Eastern Europeans: the new ‘white niggers’

Scare stories about criminal gangs from Romania and Bulgaria fit perfectly with today's anti-racist racism.

‘Britain faces an explosion of crime when Romania and Bulgaria join the EU,’ warned the Sun newspaper this week. According to a ‘secret Cabinet memo’, Eastern European gangs will trigger dramatic increases in street violence, vice rackets, cash point theft and fraud. Some 85 per cent of robberies at cash points, the report said, is said to be committed by Romanians (1). Quite how the authorities have worked that out is anyone’s guess. But it’s clear that Eastern Europeans are now targeted as a problem-in-waiting by the police, politicians and pundits. So just what is so awful about these Eastern Europeans?

Since the summer, panics and prejudices about migrants from the former Eastern Bloc countries have been aired by left and right alike. They’ve ranged from the age-old Malthusian concerns of ‘too many people, not enough resources’; to last week’s statement by Trevor Phillips that Bulgarians and Romanians have racist attitudes towards black people (see Who needs Borat when we’ve got the CRE chief?, by Mick Hume). Now, Romanians are a bunch of sex-traffickers and cash-point robbers ready to wreck havoc in the UK. ‘It doesn’t bode well for the future’, said Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch (2).

When preposterous figures such as ‘Romanians commit 85 per cent of crime at cash points’ is peddled by the government it doesn’t bode well for John Reid’s sense of perspective. Are there even enough Romanians in the UK to commit nearly all robberies at cash machines? Do teams of Romanians travel the breadth of the UK to make sure no cash-machine is left safe? According to those ridiculous figures, they must certainly have to.

Panics surrounding ethnic groups and criminality are, of course, nothing new. Back in the 1970s, the press and Metropolitan police force launched the infamous ‘mugging’ panic. Then it was young black men who were said to be causing an ‘epidemic’ of street robberies across Britain, even though such recorded crimes had gone down since the peak of 1968 (3). The moral panic was accepted because it confirmed and exacerbated racial prejudice and hostility to black people. Today, the government and media’s drive against Eastern Europeans is also driven by panics and prejudices, but of a different but no less reactionary kind.

Even though it has benefited the UK, the relatively big hike in migration from Eastern Europe has rattled New Labour on a number of levels. Firstly, the free-movement of migrants in and out of the UK goes against their regulatory, controlling instincts. UK Home Secretary John Reid’s plans to impose a limited quota on migrants from Romania, for instance, says more about New Labour’s target-driven approach to governance than any real consideration on migration and the economy.

More importantly, though, it seems any discussions on Eastern Europeans can be aired freely precisely because they’re white. After all, who could accuse them of playing the ‘racist immigration card’? Therefore, low-life scare stories about cash robbers and sex traffickers wouldn’t be loudly proclaimed if the migrants were from Africa. White migrants are considered fair game because, as Mick Hume has pointed out, it’s a reflection of how the political class sees white working-class Britons too. When Trevor Philips said that Bulgarians have backward attitudes towards black people, and therefore should be denied entry into Britain, he could have easily followed that up with: ‘haven’t we got enough of those types of people already?’

It’s worth remembering that a few years back, a leaked government memo reckoned that British pensioners couldn’t be accommodated into New Britain because of their dated ‘racist attitudes’. Clearly, though, it hasn’t stopped with pensioners either. Younger generations of white Britons and now Eastern European migrants are either under suspicion or downright guilty of harbouring hostility to non-whites. The old pub philosophy of ‘there’s good and bad everywhere amongst people’, it seems, no longer applies.

All this, though, is simply a consequence of ‘objective subjectivism’ that lies at the heart of multicultural thinking. What this means is that humans are no longer seen as transformative agents, but having fixed or ‘essential’ characteristics passed on through traditions, values and beliefs. So according to the sociologist Tariq Modood, ethnicity or cultural belonging should be viewed ‘as being essential to a person’s characteristic as skin or eye colour’ (4). In other words, there’s no escape from our cultural heritage.

This is why today black people are viewed solely as victims of slavery and racism and therefore objects of pity. British Muslims are seen either as victims of Islamophobia and therefore inherently anti-western and/or ultra-religious, while whites are viewed as racial supremacists itching to cause pogroms or go lynching. If humans really are automated products of generational cultural influences, then it makes sense to manage them accordingly. This is why the language used to justify restrictions against Eastern European migrants and to regulate the ‘backward’ white masses of Britain are often the same. What it really demonstrates, however, is the deeply anti-human thinking of official, multicultural thinking.

It’s no longer enough that morality has been re-drawn around who is considered racist or anti-racist (though more often, officialdom is in the latter, self-flattering camp). Instead, the essentialist outlook of multiculturalism means that some groups in society will be guilty through historical association, rather than anything they’ve actually done. The current hysterical panic against the supposed racism, and now the criminality, of Eastern Europeans says as much about what the political class thinks of white Britons over here as it does Romanians and Bulgarians over there.

Neil Davenport is a London based writer and lecturer. He blogs at The Midnight Bell.

(1) ‘EU’ve Had It’, Sun, 1 November 2006

(2) ‘EU’ve Had It’, Sun, 1 November 2006

(3) Policing the Crisis, Stuart Hall et al (1979), Macmillan, London

(4) Multicultural Politics, Tariq Modood, (2005), Edinburgh University Press

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