The Guardian recently told the story of a victim of Chinese Communist repression. An Uyghur woman, Gulbahar Haitiwaji, who had moved to France, was tricked into returning home by a claim that she had to sign some official forms. When she got to her hometown, Karamay, she was taken to a police interrogation room and shown a photo:
It was my daughter Gulhumar. She was posing in front of the Place du Trocadéro in Paris. In the photo, she was smiling, a miniature East Turkestan flag in her hand, a flag the Chinese government had banned.
Gulbahar ended up in a “re-education” camp where she was tortured, physically and mentally, for two years, the aim of the “education” being to destroy her identity. She describes how the inmates were ordered to deny who they were, to spit on their traditions, language, and their faith.
You might say, “that’s a Communist dictatorship, it has nothing to do with democratic countries”, but you’d be wrong.
As I write these lines, within the European Union, linguistic, ethnic, and other native European minorities are being subject to similar treatment. True, there are no concentration camps, but native minorities often live in fear of using their native tongue, or of waving a flag, just like in Communist China.
A case in point is the Székely people of Transylvania in Romania. When they formed the Székely National Council for the Székely Region in 2003 (based on their long history of autonomy in the Hungarian Kingdom) and adopted a regional flag based on historical precedent, namely the historical coat of arms of Transylvania, things got crazy.
Romanian authorities have not overtly banned the flag although there is a law regulating it, but that does not cause the trouble. What happens is local authorities take councils or individuals to courts, which then levy impossibly high fines on the Hungarians, according to the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN). That’s also not the worst of it. The Romanian state has used (or allowed) violence against ethnic Hungarians in 1990, 2012 and most recently in 2019.
Despite this and other serious abuses, last month the European Commission (EC) rejected – out of hand – a European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI), the “Minority SafePack” designed to protect those Europeans with the least rights, that is, national and ethnic minorities. When pressed, an EC spokesman said that national laws cover these issues.
Perhaps he would like to be a Székely or a Jew in Romania?
The EC, the executive branch of the European Union is extremely vocal about EU member states which it considers to be infringing on “European values”, a concept that has no legal definition. But when it comes to real people suffering real abuse, it is not interested. To add insult to injury, the EC has also taken steps to protect sexual minorities and the most recent arrivals in Europe, such as migrants of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) ancestry, whether they migrated to Europe or merely work there. In these and many other cases, the EC has shown its concern for the rights of peoples in Europe — but the exception is native Europeans. This is a clear case of extreme discrimination against a group.
All this is happening despite over a million signatures gathered in seven EU nations; approval by numerous regional and national parliaments, including that of Hungary and even Germany; the EU’s own parliament in Strasbourg and the approval by the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights.
FUEN’s response to the EC’s cavalier action was a clear condemnation. It said in a press release:
The European Commission has turned its back on national and linguistic minorities, signatory citizens, the call of the European Parliament to “propose legal acts” as well as a large number of supporting national and regional governments and legislative bodies from all across Europe.
This was echoed by the Visegrád Group in the EU (Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary) and the European Free Alliance, but was disappointingly missing from German, French and English-speaking nations’ official statements or media reporting. Would there be international political and media outrage if an anti-discrimination package for Muslims or Africans were rejected with a shrug by the EC? I suspect there would.
Further examples of discrimination of native Europeans abound.
The Sámi reindeer herders of the Nordic lands are experiencing what has been called ”green colonialism”, where the Norwegian government – despite being bound by law to consult the Sámi regarding their own lands – is building wind farms on reindeer grazing land. Clearly, ”diversity” is wonderful, but money beats the needs of some reindeer herders!
The list goes on. Greeks against Turks, Germans refusing to put up bilingual highway signs in minority regions (such as that of the Slavic Sorbs), Romania against the few remaining ethnic Germans (believe it or not, their organisation is regularly accused of being a Nazi group). Key issues identified by FUEN are discrimination in getting jobs, education, the right to use their native languages, the right to self-determination, the use of traditional symbols and land rights.
So, what message does this send the average European citizen, like me, and the general reader?
As a Hungarian-South African, I understand that I am considered a second-class citizen, not only in South Africa (under Apartheid because I wasn’t Afrikaans, now because I’m not Black), but now also in Europe. Is this the same Europe of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment? Of Machiavelli, Erasmus, Spinoza, Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Bessenyei, Czartoryski, and Mill? These men were known as “Liberals”. Today, under that name, Europe has clearly lost its way.
The continent has betrayed its heritage before. The 20th century gave Europe Communism and then its stepchild, Fascism and all its variants to create the continent’s – and the world’s – most murderous century. Under these Socialisms, (an exception being Social Democratic movements) Europe rejected its Greek philosophy and critical thinking; its Roman written laws and attempts to define “the state”, its Jewish heritage of “love thy neighbour as thyself” and its Christian heritage of universalism. Saint Paul, the Church Fathers, and the Christian Church have constantly reiterated the ideas of Jesus, who said things like: “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me, but in him who sent me.” Jesus used the term “whoever” a great deal and the idea that anyone could become a Jesus follower, whether a Jew, Greek Scythian, man, or woman, free or slave was revolutionary in its time.
The European Commission has, with this decision, indeed “turned its back” on native minorities. But far worse is the fact that it has turned its back on Europe’s heritage, that is, on Europe.