Can Europe Make It?

Modern racism

Why a compromise in international politics no longer plays on the side of democracy. And it is democracy that is at stake.

Valery Engel
26 April 2019
An Dream Dearg, a network of Irish language activists protest at the Department of Communities in Belfast, 2017.
An Dream Dearg, a network of Irish language activists protest against cuts to Irish language bursaries, outside at the Department of Communities in Belfast, 2017..
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Niall Carson/PA. All rights reserved.

Modern racism does not operate with the concepts of ‘race’, but with the concepts of ‘incompatibility of cultures’, ‘protection of indigenous cultural values’, ‘clash of civilizations’ etc., and it considers cultural diversity within the state as solely a threat.

Back in 1954, an American psychologist, author of the Theory of Personality Traits, Dr. Gordon Allport, wrote that Cultural Racism arises when "one group declares its claim to determine cultural values for the whole society." Such an approach implies not only ethnocentrism, i.e. making the culture and heritage of the main group the central value of this group, but also imposing this culture on other groups.

Modern racism… considers cultural diversity within the state as solely a threat.

The opposition of "indigenous" peoples to "non-indigenous", based on cultural arguments, has played a crucial role in this discourse. This means that the concept of ‘race’ is replaced by the concept of ‘culture’, but all other components of racial theory remain unchanged. Exactly this problem is the most acute in Europe today, and it became so the minute many politicians and parts of society began to consider it politically correct and refused to accept that this caused the problem of discrimination against minorities.

These polemicists all believe that different racial and ethnic groups with different cultural codes have no chance of getting along with each other. It is important to understand that, unlike in America, in Europe and, partially in Asia and Africa, popular notions of ‘race’ and ‘ethnic group’ often merge and local racists do not distinguish between the two. Under these circumstances, racism can completely merge with ethno-nationalism and lead to the dehumanization of diverse cultural “others” and even ethnic cleansing, as occurred in the 90s in the former Yugoslavia.

In the discourse of modern racism, the necessity of limiting the influence of a minority culture upon the culture of the indigenous majority is generally accepted. Three methods are commonly used to carry this out:

1) Restricting the flow of people of other cultures into the country, including restricting immigration in order to limit the cultural influence of a minority.

2) Reducing the presence of representatives of another culture in the country. A variety of economic, political or cultural-educational tools are used for this purpose, forcing undesirable people of another culture to leave the country.

3) Cultural assimilation of minorities. This is declared a benefit for the national minority involved, increasingly replacing the term "integration". Although integration is a two-way street, assimilation is always a movement in one direction – towards the majority.

It is necessary to distinguish between voluntary and compulsory assimilation.

It is obvious that voluntary assimilation cannot be considered as a sign of modern racism, because it depends on the right to choose. It is absolutely normal if people have the right to choose their cultural identity.

Forced assimilation is a sign of racism, i.e. policies aimed at an involuntary change of identity. It includes depriving national minorities of the right to choose in matters of their education and culture. There should be no enforcement of majority culture on minorities; the destruction of the educational infrastructure of national minorities, including private schools and universities, accompanied by a total ban on education in the languages of national minorities; a ban on the use of the language of national minorities in communication with the authorities and even in everyday life.

So, modern racism involves violent acts aimed at limiting the influence of another culture. The consequences of such actions are that minorities are forced to abandon their own culture and to be absorbed by the majority culture. I repeat, this may be served up like a boon to minorities. But the right of choice is not granted to them in this case, except for one thing – to leave their country.

Therefore, the classic racist openly says that he doesn’t like the representatives of a certain race; but the racist of the twenty first century says, for example, that he doesn’t like mosques because they spoil the look of European cities, and also calls for another identity to be imposed on the neighbor in order to preserve “equal opportunities”.

Modern racism is a threat primarily in countries where classical racism is no longer politically correct and outlawed. Can we definitively state that there are European countries which openly profess modern racism? No, but such trends are making themselves more evident.

Refusing to accept refugees under the pretence of protecting the culture of the majority or a ban on worship in any language other than the state one, as in Italy; the deprivation of citizenship for ex-immigrants without any court decision, as for example in Netherlands in 2016-17; more and more strict bans on wearing religious clothes in public places in many European countries; the targeted destruction of the existing infrastructure of bilingual education or education in the languages ​​of national minorities; the prohibition of teaching in national minorities schools in the languages ​​of national minorities, including private educational institutions (as in Ukraine and Latvia), and the idea of criminal sanctions for calls for official multilingualism; the targeted reduction of media in minority languages, as in Ukraine; an emerging practice of removing Muslim children from their families for the purpose of acquainting (and actually imposing) European values on them, such as a Christian Easter and Christmaslike in Denmark, etc. – all these are examples of an emergent modern racism.

