Archives for category: Western Europe

The ongoing events in London and other cities in the UK have forced those of us who research mobilizations to re-examine some of our generally-held ideas. One refrain that seems to be increasingly deployed by politicians regards that of simple “criminality.” This is a comforting and quick explanation that, absorbed easily, might help someone sleep better at night, reassured also with their own law-abiding nature. As such, it serves a useful function, but will likely be less useful as a basis for policies to address the complexity of what has just happened.

A second line of thought invokes race, an explanation that easily resonates with those with origins or training in the US – a country that exhibits a very high level of racial categorization in its politics. At first glance, the notion of race could make sense to an analyst given the shooting that sparked the riots. But it quickly became clear in the scale of events that this was about much more. A look at the photos of looters in the newspaper quite plainly reveals that there are no clear patterns of race, and there are plenty of shots of “whites” robbing stores and “non-white” store owners trying to defend them. The television news has been using the word “youths” to describe the looter demographic. While not a usual social science category, the photos show that this is a pretty good approximation of who they are. While the US has high racial categorization, the UK has a high degree of cleavage on a generational basis. The word “yob,” or boy spelled backwards, is a UK word to indicate a young man who gets into trouble. This is a concept that is relatively stronger in the UK than in other European countries.

A quite fruitful line of thought is developing around the psychology of those engaged in the violence and looting, exploring in particular the imperative of commercialism that seems to drive some of the actions. These ideas comprise a sophisticated turn on some of the socio-psychological ideas in mobilization theory, forcing us to think carefully about basing economic stability on the requirement of consumerism. Journalists on the streets are also probing these “why” questions in interviewing those involved. This has produced a series of quotes and video or radio clips that are disturbing for many reasons, one being a lack of a truly coherent explanation. This kind of frustrating set of answers by participants to the “why” question is not unique – it seems to crop up in a diverse array of riot studies, ranging from Bangladesh and India to Tulsa. That does not mean that participants should not be asked why they engaged; simply that their answers may not produce the information that we want for a policy-informing explanation.

What kind of information can we reliably draw from riots? One thing we do know is what people do. A focus on observables can tell us a great deal about mobilizations even if we have a hard time getting inside the heads of rioters. For example, actions do not happen in a vacuum. They are followed by reactions. This is no less the case for the UK events, where some social mobilizations have started to emerge in response to the events of the past few days. A focus on politicians alone would miss these mobilizations. Some of these counter-mobilizations include individuals who decided to band together to protect their shops or neighborhoods in light of what was perceived as a low police response in London’s Monday events. In East London, Turkish shop owners mobilized  to protect their stores. In Southall, a group of Sikh men mobilized to protect a Sikh temple. In Enfield, a group of 300 men gathered to form a “vigilante” group to protect their neighborhood against looters’ potential return. These gatherings prompted a worried police department to warn that violence could increase with such groups to counter looters. While the diversity of these counter-mobilizations is obvious (and should serve as additional caution against a race reading of events), the Enfield vigilante group is mentioned by some as potentially leaning towards a racial response. A racial reading of the riots is likely to become a political project for various actors to construe for their own political benefit (watch this space).

Our theoretical abilities to understand the dynamics of bilateral mobilizations such as these are remarkably weak. One reason for this is that social movement theories developed primarily to explain protest against states and state repression. Social movement theories are thus useful to examine conditions of mobilization against a repressive state, and as such they have produced some interesting insights when applied to varied authoritarian settings such as Eastern Europe in 1989 and the recent Arab Spring. Some analysts apply these insights to democratic contexts, while others view this practice as politically motivated. Wherever one stands on this issue, one thing is certain: social movements insights fall down if the state is largely absent in events. It is simply a fact that there just weren’t enough police to contain the hundreds of violent looters in some of these events, thus the state was largely absent as an actor in some of them. Moreover, social movement theory has not really considered the potential of mal-intentioned masses. But this is the combination that produced the ugly scenes in London on Monday night and in other cities on Tuesday.

