Monday, 21 October 2013

EUROPEAN RACISM AND GYPSIES: the new "Distant Mirror"

There is a new "Distant Mirror" that Europeans need to look into and see what is staring back at them. Is what they see in this societal mirror freedom and democracy, pluralism and social justice, an open society for all people with the promise for progress based on merit criteria? Or is the societal mirror darkened by the suffering of non-white immigrants, non-Christian communities, roaming gypsies trying to survive another day begging in the streets?  

The recent revelation of a four-year old blonde child (Maria) apparently of Bulgarian origin found to be living with Greek gypsies has attracted a great deal of attention throughout the European mainstream media and government. This international news headline almost coincided with that of a gypsy teenager arrested and deported from France. In the case of Maria the blonde child, presumably sold, traded, abducted or given to gypsies, the media and politicians have been using it to invoke fear and dread of child trafficking that involves gypsies. INTERPOL has informed the Greek government that the little blonde child is not on the list of missing persons internationally, nor is she on any national register. The issue of child trafficking is global and in Europe it has been centered in the Balkans, involving money making operations and everyone from lawyers to corrupt public officials. However, this is an issue in which white Christian Europeans are at the center, and Roma elements used as a pretext to cover the illegal operations.

In the case of  Leonarda Dibrani that the French deported with her family to Kosovo in early October 2013 the media has been trying to present as an isolated incident of a bureaucratic problem for which the Socialist government in Paris is responsible. Both cases are a manifestation of the racism that runs very deep across Europe, the scapegoating that people seek in difficult economic periods, the common street prejudice that becomes part of folklore and a segment of the population accepts as real as the sun as the earth's source of light.

This article is not intended to comment on the legal aspects of these cases, nor on their legal merits and of those involved in them. Instead, this is an attempt to place the issue of gypsies in European society in some historical context and to explain why such cases attract so much international media, political and public attention, considering that these are mostly "human interest" stories with political subplots, at a time that there are so many serious societal problems.

In neither the French case of the deported teenager nor of the Greek case of the Bulgarian girl living with gypsy parents is there much emphasis on the deep historical roots of anti-gypsy mindset and practice that dates as far back as the 13th century, and it remains as the longest and most vibrant racist mode of though in Europe. The unfortunate reality is that the media and politicians simply take for granted the assumptions of the majority of the population about gypsies, always remembering to place the issue in "politically correct" terminology.

From the time of the Ottoman Empire's expansion into the heart of Europe in the 16th century until the Nazi holocaust that included gypsies as targets for extermination, Europeans have entertained anti-gypsy (antiziganism) tendencies that remain deeply imbedded in white Christian culture. That gypsies took white children is an old tale, but in reality gypsy children with one non-gypsy parent were taken from their parents at the age of five to be raised by a Christian family in 18th century Austria, while in 18th and 19th century Romania gypsies were used as slaves by rich landowners, monasteries and princes. In today's Europe, a few gypsies do not collect or steal children, but they do work with unscrupulous lawyers and corrupt public officials to sell children mostly from Eastern Europe to childless parents. This too is a reflection of the European institutional mainstream, and not necessarily of gypsies who sell everything from scrap metal to fruits and vegetables.

In folklore, the Europeans invariably associated with Satan worship, witchcraft, non-conformity to indigenous culture, thus anti-social and anti-establishment "untouchables" of Europe with origin in India, moving into Europe around the same time as the Seljuk Turk attacks on the Byzantium in the 13th century. By the 15th century when the Black Death was in full swing, gypsies lived throughout Europe. Many Christian Europeans assumed that gypsies were carriers of the Black Death, largely because they were roaming from one place to another, thus carrying the disease.

The Roma (gypsies) were the target of every European society from Tsarist Russia to the Iberian peninsula. Besides expulsions from local areas, gypsies were also subjected to torture, such as flogging, cutting off their ears, branded with irons, etc. Society needed a scapegoat for calamities that befall upon it and it was convenient to have the gypsies that were the ultimate outcasts and underclass of society. Representing the lowest social ladder of European society, and having no permanent affiliation with any societal institution, gypsies were believed to be potential enemies of the institutional mainstream against whom one must always be on guard. Free from institutional constraints, they have always been free to make a living in any manner, especially illegal activities that include trafficking, prostitution, narcotics, and especially theft.

