Eliminating electoral racism


Eliminating electoral racism

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Written by: Liz Fekete


The failure of states to protect minority communities from racial violence is compounded by the opportunistic way in which race, religion and immigration are discussed in local, regional and federal elections.

Over the past year, the following trends have been observed:

  • Xenophobic slogans and propaganda deployed in campaigning shows electoral parties are using language which itself borders on incitement to racism.
  • To old xeno-racist ‘arguments’ have been added new themes: Turkish entry into the EU, the need to legislate against the wearing of the hijab (see Appendix), the failure of multicuturalism, and the formation of ‘immigrant ghettos’.
  • Mainstream political parties are attempting to neutralise the far Right by speaking to the fears and prejudices of its electoral base. Whether this strategy is successful is debatable. But the long-term effects are the collusion of mainstream parties in demonising vulnerable groups and the shifting of the centre of gravity to the right on matters of race. (An excellent analysis of the failures inherent in such a strategy, which he describes as ‘triangulation’, was made by the British Labour MP Jon Cruddas)[1]
  • Politicians from non-European backgrounds are being treated by their colleagues in a ways which can be either offensive or overtly racist. Political opponents of extreme-Right parties have been the victims of death threats.
Country summaries
Austria

The Freedom party’s (FPÖ) candidate Heinz-Christian Strache gained 15 per cent of the vote in Vienna in the October 2005 regional elections by concentrating on two issues – immigration and the question of Turkish entry into the EU – in a campaign widely perceived as xenophobic. Although the FPÖ got 5.3 per cent less than it did in the last Vienna elections (and that, in turn, was 7 per cent less than the time before), the result of 14.9 per cent was seen as a victory because it was well ahead of the pre-election polls prediction of 10 per cent.

Turkey was a central issue. On the internet, Strache presented himself in a blue-and-gold Superman costume as the saviour of Vienna from the Turks. A poster carried the slogans ‘Duel about Vienna’ and ‘Vienna must not become Istanbul’ against a two-part picture, one half showing Social Democratic Party of Austria candidate Michael Häupl with a mosque behind him and the other half showing Strache with the spire of Vienna’s St Stephen’s cathedral behind him – conveying the message that that was the voters’ choice. The poster was withdrawn in response to a court order after the Ecumenical Council and other church associations complained about the misuse of religious symbols.

Other slogans utilised by Strache included: ‘Remaining master in one’s own House’; ‘Pummerin instead of Muezzin’ (‘Pummerin’ is the bell in Vienna’s St Stephen’s which was forged, in 1683, from canons left by the Ottoman army that had laid siege to Vienna); ‘Work instead of immigration’; ‘The real Viennese must not go under’ (This slogan refers to a popular TV series from the 1970s); ‘German instead of “I no understand”‘; and ‘Free women instead of obligatory headscarf’.[2]

Haider’s newly-formed Alliance for Austria’s Future (BNÖ) scored poorly, obtaining only 1.7 per cent of the popular vote in Haider’s Carinthia stronghold and a mere 1.1 percent in Vienna.

Belgium

As previously noted, Felip Dewinter, Vlaams Belang (VB) mayoral candidate for Antwerp in the October 2006 elections, is attempting to court the Jewish vote by presenting the VB as an Islamophobic party. There is concern that the cordon sanitaire around the VB which prevents them governing Antwerp will end after Flemish Senator Hugo Coveliers broke from the Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten (VLD) to form a new, yet unnamed, movement which is expected to align itself with the VB.[3]

The mayor of Sint-Niklaas, Freddy Willockx, received death threats in the mail and was sent a suspicious white powder (which turned out to be sugar) shortly after he criticised the VB for falsely claiming that Muslims were behind cemetery desecrations.

Denmark

As previously noted, the mayoral elections in Copenhagen were doinated by issues of immigration, with DFP mayoral candidate Louise Frevert accused of inciting racism by allowing anti-Muslim remarks to be posted on her website.

