On the European Perspective Towards Minorities and Outlanders

, by Ana Filipa

On the European Perspective Towards Minorities and Outlanders
AlmaKrese, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/license...> , via Wikimedia Commons

“Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged”
 Jalal ad-Din Rum

One of the human being’s most acute ability is to identify patterns, associate similarities and work with them. The mind categorizes these congruities in groups and predefines an opinion about them. And patterns are everywhere, in nature, in our offices, in us; we learn and improve by observing them, but also often limit ourselves to their data.

Social bigotry comes as a complex consequence of this ability. We acknowledge the common pattern among our group and create a division from those that deviate from our norm. We admit our culture and similitude as the correct archetype and discredit other identities. This is human, as natural as any other instinct. And Europe’s peoples have, wrongfully and repeatedly, used this classification throughout their History.

Indeed, since the continent’s germinal times, Europeans have despised minorities and treated diverging groups as inferior. The ancient Roman Empire called the Nordic outlanders as “Barbarians”, considering these pagan populations less civilized, reasonable or worthy of deference – merely good to serve war strategies and as human resources. The Medieval Inquisition pursued and punished the heretics and the deplorable deviants of Catholicism. During Discoveries, our navigators subjugated other cultures to degrading conditions as they encountered them. This legacy was thus extended overseas – Europeans and their descendants enforced the slavery regime upon indigenous cultures, ruthlessly colonized territories and segregated groups (such as in the Apartheid system), with no respect for human life.

Despite professing the Christian faith and following its values, European peoples easily disregarded and violated individual integrity. Their acts of discrimination seem to have its roots in two conditions: the egocentric belief that one’s nature is superior to all others, and the desire to restrain any challenge or disturb to the current social paradigm. And so, they kept piling up shameful examples of prejudice until a horrendous genocide happened just under Europe’s nose – a product of the fanatical praise of a particular race and the brazen desire to exterminate an inferior minority. Nevertheless, it pushed to a turnaround in this mindset.

The aftermath of the II World War exhausted the Old Continent to a shattered, penurious reality. Nations wanted, more than ever, to install and maintain peace, and understood that measures needed to be taken so that conflicts and crimes against Humanity would never again

acquire such scale. Plus, the readjustment of powers in the international stage and the development of the Cold War urged the West to adopt a stance it had never taken before. Strategic alliances have always been formed and there were moments in the past where states understood they had to work together – as for the Treaty of Westphalia or the Congress of Vienna – but the context required a much stronger and lasting compromise. Consequently, from the rubbles of the war, the process of European Integration has begun.

The European Union sought, from the beginning, unanimity through effort and concessions, enabling an unforeseen cooperation between states. It formed thus a philosophy of comprehension and acceptance that regulated peacekeeping but was also extended to the social scope as it became a debate on the European table.

Certainly, states’ first concerns were political stability and recovery from the war. Hence, they drank inspiration from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and organized the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1950. Coming into force three years later and sustained by the interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights, the Convention is, to this day, one of the main instruments to protect human rights and a cornerstone on the development of the continent.

There is no human rights protection if there is no protection from discrimination. If guarantees aren’t extended to all people, regardless of physical, social, economic, cultural or religious traits, there is no real freedom or equality being advocated. At the time, the Council of Europe had this idea very present and explicitly prohibited discrimination in the ECHR.

However, aside from the Convention, the Union did not comprise the human rights sphere in its first works, as its focus was political and economic cooperation. But as the common market started functioning, it brought up many unpredicted issues, and quickly prejudice raised obstacles in the full enjoyment of the open trade. Firstly, measures were taken to grant equal access to employment and to fight discrimination in this context. Soon enough this work was enlarged to grant equal access to the welfare system and to social security, and, finally, to the goods and services. The European Institutions realized that they could have a say on the protection of people's rights and improve their quality of life, so, as their influence widened into more policy areas, rulings to combat a myriad of sorts of discrimination and protect freedom of expression accompanied this growing. In 2000 the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU was comprised – an extensive compilation of the social rights of the EU peoples and, specifically, the protection of the most vulnerable groups. Although non-stitching at first, the Treaty of Lisbon made it binding for the EU and the member states when applying the EU law. In a broad sense, the Union’s regulations on this matter are not extensive given its historical legacy, the subjectivity and complexity of the topic. Member states are bind when applying EU- law, and citizens can recur to EU’s instruments if they feel their rights violated. Apart from this, the tolerance field is regulated by national governments.

