In my morning hunt for news articles, I found this one from the Digital Journal discussing hate speech and the Council of Europe. I found this particularly interesting in the wake of issues the Roma community recently had with a certain Hungarian Ambassador, Dr. Geza Jeszenszky. His comments, which claimed that many Roma were ‘mentally ill’ because of consanguineous relationships within our community, could easily be described as “hate speech”, whether or not the esteemed ambassador felt that way. Of course, he suffered no consequences for his actions.
However, such language against us is not uncommon.
The current French President, François Hollande called for “internment camps for the Roma” during his campaign – a campaign that won him the presidency. Similarly, the mayor of Baia Mare in Romania, Cătălin Cherecheş forcibly relocated dozens of Roma families to the administrative buildings of a dismantled copper plant. This followed the building of a 1.8 metre (six feet) high wall the previous year between a Roma neighbourhood and a main road. He won a majority vote of over 86%.
Of course, in the general sphere (outside of both academics and politics) there is hate speech perpetuated by media outlets (who report on “Gypsy crime” or accuse Roma of murder or other vicious assault with no just cause). The internet is a hotbed of hate speech. I have encountered enough just in my daily life here online. My blogs have been hacked; I have received hate mail, death threats, and anonymous messages; I have been accused of so many horrible things. I have made the mistake of reading comments left on videos or news reports. Some of it has deeply, deeply affected me.
It’s disgusting and alarming and it’s an epidemic and it’s growing.
Hate speech targeting minorities, immigrants, religious and other groups is becoming an increasingly widespread phenomenon within Europe, both in the online as well as offline spheres.
Hate speech is not only found in the political discourses of far-right parties aiming to increase their voter base, but also in the mass-media and in everyday instances. As an ever-growing number of people have gained access to the Internet and modern technology, hate speech has also become an online reality manifesting itself in a variety of forms that range from hate sites and crimes to cyber bullying against students.
Between November 22-24, 2012 the Council of Europe organized the “Workshop for bloggers and human rights activists on how to combat hate speech online,” aimed at bringing together young individuals from around Europe to discuss the issue of hate speech online and together to create a pan-European campaign to be implemented in the upcoming year. The workshop highlighted the fact that, at this point in time, in all European countries, certain groups are suffering from widespread social hatred online and offline and have access to few opportunities to counter this hatred, as often the media perpetuates the same stereotypes against them. Silenced and marginalized, they are transformed into enemies within their own countries or their countries of residence, scapegoats for all of their societies’ problems. The purpose of hate speech is to incite violence against these groups of people with the ultimate goal of excluding them from society, either by getting them out of the country or by exterminating them as a group. In many societies, including my own in Romania, hate speech against particular groups has become normalized to a point that almost nobody reacts against such instance and when someone does, he is treated with skepticism and even violence.
In Romania, this is particularly the case against the Roma minority. Even politicians make hateful comments against the Roma without much reaction from the general public or the mass media. In 2007, the Romanian President insulted a journalist by calling her a “stinky gypsy.” While he received an official warning for his remark from the National Council Combating Discrimination, many other politicians are able to express similar hateful statements without any consequences. Socially, the Roma are blamed for almost all the wrongs in the Romanian society. The widespread normalization of hatred against the Roma makes it almost impossible for members of the minority group to react to criticism and to overcome their currently marginalized socio-economic status, as, due to existing prejudice, it is difficult for them to advance on the social ladder.
As one of the workshop trainers, Gavan Titley, suggested, this growing hatred could stem from an aspiration of cultural purity on the part of many European societies, a return to a time when European nation-states were truly national. However, this notion of cultural purity is a constructed myth and an illusion, as European societies have always been made of and has thrived through diversity, ethnic and of other kinds.
As more and more people gain access to the Internet, hate speech online is likely to increase. In contrast to its offline version, online hate speech can be even more virulent, mostly because of the more impersonal nature of online conversations, which remove some of the implicit emotional barriers that exist in personal interactions, but also because of the possibility of remaining anonymous. Hate speech online can also reach more people and have a multiplier effect, by encouraging them or allowing them to express their hatred toward individuals and/or groups.
The Europe-wide campaign against hate speech is likely to be initiated in the first months of 2013. The Council of Europe has already adopted two documents, the Convention on Cybercrime and its Additional Protocol, to start combating hate speech’s online manifestations. However, while online regulations are important, it is essential to create an online space of respect and acceptance, where hate speech is rapidly dismissed, not embraced. That is why all of us as individuals must react and stand up against hate speech online. Otherwise, we too will contribute to its perpetuation and its normalization in the online sphere.