UNITED Berlin Conference Report – Day 1

Berlin Conf Blog

Day 1 of the “MAKE EVERY VOICE HEARD! The Power of Victim Perspectives in Fighting Hate Crime” conference consisted of a number of insightful sessions in which participants were presented with new and interesting viewpoints on hate crimes, hate violence and the rise of fascism in Europe.

Stephan Kees from VBRG opened the conference by describing the motivation of this UNITED conference. He described the observation that racism, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, transphobia, homophobia and other forms of hate and discrimination are on the rise in Europe and that violence against Muslims, Roma and refugees is ever increasing. Right-wing populist movements that work against equality and human rights have gained momentum and there has been a notable right-wing shift in the public. In a backlash to this, anti-fascists movement are increasingly trying to fight against this.  In view of this, Stephan explained, the International Preparatory Group (IPG) for this year’s conference thought it was necessary to address this issue. The main aim of this conference is to discern the benefits of taking a more victim-centred approach to the issue of hate crime and the rise of extreme right nationalism and fascism in order to better meet their needs and demands.

 

The UNITED Network: Bálint Jósa, program co-ordinator UNITED

20171120_094354Balint’s session served as a short introduction to the UNITED of some of the main motivations for holding regular UNITED conferences. He explained that UNITED is the largest anti-racism network in Europe. By way of example, he showed that activism does not have a strong foundation everywhere. In Hungary, for example, activism often happens “in the dark” and generally demonstrations tend to be small in scale. The UNITED campaign hopes to give strength to the fight for equality and human rights everywhere. Balint elucidated the fact the research is helpful, but it is not enough, declarations are not enough. The world needs action and the UNITED campaign strives to be exactly this.

 

Hate Crime – The situation in Germany: Robert Kusche, RAA Saxony, Germany

As each UNITED conference takes place in a different location in which any individual topic is particularly relevant, Robert discussed the reasons why Germany is a pertinent place for a discussion on hate crime and discrimination. Recent years have seen a substantial rise in violence committed against minorities. In 2016, there were 1,948 reported cases of hate-aggravated crimes in parts of Germany alone. Neo-nazi groups are growing, with one demonstration attracting up to 6000 participants. In addition, these new right-wing populist movement are highly professionalised. This year’s election in Germany has left the country with undue uncertainty. All this created a sense of urgency in which we need to come up with concrete actions and solutions that seek to support victims and confront institutional racism.

 

HATE VIOLENCE & THE NEED FOR A VICTIM-CENTERED APPROACH

What are we talking about?

Paul Iganski, Lancaster University, United Kingdom

DSC04107As a Professor of Criminology at Lancaster University, Paul has wide-ranging knowledge about the dangers of hate crime and the multifaceted problems it leads to. Paul used his session to make the argument that we should move toward a more victim-centred approach to hate-based violence that addresses the harm experienced by the victims. He explained that, through his research, he has learned that hate-based violence has a far greater negative effect on victims than other general crimes; a person who is robbed will have lower levels of post-traumatic stress type symptoms than a person who is robbed before receiving some sort of slur based on their minority identity.

Paul confronted the saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt’ as an awful lie that we tell children to protect them, but in fact hate speech is a reality that is as damaging as physical violence and, thus, he makes no distinction between the terms ‘hate crimes’ and ‘hate speech’ as they are both covered with the term hate violence. Hence, Paul prefers the use of the word ‘hate violence’ over ‘hate crimes’ for a number of reasons. Firstly, as mentioned, hate violence, included in its meaning, hate speech, which can be seen a violence through words. In addition, the term hate crime necessitates some sort of judicial interpretation of law, since, by definition, the word ‘crime’ presupposes some law that an action goes against. Some countries have lacking laws and other have none at all, leaving activists in those countries with little to go by. Therefore, Paul suggests the use of the word hate violence to refer to all types of hate-motivated actions.

 

Rocío Gómez García, Council of Victims of Hate Crimes & Discrimination, Spain

Rocia used her own personal experience to show that there is a strong need for victims to be heard. When she and her family were themselves victims of hate violence she felt there were few roads she could take in order to get her side of the story heard. Instead of calming the situation, the police aggravated it even more and through them Rocio experienced even further discrimination.

Hate violence is another form of terrorism. It aims to put fear into society, to make people believe that their life is not worthy of living. Thus, with the victim at the centre of the discussion, there is an urgent need to confront racism and other forms of discrimination at an institutional level. We need victims to come forward, to walk into institutions and tell their stories, therefore she encourages the setting up of councils of victims. It is necessary for institutions to be confronted with the harsh reality of the damages hate violence causes.

 

THE DANGER OF WORDSdanger of words

During this session, participants of the conference were divided into separate working groups of 15-18 participants. During the working group, participants discussed the usage of the words victim, hate, violence, bias motivation, empowerment and victim perspective. The method of silent discussion was used before sitting around a table and discussion the terms. A number of pertinent issues and experience arose from the discussions. Is discrimination the same as hate? Can hate be unlearned? In order to tackle hate, is it necessary to look at deeper roots of societal structure? Does the word ‘victim’ create further victimisation? How can victims get out of the state of mind of being a victim and free themselves from the stigma imposed on them by society? How can we support the empowerment of victims?

 

 

TESTIMONY: LISTEN TO OUR VOICES

In this intense session, participants had the privilege to hear first-hand accounts of experiences with hate violence. An Albanian participant, an LGBT activist from Russia, and a political activist from Sweden told of times that they were confronted with aggression and extreme violence because of their identity and activism, how they survived, and what motivates them to continue their work despite fears of repeated attacks.