Part II

5. Far-right Grassroots Environmental Activism in Poland and the Blurry Lines of ‘Acceptable’ Environmentalisms

Balsa Lubarda

© 2021 Balsa Lubarda, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0244.05

More than a decade ago, the rise and subsequent mainstreaming of right-wing populism and far-right politics seemed unimaginable to many. In the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, articulating nationalism as the ‘reclaiming of politics’ and the panacea to transitional hardships has brought populist (and) far-right parties to major electoral successes. This has allowed a number of far-right actors (not necessarily parties) to engage in various debates, including topics related to the natural environment. This chapter seeks to determine how far-right groups in Poland, Ecolektyw (formerly Greenline Front Polska) and Puszczyk-Naturokultura Polska (also associated with Praca Polska) convey their ideological positions concerning the natural environment, as well as how this ideological content becomes embedded in and amended through activism.

The political far right in Poland has evolved with, but also in opposition to, the populist radical right. Following Fidesz, their successful role model in Hungary, the Polish Law and Justice Party, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS), used the Manichean, binary logic of the ‘good people’ and a ‘corrupt elite’ to sweep away most of their political opponents. Ever since 2005, when PiS first came to power under the banner of a “moral revolution” (Harper, 2018: 29), the party has purposefully tried both to entrench its political power and monopolise historical narratives, asserting its status as the defender of traditional values. In spite of PiS’s alleged intention to have “only the wall” to their right (Harper, 2018: 59), the diversified far-right1 landscape in Poland has served predominantly as the opposition to the ruling party, particularly since 2015 when PiS re-entered government. As the far-right party opposition to PiS is relatively formally weak (Ruch Narodowy with six members of Sejm in the Lower House of Parliament integrated in the Konfederacja coalition), it devotes its attention to topics that are electorally lucrative, such as migration, EU regulations and questions of collective identity.

However, this is not the case with far-right movements, which regardless of their limited financial resources, have greater space for manoeuvring and engaging with various topics, such as the environment. This not only highlights particular social imaginaries (Castoriadis, 1975) but also bears a substantive and ideological morphology (Freeden, 1996), distinguishable from right-populist accounts on the environment. For instance, the right-wing populist emphasis on protecting ‘the people’ often used as a justification for anti-environmental stances and policies, is notably different from the far right’s endorsement of environmental protection through the intricate relationship of the nation and the land (see Forchtner and Kølvraa, 2015). Nevertheless, both the right-wing populist party in power (PiS) and far-right parties in opposition (Ruch Narodowy—Konfederacja) have been recognised either as climate sceptics or as outright deniers of anthropogenic climate change (see Lockwood, 2018: 715; Żuk and Szulecki, 2020). This attitude is in line with post-materialist renderings of environmentalism as being an (unwanted) offspring of democratic transformation (Inglehart, 1971).

In contrast, there are far-right movements in Poland specifically focused on environmental activism. The far-right’s propensity for grassroots organising (for examples, see Castelli, Gattinara and Froio, 2018), particularly the ways in which this grassroots engagement unfolds in eastern Europe (see Mikecz, 2015), renders these groups suitable for environmental activism. In eastern Europe, to an extent incomparable with other regions, the far right has managed to transform into ‘movement parties’, building on the potential of their local structures. Nevertheless, this potential is hindered by the ideological differences that exist between the far right and most green activists. Grassroots environmentalism is commonly associated with contentious politics and environmental justice, providing an apt opportunity for constructing alternative visions. As such, grassroots and bottom-up organising is often viewed as a blueprint for a ‘progressive’ and ‘emancipatory’ change (see Borras, 2019).

To understand the implications of far-right local environmental activism for its influence on collective identity and action, this chapter has the following aims. First, it explores the forms of far-right incursions into environmental thought, by looking at the content or the ideological morphology of ‘Far-Right Ecologism’ (FRE; Lubarda, 2020). Second, the chapter explores how FRE has been adjusted to local contexts, or how some of its elements have been assuaged and normalised by local networks of environmentalists in order to increase their support base. To do so, this chapter will first outline the ideological morphology of FRE, which attempts to situate the far-right ideological position in relation to the natural environment. This will allow for a zooming-in on the respective ecologisms of Ecolektyw and Puszczyk, before analysing how these groups interact with other grassroots organisations.

