European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)


EUROCONF (2000) 3


Discussion Papers from Introductory Speakers

August 2000

Discussion Papers from Introductory Speakers – Download the document

Table of Contents

Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Policies and practices to combat racism and related discrimination at sub-national and national level
Civil rights lawyer
Education and awareness-raising to combat racism, related discrimination and extremism at sub-national, national, regional and international levels
Konstanty GEBERT
Editor-in-chief, Midrasz monthly
Information, communication and the media

Note: The following discussion papers fall within the sole responsibility of their authors, in their capacity as independent experts. They do not engage the responsibility of the Council of Europe, nor the European Conference against Racism.

Deputy Director, Swiss Institute of Comparative Law
Legal protection against racism and related discrimination
at sub-national, national, regional and international levels

I. Introduction

This introductory report is based on the observation that legal protection is inadequate on two counts.

- Inadequate legislation:

1. While all European countries have admittedly taken legal steps to counter racism and discrimination, most have simply introduced a minimal legal framework featuring two types of criminal law provision, the first designed to punish hate speech and the second, broadly speaking, to ban racial discrimination in the supply of goods and services to the public. Both stem from the transposition into domestic law of the only international treaty specifically governing action against racism: the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Of course this convention, which has been ratified by almost all Council of Europe member countries, is not confined to the pursuit of those two goals; as demonstrated by the title, its authors' intention is to ban all forms of unequal treatment. However, innovative and truly binding obligations are imposed on Contracting States in only two specific areas (see Article 4 and Article 5f). The remaining provisions, worded in vague and general terms, suggest more of a programme (see, for instance, the list of anti-discrimination measures in Article 2), leaving the authorities free to decide on the form and nature of the steps to be taken; besides their lack of precision, they have no direct effect, which means that individuals cannot rely on them before the courts. Various other international conventions, most of them regional in scope, have contributed a few welcome details, but they either deal with particular sectors of activity1 or form part of soft international law, since their only impact is to indicate a strong desire to see racial equality achieved.

2. This minimal body of legislation, based on a convention whose history shows that its prime targets were colonialism and racial segregation, especially apartheid in South Africa (see the preamble and Article 3), has proved unable to halt the rise of racist violence (physical attacks and material damage) that we are now experiencing in Europe with the current influx of immigrants, resurgent antisemitism and an awakening of national minorities. Likewise, it fails to counter racism in the more covert form of day-to-day discrimination in areas such as housing, employment and education.

- Inadequate implementation:

3. Recognising rights is not enough; they must also be implemented. Yet all too often it has to be admitted that, while not exactly ignored, anti-discrimination laws have not been as effective as intended and have remained largely symbolic. This is chiefly because judicial procedure is not geared to the characteristics of racial discrimination. The victims, many of whom live on the fringes of society, such as asylum-seekers and travellers, are poor and helpless, and reluctant to start distant, lengthy and expensive court proceedings. Moreover, when proceedings are brought, it has to be acknowledged that they rarely lead to convictions because there is no real determination to punish. In many countries it is a regrettable fact that the prosecuting authorities and criminal courts still trivialise discrimination and hate speech, giving them low priority. As a result, investigations get bogged down and proceedings have to be dropped because time has run out.

4. Added to this is the new problem of global communication via the Internet. The rules in force in European countries which make hate speech a punishable offence are perfectly applicable to illegal material circulated on the Internet, but it is easy to get round them by posting such material on servers located in countries which are more permissive in this respect, such as the United States. The very liberal conception of freedom of expression adopted by the US Supreme Court ensures that racist websites and discussion forums aimed at European audiences flourish unchecked.

This state of affairs raises two questions:

- What can be done to reinforce anti-racist legislation?
- What can be done to improve implementation of existing laws (and of legislation yet to be drafted)?

II. Reinforcing legislation

5. Some European countries, keen to fill the above-mentioned gaps in their legislation, have found it essential to introduce further measures over and above the minimum standards. The most interesting are described below, distinguishing between those which follow the strictly criminal law approach already initiated and the few - as yet - which are based on civil law. The reason for this shift is that criminal proceedings are not always effective in countering day-to-day racism, particularly direct and indirect discrimination in housing and on the labour market. That calls for emphasis on a compensatory rather than a punitive approach: the stigma of a criminal conviction would simply fuel frustration and resentment against foreigners and minorities.

1. Developing the criminal law approach

6. These new trends, which involve both classifying further racist or discriminatory acts as criminal offences and introducing heavier penalties for acts already regarded as criminal offences, are listed below:

- increasing the penalties prescribed for traditional racist offences such as hate propaganda and refusal to provide services, with larger fines and longer terms of imprisonment. Many European countries have already increased the maximum sentence from one to two years. Some have also provided for the possibility of exceeding the maximum sentence if the offence is committed by a public official;

- introducing two ancillary penalties: firstly, community service, a sanction with considerable educational value, since in practice the offender may be ordered to restore buildings damaged by racist graffiti or provide services to immigrants' support organisations. Secondly, where instances of racial discrimination occur in the economic sphere (particularly a refusal to employ someone), publication of the court judgment in the press, a form of adverse publicity which often acts as a more effective deterrent than a fine, however large;

- extending the scope of legislation punishing incitement to racial hatred to "non-public" statements: for example, a circular sent only to the members of a nationalist group or derogatory words exchanged on a "closed" discussion forum would now come under criminal law;

- regarding the commission on racist grounds of an ordinary offence - such as arson, bodily injury or damage to property - as an aggravating circumstance. This is meant as a direct response to the rise of racial violence, is intended not only as a deterrent, but also as a highly symbolic measure. The purpose is to signal quite clearly to the prosecuting authorities that offences committed for racist reasons are particularly sordid and that they must take them seriously. It should be pointed out, however, that in practice racist motives are often difficult to prove;

- the punishment of "revisionism", or denial of a genocide, which is indisputably the most serious racist crime. Denial is by no means banned throughout Europe, and in countries where it is a criminal offence, the scope of criminal legislation is as a rule confined to denial of the genocides committed by the Nazis.

2. A new approach: civil law

7. A few countries have recently adopted specific legislation detailing the different forms of direct or indirect discrimination in employment, housing and provision of service2 and specifying the exceptions allowed (eg for institutions with religious, ideological or political aims, which are entitled to employ only persons whose views conform to those of their employers). In some cases an employer may be banned from seeking information on an applicant's racial characteristics, or an unsuccessful job applicant may be entitled to obtain written information on the qualifications of the successful applicant. Lastly, the law provides for specific civil penalties, including the setting aside of discriminatory clauses in a contract. The fact remains, however, that positive compensation for the damage suffered - for instance by ordering an employer guilty of discrimination in recruitment to take on the victim or ordering a landlord to offer the victim the accommodation previously denied - is very rarely awarded3; damages for non-pecuniary injury are still the norm.

