International networks of ultra-conservative organisations have become a serious player in Central and Eastern Europe. They eradicate liberal values, tighten the law, change the language of the debate, fill key positions and build political influence.
Networks of ultra-conservative organisations can be likened to a spider that has spun a global web and continues to build additional sections that link new countries. When we set out to uncover who is behind the new clones, we find out the same people and the same entities.
Among the early partners of Poland’s Ordo Iuris since its founding in 2012* were the most influential international networks of radical conservatives. Today Ordo Iuris sits on the United Nations Economic and Social Council (responsible for economic and social progress; human rights and fundamental freedoms). “Receiving consultative status by a relatively young organisation and finding oneself among entities such as the European Centre for Law and Justice or the Alliance Defending Freedom shows that Ordo Iuris has quickly joined the ranks of the world’s leading organisations that influence the work of the United Nations’ social affairs agenda,” Ordo Iuris lawyer Karina Bosak said in 2017 in an interview for the rp.pl news website. Let’s take a closer look at these global players.
European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ)
Six days before Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling, an opinion is delivered to its headquarters, which bears the seal of an influential ultra-conservative organisation called the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ).
“The human rights system does not create any right to abortion… Abortion is not a right, but a violation or a derogation from the right to life,” the document reads.
It is signed by Gregor Puppinck, the director of ECLJ. Puppinck has also signed a letter of support for the project of the Convention on the Rights of the Family that Ordo Iuris wants to be adopted instead of the Istanbul Convention.
ECLJ has partnered with Ordo Iuris since the latter was inaugurated in Poland in 2012. One of the first entries on Ordo Iuris’s old website is a translation of analyses prepared by ECLJ.
In early 2020, Puppinck’s work gained publicity in Poland’s right-wing media outlets. It was sparked by a report he penned, in which he traced alleged links between judges of the European Court of Human Rights and organisations financed by George Soros. Although we have reached out to Puppinck, he declined our request for an interview.
Founded in the late 1990s, ECLJ is an influential ultra-conservative organisation that has its roots in the United States – it is the European arm of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) headed by Jay Sekulow, Donald Trump’s former lawyer.
A few months ago, an investigation conducted by Open Democracy revealed that “Dark Money” – millions of dollars – were funneled via ACLJ (but not only) to Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. American non-profits are not bound to disclose the sources of funding.
Open Democracy has said that the funding serves to build a “global empire” of ultra-conservative influence. It is nearly impossible to trace what the money is being used for.
ECLJ, the France-based European branch of the American organisation, does not have to disclose its financial statements.
ACJL also has opened a branch in Moscow, which is called the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice (SLCJ). Last year, Open Democracy revealed that SLCJ, headed by Vladimir Putin’s “human rights council” lawyer Vladimir Ryakhovsky, received at least 3.3 million dollars from Sekulow. According to Polish feminist movement activist Klementyna Suchanow, an author of the book “This is war”, Gregory Puppinck’s (head of French ECLJ) speeches also had clear pro-Kremlin undertones.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)
The Alliance Defending Freedom was an institutional patron at the 2012 conference that inaugurated the founding of Polish Ordo Iuris. ADF is a “faith-based legal advocacy organisation” of American ultra-conservative lawyers. It takes the term “faith-based” literally as applicants must first accept the “ADF Statement of Faith and Doctrinal Distinctives” and approve a declaration of faith, including a statement that reads: “We believe God designed marriage as a unique conjugal relationship joining one man and one woman in a single, exclusive, life-long union, and God intends sexual intimacy only to occur within that relationship”.
ADF, which specialises in strategic litigation, describes itself as “Created to Win”. Today, it has really become a global international army of over 3,700 lawyers.
This network of Christian lawyers was founded in 1994 “to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system”, its website states. In other words, ADF tries to obtain case law in various countries, which agrees with the “word of God” or “natural law principles”.
After 2010, ADF opened offices at major international institutions that deal with human rights. Currently, it has representations at the UN headquarters in New York and Geneva as well as in Brussels and Strasbourg, where it serves both the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the EHCR. It also provides its services in Vienna for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).
