A Racial Powderkeg


Events in Europe, from Scandinavia to Russia, took a nasty turn last year as xenophobia reached a point bordering on fever pitch in some cities.

Last month, two Norwegians were jailed for the murder some months earlier of a mixed-race teenager in what has been publicized as Norway’s first race-related murder case. The instigators of the crime admitted to links with neo-Nazi groups. So disturbed was Norway’s public over the potential for racist crimes in their country that 40,000 took to the streets to express their horror.

Meanwhile, the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S. are being used by anti-immigration elements on the Continent, from labor organizations to xenophobic political groups, to push their agendas for limiting and controlling the movement of foreigners.

Rumbles within the right-wing elements in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government in Italy match with concerns being voiced in Germany and in Austria about both the presence and movement of foreigners, plus the practice of their religious beliefs, in those countries. The right-wing Austrian Jörg Haider has been sounding off, as has right-wing opposition candidate for the German government elections, Edmund Stoiber. In fact, race could become a key issue in this election.

An indication of the extent of the xenophobia currently sweeping Europe is the fact of its overt appearance on the streets of Moscow. Last October, neo-Nazi skinheads attacked a group of non-Russian peddlers, killing two. Writing for a liberal Muscovite weekly magazine, journalist Boris Tumanov penned the following worrying scenario: “Anybody in Russia who was born in the Caucasus region or any other non-Russian will most likely suffer a fate not to be envied in the coming months. The racist pogroms will increase exponentially, and their targets will not be confined to urban markets” (Novoe Vremya, Nov. 18, 2001).

Some historians and foreign-policy analysts describe the present condition of Europe as being either akin to that leading up to World War i or the hiatus between the previous two world wars. Ethnic and religious hatred seethed below the surface during those two decades, culminating in the pogroms in Russia, Germany and the Balkans. The clouds of racism are gathering over Europe yet again.