Europe as an ethnically homogenous nation-state is just a dream, and a pretty nasty one at that. The free movement of labour is one of the basic premises of EU membership. It is always the way with nationalists to hide racism under a cloak of caring about social conditions and forget that these were just as bad before any influx of immigrants. As the recession continues to bite, negative attitudes towards foreigners are becoming more common. Integration is often regarded as the key factor, but immigrant advocates say the whole burden of adjustment should not be borne by migrants themselves. Integration is the Holy Grail of immigration policy, accepted and promoted by all major political parties. There is the expectation that they have to become like us and many are against cultural diversity.
We recently had Tom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South, offering his tuppence-worth in the Daily Telegraph which i am sure all his constituents read. He repeats all the usual stereotypes about the Roma, such as aggressive begging, even though laws presently exist to stop that sort of thing and plenty of other laws against all the other alleged anti-social behaviour from happening. But par for the course as a Labour MP he never asks why the Roma are begging, appearing to believe its a comfortable desirable occupation to walk cold, windy, wet Scottish streets, pleading for charity. It is because Romanians and Bulgarians are stopped from working and are refused benefits, legislation brought in by his government that many beg as an alternative to starving.
He says "my constituents become angrier and more resentful, because the lives they have worked so hard to build for themselves and their families are being impinged upon by people whose culture, way of life and attitude to authority and those around them are utterly alien" [my emphasis] Then he goes on to associate accepting different cultures with the custom of female genital mutilation. He then implies that Labour should follow the Tory policy of further cutting benefits to migrant workers because "[Cameron] is speaking to a lot more people than just his own party’s Right wing."
So, his argument is not one of let us not challenge attitudes and try to change them, but rather, let us make sure we agree with the racists because it is not nice to call them prejudiced - especially if they are voters!!
We need people who want to make things better rather than scare-mongering MPs out to court popularity. Harris tries a mealy mouthed get out that he is not being racist and a xenophobe but he conveniently forgets that almost everywhere in Europe the Roma are exposed to a growing discrimination, ranging from exclusion from education and employment to racially motivated attacks. If we keep reading and hearing all the same tired old images of beggars and poverty it reinforces the prejudices. We'll fail to see the normality that are the experience of huge swathes of Romani society who are happily integrating - not to mention the common threads that bind us all.
What people don't understand they tend to fear. There is a cycle of suspicion and hostility that generates anti-Roma sentiment, which in turn deepens prejudice and further pushes the community from the society into which we expect them to assimilate. Groups of men and socialise in the street, noisily chatting in Romani and gesticulating while their children play in the street. You can see how that is intimidating to a society that no longer know their neighbours in the same tenement building!
The Roma distrust of authority is understandable, given their history of persecution and attempted genocide. In Eastern Europe there have been increased instances of firebombing, shooting, stabbing, beating and other violence towards the Roma community. France, Germany and Italy have expelled thousands of Roma.
Fotis Filippou of Amnesty International said:
"Roma across Europe are being pushed to the margins of society as a result of forced evictions; they are attacked on ethnic basis, used as a scapegoat for wider societal problems, denied access to education and basic rights. The language used by media outlets across the region when reporting stories on Roma and the stereotyping rhetoric often used by politicians and public figures could have serious repercussions for the Roma all over Europe. It may further fuel the already existing prejudices against them and lead to stigmatisation and discrimination. Amnesty International calls on national and European authorities and media outlets to refrain from intentionally or unintentionally targeting Roma as an ethnic minority – and creating the perception in doing so that ethnicity can be linked to criminality – this is directly and unambiguously discriminatory, the effects of which could be disastrous.”
There is little chance of the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Express of heeding such cautionary advice but let us not be mistaken even the “liberal” media has enthusiastically joined in the scape-goating of the Roma. Malcom X said “ If you are not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing”
"Man tae man the world o'er shall brithers be, for a' that"