The ADF’s defence of “religious freedoms” and the fight against discrimination towards Christians opens doors to European institutions. In practice, the organisation seeks to block laws and judgments that might liberalise access to abortion or partnerships for LGBT people.
ADF lawyers are involved not only in matters that involve banning crosses from school classrooms (France), but also, for instance, in a lawsuit of a Pole whose request for a divorce was turned down in Poland (“Protecting the principle that the right to marry does not include the right to divorce’”, they argue). Apart from the reports on the persecution of Christians by ISIS, they also sent reports on abortions in Poland and Lithuania to the UN.
ADF’s activities are monitored by Open Democracy, which revealed that the American organisation poured millions of dollars into entities that operate on all continents, including in Europe. According to a report by Open Democracy, “ADF has spent $15 million in Europe – but almost all of this since 2015, the year that same-sex marriage was legalised across the US”.
The American organisation needed local allies, so back in 2012, it was very much interested in what was happening in Poland at that time. When the first Ordo Iuris website was created, the Alliance Defending Freedom was listed among its partners, alongside the European Centre for Law and Justice and C-Fam (which we will discuss later).
Ordo Iuris teamed up with ADF shortly after it was founded and both organisations cooperated in proceedings before international courts. In 2020, ADF sent a separate opinion to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal that discussed abortion. Ordo Iuris also submitted its opinion (signed by its other international partners and allies) – the effort was undertaken to show the broadest possible international support for the tightening of abortion regulations.
ADF deals not only with legal assistance in matters that are deemed strategic from the point of view of the ultra-conservative agenda – its influence reaches governments as
the alumni of the organisation occupy official positions in institutions all over the world, including CEE countries.
In Slovakia, Zuzana Brixova, currently responsible for the Men and Women Agenda (previously called Gender Equality Agenda) at the Ministry of Social Affairs, used to work for ADF International. In Poland, OKO.Press revealed, Alice Neffe, a former lobbyist for ADF, was employed in the office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment (previously held by an Ordo Iuris candidate).
In Romania, ADF lawyers supported a referendum set “to rewrite the Romanian constitution to redefine families as the product of marriage between a man and a woman”. The project was headed by Peter Costea, a lawyer who had been associated with the ADF for more than a decade and currently heads a new far-right party called Alianța Renașterea Națională.
During the Trump administration, ADF associates held important positions in the US government, particularly at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Under Trump, this department was staffed with pro-life activists and called itself “the department of life”.
Karolina Pawłowska from Polish Ordo Iuris was praising the achievements of the Trump administration in the “defense of life and the family” while interviewing Valerie Huber from DHHS’s. The interview was conducted during the protests after the Constitutional Tribunal abortion ruling. Huber returned the friendly gesture and praised the Polish anti-abortion policy on behalf of DHHS.
Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM) and the international coalition
Another of Ordo Iuris’s international partners includes the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), established by Human Life International (HLI), the world’s largest anti-abortion organisation. HLI, much like TFP, moved to Poland in 1993, when abortion rights were restricted for the first time – positioning Poland, strongly influenced by the Catholic Church, as a kind of a future Promised Land for conservatives. The Polish franchise of HLI also set up outreach activities to Russia.
C-Fam was founded in 1997, after the UN refused to approve the Human Life International at the United Nations because of its “aggressive language” and the “issue of tolerance”. The relationship between HLI and C-Fam would have never become public had it not been for a conflict within the organisation that led to the disclosure of internal documents with records showing that HLI provided funding to C-Fam with the clause: “Use discretion. Initially state that we are supported by multitudes of individuals / organisations”.
In 2014, C-Fam achieved its goal and became officially approved at the UN. It quickly became an important player able to influence global diplomacy. Its representatives took part in social policy negotiations at the level of the UN. Head of C-Fam, Austin Ruse, wrote in his bio that he himself had briefed members of the U.S. House, Senate and White House on U.N. matters.
