Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others. Racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and war, and even during economic downturns. Racism is also a very touchy subject for some people, as issues concerning free speech and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights come into play.
Some people argue that talking about supporting racial discrimination and prejudice is just words and that free speech should allow such views to be aired without restriction. Others point out that these words can lead to some very dire and serious consequences (the Nazi government policies being one example). “Europe has a regional human rights architecture which is unrivaled elsewhere in the world”, Amnesty International notes in their 2010 report on the Europe and Central Asia region.
But the human rights watchdog also adds that as well as guarding a proud reputation as a beacon of human rights, “it is sadly still the case, however, that the reality of protection from human rights abuses for many of those within its borders falls short of the rhetoric. ” In recent years, one of those forms of abuses has been in the area of race, often growing with changing economic circumstances and increased immigration to the region.
From the institutionalized racism especially in colonial times, when racial beliefs — even eugenics — were not considered something wrong, to recent times where the effects of neo-Nazism is still felt, Europe is a complex area with many cultures in a relatively small area of land that has seen many conflicts throughout history. (Many of these conflicts have had trade, resources and commercial rivalry at their core, but national identities have often added fuel to some of these conflicts. ) Racism has also been used to justify exploitation, even using “pseudo-science”:
Debates over the origins of racism often suffer from a lack of clarity over the term. Many conflate recent forms of racism with earlier forms of ethnic and national conflict. In most cases ethno-national conflict seems to owe to conflict over land and strategic resources. In some cases ethnicity and nationalism were harnessed to wars between great religious empires (for example, the Muslim Turks and the Catholic Austro-Hungarians). As Benedict Anderson has suggested in Imagined Communities, ethnic identity and ethno-nationalism became a source of conflict within such empires with the rise of print-capitalism.
In its modern form, racism evolved in tandem with European exploration and conquest of much of the rest of the world, and especially after Christopher Columbus reached the Americas. As new peoples were encountered, fought, and ultimately subdued, theories about “race” began to develop, and these helped many to justify the differences in position and treatment of people whom they categorized as belonging to different races (see Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History). Another possible source of racism is the misunderstanding of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution.
Some took Darwin’s theories to imply that since some “races” were more civilized, there must be a biological basis for the difference. At the same time they appealed to biological theories of moral and intellectual traits to justify racial oppression. There is a great deal of controversy about race and intelligence, in part because the concepts of both race and IQ are themselves controversial. — Racism, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, May 1, 2004 In “the century of total war”, and the new millenium, Europe is seeing an alarming resurgence in xenophobia and racial hatred.
A short review from the Inter Press Service highlights the rise of neo-Nazism in 2000 in Europe and suggests that “far from being a fringe activity, racism, violence and neo-nationalism have become normal in some communities. The problems need to tackled much earlier, in schools and with social programmes. ” Ethnic minorities and different cultures in one country can often be used as a scapegoat for the majority during times of economic crisis. That is one reason why Nazism became so popular.
In France, May 2002, the success of far right politician Le Pen in the run for leadership (though he lost out in the end) sent a huge shockwave throughout Europe, about how easy it was for far right parties to come close to getting power if there is complacency in the democratic processes and if participation is reduced. In various places throughout Western Europe, in 2002, as Amnesty International highlights, there has been a rise in racist attacks and sentiments against both Arabs and Jews, in light of the increasing hostilities in the Middle East.
Earlier in 1998, in an area of Germany a right wing racist party won an unprecedented number of votes. In Austria, the Freedom Party was able to secure the majority of the cabinet posts. The party is an extreme far right party, whose leader, Jorg Heider, has been accused of sympathetic statements towards the Nazis. The European Union has reacted to this indicating that Austria’s participation may be in jeopardy. This Guardian Special Report has much more in-depth coverage. In Italy, there are attempts to try and deal with the rise in undocumented immigrants from Tunisia.
The reactions from the right wing have been labeled by some as being “openly racist”. Into 2010 and problems of racism in Italy continue. For example, a wave of violence against African farm workers in southern Italy left some 70 people injured. This resulted in police having to evacuate over 300 workers from the region. The workers were easy targets being exploited as fruit pickers living in difficult conditions. They earn “starvation wages” according to a BBC reporter, doing “backbreaking work which Italians do not want” in a labor market controlled by the local mafia.
Spain has seen increased racial violence. The growing economy invites immigrants from North African countries such as Morocco. However, the poor conditions that immigrants have had to endure and the already racially charged region has led to friction and confrontations. In 1997, Human Rights Watch noted that, “The U. K. has one of the highest levels of racially-motivated violence and harassment in Western Europe, and the problem is getting worse. ” In April 1999, London saw two bombs explode in predominantly ethnic minority areas, in the space of one week, where a Nazi group has claimed responsibility.
The summer of 2001 saw many race-related riots in various parts of northern England. For over a decade, immigration issues have been headlines in the UK. The nature of the discussions bear a clear racial dimension as well as hostility to Eastern Europeans, such as those from Poland. Anti-immigrant rhetoric has also contributed to increasing interest in racist political parties such as the British National Party. This also, predictably, has increased as the global financial crisis impacts more of Britain’s population.
Anti immigration sentiment has also been seen in Switzerland as the country has repeatedly tightened its asylum policy due to concerns about increasing numbers of illegal migrants. Greece has one of the worst records in the European Union for racism against ethnic minorities, according to the BBC. Anti-immigrant sentiment has long been high, especially against ethnic Albanians, who form the largest minority. Until the 1990s, the BBC notes, Greece had been an extremely homogenous society. With the fall of communism many immigrants from Eastern Europe came to Greece.
Albanians especially have been targetted by a lot of racist sentiment. Some hostage taking by a few Albanians in recent years has not helped the situation. Russia has seen violent anti-racism on the rise in recent years together with the rise of neo-Nazism (which is a cruel irony given the immense death toll the Soviet Union suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany during World War II). Although the previous report is from 2006, Amnesty International’s 2010 report shows that despite greater recognition of the problem, effective programs to tackle the issue still do not exist.
So far, the above represents an incredibly tiny number of examples and details. Many, many more events haven’t been mentioned, as it is admittedly difficult to keep up with all the different items. For more details and up-to-date information, one web site to check out the UK-based Institute of Race Relations and their subsection attempting to document the rising support for the extreme-Right in local and central government in Europe, building on a platform of populist anti-immigrant policies.