Recent attacks in Europe expose racist underbelly

Resurgent racism manifested by death threats and violence cropped up last month in Italy and Hungary. Their occurrence follows the pattern of recurrent racist persecution against a backdrop of societies in economic turmoil. As in the past, Roma people and Jews are victims. Irregular migrants from Africa, desperate for work and income, recently have joined the mix of those targeted.

The “Battle of Rosarno,” for example, gained worldwide media attention last week. That city of 15,000, located in the Calabria region of southern Italy, is surrounded by large Mafia controlled plantations producing oranges, tangerines, and other fruits and vegetables. Profits depend upon precariously situated, submissive workers from Africa, most of them survivors of small boat crossings of the Mediterranean.  Hundreds of African men, women, and children living in Rosarno slept at night in two abandoned factories, without heat, decent food, or adequate clothing. Earning $25 – $35 a day for up to 18 hours of work, they came from Togo, Ghana, Sudan, Mauritania, Congo, and Senegal.

Trouble came to a head on Jan. 7. Using sticks, shotguns, and air guns, local residents attacked, wounding 67 people, including 19 police, over three days. Buses carrying 350 African workers and family members to temporary refuge in neighboring Crotona had initially to pass between lines of jeering, cheering Rosarno residents. Over 100 workers devised their own escape. As the situation cooled down, landowners were recruiting Bulgarian and Ukrainian replacement workers. The humanitarian aid group, Doctors Without Borders, was forced to abandon Rosarno.

“The common sport of young people in Rosarno is hunting blacks,” author Marco Rovelli reported earlier. School buses carrying migrant children have been assaulted regularly, usually at strategic places like crossroads. Reporter Gian Antonio Stella wrote, “The situation has degraded in Italy. Every day a black person is beaten up.”

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni of the right wing (some say racist) Northern League, attributed troubles in Rosarno “like in other places” to “toleration of clandestine immigration that has fed criminality and generated situations of frank degradation”.  By week’s end, anti-racist groups were demonstrating outside his Ministry in Rome.

Hungary also was newsworthy as a locus of hate. Vilmos Hanti, who is Jewish, directs the Hungarian Anti-fascist Alliance for Democracy (MEASZ). On Dec. 23, the 65th anniversary of the assassination of resistance hero Endre Bajcsy-Zsinlinszky, Hanti likened fascist behavior then to activities of present-day Hungarian right wing groups. In response, web site Internet postings showed up threatening him with death, one with the accusation “Jewish traitor to the nation.” 

In a telephone interview with the French Humanité newspaper, Hanti draw parallels between abuse he received and “racist assassinations against Gypsies.” A spokesperson for the Conservative Party (Fidesz) highlighted provocative behavior of victims as partially responsible for their fate. In a telephone interview with the French Humanité newspaper, Hanti draw parallels between abuse he received and “racist assassinations against Gypsies.”

Hate groups were outlawed under Hungarian socialism. That and economic protection they enjoyed then provided a far from perfect shield against persecution. Last year MEASZ and Vilmos Hanti organized a demonstration in Budapest against the nationalist Jobbik party and its paramilitary affiliate, the Hungarian Guard. Jobbik has three representatives in the European Parliament. For months, Hanti has taken a leadership role in trying to build opposition aimed at heading off far right victories in parliamentary voting this spring. 

Not all news on European racism was bad. Prejudice, discrimination, and denial of civil rights against the Roma people, known as Gypsies, have flourished since the Diet of Augsburg in 1500. A tiny opening was apparent, however, in a decision last month of the European Tribunal of Human Rights affecting marriages carried out under Roma auspices. A Roma woman denied legal civil union in Spain gained recognition of her marriage and inheritance rights applied retroactively as a surviving partner.

In addition, the lower House of the Spanish Congress is considering a resolution, introduced last month, which would apologize for “all the situations of maltreatment, discrimination, and vulnerability” that Roma people have suffered historically in Spain. The second European Summit on “Inclusion of the Gypsy People” takes place in Cordoba in April.

Presently, extreme right wing organizations are continuing with plots and attacks against Roma people, reports Diego Ortega. Impunity is notorious, especially in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Italy, Kosovo, and Hungary, where eight Roma people were killed during 2009. Many Roma people fled Kosovo recently because of torture and “disappearances.”  The rightist Czech Nationalist Party has called for Roma people being returned to India. Forced sterilization of Gypsies women has long been documented throughout Eastern Europe.  

Photo: From a French demonstration in 2008 for equality and against racism, anti-immigrant discrimination. / CC BY 2.0



W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.