The Political Far Right and Environmentalism: From Climate Denialism to Far-Right Ecologism?

The nexus of the political far right and environmental issues has only recently regained substantial attention from scholarship interested in the development of the formal far right (for examples, see Forchtner, 2019a and 2019b; Voss, 2014). However, the vast majority of scholarly works dealing with the contemporary far right and the environment focus most on far-right climate denialism (see Krange, Kaltenborn, and Hultman, 2018; Anshelm and Hultman, 2014).

The potential reason for the lack of sustained engagement with this topic is the somewhat unimaginable association of the far right with environmental activism, which has roots that predate traditional eco-fascism (see Bruggemeier et al., 2005). In fact, the content of today’s far-right ideological stance on this issue stems from nineteenth-century writings on the environment, predominantly the völkisch and ethnonationalist traditions that contributed to the coinage of the eco-fascist ‘Blood and Soil’ concept (Bramwell, 1985). The ‘patriotic duty’ to protect local and national environments may easily bear resemblance to the convergence of naturalism, organicism, and authoritarianism (Olsen, 1999), which are vivid in fascist ideals of national rebirth (Griffin, 1991). Moreover, organic farming has had its tributaries among the fascists and Nazis across Europe (for Germany, see Bramwell, 1985, for the UK, see Coupland, 2017, or for Hungary, Lubarda, 2020). Thus, aligning nativist, anti-immigrant sentiments with eugenic policies has certainly not been immanent only to the extreme right: occasionally, such links can be found amongst deep ecologists as well (see Staudenmeier, 2011).

Although eco-fascism has long been considered the most suitable term to describe cases of pro-green, far-right actors, it falls short of capturing the complex ideological content of the far right regarding the environment, which is derived from a variety of right-wing ideologies (such as conservatism, nationalism, and right-wing populism). For instance, the profound and abstract connection of nationalism and space (Smith, 1991) has led to an appreciation of the local environment, through conservative tropes of responsibility for and love of the home, termed oikophilia (Scruton, 2012). Moreover, the landscape has provided ample material for cultural mediation and reproduction in nationalism, ultimately leading to depictions of authentic, national environments as self-sustaining ecosystems (Sorlin, 1999; Forchtner and Kolvraa, 2015). The endorsement of localism, as opposed to abstract ‘globalist’ positions, have prompted some authors to imagine ecological forms of nationalism as potentially progressive and desirable (Gare, 1995; Dawson, 1996). Likewise, Barcena, Ibarra, and Zubiaga (1997: 302) argued that nationalism and environmentalism overlap in their defence of the local and particular.

However, the inwards-oriented mysticism associated with these outlooks can also lead to nativist sentiments epitomised in the perceived threat of foreign races and cultures under the banner of “preserving the ecosystem” from “foreign or invasive” species (Olwig, 2003: 61). This naturalist logic of purity lends itself to existing criticisms of human migration. The desire for order and stability, for clear (even if symbolic) boundaries, has been at the core of the vision of “polluting outsiders” (Lubarda, 2017), pointing to how environmental nativism may unfold (see Forchtner, 2019a).

From the anthropocentric ‘oikophilia’ to the populist struggle against “environmental elites” (Szasz, 1996), the far right’s ideological morphology tailored to the environment requires a more comprehensive analytical framework. Simply calling these incursions ‘eco-fascist’ is insufficient and fails to account for the multifarious (and yet distinctive) ideological views of how perceptions of the environment inform the far-right worldview. The notion of ‘Far-Right Ecologism’ (FRE) incorporates the broader right-wing spectrum in its ideological morphology (see Lubarda, 2020). The core concepts of this ideology revolve around binary, Manichean distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ (good nationalists vs. ‘evil’ capitalists/liberals), naturalism (viewing nature as a blueprint for social order), and organicism (the notion of nation, culture, and nature in a holistic union as a single organism). These elements are indispensable, and thus present in all possible variations and instances of FRE. Relevant adjacent and peripheral concepts to this conceptual core are nostalgia (for example, calls for a return or a ‘rebirth’ of the imagined ecological polity of the past by fostering ‘traditional’ practices such as family farming), autarky, mysticism and spirituality (from the polytheism or paganism of the eco-fascists, to Christian ecologists’ view of nature as God’s gift), and authority (survivalism or decentralisation through a ‘family of families’). These elements may constitute FRE as an ideal type, a heuristic device that enables the identification of distinctive features of the far-right groups under scrutiny below.

