published in Le Monde, (France), 14/10/2011
By Benjamin Abtan, Secretary General of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement – EGAM
For the pas two weeks, Bulgaria has witnessed violent racist demonstrations against Roma people. Organized by the far right, mostly by the Ataka party (“attack”) joined by hooligans, these demonstrations have spread to nearly twenty cities in the country, gathering several thousands of people. During the marches, Neo-Nazi slogans, such as “turn the Roma into soap !”, have been chanted by the mobs.
The starting point of these racist demonstrations was a murder committed by the henchmen of a local Roma godfather in the small town of Katunitsa.
However, to confuse the point of ignition with the deeper causes of the fire would be a criminal mistake.
If these demonstrations attract so many participants and are so violent, it is because the stage has been set for many years and it is now suitable for such doings, which today affects Bulgaria but may tomorrow spread to other European countries. Several factors can explain this state of affairs.
First, stereotypes and prejudices stigmatizing the Roma or other categories of the population (Muslims, immigrants, Jews…) are being expressed with more and more ease and they now circulate in total permissiveness across the continent. Yet, taboos on racist and antisemitic speeches are a necessity in a truly democratic society.
Then, it has been now several years that the Roma people have become the target of unbearable acts of violence across Europe. However, this hasn’t sparked off any strong and fair condemnations from neither the political sphere nor civil society.
For instance, in Hungary, individuals are murdered simply for being Roma. In Baia Mare and Tarlungeni in Romania, as well as in Michalovce, Kosice, Presov and Svinia in Slovakia, they are concentrated in ghettos with shameful and indignant living conditions. In Serbia, Moldova, as well as in France and Germany, they are the victims of daily discriminations.
Till now, the little reactions aroused by this violence have thus made it easier for racists to act in total impunity, in Bulgaria as elsewhere. Finally, in the last few years, the Far Right has become more organized, structured and powerful everywhere in Europe.
Far right parties have met numerous electoral successes, such as those of Jobbik in Hungary, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and Ataka in Bulgaria. They have now consequently gained a growing influence on ruling parties, such as in Denmark, and seduced more and more public figures.
At the very moment when the European construction is in crisis, the Far Right, in its different forms, offers a real model for a political reshaping of the continent based on racism and racial discrimination. Underlying this project is the spirit of a “European Civil War” and the obsession with “the internal enemy” who has to be identified then exterminated and who would be, depending on the moment and the country, the Muslim, the Roma, the Jew, etc.
Opposite to this sinister project, whose implementation following an access to power of the European Far Rights cannot be totally ruled out, European antiracist civil societies are now uniting to give life to a truly democratic European model that would be free of racism, antisemistism and racial discrimination.
As such, October 1st was a founding date. On that day, civil societies from numerous European countries, led by antiracist members of the EGAM and their Roma partners, gathered for the first Roma Pride.
They all strongly expressed their rejection of racism and their solidarity with Bulgarian Roma, and pressured European, national and local authorities to react firmly to racist violence and to protect the Roma population and their organizations.
In Norway, Denmark, Belgium, France and also in Romania where 400 people marched in what was the largest demonstration of this year, as well as in Bulgaria where public gatherings occurred in 15 cities despite numerous threats, activists, political figures, intellectuals, artists and thousands of other people united to make Europe. A Europe based on shared values of equality and dignity, a Europe shaped by the joint actions of a civil society in motion.
The shocking silence, from both the political and activist spheres, at the time of the racist attacks against Black migrants in January 2010, in Rosarno, Southern Italy, which prompted the creation of EGAM, already seems long ago.
From now on, it is with force and conviction that European civil societies unite to give life to the European dream of a continent rid of racism, antisemitism and racial discrimination.