Where the Italian Parties Stand on Immigration and Asylum

Italians will head to the polls today to vote for parliament in an election that is as anticipated by the rest of the world as it seems dreaded by Italians. The election will be the first test of a new election law meant to provide for more proportional representation, which combines “first past the post” (or “winner takes all”) voting for 36% of seats with proportional representation for the rest. This, in combination with a high number of undecided voters, has made the results very difficult to even guess at.

Another feature of the new law is special rules for pre-formed coalitions. The threshold for an individual party to enter parliament is 3%, while pre-formed coalitions must reach 10% of the vote. While higher, the threshold favors small parties who link up with others to form a super-group, who may not have made it into parliament on their own.

The main person to take advantage of the new arrangement is a familiar figure hoping for a comeback: Silvio Berlusconi, who is technically barred from serving as prime minister until 2019 due to charges stemming from his last term. His center-right/ far right Forza Italia coalition is edging others out in the polls, followed by the populist Five Star Movement (running as a stand-alone party), whose political platform was unusually created and voted for online.

The ideas Italian parties present on migration mainly do not deviate much from the rest of Europe. The main difference is that the harsh idea of mass deportations for undocumented individuals, while impractical and likely illegal, have a better than usual chance of moving out of the far-right fringe and into mainstream discourse because of their presence on the program of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia as well as its composing parties.

We’ve taken a look at the programs of the top parties to see what could await migration policy in Italy.


The Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle

Beppe Grillo

Five Star’s candidate for prime minister, former comedian Beppe Grillo. (Image http://bit.ly/2tjxe5A via Giovanni Favia on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0))

“Stop the Business of Immigration”

  • An end to the Dublin regulation and automatic redistribution of people seeking asylum via quota to other European countries.

  • Cut back on corruption in the territorial commissions in charge of asylum processes

  • Up aid and ban weapons sales to the global south.

Five Star’s jointly written program on immigration is harshly critical of past parties’ handling of the migration issue, saying that it has been used to distract from the responsibility of the state, blame the EU as a wicked “stepmother”, and treat immigrants as the other, “a social enemy to be fought.” In the meantime, they describe an overwhelmed asylum system, where a backlog means asylum claims take an average of 18 months to process and EU funds to help end up being dispersed in obscure ways, “permeable to infiltration by organized crime.” Against this backdrop the movement prescribes a mixed-bag of solutions, highlighting calls for more transparency in Italy and more solidarity from Europe.

They propose that evaluation of asylum claims be handled by embassies in the countries of origin and transit, with help from the EU, UNHCR, and IOM. They call for obligatory and automatic distribution of asylum seekers to various member states, and to override the Dublin system to allow this to happen. In addition, they would install multiple bilateral agreements with other countries to help smooth the possibility for people to return to their countries voluntarily if their asylum claims are rejected (“voluntary repatriation.”). The weakness of such a plan is that it will require the EU to take action- something a domestic party would only have nominal influence over.

They suggest that territorial commissions (CIE) in charge of asylum processes should receive more employees so they can carry out their work more effectively. Also, asylum interviews should be videotaped. Making these commissions work more effectively will reduce the pull of organized crime, Five Star says, but it should also be standard to install timely reporting measures on funds, and to publish budgets publicly to further cut down corruption and enhance transparency.

Finally, Five Star wants to stop the sale of weapons to conflict zones, and amp up efforts to reach Italy’s commitments for foreign development aid: 7% of the GDP.


Democratic Party (Partito Democratico)

Matteo Renzi

Matteo Renzio, former prime minister and leader of the center-left Democratic Party (Image via Flickr http://bit.ly/2CXPHE9 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

“There is no better answer than the facts.”

  • An end to the Dublin regulation and automatic redistribution of people seeking asylum via quota to other European countries.

  • Withhold aid from EU member states that do not participate in redistribution schemes

  • Expand citizenship rights for children born and raised in Italy

The Democratic Party is the party currently holding power, that was thrown into disarray when former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stepped down following a failed constitutional reform. Typically for incumbents, their electoral platform seeks to highlight what they have already achieved in tandem with staking out what they will do next. They are running in a pre-formed coalition with Civica Popolare, Insieme (center left/ Greens) and Più Europa (a pro-European party.)

When it comes to migration, the PD sets very high, even frightening, stakes (perhaps aiming to counter the fearful rhetoric on the right). They note that concerns about immigration are not necessarily driven by racism but the current situation is nevertheless driven by fake news and xenophobia and can lead to “bloody” consequences, as has been seen in the past in Nazi Germany, wartime Yugoslavia and Italy itself under dictator Benito Mussolini. However, for fears and misinformation “there is no better answer than the facts.” Migration must be managed, not stopped.

The PD notes that arrivals to Italy are down (33%) and that with the so-called Minniti agreement struck between Rome’s Interior Minister and the UN-backed government in Libya they have created “humanitarian corridors” that allow verified refugees to travel risk-free to Europe, while sending non-refugees back. (However, this agreement has been heavily criticized, particularly for confining people to conditions in Libya that range from unsanitary to deadly.) This plan would continue, combined with a long-awaited reform of the Dublin regulation and implementation of an automatic redistribution scheme, wherein people arriving to seek asylum would be sent to other countries throughout Europe to have their claims processed (a so-called “quota system”.) As noted above, the weakness with these policies is that they are highly reliant on agreement from the other member states, and remain highly controversial (especially among the Visegrad group.) One proposal stands out though: the PD says they would advocate “solidarity” in Europe by withholding Italian aid from states that refuse to help manage migration. Its not clear whether they can do this, but such an idea has been proposed before, notably by Germany’s Martin Schulz.