The Guardian investigation shone some light on the inner workings of C-Fam. “When we got into negotiations, my instructions from Washington were verbatim taken from C-Fam, and Kozma (a political appointee at the US agency for international development – ed.) had the same talking points,” Laurie Phipps, a US diplomat at the American mission to the UN told The Guardian about the United Nations Conference on Women’s Rights. “Then the Arab group spoke… and they read their statement and it was exactly the same. I turned to Bethany and said: ‘How did they get your talking points?’ I was winding her up. She looked pretty chagrined. We both knew they were from C-Fam”.
When the ultra-conservative candidate Jair Bolsonaro won the 2019 presidential election in Brazil, Damares Alves, minister of Woman, Family, and Human Rights, during the United States Commission on the Status of Women objected to documents that contained the terms “gender” and “sexual and reproductive health services”. She argued that “they can promote abortion”. Brazil was long at the center of C-Fam’s interest.
C-Fam’s vice President Stefano Gennarini had a vision of such a coalition – Brazil, backed by the US, Poland, Hungary, Malta and Chile, and “around 60 countries which still have legislation extremely protective of life, especially in Africa and Asia”, should establish an international commission of lawyers, pro-life activists, and diplomats who had some experience with the UN and the Inter-American Human Rights systems, and a vision for a platform for international action.
Already in 2015, C-Fam facilitated an alliance called the “Group of Friends of the Family” at the UN – it included countries such as Belarus, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia. As a result, ultra-conservative networks are able to put together collective support of several dozen countries for anti-abortion actions at the UN forum. Initially, this group was seen as playing in some inferior league, but as conservative trends gained the upper hand in the US, Brazil, and Central and Eastern Europe, its status grew rapidly.
Stefano Gennarini attended the 2012 event at Warsaw University that inaugurated Ordo Iuris, and later was a guest at events organised by the Polish organisation. In 2020, acting on behalf of C-Fam, he published a statement in support of the Polish government in the dispute with the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović. The head of C-Fam criticised the sanctions against the government in Warsaw for the so-called “LGBT-free zones”, or resolutions adopted by some municipalities in Poland. “Polish municipalities are adopting resolutions to protect the family and children democratically, without violating any human rights”, he argued.
In 2016 C-Fam has set up a lobbying platform called the Civil Society for the Family. Its organising committee includes Ordo Iuris and ECLJ (described at the beginning of this part).
Gennarini’s vision finally comes true in the ‘Partnership for Families’, which binds the US, Brazil, Hungary and Poland together. In 2019, during the UN International Conference on Population and Development in Nairobi these four countries (alongside, among others, Libya, Belarus, Egypt and Uganda), effectively reject references to gender equality and sexual education (justification is delivered by none other than the US representative Valerie Huber from Trump’s ‘department of life’).
W Nairobi przedstawiciele władz Stanów Zjednoczonych, Polski, Węgier, Brazylii i szeregu innych państw stanowczo sprzeciwiają się we wspólnym panelu próbie uznania aborcji za ‚prawo człowieka’ na konferencji ONZ. pic.twitter.com/nljwy5Q4vW
— Tymoteusz Zych (@TymoteuszZych) November 12, 2019
In October 2020, the same countries sign an anti-abortion document called the Geneva Consensus Declaration put forward by the Trump administration. The Declaration – alongside the Constitutional Tribunal ruling in Poland – is where the winning streak of that international coalition ends. A few days later Trump loses the election and Joe Biden withdraws the US from the Geneva Consensus Declaration.
Ever since Trump lost power, Central Eastern Europe has become the spearhead in the fight against gender equality and LGBT. Today, Poland and Hungary are opposing the use of the term ‘gender’ in EU documents.
In July 2016, registration for a large international event scheduled to take place in Warsaw in September, opens at summit.ordoiuris.pl – the page is removed shortly afterwards.
“Agenda Europe is an informal group of about 350 NGOs working to defend the values of life, family and religious freedom. Organisation leaders from all European countries will meet to share knowledge, experience and strategy on current and upcoming initiatives. The organisers are the Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture and the Alliance Defending Freedom, which works for the freedom of conscience and religion” – we read on one of the very few websites that forwarded the invitation quoting Ordo Iuris as a source. The meeting initially goes unnoticed by the media.