8. Positive action to promote non-discrimination in the private sector, such as the employment of workers from ethnic minorities or the renting of accommodation to persons of another race, is still at the wishful thinking stage. No country has plans to impose quotas of any sort on businesses, but some indirectly seek to diversify industry's recruitment base. One country, for example, requires employers to record the number of ethnic minority employees they have taken on, to publish a report on their working conditions and, most importantly, to draw up a programme for improving representation of ethnic minorities in the company.

3. The possibilities of constitutional law

9. Many European countries' constitutions include provisions banning racial discrimination. Assigning them constitutional status may, on the face of it, look like a guarantee of firmness. That is true in countries equipped to implement such rules directly and individually, particularly those which have established a meaningful review of constitutionality such as that conducted by a genuine constitutional court. It is less true in countries where there is virtually no review of the constitutionality of legislation and administrative acts, or a partial one only (eg applications by qualified bodies).

10. It must also be borne in mind that the horizontal impact of fundamental safeguards is still a highly controversial issue: in other words, the ban on discrimination still appears to have little effect on the private sector. That being so, protection depends on the extent to which the ban is given tangible form by criminal or civil law provisions.

III. Improving implementation of anti-discrimination laws

11. As a result of the difficulties encountered in implementing this legislation, several countries have tried to improve the position of victims of discriminatory acts, firstly by introducing procedural law provisions advantageous to them and secondly by setting up special anti-racist bodies whose purposes include assisting victims of discrimination.

1. Specific procedural safeguards

12. The main procedural measure is to allow anti-racist voluntary organisations to help victims exercise their rights before the courts: this means that victims no longer act alone, but can rely on the know-how and motivation of non-governmental organisations entitled to represent them in court. Subject to the victim's consent, an organisation can even take part in civil court proceedings in his or her place.

13. A further means of improving the position of victims is to exempt them from proving that discrimination is racist. Normally, victims of direct discrimination are required, like all plaintiffs, to prove that the defendant acted on racial grounds, while victims of indirect discrimination have to prove that the disputed conditions are only ostensibly neutral because they are harder for one section of the population to meet. In both cases the burden of proof is a heavy one, which is why so few cases succeed before the courts. Although no European countries have so far reversed the burden of proof as a matter of principle, legislative work to that effect is under way4.

14. Lastly, the distinction in criminal law between offences subject to prosecution after a complaint and offences subject to automatic prosecution should not be underestimated. In most countries the offences of discrimination and spreading racial hatred are regarded as defamation in the same way as libel/slander or insults; they are consequently subject to prosecution only in response to a complaint. Yet most victims do not apply to a court, partly because they are afraid of having to bear the costs if their application is dismissed. Classifying these offences as subject to automatic prosecution, as a few countries have done, makes it easier to punish offenders and also adds to the seriousness of the offences: in many people's eyes, prosecution exclusively in response to a complaint means that the offence is of little importance. That being said, it must be borne in mind that classifying an offence as subject to automatic prosecution is not the only answer: it is important at the same time to bring home to the prosecuting authorities the need to take racist offences seriously.

2. Specialised bodies

15. A key factor in successfully eradicating racial discrimination is undoubtedly a state body specially designed for the purpose. Yet too few European countries have so far set up independent bodies of this kind. Where they exist, they differ widely from one country to another in terms of structure - involving either a commission or an official - and powers. In some countries the specialised body's primary task is to assist and advise victims of discrimination in seeking a negotiated settlement of the dispute, or even to take part in court proceedings together with the victim, if the latter so requests. In others, it is entitled to decide, either following a complaint or automatically, whether or not discrimination has taken place, and failure to comply with its rulings may be sanctioned by the courts. Elsewhere, it may adopt codes of conduct in particular areas of activity such as employment, housing, health and education.

16. Of course, specialised bodies also devote a great deal of energy to preventive action, advising the authorities on the legislative measures required, launching information, awareness and education campaigns and holding conferences and seminars - a comprehensive anti-racist effort whose importance is now fully recognised. They act as a tangible link with administrative authorities which are often remote from day-to-day realities and courts which act only once a complaint has been lodged.

17. A further task for these specialised bodies would be to start up a dialogue with Internet service providers to convince them of the need to co-operate in stamping out racist messages disseminated on the web; in particular, they would help identify illegal sites and discussion forums and point them out to service providers so that they could close them down or deny access to them. The Internet also heightens the importance of educating the public, especially young people: specialised bodies must prepare net surfers for possible encounters with racist messages, which includes teaching them the necessary critical approach.

IV. Conclusion

18. I shall conclude this introductory report by pointing out what seems to be the salient feature of current trends in anti-racist legislation: the emergence of a body of legislation specifically designed to counter racism and discrimination.

19. More and more countries are recognising that vague principles prohibiting discrimination are an ineffective weapon, and are establishing specific bodies of criminal or civil legislation. In other words, parliaments are realising that in attempting to counter the rise of racism it is in fact pointless to rely on general rules such as the prohibition of arbitrary treatment or discrimination in constitutional law and the banning of unjustified termination of contracts or the protection of personality rights in private law. Such rules afford redress for the occasional injury, but have proved unsuited to the pursuit of a real policy for eradicating racial discrimination. More seriously, a strategy which places fewer demands on parliament than on courts required to translate general principles into practical decisions can be interpreted as a sign of indifference to the problem. This should be avoided at all costs, since indifference is certainly one factor which foments racism.

20. One way of encouraging the emergence of this body of legislation is to adopt binding international treaties, which might mean revising the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination or drawing up a specifically European instrument; another is for international organisations to adopt model legislation, an expeditious method for pointing the way forward which should to be more widely used. Similarly, at national level, this body of legislation can be taken up effectively in codes of conduct covering different sectors (against discrimination in housing, in insurance questions or in the media, to cite a few examples); such “soft law”, coming from the sectors concerned, constitutes a flexible tool, suited to its purpose, which often gains greater acceptance than dictated legal standards.

Frank ORTON 

Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina 


Policies and practices to combat racism and related discrimination at sub-national and national level 


1. As the world in general, Europe has experienced increased migration, international mobility and globalisation. In addition armed conflicts, increased political, ethnic and religious intolerance and persecution, inside as well as outside Europe, have made people leave their environment and become asylum seekers and refugees in unfamiliar surroundings, not always welcoming them whole-heartedly. Economic recession and difficult material conditions have contributed not only to tension and resentment but also to racism and related discrimination. Social exclusion, a growing feature of contemporary society, has encouraged and nourished racism and such discrimination. It creates a form of hostility, with its attendant fears, which seeks out and focuses on particular scapegoats. Extremist political parties, which have always known how to feed on despair, have put forward simplistic authoritarian solutions which accentuate differences and trigger a wave of intolerance. Racism and intolerance derive, however, not just from frustration, destitution and discontent but also from deeply entrenched attitudes and ideologies, of which Europe has witnessed too much in the past not to be appalled by their survival and growing support in modern society.