Frevert has also been criticised for the debate forum on her web-homepage. Within 24 hours of its launch on 3 October it was full of neo-Nazi propaganda. Comments included pleas to fight for a ‘green and pleasant land for White Danes only’ and to support the Danish Nazi Party. The comments were such that the DFP leader distanced herself from Frevert who then announced that she would take leave from her duties as a member of parliament until after the local elections of 15 November 2005.[4]

In October, the debate was reignited after a newsletter posted on the DFP website cited the belief of leader Pia Kjaersgaard that large areas of Denmark’s inner cities are populated by immigrants who exist on a lower level of civilisation than Danes. Kjaersgaard stated that ‘thousands and thousands of people who culturally, spiritually and in terms of the civilisation process, still act as though its 1005 now find themselves in 2005 and in a country that put the dark ages behind it hundreds of years ago.'[5]

Soren Pind, the Liberal party’s mayoral candidate, in focusing on the spread of immigrant ghettos, called on the government to suspend access to publicly-funded housing in municipalities until the ratio of ethnic Danes and immigrants living there reflects the balance of society. ‘Where does it say that immigrants have the same right to an apartment as Danish citizens?’ Pind asked.[6]

France

The FN and the Mouvement pour la France (MPF) are jockeying for first position on the extreme-Right in the run-up to the 2007 presidential elections and the result is an intensification of anti-immigration, anti-Muslim rhetoric. Following the riots in October and November, there is concern about the ‘LePenisation of political debate’.

‘Islamicisation’

MPF leader Philippe De Villiers (dubbed ‘The Duplicator’ by Le Pen who accuses him of imitation) has spoken of the need to ‘stop the gradual Islamicisation of French society’ by defending ‘popular patriotism’; he wants to end the ‘eldorado of social advantages for clandestines’ and ban ‘marriages of convenience and polygamy’. He has vowed to create a national guard to ‘control our borders and sermons preached in some mosques’ and to set up a ‘national civic service for one year to awaken each young French man to French values’.[7] The Mouvement contre le racisme et pour a’amitié entre les Peuples (MRAP) has filed a complaint with the High Authority to Combat Discrimination and for Equality against De Villiers after he declared on TV station TF1 on 16 July that the ‘Third World War has been declared… We cannot continue to watch, powerlessly, the progressive Islamicisation of French society’.[8]

Turkey

De Villiers has also promised to make the presidential elections the ‘second round’ of the referendum on the European constitution, stating that ‘It’s either France in Europe or Turkey, but not both’. In this he is supported by a wider anti-Turkish constituency which includes groups such as The Voice of the French Rebirth 95′ (vdF) led by Count Henry de Lesquen, which argues that ‘Turkey is an historical enemy of Europe and a demographic and religious danger’, Bruno Mégret’s Mouvement National Republican (MNR) and Jeunesses Identitaires.[9]

Immigration

Le Pen has also upped the rhetoric on immigration by warning of a ‘migration tsunami’. ‘From Ceuta to Melila is Europe’s new first line of defence and Europe has just given in to forceful immigration’ he told 3,000 people at the annual FN Blue White and Red event. ‘This wave is even submerging our overseas départements’ he continued, claiming that it was necessary to attack the reform of the ‘suicidal French social model’ in order to curb ‘massive immigration from the Third World and its consequences: impoverishment, unemployment, insecurity and fear’.[10] In terms of Turkish accession to the EU, Le Pen has focused on the issue of Cyprus. Anti-fascists in Cyprus condemned a visit to the country which they declared was aimed at strengthening racist and chauvinistic groups in Cyprus which promote the idea that coexistence and cooperation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots was unachievable.

Response to ‘riots’

The inflammatory language of interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who referred to ‘scum’ on the housing estates who should be flushed-out, has been seen by many as a deliberate attempt to copy the populism of Le Pen. In response to the ‘riots’ in France in October and November 2005, Le Pen (in an interview with the BBC) called for the revocation of the rioters’ nationality. (Sarkozy had already promised to deport ‘foreign rioters’ regardless of their residence rights.) Le Pen also said that ‘if their parents and grandparents came to France thinking it was an Eldorado and if their grandchildren believe there aren’t any opportunities, they can always return to their country of origin’. Addressing an FN rally, Le Pen stated that ‘we let in 10 million foreigners over 30 years – it’s wild insanity. No country can handle that invasion’.[11] De Villiers, for his part, was keen to locate the causes of the riots in polygamy, stating that 80,000 polygamous families had entered France since 1981 and blaming the government for not taking ‘definitive measures to outlaw polygamy’.[12]

