Home Human Rights New Zealand attack reveals right-wing extremists’ fascination with Balkans

New Zealand attack reveals right-wing extremists’ fascination with Balkans

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — The names of Serbian, Hungarian and Bulgarian medieval knights were scrawled on the magazines of a rifle belonging to the alleged attacker. behind New Zealand’s worst mass shooting on record.

A Serbian folk song glorifying Radovan Karadzic — Bosnian Serb leader convicted of war crimes against Muslims during the war that tore apart Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s – played in Brenton Tarrant’s car minutes before he launched the attack that left 50 dead at two Christchurch mosques.

The Australian also had I have traveled to southeastern Europe twice in the last two years.

Image: The weapons believed to have been used by the New Zealand shooter
Excerpt from a video showing messages about the weapons allegedly used by the New Zealand shooter.

Tarrant’s fascination with the region sheds light on half-forgotten myths about crusader knights and Serbian nationalists who fought Muslim armies. These stories have become popular among white supremacists online – a narrative that periodically spills over into offline politics as well.

“We see this whole association of Islamophobia with this kind of false past of Teutonic knights killing evil Muslim hordes,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations – a major American Muslim rights organization. civic.

This trend of right-wing extremism is virulently anti-Islam and seeks to fuel fears that Muslims will overwhelm the West – a sort of mirror image of Islamic State militants who espouse their brutal version of Islam. ‘an ancient world governed by the precepts of primitive Islam.

White nationalist ideology shared on fringe message boards such as 4chan and 8chan has reignited debate over whether tech companies are doing enough to crack down on the spread of white supremacist hatred online.

Tarrant’s apparent 74-page manifesto posted online shortly before the attack also said Muslims were targeted because they are “the most despised group of invaders in the West.”

This idea of ​​fighting Muslims is the theme of the Serbian folk song played in Tarrant’s car before the attack. Known online as “Remove Kebab,” the program and associated memes are a euphemism for violent campaigns aimed at removing Muslims from an area.

Anders Behring Breivik, who is in prison after killing dozens of people in Norway, was the first to make images of medieval knights chasing Muslims out of Europe popular among far-right extremists, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and extremists.

In July 2011, Breivik went on a rampage across Norway, including at a summer camp for the youth wing of the left-wing Labor Party. A total of 77 people were killed, most of them teenagers.

Like Tarrant, Breivik also had a particular interest in Balkan affairs and history. Speaking in court in Oslo in 2012, Breivik said he had been inspired by Serbian nationalists.

For the far right to prevail again in Europe, extremists would have to distance themselves from old-school Nazi ideology, he said. The new identity, he added, was partly imported from Serbia.

Image: Serbian ultra-nationalists
Supporters of Serbian ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj gather in Belgrade in 2016. Marko Djurica / Reuters file

Tarrant’s so-called manifesto claims Breivik was his “true inspiration” and describes the Norwegian as a “knight.”

During his visit to the region last year, Tarrant showed interest in the battles between Christians and Ottomans and visited historical sites, according to Bulgarian Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov.

Tarrant’s apparent penchant was for medieval and modern battles in which Balkan armies repelled and defeated the Ottoman Empire, a State created by Muslim Turkic tribes in the 15th and 16th centuries, which at its peak encompassed most of South-Eastern Europe.

For centuries, Balkan kings, rulers and later nation-state leaders presented themselves as “Europe’s defenders against the onslaughts of Islam,” according to Florian Bieber, professor of cultural studies. Southeast Europe at the University of Graz in Austria.

Among the knights and generals scrawled on Tarrant’s weapons magazines was the medieval Serbian knight Miloš Obilić, who is said to have killed the Ottoman Sultan during the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. The Serbian government awards the Medal of Bravery named after after Miloš Obilić to brave soldiers, while sports clubs throughout the country are also named after the knight.

While Tarrant was in Bulgaria, he visited the Shipka Pass region where the Russians and Bulgarians defeated the Ottomans in a legendary battle in 1877.

In the 19th century, Balkan countries began expelling local Muslims converted to Islam by the Ottomans because they saw them as a threat, Bieber said.

More recently, during the massive violence of the Balkan War in the 1990s, Serbian nationalists presented their attacks on Bosnian and Albanian Muslims as an epic battle between two religions.

This “completely misinterpretation” of events “has resonated with far-right groups around the world, including those who have been radicalized to commit acts of terrorism,” Bieber said.

Sharing “hate rhetoric”

Those who monitor hate speech on the Internet have expressed concern about the spread of right-wing extremism globally online.

From the United States to New Zealand to Europe, white supremacist Islamophobes are “increasingly cooperating, coordinating and sharing their hateful rhetoric,” said Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Beirich, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said white supremacist propaganda and hate speech are not treated with the same concern by authorities as that of Islamist extremists such as the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda.

Western tech companies and lawmakers equate online Islamist extremism with terrorism, but have “completely forgotten” about white supremacy and its death toll, she said.

Offline, the far-right’s anti-Islam discourse is also finding growing resonance with right-wing politicians in the region.

Hungary’s autocratic leader Viktor Orban has invoked anti-Islamic imagery to justify policies such as closing borders to asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing conflict and persecution – recalling myths that have angered right-wing extremists.

The majority of migrants arriving in Europe come from the “Islamic world”, Orban said in his state of the nation address last year.

“If things continue like this, our culture, our identity and our nations as we know them will cease to exist. Our worst nightmares will have come true,” he said in this speech in February 2018.

But in reality, the number of migrants arriving in the Balkan region is small compared to that of asylum seekers in Northern Europe.

In 2017, Hungary granted asylum to 106 refugees, according to the European Council for Refugees and Exiles – a tiny fraction of applications granted elsewhere in the European Union.

After Hungary built a wall along its borders with Croatia and Serbia in late 2015, the number of arrivals fell from more than 7,000 people a day to 10, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Image: Viktor Orban
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his annual state of the nation address in Budapest in February. Bernadett Szabo / Reuters file

Despite these low numbers, many area lawmakers won their elections on anti-immigrant agendas.

Last year, Czech President Milos Zeman was re-elected on a wave of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment, while in November 2017 — two months before the vote — only 116 people applied for asylum in the country.

Meanwhile, human rights groups have criticized the mistreatment of migrants in several Balkan countries. Last year, groups accused Hungarians authorities to deny food to some asylum seekers detained in two border camps while awaiting the outcome of their asylum procedure.

The influx of asylum seekers in 2015 saw vigilante groups emerge in Balkan states and begin patrolling borders to prevent migrants from entering.

The group “BNO Shipka” in Bulgaria, tracks migrants trying to cross the forested mountain range on its border with Turkey.

“It’s not a problem that they are Muslims. The problem is that it’s a different civilization,” Nikolai Ivanov, a founding member of the group, told NBC News in 2017.

As New Zealand moves forward with its investigation into last week’s massacres, several European countries have said they have launched an investigation into the suspect’s potential ties to the area.

Balkan countries condemned the attack and officials distanced themselves from the suspect. Residents also said they were frustrated that their area was associated with the attacker.

“This man has nothing to do with Serbia,” said Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic. “I don’t know where he got his inspiration from, but it seems to me that on this list there were also names from other countries.”

Vladimir Banic reported from Ljubjana and Saphora Smith from London.

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