This is where bilateral mobilization comes in. Those of us working on ethnic politics and nationalism have noticed that groups don’t tend to simply accept the domination of another. As stated by one Manchester man protecting his shop, “Rather than goin’ hiding lettin’ them take everything we’re gonna stand up and fight. What [else are] ya gonna do?”  In a study of mobilization events involving Hungarians and Romanians in Romania, I found that a pattern of emulative mobilization is quite common. Similar to the London events on Monday, the politics of ethnic tensions between masses may not involve the state. They thus take on certain characteristics that can be missed by social movement theory, such as emulative mobilizations across groups as a general dynamic. In their focus on the state, social movements theories don’t strongly consider what can happen if groups might mobilize against each other. Where states, armies or police do get involved, the dynamics are quite different. But in bilateral mobilizations with a low state presence, what one finds is the following pattern: one group mobilizes, invoking grievances, and then the other group responds with an emulative mobilization. The pattern of joint mobilizations can easily spiral unless it is ended with either a jointly-recognized involvement by the state or brokerage and negotiation between respected elites of each group.

What can these emulative dynamics tell us about the London riots? Well, there is a very real danger that without a continued police presence, vigilantes might clash with perceived or real looters. While the outcome of such clashes would be less violent in the UK than in a country in which gun ownership is less controlled, spirals remain a real possibility. This potential is augmented by the fact that right-wing parties such as the BNP are intent on making as much political hay out of the riots and looting as they can, and some of the current government rhetoric is feeding into this discourse. Interpreting the situation is one thing, while admittedly addressing the problem is harder. Unlike an ethnic riot, it is not clear that there are any leaders for the rioters with which negotiations could take place. It is possible that “community leaders” could become proxies for such brokers, but this presents a problem for which hopefully those engaged in UK politics might have some creative ideas. What will not be helpful is identifying a platitude instead of a real explanation, just because it is easier to seem to address.

Fortunately, there is one crucial difference between bilateral ethnic mobilizations and the UK events. In addition to the groups of men mobilizing to protect their neighborhoods, there is an entirely different kind of responsive  mobilization that has emerged as well: a broad-based cleanup effort. Cleverly called the RiotWombles, their loose name refers to a children’s TV series about creatures on Wimbledon Common that pick up objects left by messy human beings. Within the last 24 hours, hundreds of people have shown up in various neighborhoods as part of this effort, hoisting brooms in the air as a symbol of tidiness, and well, frankly, also of strength. The presence of hundreds of broom-wielders in some of these areas should serve as a likely deterrent to would-be looters, in contrast to Monday’s empty streets – illustrating one of the logics of bilateral mobilzations. One hopes that it is the RiotWombles, rather than the vigilantes, that might remain the most visible form of counter-mobilization.

Sherrill Stroschein is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics  at the Department of Political Science, School of Public Policy University College London

On July 22, 2011, horrific news from Norway shattered the world. In two acts of terror targeting the government building in Oslo and a youth political camp of the Labour party held on the Utoya island, 76 individuals lost their lives. The perpetrator and his motifs are well known by now: it was Anders Breivik, a self-proclaimed modern day Crusader, who went on a rampage against his political opponents, frustrated with what he saw as silent facilitation of the Islamization of Europe.

“DO NOT for the love of God aim your rage and frustration at Muslims. […] ALL our efforts must be aimed at […] traitors. We will focus on the Muslims AFTER we have seized political and military control. At that point, we will start deportation campaigns.”

The quotation above is an excerpt from a document Breivik disseminated shortly before he commenced with the attacks, an 1500-pages-long manuscript titled “”2083: A European Declaration of Independence” in which he thoroughly explained his political beliefs and the motives for the crimes he committed.

One recurring question these days is if it is worth analyzing his “Manifesto” at all? Do we actually need to ponder upon his ideology? Aren’t we doing a bad thing by repeatedly debating his musings, thus reiterating his messages? At the end of the day, isn’t he just another sociopath and a person with troubled childhood, who resorted to violence as a remedy for his personal frustrations (allegedly being dumped by a girl who fell for a Muslim man)? His political views provide many grounds for disqualifying him as irrelevant to the political debate indeed. The Manifesto shows that his Holy War is driven by Breivik’s narcissism and self-righteousness as well as his delusion of historic mission. He adopts a highly selective approach to seeing the world, makes arbitrary assessments of good and bad, and is in fact excessively judgmental, confronting most of the contemporary values of society (for instance, gender equality). When it comes to his acts, on the other hand, he straightforwardly takes mass murder as a problem-solving technique. Such ideas should primarily concern law enforcement. But how should they be addressed in the political debate?


What makes Breivik different from typical mass murderers and terrorists is that his words (and consequently, his actions – a mere frontal attack on the political opponent) are not only political, but astonishingly rooted in the contemporary political debates in Europe and beyond. Reading the direct and semi-formal text of “2083,” one gets the idea that we have heard many of this claims and arguments before. It can easily be a football hooligan, a drunk man yelling in a smoky tavern or some anonymous who replied to our comments online. It can easily be the hosts of a local TV or radio show that scaremonger on the loss of European identity before the invasion of foreigners. It can be indeed, a representative of any far right political association.