In short, the PD would continue in the same direction: advocating for a higher European share in managing migration flows to Italy, relying on a shaky repatriation agreement with Libya, and following their obligations to process asylum claims of those who make it to Italy.

Additionally, the PD wants to approve a new citizenship law that would grant a right to citizenship for children born and raised in Italy.


Italian Force (Forza Italia)

Antonio Tajani

Antonio Tajani, former European Parliament president and Forza Italia’s candidate for prime minister. (Image via EPP on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2tgHYBl CC by 2.0)

“Restore Control”

  • Marshall Plan for Africa

  • End landings on Italian shores (to “zero”)

  • Mass deportations of people with undocumented status using bilateral agreements with home countries

The Forza Italia coalition is the Silvio Berlusconi backed pre-formed coalition containing far and center-right parties. In their one-page program on immigration, they keep it brief and a more than a little fuzzy.

Since Berlusconi left office and the “Left” has been in control, there have been “biblical waves” of immigration, they say. (While immigration to Italy has certainly increased in the last years, the idea that this is related to Berlusconi’s departure is spurious to say the least.) In order to bring an end to this situation, Forza offers a brief package. First, they would support a so-called “Marshall Plan for Africa,” referring to mass investment that would give sufficient resources to North African governments that would somehow result in lower immigration. (It would appear this idea is gaining European traction: the same idea has been floated Austria’s center-left Social Democratic SPÖ as well as by Germany’s center-right Christian Democrats CDU.)

Second, they would block migrant departures and bring illegal landings to zero (they do not elaborate how.) Third, they would immediately repatriate illegal migrants using bilateral agreements with the individuals’ home countries. And fourth, they would develop a plan for real and sustainable integration. Again, they don’t elaborate further. But this general program is in line with other European center-left parties with the exception of one point: the highly impractical and partially unlawful idea of arranging mass deportations.


Northern League (Lega Nord)

Matteo Salvini

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Northern League (Image via flickr, http://bit.ly/2oGojWL (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

 “Africa doesn’t fit in Italy”

  • Build new regional identification and expulsion centers (CIE) and transfer more powers over immigration to the municipal level

  • Mandatory detention of migrants for first six months, longer for individuals lacking identification papers

  • Simplify possibility of revoking refugee status and deny status to individuals destined to require high levels of state assistance

  • Mass deportations of people with undocumented status using bilateral agreements with home countries

  • Make process for acquiring citizenship more difficult and subjective.

The far-right Northern League is in a coalition with several other parties (Forza Italia) backed by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, but they have their own electoral program centered on the localization of immigration management and easing deportation of undocumented people. Their policies, though sometimes mysterious in their aims, are clearer and more limited than the average far-right party, with strategies that appear to aim at making life in Italy uncomfortable for foreigners.

The League proposes that multiple new Identification and Expulsion Centers (“CIE”) are opened in different regions (currently there are four) to ensure faster expulsion. They would have migrants remain in detention for at least six months, and also note that detention would be mandatory for anyone lacking identification papers. Control over identification and expulsion, as well as over issuing residence permits, would be transferred to regional and municipal authorities, and data on such matters would be shared with the police.

The League wants insofar as possible to prevent people from seeking asylum in Italy. They would achieve this through the US of off-site reception centers in “safe countries” such as Libya and Tunisia, although they later note that Libya is a war and propose hosting a peace conference for the state parties, and suggest (mysteriously) enlisting the cooperation of Russia to secure agreements with different Libyan factions.

The League would make multiple new rules affecting individual people seeking asylum. For one, they would simplify the process for revoking refugee status and also expand the reasons for why it may be revoked to include crimes such as drug dealing and occupation of buildings. They would also enable the possibility of canceling benefits for individuals who fail to comply with rules in reception centers. Moreover, new budget constraints would ensure that individuals destined to be on 100% disability in Italy would not be admitted to the country. (This is likely an unlawful reason for excluding someone seeking asylum- the Refugee Convention allows for states to exclude refugees who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, but not based on their potential costs to the state. See Art. 1(F) of the Refugee Convention.)

Other people who have migrated to Italy would also be treated more toughly. Non-EU citizens would banned from receiving welfare benefits, and the possibility (which currently exists) for migrants to get identity cards in Italy would be revoked. The process for getting Italian citizenship would also be tougher, requiring a subjective evaluation of an applicant’s “overall integration” into Italy.

