10 YEARS AGO
There was a different type of whitewash at the European Parliament this week.|
A decade ago there was progress on enlarging the EU, adding a further 10 countries, including the dividedisland of Cyprus, all of whom were fully admitted two years later.The move did bring in former Warsaw Pactnations, bringing them into the western sphere and greater prosperity. This enlargement was a radical changethat largely ended the split between west and east Europe. The change in the EU is still being felt, but thenew members are playing a full part in the EU.
Damn debate or damning debate?
Some time back, the Irish Times, Ireland’s paper of record,ran as its advertising slogan, ‘Questions Answered,Answers Questioned’. It wasn’t an original quotation, of course, but in the context of its use, perfectly captured what a newspaper should do; not only in the obvious way of holding public authorities to account, but also in theseparation of fact and opinion, of news and analysis.Questions do not always provide comfortable answers, orindeed provide any kind of satisfactory answer in them-selves; think of Bishop Berkley’s poser about the sound of a tree falling in a forest, or the famous koan about thesound of one hand clapping. A literal answer may have yougoing around in circles.“Is jailing the leader of a neo-Nazi gang really going to combatintolerance in Europe?” That was just one of the questionsposed at the Tackling Hate Speech conference in Budapest on27 and 28 November. The conference looked at the historicalroots of hate speech, and how it might be stamped out. The sit-uation is not good; examples show that hate speech has grad-ually, but undeniably, infiltrated the real world – transferredfrom cyberspace to the concrete jungle – and, worse still, takenover mainstream political communication. Nowadays, fearfulof losing votes to the extremes, politicians incorporate some of their hardline rhetoric, in the hope of stemming a haemor-rhage. Debate be damned.Enforcing particular opinions on citizens is always per-ilous, and should be approached with caution, naturally.In this case, it is the threat to free speech.Unconformable views about race or religion are notautomatically racist or sectarian, in the same way thatill-informed comments that serve as a call to violentaction are. Context is everything.Everyone has the right to be offended, but being offendedis not the same thing as being persecuted. In Europe, astwo separate reports issued this week (27 November) illus-trate that hate speech, and it’s violent real world partner incrime, hate crime, has not gone away in the EU, despite itssincere aim to eradicate prejudice. There is seemingly agenuine problem in Europe with a renewed upsurge inracist or otherwise intolerant behaviour. It is somethingthat needs to be tackled head-on, not by vague words of condemnation. Complex debate is nothing to be scared of.Political leadership is at the heart of this. George Soroshas complained that this generation of leaders has letEurope backslide into the kind of times that fuelled fascistextremism in the run-up to the second world war. Badtimes, he says, encourages intolerance. There is historicalprecedence for this, of course, and the fear of a return to arecent genocidal path is maybe too mush to worth con-templating; better to clamp down that admit the burgeon-ing reality. A lurid, somewhat fanciful picture, but left togo on, could Europe again face the disastrous dilemma it was confronted with 90 or so years ago.But his is not the only question facing Europe. The eco-nomic crisis, and general mistrust about financial institu-tions, seen to be withholding much needed tax revenuesfrom national and European purses, and which so many believe is fuelling the rise in hate crime, also needs to beaddressed. Which means the EU asking some very awk- ward questions of its own economic and corporate poli-cies. The debate needs to be had; questions need to beasked, and answers need to be questions.
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ISSN number: 1106-8299
2 - 8 December , 2012