Elon Musk has been nominated by the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) political group in the European Parliament for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, awarded annually, and described by the parliament as “the highest tribute paid by the EU to human rights work.”
Musk has himself sought, somewhat admirably, to position himself as a champion of free speech, but has been on the receiving end of criticism for permitting increased anti-Semitic rhetoric and other hate speech on X, formerly known as Twitter.
He also has courted controversy for allowing former U.S. president Donald Trump and other populist figures adored by the far-right back onto the platform, something that most journalists – excepting those on the far-left – would support. Freedom of speech must surely be universal if it is to exist at all.
Musk has however recently become popular in Russia, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed him as an “outstanding person” after he refused a Ukrainian request last year to activate his Starlink satellite communication network in the Russian-annexed Crimean port city of Sevastopol to aid an attack on Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, stated that by not allowing Ukrainian drones to attack the Russian fleet with Starlink assistance Musk “allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities. As a result, civilians, children are being killed. This is the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego.”
Podolyak has previously criticised Musk: in February, he wrote, “A year of Ukrainian resistance & companies have to decide: either they are on the side of Ukraine and the right to freedom… or they are on Russia’s side & its ‘right’ to kill & seize territories.”
By Their Friends Ye Shall Know Them?
The ID group in the European Parliament, which has nominated Musk for the highly prestigious Sakharov Prize – although it is not known if the group sought his permission for their nomination – comprises a number of political parties that have benefited politically or financially from their relationships with the Kremlin.
On September 21st, it is reported, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National announced that it had paid off a debt of €6,088,784 million to a somewhat shady Russian bank, First Czech-Russian Bank, or rather to a Russian aerospace company, Aviazapchast, run by ex-military personnel close to the army’s secret service, that had taken over the loan.
“The Act provides for penalties on foreign entities and individuals for the transfer to or acquisition from Iran since January 1, 1999; the transfer to or acquisition from Syria since January 1, 2005; or the transfer to or acquisition from North Korea since January 1, 2006, of goods, services, or technology controlled under multilateral control lists (Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, Chemical Weapons Convention, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Wassenaar Arrangement) or otherwise having the potential to make a material contribution to the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or cruise or ballistic missile systems”. – Extract from the Federal Register, November 25, 2020.
Whilst Marine Le Pen denied that the €9.4 million Russian loan influenced her politics in any way, the broker in the deal was Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, then a Member of the European Parliament.
Schaffhauser, who reportedly received a commission of €140,000 on the deal, was to become well known in the Brussels press corps for ranting against EU sanctions against Russia.
Another ID group member to oppose EU sanctions against Russia is Italy’s League (formerly Lega Nord.) Speculation of Russian funding – strongly denied by Matteo Salvini, former MEP and now Deputy Prime Minister of Italy – remains rife.
Although no evidence of such funding for his party has ever been presented, Salvini has faced calls for him to resign from his position as leader of the League following a Russian funded “peace mission” to Moscow in May 2022.
Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) which also sits in the ID group, has opposed the transfer of tanks and other war equipment to Ukraine.
The party is known to harbour vocal apologists for Putin’s Russia: “(Ukrik) Oehme is among the most hardcore of the AfD’s Putin apologists. A few months after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, he, (Eugen) Schmidt and other politicians with the far-right party founded the Association for the Defense Against Discrimination and the Exclusion of Russian Germans and Russian-Speaking Fellow Citizens in Germany (VADAR). He opposes allegedly widespread “Russophobia” in Germany and denies Moscow’s war atrocities on Telegram,” –Der Spiegel (04 Aug 2023)
In August of this year it was reported that AfD filed a lawsuit against arms deliveries to Ukraine at the instruction of the Kremlin and with Russian cash.
In the aftermath of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ), which sits in the ID group, took to the streets. “Peace with Russia,” read the banners.
Z, the symbol of Russia’s invasion forces, and hardly a symbol of peace, was widely displayed. Of course, in this context, “peace with Russia” means “surrender to Russia.”
The Vienna-based magazine Profil has suggested that FPO has taken money for tabling a pro-Russian motion in the Austria’s National Council.
It has also been reported that the FPÖ has tabled a total 30 pro-Russia motions since the start of the Ukraine war.
The Czech Svoboda a Prima Demokracie (Freedom and Direct Democracy), another ID member that opposes sanctions against Russia, is led by Tomio Okamura, another advocate of peace. “The way to peace in Europe goes through cooperation with Russia, not confrontation,” he has said.
He has defended Russia by claiming that NATO was arming itself against Russia, standing on Russian borders and exerting pressure on the country. According to Okamura, in this situation nobody should fail to understand that Russia is defending its positions.
According to Political Capital, “he perceives the ongoing situation in Ukraine as a civil war between separatists (with the support of volunteers from, for instance, the Czech Republic and Russia) protecting their homes, families and country on one side and the Ukrainian government’s professional army attacking civilians and trying to conquer a region that does not even historically belong to Ukraine on the other.”
Tomio Okamura opposes NATO and supports Russia. “The way to peace in Europe goes through cooperation with Russia, not confrontation”.
“These pro-Kremlin resources are doing a simple job. They are just repeating Russian official propaganda. Also they want to destabilise Czech society, to put fear into society, to divide society and to motivate society to fight against our government, to fight against NATO and the EU.
“They are saying, Russia is our only saviour, with conservative values and with a strong leader. They say, If we will be part of Russia or part of the Russian space, it will be better for us.
“The two biggest pro-Kremlin parties are the Communist Party and – I call them ‘commercial nationalists’ – Tomio Okamura’s party, Freedom and Direct Democracy,” – Roman Máca.
Vlaams Belang, the Flemish nationalist party, has sent representatives on election monitoring missions and in 2015 members visited the Russian state Duma. There is no suggestion of Russian funding.
Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party), is led by Morten Messerschmidt, a former ally of Nigel Farage in the European Parliament, and famous for allegedly singing Nazi songs and engaging in Nazi salutes in a restaurant on Hitler’s birthday, a charge he successfully defended himself against after having been forced to resign as an MP.
On the Russian invasion of Ukraine he says: “Russia is threatening Europe’s freedom – NATO is the answer”. He further stated that: “If someone ever doubted where the Danish People’s Party stands on Russia and on Putin, let me put it boldly here: We stand with the Western defence NATO-alliance to protect and secure the Western freedom values and ideals [including] in all countries right to go their own way and make their alliances.”
There is no suggestion of Russian funding.
Eesti Konservatiivne Rahvaerakond (Conservative People’s Party of Estonia) also sits in the ID group. It is known for its anti-Russia rhetoric. It is highly unlikely that Russian funding would be offered.
Musk has often claimed to champion free speech, and has received much praise for broadening the scope of what is acceptable on X, a refreshing blast of fresh air in an increasingly woke environment. Freedom of speech is a basic human right, and his activities would certainly justify his nomination.
He must surely, however, be careful as to who is riding on his coat-tails.
The winner of the Sakharov Prize will be announced in October and the award ceremony will take place during the December plenary sitting in Strasbourg.