They feel as if they are at war. They consider George Soros, founder of the Open Society Foundation, to be the source of evil in the world, first and foremost because of his support of immigration. They want to prevent NGOs from continuing their rescue missions. And though the two groups are not in touch per se, they belong to the same army: the one attempting to “stop the invader”. The Gefira Foundation and the mission of Defend Europe were the sparks that set off the smear campaign against NGOs that resulted in the investigation led by Catania’s prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro, but which, for the moment, has had no other consequences [bar the seizure of Jugend Rettet’s ship Iuventa in August]. Gefira was the first organisation to show – through its platform Marine Traffic – how often NGO ships entered Libyan waters. Defend Europe is the mission organised by Generation Identity, a far-right group with chapters in several European countries, that may potentially use its vessel to divert migrant boats towards Libya and Tunisia instead of Italy. Two forms of Europeanism that intend to defend the European race and gene pool from the demographic replacement supposedly being caused by the phenomenon of migration. Gefira and Defend Europe claim to be “nonpartisan and nonpolitical”. The former call themselves “independent”, the latter “identitarian”.
Gefira against Les amis de Franck Biancheri (Association of Friends of Franck Biancheri)
The Gefira Foundation is a think-tank based in the town of Nijmegen on the border between Germany and the Netherlands. It offers geopolitical counselling, risk analysis, and economic plans. Gefira has characterised NGOs as “the mafia in cahoots with the European Union” and supports political campaigns like the one in favour of Italy’s exit from the eurozone promoted by Italy’s own Lega Nord [Northern League]. The think-tank was founded in 1987 by Franck Biancheri, a thinker from Nice who died in 2012, and Bart Kruitwagen, its current president. Biancheri was very active on the political front: he created the Newropeans party (which participated in the European election of 2009 with the same logo and name in several countries) and, in addition to founding a number of think-tanks, established the first European Students’ Forum, AEGEE. “The main goal for Biancheri was the democratisation of Europe because he feared the EU would end up in the hands of the far right. According to him, they would be the first to get organised on a European basis, and he was right,” says Marie-Hélène Caillol, Biancheri’s widow and the mother of Carla Biancheri, president of the association Les amis de Franck Biancheri. In his struggle for democratisation, Biancheri met many public figures (including, for example, Beppe Grillo in 2010 and 2012) and associated himself with people that Caillol did not trust, as she recalls.
But the new Gefira has nothing to do with Biancheri’s ideas. The two leaders of the new movement are Bart Kruitwagen and Taco Dankers. Biancheri’s daughter wrote two letters warning them against using her father’s political heritage – one was published on the association’s website, the other was delivered privately and also claims compensation for damages to its reputation. Kruitwagen was treasurer of the Newropeans party and founded EURACTIV (to which he no longer belongs), an informational website on European affairs. This idea was also born within the framework of the European Student’s Forum founded by Biancheri. “He always sat in the back rows during strategic meetings, but I think he was fascinated by Franck’s personality,” Caillol explains. Kruitwagen owns the Gefira and Newropeans websites through the LTJ Kruitwagen company. In 2009 he campaigned to be a member of the European Parliament in the Netherlands together with two other candidates: Arno Uijlenhoet and Veronique Swinkels. The first is now a member of the Dutch Parliament with GroenLinks (Green Left) while the second works for the blog of Les amis de Franck Biancheri and is the director of the communications agency BBK/Door Vriendschap Sterker (Powered By Friendship). Not exactly the same political career as Kruitwagen. “When Franck was very ill, Bart convinced him to meet Geert Wilders (leader of the Dutch neo-fascist party). We had never met him before. He was one of Bart’s contacts,” Biancheri’s widow remembers.
