My Europe: ′Foreigners can be racists, too′ | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.11.2017
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My Europe: 'Foreigners can be racists, too'

You’ve read the headline and now you’re up in arms, aren’t you? Unfortunately, I, Krsto Lazarevic, am going to disappoint you. The majority of foreigners are absolutely okay.

It's the exceptions that prove the rule, as they say. For example, there's a homeless Polish man who regularly gets drunk at a subway station near where I live. My knowledge of Polish is limited to curses and drinking toasts, but that's more than enough for me to be able to understand him. Recently, as I walked past him on my way to work, he was shouting abuse at a woman because she was wearing a headscarf. She turned, gave a brief shake of her head, then calmly walked on. I know it's not the done thing to speak badly of homeless people, but since that day I don't really like him anymore.

I can well imagine this homeless man standing with the 60,000 far-right extremists in Warsaw on Polish independence day, bellowing, "All Poland sings with us: Piss off, refugees,” or calling for a "white Europe of brother nations”. And as he stood there, demonstrating against Muslims and refugees – of whom there are hardly any in Poland – the far-right demonstrators would be looking at him with contempt because he's homeless. Simply being the object of discrimination doesn't make someone a better person.

Polish nationalists demonstrate on Independence Day in Warsaw (picture-alliance/PAP/P. Supernak)

An estimated 60,000 Polish nationalists demonstrated on Independence Day in Warsaw

Not all migrants want an open society

Nationalism, anti-Semitism and racism are widespread ideologies. They are common among both millionaires and the homeless, indigenous peoples and migrants. The racist in a suit with the university degree has just learned to express his hatred more eloquently than the man who lives on the street. Empirical evidence does not support the widespread prejudice that the poor and the poorly educated are more susceptible to these ideologies.

That's just one of many examples of ill feeling towards "the people at the bottom”. But the alternative view common among leftist sympathizers – that migrants and minorities are natural allies in the fight for an open and more just society – is also naïve.

Read also: Make Austria Great Again – the rapid rise of Sebastian Kurz

Demonstrators take part in an Identitarian movement march in Austria (picture-alliance/picturedesk.com/H. Oczeret )

Demonstrators take part in an Identitarian movement march in Austria, early 2016

Many German Turks are vocal in their opposition to the rise of right-wing populism in Germany and rightly outraged by the constitutional state's failures during the investigation of the racist NSU murders – yet will not say a word against Turkish President Erdogan and are full of praise for the current situation in Turkey.

Some Romanians and Bulgarians are rightly outraged that they are exploited in badly paid jobs, then rail against the Roma from their home countries who have – like them – come to Germany. Some Russians will complain that they're discriminated against in Germany, and in the very next sentence get worked up about Central Asian guest workers in Russia.

When xenophobes flee abroad

I could go on, but you get my point. These people are all very similar. They think it's perfectly okay for people belonging to minority groups to be abused, threatened and excluded – but only as long as they don't happen to be part of that minority themselves.

Not judging people by their origins doesn't only mean that they should not be demonized. They should not be idealized, either. Both attitudes are racist, even though one is probably well-intentioned. People must differentiate in specific cases. If an 18-year-old Syrian comes to Germany and has not yet learned that Hitler was evil, you can try to explain it to him. If an 18-year-old German still hasn't grasped it after years of history lessons, it will be very difficult.

Things start getting particularly complicated when xenophobes flee abroad and meet other xenophobes. Is that too abstract? I can offer you a concrete example as an explanation: At a demonstration by the right-wing extremist Identitarian Movement of Austria in Vienna, I heard the language spoken by my parents. Many Serbs and Croats were there to demonstrate against "Umvolkung” ("ethnicity inversion,” a term historically used by the far right to describe demographic change through immigration), "Islamification,” or whatever else it is they fantasize about.

Read also: Fewer refugee family reunifications in Germany 

Balkan refugees ahead of Syrians in the pecking order

Nationalist Serbs and nationalist Croats don't actually like each other. Unless, that is, they happen to be in Vienna, and people are agitating against Muslims and refugees. Then they do come together – in their shared hatred of others. It was people from the former Yugoslavia who first came to Austria as guest workers in the 1970s, then again as refugees in the 1990s. At the time, nationalist Austrians didn't want them. But now that more and more people from Syria are living in Austria, all the old refugees from the Balkans are suddenly okay. This only applies to "white” Balkan people, of course, not Roma.

Serbs, Croats, Poles and other people from Central and Eastern Europe are now marching in Germany and Austria alongside the people who not long ago wanted them thrown out of the country. Ever since the war in Syria, we Balkan refugees suddenly find ourselves a little further up the pecking order. We're now deemed good enough to join in demonstrations against refugees. If that's what you call integration, it's worked beautifully. European nationalists have a very efficient cross-border network. The bogeymen they all have in common are refugees and Muslims – regardless of whether or not there actually are any in their respective countries.

The cultural center in my hometown once had a slogan written on the wall: "All people are foreigners, almost everywhere.” I like this sentence, but there's also a corollary: "Foreigners can be racists, too, everywhere.”

Krsto Lazarevic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina and fled to Germany with his family as a child. Today he lives in Berlin, where he works as a journalist and commentator, writing for various German-language media outlets.

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