How the natural family movement brought its war of values to eastern Europe

Many self-depicted "grassroots" movements fighting against women's and LGBT+ rights across central and Eastern Europe are in fact part of a well-connected international movement with ties to Putin, Trump and illiberal regimes. 

Claudia Ciobanu
Claudia Ciobanu NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
How the natural family movement brought its war of values to eastern Europe - NewsMavens
Transgender flag, torbakhopper, Flickr

Why this story matters:

In almost every country in Europe and beyond, we see what appear to be grassroots campaigns opposing the rights of women to abort, of gay couples to get married or adopt, or opposing sex education in schools. We sometimes explain them through national idiosyncrasies (in Poland, for example, as a manifestation of the power of the Catholic church in society). But the truth is much more complicated.

The national campaigns are part of a bigger, international effort, inspired by neo-protestant groups close to the Trump administration, supported by oligarchs and ideologues close to the Kremlin, with shady finances and increasingly embraced by illiberal political forces, from Italy to Hungary.

This is a dangerous movement because it offers the far-right and illiberal political forces additional cannon fodder: the defense of the 'natural family' (i.e., of the heterosexual couple from the majority group) is the other side of the anti-migrant, xenophobic and racist coin -- one that is more digestible for voters.

Details from the story:

  • The Romanian Coalition for Family, which triggered a referendum in Romania to change the constitution to say it is exclusively between a man and a woman, depicted itself as a grassroots movement, an emanation of the Romanian 'national spirit'
  • In reality, the group has been receiving support and inspiration from a European network of similar ultra-conservative organisations -- all fighting for similar goals back home
  • The European movement was created around 2013-2014, with significant support from U.S. neo-protestant groups which made a strategic decision to move American culture wars overseas: the US Supreme Court used to invoke progressive European precedents; changing legislation in Europe would help put pressure on the Supreme Court
  • The "natural family" agenda happened to be very useful to the Putin regime too, who needed a strong new idea of Russia that it could rally voters around -- the return to traditionalism was what Putin placed his bets on
  • Increasingly, more and more far-right groups and illiberal regimes in Europe are taking up the 'natural family' discourse: it's present in both Western and Eastern Europe
  • As Viktor Orban explained, the defense of the 'natural family' comes hand in hand with keeping illegal migrants out -- this is, according to him and others, the way to defend a Christianity 'under threat'
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