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Commentary: Hate is just around the corner in Europe

Uppsala, Sweden, 28.2.2013 22:15, (ROMEA)
Jaroslav Suk. Photo from his personal archive.
Jaroslav Suk. Photo from his personal archive.

They say 2013 is the year when the euro crisis will resolve after hitting rock bottom and everything will start to get better. We hope so, but we can only say this about some parts of Europe. In Spain we have six million unemployed and in Greece there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

When there is a crisis, "an ass bearing our savior will come, and we believe he's speaking to us as soon as the ass makes a loud noise". The governing political parties cannot be believed. They are introducing "automatic, hard, but necessary changes", and even if that were true and things would be even worse without such changes, it's hard to believe them. People want a change for the better as soon as possible, immediately.

New parties are turning up, like in Greece, from the left-wing populists in the Syriza party to the Nazi Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi) party, which received 7 % of the vote. In a recent public opinion poll, 13 % of respondents expressed support for Golden Dawn! The party is transforming its ideology into action: By day they support abandoned, impoverished Greek families, and by night they beat up immigrants.

From my own experience, among other things as an interpreter for the Swedish Immigration Authority, I know how immigrants in Greece or Italy have been treated for years now. It's not much better in Poland. They are registered and then left to their fates, whether that be to sleep under a bridge or to fall into the hands of traffickers. If they make it into the embrace of the police, then all of the Somalians, the other Africans and Asians - people who have finally made it to a place of relative safety, away from Islamist fanatics and the hard journeys that mean death for 50 % of them - will be beaten up so they can remember they are not supposed to enter a country that doesn't want them.

Extreme right-wing movements and political violence are following the trail of the economic crisis in other countries too. In Hungary the Jobbik party (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom), or the Movement for a Better (meaning a more right-wing) Hungarian State, is assaulting Romani people and demanding the registration of the Jews. Members of this movement are wearing elegant uniforms in the national style and marching down the streets in closed ranks. At the same time Hungary is demanding emergency loans from the IMF.

Voters are leaning right and the governing parties don't want to lose them. When there are not enough good arguments being made or enough consistency in politics, that is the starting point for a rightward shift by the governing parties as well as by the established opposition. We have seen this in Denmark, in France, everywhere possible. However, in the Czech Republic, with Klaus, this took a different form, a consistency that was both personal and political, namely, a dedication to being the most unpleasant, venomous old man possible whenever the opportunity arose. Surrounded by a rare collection of conservative skeletons as his advisers, his black-and-gold, flag-waving, brown-shirt (and also pro-Russian) twilight descended over the country. Glory be, his term is over, but now, of course, we must prepare to be surprised by Zeman's charnel-house. We must now suffer the trouble we have gotten ourselves into.

I have had many experiences with the Swedish establishment as a business partner (in cases where I believed working with them wouldn't harm my reputation) and they have not been pleasant ones. It seems the immigration authorities prefer to let in mafia members and to send the people who are the most needy and best qualified to receive asylum back home into the clutches of the inhuman. It would take too much time to analyze every such case in every single country, but one thing is sure: The situation in the home country of the immigrant and his concrete, individual case (his fate) are not the criteria the state refers to when deciding whether to grant asylum. The determining criteria are domestic politics and the careers of bureaucrats who are born into and then ripen in an industry of intrigue, personal benefit, and politicking. The only effective tools to correct this situation, in my opinion, are a functioning democratic constitution, the rule of law, and the honest operation of that "least of all evils", the democratic system.

The success of the ultra-right cannot be explained solely by economic developments. Certainly the growing gulf between the poor and the rich, poverty per se, never-ending unemployment, and the growing lack of trust in both the opposition establishment and the state are working as destructive catalysts. However, hatred is also assisted by silence, by the silent majority who are not interested in the fate of minorities. It is assisted when someone points the finger at immigrants, national minorities, or the "socially inadaptable" as to blame for our own poverty and doesn't receive a brisk and immediate rejoinder. Hatred is assisted when the state is silent and backs down before it.

Each one of us might become a minority at some point. During both communism and Nazism, society sloughed "the others" off layer by layer. First it was the turn of the Jews, then the Roma, then either the communists or the class enemy, then the liberals and Social Democrats, then the Jehova's Witnesses, then the homosexuals and everyone unorthodox, then democrats in general, and last but least, it's your turn.

As Petr Fidelius, the samizdat sociolinguistic researcher once demonstrated, what lies at the heart of all those discarded layers is... nothing. There is nothing there, and both the leaders and the led are gradually eliminated by this process.

Social problems are complex and their solutions are complicated and difficult, but solutions do exist that are not based on a national mystique and hatred of the foreign, or on Stalinist displacement and liquidation. The basis of these solutions is a constructive approach, a healthy and open discussion in a society that is not afraid of clashing with "politically incorrect" opinions, that doesn't stay silent, but makes its best effort to explain and resolve things. For example, ensuring access to education for all, even the have-nots, will benefit not only them, but all of society.

The demand of the Hungarian Jobbik party that the Jews be registered comes too close for comfort to the horrors of Auschwitz. Indeed, I think it's not even the most dire signal we have received recently about our times.

Jaroslav Suk, born in 1948, is a linguist and translator. He was imprisoned for being a member of the student movement and the Movement of Revolutionary Youth (Hnutí revoluční mládeže) in Czechoslovakia after 1968. He became a samizdat publisher, a Charter 77 signatory, and a member of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (Výbor na obranu nespravedlivě stíhaných - VONS). In the 1980s he emigrated to Sweden where he is active in the local government of a municipality near Uppsala and is in business at a translation agency.

Jaroslav Suk, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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