When will words become actions?
Reflections on hate speech in Slovenia
"Load 'em onto railway cars, Hanzek too, and apply the gas!!!"
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Similar statements have been made by other organizations, such as the ECRI (European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance) and the UN. In 2005, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern in its concluding statements over the emergence of hate speech and intolerance in Slovenia, and recommended that Slovenia adopt firm mechanisms for the prevention and prohibition of hatred and incitement of intolerance.
The hate speech of Slovene politicians is thus known throughout the world. But what about at home? Only a few individuals, non-governmental organizations, and the Ombudsman for Human Rights talk about it. Among the majority of other state institutions and among some legal experts, the prevailing view is that hate speech is inappropriate, a "bad joke", an expression of poor taste or upbringing. However nothing more. Among people who recognize and condemn hate speech, a consensus often reigns that it is better to keep silent about politicians' homophobic and xenophobic utterances than to publicize them. But is this really a solution?
Keep silent or react?
Hate speech in Slovenia
"In my opinion God made his biggest mistake when he created woman for man. You can tell from the Bible that he was already cutting corners..."
On "the erased":
"Kill the gypsies!!!"
"We've had enough of these vermin... let's create a pure Slovenia once and for all!"
"All these cefurji should be kicked out. They're dirtbags!!!!!!!"
"Adolf is turning in his grave."
I think we need to make use of those foibe again, soon.
"A rapid cleansing would do a lot of good! I'll donate a day's wages for a bunch of one-way tickets across the Kolpa!"
"All these cefurji should be swept into crematoria like they did with the Jews! And give 'em a little gassing first!"
Source: Various websites
Similarly, some people think that the use of the Internet to express intolerance alleviates social tensions and serves as a harmless release for individuals. "I'd rather see someone write in some forum that all the Jews should be killed than have him go out and kill them for real," commented a friend of mine. I would agree with him if it really did work that way; perhaps for some people it does. But for many a racist, the absence of any counter-reaction to his opinions means gives him licence to continue what he is doing, or even escalate it. This is all the more likely if his opinions are supported by statements by politicians and members of parliament. Prejudice, as Mirjana Ule writes in The Social Psychology of Prejudice, "has the unpleasant quality of rapidly becoming a socially binding fabric for the masses; it spreads like a virus and can reach epidemic proportions. At that point, prejudice changes into a tool of aggression and a declaration of lynching, an excuse for all kinds of discrimination, persecution, ostracism, and the abandonment of threatened groups to their fate."
A visit to Jerusalem
Hate speech in Slovenia
"The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, being firmly convinced that tolerance and pluralism are at the foundation of genuinely democratic societies and that diversity considerably enriches these societies:
Condemns the use of racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic elements in political discourse;
Stresses that such discourse is ethically unacceptable;
Recalls Europe's history, which shows that political discourse that promotes religious, ethnic or cultural prejudice and hatred considerably threatens social peace and political stability and inevitably leads to suffering for entire population;
Is alarmed at the consequences that this type of discourse is having on the general climate of public opinion in Europe;
Is deeply concerned that the use of racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic political discourse is no longer confined to extremist political parties, but is increasingly infecting mainstream political parties at the risk of legitimizing and trivializing this type of discourse;
Notes with serious concern that this type of discourse conveys prejudices and stereotypes in respect of non-citizens and minority groups and strengthens the racist and xenophobic content of debates on immigration and asylum [...]
The ECRI deplores the fact that, as a result of the use of racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic political discourse:
Ill considered measures which impact disproportionately on particular groups or affect the latter's effective enjoyment of human rights are being adopted;
The long-term cohesion of society is being damaged;
Racial discrimination gains ground;
Racial violence is encouraged."
From ECRI, Declaration on the use of racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic elements in political discourse, adopted in 2005
From labelling to massacresWe can see similar tendencies in the attitude towards various minorities in Slovenia, though the process is still in its early stages. Cefurji and gypsies are dirty and thieving, foreigners and asylum-seekers are lazy (but still take jobs from Slovenes), Muslims aspire to take over Slovenian territory and destroy Slovenian culture, "fags" represent a dead end for humanity, are morally degenerate and sub-human – to list just some of the stereotypes perpetrated. A slew of negative and dangerous traits supposedly possessed by such people can be found listed on the Internet. Is it any different when the head of a Slovenian parliamentary party appears on national TV calling for the branding and lynching of paedophiles? And when his interlocutor adds that "human rights don't apply". If human rights do not apply, then it is of course a perfectly normal statement to say that you do not need to kill a hundred paedophiles to set an example, but only a few. The worst part of this story is that the public prosecutor saw nothing controversial in any of this! Silence about such hate speech, directed against other people or cultures in the name of freedom of speech, means silent assent and hence participation in the destructive march of intolerance. Mockery and stereotyping turns into discrimination, boycott, and segregation and ends up as repression and physical destruction.
The "freedom of expression" excuse
Hate speech in Slovenia
"It is a fact that national status symbols such as mosques, in accordance with our constitution, do not belong in our country, since this kind of building would dominate the landscape. The construction of a mosque in Ljubljana would greatly change the image of the city. A mosque in Ljubljana or in Velenje would offend the religious sensibilities of Slovenes and Catholics. They should be more afraid of Islam. Simply because it is a militant faith, and the Slovenian nation has already suffered a great deal because of it."
