Is there discrimination in Europe? You don’t need to make a journey to become aware of that – you can already see it in Germany. Every day. Racism towards Muslims, Afro-Americans, Jews, towards foreigners per se are visible at airports, in public sector institutions and agencies. According to a survey by the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation every fifth German has xenophobic attitudes.
Probably discrimination will always be anchored in the societies of our world. Because of that on our journey to Eastern Europe we didn’t ask if but why different minorities suffer resentments and if these are handed to the following generation – our generation. The aim was to find out if long lasting resentments like anti-Semitism and Antiziganism are still maintained by the young generation.
We chose three countries to investigate on. All have in common that discrimination and racism are quite persistent; they are inherited from generation to generation and are inherent in the society. Discrimination in Latvia, Hungary and Romania has antique structures, in Latvia it is even anchored in law whereas discrimination in Hungary and Romania are courteous. We wanted to know if these resentments still divide the society and if they bring out a “generation separation”.
In Latvia we investigated a kind of outlawing, which we didn’t believe to exist within the European Union nowadays: discrimination by law. Since the end of the Cold War citizens without Latvian roots are forbidden to vote or to become policemen, firefighters or state employees. Even if they were born in Latvia after the collapse of the Soviet Union they aren’t Latvians. Most of them belong to the Russian ethnicity.
Discrimination by law isn’t an everyday-problem in Latvia but a permanent political issue. For people who don’t have Latvian ancestors from before 1940, the government created a test to get a full citizenship. Obviously most Non-Citizens never developed trust in their state and some even have a refusal-attitude against it nowadays. Especially political parties that are in power for years benefit from this: The problem of the Non-Citizens is some kind of stronghold against Russian influence in their own country.
Non-Citizens in Latvia have got an Aliens Passport, they aren't Latvian citizens.
Dorin Cioabă is the self-proclaimed king of the Roma. He lives in Sibiu, in the North of Romania.
András Ligeti is the chairman of the youth council of the Jewish organization Mazsihisz. He is confident that his community can fight anti-Semitism.
Whereas discrimination in Latvia has structural reasons which are established by the state, discrimination in Hungary is established by former generations. We went to Budapest expecting young Jews wouldn’t stop telling about a rising anti-Semitism. After all the right winged Jobbik party is gaining influence and President Orbán and his Fidesz party not only do very little to fight anti-Semitism but also give Jobbik politicians their head. The state seems to turn away from the European Union and to re-educate its citizens to a conservative nationalism. Jobbik gives long lasting resentments towards Jews a voice. They abuse topics like poverty and economic and social problems to fuel hate and prejudices against Jews. This opinion is shared by all young Jews we were talking with. But however they proudly assumed that they are confident to fight the problem on their own. They remember statements of their grandparents: “You cannot live in Hungary if you are Jewish.” But despite all prejudices the young generation says that it’s definitely possible to live Jewry in the Hungarian publicity – although they hide their kippas in some districts. Discrimination in Hungary is courteous, jokes about Jews occur every day. Nevertheless anti-Semitism – that’s what all Jews we met assured us – is not as bad as in France. In contrast to discrimination in Latvia Jews in Hungary don’t suffer everyday resentments, assaults or restrictions. Racism in Hungary is more a permanent hostilities risk which young Jews sometimes avoid by wearing their kippas under their hats.
In Latvia we found scars of communism, in Hungary the acute danger of recurring discrimination against minorities. And in Romania we entered a circle of divided societies which is not possible to break through for decades. There is an almost tangible gap between Roma and the rest of the inhabitants of Romania. Talks with experts and conversations with a lot of residents gave us the impression that the Romanian society almost has capitulated to its social problems. Most of the Roma are still poorly integrated – there is a major imbalance in schools and in the labor market. The poverty of the Roma can often be seen in the streets: begging children, poor, homeless. Some Romanians blame the Roma for the high crime-rates in many cities. The Roma often can’t go to school and if they can they don’t really attend class sitting in the last row.
The Roma feel separated: “We don’t belong to the rest of the society”, said one woman in a settlement of Romanies near Sibiu. They feel excluded from the community, “there is no exchange between Romanians and Roma.” However the problem is not new. The question is: What are people doing to solve it? How can you bring together Roma and the rest of the society? It seems that the population has lost faith and trust in their government. Instead they are hoping for solutions from the European Union.
These are three completely different types of discrimination and exclusion we have experienced on our trip. All have in common that they are quite persistent, that they are inherited from generation to generation. They are inherent in the society and because of that they bring out a “generation separation”. The conflicts we dipped in are not new. They all are inherited conflicts that have evolved over the past decades. While young Jews are confident in Hungary to get along with the problem by themselves, in Latvia and Romania there is an increase of frustration in the young generation. They want to know: Why isn’t Europe doing anything? What is the European idea worth at all? Some of them no longer believe in the EU. For others this is their last hope. If nothing happens in the near future, this development will indeed give rise to a new “generation separation”.