The very ideas that Breivik was advocating for  – alarmism regarding the loss of traditional values, vilification of traitors, preaching homogenization through un-mixing (deportation) and curtailing immigration, as well as expressing deep solidarity with non-western nations perceived as struggling with Islamic terror) are the pillars of various ideologies shared by thousands of Europeans (and Americans). Meticulously pointing out his influences and beliefs, the former member of Norway’s second largest political party, the Progress Party, declares himself as “Western Europe patriot,” nationalist/conservative and cultural Christian who fights the Islamization of Europe and especially its enablers (multiculturalism, political correctness, “cultural Marxism”). He builds upon the ideas of the Dutch radical far righter Geert Wilders, the English Defence League and he would like to meet the glorious Vladimir Putin in person. He sees the EU as an “unelected and unaccountable government for nearly half a billion people” and argues that he and his supporters have allies in the US (“a sizable faction of the Republican Party,” presumably the Tea Party). Hence, understanding Breivik and his political beliefs is crucial for understanding the prospects of the far right. The “2083” Manifesto shows that albeit the diffusion and the divergent conceptions among the far right, their beliefs are inter-related and complementary to each other and they share the sense of a common mission. For now, it is their methods that make them different.


Unlike fellow right wingers, Breivik advocates violence. He does that primarily because he is openly disillusioned with the merits of democracy. Unlike his political idols that participate in elections and engage into institutional debates, Breivik saw democracy as an unfair system that suppresses his fellow patriots from having a say in policymaking, a system that is biased towards liberals and the Left. In his words, in such a system “even if a moderate right wing political party […] manages to gain certain influence […] they will not be able to accomplish anything unless they get more than 50% of the votes.” This “injustice” was the very reason why he left mainstream politics. Even though his former party was “the most successful anti-Islamisation party in Europe,” it could not make a significant change because the 22% of support were simply not enough to push their hundreds of bills against radical Islam taking over. Same goes with civic or at least non-violent activism, as Breivik sees “unnacountable NGOs” as part of the cultural Marxist coalition that undermines national sovereignty and the preservation of European culture.

The Oslo and Utoya attacks were part of Breivik’s master plan to bully his opponents and through shock and blood to affect the status quo of Norwegian and European politics; eventually to outrage Muslims and to cause a religious war. The Norwegian scholar on nationalism, Thomas Hylland  Eriksen argues that the very nature of the radical act of terror committed by Breivik resembles a natural disaster – we could not anticipate it and therefore, were unable to protect ourselves from it, and we can not protect ourselves from similar acts in the future. Yet, this is only partially true.

In the post – 23 July debates, authors seem to forget one very important fact regarding political terror: resorting to violence is not uncommon when radicals are in question. Terror is part of European history, and moreover, part of Europe’s present. The politics of the violent direct action that marked a whole era of European and global politics (one such act was the casus belli for the outbreak of the First World War). Today, even though terror has significantly decreased, it still persists. In 2009, out of 294 terrorists attacks in Europe, only one was carried by Islamists, and the rest by European radicals, especially by extreme nationalists and separatists. Therefore, Breivik’s acts should remind us that violence of this kind, unthinkable before July 23 and unthinkable for Norweigans, might just happen very soon again. Breivik knew that radicals and his fellow “Western European Patriots” can and will opt for violence – and that is what made him say that he is optimistic of the future of his “Holy War.”

The questions we need to answer

The question that can hardly be answered, of course is, how can European governments respond to the ferocious attack, both in terms of security and discursively? How can they protect their people from future attacks carried  by extreme far righters and how can they combat the burgeoning hateful rhetoric that stimulates that type of actions? Introducing frequent check ups on blonde guys wearing branded polo shirts who exhibit high level of etiquette is certainly not an alternative to be considered (part of Breivik’s suggestions are to dress neatly and behave accordingly in order to trick authorities). As Prime Minister Stoltenberg said, the response must follow the ideals of the open and tolerant society. The outrage, the fear and the anguish of this moment have to be overcome.

One powerful mechanism democratic societies of today have is deliberation. And before contemplating any possible solutions, we need to take a step back and reflect on ourselves for a moment. In that respect, there are topics that we will need to discuss in order to maintain the pillars of openness and tolerance.

