When the term “ethnic cleansing” is used, it conjures up images of genocide and the Yugoslav Wars, and it does seem quite a stretch to compare a forceful eviction of 82 families with the crimes of Slobodan Milošević. That is the widely held idea, but let’s examine the actual definition according to the United Nations:
“ethnic cleansing” is a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.
So, according to this definition, rape or attempts towards genocide are not conditional for an event or series of events to be labelled with this term. Though it often is, genocide should not be confused with ethnic cleansing. Without denigrating those who have and continue to suffer the effects of ethnic cleansing AND genocide, let’s look into this further. The real conditions to test if an event is an example of ethnic cleansing are:
- Has an organised policy of violence been used to remove people from a geographic area?
- Was the cause of the violence ethnically motivated?
The first appears to be true of Dale Farm. According to reports from the mainstream media, as well as eyewitness reports I’ve received through contacts that I have at Camp Constant, the police have been brutal. At least two people have been hospitalised. According to the Daily Telegraph:
“[Dale Farm Solidarity] resistance was futile in the face of the well-drilled force armed with Taser guns, batons and shields. The clashes left six people injured and resulted in 23 arrests. One person was taken to hospital with back injuries.”
This has been organised by the state via both central and local government. Though Essex Police claimed they did not want to partake in the eviction itself, they had reserved £10 million to fund riot police and other specialist units.
The second point, the motivation of the state, is a serious charge and is not so easy to prove either way.
The Racial Motivation Case
Racial and ethnic discrimination, though prevalent throughout society, is often very difficult to prove. However let’s imagine that Basildon Council was a responsible local authority that served the interests of all of its constituents and tax payers. If Basildon Council was genuine about fulfilling its duty as a responsible local authority, it would have put the welfare of the children and vulnerable adults within the site first and offered the residents suitable alternative accommodation.
“We have encouraged them to make homelessness applications over approximately the last six months. We have made over 50 offers of temporary accommodation, none of which have been accepted.
We have also made them aware of a number of authorised and unoccupied legal pitches around the country.”
This offer to the residents was not only inadequate and culturally inappropriate, it proposed breaking up the strongest asset that the Dale Farm residents had: their social solidarity which is fostered by living together as a tight-knit community. The residents rejected this option but continued to seek planning permission for the unauthorised half and were open to discussion on moving to nearby alternative sites.
Assuming Basildon Council had prioritised the interests of the residents that send their children to local schools, it would be reasonable to think that the Council would seek government funding to facilitate this option of alternative sites. What actually happened?
Under the last government, the Homes and Communities Agency offered a bursary to local authorities to finance legal pitches and sites for traveller communities. Councils across the UK have been shown to fail to take money available for Traveller and Gypsy communities. Basildon Council was among them but it was not out of ignorance. The Council admitted last year that it was not going to look for alternative sites but was brought into discussions with the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) during 2009 and 2010.
For reasons unknown to us, they requested and set a pre-condition for their participation that the discussions must be conducted in secret with the ‘Alternative Sites Working Group’. This group involved Essex County Council and the Government Office for the East of England amongst Traveller representatives. The travellers of Dale Farm found a suitable nearby HCA site. The HCA stated: “[w]e are willing to place any of our land in Basildon at the Council’s designation as a Gypsy and Traveller site(s). We are willing to identify and invest capital to establish the pitches on such land.” When this information was made public, Basildon Council withdrew from the group, destroying any possibility of alternative sites being mutually agreed.
Earlier this year, Basildon Council decided at a meeting from which they excluded the press and the public, to reject the planning application for a nearby alternative site on the stated grounds of “road safety” despite admitting that the Highway Authority had not raised any objections.
So now let's imagine that those who led the Council were bigots. In order to carry out their prejudices, it would be necessary to be able to justify their actions in a “politically correct” way despite their intentions. Language could be deployed as a tool to mask their bigotry. The removal of over 100 children from their homes becomes not an eviction but a “site clearance”. The argument of “equal application of the law” is deployed putting the onus on the residents who have been and continue to be criminalised for wanting a place to live.
Rather than accept central government funding for alternative sites, the councillors in the cabinet have personally campaigned against any increase in pitches and spaces for Traveller communities. They chose not to apply for additional funding made available by government agencies for traveller accommodation. Instead they voted to spend a third of their annual budget to finance this eviction and successfully appealed to the Coalition Government for an extra £10 million from the Home Office and Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities.
This video shows the reaction of Tony Ball, Leader of Basildon Council, to an offer of discussion on the presentation of a petition:
All of this, coupled with condemnation from Amnesty International and the United Nations, indicates clear discrimination. Basildon Council appears to be going out of its way to avoid suitable alternatives and a genuinely peaceful settlement. It seems that they are not interested in arriving at the best solution for their legitimate constituents.
But before the evidence is laid to rest, let us briefly look at the bailiffs that the Council has hired to carry out the eviction. The company known as Constants and co, uses “pikey, pikies” as search engine metadata – keywords used for finding them via search engines. They label themselves as “Traveller evictions specialists”. They have extensive experience in bulldozing caravans and demolishing items of sentimental value to Gypsy and Traveller communities. Would other ethnic groups’ considerations be treated in this way? Historically yes, Africans were once thought as three-fifths of human beings. Jews were ethnically cleansed from many European countries throughout their history. Britain seems to be continuing a long tradition.
Does this all add up to ethnic cleansing? I have laid the evidence, but it is for you to decide. If it does, then the remaining questions are these: how could this happen in 21st Century Britain, and what will you do about it?
This piece was originally published on tmponline.org.