Especially vulnerable or exposed groups

2. Some groups are especially vulnerable or exposed to the many forms that these phenomena take. The members of these groups, whether they be immigrants or of immigrant origin, resident foreign workers or undocumented persons, refugees or asylum seekers, Roma/Gypsies, Jews or Muslims, members of an indigenous people or of another kind of racial, ethnic or national minority within their country, are at risk of becoming, in one way or another, at one point or another, scapegoats to assuage the generalized sense of hostility in society. Some of them are not only exposed to such feelings, but are sometimes also the victims as hostility is translated into action. And some of them may suffer several disadvantages that are mutually reinforcing, such as women, children and elderly belonging to any of these especially exposed categories.

Policies, strategies

3. The development of comprehensive policies to combat racism and related discrimination and of medium and long-term preventive strategies based on non-legislative political, social, economic and cultural measures are crucial for curbing various forms of such intolerance and should, ideally, be an object for all institutions in society, whether they be public or private, small or big, old or new, mandated to deal with ethnic issues or not. The word "main-streaming" calls for attention and application. The costs of non-intervention is much too high for society in terms of economic resources and human suffering.

The Working Group should . . .

4. Working Group II "should examine what action can be taken to ensure that State and social institutions, such as components of the criminal justice system, (in particular judges, police, prosecutors and other law enforcement personnel), schools, the armed forces, housing or welfare agencies, etc, do not discriminate and address cultural and religious diversity. The same consideration should pertain also to non-State institutions, including trade unions and private employers, both national and trans/multinational." Questions to be asked include the following ones. How can tackling issues of racism be made a priority for such institutions? How can equality of opportunity be successfully promoted, particularly in recruitment procedures? What can be done to reflect, proportionately and at various levels, racial and ethnic diversity in public and private institutions at national and local level? How can greater political, social, economic and cultural participation by members of minority groups be encouraged? What policies in the social, cultural, economic, educational and judicial fields, for example, especially in urban areas, can help prevent any increase in racist phenomena? What role can political parties play in this respect and, more widely, in combating racism?

Six steps for every body

5. In society every institution, every body, every organization, every association, every union, could play a role in the urgent and important combat against racism and related discrimination. It would seem to be useful if a simple technique could be developed how that role could in principle and systematically best be played. In addition to examining and suggesting concrete examples of good policies and practices in the different fields and respects concerned (employment, housing, criminal justice system, etc, racist violence, hate speech, racist politics, etc, Roma/Gypsy issues, antisemitism, islamophobia, etc, everyday racism, etc, etc) the Working Group could try to develop such a recommendable technique or alternative techniques. An outline is presented in the following as a starting point for a discussion.

Identification, recognition

6. A first step to take for each involved institution seems to be to identify the problem. It is well-known that many an action is not undertaken by institutions, benevolent per se, because of the institutions' conviction of not being discriminatory or because of their ignorance about being perceived as such. The number of complaints could, for a number of reasons, not be solely relied on. Unrecorded cases of discrimination or perceived discrimination are, from experience, numerous. And even if an institution is really not discriminatory nor perceived as such, it ought, ideally, to reflect on possible measures to take action and develop relevant policies and practices to diminish racism and related discrimination elsewhere in society.

7. Identifying the problem might imply statistical studies as to the perceived outcome for vulnerable groups of the institution's activities. Such measures may, however, not always be available or sufficient, not the least given the diversity of the institutions involved. What other ways of identifying the problem may be recommendable?

Seriousness - priorities

8. A second step to take seems to be to evaluate the seriousness of identified discriminatory policies and practices or, for that matter, non-policies and non-practises. A frequent practice might call for more urgent action than an occasional one and a practice with grave consequences might call for more urgent action than a practice with milder or more easily endurable consequences. What forms could such evaluation reasonably and adequately take?

Mechanisms, reasons

9. A third step to take seems to be to describe the mechanisms of identified discrimination, real or perceived, as well as the reasons for it or the explanation behind its existence. Different reasons obviously call for different countermeasures. Are the reasons of an ideological nature, economically motivated, due to ignorance, just accidental, due to fear or reluctance or unfamiliarity in relation to the victims, or simply due to unfortunate circumstances or what? Could a comprehensive and useful catalogue of possible reasons be provided as an aid for involved institutions?


10. A fourth step to take seems to be to investigate what suitable countermeasures are available. Have similar institutions already addressed the problem? Within the country or abroad? Which lessons could be learnt from their experiences? What good practices are available? It seems as if "good practices", successful "pilot projects", useful "first studies" and the like are numerous but not at all used or implemented to the extent that they deserve. How could good practices in a broad sense be made more well-known and accessible?


11. A fifth step to take seems to be the implementation of relevant countermeasures, i e policies and practices. It is, of course, crucial that an analysis as the one now described does not stay at the desk of some official or in a nice policy folder in some drawer or in some nice office book-shelf far from reality, but instead results in activities actually beneficial for the persons exposed to the identified intolerance. This calls for mobilization and motivation promoting measures for all personnel involved. How could such measures best be pursued?

12. It further seems that implementation would be usefully promoted if a lot of attention was paid to setting up measurable goals with checking dates, fixed from the start. The usefulness of a policy or a practice could thereby be judged and other measures could be called for if necessary. Measuring in this area is, however, not always easy. How can that be facilitated? Which means are available?


13. A sixth step to take would naturally be the follow-up. It goes without saying that this is a crucial and most important step, probably the most crucial and important one. Is it likely that efficiency and success of a policy or a practice would be promoted by being transparent and open to evaluation by any interested party? It is clear that the follow-up could be checked by a superior body as well as by the institution itself. But a transparent policy or practice could also be usefully checked by engaged NGOs. An additional possibility is checking by independent national statutory bodies with a human rights mandate, either specialized to combat racism and related discrimination or with a mandate to promote and protect human rights in general, combating racism and related discrimination, however, clearly included.

National human rights institutions, specialized bodies

14. Recognizing the necessity of according the highest priority to measures aiming at the full implementation of legislation and policies intended to combat racism and related intolerance and bearing in mind that the effectiveness of such a strategy depends on raising the awareness of, informing and educating the public, as well as on promoting and protecting the rights of individuals belonging to minority groups, many European countries have set up bodies to combat racism and related intolerance at national level. Their form may vary according to individual countries' circumstances and they may have a broad human rights mandate or be more specialized in combating racism and related intolerance, but they should preferably be designed and function in accordance with certain internationally accepted minimum standards.

15. The most widespread and recognized set of such minimum standards are the so called "Paris Principles", originally adopted by the first International Workshop on National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, held in Paris from 7 to 9 October 1991 under the auspices of the then UN Centre for Human Rights, and later endorsed by the UN Commission on Human Rights (Res. 1992/54 of 3 March 1992, annex) and the UN General Assembly (Res. 48/134 of 20 December 1993, annex). Such minimum standards include having terms of reference clearly set out by statute, being allocated sufficient resources to carry out their functions and responsibilities effectively, operating without state interference and with all the safeguards necessary for their independence and being readily accessible to those whose rights they are intended to protect and promote.