Germany

While the far-Right electoral parties deployed explicitly anti-foreigner slogans in campaign literature and called for the expulsion of immigrants, issues of immigration linked to national security and patriotism have dominated the September 2005 federal election campaign as a whole. Former SPD Chancellor Helmut Schmidt shocked many people by allying himself with the CDU’s opposition to Turkish EU membership on the grounds that ‘The Turks belong to a completely different cultural domain from us’. (Schmidt also called for an end to ‘immigration from alien cultures’.)[13]

Exploiting patriotism

CSU Bavarian interior minister Günther Beckstein stated that either the country should accept ‘massive immigration’, the policy of the present government, or the nation should produce more children following a CDU/CSU victory, thanks to a Conservative family policy. CDU Bundestag deputy (Saxony) Harry Nitzsche courted controversy by using the words ‘Work, family, fatherland’ as his electoral slogan[14] (the same slogan used by the NPD at its annual congress the previous year and the motto of the French Vichy regime during the second world war).There was also criticism of the patriotic language deployed by New Left Party leader Oskar Lafontaine. During an election speech, he referred to foreign workers as ‘Fremdarbeiter’ (a term used by the nazis to describe slave labourers) and said that it was the state’s business to protect society from ‘foreign workers’ taking jobs from Germans.[15]

A Republican party poster used the slogan ‘Work for Wojciech – Hartz IV for Germans’ (Wojciech is a typical Polish name, while Hartz IV refers to controversial government reforms to the benefits system limiting social support to the long-term unemployed.)16 The fact that far-Right activists joined trades union demonstrations against the reforms, and on occasion even co-organised protest actions, has been noted with concern by the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight.

Stigmatising Muslims as terrorists

Both the centre-Right and centre-Left parties made national security a central issue, with the CDU’s Beckstein particularly singling out the Muslim community. After the London bombings Beckstein called for increased surveillance of the Muslim community, telling the Berliner Zeitung that ‘We have to know what’s going on in every mosque’.17 The interior minister of Lower Saxony, Uwe Schünemann called for random controls at mosques to be increased.18 Following the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, Annette Schaven, deputy chair of the CDU, had proposed that it should be made obligatory for imams to preach only in German.19

An NPD poster featured the image of two women with headscarves and the words ‘Bye, bye. Go home’. Another showed a picture of departing Muslim women and the turret of a mosque under the slogan ‘Have a good trip home!’.20

Death threats and insults to Muslim parliamentarian

The leader of the Greens in Hesse, Tarek Al-Wazir, was subjected to insults from a CDU deputy who has been linked to numerous far-Right publications. Tarek Al-Wazir was born in Germany (his mother is German and his father from the Yemen) and yet when Hans-Jürgen Irmer writes about Al-Wazir in Junge Freiheit he always adds the additional name of ‘Mohamed’. Al-Wazir says that this crude attempt to stigmatise him for his racial origins is inexcusable ‘in a country where at one time in the past citizens were given the second names Israel and Sarah because of whom they were descended from’.

Mr. Al-Wazir has received hate mail and death threats, many of which have Irmer’s articles in Wetzlar-Kurier and the Nationalzeitung attached. Frank Gotthardt, secretary of the CDU faction reproaches Al-Wazir for speaking out against the threatening letters, suggesting that they were not unjustified. ‘People write you letters because they notice that here and there in our society, something is amiss’ he said.21

Italy

Politicians’ use of xenophobic language came to the fore when the Northern League justice minister implied that foreign residents were ‘chimps’ and the Forza Italia speaker of the senate deployed discredited arguments about race. Speaker of the senate, Marcello Pera (a member of Forza Italia and second to the presidency in Italy’s institutional hierarchy) has been accused of inciting racial hatred after he stated at a meeting of young Catholics in northern Italy that ‘In Europe, the population is decreasing, the doors are open to uncontrolled immigration and we will all become members of a mixed race’.22 Pera is a professor of philosophy at the University of Pisa and a leading proponent of the idea that Europe should reaffirm its Christian roots.

