Racism and xenophobia in Europe

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Baku, November 16 –

Racism and discrimination cases have significantly been on the rise in the European countries for past several years. Traditional neo-Nazi rallies, more frequent attacks against migrants, and increased number and growing activity of racist and radical rightist organizations are the testament.

Presages of rising racism occurred in early 1990’s in Austria, France, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Bulgaria and other countries, where number of neo-Nazi organizations grew exponentially, and individuals, especially migrants, encountered frequent attacks and humiliation, based on their ethnic and religious affiliation.

Propagating Islamophobia, upon the events of 9/11, has only incited the racist and neo-Nazi movements in Europe. Convergence of traditional racist ideas with Islamophobia may entail more perilous trends. The mass murder of 77 people perpetrated by Norwegian terrorist Andres Breivik was a dire consequence of the trend.

Cores of racism in the “Old continent”

Indeed, since ancient times, various manifestations of racism have existed on the European continent. Alienating and branding other civilization representatives as barbarian or savage, and classification of people into superior and inferior groups based on their racial features have long standing tradition there. Mass extermination of the indigenous population during the greatest geographical discoveries of the middle ages had also emanated from the racist mindset of the Europeans.

In the late XIX century, Europe had also seen a surge of ideological currents attempting to theoretically substantiate racism. Thus, biological theory of the survival of the fittest within the evolution process suggested by Charles Darwin has gradually seen application in the social-political life. Such sociologists as Herbert Spencer and Francis Galton had attempted to justify social and political dominance of advanced and civilized races over others.

Surely, not by chance, that social Darwinism constituted the foundation of fascism and national-socialism ideas in Europe. Currents behind the deaths of millions of innocent people during the WWII were products of the racist mindset.

It is with the fall of fascism in Europe that propaganda of racist hatred was banned, racist organizations were eliminated, and principles of equality, humanism, tolerance and human rights came forth as universal values for nations of the continent and the entire mankind.

Is Europe rejecting the values it propagates around the world?

To all appearances, most European societies have come to ignore once cherished values, especially tolerance, meaning religious and ethnic forbearance. While European Union and its structures are preaching about tolerance and humanism in countries that had never seen serious race and religion based conflicts, those values are trampled within the EU itself. However, economic woes along with increasing migration should not be underestimated.

Tens of thousands were left unemployed and millions had seen their salaries sharply curtailed in the outcome of the economic crisis, which in turn spurred poverty and other social problems. Young generation faces considerable challenges with regards to employment in the EU, especially in the common currency zone. In the meantime, the influx of migrant workers only aggravates the situation, sparking disgruntlement and outrage. However, mounting racism should not be merely associated with economic hardships. For instance, the neo-Nazi movement of Austria, based on solid foundations, has overtly or clandestinely flourished for years.

Growing public support of rightist radicalism should be attributed to the clash of the civilizations that stem from rapprochement of the nations in the outcome of globalization. Once bearers of different civilization resettle in Europe collectively, their adjustment and assimilation to new environment becomes more challenging. During the April 2011 speech of the British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Conservatives had reiterated their concern with the matter (see). Therefore, European countries that once embraced foreigners and benefited immensely from their contributions to social, economic and cultural growth are now searching the ways to curb immigration.

Neo-Nazis and racists rising to political prominence

Serving as a social barometer, elections are vivid manifestation of growing racist sentiments. Therefore, during election campaigns, candidates resort to harsh and nationalist statements targeting immigrants, aiming to gain public support while election results clearly demonstrate ever growing popularity of the racist parties.

Past several years have registered facts of strengthening of radical rightists in the political life of certain countries. It is no secret that governments are not eager to undertake any significant measures to curb the trend. Ultra rightist “National Front” party of France, first time has gained over 13% votes in this year’s parliamentary elections. Party’s leader Marine Le Pin is famous for her nationalist speeches.

Outcome of the Greek elections of 2012 made it clear that 20% of casted votes favored rightist parties. First time in the Greek politics, most radical and racist party, “Golden Dawn”, claimed 7% of votes and gained 18 seats in 300 member parliament. The party’s prominence is growing exponentially. Public surveys conducted in October show that if new elections were to be held in Greece the same party would claim 14% of votes and become the third largest political party in the country. While compared to May survey popularity of “Golden Dawn” surged from 12% to 22% in September (see).

Although, Ukraine’s “Svoboda” (Freedom) party was only able to gain 0.76% of votes during 2007 parliamentary elections there, this time around, during extraordinary elections held on October the 28th 2012, this distinctively xenophobic party claimed some 10% of votes and gained 37 out of 450 available parliamentary seats.

Indeed, there are plenty of nationalism and racism opponents in Europe. However, increasing radicalism trends in the public mindset are undeniable. Should this be the course of the events, in near future we may see racist, political parties have an impact on government decisions or be represented within some coalition governments in Europe. The fate of tolerance, equality, human rights and other democratic values that Europe prides itself with would not be unimaginable.

Hulya Mammadli

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