Racist murders in Europe: rising xenophobia and the role of the far-right
This blog post is written by Klara Schmitz, research and policy analyst at UKREN
In the past few months several developments have reignited concerns about the prevalence of racist murders and the role of the far-right across Europe. Firstly, the passing of Holocaust Remembrance Day and the six month mark since attacks in Norway at the hands of far-right sympathiser Anders Breivik, have both renewed calls to tackle right-wing extremism in Europe.
Secondly, some influential figures have recently highlighted the urgent need to combat racism, both in the UK and across the continent. In the wake of the convictions for the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, mother of the victim Doreen Lawrence has called for the UK government to do more to tackle racism in the UK. In addition, Europe’s human rights commissioner Thomas Hammarberg recently stated in a speech to the Council of Europe that not enough political leaders in Europe are taking a stand against racism and xenophobia in their countries.
Thirdly, a spate of murders that have occurred recently in various European countries have generated widespread concern about the rise of xenophobia and the far-right in Europe. In November last year it emerged that a neo-Nazi cell was behind a series of murders throughout Germany, mostly of foreign-born shop keepers. The far-right terrorist group, the National Socialist Underground, is believed to have shot dead eight Turkish and one Greek immigrant between 2000 and 2006.
Then in December last year in Florence, Italy, a lone gunman shot dead two Senegalese street vendors and wounded three others, before killing himself. Gianluca Casseri was said to have far-right allegiances, including links to the Italian anti-immigrant organisation CasaPound. 300 Africans subsequently marched in protest against the murders in Florence.
More recently in France, the deaths of two men in police custody in January, sparked days of protests and car-burning after accusations that deliberate police violence was the cause of the deaths.
Many of these incidents have factors in common, in that either the perpetrators had links with the far-right, and/or the killings were found to be racially motivated. It’s also the case that, from the failure of the German authorities to notice the threat from right-wing extremism earlier; to the fact that the Italian police arrested tens of Senegalese men protesting against the killings in Florence, the authorities in these countries have been criticised either for their inadequate response in the aftermath of the event, or for failing to take measures to prevent similar occurrences in the future. How many instances like these have to occur before political leaders in Europe take the dangers of right-wing extremism and racist violence seriously?
There is an urgent need for Governments across Europe to improve the collection and publication of data on the victims and perpetrators of racist murders broken down by ethnicity, and for the police, local governments and NGOs to work together to establish effective community engagement strategies. It is also vital that European leaders start to treat right-wing extremism as being as much of a threat as Islamist extremism.
The acts of deadly violence mentioned here are not occurring in a vacuum: studies demonstrate that anti-immigrant and far-right ideas in public and political discourse are on the rise across Europe. These instances, symptomatic of a wider form of racism and xenophobia, should serve as a wake-up call to European political leaders who need to tackle the growing challenge of racist violence head-on. This is crucial in order to put an end to complacency over right-wing extremism and to prevent such tragedies occurring in the future.