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Democrat April-May 2000 (Number 43)

Arthur Smelt makes some points about

The Real Xenophobes


In May 1999 I attended a conference in Copenhagen organised by The Danish People's Movement against the EU at a time when the crisis in Yugoslavia was worsening and at the forefront of our thoughts.

When the conference ended I took the opportunity to visit some old friends who live 60 miles or so from Copenhagen. On previous visits I had never discussed political issues with them to any great depth. On this occasion however it was unavoidable because of my attendance at a conference against EU membership.


During one such discussion, my host mentioned the refugee problem in Denmark and said refugees were flooding into the country. He complained bitterly that they were receiving preferential treatment from the government and security system, whilst Danish nationals, who were in difficulties, had to fight every inch of the way to obtain help to meet their basic requirements.

There was a kind of anger and vitriol in his voice which I had heard many times before in England. My suggestion that strict rules applied in most countries with such systems in place, which regulated the benefits anyone could receive, were brushed aside.

Reasons for leaving

Arguments pointing out that most people took the view that East, West home is best. They prefer to stay in the country of their birth where they know the language, customs and where their families are domiciled. If they leave it is often because they are driven out by intolerable circumstances over which they have no control. He was not impressed.

Radio 5 recently featured a report about a village in Southern England where a young local girl had been raped. Local attention was focused on a group of refugees living in the area. Totally unfounded suspicion became fixed on the refugees. The Police appealed for calm but a committee was set up to consider what to do about refugees. This generated more animosity and the children of refugees were stoned. The question was asked, if local youths came under suspicion, would they be stoned as the refugee children had been?

It is an unfortunate aspect of human behaviour, the compulsion amongst some to castigate those who differ in appearance, language or outlook to the main group. A kind of innate tribalism which civilised living has done little to dispel and is deliberately encouraged and played upon by the unscrupulous to achieve certain political or military ends.

Examples are legion and with us constantly. In the 1930's, Jews were being demonised. Reports appeared in the British press in 1938 saying Jews were flooding into Britain, there were the same hate generating paragraphs we can read today in some tabloid journals and presented a little more subtly in some other papers.

This serious and unfortunate flaw in the human psyche is to be found in all sections of society. Those involved in power politics use it constantly to achieve their ends worldwide. The most glaring and recent example is that of Yugoslavia where over a considerable period, ethnic differences were exploited and hatred generated. When the hotheads started shooting each other and innocent people, the very governments advocating European union, rushed in, not to plead with the people of Yugoslavia to become once again a united country of different people living peacefully together, but to ensure its very dismemberment.

Where some blame belongs

The people who have left Yugoslavia and become refugees, have done so because they have been shot at, bombed, lost their homes and livelihoods. Life in their homeland has been made intolerable. Our government, along with others has much to answer for in all this and the least we can do is to understand what has, and is, still happening. We should be thankful we have not been on the receiving end of such political and military madness and behave humanely towards those who have.