But why do we have the persistence in the public mind about tales of gypsies stealing children. Actually, in Romania there was a tradition of a Christian family offering to a gypsy woman a sickly child, partly because it was assumed that gypsies were healers. Without any institutional legitimacy, or social respect, the gypsies because easy targets for Nazis who executed between 500,000 and 1,5 million in the 'other' holocaust. Unlike the holocaust suffered by the Jews in the hands of Nazis, the gypsy holocaust is mentioned, but very few people and no institution or government would bother treating the gypsy holocaust like the Jewish one, because white Europeans simply do not feel guilty about Germany eliminating hundreds of thousands of gypsies, mostly non-white, non-Christian, non-conformist.

In today's Europe, there are those who want gypsies out of their country, or at best concentrated in ghettos, which is essentially what exists, although they are very dispersed. In many former Communist countries of Eastern and East-Central Europe, the segregation is legalized, and it includes separate schools for gypsy children. Nevertheless,  the Christian majority often complains that gypsies are a drain on the precious resources of the state, everything from health care and education to other welfare benefits, including those of child rearing. Given that the "gypsy" issue is one that conservative political parties across Europe see as a problem for society, France above all during the Sarkozy presidency, neo-Nazis and neo-Fascists have also used the issue as part of the anti-immigration trend targeting Muslims and Africans.

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights the incidents of racist violence has been rising in the last decade or so.  All across Europe the victims are gypsies, Muslims and African immigrants. 
Given that the political climate is against them as parasites and outcasts, gypsies have been subject to violence by hate groups. Because the police and courts are a reflection of society, they turn a blind eye to violence against gypsies and to violence within gypsy communities. Although the Council of Europe and human rights organizations have put together reports of anti-gypsy crimes, hardly anything is done because there is a presumption of guilt for the gypsy that mainstream institutions and society at large regard as parasites and a social stigma.

Hitler struck a sensitive cord in his propaganda when he argued that people do not want to bother with the structural political, social and economic causes of why things are not going well in society; people want, in fact they need, according to Hitler, someone specifically to blame for their problems and to hate. Society needs someone to blame and hate for its problems, so why not the roaming gypsies that are not part of mainstream society, they are not of the same God and country.

The gypsy girl that France under a Socialist president deported, as though it needed more evidence that even middle class French Socialists can be just as racists as their conservative counterparts under Sarkozy illustrates that white Europeans feel no guilt for their racism; just as post-WWII Europe simply brushed over the gypsy holocaust victims, focusing primarily on the Jews. The case of the four-year old blonde Bulgarian girl living with Greek gypsies is another case illustrating that society is ready to use such incidents to cry out against gypsies "milking the welfare system" by claiming as many children as possible; of gypsies posing a threat to the otherwise outstanding social fabric; of gypsies representing a stigma on a society that would be better off if they were either in concentration camps with the illegal refugees or out of the country or back behind the old "Iron Curtain". The ultimate irony and a reflection of the hypocrisy of racist society is that the ethnic prejudice toward the Bulgarian child is overlooked because an even larger "social enemy", namely the gypsy, is the target. Let's face it, there is hierarchy in prejudice and racism, and some ethnic, racial and religious groups rank lower than others!

These two cases illustrate nothing about the gypsies, but speak volumes of white Christians, of European "open society under democratic regimes", of a white European value system that has more in common with the mindset that prevailed during the Black Death and the age of witchcraft in the Elizabethan era. The Distant Mirror, as Barbara Tuchman entitled her book about societal prejudices, and religiously-sanctioned and government-supported acts of injustice in the age of the Black Death, remains very much a part of the 21st century. I have no doubt that it makes many Europeans feel better about themselves that are are gypsies around because a good scapegoat, especially one that does not induce guilt feelings, is always good to have around. Is there a better distraction that politicians and the media can use than gypsies to redirect the attention of people from structural problems ranging from unemployment and lower living standards for the middle class and workers to crony capitalism that has been institutionalized as corporate welfare. None of these are "real problems", as long as we have the gypsies around, along with the Muslim and African immigrants invading white Christian Europe.