 


Sources and Further Reading
Law 3 November 2017, Official Gazette of Italy
Women Dominate Italy’s Army of Undecided Voters, Financial Times, March 2018
Immigration Program of the Five Star Movement [Italian] (PDF) Five Star Web Site
Taking Care of People – Theme of PD Program [Italian] Democratic Party Website
Italian PM Renzi Resigns After Election Defeat, The Guardian, December 2016
The European Union’s Immigration Agreement with Libya- Out of Sight Out of Mind? Delphine Nakache and Jessica Losier, E-International Relations, July 2017
Democratic Party Platform 2018 [Italian] Democratic Party Website
Electoral Program [Italian], Forza Italia
Forza Italia Brochure: Security [Italian] [PDF]
Electoral Program Lega Nord 2018 [PDF] [Italian]
Header Image “Italia” by Stefano Corso on Flickr: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) http://bit.ly/2F7IWFN
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Why Germany’s Plan to Fight Anti-Semitism through Expelling Immigrants Doesn’t Add Up

Early in January the deputy chairman of the Bundestag’s center-right CDU/CSU fraction, Stephan Harbath, announced a new proposal to counter rising anti-Semitism in Germany. Slated to be released in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27th, he told Die Welt that it would allow for the expulsion of migrants who express an anti-Semitic worldview. He emphasized that the law was especially targeted at migrants from Africa and the Middle East. 

“We must also resolutely oppose the anti-Semitism of migrants with an Arab background and from African countries.” – Stephan Habarth, CDU/CSU

The final resolution, passed by the Bundestag in mid-January with support from all parties except for Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and Die LINKE, lays out a range of new measures meant to fight the alleged rise of anti-Semitism, including the appointment of a new minister responsible for anti-Semitism (Antisemitismusbeauftragte/n) to coordinate activities across the different ministries and states. While the resolution points out that anti-Semitism can come from different backgrounds, it also highlights that it has “a special breeding ground” in Africa and the Middle East, which would seem to be a reference to the people who have immigrated from those regions to Germany in the last few years. The resolution thus, in number six, calls for a strengthening of the ability to expel immigrants on the basis of anti-Semitism.

German states should “ensure that the possibilities of § 54 (1) no. 5 of the Residence Act are consistently applied to foreigners who call for anti-Semitic hatred. It is the will of the German Bundestag to counter the call for hatred against sections of the population and the endangerment of peaceful coexistence by intellectual arsonists early on by classifying this behavior as a particularly serious expulsion interest.”

In other words, the Bundestag is calling on states to expel non-German individuals if they incite anti-Semitic hatred. Can they do that? Let’s take a closer look at the provision being referred to.

Expulsion for Incitement: Is that legal?

Rather than proposing a new law, the Bundestag is calling for an expanded interpretation of current law, specifically, a provision of the Residence Act.


Section 54 (1) (5)

There shall be a particularly serious public interest in expelling the foreigner […] where the foreigner incites others to hatred against sections of the population; this shall be assumed to be the case where he or she exerts a targeted and permanent influence on other persons in order to incite or increase hatred against members of certain ethnic groups or religions, or he or she publicly, in a meeting or by disseminating writings in a manner which is suited to disturbing public safety and law and order,

  1. a) incites others to undertake arbitrary measures against sections of the population,
  2. b) maliciously disparages sections of the population and thus attacks the human dignity of others or
  3. c) endorses or promotes crimes against peace, against humanity, war crimes or acts of terrorism of comparable severity,

unless the foreigner recognizably and credibly distances himself or herself from his or her actions.


The language of this act is vague. For instance, what does “targeted and permanent” mean? What would constitute “credible distance”? And most importantly, why hasn’t this law already been used for anti-Semitic incitement, since nothing in the law as it is written rules that out?

A review of the case law on section 54(1)(5) makes two things clear: 1) This law has almost exclusively been used to expel people on basis of suspicion of “Islamist terrorism” and 2) the standards for expulsion are quite high.

All of the cases we reviewed related to expulsions of individuals on suspicion that they were members of a terrorist group from their own home country. (See, for instance, here, here, here). These suspicions were often based on their associations with other alleged members, their having donated money to alleged terrorist causes, or possession of materials related to a terrorist group. Often, German courts found this type of evidence was not enough to warrant expulsion.

German courts have repeatedly held that expulsion can only be justified by facts that support a “high probability” that the person is “present danger”. Past membership in a group, past statements, and previous behavior are only indicators in so far that meet this burden. A person who has since distanced him/herself or cut off contacts with the group in question effectively counters the suspicion of present danger.

Also worth noting: There is no case where an individual’s statements were enough to have them expelled (and one showing that statements were not enough). The use of 54(1)(5) seems obvious to officials only in the context of membership in a dangerous group constituting a current threat of violence. It’s difficult to imagine how this can be applied to an individual based on anti-Semitic statements views or speech, although it can’t be ruled out.

There have been instances in the past of terror groups with an anti-Semitic worldview  committing violence and murder in Germany, but the members could not possibly have been subject to expulsion because they were German nationals (see, for example, the 2011 case of the National Socialist Underground, a neo-nazi terror group who murdered ten People of Color and migrants).

In fact, the vast majority of illegal anti-Semitic acts in Germany appear to be committed by German nationals with inspired by a right-wing worldview.

Anti-Semitic Crime and Migration: No Convincing Connection

The German Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungschutz) collects statistics on anti-Semitic crimes in Germany. These are divided into several different categories (that deserve more critical attention another time):

  • right-wing
  • left-wing
  • “foreigner”
  • “various”

These are further divided into criminal offenses and violent offenses. The first might refer to anti-Semitic graffiti or attacks on property, the second to violent hate crimes (such as assault).