16. Such national institutions may have a whole range of functions and responsibilities, such as offering opinions and advice to government bodies, contributing to training programmes for certain target groups, making the general public more aware of human rights issues, racial discrimination included, and aiding and assisting victims, including through the provision of legal assistance to enable them to enforce their rights in the courts and in other institutions. They may hear complaints and applications relating to individual cases and seek settlement, either by mutual agreement or, within the limits prescribed in law, legally binding decisions.

17. How may such already existing institutions be further developed? How may establishing of such institutions, where they are not yet, be best promoted?

Final remark

18. In contemporary mass-media society it seems more and more common to concentrate on being seen as taking action rather than actually taking action, on being seen as attending to a problem rather than actually seeing to its elimination, on getting coverage rather than results for those in need. Combating racism and related discrimination, not taking these tendencies into account, will inevitably fail.


Civil rights lawyer 


Education and awareness-raising to combat racism, related discrimination and extremism at sub-national, national, regional and international levels 

History and vulnerable groups

1. History produced diversity and proved that diversity is the norm. In return, diversity produced vulnerable groups by stimulating intolerance of those who were or felt they were different from others.

2. Former and current ethnic, religious and cultural minorities have been the result of movements of population through centuries. In Europe, due to expansionist movements, military and religious wars and/or trade relationships, traditional minorities live in the large majority of states. They are ethnic groups who, though present on those territories for centuries, have preserved languages, habits, ways of life different from those practiced by other ethnic groups who - at one moment in history - became the formal majority as a result of the formation of states. The status of being "different" has followed either from the will of the minorities or from the imposed will of the majorities.

3. Many contemporary vulnerable groups are the result of voluntary migration caused by globalisation and of involuntary migration caused mainly by colonisation. After the Second World War, Europe experienced many movements of population caused by ideological and/or economic grounds. Some groups returned from colonies or ex-colonies to the "mother country" and some others moved to the industrialised countries which were willing to recruit them as a labour force. In the seventies, the rate of unemployment increased due to the economic crisis, and the most affected were the foreign immigrants who, to a large extent, were doing manual and unskilled work. Moreover, foreign workers were seen by the host majority of the industrialised states as a danger to their jobs, and the initial friendly reception turned into suspicion and rejection. Nevertheless, for the last two decades, Europe has become a receiver of new migratory groups coming mainly from the "Third World" countries characterised by weak economies and unstable political regimes.

4. Following these old and new movements of population, immigrants, foreign workers, non-native races, non-nationals, the uneducated and poor became vulnerable groups, exposed to xenophobia, discrimination, racism and other related forms of intolerance. In addition, women risk gender discrimination even where they are nationals. Intolerance covers also individuals whose sexual orientation is different from that of the majority. Children are also at risk due to their high vulnerability. In short, all those who, in any way, are different from the majority population at the place where they live are exposed to all the various forms of contemporary racism.

Contemporary forms of racism

5. People, characterised to a large extent by self-centeredness, are racist when they feel, even if unconsciously, more important than others, and therefore set up divisions. While the group to which the subject belongs is labelled with positive values, there is a high risk that the other groups are labelled with negative values to justify the feeling of being different. One author stated: "It is racism which is natural and not anti-racism. The latter can only be a conquest, the result of a long difficult struggle based on knowledge and education, and always threatened like every cultural gain."1 Jeunesse et Reconstruction, La Brouette, "Non au racisme", August 1984, in Towards Equality, CSV Media. Even if this statement can be challenged, it is undeniable that education is needed to prevent the artificial human divisions which originate in the innate sense of self-centeredness.

6. To a certain extent, contemporary racism is more subtle than the old forms of racism, and it is grounded on cultural exclusion aimed at legitimating cultural self-defence. Rejection of others' culture relies on the feeling that the rejecters' culture is the only right and good one and consequently, the others' cultures are not. People accumulate from an early age (at play, in school, at home) stereotypes and prejudices which simplify the reality to "we are like this" and "they are like that" often even without knowing the groups labelled negatively.

7. When they have the power to practice discrimination, groups or people who feel superior move to racism. The classical example is that of a majority which, based on the number criteria, exercises power over minorities. Antisemitism, still present in our society and therefore a constant danger, proved during the Second World War that when the political power takes discrimination as an objective the result could go as far as mass killing or genocide.

8. In the political arena, discourse promoting xenophobia and intolerance, and the extreme parties which have been advocating exclusion of foreigners, bans on immigration, second hand status for ethnic minorities, etc, have posed the risk of giving legitimacy to discriminatory practices. Although extreme ideologies have produced human disasters in the contemporary world, they are still present in many societies, proving that a segment of the population sees the extreme ideology as voicing their beliefs and wishes built on prejudices, stereotypes and intolerance. Adepts of such extreme ideologies have to be told that this is equal to supporting the ethnic genocide of Jews and Roma during the Nazi regime or other killings done in the name of preserving an ethnicity, a religion or a culture.

9. Where intolerance is promoted by the political power it may easily lead to ethnic cleansing which could even be a political goal in itself. We have all witnessed in some parts of the former Yugoslavia discrimination practised at both institutional and individual level, mass killings and forced migration, and we continue to witness strong intolerance and ethnic hate between ethnic groups living on one territory.

10. According to the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden, 86 armed conflicts which took place between 1989 and 1994 in the world were based on territorial and political issues within the countries as well as on ethnic, nationalist and religious grounds.

Everyday racism

11. A variety of daily acts of life prove intolerance against groups or individuals who are different. For instance, skin colour other than white, Roma ethnicity, foreign nationality, homosexuality or HIV syndrome cause in all our societies a constant marginalisation and isolation of those belonging to such groups. In addition to being subject to a permanent passive racism, such as being avoided or forgotten, those in any way different from the majority are seen and treated as if they are problems for the majority. They are defined through stereotypes as uncivilized, lazy, dirty, stupid, unskilled, not normal etc, are humiliated and found guilty of being different.

12. Racism may vary today from individual overt acts, such as verbal abuse, physical violence, murder or destruction of property to institutional covert acts taking place in education (segregated or special schools), work (discrimination in employment, social security benefits, promotion), housing (forced or left to live in unhealthy conditions or environment), entertainment (access denied to restaurants, discos, theatres), media (lack of access to media or of possibility to respond to discriminatory reporting) and political life, where access is narrow if not denied. Institutional racism may also be overt and violent, such as ethnic cleansing enforced through violence, killings, deportation or forced migration. What is happening or has happened in many areas of the former Yugoslavia proves that both individual and institutional everyday racism may easily lead to the denial of all rights of members of the minorities and to mass killings, all argued under the unacceptable notion of ethnic cleansing.

13. School, teaching and text books promote to a large extent stereotypes which are the origin of the racism expressed and enforced daily in real life. Besides failing to present the history and culture of many ethnic minorities, teachers and text books tend to transform patriotism into preaching about the majority's history and culture which is seen as the best and the only one worth knowing. This is how discriminatory attitudes might even be seen as justified and "normal".

