French Connection: ‘Humanitarian’ Far-Right Claims Kosovo as Cautionary Tale

Arnaud Gouillon during the awarding of passports and citizenship of the Republic of Serbia in 2015. Photo: CC-BY-SA-3.0-RS,

French Connection: ‘Humanitarian’ Far-Right Claims Kosovo as Cautionary Tale

16. February 2022.14:20
16. February 2022.14:20
Figures on the French far-right and groups such as Solidarité Kosovo are pushing a revisionist version of what went on in Kosovo to further an anti-immigration agenda, and it’s become part of France’s presidential election.

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The humanitarian convoy was one of dozens organised by the French NGO Solidarité Kosovo over the past roughly 15 years, bringing aid collected in France to the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo, a majority-Albanian former province of Serbia independent since 2008.

The intention appears noble. But Solidarité’s humanitarianism only travels so far.

Its roots, in fact, lie in the French far-right, a movement that has seized on the case of Kosovo – where many Albanians identify as Muslim – as a propaganda tool to rally opinion against multiculturalism and Muslim immigration.

Today, Solidarité counts connections spanning from the global far-right youth movement Generation Identity to the anti-immigration National Rally party of French presidential contender Marine Le Pen, and all the way to the corridors of the Serbian foreign ministry.

Indeed, its founder, a naturalised Serbian citizen and convert to Orthodox Christianity called Arnaud Gouillon, now heads the foreign ministry’s directorate for cooperation with Serbs outside Serbia, a body that has paid out roughly 40,000 euros to Serbian associations in France over the past three years. The payouts to two such groups – the ‘Union of Serbs of France’ and ‘All Serbs in Paris’ – have grown since Gouillon took over in late 2020, from 1.5 million dinars [12,700 euros] in 2019 and 2020 to 2.4 million dinars [20,400 euros] in 2021.

Experts see in Solidarité and similar organisations a bid to rebrand the far-right and craft a narrative that portrays Christianity in Europe as under threat from Islam.

A flag of French far-right group Generation Identitaire is seen during a protest against a government initiative to dissolve the group, in Paris. Photo: EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON

“Acts of charity are an excellent instrument for implementing this, because the general public’s perception of someone who helps others does not place them in the category of fascism,” said sociologist Milos Perovic of the University of Novi Sad in northern Serbia.

“Of course, right-wing humanitarianism is significantly discriminatory because it always refers to a certain racial, ethnic or national group.”

And in warping the historical record of what went on in Kosovo in the 1990s, the far-right has crafted a case study.

“The conflict in Kosovo is not perceived as an ethnic conflict or a mass violation of the rights of national minorities, or a minority, but these events are seen as a struggle between Christianity and Islam,” said Predrag Petrovic, programme director of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, BCSP.

“It indicates the consequences that will seemingly occur if they do not confront the increasingly frequent and intensive influxes of refugees and migrants.”

The money

According to the financial reports of Solidarité Kosovo, the organisation received more than 650 million dinars, or roughly 5.5 million euros, in donations between 2011 and 2018. Yet less than half went to people and organisations on the ground.

In 2015, for example, more money was spent on collecting donations than was actually directed to the organisation’s core mission, a pattern seen throughout 2011-2015 – more than 1.5 million euros was spent on salaries and gathering donations, or three times more than on organising and sending aid to target communities.

After 2016, until the last available financial report two years later, significantly more funds were allocated for operations abroad.

The last report, from 2018, was compiled by the Paris firm Keycost, led by Ivan Conic. Conic is also registered as treasurer of the Union of Serbs of France. Keycost is listed on the website of All Serbs in Paris as a ‘partner’ Development of the website was supported by the Directorate for Cooperation with the Diaspora and Serbs in the Region, headed since late 2020 by Arnaud Gouillon, founder of Solidarité Kosovo. The Directorate’s budget for 2022 is more than 150 million dinars [1.3 million euros].

Kosovo to Ukraine

Dual French-Serbian national Nikola Mirkovic was also part of a group of French election observers made up mainly of right-wing political figures who observed elections in eastern Ukraine that were dismissed as illegitimate by Kyiv and its Western backers. Photo: EPDE

Solidarité Kosovo does not hide its interest in only one particular faith, declaring on its website that it works “In the service of oppressed Christians.”

The organisation was founded in the wake of Albanian mob riots against minority Serb villages and religious sites in March 2004, five years after NATO air strikes drove Serbian forces from the province. NATO intervened in 1999 to halt a brutal counter-insurgency war in which the West accused forces under Slobodan Milosevic of committing war crimes.

At the time, Gouillon was a senior finger in the French brand of Generation Identity, ‘Identitaires’.

His brother, Bertrand, also helped found the organisation, as did dual French-Serbian national Nikola Mirkovic. They mixed with Philippe Vardon, a far-right former aide to Marine Le Pen, who will challenge incumbent Emmanuel Macron for the French presidency in an April election.

The group gets its funding from donations and the sale of specialised goods, handicrafts, and eight-euro bracelets that have been worn by other far-right figures in France, among them National Rally politicians Bryan Masson and Julien Rochedy, who left the National Rally in 2014, both have links to the Identitarian movement.

Solidarité supported the making of the documentary Kosovo: Christianity in Peril, directed by Eddy Vicken and Yvon Bertorello, which premiered in Paris in April 2017 at the iconic Grand Rex cinema.