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 11.13.46 AM

As the above chart from the Ministry of Interior‘s expert report on anti-Semitism shows,  the overwhelming majority of anti-Semitic crimes since 2001 have been committed by right-wing motivated individuals. In 2001, right-wing motivated anti-Semitic crime accounted for 96% of all cases, by 2015, the percentage was 91% (however, the number of overall crimes had also fallen by 18%). According to information recently obtained from a Bundestag inquiry from Petra Pau, a politician from Die LINKE,  2017 saw a total of 1,453 anti-Semitic crimes, with 95% committed with right wing motivation. This represents an uptick from 2015, but is still down from 2001. However, at 95% the share of right-wing motivated activity also has increased, inching closer to 2001 levels. 

Anti-Semitic Crime

Source: German Interior Ministry

The exception to this trend of anti-Semitic crime being totally dominated by the right-wing is the year 2014, when an unusual number (11%) of the anti-Semitic crimes were committed with “foreign motivation”. In that same year, there was a brief 30 day war in Israel. It seems overwhelmingly likely that the number of “foreign-motivated” crimes in that year were related to this event.

In contrast, in 2015, the year where Germany experienced the highest year of net migration in its history with a total of 1.1 million people, anti-Semitic crime went down, and the percentage of right-wing motivated anti-Semitic crime jumped from 83% to 91%, continuing to rise to the present day even as total numbers of crime remain relatively stable. 

One might conclude from these numbers that the greatest threat of anti-Semitic incitement and violence has continuously been and remains the far right, who has maintained their grip on the overwhelming majority of anti-Semitic crimes throughout a period where the migrant population to Germany increased by several million people, many from the countries the CDU/CSU accused of being “special breeding grounds” for anti-Semitism. With easy access to government information documenting these trends, why would the CDU/CSU think that anti-Semitic hatred is effectively fought by focusing on immigrants?

An Appeal to AfD Voters?

As we have demonstrated, the numbers simply do not support an argument that there is an increasing risk of anti-Semitic crime originating from migrants or people with “migration background”. So why did the CDU decide to focus on this population with their press statements, declaration and resolution?

It’s not entirely clear, but one hypothesis worth considering is that the CDU/CSU is attempting to appeal to voters they may have lost to the far-right AfD in the last election. The AfD program is highly pro-Israel (despite having numerous members accused of  Holocaust revisionism) opposed to the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement, and of course, deeply opposed to migration from the Middle East and Africa, as well as to equal rights for German Muslims. By taking a position that casts blame for anti-Semitic hatred onto non-Germans and suggesting that exclusion of people from Middle East and Africa is a way to protect Jews, the CDU/CSU embraces a worldview that is common to the populist far right.

As our research shows, this view appears deeply misguided. The law the Bundestag wants to expand seems very unlikely to result in the successful expulsion of individuals on the basis of their anti-Semitic views. And given that the vast majority of anti-Semitic crime is committed by German nationals with right-wing motivation, this law targets the absolute wrong demographic to show a serious interest in battling anti-Semitism.

In the absence of an alternative explanation, it would appear that the CDU/CSU is taking the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day as an opportunity to push an, at best, symbolic legal solution that falsely demonizes minorities in order to win back right-wing voters. If this is the case, it’s a cynical move that negates rather than remembers the lessons of the Holocaust. 

 

Sources and Further Reading
Anti-Semitism: Union wants to expel Jew-haters (German), Welt,  January 2018
Resolution of the CDU/CSU, FDP, Greens, and SPD: Decidedly Fighting Against Anti-Semitism (German) [PDF] Bundestag, 19th Voting Period.
German Residence Act, Section 54
Ten Murders, Three Nazis, and Germany’s Moment of Reckoning, Jacob Kushner, Foreign Policy.
Anti-Semitism in Germany: Current Developments (German) [PDF], Independent Expert Committee on Anti-Semitism, Ministry of Interior, April 2017 )
Response to Inquiry from Petra Pau, (German) [PDF], From PetraPau.de, February 2018
Immigration and net immigration peaked in 2015, De Statis, Statistisches Bundesamt
Georg Pazderski: No tolerance for anti-Semitism (German) Press Release, Alternative Fuer Deutschland website
Header Image: BMVI on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2EE1mNd (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

With AfD back on the rise, MV takes a closer look at their new leaders. Part 1: Alexander Gauland

On Sunday, regional elections were held in North Rhein-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen or NRW in German) and the results were striking for two reasons. First, the center-left Social Democratic party fell significantly in comparison to 2012, from 39% to 31% in Germany’s largest state (as measured by Infratest Dimap below). Their national government partners the Christian Democrats (CDU) outperformed them, in the latest test of the appeal of SPD’s new leader Martin Schulz versus current CDU chancellor Angela Merkel.

Secondly, two parties made significant gains: the neo-liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland, which will sit in the state’s parliament for the first time.

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Its been a good few weeks for the AfD, with their success also being reflected at the national level, as this opinion poll from Ipsos demonstrates. AfD has risen to become Germany’s third biggest party.