Today, Brussels promotes democracy, equality and respect for diversity, and the old image of a reckless Europe has much changed. We fight for a just and safe home for all our housemates, but there is still a long path ahead that demands a tireless walk. Minorities struggle yet to have good living conditions due to prejudice; migrants face many obstacles in their integration process and often are not granted full social and civil rights; and non-normative religions, sexualities and lifestyles are still stigmatised and prone to harassment.

In fact, the largest ethnic minority living in Europe is one of the groups that faces the most blatant discrimination and better exposes how much work is still to be done in the continent. Roma people are found all over Europe, with a vast majority installed in the Eastern part. They are often segregated from the rest of the society, living in overcrowded settlements with terrible housing conditions. This situation contributes to worsening the already unequal access to healthcare and education, expanding thus the gap on the access to employment between Roma and non-Roma people. And these circumstances, for their part, aggravate physical and psychological conditions, intergenerational poverty and restrict the group’s subsistence options. The resultant socio-economic context leads to more biased preconcepts and increase segregation and harassment towards the group.

The EU has acknowledged this issue and called out member states to tackle the groups’ disadvantages in various aspects. It works with regional organisations, the Roma community itself and co-finances the integrative work. The Commission has set up a strategy in the 2010’s to integrate Roma in societies and guarantee basic needs, monitored by the Agency of Fundamental Rights, and reinforced by the Council and the European Parliament. Having come to an end in 2020, results haven’t been significant mainly because measures were not binding. As the EU sets up a strategy for 2020-2030, it is necessary to convince member states to actively integrate Roma in the education system and the job market, promote social work to reduce discrimination and organize a process to improve the group’s quality of life that is adapted to the society’s needs and concerns.

Similarly, non-European migrants also experience unpleasing treatment and conditions when settling in the continent. Mostly from poorer countries, different ethnicities and professing other religions, they deal with many obstacles to be able to get residence and work permits, citizenship and access to the welfare system. Migration is a clearly a fractious issue, as it concerns national security, social investment to provide integrative support, control to avoid overpopulation and segregation of communities, regulation of the job market, and many cultural and social questions that unpredictably arise from the entry of new people in a country. Since the refugee crisis in 2015, migration has been a hot topic in Europe, and the recent incoming flux of Ukrainian refugees has denounced that the Union still does not have an effective solution for the problem. Migrants keep being blocked in the borders, and even if they manage to settle, they still face much stagnation when obtaining legal documentation and experience discrimination in employment, healthcare and education. The EU does not yet have a common migration policy and member states fail to reach agreements on the topic; this leads to discrepant situations in the countries, social and political tension and the rise of protectionist ideologies.

This very fragile position of Roma and migrants (especially Muslims) places them in the first line of victims when there is political instability. The far-right parties often use this population as a scapegoat to blame for all national social and economic problems and to attract the raging and revolted voters. Far-right parties in the South and Eastern Europe have been spreading anti-Roma ideas in an alarming scale, but the prejudice is generalised to the whole continent. Likewise, in the countries where migration has brought dilemmas to the table, these have been used by such parties to fuel indignation among nationals, justify nationalism and propose the closing of borders.

When democracy, freedom and human rights start to be threatened in a country, marginalised groups feel the effects first-hand. Moreover, their quality of life is compromised, and life options are extremely restricted. As a developed continent that seeks to provide a decent life

for all its inhabitants, as well as enjoy the full potential of the totality of its population, Europe must prioritise social problems and cultivate a non-discriminative environment, which will only be possible by actively promoting integrative processes that understand the needs of the diverging group, while respecting the concerns and adaptation of the hosting society. Social bigotry is a human trait, as natural as any other instinct; but so is critical thinking, social development, adaptation, and problem solving, that need to be fostered at EU level.

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