International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Not So Civilized? Europe’s Populist Right, Immigration, and Refugees

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Christian Science Monitor

The effects of still difficult economic times in Europe show just how thin the veneer of “Western civilization” actually is, even in the country that invented it. Unlike Canada and the United States, where “ethnic Canadians” or “ethnic Americans” (i.e., native peoples) constitute a tiny minority, European nations and the cultures of those nations generally have a specific language and ethnicity associated with them. This fact partly explains bizarre legislation like a burka ban in France and a minaret ban in the Netherlands. It explains why the German-born children of the Turkish “guest workers” were not eligible for German citizenship until 1991. But the fact of ethnic-based nationalism alone would probably not create simmering resentment of immigrants. What has created a breeding ground for xenophobic rightist populism is an economic climate in Europe characterized by persistently high unemployment. After the crash and subsequent European sovereign debt crisis, sinister views evoking Nazi-era fascism, which had long lurked on the fringe, inched closer to the mainstream.

The Golden Dawn party in Greece and the Jobbik party in Hungary which, in transparent imitation of the Nazis, is making scapegoats of the Roma (Gypsies) and Jews. Jobbik recently held a rally in a former synagogue, and some participants were seen wearing yellow stars pinned to their jackets; the “joke” was evidently lost on Jewish groups, who responded with understandable outrage.

Jobbik and Golden Dawn (some of whose leaders have been jailed) have put pressure on center-right leaders to take a harsher stance against immigrants–but the point was already being made on the streets by jobless hooligans who have killed and harmed immigrants, Jews, and gypsies. The fact is, Hungary and Greece are no longer safe for immigrants. Right-wing populists have been ruthlessly effective in discouraging would-be immigrants from coming, and many immigrants have even returned home fearing for their safety. Of direct relevance to our class is the Greek government’s recent crackdown on illegal immigrants, which seems to violate international law. The Financial Times reports (paywall) that “several thousand migrants without valid papers are being detained for up to 18 months in closed camps around Greece, often in squalid conditions.” The camps have “poor food,” “lack” hot water, and do not give detainees “access to medical treatment and legal aid.” Also of relevance to our class is that many would-be immigrants are fleeing conflict situations in Syria and Afghanistan. Victims themselves of human rights abuses, they may be victims of human rights abuses committed by Greece, which is a refugee destination because it is gateway to the EU. Recently there were allegations (paywall) of illegal and systematic “pushback” operations by Greek shipping and coast guard officials to deter refugees from entering Greek waters.

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