Ipsos_Public_Affairs_Wahlforschung_07-05-2017

This upswing comes after AfD’s party congress in Cologne in late April, where they voted to go a new direction in party leadership. Frauke Petry, the popular party chief who garnered widespread media attention as well as comparisons to Donald Trump, has been replaced by two people to stand as candidates (“Spitzenkandidaten”) for the party in September elections: AfD founder Alexander Gauland and investment banker Alice Weidel. This was a major rejection for the internationally well-known Petry, who’s proposal for a “Realpolitik” revamp of the AfD was not even debated at the party congress.

Thus far, the party has taken a hard-right line on migration issues, calling for the closure of German borders and an end to social-welfare access for people seeking asylum, among other things. Are Gauland and Weidel likely to alter this course? We’ll be taking a closer look at the new candidate duo and their influence on the AfD platform, starting with AfD founder Gauland.


Alexander Gauland: A Focus on Education and “Self-Preservation”

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Alexander Gauland is a conservative journalist and politician who founded the AfD together with Konrad Adam and Bernd Lucke after the Greek financial crises and leads the party in Brandenburg. Born in Chemnitz (former East Germany) he sought and received asylum in West Germany in 1959, fleeing after high school. He then studied at the University of Marburg, where he received his doctorate. He served as the state secretary of Hesse under Walter Wallman, and is the author of various history and political books, such as Instructions for Conservatives (2002) and more recently Worry about the West? A Debate (2017).

According to FAZ, as state secretary under Wallman, Gauland traveled to Hong Kong in 1979 to bring 250 Vietnamese people who had fled from the war on boats to Hesse as refugees. This is quite a contrast to his position in recent years, where he has stated that boats containing people seeking asylum should be turned away (in violation of international law). However, in Hong Kong Gauland himself allegedly hand-picked which individuals would come to Germany, selecting highly skilled workers that he thought could easily integrate, such as watchmakers and mechanics. One could conclude from this that Gauland is not against migration, but wants Germany to welcome only people with high skills or education levels. This view is consistent with the original AfD party platform, which says “We welcome highly-skilled immigrants with a distinct willingness to integrate.”

But at some point after his mission in Hong Kong, he seems to have stopped believing that there are highly skilled or educated people among migrants to Germany.

This can be seen in a recent press release about the German school system. Gauland said:

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the vast majority of the millions of migrants who come to us are not skilled at all but illiterate and very low-educated people*…. Germany does not need non-integrable illiterates, which are left to the welfare state for a lifetime. We need highly qualified specialists, which we have to choose according to a points system ourselves. Everything else hurts our society.”

(*It is unclear what Gauland is basing his statement on, and should be noted that prior to the civil war, the adult literacy rate of Syria was 84% and primary school enrollment was over 99%, according to UNICEF.)

AfD’s newly agreed upon campaign program, which details their platform for the upcoming election in September, echoes Gauland’s doubts that any of the people in the current wave of migration can integrate. The AfD’s immigration program now starts by detailing a “demographic problem” between Africa/the Middle East and Europe, and says the aim of their immigration and asylum policy is not self-selection, but rather self-preservation.

The aim of the AfD is self-preservation, not self-destruction of our state and people. The future of Germany and Europe must be secured in the long term. We want to leave our descendants a country, which is still recognizable as our Germany.

The new platform strays away from talking about who is welcome in favor of who must be kept out, and takes a much stricter tact, echoing Gauland’s press release claiming that a majority of people seeking asylum are illiterate and unable to integrate (again, without offering evidence.)

The borders must be closed immediately. The unregulated mass immigration into our country and its social systems by mostly professionally unqualified asylum seekers is to be terminated immediately. A successful integration of all these people, including a considerable proportion of illiterates, is impossible.

The campaign platform goes on to call for an end to jus soli (birthright) citizenship and a reduced number of people with dual citizenship, both measures that would apply to people who already here, regardless of whether their parents arrived through the asylum process.

This sounds like the Gauland not of 1979 but of 2016, who evidently takes issue not only with people who have migrated but also with people whose parents have immigrated to Germany, like Jerome Boateng, the football star who was born in Berlin to a German mother and a father originally from Ghana. Talking to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Gauland said about the German player: “People find him good as a football player. But they wouldn’t like to have a Boateng as a neighbor.” Thus even a uniquely skilled individual like Boateng is viewed as potentially not belonging (though he was born in Germany.)

The AfD campaign platform seems to have shifted slightly to allow for Gauland’s ethno-nationalist views to take precedence: migration is viewed as a threat to German identity, whether the person is highly skilled, integrated, or even born in Germany. As Gauland himself sought asylum in West Germany and managed to receive an education there and succeed to high ranks of the German government, it is worth asking why he now assumes the same trajectory is impossible for others.