In Breivik’s case, we have an obvious example of how anti-Islam, far right rhetoric inspires terror (the same goes for any extremist rhetoric). To paraphrase Karl Frisch, while it would be senseless to blame a whole political movement for the acts of an individual, his enablers and idols should be held accountable. “There is a high bar between […] religious extremist and a religious extremist capable of killing someone […]. But [far right ideologues] lower that bar when they paint the Islamic faith with a broad brush and give anti-Muslim bigotry an audience of millions.”  In fact, while his far right heroes condemn Breivik’s methods in the aftermath of the Oslo and Utoya bloodbaths, they did not miss the opportunity to repeat their views that the alleged threat from radical Islam persists and the debate should not be deflected because this individual act. That is the politically correct way (the way Breivik despised) to say that the motives behind the July 23 attacks were in fact justified.

Not only anti-Islam discourse should be tackled on formal grounds, there needs to be a persistent effort to diffuse prejudices, through, for instance, reframing “Muslim questions” as questions of social exclusion/inclusion, while maintaining the secular and liberal-democratic perspective. Same goes with migration – we need to facilitate a shift of the focus of the debate from security issues to the challenges of integration and social cohesion (and target both the immigrants and the native population). Moreover, we need individualization of the discourse – meaning departure from debating religions, cultures and communities as if they were strictly bound and homogenous actors (a self-critical remark is that this should be applied when discussing the far right as well). Finally, we need to agree with Breivik’s assessment that the current political order is ideologically colored, and moreover, that it is tailored to discourage hatred towards individuals and whole categories of the population. In order to make this less outrageous and more plausible for far right extremists, we need to repeat the fact that it is in order to protect their comfort as well.

Anastas Vangeli is a Research Analyst at the Center for Research and Policy Making, Skopje

A few countries around Europe and the Middle East have been having a harder time forming a government than most. If most Brits got nervous that there was no government formed for a few days following last years’ election, such a scenario sounds like a remote dream for Belgium, Bosnia, Lebanon and Iraq.

It took Iraq around nine months to form a government following parliamentary elections in March 2010, Lebanon had a change of premier in January, but the new premier Najib Mikati only was able to form a new cabinet a few days ago (based on support from Hizbollah and its allies). Belgium is “celebrating” a year since the parliament elections without a government and Bosnia is slowly catching up (emphasis on slowly) with Belgium, having held elections in October 2010 and only a few days ago the three member state presidency held a straw poll who might be the best candidate for the post—it looks likely that the government will not be formed before the fall. Of course, all four countries share a key feature: They are power-sharing systems, which require coalitions of the unwilling. Coalitions are between parties which have campaign against one another and which have often antagonistic views over the future of the country, not to mention its policies. Thus, coalitions are not based on securing “just” a majority, but rather on including parties representing the often deep divisions in society. With fractious and unstable party systems, forming a government is not an easy task.

It might be tempting to conclude that power sharing system which allocate power to parties claiming to represent these different ethnic, linguistic or religious groups should be done away with. Simple majority rule is, however, no alternative in the three countries. In Lebanon, Hizbollah would be able to take over the country, in Belgium Flemish nationalists would be able to dismantle the state with not consideration of the Walloon community, in Bosnia, a Bosniak parties might govern over a state that can’t govern of half of it, the Serb Republic (or alternatively, a Croat-Serb coalition would dominate at the expense of the largest population group), etc. A different alternative is the system used in Northern Ireland. Instead of lengthy coalition negotiations between parties which in all probability anyhow have to end up in government with each other, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 just does away with complicated government formation altogether. Here the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are elected by a double majority of both unionists and nationalists, all subsequent ministers are chosen by the D’Hondt system, which allows parties to pick ministerial posts according to their size and means that there is no need for negation between parties and all have a stake in the government. Of course, this also means that no party will be in opposition, but voting largely determines the dominance in the executive, rather than who is represented at all.