The data used in this chapter originates from fieldwork conducted in Poland between November 2018 and September 2019. The corpus consists of participant observation notes and eight qualitative, semi-structured interviews with representatives of far-right organisations (Ecolektyw, Puszczyk, Praca Polska), as well as social media posts and media items posted on Polish online portals related to the environmental activism of these organisations, or their cooperation therein. As FRE is envisaged as a loose analytical framework that helps the coding process, the analysis will also reflect on the interactions of activists with the topics they are focused on, as well as other relevant actors in the process.

Ecolektyw and Puszczyk: The ‘Other’ Type of Grassroots Organising

Ecolektyw is an informal, self-proclaimed eco-nationalist organisation operating in Poland. It originated in 2016, from Greenline Front Polska, the Polish chapter of an international eco-fascist movement formed by a group of Ukrainian nationalists. Greenline Front was established as a loose, leaderless, and ‘memberless’ organisation, founded by “national-conscious people, who reject the system of modern anthropocentric values and its procreations, such as capitalism and monotheistic religions” (Ecolektyw, Facebook, 15 May 2018). In addition to these spiritual underpinnings, the organisation uses the slogan ‘blood-soil-nature’, coupled with esoteric mysticism of völkisch nationalism. The logo of Ecolektyw is emblematic of FRE’s appropriation of the runic alphabet, characteristic of identitarian and neo-Nazi movements. The ‘Life Rune’ (Algis or Elhaz) is the central part of the logo, and originates from early Germanic and Nordic alphabets, which were later associated with the Nazis (in particular, the SS’s Lebensborn project), but has also appeared in diverse neo-pagan and occult movements around the world (see Dahmer, 2019).

The materials posted on the ‘official’ blog of the Greenline Front caution against “harmful racial policies” that posit a danger to the imagined equilibrium of nature and human beings (Greenline Front Blog, 2019). The blog also comprises quotes from deep-ecologists such as Pentti Linkola, denoting democracy as the “religion of death” (Linkola, 2019), but also some less controversial conceptual connections such as that of Leonardo da Vinci’s ethical vegetarianism. In the self-acclaimed “revolt against the modern world”, Greenline Front evokes the tenets of the völkisch lebensreform (life-reform) movement, such as a back-to-nature lifestyle, organic production, but also underlying asketism and Manicheanism. Within this cosmology, the fundamental aim of Greenline Front (and later, Ecolektyw) was to combat the capitalist vision of a “stateless person who wants us all reduced to consuming larvae” (Greenline Front, 2018). Although the Greenline Front had relative success in its first year, the movement has slowly died out since, with the majority of its influential informal leaders hampered by a combination of personal problems, the pressure of authorities and the media.

After a brief period of inactivity, in May 2018 Greenline Front Polska changed its name to Ecolektyw (ecological collective), which in the words of one of its founders, aimed to “establish a new trajectory and form of organising as compared to strictly nationalist Greenline Front tenets” (Interview with Rex, 15 June 2019). This alleged move away from established nationalist, far-right tenets was primarily induced by the lack of interest of the Polish Autonomous Nationalists (who constituted the majority of this movement), as well as organisational obstacles caused by the Greenline Front’s previous ideological standpoints.

Unlike Ecolektyw’s (openly) eco-fascist foundations, Praca Polska (Poland Works) and Puszczyk (in English, tawny owl)—Naturokultura Polska are the offspring of attempts to reconceptualise the connection between Polish nationalism and ecological thought.2 The former was established in 2018, with an aim to deal with the issues of social justice, ‘blue collar’ and female workers. This essentially ‘left’ dimension of Polish nationalism (also present in other contemporary eastern European far-right groups) has a notably different image from previous militant, falanga-style marches in black or green shirts (ONR and Autonomous Nationalists as cases in point). It addresses issues associated with neoliberal capitalism as fundamentally problematic and aims to contextualise the multi-faceted nature of problems instead of resorting merely to the revival of a long-lost and supposedly acclaimed past. Puszczyk was an environment-focused offspring of cooperation between female members of Praca Polska and ONR, aiming to bring together nationalists and environmentalists as an educational link on the imaginary modernist border between “nature and culture” (Puszczyk, 2020). The organisation did not have its formal membership, as most of its activities were organised by the female co-leaders. Since its followers were also a part of other far-right organisations, its relevance should be evaluated through its personal networks rather than the link itself. Its eclectic nature brought Puszczyk severe organisational hardships, and its webpage is now almost defunct or promoting the activities of Praca Polska. With these continuous rearrangements in mind, the environmental activism of these organisations rests on the continued articulation of their ideological tenets. Thus, the chapter will now explore the ideological attempts of the far right to ‘reclaim’ ecologism.

