Marches against racism have been held across Europe, from Vienna to London, Warsaw, Athens and Paris, during a national weekend of action beginning on 18 March.
Donald Trump’s election has encouraged racism as well as the far right across Europe.
But they suffered a setback with the defeat of Geert Wilders’ anti-Muslim “Freedom Party” in the Dutch election in March. Early polling suggested Wilders had a chance of taking the most seats in parliament. He came second, but still with a concerning 13 per cent of the vote, up 3 per cent on the last election.
Wilders wants to shut down mosques and Islamic schools, and ban the Koran as well as all Muslim migrants and refugees. During the campaign his racist outbursts included the remark that, “there is a lot of Moroccan scum in Holland who make the streets unsafe”.
Despite Wilders’ defeat, conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who emerged the winner, has already adopted many of his policies. Ewout Van Der Berg from the International Socialists in Denmark explained, “Mark Rutte has run a racist ‘Wilders-lite’ campaign. He recently wrote in major newspapers saying that if people from ethnic minorities weren’t happy in the Netherlands they should leave.”
Days before the election, his government sparked a row with Turkey by deporting a Turkish government minister in an effort to demonise dual Turkish-Dutch citizens.
Wilders was hoping to capitalise on anger at the austerity policies of the previous Conservative-Labor coalition government. This saw the Labor Party punished, crashing from 38 to nine seats. The main beneficiary was the Green Left party, which gained another ten seats.
Anti-racist protesters targeted Wilders throughout the campaign. “Whenever Wilders tries to go out on the street there are protests, not usually big but militant and loud,” said Ewout.
“He’s had to cancel a lot of appearances.” The Saturday after the election 2000 people joined the rally against racism in Amsterdam.
In Greece, 15,000 marched in Athens, including hundreds of Syrian and Afghan refugees. Thousands remain stranded in camps across Greece due to the EU deal with Turkey to close the borders. Buses were organised to the demonstration from the refugee camps around Athens.
“We want to end the isolation of refugees, welcoming them into the cities and closing down the camps,” socialist and anti-racist activist Petros Constantinou explained.
There were also rallies in ten other Greek cities including on the island of Lesvos where nearly 4000 refugees remain in camps, some still in tents in freezing conditions.
Greece’s anti-racist movement has successfully held back the fascist party Golden Dawn. Petros explained, “Already on trial for their violent attacks, a prominent affiliate group has dissolved and an MP has left the party, meaning it is no longer the third largest in the Greek parliament but the fourth. We finally won one of our most important fights against them in March, when a public TV station announced that it would stop giving Golden Dawn airtime.”
In Britain, 30,000 rallied in London with another 3000 in Glasgow and 1000 in Cardiff. Racism has become one of the central issues in British politics following the Brexit referendum on leaving the EU last June. The referendum campaign was dominated by opposition to immigration, and migrants have reported an increase in hate attacks following the result.
The Tory government is saying it will put an end to free movement of people from the EU and refusing to guarantee the rights of three million EU citizens currently in Britain.
Prime Minister Theresa May has bonded with Trump by scapegoating migrants, saying, “The sheer volume has put pressure on public services, stretched infrastructure and put downward pressure on wages for working class people.”
But there has been a backlash to May’s efforts to cosy up to Trump. In London 100,000 joined the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration. Less than a week later, May announced she had invited him for an official visit to Britain. Another 40,000 hit the streets and a petition against the visit drew 1.5 million signatures. The Speaker of the House of Commons declared that Trump would not be allowed to address parliament.
Despite pressure from the right of the party, left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has held the line in defence of free movement and residency rights for EU citizens.
All across Europe, cutbacks and austerity are continuing following the economic crisis. Both the far right and the political mainstream are using racism to scapegoat migrants and refugees for unemployment and the breakdown of public services.
In France, the far right National Front leads in the polls for the presidential election in April and May, and is almost certain to finish in the top two. The movement from below is crucial to undermining the racism, and strengthening the wider fight against unemployment and austerity.
By James Supple