If such a solution is not possible, the question arises, does one really need a government? In Belgium, there have been protests in favor of any government (probably a first in history), a senator calling for a sex strike of the wives of Belgian’s politicians and the initiative G1000 which seeks to bring together 1000 citizens to demonstrate than in a few days of popular debate more feasible solutions and compromises can be found than after more than a year of talks among parties. Despite all the civic activism for a government, Belgium managed to hold the EU presidency, reduce its budget deficit and generally have a working country with only a caretaker government. The others’ are less lucky. Without a proper government and a budget, Bosnia was unable to draw further loans from IMF, is unable to move forward with EU integration, whereas Lebanon and Iraq were similarly paralyzed without a fully acting government. The secret to Belgium’s ‘non-governmental’ success despite its difficulties is simple, it is called the European Union and its regions and communities to which many powers are devolved. Granted, the EU lacks clear decision making structures and much of what one would expect from a government, but the Belgium experience demonstrates that it can be a crucial proxy for having a government. Monetary policy, no need. Foreign and security policy, not a big deal for a small EU member. Most laws and regulations come from the EU. What is not done by the EU in terms of everyday life is organized by the regions or communities. This leaves Belgium in the absence of a legitimate government much less exposed than Lebanon, Bosnia or Iraq. Now, of course, the problem is that some ethnic, linguistic or religious parties actually want to demonstrate just that—namely that the state is unnecessary. If citizens don’t feel the pinch of having a government, they might become less attached to the state. This is of course a fundamental dilemma, who much government does there need to be to make it worthwhile for citizens to have a state and what is the maximum of government and state some citizens can take before they support some alternative. Whatever the specific answer maybe, there are times when a country can work, even if there is no government.

Florian Bieber is a professor for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz.

Last August, the French authorities started to deport thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma migrants back to their home countries. These Roma were said to be involved in illegal or even criminal activities. Since then, the French deportations have been at the center of international media attention and have been heavily criticized. They are, however, not a new phenomenon. In 2009, the French government already deported about 9,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria. And also other Western European countries (Italy, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and the United Kingdom) have expelled Roma, or intend to do so in the nearby future. Through these policies these governments exclude Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, who are EU citizens, from EU laws guaranteeing the free movement of citizens within the EU. In many of these cases, governments have considered the Roma a threat to national public security. On the basis of such a security risk assessment, so they argue, a differential treatment of the group should be considered an appropriate measure. Indeed, if it concerns people who pose a threat to the national public order an exception to the European constitutional right on free circulation can be made. But such an exception can only be judged as legal if it is based on a case-by-case assessment of individual situations, and it may never lead to the singling out of a specific ethnic group or amount to collective expulsions. In many of the current cases, however, it is highly doubtful whether these rules have been followed correctly. In a resolution adopted on September 9th, the European Parliament condemned the French policy and urged the French authorities to stop the expulsions immediately. The European Commission is currently carrying out an investigation in order to establish whether the French actions are indeed in line with EU law.

It is questionable, however, whether any legal interference by the EU will really stop the anti-Roma measures taken by these individual member states. The problem is that this matter is not simply an issue of legal rules, or policy strategy, it is also, and even more importantly, an issue of representational politics. The Roma are widely framed as exotic nomads who are heavily involved in illegal and criminal activities and who simply do not want to integrate into mainstream societies. As long as such a stereotypical representation of the Roma in Europe remains widespread individual governments may get away relatively easily with policies that target the entire group and portray that group as less-than-human. They even may be rewarded for that electorally. These stereotypical representations are a crucial part of how states currently deal with the Roma. They are a serious threat to current European minority policies as well as to EU principles more generally.

A permanent state of exception

The French situation clearly shows how the stereotyping of the Roma can currently be mobilized to legitimate a legal state of exception. The French MP and member of Sarkozy’s ruling party UMP, Jacques Myard, for instance, has stated that the key issue of the ‘European Roma problem’ is the way in which the Roma interpret and practice the right to travel freely in the EU. He said that their ‘excessive mobility’ and ‘related lifestyle’ cause serious security problems. Claiming that this ‘nomadic lifestyle’ is ‘medieval,’ Myard has suggested that there is a need for reconsidering and limiting the EU constitutional law on the free movement of persons in the Union. Calls for changing and limiting constitutional rights have been fashionable in contemporary Europe, and clearly not only among populists such as Geert Wilders, Filip Dewinter, and their East European compeers. Sarkozy’s controversial statements and policy, too, have contributed to making Romaphobia more acceptable in Europe. Sarkozy’s name can now be added to the list of presidents who have dubiously commented on the Roma – a list that already includes Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Václav Klaus in the Czech Republic, Ivan Gašparovič in Slovakia, and Traian Băsescu in Romania.

