Racism on rise in Europe, Estonia's data insufficient ({{commentsTotal}})

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR), an EU-wide network of NGOs standing up against racism and discrimination and advocating for equality and solidarity for all in Europe, has published its latest report on racist crimes and incidents on the continent. Estonia is mentioned few times, but proper data is lacking because the country does not properly record racially motivated crimes.

Civil society organizations across the EU reported an increase in racist crimes in 2013, in particular against Black and Asian ethnic minorities, Roma, Jews and Muslims. Almost 50,000 racist crimes were officially recorded in the EU from 2013-2014, but according to report, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as many EU member states, including Estonia, do not properly record and report racially motivated crimes.

There was an increase in anti-Semitic (Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden) and Islamophobic (France, England and Wales) crimes in some countries, and these crimes increasingly take the form of online incitement to hatred and/or violence.

Estonia has a very small Jewish and Muslim community and so far there hasn't been any reported backlash against them. However, Estonia gets a mention for violent attacks against Black and Asian people. “In many EU countries, including Estonia, Greece, Italy, Poland, Sweden and the UK, the most violent physical attacks reported are perpetrated against Black and Asian people. In Sweden for example, 980 crimes with an Afrophobic motive were recorded. In addition, crimes perpetrated by members of far-right groups are over-represented (49 percent) in racist crimes and complaints linked to political groups,” it said.

Under-qualification of racially motivated crimes

The report said that investigation, under-qualification and prosecution of racist crimes is problematic everywhere – in the Czech Republic and Italy, for example, an estimated 40-60 percent of reported racist crimes are not fully investigated by police.

Estonia is in a slightly grey area, due to limited legislation, which is also pointed out. “In Estonia there were no investigations into the racial bias of crimes and no recorded cases of racist crime in 2013 partly due to the very limited legislation. Although Estonia’s Criminal Code contains a substantive offense provision relating to incitement to hatred, violence and discrimination, it requires severe damage made to life, health or property of the victim in order to be prosecuted, which is a very high threshold. Estonia has no legislation regarding enhanced penalties or aggravating factors for racist crimes.”

The report said that in many countries, even when witnesses and victims report the use of racist words at the time of the crime, the police do not necessarily investigate the potential racist element of the crime. “There are examples of such cases in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Demark, Estonia, France, Greece, Germany, Luxembourg, Iceland, Italy and the Netherlands where the police failed to ‘unmask’ the racist bias of crimes even when racist language had been used at the time of the crime.“

Furthermore, victims of hate crime and victim support groups have reported cases in which the police focused their questions on the victim at the crime scene rather than the alleged perpetrator, all of which undermine confidence in the police. “Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia and Germany all report cases of victims being treated as perpetrators.”

In some countries there is no official or systematic data collection of racially motivated crimes, and in others, information about the racial, ethnic or religious background of the victims is not disaggregated. In Estonia, racist crimes are recorded, but currently there is no separated information on which ethnic groups, nationality the victims belong to – or whether there is an Islamophobic or Anti-Semitic bias. Only one third of EU countries have recorded and published information on racist crimes for 2013.

Racial prejudice

Across Europe, far-right extremists have activated in recent years. The extremists tend to spread misleading information which does not reflect the reality.

For example, people across the EU overestimate the number of Muslims who reside in Europe. A total of 20 million Muslims live in EU and their share of the population has grown by only 2 percent in 20 years, from 4 percent in 1990 to 6 percent in 2010. By 2030, Muslims are expected to make up 8 percent of the continent's population. Although the community does not comprise more than 10 percent in any EU member state, people perceive it to be much larger. For example, 2014 poll from the social research institute Ipsos Mori found that on average, French respondents estimated the Muslim community to be 31 percent of the population, rather than 7.5 percent what it actually is, and Germans guessed 19 percent rather than 5.8 percent. Americans thought that 15 percent of their compatriots were Muslim, whereas they actually make up just a marginal 1 percent in the US.

And despite the increasing perception of Muslims as terrorists, most terrorist acts in Europe are carried out by nationalist and separatist groups. The worst act of terrorism to have occurred in Europe in recent history was committed by a far-right Christian extremist Anders Behring Breivik, when he killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.

“Racist crime is one of the worst implications of racism, a threat to people’s lives on the sole basis of their real or perceived race, ethnic origin or religion, and it should not go unpunished. Real political will is required to ensure better reporting, recording and sanctioning of racist crimes. EU member states must step up their efforts in this area,” the ENAR Chair Sarah Isal emphasized.

Editor: S. Tambur

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