Democracy requires resistance. Recall the wise words of G.K. Chesterton:
If there is one fact we really can prove, from the history that we really do know, it is that despotism can be a development, often a late development and very often indeed the end of societies that have been highly democratic. A despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy. As fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty; and they prefer to arm only one single sentinel to watch the city while they sleep.
Even today, a vast number of citizens still believe in defending their freedom and democracy. They are playing the invaluable role of sentinels all around the world.
When Josè Luis Zapatero won the 2004 election in Catholic Spain, few people really understood what his victory would trigger in that country—and in Europe as a whole. During his time as prime minister from 2004–2011, he issued two mandates declaring he wanted to “change leading Spain in the new millennium, cutting off its religious and cultural roots.”
Since then Spain has been subjected to radical changes and forced to gradually face the most extreme challenges of contemporary secularism. Through his laws in favor of “brief divorce,” same-sex marriage, and artificial insemination, Zapatero left an unforgettable legacy of damage in the social and cultural sphere—damage that seems nearly impossible to repair.
One of the first people to foresee this epochal challenge was Ignacio Arsuaga, founder of Hazte Oir. Working in collaboration with leaders of several movements and networks supporting life and family values, as well as jurists defending freedom of education and conscience, Hazte Oir launched several demonstrations to protest the laws approved by the parliamentary socialist majority and the cultural changes it imposed on the rest of the nation.
Arsuaga wrote an excellent book about the “Zapatero plan” accurately describing some of these developments. Zapatero found it easy to arrogantly impose his ideological plan; his ambitions to power persuaded his fellow left-wing political leaders to support his ideology, which seemed to express the founding ideas of modern European socialism. The Catholic Church officially supported only one demonstration in European civil society: the great rally against the proposal of the Italian Prodi government (2006–2008) in favor of DiCo (Rights and Duties for Stably Cohabiting People). This Family Day rally on May 12, 2007, brought together 1.5 million people in Rome’s Piazza San Giovanni and successfully stopped the adoption of the law in favor of civil same-sex partnership. The bill was put aside and the Prodi government lost the parliament’s confidence in January 2008, seven months after the great demonstration in Piazza San Giovanni.
But the fight was far from over. In 2015 the Italian government, under the leadership of socialist Matteo Renzi, made plans to adopt two new laws in 2016: one legalizing same-sex marriage—including same-sex couples’ adoption of children—and one against homophobia. In response, more than one million Italians took to the streets of Rome on June 20, 2015, to protest the government’s plans, which included the addition of gender ideology to school curricula. Massimo Gandolfini, national coordinator of the Committee “Difendiamo i nostri figli” (In defense of our children), announced that another national demonstration will take place in the next few weeks.
In recent years, thanks to the economic crisis and the demise of many ideas traditionally held by European left-wing leaders, the rulers of many nations are fighting in the name of so-called “new rights.” The truth is that these “new rights” are taking the principles of citizens’ duties and the common good and sweeping them under the rug. These insatiable “new rights” are being invoked as a weapon to destroy cultural roots, civil traditions, and Christian values in every nation—and ironically to make existing inequalities even more extreme.
In recent European history, every government trying to impose these “new rights” (more aptly called “privileges”) sought to avoid a difficult debate on structural reform and rulers’ responsibility to serve and help the people. Instead of following the ideas of Karl Marx, political socialism seemed to follow the Latin expression of Juvenal: “panem et circenses” (Satire X)—give them bread and circuses. Because of the 2008 financial crisis and its tragic consequences, as well as the lack of food and increasing poverty, political leaders endorsed confusion and useless debates to distract the public from their own ineptitude. In fact, during their time ruling Spain, Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, all European socialist governments experienced huge public debates and economic crises
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Hungary has seen a refreshing return to traditional values. Victor Orban’s great triumph during the 2010 Hungarian elections led to constitutional reform; between 2011 and 2013, the nation clearly defined Christian roots, family, and human life as the basis of its national values. Unsurprisingly, the constitutional amendment sparked a vicious backlash from many European institutions, which responded to the changes with unprecedented aggression toward Hungary and its political leaders—going so far as to launch infringement proceedings against them. Hungary’s courageous and unpopular stand represents a fundamental phase in the current positive evolution that is slowly taking place in many European countries and among European citizens.
Reams could be written on the groundless debates, unfounded accusations, and vested interests that led several politicians, large philanthropic NGOs, and proponents of Western “politically correct” ideology to organize a huge aggression against Hungary, such as in the terrible debate that took place at the Council of Europe in 2013. To this day, articles regularly appear on the front pages of newspapers all over the world spewing criticism and false accusations against Mr. Orban and his government. His critics pushed heavily for other political forces and another government during the 2014 political campaign, but to their chagrin, Orban’s coalition won again and confirmed a huge majority in parliament. The constitutional changes and the courage shown by Orban and the whole of Hungary during these years of criticism and aggression give an encouraging example to other countries and many European citizens, as seen in the recent victory of Conservatives in Poland.