14. Media, whose role in dissemination of information and education of the public is crucial in our societies, may also be reproached for practising hidden or overt everyday racism, from omission of disseminating positive information about vulnerable groups to disseminating information which places the members of such groups in positions different or opposed to those of the majority.

Role of youth, memory and prevention

15. The omnipresence of memory made possible the adoption of international human rights law after the Second World War. However, the recovery or preservation of memory in people's everyday life, in particular of such dramatic pages as slavery, colonialism and the Holocaust, goes beyond laws and requires new and endless efforts for every generation.

16. People who forget or ignore the distant or recent racist past in Europe close their eyes to the existence of mountains of corpses. Others shelter behind the philosophical alternative between collective guilt and collective innocence, and avoid facing the real and assessable guilt. Those who want to forget or ignore a "wrong" past have created escape gates. Other people simply do not know the dramatic history of Europe and unconsciously ignore one's moral duty to ask and search for the truth. Any such lapse of memory, independent of its cause, is an active or passive contribution to neo-nazism and other intolerant and extreme ideologies which we face nowadays.

17. Although skinhead and other neo-nazi groups target young people in particular, it is the youth who count in terms of preservation of memory. Every new generation must, from an early age, carry the memory of the history which produced racist crimes, to be able to prevent and fight any similar event.

18. Education is the crucial tool to keep memory of dramatic history actively alive. The power of knowledge is irreplaceable. In this context, education is an extensive, complex and endless process which engages school, family, groups of friends, media, all forms of entertainment and sources of information, society as a whole and each individual. Both the state and civil society are under the duty to keep alive the memory of racist crimes and support the fight against all forms of intolerance, from the hidden or passive ones to the overt and violent ethnic cleansing we face today.

Human rights education

19. Education is at the core of all efforts aimed at creating a society free from racism and intolerance. Human rights education gives people the capacity to recognise injustice, racism, stereotypes and inequalities and give them the reason actively to react to both individual and large-scale violations. For this legitimate reason, education must not be neutral. It must promote the positive values of humankind, the benefits of diversity as well as the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to defend and enforce these values.

20. Although its unique leading role in changing people's attitudes and practices is universally acknowledged, education and in particular human rights education is not given priority in studying and training curricula or in terms of funding. A survey of the human rights education and training in member States was published by the Council of Europe in June 1999 proving that States' interest and initiative in human rights education is weak while the contribution of the non-governmental sector is quite large2 Directorate of Human Rights, Human Rights Awareness, H(99)6.. State involvement is essential and must be co-ordinated with the activities of non-governmental organisations.

21. Education and public awareness campaigns need to be addressed to both the majorities and the minorities, including the vulnerable groups. Majorities must understand that exceeding others by number within a territory is only a factual circumstance which does not justify a different treatment of those in a smaller number. Through education, minorities must cease to feel and react as second-class citizens. In addition, minorities have to be given the opportunity to study their own history, traditions and habits as well as those of other minorities. All vulnerable groups must be taught the tools to stand up for their equality and for the special needs aimed at reaching equality.

22. In order to shorten the way to equality in diversity, the main targets of human rights education are governments. Governments may not be expected to fulfil their duties in this area if persons responsible for government, in their individual and collective capacities, are not aware of the dimensions and dangers of today's racism and are not well-equipped with the technique to fight it. In addition, for saving time and effort, governments must look to the non-state actors whose experience places them in a clearly advanced position in terms of research, application and evaluation of the various possible strategies. Both states and non-state actors must find the common and complementary ways to fight racism. Issues such as national curricula in schools, teaching of human rights, training of professional groups and nationwide human rights awareness campaigns are only examples of areas where states must be financially implicated and cooperate closely with non-state institutions.

23. The dangers of today's spread of racism calls for governments publicly to declare human rights, and in particular anti-racist, education as national objectives. If we continue to leave the task of human rights education in the hands of the non-state institutions which do not have decision-making powers and whose funds are limited, governments risk contributing to the spread of racism. If we continue to adopt purely declarative attitudes or stay neutral or passive, governmental institutions will face the guilt of complicity towards intolerance and racially-motivated exclusions and crimes.

24. In general terms, human rights education and campaigns should consider, along with a permanent in-school education, methods aimed at helping people go beyond prejudices and stereotypes, make positive evaluations of differences, highlight the similarities between groups which see each other differently, generate capacity to recognise inequality, injustice and racism, and give people the tools to fight all forms of intolerance. Internet, for instance, is a major tool to be used for creating education and campaigning networks reaching worldwide. Substantial efforts were made by the Council of Europe and by many non-governmental domestic or international organisations to design strategies and elaborate educational packages capable of answering today's need for human rights education in and out of school. The wheel must not be reinvented but used and developed. How states and civil society will meet and decide the best strategies and policies is only a matter of willingness.

Training of key professional groups/Codes of conduct

25. Race-oriented training can be expected to play a significant role in addressing all forms of intolerance if only it becomes part of agencies' overall strategy and it is planned and executed at the organisations' level, under circumstances equal to other job-oriented training.

26. Political neutrality would be another requirement of anti-racist training of professionals. Training must not be changed into an arena for political campaigning or bargaining.

27. Training could first focus on the key personnel most frequently in contact with ethnic minorities or with other vulnerable groups. However, such training must gradually cover all professionals and in particular all civil servants who, at any time, may enter into contact with individuals belonging to vulnerable groups and also as part of the public awareness campaigns.

28. It is essential that training first promote awareness of prejudices and stereotypes, knowledge of how discrimination is dealt with by law, short and long-term destructive effects of racism for minorities or other vulnerable groups as well as for the majority, including the danger of violent conflicts. Use of concrete examples is essential for giving the "life" input to the training. Personal attitudes must be addressed to secure the support of individuals and further the personal initiative which changes the trainees into change agents. Small group discussions located in the workplace are suggested. Privacy would stimulate free intellectual reflection and the location would signal that race training is a serious component of the organisation's policy. Coordination with other existing training and developing strategies of the organisation could be helpful to avoid the labelling of anti-racist training as an isolated activity somehow imposed from the outside. Such an obstacle could be removed if race-oriented training is integrated within the general training curricula. However, one needs to ensure that the anti-racist component is not minimalised and it is given sufficient prominence.

29. The efficiency of anti-racist training would significantly increase where its goals are provided by organisations' codes of conduct or of professional ethics. This would be a clear signal that anti-racism is part of the organisation's general policy, and it would allow systematic monitoring and enforcement of training and disciplinary policies.

30. A national race training centre could be another example of good practice. It would signal to all members of society and all institutions the importance of and the weight given to race issues; ensure coordination of trainers; help disseminate training techniques; evaluate and advise on the good and bad methods; promote cross-professional training; evaluate the results; and develop long-term strategies. If set up by the state, co-ordination with non-governmental organisations would be crucial.

