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At the Iliade Institute, French far-right intellectuals rewrite European history

Philosopher Jean-Francois Gautier addressed the Iliade Institute’s fifth annual conference in Paris last week in front of a large poster of a modern blond family looking out over a medieval gate.

The father was holding a torch, the mother a baby and the son a sword.

“It’s essential that we notice that our territory… is a territory pierced with holes, holes that are in fact shadow zones, zones of non-legality,” Gauthier said in his speech on what the world owes Europeans. He continued:

[But] in law, non-legality doesn’t exist. In law there is the legal and the illegal. So let’s say it: non-legality is illegal, and we must clean it up. We need a continuous space, a space for decision-making, our own space that would be legal from one side to the other, even at the expense of the ‘ethnic.’

This odd and verbose call for ethnic cleansing was typical of the seemingly high-minded racism at the gathering. Titled “Proud to be Europeans,” the event attracted over 1,000 people ostensibly to defend and celebrate European history and folk-culture. In reality, the conference is part of a project to erase the darker parts of European history while also serving as an outlet for anti-immigrant and racist sentiment.

The four-year-old Institute — which annually trains two-dozen youth as far-right activists — was created by a group of intellectuals inspired by Dominique Venner, the French far-right martyr who committed suicide inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame in 2013. Venner’s suicide note described his act as a protest against the “immense dangers to my French and European homeland.” The note also read: 

While I defend the identity of all peoples in their homes, I also rebel against the crime of the replacement of our people. The dominant discourse cannot leave behind its toxic ambiguities, and Europeans must bear the consequences. Lacking an identitarian religion to moor us, we share a common memory going back to Homer, a repository of all the values ​​on which our future rebirth will be founded once we break with the metaphysics of the unlimited, the baleful source of all modern excesses.

This is the Institute’s mission: develop Venner’s common European memory and inspire younger generations to defend it. Thus, the Institute’s foremost enemy is the “great replacement,” an idea developed in 2010 by French writer Renaud Camus that views white Europeans as in danger of demographic replacement at the hands of immigrants. 

The Institute also serves as a bridge between the older members and icons of the French New Right and a new generation of anti-immigrant and anti-Islam activists who call themselves “identitarians.”

In the exhibition hall, a plethora of groups had tables, including the New Right magazine Elements and the French identitarian activist group, who is fundraising to open a bar in Paris. New publications, run by men in their 20s, also had a space, as did several publishing houses.

Alongside them, others sold “European” artifacts and perfumes. An art installation of a ballroom in a tree where villagers used to dance promised to revive the tradition. With young people, couples with children and gray-haired men and women in attendance, the Institute — and the ideas behind it — has clearly achieved an intergenerational appeal. 

The work of revisionism

Jean-Yves Le Gallou is a founding member of the Institute and one of the key architects behind the policy idea to distribute social welfare benefits to “authentic” French people first before those of immigrant descent. He described this year’s conference as: 

A meeting for the European community to meet and get out of the depression that is plaguing Europeans because they are permanently made to feel guilty. It’s to tell them that they must be proud of their civilization and proud of their heritage.

But ending “European guilt” required a dramatic rewriting of European history. 

The pseudo-historian Bernard Lugan set the tone early with a presentation on the Arab-Muslim slave trade. This slave trade, he claimed, was beneficently ended by French colonization. “We [the French] didn’t pillage Africa with the slave trade and it was us who liberated Africa from the slave trade” he declared to thunderous applause. Full of bravado, Lugan roused the audience to just “say no” to European guilt, quoting former French president Jacques Chirac: “there is one thing that is impossible to graft: balls!”

In order to remake far-right nationalism into a European movement, severe omissions are necessary and a cultural makeover is in order. Other speeches were interspersed with Institute students presenting their current projects, as well as videos glorifying the achievements and beauty of European culture. One Institute graduate introduced a program cataloging Europe’s sacred sites. A few among the thousand-plus guests donned traditional folk costumes. A young woman brought members of the audience to tears during a performance of a medieval chant. The crowd hummed alongside her and burst into applause at the song’s finale. 

By training the young generation to create an artistic and cultural vision of what Europe is, the Institute used emotional and fantasized appeals to a homogenous and glorious Europe of old, while mostly keeping quiet about the conflicts that tore apart the continent.  In this reinvented narrative of a culturally coherent and ethnically cohesive Europe, one thing remained unspoken but seemed to underlie the idea of what, to audience members, truly made European identity: whiteness.

Behind the costumes, however, the bigotry was not always far from view. The conference’s introductory video interspersed images about the greatness of Europe with images of a transgender singer and crowds of African immigrants. In his closing speech, Le Gallou called immigrants “invaders,” and declared that “not all cultures are equal.” To explain how the left had redefined the bounds of the “politically correct” in recent years, François Bousquet — the editor in chief of Elements, the New Right magazine started by Alain de Benoist — imagined how society could conceivably shift towards tolerance of cannibalism, until being critical of cannibals became socially unacceptable. Much to the crowd’s delight, Bousquet thus drew a parallel between anti-racists and LGBT rights activists and imagined defenders of cannibalism. 

The Visegrád group

Also celebrated at the conference was the current great hope of the European far-right. The Visegrád group, also known as the V4, is a group of four countries in Central Europe — Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Symbolically led by Viktor Orbán, the Hungary strongman, the V4 is at the forefront of resistance to the European Union’s standards on refugee resettlement while more generally shifting to the far-right. Ferenc Almássy, from the far-right Visegrád Postpublication, delivered a well-received speech in the afternoon on the lessons one could draw from the coalition.

Almássy cheered Orbán’s resistance to “illegal immigration, Brussels and now George Soros” and his willingness to discuss the so-called “great replacement.” He also praised Orbán’s modernization of the army and its increased involvement in national education and sports. It’s not the Visegrád group that the European Union is saving, Almássy argued. It’s the Visegrád group who will save Europe.

This fantasy of the redemptive force of Central Europe led by Orbán leaves few far-right European figures untouched. De Benoist imagined a Visegrád group joined by Austria, which would become the “heir of the ancient empire of the Habsburgs” in a December 2016 article in Elements.Orbán’s Fidesz party won two thirds of parliamentary seats despite winning only 47% of the vote in the Hungarian parliamentary elections on Sunday, April 8, leading to widespread protests the following weekend. He has since vowed to pass anti-Soros laws and crack down further on immigrants and organizations that help refugees.

But it was to a familiar French slogan that Almássy then turned, to the audience’s thrill:

Orban explicitly fights for a society that is overall ethnically homogenous and culturally based on Christian values, a society that — I will say it in the wrong order because French history has banned this triptych from salons — rests on the motherland, the family and labor (“la patrie, la famille et le travail”)

Rearranging the words does of course little. “Travail, famille, patrie” (Labor, Family, Motherland) was the slogan of Vichy, France, the French government that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.

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