terça-feira, 5 de abril de 2016
Migrants are Central Europe’s new Roma / The region’s nationalists reuse old attacks on new targets.
Migrants are Central Europe’s new Roma
The region’s nationalists reuse old attacks on new targets.
By BENJAMIN CUNNINGHAM 4/5/16, 5:37 AM CET
BANSKÁ BYSTRICA, Slovakia — There’s something familiar about the anti-migrant language being used by politicians across Central Europe: It’s almost the same as the traditional attacks on the Roma, long the region’s most despised minority.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán justified his reluctance to accept Muslim migrants by arguing his country is already unduly burdened by its Roma population.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico played on familiar stereotypes about Roma as self-isolating and dependent upon welfare when he insisted “90 percent” of asylum seekers arriving in Europe last September were “economic migrants.”
On the campaign trail ahead of this month’s parliamentary election, Fico repeatedly insisted Muslims would be “impossible to integrate” while vowing to prevent the creation of a “compact community” of migrants.
“Migrants have in a certain sense become the new Roma for the Eastern European far right.” — Tomáš Nociar, political scientist at Bratislava’s Comenius University.
The use of such imagery has helped fuel an anti-migrant fervor across Central Europe, making the region one of the main roadblocks to a German-led effort to establish an EU-wide policy on dealing with the migration crisis.
“If you would like to be a politician here, just start talking about problems with Roma and you will be a politician,” Ivan Mako, the victim of the first crime ever categorized as racially motivated by the Slovak judicial system, and who now runs an NGO.
“You will have money, a topic and people will follow. That is all you need to climb the political ladder,” he said. “Now it is the same thing with migrants.”
A despised minority
Roma have been in Europe since the Middle Ages, and form sizable minority populations in countries like Slovakia, where they are estimated to account for 9 percent of the population. In Hungary, Roma are thought to be about 7.5 percent of the population; in the Czech Republic about 2 percent; and Romania about 8.6 percent are Roma, according to the Council of Europe.
There are also large Roma minorities in countries like France and Italy, but in post-communist Central Europe, where societies tend to be much more mono-ethnic and Roma account for a much larger proportion of the population, they have long stood out.
Now the region is dealing with migrants. Hungary saw 300,000 pass through last year before the government put up a border fence in October. Other countries like Slovakia and Poland have almost none, but the issue is still inflaming local politics.
“If there is a strong prejudice against one group it increases the chances of another — they correlate,” said Peter Kréko, director of Political Capital, a Budapest based think tank. “Anti-Roma and anti-Semitic sentiments usually move in parallel. In this case, it’s anti-refugee sentiment as well. This is a dangerous phenomenon, like an avalanche.”
Migrants, whether real or theoretical, are a tempting target for nationalists, ranging from Hungary’s right-wing Jobbik party to the neo-Nazis of Slovakia’s People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS), which entered the national parliament for the first time, riding a wave of anti-establishment anger to 8 percent support in the March 5 elections.
Many of those parties have unleashed attacks on mainly Muslim migrants making their way into the EU in recent months, and they often used tropes that have been brandished against the Roma for decades.
The party’s website says LSNS wants to guarantee that citizens will not “be terrorized by gypsies” and promises to avoid following the “criminal policies of NATO, the USA and Israel.” They promote “Christian values” in lieu of “Western liberalism which encourages atheism, materialism, consumerism, dangerous sects and sexual deviations.”
Marian Kotleba, the LSNS leader who has been governor of this sparsely populated mountainous region of central Slovakia for three years, has also re-purposed old fashioned Roma scapegoating to tap into fear generated by the migrant crisis.
In the past, Kotleba has referred to Roma who “rape and kill.” During the election campaign, Kotleba, who used to favor the black uniforms of Slovakia’s collaborationist wartime government, was featured in billboards proclaiming “Stop immigrants!”
“Migrants have, in a certain sense, become the new Roma for the Eastern European far-right,” said Tomáš Nociar, a political scientist studying the far-right at Bratislava’s Comenius University.
Although human rights groups have sought to highlight the plight of Roma in recent years, mainstream politics largely shun the issue. In Europe, 90 percent of the more than 10 million Roma live below the poverty line and just one-third have paid employment, according to the United Nations Development Program.
Over the past two decades most polls find discrimination toward Roma getting worse, not better. A European Commission survey found that just 28 percent of Hungarians would accept having a Roma neighbor, and the numbers are even lower in Bulgaria (21 percent), Slovakia (17 percent) and the Czech Republic (9 percent). A 2012 survey by the Czech Academy of Sciences found that more than 80 percent of Czechs perceive relations with the Roma minority as “generally bad.”
Linking migrants to Roma pays political dividends. Support for Orbán’s Fidesz party and the far-right Jobbik reached multi-year highs last fall when migrants were camped out at Budapest’s Keleti station, and poll numbers have remained steady even amid a major teacher’s strike. This strong stand on migrants is selling.
“At the beginning of the migrant crisis there was a debate, but the more you can bond this issue to Roma, the most disliked group in Hungary, the easier it is to sell your policy,” Kréko said. “It was a conscious part of a communication strategy.”
That’s what Orbán tried to do in a September speech.
“Hungary’s historical given is that we live together with a few hundred thousand Roma. This was decided by someone, somewhere,” he said. “We are the ones who have to live with this, but we don’t demand from anyone, especially not in the direction of the West, that they should live together with a large Roma minority.”
The ploy worked, and anti-migrant sentiment is now widespread. Earlier this month 80 percent of Hungarian respondents opposed taking asylum seekers as part of an EU quota system, according to the Nezopont Institute.
Orbán also appeals to the conspiratorial musings of extremists. When he refers to “someone, somewhere” as responsible for the Roma now living in Hungary, he tries to draw a parallel to EU directives pushing to resettle Muslims, Kréko noted.
“The insinuation is there must be some puppet-master pulling the strings — whether it is bankers, the United States, Brussels bureaucrats, Jews or George Soros,” he said. Soros, a financier of Hungarian-Jewish background, figures in many regional conspiracy theories because of his wealth and his support for pro-democracy movements across post-communist Europe.
Although hard demographic data about the current influx of migrants is difficult to come by, most of these stereotypes directed at Roma were long ago debunked.
Kotleba — who did not respond to email requests and dispatched a burly receptionist to brush back queries during a recent visit to his office — has blamed welfare payments to Roma for draining the Slovak state budget.
But a 2014 study by the Institute of Economic and Social Studies in Bratislava found that total welfare payments for Roma and non-Roma account for less than 1 percent of public spending. The benefits going to an estimated 160,000 Roma children total about €44 million annually. For sake of comparison, the annual Christmas bonuses sent to pensioners cost about €65 million.