These Racists in the East

Post by Christiane Wilke

The Berlin Wall has dissolved. I know, it shouldn’t be news that the Berlin Wall is no more, even to historians. And I am not a historian. But we did have some major issues with creating access to our beautiful blog, which is why there was silence from a number of us. Isn’t this ironic that a blog on social media falters for lack of access? Now we’re here, ready to post, discuss, and comment.

My work for Hate 2.0 will focus on representations of Neonazis and otherness in Germany. The revelations about the NSU terror cell that killed ten people over a number of years has shown that migrants are seen as others, strangers, and suspect by the German police. The police long suspected that the migrants among the victims had been killed by someone from “organized crime” circles from their respective ethnic communities. At the official memorial ceremony to the victims, relatives spoke very powerfully of their alienation that was caused by not only losing a family member, but also becoming suspect in the eyes of the police. This is one side of the story.

The other side of the story is that the NSU, a core of three people from East Germany, is often described as an East German phenomenon. Well , is it? Or are there factors that make it easier for Neonazis to work, to find followers, and to find acceptance that are present in East Germany but also elsewhere? To me, the danger in the rush to declare the NSU an East German product is to miss the broader social connections that enable these terror networks to operate. This is not only dangerous for those whose security is endangered by Neonazis. It also does something else: those who affirm that Neonazis are an East German problem and blame it on specifically East German causes (the GDR education system, legacies of authoritarian ideologies) affirm the immunity of their own West German communities from the “virus” of Neonazi ideologies and violence. So there is a lot at stake: identity, inclusion, and the search for the realistic causes of hate and violence.

The problem of finding the racism elsewhere, in Europe typically east of wherever one is located, is fairly widespread. The recent soccer/football Eurocup is a good case in point. Ahead of the tournament, the British press was abhorred by racism and anti-Semitism in Ukraine, contrasting it nicely with the UK’s much improved record of diversity. The cup did in fact bring out the racism in the fans of several European countries. The Russian and Spanish teams were formally fined for the racist chants and monkey noises of their fans. Italian star striker Mario Balotelli drew the ire of Croatian, German as well as Spanish fans. German fans carried racist banners, glorified or belittled the Holocaust in Poland, wore jerseys that combined the German team’s colours with Nazi insignia, and insulted Polish and Ukrainian service workers. The journalists covering the fans did nothing (in German). After Mario Balotelli scored the two Italian goals against Germany in the semifinal, German fans took their frustration to twitter and other social networks, complaining that they did not lose to the Italian side but to an African player (well, they used slightly different terms). In Spain, some fans celebrated the Eurocup victory using fascist symbols. Between Spain, Croatia, Germany, Russia, and Poland, the racism accusations span pretty much the entire continent. True, there might be degrees and nuances, and the ideologies and expressions differ. Yet the picture is not as East/West as the pre-tournament media frenzy would have predicted.

What does this all add up to? First, it is popular to locate racism elsewhere and thereby appear to be better, more enlightened, more civilized. Second, the Eurocup showed that soccer/football fans from many of the participating teams use racist language and signs towards players of other teams. Successful and confident black players like Balotelli are especially popular targets. Third, the process of locating racism elsewhere also works to hide or minimize the racism ”at home.” In Europe, racism is officially unacceptable, and thus it is popular to disown it by placing it elsewhere. Look there, in the East, these racists! It’s not that there aren’t any, but not only there, but also here, wherever that may be.

There is work ahead, and now that the Berlin Wall around the blog is gone, let’s go ahead and do it!

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