In Taco Dankers’ words
Taco Dankers was the IT manager of Newropeans and other associations linked to Biancheri. Today he is the editor of the Newropeans magazine and Gefira. He holds a degree in philosophy, but has never been a researcher. Though still a member of several movements related to Biancheri (LEAP, FEFAP, IRPA, Newropeans), in September 2015 he was expelled from Les Amis de Franck Biancheri along with Bart Kruitwagen. The two had refused to use Gefira to finance other activities connected with Biancheri, as per its charter, so the association decided to expel them. The “friends” association is what keeps all the structures bequeathed by Biancheri together. “Ever since the strong disagreement we had in September 2015, we fear that Kruitwagen may have a private political agenda,” Caillol adds. “There is no doubt that he has dramatically betrayed all of Biancheri’s messages and campaigns; therefore his friends have had no other choice but to republish his old articles to defend his image and ideas.”
Taco Dankers maintains that Gefira is financed by a fund deriving from Franck Biancheri’s inheritance and subscribers to the research team’s bulletin. What Dankers does not admit, but clearly emerges from the file that started the judicial controversy between Gefira and the LEAP association (belonging to Biancheri’s group), is that his foundation may have unduly used a database of 60,000 contacts for its own purposes. That database contains information on subscribers to the Global European Anticipation Bulletin (GEAB) published by other organisations linked to Biancheri and its IT manager was Dankers himself. According to Les amis de Franck Biancheri, Dankers even took possession of its name: Gefira’s new bulletin, presented as an updated version of the previous one, is also called GEAB (Gefira Anticipation Bulletin).
Furthermore, the “friends” association accuses Gefira of embezzling 60,000 euros from the various structures founded by Biancheri and transferring them to an account no one can access. In all likelihood, it is the same “inheritance fund” Dankers already mentioned; however, he has chosen not to reveal further details. For the members of Les amis the Franck Biancheri, this is a real coup: Gefira had no right to bring that money outside of the association network. Dankers did not care to give his own version of the number of subscribers, but claims no parties are among them. The complaint reveals that, from 2008 until today, Gefira has used over two million euros.
In Dankers’ words: “We split because of our political divergence on immigration.” We interviewed him via Skype for more than 40 minutes on 27 May. Dankers talked about the theoretical basis of Gefira’s inquiries into NGOs: “Multiculturalism is not about being able to eat ethnic food. It’s about education, bases, fundamental values. We know people’s fundamental rights, we invented them. But if you bring all of Africa to Europe, you will obtain Africa. And this is not what Europeans want.” According to Gefira’s studies, the core of the problem is demographics: Africa has 1.2 billion inhabitants and is growing while Europe’s population is in decline. “Immigration isn’t a problem as long as you’re in the lead, but it is only a matter of time before the situation gets out of control.”
But why is immigration a problem at all? “There is more than one possible scenario. I even imagine war,” Dankers said. “Take the French election: the majority of native French people voted for Le Pen because they are against the migration policies proposed by her opponents.” And how do you get from demographics to NGOs? The logic is simple: NGOs facilitate the arrival of immigrants to Europe. “This has nothing to do with their rescue missions. Why can’t they drop migrants off in Zarzis, Tunisia, or any other safe harbour? When migrants are rescued at sea they cannot demand to be taken to the United States, can they?” (For a refutation of this argument read Know Your Rights, a guide for solidarity at sea created by CILD). But for Gefira’s editor, NGOs have made an additional mistake: they never asked European citizens’ permission to take the rescued migrants to their coasts at all. “In Europe we have lost any demographic control. I think that most Europeans are against this situation, but we have been forced to accept it even though the majority disagrees. What kind of democracy is that?” Racist? Xenophobic? Fascist? No, Dankers calls himself “independent”. “If you share these ideas you may be called a racist, a fascist or something like that. But you should ask European citizens instead: do you want to be replaced by Africans? I am quite sure no one desires this destiny for themselves or their children.” He adds that Italy’s problems with immigration are less obvious: “Italy is not a country with a long history of immigration. You don’t have many Muslims.”
[Update of August 3: Taco Dankers sent a note to Open Migration to reply that “there are no connections between Geert Wilders and Bart Kruitwagen.” He added that he found the allegation of his potentially having stolen information from 60,000 subscribers “insulting” and that Marie-Helen Caillol “was expelled from Newropeans” whose owner and president since Biancheri’s times has always been Kruitwagen.]
