7 November, 2017

On Antisemitism in Today’s Romania. Who Is In Danger?

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Category: Antisemitism, Uncategorized
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discriminationWritten by Dr. Marius CAZAN, Researcher, “Elie Wiesel” National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania

 Choosing the 9th of November as action day for combating antisemitic hate speech is full of significance. On the 9th of November, 1938 the Kristallnacht took place, when tens of thousands of Jews from Germany and Austria were seeing their lives under threat. As a consequence of a German diplomat having been assassinated in Paris by a Polish Jew expelled from Germany, the Nazi propaganda started to incite to action against Jews. SS and SA troops, the Police and the Gestapo, but also the Hitler Youth took part in the pogrom. Most of the civil population did not participate in the murders, robberies and destructions that happened that night and the following days. However, civilians did passively watch as neighbors, colleagues or friends were being humiliated.

In the history of the Holocaust in Romania there is an episode that is often referred to as the Romanian “Crystal Night”. The Bucharest pogrom of 21st – 23rd of January, 1941 led to the death of more than 120 Jews, the terrorizing of some other thousands and the destruction of synagogues, shops and homes of Jews in Bucharest. Most of the civil population did not participate in the pogrom. However, civilians did passively watch as neighbors, colleagues or friends were being humiliated.

In both cases, the triggering of the anger at Jews took place after a long period during which the antisemitic propaganda and the messages that incited to hatred have been more and more frequently pushed through within the communities. 1938’s Germany and 1941’s Romania were societies in which the fear or the hatred towards the Jews had grown strong roots. In most newspapers antisemitic texts could be found. Politicians and intellectuals were speaking on the radio about the Jewish danger and about conspiracies engineered by the worldwide Jewry. Those who spurred on hatred were many. Very many were also those who were listening to them. Some were beginning to being convinced that the Jews are to blame for everything bad that was happening to their country. Others were reading or listening without caring. Too few were those who opposed to hatred and who protested against it.

In the 21st century communication means are much more varied. Their efficiency is higher and higher, and the dynamic of the emergence of new public communication platforms knows an unencountered speed-up. A survey on the perception of the Holocaust in Romania and the interethnic relations, requested by the “Elie Wiesel” National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, a research that was undertaken in September 2017, having national representativity, shows that the Romanians’ main information source on this topic is currently the television (42%). Television is however in an evident decrease in audience. In a survey conducted in 2015, 58% of the respondents mentioned that their main source of information is television. The internet is the information source on Holocaust with the highest increase in the last years. Therefore, 23% of those interviewed indicated in 2015 the Internet as their main source of information, whereas in 2017 the percentage grew to 34%. What is alarming is that school is a minor source of information on this topic, being even on a decline since 2015 (12% as compared to 14%).

Romanians like to think of themselves as being a hospitable, tolerant, peaceful nation. The aforementioned survey shows that only 2 out of 10 Romanians accept in a private sphere (in their families or their circle of friends) persons belonging to other ethnic groups. Measured on the Bogardus scale, where 1 represents the closest relation (the acceptance within families), and 7 represents the farthest relation (they should not come to Romania), the biggest social distance is manifested towards Arabs (5.0) and towards the Roma population (4.8). The social distance index towards Hungarians is 4.1, and that towards Jews is 3.8. Beyond numbers, which vary from an ethnicity to another, it remains evident that Romanians do not manage to accept persons who are different in a social environment they have a control on. The limit to their tolerance is there where their personal choice is decisive. We cannot choose our neighbors or our work colleagues, but who we accept in our families or in our circle of friends is exclusively our option. Moreover, the survey shows that in Bucharest (which has approximately 2 million inhabitants, is the capital city and one of the most cosmopolite in Romania) the social distance towards Jews and Hungarians is bigger than the national average (4.6 for Jews as compared to 3.8, and 5.4 for Hungarians as compared to 4.1, the national average).

Between the two world wars there were 756 000 Jews living in Romania, amounting to almost 4% of the population. The first years after the Holocaust there were around 350 000 Jews left. Today in Romania there are approximately 3 000 Jews. Is it still relevant to talk about antisemitism and hate speech towards Jews in Romania nowadays? In the 2017 survey requested by the “Elie Wiesel” Institute, 46% of those interviewed agreed with the statement according to which ‘it would be better for Jews to go live in their country.’ Moreover, 58% of the respondents believe ‘the Jews are following their own interests only.’ Of course, we can add that, when it came to the statement according to which ‘they [the Jews] are a minority that is in good relations with the rest of the population in Romania’, 65% of those interviewed expressed their agreement. Does this change however the fact that almost half of Romanians consider that a minority which is heading towards extinction, such as the Jews today are, should leave to their country?

At the level of the Romanian society there is still little known of the Holocaust in Romania. In the aforementioned survey, only 68% of those interviews have heard of the Holocaust. Out of these, only 33% knew that the Holocaust happened in Romania as well. When they were asked to identify the main responsible for the Holocaust in Romania, 55% indicated Germany and only 22% did correctly identify the Antonescu government. It is extremely worrisome the percentage of those who consider the Jews are the most responsible for the Holocaust in Romania (7%), with a significant growth since the 2015 survey when only 1% of the respondents indicated the Jews are the ones to blame for the Holocaust in Romania. Although additional research is necessary in order to explain, with arguments, this growth, the link it has with the negationism and antisemitism that still prevail in certain segments of the Romanian society is unequivocally. The online environment and especially the social networks are the main space for hate speech and extremist messages to develop and start getting an audience.

Combating antisemitism, as well as combating all other forms of xenophobia, racism or discrimination is an obligation for the societies with democratic values. Democracy implies also a high level of participation of the citizens and, subsequently, combating those manifestations, whether offline or online, that threaten fundamental principles, such as equal treatment for each individual. The antisemitic discourse is a threat not solely for Jews alone, but also a step towards authoritarian side-slips whose target can become any group in the society.

Translated by Dr. Irina DREXLER, National coordinator of the No Hate Speech Movement in Romania

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