Environmental Manicheanism: Ecolektyw and Puszczyk’s FRE

Within the Manichean, binary vision of FRE, the ideal proponent of such an ideology claims to distinguish acceptable practices from unacceptable practices, friends from foes, ‘us’ from ‘others’. Hence, Ecolektyw attempts to represent environmental issues that are distinct to Poland. Jettisoning the consumerist mindset, partly based on neo-Malthusian critiques of overproduction and overpopulation, the representatives of movements under scrutiny jointly disdain “pop-environmentalism: conducting activities with a solely promotional, PR-purpose” (Interview with Maria, Puszczyk and Praca Polska, 7 September 2019, and Stella, Ecolektyw, 2018). To them, the popularisation of environmental concern is a by-product of the “world of excess”, as Maria frames it, the condition of today’s times incurred by the “consumerist logic of neo-liberal capitalism disparaging natural, ecological communities: the nations”. In a similar vein, environmental organisations with global outreach, such as Greenpeace and WWF, are referred to as “money-making corporates” (Kamil, 2019), lacking genuine interest in local struggles. ‘Struggle’ is a deliberate word-choice here and a point of departure from ‘left’ grassroots organisations, which becomes paramount through the neo-Spenglerian and somewhat mystic outlook on Manichaeism:

We declare war on the modern world, and on the laws it tries to impose on us, we will consistently do everything to win this war and help people wake up from a deadly dream.
Let the storm begin, which will bring us the desired victory! Let it bring us the death of the modern world! (Ecolektyw’s Facebook page, 2018)

Within this Manichean imaginary, far-right ecologists point to several actors responsible for environmental destruction. Other than the usual culprits (e.g. ‘liberals’ and ‘leftists’), far-right ecologist movements, somewhat unexpectedly, blame the leniency of the Catholic Church for the devastation of the natural environment in Poland:

There is an ideological problem with Polish Catholicism and the environment—the sheer anthropocentrism, with everything being subordinated to humans including animals […] so in small cities, where the influence of churches is very big and possibly harmful for these places […], these human-centred teachings of the church can be problematic for protecting the environment at the moment at the local level (Agata, 2019)

Apart from the issue with the anthropocentric nature of the Church’s teachings, such stances are congruent with the alt-right and national anarchist discontent with the hierarchy of clerics. However, the criticisms of Ecolektyw, Praca Polska, and Puszczyk also point towards their own ranks. Therefore, nationalists (this term is used in self-ascriptions) are perceived as “lethargic”, “uninterested”, and “wrongly adamant”:

A lot of nationalists still don’t realise the importance of this subject. Nationalists associate ecology with LGBT and similar types of stuff because of the activism of these green NGOs and parties. So, they don’t want to engage with the topic, which is wrong […] in nationalist organisations, people who try to talk about the environment, global warming and similar types of topics are laughed at (Małgorzata, 2019).

Another part of these criticisms is aimed at the so-called “salon nationalists” (Zsofia, 2019), quasi-elitist representatives of political parties who disregard the relevance of environmental issues, allegedly giving the topic away to leftists and liberals. Logically, most of these criticisms point to the ruling, right-wing populist PiS, but also the far-right parties in opposition, such as Ruch Narodowy and partly the All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska), who openly dispute scientific findings regarding climate change, and endorse hunting.

So, what exactly is at the core of this applied Far-Right Ecologism? Admittedly, the young leadership of Ecolektyw departs from the mysticism of deep ecology (most notably Linkola), identified as problematic by the social ecology scholarship (Biehl, 1989). Apart from the critique of the Catholic Church, the undeniable spiritualism of these movements is based on the appreciation of the esoteric and authentic values of the natural environment. This appreciation is derived from an assumed place-based identity associated with an imagined, national community. However, this appreciation of the local serves as the foundation of grassroots activism. The following passage from Rex, one of the leaders of Ecolektyw, explains how this place-based identity melds his engagement with these topics. It also addresses why Ecolektyw insists on activities entirely conducted and led by activists from the area immediately affected by a particular environmental issue. In his attempt to disassociate himself from Hitler, Rex nevertheless embraces the völkisch, ethnonationalist teachings appropriated by the Nazi party. This explains the ‘blood-and-soil’, naturalist-organicist imaginary that informs this type of activism, simultaneously disassociating itself with the Nazi regime.

