italians approve of his green-pass regime. According to one poll earlier this month, 67 per cent approve even the ban on the unvaccinated from working.

Arguably, then, the biggest threat to liberty in Europe, as Italy illustrates, comes from the majority. Dare we even say that?

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