The European identitarians
Let us move on to Defend Europe, a mission aimed at preventing NGOs from taking migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to Italy. According to its organisers, they will not let anyone drown, but they will keep migrants away from Europe by sending them to Libya and Tunisia instead. Lorenzo Fiato, 24, is the president of Generation Identity, the association promoting Defend Europe in Italy. He arrives at Bar Magenta in Milan a week before July 17, the date he will meet the other crew members setting sail on the C-Star to “stop NGOs.” He is wearing one of Generation Identity’s blue t-shirts emblazoned with a few verses from the Song of Roland on his back. “I’m sick and tired of the nostalgic and traditional way some movements think,” he says. “Ours is fluid, we want to discuss political matters such as immigration, multiculturalism, integration. Other issues are not our concern in the first place.” According to Fiato, the classical far-right campaign demanding “houses for Italians first” is useless “because twenty years from now there won’t be any Italians.” And for him this is a “nonpartisan and nonpolitical concept”. Why are multiculturalism and integration so negative? Because the coexistence of different ethnic groups inevitably leads to social tensions. “Integration is impossible. It always implies giving up something.” Nonetheless, an ideal model of a country exists: it is Switzerland with its closed borders and self-governing cantons. “The Europe I dream of is just like that, minding its own business and refusing to fight any wars hundreds of kilometres away.”
The foundation of Generation Identity in France
Generation Identity (GI) was founded in 2012 through the occupation of a mosque in Poitiers, a French town of symbolic value to identitarians. It was there that Charles Martel defeated the army of Abd er-Rahman, Arab captain and governor of al-Andalus, in 732. Like the king of the Franks, identitarians want to stop the advance of the new invaders, their term for migrants. The movement’s origins (especially from a cultural point of view) are strictly connected with the French New Right. In fact, as Fiato explains, Defend Europe counts Jean-David Cattin, who belongs to the executive committee of Bloc Identitaire, the French movement which takes up all young identitarians as soon as they turn thirty, to be among its participants. Cattin is in charge of the Identitarian Summer University, a training school where students, apart from studying “identitarian values”, learn how to give interviews and deal with the press. Bloc Identitaire was created in 2002 and has supported Marine Le Pen’s National Front in several political races. In fact, Philippe Vardon, one of its leaders until 2016, eventually joined Le Pen’s party. Was there some kind of rift? Not really, the National Front has always been on good terms with identitarian movements. Moreover, Vardon’s choice was the first in a long line. According to LesInrocks, even Marion Le Pen, Marine’s granddaughter, is “flirting” with identitarians. “The Bloc had an electoral focus, but now it’s clear that the National Front is pursuing that path as well,” Fiato adds. “These two worlds have always been in touch, but Generation Identity does not back the National Front completely, and vice versa.” However, both began with the same authors: chiefly Dominique Venner, the former neo-fascist legionnaire who committed suicide in 2013, and Renaud Camus, the writer who has theorized the “great replacement” (the so-called invasion) and boasts of not fitting in either the right-wing or left-wing mould.
Generation Identity in Italy
In Italy, Generation Identity is mainly associated with Matteo Salvini’s Northern League, especially since the time the regionalist party sought contact with the National Front. In 2015 Lorenzo Fiato participated in the conference Verso una Lega nazionale [Towards a National League], which gathered many far-right forces together in the name of their common opposition to migrants. One of the personalities inside the Lega with the strongest connections to Generation Identity is Vincenzo Sofo, promoter of the blog Il Talebano [The Taliban] and of the initiative Mille patrie per l’Italia [A thousand countries for Italy]. With the Italian Northern League, things come full circle: the first Euro MP who supported Gefira’s “studies” at a European level belongs to this party, his name is Lorenzo Fontana.
Translation by Lucrezia De Carolis. Proofreading by Alex Booth.
Cover photo: Facebook banner of the political group Les Identitaires advertising a book on “remigration”.