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Many Europeans are still fighting against discrimination
The concepts of "integration" and "otherness" have been interpreted variously in EU countries, with differing perspectives shaped by local cultural and political contexts. Policies against discrimination have been avidly pursued in an attempt to make immigrants feel home wherever they go in Europe. But social exclusion is always lurking. Ana Maria Ducuta, a Romanian student of Comparative Politics and contributor to the Centre for European Policy Evaluation, gives her personal experience of discrimination and reflects on immigration and related EU actions.
Even in our modern Europe, xenophobia is still a plague. Eastern Europeans such as Bulgarians or Romanians who go abroad are regular victims of xenophobic feelings. Eastern Europeans are regarded by some Western societies as barbarians and in some cases criminals too. On many occasions when I went abroad, after people got to know my Romanian friends and me, they have affirmed "we are good people despite the fact that we are Romanians" and that "we know more foreign languages than they ever will". You never get to understand the harmful nature of xenophobic stereotypes until you are faced with a real situation in which you are made to feel unwelcome before you have done or even said a thing.
In some moments while abroad, such as at workshops, conferences or youth gatherings, I have been asked how Romanians deal with the high rate of delinquency and crimes, or whether it is safe to go out on the streets of Bucharest after 8pm. Others have asked me if I used to live alone and whether I intend to move to a safe western country, where civilisation is the key word. I listened in awe every time I heard references to the grotesque way we live "here" in Romania. I could see the pity foreigners felt upon encountering an apparently good girl with the misfortune to have been born "in the wrong place". So, each and every time, I take a deep breath and embark on an explanation from the very basic beginning: that we are not thieves or criminals, that Bucharest is much safer city than many western European capitals, that Romania has given to the world the inventors of sonic drilling, the insulin injection, jet engines, the pen or the cholera vaccine, not to mention artists, writers and scientists whose work has been crucial in the development of art or medicine.
The Eurozone crisis is being heralded as the downfall of the European Union. But the far more dangerous influences lie on the fringes of mainstream politics. The far right are back from oblivion, they've got a new mainstream face, and it's European.
A TRAGEDY IN NORWAY, A WIDER THREAT
On the 22nd July 2011 Anders Breivik walked into a summer youth camp in Utøya, Norway and killed 69 young left-wing activists. It was a politically motivated killing spree that shook Europe and refocused attention to the extreme right of the political spectrum. Yet it is the far right political movements, often seen as the acceptable face of fascism, rather than the spontaneous outbursts of violence that hold the real threat to Europe.
|Photo: Moony (BY-NC)|
|Same ideas in a new and different form?|
Having given up on extreme violence and donned the suit of a politician, a wide range of far right politicians issued condemnations of Breivik's act. These included prominent Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who described Breivik as 'violent and sick'. Yet those same politicians who publicly denounced his violent means would also find a lot in common with the central ideas of Breivik's 1,467 page manifesto 'A European declaration of Independence'.
Acting as the call to a European civil war, Breivik's manifesto displays a familiar brand of anti-immigration, anti-Islamic populism that has taken root in many rightist movements across Europe. Based upon the claim that Islamic culture is not compatible with Western European civilisation, it argues for a long term campaign to remove it from European countries. Whilst Breivik's invocation of defensive war may be more violently extreme than anything the far right would suggest, it is the essence of what Wilders argued for when he called for the expulsion of Muslims who 'cause problems, and their whole family' and an immediate halt to immigration into the Netherlands from Muslim countries.
THE NEW FAR RIGHT
A broad consensus exists among far right parties that emphasises Islam as a dangerous and alien culture that is fundamentally incompatible with the West. In particular they emphasise that the implementation of sharia law is a natural consequence of Islam's presence in Europe - Islam often being conflated with a radical Islamist variation. Futhermore, they argue that the state policy of multiculturalism is, instead of promoting cultures living together, leading to 'the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe', in which western culture is being placed under threat.
Key tropes of cultural annihilation are being harnessed by the far right to provoke people's fear of the relatively new complexity in their societies brought on by a rapidly globalising world. In response, parties such as the British National Party and Front Nationale posit a wave of direct, seemingly simple measures to reverse the consequences of immigration into European countries. These include policies against the building of mosques, bans on importing halal meat, and the promise to end a perceived tide of foreign immigration.
A few days ago I finally finished reading The Native Realm. A great book by Czesław Miłosz that is highly-recommended for anyone who claims to be European. "The native Europe" (which seems to be a more accurate translation) is a fascinating memoir and an intellectual walk along the meandering European paths of the 20th century. But this is not going to be a glorifying review of a brilliant book - although I do encourage you to read it. I'm referring to Miłosz for a rather less optimistic reason.
Last week European public opinion was once again bewildered by Geert Wilders (we all know this flamboyant platinum blond "statesman"). This time his Party for Freedom (PVV) launched a website where Dutch people can file complaints against immigrants from "Middle and Eastern European countries." The complaints are going to be presented to the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment.
Once you've entered the site and recovered your eyesight after being dazzled by Wilders's shining mane, you'll see giant headlines from Dutch newspapers: "Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians – increasingly criminal," "Eastern European gangs in villages" or "Problems with Poles" and a story about some supermarket with misspelled Polish names (of course). The text underneath is even better. "The massive labour migration leads to many problems, nuisances, pollution [sic!], displacements and housing problems (…) Have you ever lost a job to a Pole, Bulgarian, Romanian or other Eastern European? Do you have problems with Eastern Europeans? We'd like to hear."
IN 13 DAYS