Postscript: reply to comment from Linkedin member:
 "Social exclusion" vs. societal integration was an issue with the Jews under the Czars in the Russian Empire. The question is why was there social exclusion of the Russian Jews, who lived in a semi-marginalized existence, vs. the gypsies, most of whom are in the periphery of the economy, both legal and underground, while a small percentage across Europe are part of the social mainstream. Since I wrote the article on the gypsies, the second one I have written in the last three years, first entitled "Europe's Werewolves" in connection with French racism, there has been a deluge of commentary by the media, politicians and commentators against gypsies from Ireland to Bulgaria. I maintain that Europeans feel no guilt immersing themselves in racism known as anti-tsiganist.  Despite numerous warnings issued by the European Commission, the European Parliament, the United Nations, Vatican and all the international human rights associations, a number of governments, most notably the French where the neo-Fascist party of Marine Le Pen is gaining in popularity, have continued blatant discrimination and persecution of the Roma. Europeans are even more anti-tsiganist now than they were five-ten years ago, Racism is on the rise and in the mind of the prejudiced Christians gypsies are right there along the Muslims who make every effort to integrate in mainstream society. Pure and simple, it makes white Christians feel good to have a scapegoat for their problems, instead of looking at themselves in the mirror.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Neoliberalism and the rise of Neo-Nazism-Neo-Fascism

In the wake of the Greek government’s crackdown of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn in late September 2013, other European far right-wing parties, including the French headed by Marine Le Pen, denounced their Greek counterparts. True that the Greek neo-Nazis are probably the most violent, linked to assassinations, most corrupt involving illegal activities ranging from money laundering to gun and prostitution rings. However, this is the same Golden Dawn that other European far right parties had associations and contacts in previous years. Why are the European far right wing parties as anxious to distance their groups from Golden Dawn as the mainstream conservative parties? 

Part of the answer is that the neo-Nazism in Greece was blatantly anti-Semitic, openly defiant of the EU, and it was a symbol of a criminal organization using the cover of parliamentary immunity to commit a number of crimes that began to impact the mainstream of society.Why is this particular party so anti-Semitic when other neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist parties are mostly anti-Islam? Golden Dawn is anti-Islam, but reflecting the reality of anti-Semitism among a segment of the Greek people, it remains anti-Semitic more so than any other European far right party. After all, conspiracy theories involving Jews and the banks, Jews and the US government, Jews and the mass media remain popular, at least among a segment of the population that is looking for specific people to blame, instead of looking to institutional structures, for the problems in the world economy.

While there is no threat of neo-Nazi or neo-Fascist parties forming governments anywhere in the Wetsern World, there is a disturbing rise in extreme right wing parties like Golden Dawn in the last two decades. One of the reasons that far right wing parties have thrived in the last two decades is because they have dropped the emphasis on anti-Semitism and taken on the issue of Islam as the new enemy. Given that the state has legitimized Islamophobia through the war on terror targeting Muslims, the neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist groups simply go one step farther by adopting an even more extreme position on the issue of xenophobia, thus remaining acceptable in the mainstream of society and institutions from police and military to media and government. As long as these neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist groups are focused on Muslims and people of color, they become acceptable to pro-Israel entities that are on the same side in wishing to weaken the ‘Muslim enemy’.  