Why now?

Admittedly, it is quite typical for countries to have right-wing radicals in their ruling coalition, but the number of such countries is increasing. So why are right-wing regimes introducing such elements of modern racism into their policies?

First of all, they are afraid of large minority groups that they want to see assimilated or forced to emigrate. In addition, the number of nationalist voters, frightened by migration processes, is growing rapidly. And these are important votes. Often they motivate their actions by citing revenge for an evil that, according to national tradition, was committed against the majority tens or even hundreds of years ago, or revenge against the historical homeland of certain minorities.

It has long been proven that surges in antisemitism initiated in Europe are associated with any aggravation in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the growth of anti-Islamic protests – with the terrorist activity of DAESH, and the escalation of Russophobia in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. So, minorities become hostages of external circumstances on which they cannot have any influence.

As a result, we face with a whole group of new, but in fact old, risks. First, there are political risks:

  1. Racism returns to political discourse, albeit in a different form.

- The concept of the nation state is transformed in countries that allow manifestations of modern racism. These countries are gradually returning to the concept current in the second half of the nineteenth century, when a Nation used to be presented as something cohesive, monolithic, with people ‘like us’. In the wider society the nation is perceived as a collective personality with the sum of national values, including language and culture, values which should be duly manifest in the behavior of each and everyone of ‘us’. Such a society gradually moves towards homogeneity and monoculturalism.

These countries are gradually returning to the concept current in the second half of the nineteenth century, when a Nation used to be presented as something cohesive, monolithic, with people ‘like us’.

- In the conflict between democratic values, such as the freedom of choice and diversity, and the interests of a monocultural society in countries influenced by modern racism, interests are gradually winning. This leads to a smooth transformation of democratic societies into ‘universal states’, which tend to control all spheres of society and, as a consequence, to a deficit in democracy.

- Finally, the risks of interracial and inter-ethnic conflicts increase dramatically in countries forcibly imposing a majority culture on a minority. In addition, today about 30% of Muslim migrants in Europe and 85% of Eastern European irredentists, for example in Latvia, do not wish to assimilate. Precisely in this environment, radical organizations are most effective, filling in the vacuum that has arisen after the state’s refusal to engage in educational issues, including religious, and minority cultures.

Secondly, there are socio-cultural risks:

- The risk of a sharp decrease in the quality of education among members of minorities. There can be no equal chances for a child who studies in a native language and a child who studies in a foreign language, especially in places of segregated communities where children have no experience of everyday communication in other languages. Characteristically, the authorities are well aware of this risk. Recent abstracts issued by the Ministry of Culture of Latvia, and announced by the Constitutional Court on the Law on the prohibition of education in the languages of national minorities said: "It is not so scary if the school students do not understand physics. But much more important, that the role of Latvian, the state language, is strengthened."

- Accordingly, there is a risk of unequal chances in the labor market among graduates of the ethnic minority and the majority who received their education in their native language. It is obvious that people with different levels of education may not have the same chance for a good job.

- The risk of mental destabilisation and marginalization of children from minority families. All the leading education experts believe that the conceptual apparatus of the child should be formed in their native language. But such a brutal intervention in the educational process, when in elementary school half of the subjects are already being taught in a non-native language, can damage the development of the child's personality.

International organizations should pay special attention towards the problem of new forms of racism. It is necessary to support monitoring and research in this area in order to develop new (or to revise old) international documents aimed at combating racism and protecting the rights of national minorities.

They should take into account the following:

Today none of the international documents in this area provides a definition of a national minority. This allows states, participating in various anti-racism conventions, to make reservations about who is a national minority in their country and who is not. As a result, small indigenous ethnoi have the rights of national minorities, but new minorities which perhaps settled in Europe less than 100 years ago don’t have them. In addition, almost all these international documents have loopholes to justify forced assimilation for sake of “integration” (for example, see § 5.2. of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the European Council).

It is obvious that international documents are usually the result of a compromise, but today such a compromise no longer plays on the side of democracy.

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