At the time, the name Agenda Europe is associated only with a mysterious blog set up in late 2014, not recognized beyond the ultra-conservative bubble. The authors of the blog remain anonymous but clearly well-versed with international law and current events of European politics – and their involvement is far from neutral and ambitions anything but low.
“We should not be afraid to be unrealistic or extremist,” declares their manifesto “Restoring the Natural Order – An Agenda for Europe”, which is still available on the blog (dated 2014).
“We have a narrow time window of ten to twenty years left. If we do not use this time window, then the Western civilization, due to having embraced a perverse ideology, may easily have destroyed itself” – these are the arguments of proponents who would like to “restore the natural law”.
What the anonymous authors actually mean by this? Their to-do list includes all hard-line postulates, from the repeal of all existing laws on same-sex unions, civil partnerships, and divorces, to the prohibition of contraceptives and explicit legal bans on abortion, pre-natal diagnostics and use of human stem cells (both scientific and medical). They also aim for the abolition of “equality legislation” in EU and national laws. Where it is impossible, strategists behind the manifesto advise going for low-hanging fruits, such as partial bans, defunding, obstruction or restrictions. They suggest that the best strategy would be to “use the weapons of our opponents and turn them against them”.
Neil Datta, a Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF) analyses the anonymous manifesto and shows analogies between the radical postulates and the real-life Agenda Europe network in his report published in 2018 “Restoring the Natural Order”: The religious extremists’ vision to mobilize European societies against human rights on sexuality and reproduction”.
In response to Datta’s report, a website Agenda Europe.org resurfaces, publishing a memo by unknown authors claiming that “Agenda Europe is an informal network that provides a platform of cooperation for individuals, NGOs, and experts who work on matters of life, family, and religious freedom” and at the same time denies the ownership of the blog and manifesto, describing them as “the work of individuals”, in no way related to the activities of that network of organisations.
As was the case with the blog and the manifesto, no specific organisation admitted it was behind the statement. However, in the domain registry, we find information that agendaeurope.org domain is registered to Sophia Kuby, who at that time was the Director of EU Advocacy for ADF International in Brussels. According to Neil Datta, in 2014 Kuby pitched a presentation “Agenda Europe: a Network for Political Agenda Setting in Europe” at the Political Network of Values summit in New York.
Agenda Europe manages to keep a low profile until 2018 when France’s TV ARTE channel gains access to a number of strategic documents of the CitizenGO organisation, leaked by hackers. They reveal that Agenda Europe is an entity created during a secret meeting in London in 2013. The meeting of the European pro-life movement leaders was convened at the request of, among others, Gudrun Kugler (an Austrian theologist and one of the most influential anti-abortion movements leader). A year earlier, in 2012, Kugler had been also a guest of honour at the event that inaugurated Polish Ordo Iuris. She delivered a lecture “Agenda Setting for the Legal Protection of Life: Current Opportunities. Future Challenges. Strategic Planning”.
The documents leaked to ARTE included a list of subscribers of the network’s internal discussion group. ADF, which co-organised the Warsaw conference in 2016, made a huge contribution to Agenda Europe. The mailing list includes the names of at least eighteen employees of ADF offices from Vienna, Brussels and the USA (additional eight names are members of Ordo Iuris).
Ordo Iuris co-hosts a Warsaw 2016 summit that draws together Sophia Kuby, Gregor Puppinck (ECLJ) as well as ultra-conservatives from the USA and Europe, including Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF, and Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF.
Klementyna Suchanow, a Polish activist of the feminist movement, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Warsaw 2016 summit in her book “This is War”. Suchanow revealed documents from the Agenda Europe meeting and described the political working of the network. (We have obtained recordings of the meeting).
Over the toasts and applause at the gala dinner, Sophia Kuby thanked the organizers and sponsors – Ordo Iuris, the American headquarters of Alliance Defending Freedom (represented by Doug Napier), and CitizenGo’s Ignacio Arsuaga.