School and other formal education

31. Anti-racist education has to start from efforts to ensure access to education for all minorities and members of disadvantaged groups. Irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, culture or disability, all learners have an equal right to study and achieve their full potential. Education must also meet the special needs of some minorities, such as Roma, whose level of illiteracy is high. Languages of minorities, which play an essential role in preserving identities and cultures, should be valued in school. It is part of access to education that children keep the home language when entering school as well as develop the main language to be able to overcome linguistic obstacles in instruction and employment.

32. Another crucial element for our discussion is curricula. Human rights education and its anti-racist component remain in many states an optional subject in schools and it depends largely on teachers' human rights knowledge, beliefs and goodwill. It is urgent that anti-racist education be included in school curricula with a mandatory status. Although teaching methods may vary depending on the age of the learners3 Specific teaching techniques for different school levels or for group education are provided by various publications of the Council of Europe, such as "All Different All Equal - Education Pack", Youth Directorate, 1995; "All Different All Equal - Domino", European Youth Center, 1996; Human Rights Education Activities of the Council of Europe, report, H (94) 6, etc., all techniques must prove that diversity is an enrichment and not a "wrong", develop the intellectual skills which allow and stimulate identification of stereotypes, prejudices, bias and discrimination and the social skills for accepting difference and sharing with those who are different, taking responsibilities, finding peaceful solutions to conflicts and, beyond all, acting as agents for change.

33. In addition, other disciplines should address anti-racist issues as well. It is crucial that majorities learn the cultural and scientific contribution of minorities. Teaching of history, biology, geography, social studies, religion, literature or current affairs gives the opportunity to affirm the existence of only one human race and to discuss issues related to intolerance, its disastrous consequences and the attitude and actions to fight it.

34. Text books and syllabuses should be revised to reflect diversity and encourage a consciously tolerant and sharing attitude. Racist, gender, sexual or other stereotypes used from language learning to illustrating historical events or to characterise other countries' contributions to history should be eliminated. History teaching has probably been the main challenge of modern societies in terms of learning and welcoming (or not) diversity. National and nationalist history, patriotism, history of minorities living on the same territory, labels of other countries interactions with one's country, single and different interpretations of the same historical sources and events, country and regional history are only some of the issues to be addressed and answered to promote tolerance, social justice and peace-oriented attitudes and actions4 For trends and challenges in history teaching in Europe, see "Lessons in history - The Council of Europe and the teaching of history", Council of Europe Publishing, April 1999..

35. Educational strategies should consider the partnership between schools, parents and civil organisations for developing a shared approach to diversity's values and the techniques for an active pro-tolerance education. Both in and out of school activities should be equally considered when drafting the pro-human rights and anti-racist curricula. Education policies should also include training of teachers and all educators to ensure that the anti-racist message is properly delivered. Co-operation with non- governmental organisations which have already developed training strategies and experimental events is again essential for avoiding a waste of funds and time and duplication of effort.

Challenges ahead

36. Moving from multicultural societies to intercultural societies where minorities are not only passively tolerated but also valued and where open interaction, exchange and recognition become ways of life is one of this century's challenges in all areas including education. Although today's intolerance and racism is still to be fought, the approach of intercultural societies should also be addressed through education, media and all forms of communication and public awareness.

37. An important challenge is a rapid and one-voice reaction of all state and non-state actors against any public racist attitude, discourse or action. The paradox of tolerance - the risk of allowing intolerance to spread and gradually destroy tolerance in the name of prohibiting content-based restrictions generated by tolerance - suggests that tolerating intolerant attitudes and discourse could be a very costly mistake, including in human lives. Old and new forms of racism and its catastrophic consequences must be constantly and publicly addressed as part of an on-going public awareness campaign against intolerance.

Konstanty GEBERT 

Editor-in-chief, Midrasz monthly 


Information, communication and the media 


1. World War II, through the Shoah, the genocide of other ethnic groups and the redrawing of the borders of Germany and Poland, had massively created ethnic and national homogenization of many previously mixed European territories. Since then the process has been reversed, as mass economic migration and the flight of political refugees changed the ethnic make-up of Western Europe (while the situation in the East, with the exception of the former USSR, remained in this respect rather static). At the same time the deepening of democracy, through decentralization of the State and a climate favorable to the reemergence of previously repressed minorities, created in Europe a cornucopia of new, or renewed separate identities.

2. This second process, also originally limited to the Western part of the continent has, with the collapse of communism, spread Eastwards over the last decade. One can also now see the first indications of economic migration by non-Europeans to Eastern Europe, seen either as second-best solution after the migrants rejection in the West, or indeed as a desirable area of residence, compared to the migrants’ country of origin. One way of the other, Europe is becoming more multi-national than before. This phenomenon seems quite irreversible and, in the opinion of many, desirable. It is therefore crucial for European societies to be able to adapt to it. In this process, media can play a crucial role, be it negative or positive.

Media and intolerance

3. From the onset of the information age the media have often defined attitudes towards ethnic, national, religious or social groups different from that identified as the particular media outlet’s audience. Indeed, media often sought to become the spokesmen of a particular group, and to define its attitude toward all and any others. This helped spread nationalism, antisemitism, racism and xenophobia, as best exemplified by the spectacular and deadly success of the Nazi propaganda machine. This type of media activity is by no means a thing of the past only, as recent events in the Balkans prove only too well.

4. On the other hand, some media, admittedly less influential, helped spread positive attitudes towards others. For ideological reasons, this course of action was adopted at different moments by part of the Socialist, Christian or Liberal media. It was the market, however, which proved to be the most effective instrument of enforcing a more tolerant media attitude. As media became more consolidated and reached out to larger audiences, many of the hitherto reviled or simply distrusted others became in fact valued customers, readers, listeners, viewers. This was effective in eliminating some forms of racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, though it also might have strengthened other ones – as, for example, when citizens differing in nationality, ethnicity or creed united against the “invasion” of non-citizens.

5. The State only belatedly saw fit to intervene against antisemitism, racism and xenophobia in the media. Attempts to regulate this area occurred at the same time as censorship was finally and quite rightly eliminated. And though, as a US Supreme Court Justice had famously said “the right to free speech does not entail the right to yell: “Fire!” in a crowded theatre”; the contradiction between repressing hate speech and promoting free speech remains. The dilemma cannot be solved once and for all; rather one can expect the borderline between what is, and what is not, acceptable to be in perpetual motion, depending on the circumstances of the day.

Vulnerable groups

6. It is clear, then, that regardless of circumstances, some groups will remain more vulnerable than others to hostility, including that expressed in the media. These will be, first of all, groups which have been marginalized in society and therefore cannot expect much media interest as customers or civic solidarity as citizens. These include minorities, new immigrants, non-citizens, representatives of non-native races or religions, especially the uneducated and poor. In contemporary Europe a list of such groups would include the Roma, in some societies - Muslims, and in many European Union (EU) countries, immigrants from outside the EU.