Sources and Further Reading
NRW election Results, Infratest Dimap, May 2017 (German)
Sunday Questionaire, Ipsos Germany, May 2017 (German)
Federal Party Day: Voter Program agreed to and new lead candidates selected. AfD, April 2017 (German)
Meet Frauke Petry, the Donald Trump of Germany“, Newsweek, Mar. 2017.
Interview: Alexander Gauland on the topics and objectives of the AfD. HNA, Sept. 2014 (German)
Bio of Alexander Gauland. AfD (German)
Books by Gauland, Amazon.com
Searching for the Earlier Gauland, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, June 2016 (German)
Gauland: Send boats with migrants back, AfD, Oct. 2016 (German)
Manifesto for Germany: The Afd Party Platform, AfD
Gauland on the Migrant Quota, AfD, April 2017 (German)
Syria at a Glance, UNICEF
Campaign Program for September 2017 Elections, AfD (German)
Gauland insults Boateng, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 2016 (German)
Image: Gauland via Metropolico.org on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2oSPRdZ (CC by-SA 2.0)

Will Fear of Refugees Become the Status Quo in Czech Politics?

By Christian Jorgensen

Cover image: Photo: Nico Trinkhaus – Royal Way, Prague, Czech Republic

Per a poll by the Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM) released earlier this spring, 61% of Czech citizens are against accepting any additional refugees into the Czech Republic. The same CVVM poll also showed that 73% of Czech citizens find refugees to be a major security threat to the Czech Republic, on par with the threat presented by ISIL.

A look at the actual numbers of people seeking asylum in the Czech Republic makes this popular fear somewhat surprising.  According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there were only 3,644 registered refugees in the Czech Republic, a mere 0.03% of the Czech population (10.52 million). Additionally, in 2016 only 64 refugees were either relocated or resettled in the Czech Republic and the country was estimated to have 1,475 asylum applications still open in 2016. (For comparison, Germany handled about 745,155 applications for asylum that year, and the small country of Malta handled 1,930). Adding together all the statistical numbers of refugees, the portion equals out to only 0.05% of the Czech population. So, with such small numbers, what is this fear based on?

Many may think that the estimated count of refugees currently in the country do not take into consideration the number of people crossing over the Czech border on their way to seek asylum in more popular destinations, such as Germany. However, the routes most often taken by people seeking asylum originating from Italy and Greece in most cases completely bypass the Czech Republic (see map, below). Unlike other members of the “Visegrad group” such as Hungary, the Czech Republic is not a very popular stopover country on the route across Europe.

Source:National Geographic

Are Czechs perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of even a relatively minor influx of people from other countries? A look at the statistics would say otherwise. In 2015 only 29,602 people immigrated to the country. Compare that number to the 25,684 Czech residents emigrating (i.e, leaving) in 2015  and a low birthrate of only 9.5 (per 1000, 203rd in the world) it is easy to see that Czech Republic is not having a population surplus problem (if anything, rather the opposite). Are Czech citizens being told otherwise?

The Czech government has been known to exaggerate the number of migrants coming to the Czech Republic via both politicians’ statements and in official government reports. Czech Deputy Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, said that taking any more refugees could lead to, “[T]he next day 15 or 20 thousand more will come to our doorstep.” He added that “we have thousands of non-registered people that threaten our citizens.” His argument that thousands of people are coming to the doors of the Czech Republic is very off from the official numbers mentioned earlier by the UNHCR and other migration agencies.

In fact, Czech has in the past been a country that produced great numbers seeking refuge. Following the end of the Second World War and the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, many fled what makes up modern Czech Republic. In 1945, 10,000 citizens fled the region, increasing to 50,000 Czechs following the communist takeover. In 1968, during what is now known as the Prague Spring or the Warsaw pact invasion, between 40,000 and 70,000 Czechs immediately fled the region to seek asylum in the West. As a people that have benefited greatly from the refugee and asylum system, it makes one wonder why they have such a negative view towards refugees.

So, if individuals seeking asylum are not crossing the border in great numbers, not being resettled in great numbers, and the country is not being overwhelmed with immigrants generally, then what really is behind this major fear of refugees in the Czech Republic?  An educated guess is that much of it has been created or reinforced by the rhetoric the Czech government has used since the refugee crisis began.

The ruling presidential party (Social Democratic Party) has been vocal about their fear of refugees both to the Czech people and abroad.  Press Secretary for President Miloš Zeman, Jiří Ovčáček said in 2016 that, “by [the Czech Republic] accepting migrants, we would create fertile ground for barbaric attacks.” In 2015 President Zeman, in his typical bellicose style, compared the refugee crisis to a tsunami that will kill him. Zeman continues to fan the flames to this groundless threat and has promoted the idea that Czech citizens should begin arming themselves to prevent a potential “Super Holocaust” as he believes the refugee crisis in Europe to be an organized invasion by Muslim terrorists, although Zeman has yet to provide any proof of such claims. All this fearful rhetoric by the Czech Presidential Office is interesting since Czech has never been the site of a terror or mass attack by refugees- or anyone else for that matter. (The closest thing was probably a fake “ISIS attack” staged by an anti-immigrant group in Prague in 2016).  The Czech Republic has even been listed as a country with a low risk of potential terrorist attacks by such governmental offices such as the British Home Office.

The threat of terror attacks is not the only fear being pushed by the Czech government in connection to refugees. Czech officials have also been known to promote the idea that accepting refugees will lead to the collapse of Czech society. Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec said that by accepting more refugees by “the proposed [EU] quota it could lead to a collapse of society.” President Zeman offered little hope to promoting the belief migrants may benefit society, saying that, “the integration of Muslims is impossible.” All of this has been said without providing any evidence but can easily lead people to believe that people immigrating or seeking asylum in Czech can only harm society.

The members of Czech’s ruling government are at least partly responsible for the latest polling numbers showing fear of refugees and migrants. This is becoming an all too common method by many governments and parties in Europe, to create fear of migration by making groundless statements without providing any evidence.

With a presidential election coming up early next year let’s take a look at the context of fear of refugees among the presidential candidate platforms. Although it is a contentious issue within Czech society, it doesn’t seem to be one among the presidential campaigns. Of the eleven candidates still running campaigns the majority all seem to hold the same policy towards refugees: deter and reject. Only one candidate, Michal Horáček, takes a slightly more welcoming stance- and only slightly.  So if the majority of candidates are promoting a pessimistic view towards refugees and migrants; will the fear of migration be an issue candidates use to drive voters to the poll or will “anti-immigrant” become the status-quo in Czech politics? 

Further Reading and Sources
CVVM Poll (in Czech)
European Commission Asylum Statistics
European Commission Immigration/Emigration Statistics
Birth Rate Index (CIA)
UNHCR Statistics
Press Secretary Statement
1945 Statistics
1968 Statistics (second source)
Jiří Ovčáček Statements
Zeman Tsunami Statement
Super Holocaust Statement
British Home Office Security Ranking
Milan Chovanec Statement
Zeman Integration Statements
Michael Horacek Migration Platform
National Geographic Maps
Fake ISIS Attack in Prague

Cover image: Photo: Nico Trinkhaus – Royal Way, Prague, Czech Republic

Holocaust revisionist ‘gaffes’ hide policies that target both Jews and Muslims

US White House press secretary Sean Spicer has been the target of a media firestorm since his unfortunate remarks at a press briefing last week comparing Assad to Hitler, with Hitler coming out favorably. 

“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War Two. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons”…. “I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”

(He later apologized.)

The remarks were clearly inaccurate, given that Hitler indeed used chemical weapons and deployed them against his own people. But whether or not Spicer was aware of that and simply misspoke, or is poorly informed on the history surrounding World War II, it provoked us at Migration Voter to reflect on recent similar “gaffes” from far-right politicians regarding the Holocaust.

For instance, Front National’s Le Pen said during an event with Le Figaro in April:

I think France isn’t responsible for the Vel d’Hiv…. I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France.”

Vel d’Hiv is the shorthand for an event that occurred during the Holocaust when 13,152 French Jews were rounded up by French police at the direction of the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. France has taken responsibility for the atrocity in the past, but Le Pen implied this was hurting French pride, saying “France has been mired in people’s minds for years.”

And Germany’s far-right Euroskeptic party Alternative für Deutschland attracted a great deal of negative press following a speech in January by state leader of Thuringia Björn Höcke in which he discussed Germany’s dealing with their role in the Holocaust, referring to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in central Berlin as “a monument of shame.”

“We Germans… are the only people in the world who have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital city.” “We do not need any more dead rites in this country. … We no longer need hollow phrases in this country, we need a living culture of remembrance, which brings us first and foremost into contact with the great achievements of our ancestors.”

One of the reasons why the press has seized on these comments is because they supposedly give the lie to the strong stances these parties have each taken against anti-Semitism. These promises of being pro-Jewish and against forms of anti-Semitism have been coupled with a focus on casting Muslims, especially Muslim immigrants, as a threat both to Jews and to the nations in general.

  • Marine Le Pen of the Front National has promised numerous actions to target what she calls “Islamic fundamentalism”, proposing policies targeting mosques and Muslims (such as banning the hijab.) On the other hand, she has made conscious efforts to reach out to the Jewish community, banning anti-Semitic members of her party and sending FN party secretary Nicolas Bay on a goodwill trip to Israel. While there, Bay was interviewed by Haaretz (article behind paywall, but see Breitbart), where he made FN’s position clear: “[French Jews] understand that we’re the only ones who are clearly pointing to the source of the anti-Semitic attacks – the Islamists. Marine Le Pen has already said that the National Front is French Jewish citizens’ shield against these attacks.”
  • AfD takes a similarly strong stance against Muslims and immigrants from Muslim majority countries, stating in their program that “Islam does not belong to Germany” and introducing numerous policies against Muslim religious dress and immigration to Germany, while stating “ The AfD does not concur with the view which regards the criticism of Islam as islamophobic or being derogatory.” They have also spoken out often against anti-Semitism, however. For instance, in a press release in 2016 their Federal Councilor wrote, “The thought of what many of the Muslim immigrants bring along is characterized by anti-Semitism and the rejection of Western values…. Anti-Semitism must have no place in Germany. Many Muslims are still unaware of this and represent a danger to our values and our community.”

In short, despite statements that could be construed as Holocaust revisionism, the officials of the Front National and AfD have consistently been outspoken against anti-Semitism, claiming that their policies, by excluding Muslims and fighting “Islamism”, will be the best safeguard for Jews in their countries.

The complication with this argument, that the press has so far failed to discuss as far as we know, is that a large number of the policies aimed at excluding Muslim religious practices and Muslim immigrants would inevitably also target Jews, as well as other religious minority groups. 

Policies Targeting the Muslim Community that would affect the Jewish Community

Front National

Le Pen, for instance, promises to abolish dual citizenship (see presidential commitment number 27) for non-European holders of two passports. While this would no doubt affect a large population of French people with dual citizenship from Muslim-majority countries, she has stated that it would apply to Israelis as well. (Note, however, that we doubt this policy can go through as worded.)

In another example, Le Pen promises under the banner “Eradicate Terror and Break Up Islamic Fundamentalist Networks” that she will “ban foreign funding of places of worship and their personnel.” Although she explicitly mentions Islam in the title, her language clearly indicates (“places of worship”) this would apply to synagogues and Jewish religious activities (as well as other religious groups, presumably.)

Even more obviously, in her plan “to defend French unity and the national identity” Le Pen proposes constitutional and policy changes that would certainly apply to Jews, Muslims, and any other minority group.

Capture

It is difficult to parse what consequences these changes might have for religious minorities, but it would seem to change their constitutional status and ability to retain their own culture, if it differs from the majority culture. Commitment number 97 is particularly interesting, given Le Pen’s comments on France’s role in the Holocaust.

Additionally, Le Pen and FN have advocated for the elimination of any special religious dietary options in French public schools. In a 2014 interview, Le Pen outlined her position on the issue.

“We will accept no religious requirements in the school lunch menus,” Mrs. Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion [dietary options] to enter into the public sphere.”

This would eliminate any halal but also any kosher options. Therefore, if something banned by both Islam and Judaism – such as pork – was on the menu for that day, then pork is what Muslim and Jewish students would also be served. 

Alternative für Deutschland

In zeroing in on policies they hope will fortify and promote German “high culture” (Leitkultur) and move away from multiculturalism, AfD also promotes ideas that would harm German Jews as collateral damage in their fight against Muslims. For instance, in their platform (pg. 46), they state that German culture is composed of three main sources: Christianity, “scientific and humanistic culture” and Roman law, and that multiculturalism poses “a serious threat to social peace and the survival of the nation-state as a cultural unit”. Judaism clearly lies outside of their three main pillars of German society- does it also form a threat that must be protected against?

Capture

Under the section “End foreign financing of mosques” there are some additional provisions that would be problematic for the Jewish community. AfD calls for a ban on foreign financing of mosques, the banning of any language other than German spoke during religious services, and for imams to get government permission before preaching in Germany. It is difficult to see how these laws could comport with the German constitution generally, but if they would they would necessarily have to apply to all religious groups. This would disproportionately impact Jewish communities as it would ban foreign (such as Israeli or American) donations to synagogues, ban speaking Hebrew, and require visiting rabbis to get permission. German Christian congregations are primarily German-funded, speak primarily German, and are led primarily by German priests, necessarily making the impact of such policies far stricter on religious minorities and immigrant groups.

Again, its worth noting that many of these policies, as stated in their party program, are completely in contradiction with German domestic law and European Union law. However, whether or not they can be achieved, they allow insight into the stated aims and goals of the party.

Why analyze “gaffes” when the policies are clear?

Like with Sean Spicer’s remarks, the Holocaust revisionist statements by Le Pen and Höcke sparked minor scandals and caused many people to ask: were these accidental gaffes, or intentional anti-Semitic messages to voters?

In the case of the FN and AfD, it isn’t necessary to get at the innermost hearts and minds of the party elite via their speeches, because we have access to their direct, stated goals and programs.

If voters are worried about anti-Semitism in populist parties out of concern for its implications for the Jewish community if these parties were to come to power, it is very clearly worth understanding that many of the policies that are meant to target Muslims will harshly affect Jews as well as other minority religious groups, especially those with numerous co-religionists in other countries. Laws restricting the ability to dress a certain way, eat a certain diet or connect with (and fundraise from) people in other countries will evenly impact any person of faith connected to a minority religious group.

Voters who are concerned about anti-Semitism because of the historical context of what happens when a minority religious group is demonized and cast as a threat to the people and their national identity do not need to look too far to see that these parties already do precisely this with Muslims. For some people, that’s part of their appeal. For others, it may be a good reason to weigh their vote carefully.

 

Sources and Further Reading
Sean Spicer apologizes for gaffe” The Guardian, April 2017
Le Pen reopens old wounds” Reuters, April 2017
For Le Pen, France is not responsible for Vel’d’Hiv” Le Figaro, April 2017 (in French)
Vel’d’Hiv Roundup, Wikipedia.org
Chirac admits to France’s Atrocities During WW2 (video), Associated Press (1995)
Transcript of Höcke’s Speech in Dresden, Der Taggespiegel, (Jan. 2017) (in German)
144 Presidential Commitments (PDF), Front National 2017
‘We Just Want to Preserve Our Identity – Like Israel and Trump,’ Le Pen Party Official Tells Haaretz.” Haaretz (Jan. 2017)
French populists visit Israel to build relations“. Breitbart (Jan. 2017)
Manifesto for Germany- AFD party program (PDF), AFD 2017
Pazderski: Many immigrants bring along their anti-Semitic worldview. AFD Press Release (June 2016)
Le Pen Calls to Ban Special Dietary Restrictions, The Telegraph, (April 2014)
Cover image: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Via Olly Coffey on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2nY8ahi (CC by-NC 2.0)