Could a communist supporter be racist

My Europe: We in the Balkans are victims - not George Floyd

The violent death of the black US citizen George Floyd triggered a worldwide wave of solidarity with discriminated minorities - and not only in America by a long way. In France, police attacks were discussed, in Israel the fate of the Palestinians, in Australia that of the Aborigines. In Germany, Afro-Germans and migrants from Romania and Syria were discussed. In Bristol, England, protesters threw the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston into the sea. It seems like the world has changed profoundly. And many believe: for the better.

But one part of Europe showed little solidarity: the Balkans. While thousands marched for human rights elsewhere, there were fewer than 200 young people in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, including LGBT activists and supporters of anti-fascist and western left groups. If I see it correctly, the initiative for the demonstration came from Americans who live in Bulgaria.

What do Bulgaria and the USA have in common?

In communist times, a joke was popular: What do Bulgaria and the USA have in common? One can demonstrate freely against discrimination against blacks. The banners in Sofia show that those days are over: instead of targeting the Minneapolis police, the protesters focused on discrimination against the Roma in Bulgaria; the event opened with a speech by a Roma journalist.

In the Romanian capital Bucharest young people organized something similar, in former Yugoslavia and Turkey there were sporadic small solidarity actions. The only exception among the Balkans was Greece, where events like the death of George Floyd always call the extreme left on the scene and result in violent street fighting with an anti-American orientation. The existence of this radical left seems to be a sign of the country's advanced euro integration.

Communist Party supporters protest against police violence in the United States in the Greek capital, Athens

Criticism and distrust

The demonstrations in the Balkan countries were not only sparsely attended, but also met with a mixture of criticism and distrust in the majority population. George Soros was partially blamed for the protests.

On the one hand, nobody in Southeastern Europe seems to believe that African Americans could have a problem in the richest country in the world. Their demands for equality before the law are seen as a whim, a conspiracy of the Democrats, an expression of anarchism and "cultural Marxism". In Sofia, the US embassy organized a strange alternative rally with slogans such as "Stop Black Terrorism" and "Support Trump!" (The participants were probably pro-Putin nationalists).

Everyday scene in Stolipinovo, a quarter of the Bugarian city of Plovdiv that is mainly inhabited by Roma

Privileged Roma?

On the other hand, discrimination against minorities in their own countries is denied by the majority of Balkan people. On the contrary, Roma are considered privileged - it is said that they benefit from foreign aid and that the police treat them particularly well.

Indeed, an important aspect of Balkan identity today is the belief that the real victims are not poor and oppressed people anywhere in the world - but the Balkans themselves Designate "Turkish slavery" - even if this form of bondage was in reality a marginal phenomenon.

DW columnist Ivaylo Ditchev

No speaking

Historical truth is of secondary importance in the Balkans. The goal is to present yourself as a martyr - and to have an excuse to refuse to sympathize with others. We, not Americans like the killed black George Floyd, are victims of geopolitical powers, communism, EU regulations and so on.

The lack of debate about racism is a serious problem facing Southeastern European societies. As in the communism joke, people pretend that racism is something American that is none of our business. Before the end of state socialism in 1989/90 there were of course degrading racist practices in Bulgaria and elsewhere in the Balkans, as everywhere in the world; but it was absolutely forbidden to talk about it. Because of this, after World War II, most Balkan nations could not go through the painful debates that were being waged in the West; nor are they aware of the need for appropriate policies.

The decisive battle for the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule took place on the Schipka Pass in 1878

Nation against nation

From the Balkans point of view, there are groups that fight against each other - and the individual should support his team in this. Serbs oppress Albanians who then take revenge; Turks "enslave" Bulgarians, then the Bulgarians have the upper hand; Orthodox defend themselves against Muslims, Catholics against Orthodox ...

But racism is not a political struggle between nations. It is a deep cultural tendency that results in whole groups of people being systematically treated worse than others. Roma are the saddest example - but so are migrants in countries like Greece and Turkey, sexual and gender minorities everywhere. Racism is when your name, your race, your skin color, or your body make you viewed as inferior. When they don't let you in the pool because you're supposed to be dirty, if not contagious.

"I don't want to live in a gypsy country" is written on the T-shirts of these Bulgarian right-wing extremists

Arguments from the extreme right

The extreme right claims it just wants equality. Minorities should obey the law - like everyone else. They argue that Roma settlements in the Balkans, similar to African American neighborhoods in the US, have higher crime rates. But is such a statistical argument reason enough to arrest someone who is suspicious simply because of the color of their face?

Imagine a Bulgarian and an Estonian applying for a job in Germany. The employer says: "You, the Bulgarians, are at the bottom of the Pisa education ranking. So I will not even try to test you, but instead take the Estonian, because his country is at the top in Pisa." Would that be fair? The Bulgarian could be smarter and better educated than the Estonian - despite all the statistics. Another example: We know that 90 percent of all violent crimes are committed by young men. Is that why police officers arrest any young man they see after 10 p.m.?

Memorial to the USA co-founder and later US President Thomas Jefferson in Washington DC

Absurd complaints

Thomas Jefferson wrote the famous phrase: "There is nothing more unequal than treating unequal people equally." If a society wants to integrate disadvantaged citizens, it must promote equal opportunities. The new racism has developed a new ideology of formalism, equality before the law is equated with equality in itself: the equality of those born in the palace with those who come from huts. In Bulgaria and Romania there were absurd complaints against the state - for discrimination against the majority through political measures against discrimination against the Roma minority.

The global anti-racist solidarity after the violent death of George Floyd was intended to signal to the Balkan states that a time bomb is ticking inside them. Racism undermines cohesion, especially in countries that have not really completed their nation-building. It is not for nothing that there have been outbreaks of violence in the Balkans in recent years because of minor issues.

But racism also marginalizes Southeast Europe in the global world by promoting prejudices against foreign workers, investors, experts and even tourists that are already widespread in the region. Anyone who claims that, in contrast to the West, there is no colonial past in the Balkans and therefore no racism problem is burying their heads in the sand: Negating racism in the Balkans is extremely dangerous. We must finally discuss what to do about it.

Ivaylo Ditchev is professor of cultural anthropology at Sofia University in Bulgaria. He has taught in Germany, France and the USA, among others.