The current migration of Roma within the EU has been framed as a dangerous form of ‘nomadism.’ Calling the Roma ‘nomads’ enables governments to portray them as essentially ‘different from others,’ and thus different from ordinary EU migrants. Italy is a striking example of a country that relied on this fatal reversal of fact and fiction. The Italian ‘laws to protect nomadic cultures,’ which were adopted in the late 1980s, enable the Italian authorities now to destroy, on a regular basis, sites where Roma live. By doing so their permanent settlement is made impossible. In Italy, ‘the protection of nomads’ has become a euphemism for prohibiting Roma to integrate and participate in Europe.

Several studies, however, have shown that the current migration patterns of Roma do not structurally differ from those of other Europeans. Just like other migrants Roma have socioeconomic reasons for trying to build a future elsewhere in Europe. Many Roma have also political reasons. In Western European countries they can still build a better future, often while simultaneously hiding their ethnic background. In East European countries, many of them have been deprived of all future prospects. Hopelessness as well as institutional and everyday forms of discrimination have compelled the Roma to look for a better life elsewhere, permanently or temporarily.

Simultaneously, in various places in Europe extreme violence against the Roma has erupted. The current expulsion fever should be seen against the background of these heavy escalations of violence. In Macedonia, Ukraine, and Slovakia, for instance, the Roma have frequently been tortured by police forces. In Italy and Lithuania, the authorities have relied on anti-terror laws to act against the Roma. Italy has introduced dubious state practices such as the fingerprinting of all Roma. In five of Italy’s main cities specific ‘security packages’ have been introduced in order to deal with them. In Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Latvia, extremists have targeted the Roma. In Hungary, more than twenty violent attacks on the Roma since early 2008 have resulted in nine deaths, including that of a five-year old boy. Remarkably, these attacks have not been reported very often in the media or only as one-off incidents. Moreover, these atrocities have not aroused much public or political indignation. When it concerns the Roma in Europe, we appear not to take the human rights and anti-discrimination charters that we have developed in post-Second World War Europe so seriously any longer.

The EU’s response

When Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice and Human Rights, recently compared the situation of the Roma in France with the Second World War most commentators understood her statement primarily as a reference to the gas chambers. However, in her speech for the European Parliament in which she made the comparison, she did not actually refer to the extreme outcomes of what happened then. Of course, from a strategic point of view her comparison may not have been the right one. She probably could have predicted that the comparison would trigger accusations of it being too radical and politically incorrect. Nevertheless, there are two good reasons why her comparison did make sense. First, the EU institutions and their post-War forerunners were founded exactly on the idea that they needed to avoid the discriminatory treatment of ethnic or religious minorities as had happened before and during the war. If we look at the recently leaked French governmental policy document distributed to local civil servants (a memo of the French interior ministry that urged French police officials to focus on Roma), we see precisely this: the discriminatory treatment of citizens on the basis of their ethnic identity.

Second, a reference to the Second World War is justifiable because it compels us to reflect upon the processes that lead to the representation of certain minorities as less-than-human. In the case of the Roma, already a group vulnerable to discrimination, such representations have now received the support of substantial parts of the population in Eastern and Western Europe. Most French citizens do not think the Roma deportations are problematic, and many Europeans may consider them a policy worthwhile pursuing. Opinion polls and weblogs throughout Europe clearly illustrate this tendency. The growing violence against the Roma and the lack of public outrage about these atrocities also highlight the trend. Collective stigmatization policies such as they are currently carried out in France and Italy implicitly ratify a process of dehumanization. Dehumanization, in turn, is often an element that precedes and stimulates ethnic violence.

In addition, the collective dehumanization of the Roma leads to further socioeconomic and political exclusion. According to the World Bank, poverty rates among Roma are higher than those of any other group in Europe. Substantial parts of the about ten million European Roma, and even three-quarters of all Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, live below the poverty threshold. Life expectancy among Roma is  lower than that of any other group in Europe. The Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency and the European Roma Rights Center have repeatedly reported that neither East nor Western European countries have done enough to provide their Romani citizens with equal opportunities.

European institutions continue to suggest that the existing EU instruments, such as the European social and regional development funds, can be and are indeed applied to help change the situation. So far, the EU does not want to take additional measures. Yet, due to the insufficient monitoring of how these funds have been used, and due to the lack of political will to initiate binding rules to change the situation in the EU member states, the Union itself has contributed to shaping the current impasse. Therefore, there is an increasing need to mobilize the competencies of the EU to develop policies that structurally differ from the non-committal and non-binding structures that currently provide the context for national policy programmes targeting the Roma. Without a more coherent European Roma strategy, the current impasse will only become bigger and the EU will increasingly share responsibility for the lack of improvement or the further deterioration of the problem. The most vulnerable Europeans will fall prey to the arbitrariness of those who do no longer take the European constitutional rights seriously.

