Small World

Jewish World Review Sept. 6 , 2000 / 5 Elul, 5760

Europe Must Confront New/Old Hatreds

By Richard Z. Chesnoff -- UZES, France There's a dark new cloud of ethnic hatred hanging over Europe, and it's growing larger and more violent every day.

In Slovakia, three skinheads recently beat to death the Gypsy mother of eight. In Germany, three young neo-Nazis attacked and murdered the African husband of a German woman and then celebrated by singing the old SS "Horst Wessel song."

Elsewhere in Germany, anonymous bigots tried to bomb a group of Russian-Jewish immigrants. In France, Holland, Italy — all across Western and Central Europe, there is a disturbing new wave of hate crimes.

Most frightening of all, the swing to bigotry and hatred is reflected in political power structures. Austria has all but managed to ostracize itself from Euro-democracy by bringing the far-right Freedom Party of Joerg Haider into the ruling coalition. And while France's National Front has been racked by internal bickering, Jean-Marie Le Pen's anti-immigrant party still commands major support throughout the country.

What is behind this new/old European intolerance, and what, if anything, can be done about it?

In some ways, it is classic hatred — born of ignorance and fear.

Not surprisingly, the former Communist East Germany, where economic conditions lag way behind the richer West, is a neo-Nazi hotbed. Jobless and jealous of their neighbors' progress, young people have transformed frustration into hatred of "the others," be they Gypsies, immigrants from Turkey, the Balkans and Africa, or Jews, Europe's all-time favorite scapegoat.

It's true even when wealthier countries such as France are hit by economic setbacks. In his forthcoming book on French food, culture and politics, "A Goose in Toulouse," veteran American journalist Mort Rosenblum says: "As crime rates rose and employment dropped, people blamed Arab immigrants and voted the far right." Even now, with France enjoying renewed prosperity, "the sentiment is still there," says Rosenblum.

The usual — and sometimes unusual — suspects are quick to cash in politically. Austria's Haider is a longtime enemy of immigrants and an apologist for the Nazi past. But Germany's latest converts include people like Horst Mahler, a Berlin lawyer who was a 1960s leader of the left-wing terrorist Red Army Faction and who has now joined a neo-Nazi party the German government wants to ban.

How to crack down on hatred is one of Europe's biggest quandaries. Countries like Germany and France have banned Nazi and hate propaganda since the end of World War II.

But some argue that this is both anti-democratic and self-defeating because it makes the forbidden seem enticing. Besides, they argue, if people can't get hate material in their own country, they'll find it elsewhere, especially the Internet. Indeed, two of Germany's biggest suppliers of Nazi propaganda are in Toronto and the American Midwest.

Still, I am convinced that Europeans — and Germans in particular — have a special duty to make every effort to stop hatred and racist violence. Just last week, a German court handed out harsh sentences to the three skinheads who murdered the African immigrant. Good!

Much more is necessary. Improve education, provide more jobs — but crush bigots and racists every time they crawl out from under a stone. Neo-Nazism must be banned.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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