Guests of the summit – asked to keep the event “strictly confidential” – included MP Piotr Uściński (from the ruling party Law and Justice), who co-authored the motion for the Polish Constitutional Tribunal to examine the abortion law (as a result, in 2020, the Constitutional Tribunal banned abortion due to foetal defects). Uściński also initiated other activities in line with the agenda pursued by the Skarga activists and Ordo Iuris. The journalists from Reporters’ Foundation have learned that Uściński’s assistant had long cooperated with Ordo Iuris.
Aleksander Stępkowski, then deputy minister of foreign affairs, also spoke at the Warsaw summit. During the event, the strategy of combating the Istanbul Convention was discussed by Ordo Iuris’s Joanna Banasiuk.
The next summit of Agenda Europe in Vienna (2018) goes public, being organised using official channels, with the participation of, among others, ADF and CitizenGO.
According to Neill Datta, Agenda Europe serves as “an umbrella” for networks of ultra-conservative organisations in Europe. “Agenda Europe occupies a specific place in the galaxy of anti-SRR (anti-sexual and reproductive rights) coordination platforms. Agenda Europe is the European gravitational centre of the global anti-SRR community represented within the World Congress of Families (WCF), where several Agenda Europe members are present,” he said.
Although it is easy to get lost in this maze of names, acronyms and organisations, a closer analysis of their relationships does indeed reveal that it is no coincidence that Agenda Europe includes names found in other networks – ADF, ECLJ, TFP, as well as organisations set up by the World Congress of Families, which Datta mentioned.
Much like the Agenda Europe mailing list, which includes all key actors who fight against gender and the Istanbul Convention in Central and Eastern Europe, WCF combines all global level threads – C-Fam and the Friends of Family group at the UN, organisations that create Civil Society For The Family (where Ordo Iuris sits at steering committee), or a group of organisations that, at the request of Ordo Iuris, signed the amicus curiae documents sent to the Polish Tribunal.
World Congress of Families
The World Congress of Families is a recurrent congress and a platform of cooperation for global and radical anti-abortion proponents. It was initiated in 1997 by American conservatives and scientists from Lomonosov Moscow State University. The WCF initiating group is formed two years after the UN adopts a declaration which stated that “reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, are cornerstones of population and development programs”.
It is the WCF that brings together in 2007 the main actors of this report, five years before Polish Ordo Iuris was founded.
In 2005, after Law and Justice (PiS) came to power for the first time in Poland, the committee organising the 4th World Congress of Families decided that the upcoming event in 2007 would be held in Warsaw.
“Europe has nearly been lost due to demographic winter and the forces of secularism. It is Europe that most of the world follows. Poland has retained a strong faith and strong families, although even it is under intense pressure to change that. Poland has already saved Europe once. It will probably save Europe one more time. In terms of family and population, Europe is the battlefield of the 21st century, and Poland will be a turning point,” this is how the organisers explained their choice of venue.
“Demographic winter” is WCF’s favourite catchphrase. It is a theory created by Russian sociologists (and at the same time ideologists of the congress), which was presented in the documentary ‘Demographic Winter’ partially recorded at the Warsaw event in 2007. The theory assumes that European families (and children) may face extinction due to homosexuality, abortion, feminism, divorces, women in the workplace, and a variety of other things that deviate from what can be described as “natural family”.
The 2007 WCF Congress in Warsaw is an impressive event – the largest ever held by the network. At that time, C-Fam (under the old name) debuted in the organising committee. The list of partners includes activists of the Krakow’s Skarga Foundation (their names will continue to pop up on the list of WCF-affiliated organisations in the years to come). Other guests included delegations from ADF and Human Life International. Yet, the event was the last spectacular demonstration that Poland was an important country for WCF.
In the years that followed, WCF shifted its focus to Italy (with the spotlight on former politician Luca Volonte and his Novae Terrae Foundation) and Spain, where it extended influence through CitizenGo network that is also present in Poland and other CEE countries, such as Hungary, Georgia and Moldova.