Along with Poland and Hungary, other European countries saw great movements of citizens exercising their democratic rights to creatively and adequately take a stand against laws considered unjust and dangerous for the principles of equality and children’s rights, notably in the United Kingdom and in France. The French situation is most similar to the Spanish experience under the Zapatero government. After President Hollande’s victory in May 2012, ministers of both parties publicly boasted of their intention to “radically change French Christian Catholic roots.” But public opposition to radical laws (Loi Toubirà)—thanks in part to the work of French Masons—showed that perhaps French secularists would not find those Christian roots so easy to change.
Minister Peillon has led the charge of totalitarian anti-Catholic secularists. They never could have predicted that millions of people and dozens of associations from French civil society would rally around the Manif Pour Tous and its initiatives, which continue to develop in different forms. This is a mass citizens’ reaction, gathering together Catholics and Protestants and Muslims and secularists—gay and straight alike.
Also in 2013, for the first time many Christians associations in the UK came together to found the Coalition for Marriage and to take a stand against the Cameron government’s new proposal to recognize same-sex unions as marriage. The Coalition gathered a huge number of signatures (about 670,000) for their petition against the government’s measures and in favor of natural marriage.
In the meantime, on March 25, 2012, the first of two consecutive referenda organized by the “Alliance in Defense of Children” took place in Slovenia. Two identical referenda were needed because of the arrogance of the parliamentary majority, yet both times Slovenia’s citizens voted against the changes to their civil code that would include same-sex marriage and gay adoption in the definition of “Family.” After the March 2012 referenda, again on December 20, 2015, Ales Primc led a Slovenian coalition to an incredible victory in reaffirming citizens’ support for the natural family.
Meanwhile on December 1, 2013, the Croatian people imposed clear modifications through a constitutional referendum that defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman. An organization called In the Name of the Family gathered hundreds of thousands of volunteers throughout Croatia, organizing an amazing referendum campaign that gave strong voice to the people’s will.
On February 7, 2015, the Alliance for Family in Slovakia led the country in a referendum on the definition of natural marriage and family. The Alliance for Family, founded in December 2013, unites over 140 organizations from different parts of Slovakian civic and religious life with the goal of promoting marriage and family. It represents the views and interests of more than 250,000 Slovak citizens. The Alliance saw excellent results—especially after Pope Francis’s open appeal in favor of the pro-family initiative. The referendum did not make the quorum, but the number of pro-family voters was higher than in the previous year, and the relative majority in favor of marriage and natural family was overwhelming. The referendum asked for the national Constitution to include a specific definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, to prevent LGBT adoption and the promotion of gender ideology in schools, and to extend freedom of education.
On May 23, 2015, Ireland invited its citizens to vote in a referendum to modify civil legislation on the family. All political parties in Parliament supported the inclusion of same-sex couples in the definition of family. The pro-LGBT group was very vocal and received huge financial support from international donors, including in the US. The No campaign included the Iona Institute and Mothers and Fathers Matter. After scandals in and general discrediting of the Catholic Church in recent years, the No Campaign had little hope of victory. Although they lost (62% to 38%), the Irish No group did powerful work to spread the message of the pro-family coalition in civil society and politics. The Irish election was the first time an LGBT movement won a referendum in Europe, but its win was largely the result of its inordinately high campaign spending. Forty percent of the Irish population continued to declare opposition to this ideological enforcement.
In Finland, the proposal to adopt same-sex marriage and adoption has faced setbacks and is not definitively approved yet. Pro-family organizations gathered 100,000 signatures to oppose the proposals discussed in Parliament. Meanwhile in Romania, the people have rejected two parliamentary proposals designed to approve same-sex marriage. Next May a pro-life and pro-family alliance will present the signatures to announce a constitutional referendum reaffirming natural marriage and the family as mother, father, and children in Romanian law.
During these last several years, social-civil forces throughout Europe and many of the best jurists on the continent have committed themselves to promoting an ECI, or European Citizens Initiative, asking European Institutions to protect the principles of autonomy and subsidiarity of EU Member States and to adopt a binding definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and of the natural family based on marriage at the European level. The ECI was approved December 15, 2015; the organizers will start collecting signatures next February.
Many centuries ago, St. Columbanus said that there is no fight without a rival, and no crown without a fight. Today as in the past, we carry on this fight with the same simplicity—not only in Europe, but all around the world. We can rejoice in the invitation to join it.
Luca Volontè is the CEO of the Novae Terrae Foundation, Chair of Dignitatis Humanae Institute, and member of the Board of Trustees of CitizenGo, ICLN, and Political Network for Values. He has been a member of the Italian Parliament for eighteen years and president of EPP-Christian Democratic Group at Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe since 2013.