The strange alliance between ultra-right wing groups and pro-Israel and pro-Jewish groups is most evident in the US where Christian fundamentalists, Tea Party fanatics and varieties of other extreme right wing groups have often enjoyed the backing of pro-Jewish elements. Only where the neo-Nazis are openly anti-Semitic, as is the case of the Greek Golden Dawn party that is the most pro-Hitler in the Western World, have pro-Israel and Jewish organizations objected vehemently and used their lobbying influence through government, businesses and non-government organizations to have the state crush neo-Nazism. Therefore, while the Islamophobia neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist groups have enjoyed at the very least the silence of Jewish lobbying organizations, crossing the line and adopting an anti-Semitic position has meant that the state will try to crush the extreme right wing.  

As long as racist bigotry and police violence has as its target the leftists and Muslims, then the extreme right wing is able to operate within that framework and actually claim that it is even more representative of what society wants or secretly craves than the mainstream political parties. Moreover, the extreme right wing can claim that it offers a sense of national identity without any shame or apologies to those favoring internationalism and multiculturalism. In fact conservative judges have shown extraordinary leniency toward xenophobic groups, including neo-Nazi and neo-Fascists in a number of European countries, including Germany and Greece, in the last two decades. This level of tolerance has taken place despite the anti-neo-Nazi, anti-xenophobic rhetoric by the EU and its member states.

There is indeed a gap between the rhetoric of "political correctness" that politicians and media employ, on the one hand, and the reality of discrimination, on the other. In fact, even the neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist organizations are often careful what rhetoric to employ in public and what they use within their ranks. For example, xenophobic and racist rhetoric is always used in the context of what is popular among a segment of the population that sees a threat to its way of life from foreigners, especially non-whites. Given that the "war on terror" is institutionalized, it provides the ideal cover for far right groups to be claiming that they are simply on the side of those fighting Islamist terrorism when in fact they are pursuing a racist neo-Nazi/neo-Fascist agenda. Therefore, populist rhetoric becomes a way of articulating a message of bigotry that tends to find an audience with those seeking to scapegoat a specific group of people of the institutional ills of society. 

The parliamentary system actually has helped to promote neo-Nazism and neo-Fascism in several respects. First, governments pass laws under the general category of “terrorism”, mainly with Islam as the main target, but also focused on leftist organizations, including activist organizations protecting the rights of labor and minorities. Second, given the goal of legislation dealing with extremist groups identified as leftist and Muslim, the police and courts are also focused on the same as ‘enemies of the state’. Third, the media and mainstream society identify the same groups as enemies, while giving a pass to neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist groups that are just as opposed to leftists and Muslims. Given that the neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist is in line with the goals of the mainstream, there is no reason not to be a part of the societal core and operate within the parliamentary system under the label of “patriotism”.  

Against the background of economic contraction that results in lower living standards for workers and the middle class, the mainstream political parties – everything from Conservative and Liberal to “Socialist” in name but neo-liberal in practice – are in essence much worse than the seemingly patriotic extreme right wing that flirts with Fascism and Nazism. What more can the neo-Nazis and neo-Fascists do that the mainstream political parties have not done in the name of democracy? Endemic political corruption, business-corporate fraud protected by the state, high-handed police state methods against those challenging the system within constitutional means like protests and strikes, weakening the social safety net while strengthening the corporate welfare system, promising social justice and delivering injustice.

Given that the conservative and centrist political parties that switch in governing Western countries, and given the few policy differences between them, policies that make a difference in the lives of the majority, people have become disillusioned with mainstream politics. Expressing their disillusionment through far right parties is more acceptable in society because the media and mainstream political parties have made it so. Going to the far right, one immediately identifies with the patriotic movement, interested in nostalgically taking the country back to a better time when things were ‘normal’, uncomplicated by influx of foreigners, Islamic terrorism, leftist intellectuals and politicians seeking egalitarianism, feminists and gay marriage advocates, ‘cultural bastards’ trying to pollute the minds of the youth through modern anti-establishment music, art and books.  

