George Floyd: how Europe is protesting

Since George Floyd's death people have also been taking to the streets in many European countries. The rallies not only express solidarity with the protests in the US, but are also directed against structural racism at home. Commentators take differing views of the demonstrations.

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Le Soir (BE) /

Anger finally shared

Just because the demonstrators evoke topics such as slavery, colonialism and the north-south divide on their banners this doesn't mean that the protests lack focus, Le Soir argues:

“The young protesters are combining everything, and rightly so: slavery, which created the basis for American prosperity; colonisation, which accelerated the rise of the European powers; the persistent imbalance in the north-south relationship which is fueling the quest for a better life and migration flows. The banners waving in front of the courthouse evoke all of this: rebellion and hope, anger finally shared, but also the desire to know more about history, because amnesia and ignorance are also a breeding ground for racism.”

Göteborgs-Posten (SE) /

Symbolic reactions don't solve problems

Demanding that politicians "show solidarity" and "take a stand" does not help the disadvantaged, Göteborgs-Posten criticises:

“The notion that structural racism can explain people's living conditions poses two serious problems. Firstly, it is by no means certain that its explanatory value is as great as many say. But this also means that the corresponding reactions are ineffective or amount to nothing but symbolic actions. Secondly, the structural racism hypothesis is more than an explanatory model. It is a worldview in which interpersonal contacts are mainly described by the opposing pair of oppressors and oppressed. ... The real problem, however, is that economically weak groups feel that the solution to their problems depends on whether whites take enough of a stand against racism.”

Politis (FR) /

Minneapolis in France

Protests were also held over the weekend in France. For good reason, Politis explains:

“France's reputation is also stained, it also has police whose brutality goes unpunished. ... It has its own scandals, like that of Adama Traoré, who died under the weight of one of our police officers in 2016. ... Four years later new, rather suspect doctors have fabricated a report saying that the 24-year-old had a weak heart. It is nauseating to witness such stubborn protection of a police lobby that instils fear into its minister. And now this: on Monday 14-year-old Gabriel was forced to the ground and kicked by one police officer while his colleagues held him down. Teeth knocked out, chin broken, potentially the loss of an eye. ... This is not Minneapolis but Bondy, on the outskirts of Paris.”

Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) /

Demonstrators without solidarity

In Stockholm the police broke up a solidarity march attended by several thousand people because it breached the fifty-person limit on gatherings imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. For Upsala Nya Tidning the demo was also inappropriate:

“People in Sweden are demonstrating against police brutality in the US and in the process putting the lives of of our elderly citizens and those who are ill at risk.. ... Of course it is important to stand up against injustice. But some demonstrators seemed to be more interested in establishing a Swedish context for the American racial narrative, for which there are no grounds as yet. ... One demonstrator carried a sign saying 'I can't breathe.' But this is the very threat currently being faced by vulnerable people such as the elderly and the ill for whom the coronavirus is particularly dangerous.”

Postimees (EE) /

How to trigger authoritarian pyromaniacs

Columnist Andres Herkel sympathises with the protesters in Postimees:

“I belong to the happy generation whose youthful rebellion took place during the Estonian struggle for independence. What was radical then is normal today, and I haven't had to change my views. On the contrary, democracy and freedom of the people are still important ideals today. ... Unfortunately it is not only in the US that we see leaders using divisive rhetoric. These leaders can become pyromaniacs with the potential to set the house on fire at any moment. ...Nothing encourages authoritarian leaders to mock the ideals of democracy and freedom more than when people don't use their freedom sensibly. This is when politicians and police overreact.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Made in Britain

Britain has missed an important opportunity, writes The Guardian:

“The British government could have had the humility to use this moment to acknowledge Britain's experiences. It could have discussed how Britain helped invent anti-black racism, how today's US traces its racist heritage to British colonies in America, and how it was Britain that industrialised black enslavement in the Caribbean, initiated systems of apartheid all over the African continent, using the appropriation of black land, resources and labour to fight both world wars and using it again to reconstruct the peace.”

Gazete Duvar (TR) /

Time for self-criticism

The protests in the US should prompt Turkey to face up to its own racism problem, ex-diplomat Aydın Selcen stresses on the website Gazete Duvar:

“If we look at ourselves in the light of events surrounding George Floyd's death, we see that property changed hands after the genocide of the Armenians and the pogrom of September 6 and 7 [1955, against the Greek minority in Istanbul], and the Kurdish problem has been smouldering for nearly a century for lack of a peaceful political solution. ... And one needn't even look back that far. ... The General Directorate of Security is preparing a gigantic tender for hand grenades, plastic bullets and tear gas this month. ... And, I must add: [ex-president of the pro-Kurdish HDP] Selahattin Demirtaş has been in Edirne prison since 4 November 2016.”

L'Opinion (FR) /

France has its police under control

Demonstrations against police brutality are also taking place in French cities following the release of a new report on the death of Adama Traoré, a black man of Malian origin who died in police custody in 2016. But French police officers must not be lumped together with their US counterparts, warns Christian Estrosi, conservative mayor of Nice, in L'Opinion:

“I denounce the methods used in the United States, the injustice suffered by black men and the increase in police brutality. ... But I also think it would be fatal to make French police the scapegoats of an American system that is not ours. Here, the technique of positional asphyxia is fortunately banned. Here, guilty officers are punished. In our country, we fight racism in all its forms, but we defend the police who embody authority.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Mark Rutte silent on hatred

Commenting in De Volkskrant, columnist Sheila Sitalsing criticises the spread of racism in the Netherlands and the silence of Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the subject:

“He has been prime minister of this country for ten years. Ten years of a coalition with the PVV [the party of right-wing extremist Geert Wilders], with hatred of Moroccans and Caribbeans spreading unhindered in parliament; ten years of 'go back to Turkey' and 'behave yourself or get lost' ... . Ten years of swanky police practices that degrade every black person in a fancy car to the status of a suspect. These are police officers who call themselves 'Moroccan annihilators'. A tax office that declares dark-skinned families to be fraudsters a priori.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Absurd spiral of violence

The way the police see themselves in the US seems to at least be changing slightly, journalist Dawid Warszawski observes in Gazeta Wyborcza:

“The police can't work without weapons. Too many civilians have them, and these civilians are responsible for 15,000 of the 16,000 murders committed annually. ... The 800,000 police officers are responsible for the remaining 1,000 because they're afraid of the civilians they're supposed to be protecting. The officials themselves are aware of just how absurd these statistics are: Floyd's murder was the first of its kind to be condemned by police associations, and the Minneapolis chief of police sympathised with demonstrators protesting against police crime. But as long as officers remain immune, the coronavirus will be less harmful to my black friends than the police.”