I appreciate the Völkisch tradition not because of Hitler—I did not live in Hitler’s time, and Hitler does not live in my time. No, I like the Völkisch tradition because I believe in the connection between the nation and the land. Not in the esoteric and magical, mystical sense, but this I derive from my own childhood. I was born in a small city, where there were lots of forests and lakes. My family owned land, they were farmers, and apart from living with cows, I realised how dangerous and severely polluted local rivers became because of profit-seeking individuals and companies, endangering not only our farm but the very idyllic landscape of my childhood. (Rex, Ecolektyw, 2019)

This ideological resentment against extractivism and capitalism based on personal experience also sets the ground for topical, issue-based positions of FRE. Unlike the majority of far-right organisations in Poland (including the far-right in western Europe), my respondents are not climate denialists. They tend to be generally supportive of nuclear power as an alternative to coal, which is the primary source of power energy produced in Poland and is considered “black gold” (Czarne złoto), typically an important element of national pride (Bridge and Kuchler, 2018: 136).

FRE in Practice: Place-Based Identity as the Common Denominator of the Far-Right and Environmentalists

The use of war-like metaphors paired with mysticism immanent to “right-wing hippies” (Staudenmeier, 1995), such as a spiritual ritual of lighting fire with the symbols of the runic alphabet (as presented on Ecolektyw’s Instagram page, 14 February 2020) did not gain substantial attention from the far-right public. After failing to obtain consistent support from the far-right supporters, the leaders of Ecolektyw recently indicated an intention to pivot their strategies and collaborate with non-nationalist organisations and movements through an endorsement of ‘nationalist’ localism.

I want to make more regional activities. I want to change Szczecin. I feel Szczecin is my second home, so it is important to me that I am not only a Polish man, I am not only a white man, I am not only a European, but […] I am a person that bears the original culture from the region, the history of Gryf, the specificities of our regional identity […] I don’t want Ecolektyw to be all about nationalism, I want the left and the apolitical to be with us. Ecolektyw should be more like a hashtag, an idea that brings people together. If some people go to the forest and clean it, or go hiking, take a selfie and put a hashtag #ecolektyw, inviting other people to go, I would be happy. (Rex, Ecolektyw, 2019)

In their discursive transition to ‘thoughtfulness’ instead of ‘emotion’, as proclaimed on their Facebook page, the ‘rejuvenated’ Ecolektyw has attempted to mediate the Manichean naturalism and organicism with topical, small-scale initiatives in which the ‘political’ background of their announcers become obfuscated and virtually irrelevant. This image was also bolstered by ecological workshops for youth that are allegedly today the long-term strategy of Puszczyk’s leaders.

However, the most important step towards broader popularity for these movements was to disassociate (or at least, to make less apparent) the links between their activism and far-right views. While this was not an immense problem for Puszczyk or Praca Polska, two relatively new organisations, casting away the ‘fascist’ label for Ecolektyw proved laborious. Stranded with the ‘eco-fascist’ branding as a result of its former association with Greenline Front, the still (relatively) young leadership of Ecolektyw decided to rebrand the organisation by avoiding explicit reference to nationalism. This, however, did not influence the types of activities Ecolektyw organised and participated in, as the leaders of these organisations continued to partake in small-scale activities to do with local ownership and autarky as individuals (e.g. protesting illegal trash heaps or collecting waste). As they indicated, first-hand experience with air pollution or wastewater and the effort needed to address these issues prompts patriotic feelings of care for one’s immediate surroundings. Within this logic, nationalists are more invested in grassroots activism through frames of responsibility, and “those who are not Poles, not even locals, will never feel the space as theirs” (interview with Agata, 2019). This symbolic marker between ‘us/good’ and ‘them/evil’ serves as a catalyst, the drive behind ecological actions. These point to how localised affections can be articulated through nationalism to determine those who ‘belong’ to particular environments.

