The rise of racism and xenophobia in Europe

 

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During my time in Prague, I had the chance to visit the Franz Kafka Museum. Kafka’s life demonstrates that multicultural societies are nothing new in Europe. Kafka was a Jew. His mother tongue was German. He was born in the Czech Republic. He died in Austria. Despite the lame rhetoric of racist and populist politicians, Europe was always home to people with fluid identities.

After the Second World War, European countries tightened their border controls, and constructed rigid national identities, mostly based on national languages. These actions lead to the creation of more or less homogenous European societies and increased racist mindsets towards people from other ethnicities. They simply did not belong to them and should stay away.

 

The illusion of the return to the good old days

Today, racism, xenophobia and violence against foreigners are on the rise in Europe. They are fueled by the racist political discourse of populists. They promise their followers to bring back the good old days.

Which good old days are they talking about? The time of the First World War? The Second World War? The Cold War era?

Not a long time ago, many parts of Europe were destroyed. Millions of Europeans had to flee to other countries. They had to re-build entire cities. They worked endless hours for low wages. Women had to fight for their rights in patriarchal societies. Children suffered from malnutrition. The pollution in cities was very high.

Today, Europeans live in the most stable and peaceful time ever. Most European governments provide free education, health care, modern infrastructure, unemployment agencies, and other social services. Europeans can easily move to other European countries. Many young Europeans work and travel abroad for some time. They speak English and have friends all over the world.

 

The victimization of the ordinary European

In my opinion, the rise of populists in Europe is only possible because a large part of the European society does not adapt to the modern, capitalistic lifestyle. Especially members of the working-class keep on living in areas with high unemployment rates. They refuse to move somewhere else. Furthermore, they refuse to acquire new skills that are needed in order to find a well-paid job.

Populists tell their followers that governments do not care about them. They only care about immigrants/migrants/refugees.

I wonder how their followers would feel like if they had to live in crowded gyms or camps with 50 other people, unable to speak the local language, unsure about their legal status and haunted by memories of war and terror.

Populists proclaim that they are the only ones who understand the concerns of ordinary citizens. They tell their followers that they are victims. This argumentation is very stubborn. It amazes me how many Europeans want to be victims instead of taking their lives in their own hands.

I know that not everybody will agree with me on this, but I am sure that every person can find a job if he/she wants to. In addition, there are countless NGOs, public service agencies, churches, self-help groups out there. They help people in all kinds of difficult situations.
Is it surprising that populist politicians want to cut down the costs for these services? Not really…

 

The “others”

Foreigners do not cause the low living standard of working-class people. Neo-liberal policies produce economic inequality AND populists will not change them! They will not raise taxes for rich people and companies.
Instead, they blame immigrants/migrants/refugees/Blacks/Muslims for personal failures because it is the easiest thing to do. They are the most vulnerable groups.

Europe is ageing. We need more young people, who are willing to settle down, work and pay taxes. According to a study by the European Commission, a quarter of Europeans will be over 60 years of age by 2020. If European countries keep their borders closed, their social systems will collapse.

Populists are usually from the upper class. They have enough money to pay for private health care. In the end, the people who will suffer the most from their policies, will be their own followers.

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24 thoughts on “The rise of racism and xenophobia in Europe

  1. I don’t agree with all your premises. I am not sure that the capitalist dream with its mantra of growth, cheap labour and environmental destruction is a good model. Neither do I think it provides a good living for many people. The working classes used to be admired. They worked hard in dangerous, dirty conditions – mining, steel, ship-building, car production etc – but were well rewarded. They are now offered menial tasks, stacking shelves on low pay. They are no longer admired. It is not a great wonder that they don’t want to pick lettuces for peanuts while others take big wages. Inequality creates resentment.
    Having said that I think there is a lot to be said for your views on how populists and racists have exploited the discontent. It was thought provoking.

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. The rewards for workers were better in the past.
      However, the economy in Western countries has changed into a service economy. Different skills and talents are needed today.
      I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Germany. From my personal experience, there are only two types of groups. One invests in education and learns new skills. The other one is stuck because it refuses to move somewhere else where it could get a job and/or does not want to learn new skills. Hence, they are not able to find a job. Instead of taking control over their lives, they blame the government and immigrants for their personal situation. Populists promise them to turn back time, but it is unrealistic. The economy evolves in a different way. They will never get the same types of jobs again.

  2. Reblogged this on Opher's World and commented:
    I don’t agree with all the premises in this piece. I am not sure that the capitalist dream with its mantra of growth, cheap labour and environmental destruction is a good model. Neither do I think it provides a good living for many people. The working classes used to be admired. They worked hard in dangerous, dirty conditions – mining, steel, ship-building, car production etc – but were well rewarded. They are now offered menial tasks, stacking shelves on low pay. They are no longer admired. It is not a great wonder that they don’t want to pick lettuces for peanuts while others take big wages. Inequality creates resentment.
    Having said that I think there is a lot to be said for your views on how populists and racists have exploited the discontent. It was thought provoking.