Another Forza Italia MP has been accused of anti-Semitism. Guido Crosseto claimed that the Bank of Italy Governor Antonio Fazio, involved in a controversial banking takeover probe, was the victim of a ‘Jewish, masonic plot’. ‘The liquidity of Italian banks is inviting for a lot of people, especially the Jewish and American freemasons who are already at our doors’, he said. Prime Minister Berlusconi apologised to those who were offended by the remarks.23

The Northern League (NL) is challenging a proposal by centre-Left politicians to grant foreign residents the right to vote. NL minister of justice, Roberto Calderoli, describes the centre-Left proposal to grant foreign residents the right to vote as a bid ‘to go against the Constitution and Italian law’ in order ‘just to be more popular, among chimps’.24

As previously noted, the NL has been at the forefront of several campaigns against mosques. A new NL publication entitled Islam and Terrorism details sixty-four ways of launching a war against Islam. The book includes the statement ‘There is no such thing as a moderate Islam. It’s simply a smokescreen to cover fundamentalist Islam.’ Carolina Lussana, a spokesperson for the NL says ‘We are under attack and must defend ourselves. This is a culture war’.25

In Bulletin 52 we drew attention to claims by the European Roma Information Office that anti-Gypsy racism was providing an ‘electoral bonanza’ for politicians, with NL campaigners, in particular, fanning the flames of hatred.

Malta

Although not directly related to electoral politics, a speech by the leader of Malta’s largest trades unions attacking immigrant workers has generated much political and public debate. As have the views of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, a former leader of the Labour party, who now heads the Campaign for National Independence (CNI) and believes that Malta has lost its independence over the issue of illegal immigration.

Salvu Sammut, leader of the General Workers’ Union, told its annual congress that illegal immigrants were ‘taking jobs from Maltese workers’ and that Malta may be forced to take measures which were not necessarily ‘just and humane’ to solve the crisis. Foreign prostitutes earned double the minimum wage and exposed the Maltese to undetected diseases, he said, and the Maltese felt understandable frustration when illegal immigrants were given preference at hospitals. ‘The first illegal immigrant who landed in Malta was St Paul. At least he gave us a Christian culture and left after three months. But what good are modern illegal immigrants doing us? They need food, clothing, education and social services and they want to give birth to their races amongst us.’26 The speech became big news as Alternattiva Demokratika chair Dr Harry Vassallo walked out of the congress in protest. Dr Vassallo said that the speech inflamed racial hatred. It was the business of trade unions to address the exploitation and near slavery to which many migrant workers were exposed and that no ‘self-respecting trades unionist could possibly inflame workers against other workers who are evidently at a greater disadvantage than themselves and who are facing the same illegal exploitation’.27

Chair of the CNI, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, speaking on the 41st anniversary of Malta’s independence, said that those arriving illegally in Malta should be expelled and if this was not possible immediately, then they should be held in detention. He called on the government to take all necessary health precautions against the risk of disease.28

Norway

In the September general election, the extreme-Right Progress party (Fr.P) took 22.1 per cent of the vote, leaving it with 37 seats in parliament (its best vote ever). It’s pre-election campaign brochure featured on its cover an image of a man wearing a balaclava and brandishing a shotgun alongside the quote ‘The perpetrator is of foreign origin.’ The brochure then states that ‘For the Fr.P a stricter immigration policy and a stricter crime policy is about safety… Safety for people to walk the streets without fear of being raped or robbed’. The Anti-Racist Centre described the brochure as ‘not worthy of a Norwegian political party’ and the leader of the Liberal party commented that ‘The Progress party plays on the fear of foreigners. I expected that this would happen during the election but I think it is sad.’29

Switzerland

The Swiss People’s Party’s campaign targets vulnerable minority communities and foreign residents seeking naturalisation.