Transcript of a session of the Ljubljana City Council on the construction of a mosque in the city.
This kind of behaviour coincides completely with the narrow, one-dimensional view of the world determined by a racist, one-dimensional understanding: what is true is only what I say, a rainbow is the colour that I see, and only I have the right to live. But while proponents of hate speech claim freedom of expression for themselves, they are not prepared to acknowledge that same freedom for others, or accept any limits on their actions towards others.
When words become actions
Hate speech in Slovenia
Some affectionate comments about the author:
"That Janissary fascist bigot Hanzek is spreading hate and intolerance towards Catholics and Slovenes!!!"
"Take a rope, find the nearest big tree, and string that post-communist camel-driver Hanzek up!"
"Kill Hanzek and impale him. Stop kicking up such a stink over Muslims and the erased. If you want to finish out your mandate in this function, you'd better adapt unconditionally to the majority of Slovenes and start working on their behalf."
"Hanzek keeps forcing the erased, the Roma, and homosexuals on us, which the majority of Slovenes don't like. I'm no bigot, but someone in need of psychiatric treatment can't represent me."
"That damned Hanzek can shove them all up his ass: lesbians, fags, and the erased, too! Fuck that motherfucker! And put that band of cefurji in front of a machine gun, and RATATAT!"
A member of the national assembly expressed the opinion that the Roma have too many rights, that they live at the expense of working Slovenes, and so on. His views were disseminated by the media, and further amplified by anonymous voices on the Internet. As a result of their anonymity, their statements were much more extreme, calling for the Roma to be exiled or even killed. Soon a "hero" appeared, who dared to offer 1000 euros for every dead Gypsy. It is no longer a question of whether anyone will try to earn that reward, but rather when that will happen. And we have had a bomb in the bedroom of a Roma settlement. Should the blame for the death should be borne by only the perpetrator of the crime and the one who put him up to it?
All of this takes place with varying intensity at various times, depending on the needs of politicians and the state of society. Accordingly, the groups towards which rage is directed varies: first, homosexuals, then Muslims, then drug addicts and the handicapped, then the unemployed and the poor. Throughout, people and groups who oppose hate speech, intolerance, and discrimination are targeted. Of course the opponents of intolerance are labelled as the most intolerant of all: "Why do they speak up? If they'd just keep quiet, everything would be just fine."
The intensity and forms of hate are of course different towards different groups – but only in publicly expressed speech. In reality, homophobes and racists are bothered by everyone equally. Since they know that they will gain the most support by opposing paedophiles, and that people will not be too picky about the means employed, a campaign against this group best serves to mobilize supporters. They can even demand the use of illegal methods such as lynching, mutilation, and suchlike, since it is easy to forget about respecting the law when thinking about the depraved acts of paedophiles. Anyone who dares doubt the justice of such behaviour is immediately accused of defending murderers and paedophiles, and even subjected to insinuations of paedophilia himself. And in their efforts to intimidate, homophobes and racists do not hesitate to drag their opponent's family members into the conflict. This is exactly what happened in the reaction to my condemnation of Zmago Jelincic's televised comments on paedophilia.
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Of course racists are bothered not only by paedophiles; actually, I'm not convinced that paedophiles bother them at all. They're just the most suitable group for manipulating and mobilizing the public. Once they gain enough support to take illegal action against them, they will quickly redirect those illegal means against other groups, just as the Nazis did. It is only a short step from paedophiles to "faggots". Who will be next in line?
-  An opinion about cefurji (a derogatory word for "foreigners" – trans.), expressed on the website Nemejebat.com.
-  In 1992, shortly after Slovenia gained independence, residents of Slovenia from other former Yugoslav Republics were obliged to re-apply for Slovenian citizenship. The many who failed to apply for or were refused this status (Amnesty International puts the figure at 20 000) belonged to "new minorities", including ethnic Serbs, ethnic Croats, ethnic Bosnian Muslims, ethnic Albanian Kosovars, and ethnic Roma. They were subsequently "erased" from official records and denied access to employment, housing, and social and medical benefits. See the Amnesty International Report – trans.
-  European Commission for Human Rights, "Follow-up Report on Slovenia (2003 – 2005) Assessment of the progress made in implementing the recommendations of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights - CommDH(2006)8)."
-  Boris Vezjak, editor of Slovenian Dialogi, compares the Slovenian government's failure to respond to Hanzek's reports to the "old Yugoslav reflex to characterize appeals for arbitration by international institutions as dangerous and damaging".
-  See footnote 1.
-  Masscre by Yugoslav Partisans of ethnic Italians during and after WWII – trans.
-  See footnote 1.
-  Janissary: In Slovene folklore, janissaries were supposed to be raised from Christian children, abducted during Turkish raids. A "janicar" is somebody of Slovene origin who adopted a foreign (primarily "southern") culture and is now fanatically anti-Slovene – trans.
-  President of the Slovenian National Party (Slovenska Nacionalna Stranka, SNS) – trans.
-  The Slovene word for pedophile is pedofil, for "faggot" peder – trans.
Original in Slovenian
Translation by Jean McCollister
Contributed by Dialogi
© Matjaz Hanzek/Dialogi