In the end, the current situation impels us not only to think of better ways to protect the Roma, but also to safeguard more carefully than ever the very foundations of the European Union.

Huub van Baar is currently finishing his PhD thesis on the situation of the Roma in Europe, entitled The European Roma: Governmentality, Minority Representation, Memory. He works at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA) of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

There’s an everlasting link between soccer and stereotypical thinking about national identities.  This was widely in evidence once again during these last few weeks of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Examples range from the South African newspaper Sowetan suggesting that German international player Bastian Schweinsteiger has the “fearsome aura of Adolf Hitler” to the German Der Spiegel being overjoyed about the positive headlines about Germany in the English press. According to some English papers Germany had won the “Sympathy World Cup” and the team had created a new and positive image of the German people.

Now the World Cup reached its concluding climax with the final game between Spain and the Netherlands. This is a good opportunity for reflecting briefly on the strange but strong connection between football and ‘the nation’, or, in this case, between the world’s most popular sports event and nationalism. Especially in Germany (which is the focus of my contribution here), these phenomena have been so closely tied up with each other for such a long time that their relationship can now perhaps best be compared to a long but nevertheless functional marriage. In their teenage years they helped each other to become ingrained in the hearts of the Germans. Later, in 1954, after Germans for years had grappled with their shame over the crimes of the fascists during WW II, Germany’s World Cup victory provided their first real opportunity for linking national identity again with positive emotions. In the following decades football was the only societal context that allowed for the safe expression of intense feelings of nationhood. In most other contexts this was still frowned upon.

The importance of football for German nationhood became even clearer in the context of European unification and globalisation, which are processes that seem to have diminished the power of the nation-state. The 2006 World Cup, hosted by Germany, managed what generations of conservative policymakers had failed to achieve: it lifted the ban on patriotism. In a coup de main, it abolished the long existing taboo on displaying patriotic emotions. The notion of “German pride” became disconnected from the far right and entered mainstream discourse. Rather surprisingly, however, this did not lead to much euphoria among German far right politicians. These far right protagonists could not (or would not) identify with a German team that included players who came from immigrant families.

In 2010, too, the German team included such players. In fact, although in earlier times German teams had often included players with a family history in Turkey, Poland, or even Ghana or Brazil, the strategy of inclusion was never as apparent as in the 2010 squad, which included, in the starting eleven against Spain on Wednesday, six players whose parents had not been born in Germany. Some say that Mesut Özil has had a stronger effect on the integration of the Turkish population in Germany than most policy-making strategies so far. However, research about the effects of the composition of the World Cup team on attitudes towards minorities in Germany have led to contradictory conclusions. In 2007 Norbert Kersting, for example, examined representative data from a pre/post-World Cup census and concluded that xenophobia in Germany had indeed been reduced. Wilhelm Heitmeyer and his team, on the other hand, showed that the 2006 World Cup had led to a rise in what he calls “group based enmity”. They concluded that even if things had been framed in positive, non-exclusive terms, for many viewers the World Cup still had been about “us” against “the others”.

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa has revealed yet another dimension of the Janus-faced character of football. Observers argue that it has intensified economic inequality and racial gaps in society. There are many poor, unemployed South Africans who have hardly had any profit from the World Cup. In fact, they have lost: hospitals have turned into media centres and huge amounts of the state’s budget have been spent on stadiums and infrastructure. This is money that hasn’t served to educate or feed or nurse anyone in the lower classes of the country.

Yet most people I spoke to during my recent visit in South Africa were euphoric about the World Cup. Yesterday’s edition of the Sowetan, which in pre-democracy times was one of the most important anti-apartheid newspapers, summarized the matter as follows: “What a glorious 31 days it has been!… Not even the release of Nelson Mandela and the first democratic elections were as electrifying. Important and epoch-making as both these events were, they were not as unifying as this World Cup seems to have been.” We can only hope that the end of the World Cup in South Africa won’t be marred by a rise in the number of xenophobic assaults against migrants from other African countries, as some have predicted.

In sum, one could perhaps say that the ambiguity of football is a familiar one: many things in life can be good as well as bad. But in the case of football, when it’s good, it’s also a lot of fun.

Sven Ismer is a research collaborator at the Freie Universität BerlinThe Cognitive and Affective Sociology Network.