7. It is important to note that groups at risk are usually quite deprived of media access, both in terms of having a vibrant media of their own, and of adequate participation of either their representatives or of journalists not from their group but knowledgeable about their issues in mainstream media on the one hand, and in terms of being a group which is, as customers, of interest to the media, on the other. This double exclusion makes coverage of issues of importance to them scant, haphazard and often uninformed, while correction or retraction becomes problematic.

8. This happens even under circumstances of no deliberate ill will or bias. However, apart from the above mechanism of unintentional neglect and/or abuse, there exists a widespread media scene in which certain groups are singled out for hate propaganda, grounded in more or less ambiguous ideological or political considerations. Protected by constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, xenophobic, antisemitic, and racist media intensify the neglect effect of the mainstream media, and tend to validate themselves by pointing to that neglect. This unintentional alliance creates a situation of extreme danger to vulnerable groups.

9. The mechanism can well be described by the example of the Muslims. The term “Muslim” appears in mainstream media often in connection with violence and intolerance perpetrated by fanatics who call themselves, or are being called, Muslim. The message then seems to be “the Muslims we write about commit crimes”. It is transformed into “Muslims are criminals” in the extremist press, and readers of that press see in mainstream reporting a vindication of this opinion.

10. Though in most of contemporary Europe Jews are, as a rule, no more a politically or socially marginalized or threatened group, they remain vulnerable to antisemitism. Though antisemitism has been delegitimised in post-World War II public discourse in democratic European states, it still persists in anti-democratic rhetoric, fuelled by nationalist, political or religious concerns. This can be seen both in extremist publications, and in some mainstream ones, where the language of antisemitism has changed and become coded, though it still aims at the collective stigmatisation of Jews. As often as not, the Jews are taken to represent groups, ideas or trends the authors of such statements reject, from “reactionary nationalism” to “revolutionary subversion”. This evolution of a coded language of hatred is important, as it will probably affect other vulnerable groups, once outright discriminatory and offensive language becomes delegitimised.

Contemporary forms of racism

11. World War II and its aftermath have quite substantially discredited and delegitimised the overt language of racism among mainstream media. Subsequent events such as decolonisation and the concomitant increased sensitivity to issues of race, as well as the rise of political correctness have only solidified that change. It is today extremely unlikely to find the category of race being used as a descriptive or causal factor in analysing and interpreting human behavior. This language, however, is alive and well in the extremist press, where it gains among some of the younger readers a certain credibility, as they see it as a repressed form of expression. Both these processes can best be observed in media in the Eastern part of the continent, where the process of delegitimising racism is more recent and therefore less advanced than in the West, while the unwillingness to repress it, due to increased sensitivity to different forms of political repression of freedom of speech is possibly greater.

12. A coded language of racism sometimes replaces the overt form, however. Attacks on “occult forces” which foster a “globalism” detrimental to “the national spirit” are reminiscent of antisemitic propaganda and are often perceived as such, even if their authors often deny this was their intention. In a similar vein, attacks on foreigners are often couched in a seemingly racism-free language of respect for the law and concern for taxpayers money. In both cases it has to be stressed, however, that just because such language can be perceived as coded racism, it can also be in fact what it purports to be and should not be delegitimised as such.

13. Indeed, the issue of legitimacy seems to be at the heart of the debate. The moral shock created by World War II, enhanced by education for tolerance, had denied legitimacy to antisemitic and racist positions. Those who endorsed such positions were more or less effectively marginalised and silenced, and the post-War generation seemed genuinely anti-racist. But, with the growth of immigration, racism returned with a vengeance, and the racist constituency became tempting to politicians and to media. With the accession to power of extreme-right parties in several Council of Europe countries or their regions, extreme-right discourse has become substantially relegitimised, and therefore receives media representation bigger than before.

14. And since media representation indicates legitimacy, it tends to strengthen the very opinions it describes, even if critically. In the coverage of racism a vicious circle seems to have replaced the previous virtuous one. This obviously poses a major paradox: should the media, in the name of the liberal values they should uphold, air and therefore spread illiberal opinions and positions? The fundamental answer to that question is clearly yes, for the cost of internal censorship is unacceptable. Still, media should be attentive to the intricate trade-off which occurs when covering racism.

Everyday racism

15. Media coverage and media policy often contribute to a racist vision of social reality. The degree to which this is due to racist motivation among media personnel is difficult to assess, but the suppression of positive information about a group targeted by racists, or the stressing of negative information about them, clearly indicates an at least unconscious attitude of hostility. The following examples, all from mainstream media in one or another of the Council of Europe’s member States, indicate the scale of the problem.

- When a natural disaster hit, the substantial contribution to disaster relief made by a local immigrant community was almost completely passed over in media coverage.

- Police routinely release data on the nationality of suspects arrested – but only if these suspects belong to a specific national minority group. When this practice was condemned by an international participant at a seminar on improving media coverage of that group, all mainstream journalists present protested vigorously, stating that the elimination of the mention of nationality would be tantamount to censorship.

- When a minority member, drunk when driving, caused an accident in which a majority member was killed, the leadership of the minority community voluntarily paid compensation to the victim’s family. Mainstream media applauded that act, as if unaware that it implies collective responsibility.

- Several countries have sizeable minorities of economic migrants from neighbouring, poorer countries. Media coverage of that minority concentrates on crime and disruptive behavior, and by far overshadows media coverage of the country of origin. Thus the criminal segment of the migrant community is seen as representing the entire nation. Interestingly enough, one country which has both economic migrants from one neighboring country on its territory, and sends its own migrants into the territory of another neighbour, bitterly complains about this practice when it affects its nationals, but does nothing to change the negative image it promotes of migrants on its own soil.

- A TV program in the language of its largest minority group (2.5% of the population) is broadcast once a week at seemingly randomly shifting hours, making it impossible for viewers to plan on watching it regularly.

- Right-wing mainstream media routinely designate liberal media in a country as being not “national” but “of the national language” only, implying that their editors are not of the ethnic majority, and therefore not trustworthy.

22. Such examples abound, to a smaller or lesser degree, in many Council of Europe member States. Each of them is pernicious per se, but together they create a climate in which racism is, if not outright accepted, then at least seen to be an unavoidable part of the social picture. This perception serves then to banalize racism, and, in the long run, to make it acceptable. Given the fact that racism is on the rise in much of Europe, media complacency to its manifestations in the media itself seems to be quite worrying.

Role of youth, memory and prevention

23. It goes beyond saying that, in determining the impact racism will have on European societies, the youth are the single most important group. Though the enthusiastic support they have shown for anti-racist actions seems to indicate their general outlook, one needs to remember that skinhead and racist movements also target young people, at times with worrying success. Socio-economic factors play a considerable role, the correlation between youth unemployment and support for extremist movements being well-known. Education remains a crucial factor, it itself being a composite process involving schools, the family, the media and other sources of information. Here, the way memory is being preserved and presented is fundamental. This is especially true of the preservation of memory of racist crimes.

