Europe Imitates Eurovision


It’s not just pure kitsch. The Eurovision Song Contest (originally called the Grand Prix de la Chanson), like the European Union, was a Francophone idea dreamt up in the aftermath of World War II. The idea was that the many cultures comprising Europe would be showcased, with singers restricted to singing in their national language, but nationalism would be banished — no voting for your own nation!

Of course, it rarely worked like that: nations voted for neighbours or countries speaking similar languages. In 1999, the language rule was finally abandoned and now virtually everyone sings in English. Yet even as the songs have become more homogenous, the flag waving in the stadium has only seemed to increase.

As such, Eurovision is a perfect metaphor for today’s Europe. The continent’s cultures have never been in closer everyday contact due to migration and globalisation, nationalism is resurgent, and anti-immigrant sentiment remains the royal road to political popularity.

A cursory reading of the Western European press reveals that anti-immigrant ideas and anti-EU feelings are increasing. And the European immigration crisis today threatens a cornerstone of the European Union, the Schengen open borders agreement, first introduced in 1985 and gradually expanded. It now encompasses all of the European Union except for Britain, Ireland, Bulgaria and Romania.

First to what the Italian media has been calling the immigration "emergency".

After Saturday’s arrival of 1500 African migrant workers from Libya on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, the Italian navy was able to quickly take the majority to the mainland, says Rome’s La Repubblica.

Meanwhile, islanders wept at the funeral of three young men who drowned near the island last week, reports Italian tabloid Libero. The paper says the island’s priest, Stefano Nastasi, recounted how the youths drowned alone, without their mother to comfort them, before concluding thunderously: "It’s well time for the leaders of this country and Europe to move on from hypocrisy towards a more humane policy." (The UNHCR estimates that more than 1200 refugees or immigrants have drowned on the way to Lampedusa since January, according to Naples-based daily Il Levante).

Across the border in France, the arrival of around 3500 Tunisians — some given six month residency permits by Silvio Berlusconi in April — threatens to turn into a political disaster for Nicolas Sarkozy too. There have been accusations of police brutality after French police evicted dozens of Tunisians and supporters who had been occupying a house in Paris’ Avenue Bolivar, reports German leftist weekly Jungle World (whose journalist was arrested along with the Tunisians).

The house was occupied on 1 May by Tunisians and supporters who had previously been sleeping in a Parisian park. Authorities offered them short-term hostel accommodation, says Jungle World, but the migrants rejected the offer, responding by hanging a banner with "neither police nor charity" on the building. France would now like to deport 30 Tunisians from the house, but the Tunisian embassy in Paris is unable to provide the necessary paperwork, leaving the migrants’ future as uncertain as their recent past.

The French policy towards refugees has been criticised in Amnesty International’s annual report, reveals French centre-left weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. The NGO assails France for the gap between "the extensive protections" offered under French law, and the actual government administration of the laws, adds the paper. Of particular interest: the treatment of Tunisians arriving in France since January, who have been declared a "national menace" by a French government trying to "shut itself off" from the rest of the world.

France continues to maintain temporary frontier controls at the Italian border to try to prevent hundreds of Tunisians entering with Italian visas. Last week France was joined by Denmark, which wants to impose permanent frontier controls to fight "people smuggling, human trafficking and criminality", reports the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. The Danish government is preparing to install surveillance cameras, scanners able to detect the contents of vehicles and control booths on the German border. Actual passport checks won’t be introduced for now — meaning the decision is effectively an example of "symbolic politics," opines the Stockholm paper.

The Danish decision has prompted a warning from Brussels that it is violating EU law, continues Dagens Nyheter. The EU says it suspects the Schengen principle of a free circulation of people and goods in the EU would be violated by the border controls. Dagens Nyheter claims the Danish decision was taken by the governing Christian Democrats and the "anti-foreigner" far-right Danish People’s Party as a quid pro quo for the latter’s support on pension reform.

Tighter border control is not the only consequence of the current immigration debate in Europe, argues Spain’s Público, which reports that the conservative Popular Party in the northern Spanish region of Catalonia has been claiming that migrants have reintroduced diseases previously eradicated from Spain. The party has put immigration at the centre of its campaign ahead of local elections on 22 May, says Público — which adds the Popular Party has claimed that over 145,000 previously undocumented immigrants have been regularised with residency permits thanks to changes to residency laws passed in the Spanish Congress two years ago.

There are disturbing signs that neo-Nazis are capitalising on the anti-immigrant sentiments growing across Europe with violent mobilisations. The Berliner Tagesspiegel reports on a Nazi demonstration in the city on Saturday where extremists broke through police controls before attacking migrants and counter-demonstrators in the metro of Berlin’s fashionable Mehringdamm shopping strip. The story opened with a disturbing echo of another epoch. "A young man with dark skin runs up the stairs of the station in panic, followed by a bellowing group of neo-Nazis … a shocked women says into her mobile: ‘it’s unbelievable, they’re hunting foreigners.’"

Thirty-six police plus an unknown number of demonstrators and Nazis were injured in the clashes, says the Taggesspiegel. The fascist violence came just hours before Germany hosted the Eurovision telecast in the western city of Düsseldorf. The spectators in the converted sports stadium booed nations who voted down hometown hero Lena, who was defending her 2010 crown for Germany. Perhaps their reaction was just an unfortunate example of bad sportsmanship — but maybe it was also typical of the surly, defensive patriotism of Europeans this Spring.


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