Governments trying to impose policies that create greater inequality and injustice feel comfortable having a segment of society drift to the far right that is there to counterbalance the left protesting mainstream policies and institutions. Moreover, government uses the far right as an example of why voters must support the policies of the mainstream political parties. To make sure that people remain loyal to the centrist and conservative parties that alternate in government, the mainstream parties invariably identify the far right and the left as comparable threats that society must reject. In short, the neo-Nazi/neo-Fascist presence in essence serves the neo-liberal agenda move forward because the majority of the people invariably become subservient to a system that they see as the only realistic possibility, even though it may not be the best system possible for society.
Loss of confidence in the parliamentary system itself, not just in the mainstream political parties is at the root of disillusioned voters that seek out salvation in neo-Nazism and neo-Fascism. In short, the decadent parliamentary system, and grossly unequal economic system combined with social injustice that gave rise to Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany also accounts for the rise of neo-Nazism and neo-Fascism in the early 21st century. Of course, there are those who argue that the “problem” of Asian and African influx of legal and illegal aliens in the Western World poses a threat to the social fabric, way of life, economy and the ideal of a homogeneous society as extreme right wingers see it. The perceived threat that the white race is diminishing in numbers, that the non-white Muslims and others from Africa and Asia will soon be a part of the societal mainstream frightens the Western Caucasians who maintain dreams of ethnic and/or racial purity.  

The question of why people become neo-Nazi or neo-Fascist is not just for psychologists, but all social scientists. It is true that the profile of a far-right wing follower is one of a disgruntled, desperate individual, in many cases expressing deviant behavior or suffering from psychological problems. While this may be true, it does not go far enough, given that millions of people voted for Hitler and they were not all psychotic, and millions are extreme right-wingers today. At the core of the issue is the political economy rooted in inequality and absence of social justice. Fear that society is slowly eroding, the social fabric falling apart, combined with myths of demonizing and scapegoating minorities that preclude achieving the dream of a superior society is another dimension in the rise of far right parties in the Western World. In each society, the nuance of the right wing movement assumes unique features. For example, in the US, blacks and other minorities historically have been a target of far right wingers. In each country there is a history, traditions, and unique culture on which the far right builds its myths and cultivates fears to attract followers.
Disdain for freedom, democracy, multiculturalism and a belief in authoritarian government that would return society far back in time is the link of the far right, regardless of where they are. However, these organizations need funds to operate and the sources of funding are another intriguing dimension of their emergence. In many cases, wealthy individuals provide funding for far right parties and organizations, partly because they believe in their eclectic ideology, but also because the far right keeps the left and labor organizations in check. Just as Hitler received funding from wealthy individuals to secure his vast operations before coming to power, so do modern far right organizations. Given the modern spying methods via telephones and internet, governments are well aware of who is financing extreme right wing groups. In the absence of complicity by government, and the support of wealthy individuals, it would have been impossible for the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn to operate on the massive scale that it has. The same holds true for other far right wing parties in the West. Therefore, at the core of the rise of neo-Nazism/neo-Fascism is the manner in which democracy operates to ensure the preservation of the neoliberal status quo.

Are asylum seekers from  Africa and Asia the cause of neo-Nazism?
Italy and Greece have repeatedly complained to the EU that more needs to be done about the massive influx of asylum seekers. After the recent tragedy of the ship that sunk and took the lives of several hundred Africans, the Italian government once again appealed to the EU for help and asked that Greece and Italy were entry points for Africans and Asians headed for the West. The EU does provide some funding, but when we have war-torn and civil-war torn countries in a number of African and Middle Eastern areas, there are limits to what the EU can do because people will find ways illegally to enter European soil. Greece has set up what amount to concentration camps for illegals that are captured, while Germany as the richest EU country does provide preferential treatment for white immigrants vs. those of color. The same is the case throughout Europe. France targets non-whites and gypsies that many see as sources of crime. Finally, Norway, a country with the highest living standard, or at least in the top five in the world, has active neo-Nazis targeting Muslims. Unlike Greece and Italy, Norway is not under austerity, but a segment of its citizens wants socio-cultural catharsis. Here is where scholarship needs to take into account not a single cause for the rise of neo-Nazism in the West, but everything from historical, ideological, and cultural to economic and political.