Hate speech, xenophobia and extreme nationalism addressed by Commissioner Jourova

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“We have to translate the Charter into basic principles. These principles should become an anchor in this fast changing, confusing world – simply the bedrock of our society. The bad version of nationalism, the one promoting exclusion and hatred is on the rise. And so is racial abuse and discrimination.”

Commissioner Jourová said this when she addressed the opening the Fundamental Rights Forum.

“Hate online is on the rise. And these dangerous trends are not only visible in the rising popularity of the extreme parties. Sadly, the mainstream parties accept some part of this rhetoric of division. Commissioner Jourova said the March in Chemnitz, anti-Soros campaign in Hungary or growing anti-Muslim or anti-Roma rhetoric are just a few examples that show we have a problem.”

The identity politics, based on exclusive nationalism, scare me, she said. I lived in a totalitarian regime where there was only one right ideology, only one right government, and only one allowed discourse.

Minorities didn’t exist, diversity of views and opinions were not respected. People did not dare to speak up. This exclusive nationalism tries to force people to define themselves against others and implies that being a part of majority makes us somehow better.

The Commissioner said I would argue that the predominant source of this is fear. When we are afraid, we often switch off rational thinking and escape to our instincts, even the darker ones.

We should not respond to the fear of people by lecturing, by being ignorant or by ridiculing. This is not how we can build a relationship. This is the way we lose people and push them away from our core principles. We have to offer a familiar alternative to the people. In my view, we should promote healthy patriotism, based on inclusion, but also about nurturing the feeling of familiar community.”

Calling media ‘the enemies of the people’ or blaming an individual or a minority group for migration or economic misfortune are not examples from the 1930s, but from my recent memory. I appeal to politicians to show responsibility for their words, and to show restraint. They have to realise that their words become justification for some people to act on their urges and their fears.

She said that the media can build the culture of dialogue or sow divisions, spread disinformation and encourage exclusion. The Brexit debate is the best example of that. They have a powerful role to play and we should help them and defend their right to hold politicians into account. In Europe, we need to keep up our support for public broadcasters and independent media more broadly than just following the laws of markets.

I don’t blame the digital or social media for invention of fake news or disinformation, but often without any filters, they allow the massive spread of dubious sources and create the pretence of immunity. The US presidential elections, Brexit referendum and the Cambridge Analytica case helped us realise that modern technology can be used by private or foreign interests to take advantage of our digital presence and to manipulate our elections. We must ensure that what is illegal offline remains illegal online and that the anarchy of the online world comes to an end.

We must fight for open society. We must humbly ask the people to trust us again and promote the hope the Charter brings. I understand this as embracing people’s fears, showing empathy and going ‘out there’, out of our comfortable bubbles to try to show to people that fundamental rights belong to everyone and that they mean a lot in practice.

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