24. A number of Council of Europe member States have laws on their books which make Holocaust denial a crime. The media are one of the instruments through which this crime can be perpetuated, and its punishment is thus not possible without some curtailment of media freedom. Due to this, free speech activists may take the defense of Holocaust deniers, further confusing an issue which already is unclear to some. What is more, putting the onus of reacting to Holocaust denial on institutions of the State makes civil society free not to react. For educational purposes, it would seem that a boycott of Holocaust deniers, their writing, publications which carry them and retailers which sell them might be a more effective way of combating Holocaust denial than penal procedures.

26. The burden of maintaining the memory of racist crimes falls to a substantial degree on the media. The Stockholm summit on commemorating the Holocaust pointed that out. Media should refuse access to Holocaust deniers, and consciously engage in maintaining an awareness of the history and uniqueness of that crime. They should also, as they have not always done, expose other attempts to falsify the historical record. Each community which has suffered oppression, mass murder or genocide – Jews, Roma, Armenians and Ukrainians, to name but some – should be free to remember and commemorate it as it sees fit, even if this provokes political controversy.

27. While protecting historical memory, media should not amalgamate different genocides and massacres, nor should they forget that often the putative perpetrators also deserve to present their side of the story. On the other hand, the commemoration of one particular genocide – that of the Roma at the hands of the Nazis – is of special importance, as the Roma themselves have not a sufficient media capacity to undertake that mission.

28. Prevention is best served by pointing out the consequences of its lack. The story of the wars of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, in which the spread of racism not only was not thwarted, but indeed supported by most of the parties and their media as an instrument of furthering their goals is graphic proof of that. Media in that part of the continent still engage, however, in racist propaganda. This should be unambiguously denounced and, when possible, prosecuted. It is to be hoped that the Hague tribunal will consider incitement to ethnic hatred as a war crime and act accordingly.

29. Education of journalists remains one of the most important instruments of prevention. One should, however, avoid the pitfalls of paternalism, sometimes seen in the “know-all” attitude of Western journalists when training their Eastern colleagues. Racism is a common threat, and the entire continent is at risk. Training to identify, resist and combat it should be a two-way street.

New technologies

30. Probably no new information technology since Gutenberg had changed the world as much as the Internet. As any other technology, it can be used for all purposes, including the spreading of racism, xenophobia and antisemitism – and indeed it is. Legal action against providers of hate over the net is difficult, however, both due to the fact that the net itself has a diffuse supranational structure and jurisdiction is often unclear, and to the specific information anarchy which reins on the web. As opposed to what obtains in a media outlet, a library, a bookstore, a news stand or a publishing house, nobody is responsible for selecting information which is or is not available on the web. Therefore unsuspecting consumers can be fed totally false or misleading data. The awareness of the unreliability of the web will develop over time among its users. In the meantime, it is certainly one of the most dangerous sources of dissemination of hatred. While all legal means should be use against such sites and providers, it probably has to be accepted that the net will remain anarchic and uncontrollable.

Role of types of media

31. The potential for the dissemination of racism – but also for mobilizing against it – is greatest with TV, the “hottest” medium. There the impact of a careless expression or image, let alone one which is intentionally racist, is greatest, and the effectiveness of possible subsequent retractions or corrections least. In TV stories the event is crucial, while when covering issues of racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, one realizes that the event is but a symptom of a complex process. Given this inherent contradiction, it is crucial for TV journalists to be especially well trained in avoiding collateral damage when covering issues of racism. One must take care, however, not to create a situation in which these issues will be perceived as too dangerous to handle and therefore avoided. On the other hand TV, by promoting positive examples of resistance to racism, of multi-ethnic cooperation and tolerance, can be crucial in promoting more desirable role models.

32. The broadcast media are especially important for minority groups. It is often virtually impossible to create print media in their language, as the cost/effectiveness ration is negative. Furthermore, especially among immigrant communities, the degree of illiteracy often hinders newspaper readership. Programs broadcast by radio and especially TV break down isolation, teach skills necessary for functioning in society at large, enable a degree of preservation and creativity in respect to the minority culture, and promote positive role models. It can be said that a pluralistic broadcast media, with a clear program and editorial goals, is in the long run the best answer to the anarchy of the net.

33. The print media will, in the foreseeable future, remain the main forum of intelligent and informed debate. In this sense, they will shape the positions that the more enlightened parts of society will adopt in respect to racism.

Best practices

34. Political declarations, even as unambiguously worded as Recommendations No. R (97) 20 and No. R (97) 21 adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, on “Hate Speech” and “Media and the Promotion of a Culture of Tolerance” respectively, seem not to have a major direct impact on practice in member States. This practice is determined by political events, such as fear of excessive immigration, or simply by the degree of the different authorities’ willingness to be proactive in combating xenophobia, antisemitism and racism. This willingness may differ from country to country. In a striking example, the State newspaper distribution network in one member State has to-date refused to discontinue carrying overtly antisemitic publications, citing the need to avoid censorship. Yet the same network had earlier refused to carry a publication of the local gay and lesbian movement.

35. But there is no shortage of positive examples. In respect to journalist training, NGO programs run in the Balkans by, for example, the US-based Council on Ethnic Relations, or the UK-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, come to mind, as well as the “At Home” program run by local Polish State TV. This year’s International Federation of Journalists’ prizes went to articles and programmes which both document racism and show ways of overcoming it.

36. Though publications in mainstream media make the biggest immediate impact, it can be argued that smaller publications, which combine journalism and activism, are in the long run more effective in initiating and enhancing attitude change. In Italy an intellectual monthly “Una citta” [“A City”] dedicates part of each issue to problems of minorities and migrants, incorporating them in a wider range of social issues. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Union of Refugees publishes “Povratak” [“Return”] which compares the return of refugees from and to different ethnic communities. In Poland “Jidele”, a Jewish youth magazine, and “Polis” a young journalists publication, have for years engaged in practical dialogue.

Challenges ahead

37. The main challenges are to, and they remain the same over the years: how to identify and resist racism in all its new avatars, and how to combat it without subverting the right to free speech, a fundament of liberal society. No general solutions can be proposed, as this is strictly a trial-and-error process. It is the opinion of this author that in the long run, it is probably safer for everyone to live in a society in which racism is ostracized rather than penalized.





1 Jeunesse et Reconstruction, La Brouette, "Non au racisme", August 1984, in Towards Equality, CSV Media.

2 Directorate of Human Rights, Human Rights Awareness, H(99)6.

3 Specific teaching techniques for different school levels or for group education are provided by various publications of the Council of Europe, such as "All Different All Equal - Education Pack", Youth Directorate, 1995; "All Different All Equal - Domino", European Youth Center, 1996; Human Rights Education Activities of the Council of Europe, report, H (94) 6, etc.

4 For trends and challenges in history teaching in Europe, see "Lessons in history - The Council of Europe and the teaching of history", Council of Europe Publishing, April 1999.