Polish organisations distance themselves from WCF – the Congress remains in the sphere of influence of Russian oligarchs linked to Putin since 2011, which might portray the Polish entities in a negative light.
Ordo Iuris leaders vehemently reject any suggestions that Ordo Iuris might be linked to WCF, although they sit on the organising committee of Civil Society for the Family, together with WCF’s key partners such as CitizenGO and Novae Terrae, among others. Ordo Iuris also cooperates with CitizenGO on some “pro-family” initiatives, events and petitions. Until the time of publication, Ordo Iuris has not replied to our questions about the details of cooperation with the global ultra-conservative players described in this report.
“The argument that someone is a ‘Russian agent’ is often formulated in Poland against your opponent. It is currently used against us. But there is nothing that might connect us with the pro-Russian option,” Jerzy Kwaśniewski said in an interview for Poland’s state channel TVP.
The organisation announced lawsuits against Klementyna Suchanow, Neil Datta, and other civic society activists, accusing them of defamation and unfounded claims.
In late March 2021, Klementyna Suchanow published a set of documents about the World Congress of Families (WCF), its leading organizations, and participants of Agenda Europe meetings. The list, published on the Arbinfo website, included names of guests, payrolls, leaked fragments of documents, or even a list of guests invited by the Russians to a WCF 2014 congress in Moscow.
The documents revealed in the ARTE documentary include records of financial negotiations between Ignacio Arsuaga, the founder of CitizenGO, and Alexey Komov, his future supervisor – then acting on behalf of the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev (the final outcome of the alleged negotiations remains unknown). Malofeev is now persona non grata in Europe as he was sanctioned for sponsoring pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine in 2014, there is also evidence that points to his collaboration with Alexander Dugin and the funding of Europe’s radical and nationalist political movements.
Activities in Crimea were allegedly coordinated with the Kremlin through close collaboration with the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RIIS), which three years later was also accused of developing a strategy for the US elections interference that sealed the US presidency for Trump. (See also part 3 of this report).
WCF’s cooperation with Komov was established via Igor Beloborodov, a Russian pro-life activist who reached out to the European pro-life community. Beloborodov is also the head of the Demographic Unit of the RIIS.
The Agenda Europe 2016 mailing list included, apart from key figures related to WCF and C-Fam employees, the name of Pavel Parfentiev from Family Policy Institute, who in 2013 became WCF Ambassador to the European Institutions and WCF advisor on the International Human Rights Law. Working alongside Alexey Komov, he also co-founded the Analytical Center FamilyPolicy.ru.
Back in 2013, Skarga activists’ website PCh24.pl quoted Parfentiev’s letter to Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, in which Parfentiev called for actions against the French government adopting pro-LGBT law. Seven years later, the CEO of the FamilyPolicy.Ru warmly welcomed “Poland’s intention to abandon such a document (Istanbul Convention), the purpose of which is not to protect real human rights, but to radically reorganize society and destroy its traditional foundations.”
According to Suchanow, the organisations that make up the WCF network have one more thing in common – they support the harsh anti-LGBT laws introduced in Russia by Vladimir Putin in 2013, aimed at “protecting children” by combating the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relationships”.
Today, a web of global networks of ultra-conservative organisations increase influence in Central Europe and impose their radical agenda. Step by step, they uproot liberal values, tighten the law, change the language of the debate, fill key positions and expand political connections.
Although we might be under the impression that this is such a broad international front, in fact, we are often dealing with the same people or with new entities built around existing organisations and networks. They have one thing in common: they pursue various ideological goals of radical conservatives. They fight gender, abortion, LGBT, sexual education and divorce. They want to rearrange Europe their own way – creating a world in which “pro-family” politics means creating laws based on the biblical vision of sex, marriage and motherhood.
By Julia Dauksza (Fundacja Reporterów, Poland)
The production of this investigation was supported by a grant from the Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU) fund.
*Ordo Iuris Legal Centre was inaugurated at the conference at Warsaw University in September 2012. Formally, the organisation was registered in 2013.