In strengthening this local-national imaginary, connection with rural communities has proved to be somewhat problematic. This became clear through the issue of animal welfare: the mostly urban membership of Ecolektyw and Puszczyk attempted to convince rural communities to exclude their plots of land from ‘hunting-friendly’ zones. Since the members of these communities generally endorsed hunting as an indispensable part of land management, this caused numerous problems for urban-based, far-right organisations. However, this did not prevent Puszczyk’s leadership from establishing partnerships with other, non-nationalist, urban grassroots organisations. For instance, Psia Ekipa (Dogs’ Team, Together for Animals), a local organisation from Bielsko-Biała (in southern Poland), gathered signatures for the construction of animal shelters and helped animals find new homes. Puszczyk members also cooperated on the same topic with Mysikrólik, a rehabilitation centre for wild animals, led by a group of veterinary physicians and ornithologists, or urban initiatives such as Bielszczanie dla Drzew (Bialans for trees), a bottom-up, citizen-led initiative against the shrinking of green areas in the city. This is similar to the initiative in Białystok, Miasto Mieszkańców (City of Residents), led by Bogusław Koniuch, a former leader of the now-defunct far-right Narodowe Odrozenie Polski (National Rebirth of Poland, NOP), currently a member of the Białystok city council. Koniuch also actively collaborates with Ecolektyw, and has a proven record of environmental activism, although mostly at the local level of Białystok, including the protection of forests in the wider area of the city (such as the ‘ecological picnic in defence of the Turczyński Forest’, Koniuch, 2020), including anti-smog protests and moves to preserve urban greenery.

Once again, none of these initiatives or organisations mentioned above originally had nationalist credentials, and most of their members are in fact supporters of opposition parties with liberal or left-leaning ideological grounds. Although some of them were unaware of the ideological background of Ecolektyw, Praca Polska or Puszczyk, and their informal leaders, most of the activists showed indifference towards the worldviews of their collaborators once they were made aware. The involvement of far-right individuals has not significantly changed the ideological profile of local movements, as they continue to remain loose and topic-based initiatives. Thus, much as the examples mentioned in the last paragraph may seem atomised or disjointed, they point to fissures and ‘blurry lines’ within a seemingly ideologically homogenous environmental movement in Poland, bringing eclectic and mutually distant worldviews on board.

Valuing place-based identities is not a prerogative of the Left, particularly not in eastern European contexts in which nationalism has generally been an important factor in melding agency. Subscribing to far-right ideology does not prevent one from caring for the (local) environment, quite the contrary. Constitutive concepts of FRE, such as nostalgia, are present in other, ‘non-right’ ecologisms, which enable (former) far-right members to jump on the bandwagon of environmental issues, particularly if they are of a more ‘local’ nature, or can be presented as a form of empowering self-organisation against environmentally-harmful investments and decisions (for similar examples, see Snajdr, 2008 on the case of ochranarstvo in Slovakia).

Although there is tacit support between members, there has been no official cooperation between Ecolektyw, Praca Polska, and Puszczyk. This is partly due to the nature of these organisations, which resemble a rather loose network of nationalists with dedicated informal leaders sharing interests in environmental issues. Members of these groups share the mobilisation networks of Autonomous Nationalists, but also of ONR and formerly NOP: they acquire their ideological positions, iconography, and eventual activism from established far-right networks. In fact, their diffuse and decentralised nature, paired with the transition and collaboration of a range of environmentalist organisations, has severely impacted these far-right collectives. As of 2020, only Praca Polska continues to be active, with Ecolektyw and Puszczyk temporarily defunct. According to the leaders of these groups, such hardships were not caused by their collaboration with environmentalist organisations, but rather with the lack of motivation amongst their wider membership. It is the leaders of these groups, who continue to engage in environmental activism beyond their far-right organisations, that point to how FRE may become integrated and even represented within a broader environmental movement that attempts to resist detrimental environmental practices and policies.