The latest parliamentary elections in Belgium, held last Sunday, dramatically changed the country’s political landscape. In the French-speaking southern part (Wallonia) the Socialist Party (PS) stormed to victory. In the Dutch-speaking north (Flanders) the right-wing nationalists of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) attracted almost one third of the votes, a stunning result that even surprised some of the party’s own candidates and made the N-VA the largest political force in the entire country. The new support comes in large part from people who in earlier elections voted for traditional mainstream parties. But also former supporters of the far right apparently jumped ship in favor of the N-VA.

There are many things remarkable about these latest elections. One is the fact that the N-VA, a party that believes the end of federal Belgium is near (and argues that this is a good thing), is now going to have to take the lead in constructing a government coalition that will govern, well, federal Belgium. And it will presumably have to do so in cooperation with the PS, which finds itself at the other end of the spectrum, not only with regard to language policy but also in ideological terms.

Another is the fact that the NV-A in this election mobilized around issues that seem either technical or of little concern to the people who live in the heartland of Flanders (such as the division of an electoral district or the protection of the Dutch linguistic dominance in a number of small communes on Flemish territory just outside the (bilingual) Brussels Capital Region). Yet the heartland massively voted for the N-VA. Why?

There are many reasons, but one that might interest the readers of this blog is the N-VA’s clever reframing of the meaning of nationalism. The N-VA has managed to make people forget the old, vague, romantic and not particularly mobilizing notion of full Flemish independence and reframe its nationalism as a moderate political demand for autonomy. The party employed a number of metaphors to communicate this message. “We don’t want a revolution, just evolution”, said N-VA leader Bart De Wever repeatedly. We do not want to split Belgium, we will just let it “evaporate”, was another slogan. This discourse was also meant to eclipse the dark sides of the Flemish movement’s heritage, in particular its association with collaboration during the Second World War.

According to its defenders, the new Flemish nationalism is not driven by emotion but by calculation and economic rationality. Of course, in reality it should perhaps be called economic wishful thinking: dividing the country, even if only gradually, would probably be a complicated, messy and costly affair; and, because of the position of Brussels, it wouldn’t necessarily be a particularly rational way of dealing with the governance problems that Belgium has. But the idea that more nationalism is needed, and not less, to unblock the political debates between language groups at the federal level has worked extremely well as an electoral slogan. During the campaign the N-VA forced other parties onto the defensive as they were increasingly compelled, but rarely managed, to tell a more nuanced and realistic story about the need for compromise. “Rational” Flemish nationalism was thus presented as an antidote for the confusion of Belgian “politics as usual” and as a discourse of clean efficiency, not one of exclusion or lack of solidarity across language groups.

Should observers of nationalist politics in Central and Eastern Europe be interested in these latest political developments in Belgium, which is after all only a small country in the West of Europe? I can think of two reasons why they should.

The first is: Belgium has often served, even if only implicitly, as a model for other divided societies, not in the least in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. It has been used to show how linguistic tensions (and therefore also ethnic or national ones) can be kept in check by a carefully crafted constitutional setup that makes room for compromise, autonomy, and power-sharing mechanisms. But if it turns out that the Belgian constitutional setup has only unleashed more nationalism and more competition between linguistically defined political groups it might lose its role as an institutional model. Moreover, the success of the Flemish nationalists might give politicians in the East a reason to engage further in nationalism. Especially in its softer version it seems a rewarding strategy.

The N-VA's victory announcement

Observers of Eastern European politics may also find another aspect worth considering. The N-VA has been remarkably pro-EU. At the party’s victory announcement suspiciously few Flemish flags were waved. Instead the backdrop was a huge blue EU flag with one of the golden stars replaced by a Flemish lion. From De Wever’s point of view this isn’t difficult to explain: for him more EU means less Belgium. Moreover, by supporting the EU the N-VA can signal its allegiance to democratic values and thus distance itself symbolically from the far right. But from the standpoint of the EU this must seem rather odd. The EU has always sought to eradicate divisive nationalism, not support it. It has done so by offering an alternative post-national ‘European’ identification. And it has promoted such an agenda especially in the context of the enlargement process to Central and Eastern Europe. But now it turns out that even in the old member states there are politicians who creatively engage and adapt the EU’s discourse not to abandon their nationalist agendas but to make them stronger and fashion them in ways that make them appear “European”. This is the postmodern Europeanized nationalism of the N-VA. And such Europeanized forms of nationalism might also appear in Central and Eastern Europe.

Peter Vermeersch is a professor at the Social Science Faculty of the University of Leuven in Belgium (KU Leuven).