Marine Le Pen (L), president of French far-right wing party Rassemblement National (RN), and Nice mayoral candidate Philippe Vardon (R) arrive at their campaign’s press conference in Nice. Photo: EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER

More than a third of Solidarité’s budget for 2017 was spent on campaigning, fundraising and production of the documentary.

The following year, Solidarité allocated money for the production of a book by Mirkovic titled Welcome to Kosovo and which was presented at the Serbian Cultural Centre in Paris under the auspices of the Union of Serbs of France.

The Identitarians

The extreme right-wing Generation Identity movement was conceived in France but became a pan-European network with branches emerging in Austria, Germany, Britain and other countries.

The movement is based on Islamophobia, ethnocentrism, cultural and racial hegemony. In March 2021, France banned the activities of the parent movement Génération Identitaire.

Some experts see Solidarité Kosovo as a Serbian satellite of the movement, primarily because of Gouillon’s previous involvement as head of the Grenoble branch of Juenesses Identitaires, later renamed Identitaires and the forerunner of Génération Identitaire. He was the Identitarian party candidate for the French presidential election in 2012 but withdrew before the vote.

Mirkovic’s interests go beyond Kosovo, however. He is also part of the association Vostok France Solidarité Donbass, which distributes aid in eastern Ukraine, where Russia fomented an armed rebellion in 2014.

Beyond ‘humanitarian’ visits, Mirkovic has also met previously with rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko, who was killed in 2018, the current head of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, and Alexander Zaldostanov, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and head of the Night Wolves biker club.

In 2018, Mirkovic was also part of a group of French election observers made up mainly of right-wing political figures who observed elections in eastern Ukraine that were dismissed as illegitimate by Kyiv and its Western backers. And in 2016, he joined French-Russian citizen Xavier Moreau in a roundtable with leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Moreau and Mirkovic were both part of an initiative launched in 2019 to force France to rescind its recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Also involved was Alexis Troude, a conservative historian and senior member of the Union of Serbs of France. In 2014, Troude attended the Paris screening of a film about Serbia during World War One wearing a t-shirt bearing the face of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, who is serving a life sentence for genocide and other war crimes during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.

Just last year, the Union of Serbs of France received 1.5 million dinars [12,700 euros] in project financing from the Serbian foreign ministry; the association All Serbs in Paris was allocated 900,000 dinars [7,600 euros].

Neither the ministry’s Directorate for Cooperation with the Diaspora and Serbs in the Region nor Gouillon or the association All Serbs in Paris responded to requests for comment.

A protester holds a banner reading ‘Marine, Fuck your Father’ during a May Day demonstration against French far-right in Paris. Photo: EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

The Union of Serbs of France said: “Our interest is in strengthening our community in French society, and thus strengthening our presence and gain a better position to achieve our goals. We do not have and do not want to have any connection to any political option. Each of us may or may not be committed to a political option, but as a Union we have only the interest of the community.”

According to Perovic of the University of Novi Sad, it is not surprising that diaspora Serbs should support nationalist causes.

“The diaspora that left our country during [Yugoslav-era] socialism was practically the only part of the Serbian people that openly propagated Greater Serbian nationalism in that period,” he said.

“That part intended for itself the role of the voice of the Serbian diaspora, trying to also ideologically transform that part of the economic diaspora which then went to work temporarily in European countries from which it never returned.”

Other causes can be found on “an emotional level,” said Perovic, and in “the psychology of emigrants who form notions of their homeland by living outside of it,” untouched by the political troubles within it.

Petrovic of the BCSP said of their humanitarian activities: “It’s more about propaganda and scoring points than changing the situation on the ground.”

Kosovo and the anti-immigration cause

Dual French-Serbian national Nikola Mirkovic (second from the left) with French-Russian citizen Xavier Moreau. Photo: Facebook/Screenshot

The far-right likes to hold up Kosovo as a case study in the ‘great replacement’ theory, the apparent culmination of decades of colonisation of historical Serbian lands by Muslim Albanians and a cautionary tale for the European continent.

The ‘Great Replacement’ theory

Belief in the supremacy of the white race underpins the Identitarian movement, an ethnocentric view of the world justified by supposed insurmountable cultural differences between white and non-white populations.

The ‘Great Replacement’ theory warns of white Christians becoming a minority in Europe, with adherents seizing on the migrant and refugee crisis as a clear case in point.

In his public appearances in Serbia, Gouillon has spoken of the need to raise birth rates as “the number one goal of the whole of Europe.” He is also behind the Initiative for Birth Rate Growth and for Youth to Remain in Serbia.

It’s a perverted take on history but has nevertheless taken root among followers of movements such as Generation Identity, who warn of white Christians becoming a minority in Europe. In 2021, French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour said he feared “a repeat of the Kosovo scenario in France.”

The anti-immigrant pundit was fined 10,000 euros in January after saying on television in 2020 that unaccompanied child migrants were “thieves,” “rapists,” and “murderers.”

France is fertile ground for anti-immigrant sentiment, said Petrovic of the BCSP.

“Some parties around the centre have started to revise their policy on migrants since the beginning of the pandemic, which only shows that this topic is very, very important,” he said.

“Of course, we have the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and another wave again. There is fear that if they are not terrorists or extremists, then they will work for much less money. In addition, they don’t only take manual, traditional jobs, but among the migrant population we also have those who are highly qualified.”

This article has been published in collaboration with VOICE.

Ovaj članak je objavljen u suradnji sa VOICE.

Igor Išpanović

This post is also available in: Bosnian