Conclusion

This chapter has explored how an appreciation of the local environment paired with the intention to radically change the current modus vivendi of the Anthropocene have enabled the far-right to develop and offer an authentic ideological account of Far-Right Ecologism, reinterpreting and moving beyond eco-fascism. One should not query the sincerity of these outlooks or the discontent of their young leaders (even if attributed to a rebellious, youthful mentality) with the local and national authorities’ approach to the environment. This is particularly important in the volatile and competitive far-right landscape, as Poland is not the only eastern European case with competing far-right parties and movements. The competitiveness and continuous struggle for membership and ‘survival’ in these circumstances drives the propensity of smaller far-right movements towards direct action and grassroots organising. Through the use of an ‘oppositional framing’, movements such as Ecolektyw appropriate Manichean binaries that distinguish between good and evil to communicate urgency and call for immediate action. Moreover, elements of FRE articulated through the outlooks of my respondents, such as nostalgia, organicist holism, and even mysticism associated with nature, are easily tempered under the label of ‘environmentalism’.

Since the far right does not exist in a self-sufficient bubble, the movements under scrutiny concentrate on the arenas and interactions that enable them to generate and sustain various forms of resistance. In eastern Europe, far-right groups engaging in grassroots activism with various purposes (such as Praca Polska) have been impactful in gathering support of the wider community and accruing membership by accentuating the post-socialist experience of material and cultural dispossession (Kalb, 2005: 1). While this allows such ideas to become mainstream and/or co-opted by emerging right-wing elites, the ecologism of the far-right continues to be popularly denoted as eco-fascism, a socially outcast notion with unacceptable moral tenets. However, the incorporation of potentially problematic worldviews (naturalism, Manichaeism, and organicism), through claims to local ownership, into environmental issues, lobbying and bottom-up approaches, enables the proponents of FRE to be heard within local environmentalist networks, as the case of Psia Ekipa, an organisation with non-nationalist leadership (but some far-right membership) has shown. Thus, by reframing the debate around multifaceted notions of ‘localism’ and nativism, far-right ecologists have permeated local environmental networks.

This interaction irrevocably changes the ideological profiles and identities of those involved in the environmentalist assemblage. In order to cast away the eco-fascist label, the nationalist profile of some of these organisations (most notably, Ecolektyw) became assuaged and virtually invisible. Consequently, these ideological shifts and incongruities, paired with their decentralised organisation and lack of a clear operational agenda, led Ecolektyw and Puszczyk to become temporarily defunct, with its leaders either continuing their activism in far-right movements or focussing on their personal careers. Although attributing this exclusively to their interactions with external actors would be difficult, dropping the nationalist credentials along the transitional period has certainly contributed to their demise. Nevertheless, by engaging with (and co-constructing) these networks, the leaders of these organisations did not cease to be far-right nationalists. Moreover, being a far-right nationalist did not stop them from being environmentalists, nor did it undermine the motivation for integrating their worldviews into those of environmental activists.

Simultaneously, amid its initial defence, the environmental movements have, even if timidly, brought these actors on board through ‘topical’ collaborations, such as issues of animal welfare or deforestation. Ignoring the existence of this ethical dilemma on behalf of local activists renders the normalisation of far-right individuals and organisations conducive to a reassembling and strengthening of grassroots environmentalism. This attempt at normative broadening, which was achieved through the expansion of who counts as an ‘acceptable’ actor within mainstream environmentalism, points to the interactions occurring as a consequence of environmental issues and causes reflecting deep social fissures. That ‘empowerment of the under-privileged’ can also be co-owned by the far right signals the blurred lines of the normative component in politics and the environmentalist ‘umbrella’, but also of bottom-up projects against both the status quo and various forms of exclusion. Therefore, instead of spreading moral panic to fend off FRE by using the exact Manichaeism of the far right, perhaps it is time to embrace the ideological heterogeneity and contingency of environmentalism, and to re-orientate our attention towards the sources of discontent that introduce the ‘extreme’ within local networks for a more careful framing of grassroots activism and its goals.

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1 This can partly be attributed to problematic definitional properties of the far right, which is itself a contested term, overhauled by ambiguities and malleable features. I will here employ the term ‘far right’ instead of some other catchall terms used by scholars, such as the radical right, extreme right, hard right, right-wing populism, radical nationalism, neofascism, etc. Far right is the broadest of these terms, as it comprises the extreme right (neo-Nazis and other groups openly aiming to overthrow the democratic system) and the radical right (still operating within the boundaries of liberal democratic political systems).

2 This nexus has been recognised by other far-right organisations, such as the All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska), which proclaimed the pioneer of nature conservationism in Poland, Jan-Gwalbert Pawlikowski (1891–1962), as their ‘patron’ for the year 2019.

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