How xenophobic rhetoric failed

How xenophobic rhetoric failed

The Opposition in Macedonia wanted to mobilize voters with the initiative against refugees. It even collected signatures for referenda against migrants.

At a time of tectonic changes of the European political plates, we are witnesses to different influences on the regional and local political scenes.

Many were surprised by the results of the local elections since nobody was expecting that out of 45 mayors in the first round, only 3 would be from the Opposition party, whereas 35 municipalities would vote in the second round.

The party in power, SDSM, won most of the mayor’s seats, i.e. 38 among which was the city of Skopje. Results so far have confirmed that the new government is headed in the right direction of freedom and Euro Atlantic integration.

For the first time in 11 years, the citizens have not been pressured to vote and the result was disastrous and defeating for the Opposition. It did not have any precise suggestions to offer at the local elections, so that is why it mobilized its voters and supporters to start an initiative against refugees. They started collecting signatures for referenda against migrants who, according to them, have been imposed by the EU member states. They calculated that around ten to twenty thousand migrants would come. They considered refugees an essential threat to our demography, economy and security, so certain municipal councils decided to hold referenda against refugees on the day of local elections.

A failed strategy

The State Election Commission rejected to have the referenda held on the day of local elections, thus the Opposition’s pre-election strategy failed and they lost at the local elections in all those municipalities. We strongly opposed having the refugees involved in the pre-election campaign, yet, since the Opposition did not take into account our opinion and did not offer anything positive to replace the xenophobic rhetoric, their strategy failed and they went down in history.

Unfortunately, refugees were part of Sebastien Kurz’s pre-election campaign and his party. At the time of the campaigns running both in Macedonia and Austria, a conference on the Balkan Route was held in Vienna, where representatives of human rights NGOs, including the former EU MP Hannes Swoboda, emphasized that Kurz in his speeches had boasted of having stopped the refugee flow and closed the  Balkan Route. He had also promised to close the Mediterranean Route and for that purpose, he met with the Libyan authorities. And, there have been announcements about restriction on social welfare for refugees in Austria and reducing their number.

Since my rhetoric followed as a commentary of the EU MP Hannes Swoboda, I also highlighted the fact that the Balkan Route was not closed officially, that in practice the refugee flow had not stopped, it only divided the Route and its intensity. Thus, new 350 refugees entered Serbia in September through Macedonia, and other 450 through Bulgaria.

Any restriction on social welfare and integration of refugees in society would lead to their ghettoization and withdrawal from society, which would create great security issues of unintegrated residents. As an example of different migrant and refugee policies in two neighboring countries are France and Germany. The ghettoization of migrants in France has been visible for almost a decade now, unlike in Germany, where it is almost unnoticeable. Although, after the elections, the political situation has been disquieting, as well as the rise of extreme right-wing votes. Merkel’s policy did not restrict the number of asylum seekers even though selection has become more restrictive.

Campaign based on refugees’ plight

It is ethically wrong to base a political campaign on refugees and migrants’ plight, especially when false information is being used. Unfortunately, Orban’s strategy founded on xenophobia has brought about the success of right-wing parties in Europe, so Kurz won the elections of 15 October with 31,5 percent of the votes. I hope that the new change of authorities in Austria will not be a replica of the political situation in Hungary or Macedonia that was present over the past 11 years, bearing in mind that Kurz and Orban supported Gruevski over the course of the pre-election campaign, and the same policy is followed/implemented by Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Unlike the political changes in the EU which have helped the right wing gain momentum, Macedonian citizens have proved to be mature and willing to move towards the EU integration process, open society and respect of human rights and freedoms, a situation in which we were 11 years ago. The only thing that is disconcerting is the possibility of the EU continuing the rise of negative changes, and thus continue the rise of xenophobia and Euroscepticism, which would close the doors to integration to Macedonia and the rest of the Western Balkan countries. While the Western Balkan people are fantasizing about the great American and European dreams, Trump, Kurz, Orban and other EU leaders are crushing it. Time will show whether it will continue or not, yet it is up to us to try to promote the EU values and benefits of the Euro Atlantic integration as a key to stability in the region.

The opinions expressed in this text are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera