Bitcoin

Europe’s right-wing political groups find cause in crypto

The European crypto scene has gained significant traction over the past few years, with a surge in the interest in and adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. While the crypto industry is often associated with decentralization, innovation and financial freedom, it is not immune to various political ideologies and influences, and right-wing movements are no exception.

The attraction of cryptocurrencies for right-wing politicians in Europe can stem from several factors. Right-wing ideologies often prioritize individual freedoms and limited government intervention. Cryptocurrencies, with their decentralized nature, offer the potential for financial sovereignty by allowing individuals to have control over their money without relying on traditional financial systems or government regulations.

Right-wing politicians also may perceive cryptocurrencies as a way to challenge the existing financial establishment and its perceived biases or control. Bitcoin (BTC), in particular, emerged after the 2008 financial crisis, a crisis that led many to lose trust in traditional financial institutions and governmental monetary policies.

In addition, many became concerned about central banks and their influence on monetary policy, and Bitcoin’s decentralized nature appealed to those who advocate alternative monetary systems outside of central bank control.

Bitcoin as an “alternative for Germany”

For example, a German exit from the euro and a return to the Deutschmark (the country’s former currency) is a well-known demand of the right-wing populist political party Alternative for Germany (AfD). Although there is no official or clear strategy within the anti-euro party regarding cryptocurrencies, some members have clearly expressed their positive attitude toward Bitcoin.

For instance, AfD leader Alice Weidel has attended several Bitcoin conferences, called herself a “Bitcoin entrepreneur” and wanted to launch a Bitcoin startup. Even Aaron Koenig, a German entrepreneur and the founder of the brick-and-mortar crypto exchange Bitcoin Exchange Berlin, was on the stage with Weidel, and both presented their view of “money without a state.”

The AfD’s prioritization of crypto is also evident in its behavior in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. On several occasions, the AfD has submitted “Kleine Anfragen” (literally, “small requests”) to the government. This instrument of parliamentary procedure requires an official response from the Bundestag and is often a way for opposition parties to demand accountability for specific actions or inquire as to why other measures were not taken.

For instance, the party asked a “small question” about crypto donations for Ukraine, how a cryptocurrency could replace the previous currency, what effects this would have on the banking system, and how much Bitcoin German federal authorities own. AfD also opposed a proposed Bitcoin ban during discussions among European lawmakers last year.

The concept of cryptocurrency is, in some places, being linked to the right-wing — and, in part, radical — positions of the AfD.

For years, some experts, such as David Golumbia — a digital studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who researches the politics of cryptocurrency — have warned that blockchain could be hijacked by right-wing and libertarian groups.

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In Golumbia’s view, blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies could be the realization of their vision of a world without government control. As a former member of the Hayek Society, Weidel belongs to the radical economic liberal wing of her party. The Hayek Society is named after Austrian economist Friedrich August von Hayek, who was an advocate of an unfettered market with as little government intervention as possible.

Support for crypto among Europe’s right-wing parties

It’s not only German right-wing politicians who have voiced interest in Bitcoin and blockchain technology as potential disruptors of traditional financial systems, with the leaders of the Dutch right-wing parties Party for Freedom (PVV) and Forum for Democracy (FvD) — Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet, respectively — also speaking positively on the subject.

Baudet even wants to make the Netherlands a Bitcoin hub and released two NFT series on the theme of his fight against World Economic Forum founder and CEO Klaus Schwab. Baudet is a fierce critic of the WEF, which he believes is leading the world in the wrong direction and causing serious threats to individual freedom.

Polish politician Jaroslaw Gowin and his center-right party, Agreement — formerly known as Poland Together — were part of the ruling United Right coalition from 2015 to 2021. For most of that period, Gowin served as deputy prime minister, as well as being a member of parliament. 

When Gowin was the leader of the Agreement party, he expressed a positive attitude toward cryptocurrencies, acknowledging their potential to promote financial innovation. The politician also consulted with many people from the industry about cryptocurrencies and blockchain. For example, the party held a meeting where Prime Minister Gowin listened to the recommendations of industry experts, including economist Krzysztof Piech and Filip Pawczynski, president of the Polish Bitcoin Association.

Nigel Farage, a prominent figure in British politics and former leader of the right-wing pro-Brexit UK Independence Party, has also shown interest in cryptocurrencies.

In a 2022 interview with Cointelegraph, Farage — also a former member of the European Parliament — said he first became aware of Bitcoin 10 years ago and shared his perspective on the potential future of Bitcoin adoption in Europe: “What happens in America first happens here [in Europe], too. There’s going to be a very, very big change here over the next two or three years, and it [Bitcoin] will become a trusted means of exchange.”

Farage also believes that Bitcoin has gained appeal as an alternative to the existing financial infrastructure, noting the latter’s inefficiency, high costs and slow speeds.

Other right-wing politicians haven’t made specific statements about cryptocurrencies but are still taking steps to embrace digital currencies. Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary and leader of the right-wing Fidesz party, and his government are currently considering the potential benefits of launching a central bank digital currency. Hungary also appears to be warming up to crypto across the board, with the government revealing plans in 2021 to cut taxes on crypto trading from 30.5% to 15% as part of an economic recovery program.

Right-wing extremists rely on crypto payments

Not only have right-wing politicians discovered cryptocurrencies, but right-wing extremist movements have also been utilizing crypto. In 2022, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) published a report on the massive increase in the use of crypto payments by right-wing extremist groups in recent years.

Crypto payments are not a new tool for ultranationalists and European extremist groups proclaiming the superiority of the “white race” and advocating for a “white” Europe and North America. In fact, they are among the early adopters of the technology, accepting BTC donations as early as 2012, according to the MEMRI.

The United States-based Southern Poverty Law Center has further compiled a list of extremist groups accepting crypto donations.

Ultranationalist and extremist groups are actively using cryptocurrencies not only for reasons of convenience and ideology — and because they are being shut out of traditional and mainstream online banking systems — but also because funds held in crypto cannot be accessed or seized by anyone.

So, is crypto a right-wing movement, then?

Does this all mean that crypto in Europe is a right-wing thing? Not really.

While crypto itself is not inherently Right or Left, it is not without ideology, nor is it completely free of political positions — even if its political relations are indirect. Politicians can like it or hate it, regardless of their political persuasion, and support for cryptocurrencies among politicians is not limited to those leaning toward the Right. For example, the German liberal, pro-free market Free Democratic Party also advocates for a friendly policy toward cryptocurrencies.

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While the European crypto scene is not inherently right-wing, there are notable instances of right-wing influence within the community, according to the MEMRI report, which also states that it is crucial to address these concerns by fostering education, implementing regulations and ensuring that the crypto space remains inclusive, transparent and aligned with democratic principles.

MEMRI further stated that social media platforms and online communities need to take proactive steps to curb hate speech, misinformation and extremist content, while also promoting healthy, constructive dialogue.

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