Human rights

Is it Islamophobia, ignorance, a crisis of European identity, a problem of a poorly integrated minority community, or something of all of these? 

According to an opinion poll published in today’s Le Soir , one of Belgium’s leading newspapers, some 59.3 per cent of Belgians support a ban on the construction of new minarets in their country.  This is about 2 per cent more than the proportion of Swiss who voted in a referendum last month to halt the building of new minarets. 

October 30 saw one of the most important moments so far of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency in Russia.  On a video blog posted on the presidential website, he squarely addressed the issue of the mass repressions carried out under Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator from the mid-1920s to 1953.  I agree with Tomas Hirst, who wrote on the Prospect magazine blog that this was a brave step on Medvedev’s part.

Medvedev didn’t simply condemn Stalin’s crimes.  He criticised Russians – and, sad to say, there are an awful lot of them – who make excuses for Stalin by saying some supposed “supreme goals of the state” justified the arrest, deportation, imprisonment, execution and death by starvation of millions of people.  It is still quite common to hear Russians defend Stalin by saying that he led the Soviet Union to victory over Nazi Germany.  Significantly, however, Medvedev entitles his video blog “Memory of National Tragedies is as Sacred as the Memory of Victories”.  

After the fall of communism in central and eastern Europe, one compelling argument for bringing the region into the European Union was that the experience of prosperity, democracy and everyday multinational co-operation would ease national and ethnic tensions there.  Who knew, perhaps eventually it would get rid of them altogether, just as France and Germany were gradually reconciled after the second world war?

A flare-up of tensions last month between Slovakia and Hungary will serve as proof, to those western Europeans who were always hostile to enlargement, that such hopes were premature.  Worse still, it will confirm them in their opinion that, by admitting the two countries in 2004, all the EU succeeded in doing was to trap a nasty virus inside its own borders.