Is there a link between economic crises and rising xenophobia? In the wake of the European economic crisis, many commentators have drawn parallels with the situation in the 1930s, when the Great Depression led to the rise of fascism across Europe (and, ultimately, to the horrors of the Second World War). But is this too simplistic an analysis?
Certainly, xenophobia is at worrying levels in Europe today. Over 1 in 4 Europeans from an ethnic minority background reported that they had been discriminated against in 2012, while 1 in 3 European Jews said they had faced physical or verbal violence because they were Jewish in 2013.
To give you a better idea about the scale of xenophobia and intolerance in Europe, we’ve put together some facts and figures about discrimination in the EU in an infographic below (click for a larger image).
Is Europe growing more xenophobic? And, if so, why? We had a comment sent in by Christos arguing that rising intolerance was being caused by the economic crisis (coupled with a long history of what Christos saw as largely-ineffective integration policies).
To get a response to Christos, we also put his comment to Emanuel Ksiazkiewicz, a young Swedish politician with the Social Democrat party in Botkyrka municipality, near Stockholm. What would he say to Christos?
I totally share Christos’ assessment of the issue. I believe, as Christos does, that we experience racism mostly in times of need, where there are scarce resources that we have to fight over. And if we have a better economy then it’s easier for us to fight xenophobia. For example, our best weapon against xenophobia is education, and it is much easier to have a well-structured education system in a good economy where you don’t have cuts to budgets.
But, there are also some challenges to this statement. For example, if you take my own municipality of Botkyrka, the parts where the most people vote for xenophobic parties are in pretty well-off neighbourhoods. And that sort of goes against Christos’ statement. But, then, there are several factors which come into play.
To get another perspective, we also put Christos’ comment to Dr. Robin Wilson, a leading European policy analyst and expert on intercultural dialogue. What would he say to Christos?
I think the first thing I’d say to Christos is that it’s very difficult to generalise. Undoubedtly, there has been a rise in far-right populist movements across Europe in recent decades, but to some extent that predated the economic crisis – though it may have been worsened by it. And, obviously in Greece itself we’ve seen the rise of Golden Dawn, which has very much been linked to the austerity that Greece has undergone. But I think it’s important not to assume that we can say there is an archetypal European who is either more or less xenophobic than they were. There are strong distinctions, and of course we’ve also seen the rise of movements like Syriza in Greece on the other side of the spectrum.
Also, the evidence we have from opinion surveys is that people will very often give different answers if asked different questions. If you ask people: ‘Are there too many Muslims in Europe?’, most people who are not Muslims will say ‘Yes’. But if you ask people: “Do more religions in a country makes it culturally richer?’, most people will say ‘Yes’.
So, the issue there really becomes how political leaders frame discussion about diversity in Europe, and, of course, some of them have been framing it in a very irresponsible way, which has fostered xenophobic sentiments. Whereas, if they were willing to give leadership in a more positive way they could achieve a different outcome.
We also had a comment sent in by Berings, arguing that rising xenophobia in Europe has nothing to do with the economy. Berings argued that the root cause was the impact that immigration was having on European society and culture:
Many people I know do not support the far-right because of economic troubles, they support them because these politicians are the only politicians in touch with reality. No one ever signed up to this horrible ‘diversity’ project.
How would Emanuel Ksiazkiewicz respond to Bergins?
Well, we live in a globalised world, and whether we like it or not it’s going to get even more globalised. Our borders are becoming more and more like drawings on a map that don’t exist in the real world; it’s much easier and cheaper to travel these days, it’s much easier to get in touch with people from other countries and other cultures.
Of course, this will impact society. Of course, you will notice change. But change isn’t always bad; change has always occurred and change will always occur. So, it’s about embracing this change and making it into something positive and into something you believe in, because you cannot fight change. Change will happen.
Finally, what would Dr. Robin Wilson say?
Well, as I was saying, it is too simplistic to reduce intolerance to economic factors. And, by the same token, that gives Berings no excuse for being intolerant, which he may need to think about. What we also know about xenophobia in Europe is that xenophobia tells us very little about those social groups who are the target of intolerance, but it tells us a great deal about those who are the perpetrators of intolerance. And those who are intolerant tend to be intolerant across the board, towards the whole range of ‘others’ and, ironically, the less they know about the ‘other’ the more intolerant they often are.
So, for example, we know from evidence in the UK that the largest support for the so-called UK Independence Party – which is the far-right anti-immigrant party there – comes from those people who don’t know any immigrants whatsoever. And the smallest support is in those cities, like in London, which are very globalised cities.
Does high unemployment make people more racist? Is there a link between the economy and tolerance of other cultures? Or is root cause the impact that immigration is having on European society and culture? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!