  3. Concise summary. I was living in the UK during the EU Referendum and the rose-tinted, halcyon days of yesteryear featured heavily in the pro-Brexit campaign and amongst its supporters. The supposed ‘benefits’ this allegedly homogenous society brought aside, it would be logistically impossible to return to this romanticised past. Entirely misdirected. Anyway, good post.

  4. “These actions lead to the creation of more or less homogenous European societies and increased racist mindsets towards people from other ethnicities. They simply did not belong to them and should stay away.” Loved this line.

    Another great post by you! I enjoyed reading it.

  5. Great post, thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Now with Brexit on its way, lets see how many rings on the water it will leave for others to be inspired by…. dangerous time for the EU. Much to the delight of Putin…. thanks once again for the post

  6. This is mostly mindless tripe. It refuses to recognize an invasion of massive proportions with the sole purpose of destabilizing western civilization. Open your eyes and use your brain.

    • I know how to use my brain, no worries. There is no “invasion” as you might call it. It is called migration and happens because some countries have created enormous wealth through the exploitation of others (colonization, wars, capitalistic economies). Only a very small number of people migrate to the West. I guess, you would not call the migration of Europeans to the USA an “invasion”. But you should ask some Native Americans how they call the settlement of Europeans in their homeland some time ago…

      • You fail to recognize that this is the second invasion of Islam into the European continent. The first occurred over a thousand years ago. History is so inconvenient.

      • I don’t think that the small European territories that were ruled by Muslims – such as al-Andalus in Spain – have anything to do with the present situation in Europe. The current situation is caused by horrible wars and conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other regions. The US and NATO are all present in these regions and continue to destabilize them. By the way, the Muslim territory in Spain was home to many Jews because the Muslim rulers tolerated them a lot more than the Christian rulers during that time. What Europe looks like if the hate against a certain religious group becomes utilized by terrible people can be found in history books about the Second World War.

      • With ISIS infiltrating the refugees we get the problems seen in Paris and Brussels and a great deal of Germany. There are uncontrolled gangs of military aged refugee men raping women all over Europe. This you cannot deny. There are zones in the major cities where even the police dare not travel, fearing for their lives. This you cannot deny. That sounds like a very successful program. You should volunteer to help and see how that works out. Take some personal responsibility for your beliefs. Then report back to everyone how wonderful the experience was. Then I might listen to what you have to say.

      • It is funny how you assume things about me and my life without knowing me at all. I am already volunteering in a refugee’s organisation for months. I will write about my experience in my next post. A lot of the news about women being raped by refugees is a lie. One example: A woman in my hometown Mannheim reported that she was raped by an asylum seeker on Jan, 17. It turned out that she lied. And there are many more examples. You stigmatize a big group of people based on what you read in the news. Only a small percentage of them are criminals. I doubt that you say that all catholic priests are pedophiles although it is well-known that a few of them are.

  7. Interesting post, It sounds very much like the mindset of Democrats here in the US who like “Populists proclaim that they are the only ones who understand the concerns of ordinary citizens. They tell their followers that they are victims.” and yet there are some Republican traits in the thinking you describe, such as “that every person can find a job if he/she wants to. In addition, there are countless NGOs, public service agencies, churches, self-help groups out there. They help people in all kinds of difficult situations.”
    The US is a melting pot built on foreigners. There is no reason for class or ethnic distinctions and yet there seems to be a growing trend toward it. People are afraid. Cost of living continues to rise and so does government spending at the expense of the common people. So Dem’s promote increasing government programs and “taxing the rich”, they don’t care, because Dems in power are all rich and know all the loopholes, so it doesn’t affect them. The trickle down is that the ones who pay the price are the common people who then have an increase in common goods. Now, Republicans fight Dems insisting that “members of the working-class keep on living in areas with high unemployment rates. They refuse to move somewhere else. Furthermore, they refuse to acquire new skills that are needed in order to find a well-paid job.” and yet these are the same people that believe the Dems programs will level the playing field. They focus on dividing people by saying “bring down the aristocrats, it’s their fault!” Where have we heard that before? Republicans believe that those who are poor are poor by choice, relying on government assistance and subsidy and are unwilling to change their situation by working toward that change or by working at all. The only real concern about foreigners is they take the jobs that those on government subsidy could be obligated to perform were they not here. The hardest hit is the middle class which is disappearing quickly. Dems believe that Reps blame foreigners and racial diversity as threats to the country when it’s the fight between the parties that is the real danger. They do not work together to solve the dilemma, but fight to divide it’s populace. There are no easy answers or solutions but it appears from your post that the trend is spreading around the globe.

    • Hi Jolie! Thank you for your interesting comment. I agree with you that both sides have to work hard to find solutions instead of blaming each other. But it is easier for them. The problem is very complex and needs long-term solutions. As you pointed out, all societies consist of people from different social and ethnic backgrounds. It does not make sense to fight for special rights based on nationalities in a globalized world.

  8. Excellent read. I live in the U.S. where I’m sure you know what is happening. Basically, everything that you have written. The election is 2 weeks from tomorrow. The tension and anxiety is palpable and quite honestly, not many Americans are happy with either candidate. If we could only find unity as citizens…everyone deserves a chance to work hard and have a happy, productive life.

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