During the run up to the referendum on whether the Swiss labour market should be opened up to new EU members, a flyer distributed by the Swiss People’s Party stated ‘We must unfortunately make you redundant by 25 September 2005 because you are too expensive. Thanks to the free movement of people, we can hire foreigners that cost us much less than you.’30

The Swiss People’s Party is organising a petition to test a Federal Court ruling. It had stated that failed candidates for Swiss citizenship should be given a reason for their rejection, in a bid to avoid arbitrary decisions (voters in the town of Emmen, near Lucerne, turned down nearly 100 applications from foreigners, mostly from the Balkans, allegedly for racist reasons). The People’s Party says that the court verdict should be overruled, and that cantons and local authorities should be given full autonomy. It also wants to make it impossible for rejected candidates to appeal.31

In cantonal elections in Geneva, the new populist right-wing Geneva Citizen’s Movement (GCM) scored 7.7 per cent of the vote, cutting into support for far-left parties. The GCM was part of a coalition of groups which organised opposition to the extension of a labour accord with the European Union to the ten new member states. The right-wing Swiss People’s Party earned an extra seat, taking its total to eleven.32

UK

A report from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust suggests that the main issue driving support for the British National Party (BNP) in outer east London is immigration. In the same report Jon Cruddas MP warns of the dangers of the government’s strategy of triangulation (attempting to neutralise negative political issues regarding race, immigration and asylum). Such a strategy is carried out without consideration of its impact on vulnerable communities which are being increasingly stigmatised as the centre of gravity moves to the right on matters of race. According to Cruddas, the government ‘triangulates around immigration and colludes in the demonisation of the migrant whilst relying on the self same people to rebuild our public and private services and make our labour markets flexible.’33

In response to the London bombings of July 7, several prominent Conservative politicians have called multiculturalism ‘outdated’ and a multicultural society an ‘impossibility’. David Davis, a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party, criticised the emphasis on a multicultural society which allowed for expressions of diversity and rejection of assimilation. Lord Tebbit, a former Conservative Party chairman, went further saying a ‘multicultural society is an impossibility’ and that the Muslim religion was ‘so unreformed since it was created that nowhere in the Muslim world has there been any real advance in science or art or literature, or technology in the last 500 years’. However, the Conservative Party distanced itself from the views of the spokesperson for defence Gerald Howarth who called on British-born Muslims, who did not feel an allegiance to the UK, to leave voluntarily, In an interview with The Scotsman, Howarth accepted that the majority of Muslims adhered to British values, but said that those Muslims who ‘don’t like our way of life’ should ‘go to another country, get out’. When the interviewer put it to him that some Muslims who criticise the UK were born there, he replied ‘Tough. If you don’t give allegiance to this country, then leave’.[34]

In Bulletin 52 we also drew attention to claims that the Conservative Party were fostering anti-Gypsy sentiment for electoral gain.

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References:
1 See Jon Cruddas MP, Epilogue in The Far-Right in London: a challenge for local democracy (York, Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, 2005). 2 Der Spiegel (10 October 2005), Neue Zürcher Zeitung (22 September 2005). 3 Searchlight (November 2005). 4 Politiken, Jyllandsposten online (5,6 October 2005). 5 Berlingske Tidende (5 October 2005). 6 Migration News Sheet (October 2005). 7 Le Monde (11 September 2005), Independent Digital (12 September 2005). 8 Migration News Sheet (August 2005). 9 Searchlight (December 2004). 10 Libération (10 October 2005). 11 nouvelobs.com (10 November 2005), BBC News (15 November 2005) 12 Libération (16 November 2005). 13 Junge Welt (21 June 2005), Guardian (16 September 2005). 14 Frankfurter Rundschau (24 August 2005). 15 Guardian (25 August 2005), Reuters (23 August 2005). 16 Junge Welt (1 September 2005). 17 Deutsche Welle (14 August 2005). 18 Ibid. 19 Pakistan Daily Times (18 November 2004). 20 Junge Welt, op.cit. 21 Frankfurter Rundschau (26 November 2004). 22 Guardian (3 September 2005), ZENIT News Agency (14 December 2004), Reuters (25 August 2005). 23 European Jewish Press (14 September 2005). 24 Migration News Sheet (September 2005). 25 Il manifesto (28 July 2005). 26 Times of Malta (6 October 2005). 27 Ibid. 28 Migration News Sheet (October 2005). 29 Aftenposten (16 August 2005). 30 Le Temps (26 September 2005). 31 Swissinfo (1 October 2005). 32 Swissinfo (10 October 2005). 33 The Far-Right in London, op.cit. 34 Migration News Sheet (September 2005).


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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