A rise in right-wing radicalism is fuelling the spread of xenophobia and extremist attitudes towards religious minorities in Europe, says Minority Rights Group International.
MRG’s flagship annual State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples report, themed for 2010 on religious minorities, was launched in Budapest, Hungary.
It suggests that victimisation against religious groups is in many respects the 'new racism'.
The report says that ultra right-wing parties, aiming to establish themselves in mainstream political arenas in Europe, justify their anti-immigration, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic rhetoric by stoking fears that religious minorities and immigrants are a threat to modern societies.
‘Successes in the 2009 European Parliamentary elections, and at the national parliamentary level, have allowed these populist right-wing parties to shift formerly far-right ideas, on immigration for example, into the mainstream,’ says Carl Soderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications.
The report details a sharp rise in Islamophobia in Europe in 2009.
In May 2009, ultra right-wing groups held an ‘anti-Islam’ rally to oppose the building of a large new mosque in Cologne, Germany. When the authorities in Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen approved the country’s first purpose-built mosque, the extreme-right Danish People’s Party launched an anti-mosque campaign in September.
Following a campaign by the ultra-conservative Swiss People's Party, a sizeable majority of Switzerland’s cantons backed a referendum in November 2009, which proposed a ban on the building of new minarets in mosques.
"MRG is deeply concerned about the infringement of religious freedom that the Swiss ban on minarets, and other European Islamophobic initiatives, supposes for the Muslim community. We urge European authorities to abide by their obligations under international law and protect their populations’ freedom to practice their religion and be free from discrimination," added Soderbergh.
The report also notes an increase in the number of incidents against the Jewish community in Europe. Research shows that during 2007 and most of 2008, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the EU declined, but that it has been on the rise again since December of 2008.
The growth in support for European far-right wing parties has also affected other minorities, says IMRG.
In Austria and the Czech Republic, racism watchdogs and political analysts have pointed to an increase in crime related to extremism, which they believe is connected to the growing number of supporters of far-right movements.
In Hungary, anti-Roma sentiment and violence escalated, taking nine lives and leaving dozens injured in the period between January 2008 and April 2010.
The report says that the recent financial crisis has also contributed to the rise in support for far-right organisations which feed resentment towards minorities, blaming them for economic and social problems.
According to a European Commission survey in November 2009, 42 per cent of Europeans stated that the economic crisis will contribute to increased levels of discrimination in the labour market on the grounds of religion or belief.
"The current economic crisis has had the greatest impact on the poorest and most marginalised communities in Europe. States must ensure better protection of vulnerable groups, such as minorities, in order that the response to this crisis leads to greater rather than less equality," comments Carl Soderbergh.
In 2009 the radical right made gains in the European Parliament and won seats in Austria, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Romania and the UK.
Minority Rights Group: http://www.minorityrights.org/