Global News Digest
AP News, Newsweek International, Globe & Mail (South Africa)
by Obi Akwani, MGV Editor
From Russia to Germany to Denmark and Austria, and from France to Britain, people of color are facing increasing trends in racism that make life far more difficult and hazardous than for the average citizen in any of these countries.
In Russia, dark-skinned people, especially blacks and people of African origin face a growing trend in race-based violence.
According to some recent AP news reports Africans in Russian cities are often afraid to go out in public for fear of being attacked or killed.
The situation began to go bad for non-Caucasians in post-Soviet Russia in the mid 1990s.
Late last year several African students were attacked on the streets of St Petersburg by people described as “a group of youths.” On the same night, in the same street on two separate occasions, two students were attacked. One was killed and the other escaped with serious injuries.
Survival for non-white people in Russia means that they must learn how to behave themselves in order not to become casualties of the raging wave of racism in the nation’s cities. For Africans in Russian cities this has come to mean knowing where they can go and when it is safe to go there.
Gabriel Anicet Kochotfa, who came to Russia 25 years ago as a student from Benin in West Africa, is an academic and professor at the Gubkin Oil and Gas Institute. Staying alive in Russia for him means never using public transit and always making sure he is home by 9 p.m. Kochotfa’s wife is a Russian, but they must often appear separately in public in order to avoid the verbal abuses that are thrown at them whenever the bi-racial couple goes out together.
“Sometimes I even go to the shop with my wife and we go separately, so nobody knows that we are together… I’m a very lucky person. I have never been aggressed, because I know where to go, when to go and how to behave myself,” Kochotfa is quoted by the AP.
In 2005, more than 15 people were killed in racially motivated attacks. A year before that there were 44 such slayings, according to the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights.
The situation in Germany is not very different. In April 2006, a 37-year-old Ethiopian engineer was beaten into a coma in Potsdam. News reports described his injuries from the beating as “unusual in their severity.”
Such attacks are increasingly common in Germany. In recent weeks police have made arrests in connection with such brutal attacks on Africans and other dark-skinned people in Berlin, Wisner and other cities. Africans know certain areas in the eastern part of Berlin, such as Marzahn and Hellersdorf, as “no-go” areas where they are certain to be attacked or killed.
Police statistics show a 19 percent increase in racist violence by people described as members of the far right. Last year, there were 958 such acts recorded, up from 776 in 2004.
The bad situation is compounded by the fact that Germans, in general, seem unwilling to accept the depth of racism in their society. As a result, those who should are not very eager to speak very frankly about it. The situation is so bad that many Africans who spoke to the press about racism in Germany refused to give their full names for fear of reprisals.
These fears were highlighted last month when Uwe-Karsten Heye, a former government minister, lamented the fact — in a radio interview — that people with dark skin “might not make it out alive” if they dared set foot in certain towns, especially in the Bradenburg region around Berlin. About the same time an African-German organization offered to publish a list of “no-go” areas for the benefit of World Cup visitors. Public response, both to Heye’s statement and the African group’s offer, was highly critical and disfavorable, to say the least.
The tendency to downplay racism directed at blacks and other people of color while highlighting threats represented by neo-Nazism and right-wing violence is not only a German phenomenon. All across Europe, the emphasis seems always to be on the right-wing as a fringe non-representative element, and on that basis officials make their explanations of incidents of racism in society. People of color all over Europe are saying, as strongly as they can, that such responses are not adequate.
United Kingdom and The Netherlands
In Britain where a black teen was killed last July with an ax embedded in his skull by white men “shouting racist taunts,” the focus of media and government is — as in other European centers — not on endemic racism in society, but on right wing extremism.
The tendency to downplay racism against blacks in society is belied by the way officialdom reacts when immigrant minorities are caught on the wrong side of the law.
Take the case of Hirsi Ali, the prominent Somali-born former Dutch lawmaker who was stripped of her citizenship for admittedly lying in her immigration application. Her conviction and loss of citizenship led to a copycat case in Germany last month when a Nigerian was stripped of his German citizenship — held since 2000 — for allegedly lying about his employment record during immigration application.
Africans and other dark-skinned minorities in Europe know too well how deeply rooted the racism in society is. They are also aware of how difficult it is to penetrate the consciousness of the average European with this fact.
“All we hear is right wing, right wing, right wing,” says Eritrean-German Jonas Endrias, vice president of the International League of Human Rights. “The Germans won’t admit there is racism in society.”
World Cup Soccer
Germany is hosting the World Cup Soccer Games beginning this month and there are fears that racist may use that opportunity to attack non-white visitors, or even players, during the games.
Over the last few years, as African soccer stars increasingly play for European clubs, making racial taunts at them has become a favorite thing for fans in Europe.
In February this year, Samuel Eto’o, the Barcelona striker from Cameroon threatened to walk off the field at the 77th minute after enduring racial taunts from Spanish soccer fans for much of the game. He was persuaded to play on by teammates as Barcelona went on to beat opponent, Zaragoza, 2-0 in their Madrid game.
African-German groups and other anti-racism campaigners see the World Cup games as an opportunity to bring world attention to an issue most Europe seem eager to downplay.
Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, defended her country’s preparedness for the World Cup at the same time as she downplayed concerns about racism in Germany. Merkel, in a statement, described the racist attacks as not typical. “The overwhelming majority of people in our country are open to foreigners,” she said.
That may be so. But so long as those ‘foreigners’ are unable to live peacefully and safely in Germany as native Germans do, there is a big problem.