Antiracism bankrupt?

From: MINELRES moderator <>
Date: Fri, 28 Sep 2001 19:30:59 +0300 (EEST)
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Subject: Antiracism bankrupt?

From: MINELRES moderator <>

Original sender: Alexander Ossipov <>

Antiracism bankrupt?

Some impressions from the Durban World Conference Against Racism.
I guess, there is not much sense in a detailed description of what
happened at the NGO Forum (Durban, South Africa, 28 August - 2
September 2001) and the World Conference Against Racism, WCAR (31
August - 8 September). The world media addressed the both forums; the
chronicle and major documents are available in the Internet,
particularly at the ICARE website ( Much
information can be also found at the sites of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights ( and of the South
African NGO Coalition (
I just want to emphasize some things neglected by the commentators. I
would like to touch upon primarily the NGO Forum since the debates at
the WCAR itself were almost closed for NGO representatives. Most
people paid attention to the scandalous episodes caused by the
activities of various lobbyist groups. The both conferences were
hijacked by the Palestinians and their allies. Almost all the time
remaining after anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist demonstrations was spent
for the debates on reparations and compensations for slavery and
colonialism. It was quite predictable, however that people would put
forward their own particular concerns, but hardly address the global
agenda and seek consensus upon the common vision and language. In
general, the comments were focused on what was DIFFERENT between the
parties involved. To my mind, much more important is what was COMMON
for them.
A specific philosophy called 'anti-racism' has emerged within the
recent 30 or more years. The entire Durban conference was merely a set
of its various manifestations. The term 'anti-racism' should be seen
here as a conditional one. The people involved in minority or
indigenous advocacy employ the similar ideas and language. Briefly,
the philosophy rests on several assumptions and notions. Society and
the entire humankind are perceived as composed of ethnic and racial
groups. These groups are divided into 'weak', 'vulnerable', 'targeted'
or 'suppressed', on the one hand, and 'strong', 'dominant' or
'suppressor', on the other. Ethnic or racial dimension of social
inequalities is interpreted as a product of relations - 'domination',
'subjection' or 'exploitation' - between two types of groups. On the
contrary, 'racism' and 'discrimination' are determined not only as
concrete and legally defined deeds but also as any social disparity
along ethnic or racial lines regardless of its nature. Therefore,
since social inequalities are inevitable, it is concluded that 'weak'
groups or 'minorities' require special regime and special treatment -
from reverse discrimination and resource redistribution to a specific
'politically correct' language. In course of this, promotion of the
people belonging to 'subordinate' groups and restrictions against
'dominant' groups should not be determined as racism or discrimination
against. Rather, it must be viewed as a sought for 'justice'.
The policies based on these ideas are controversial, the existing
judgements vary and I would omit from getting myself involved in
detailed comments.  However, most definitions of the word 'racism'
evolve the view that 'racism' basically means an attitude to a person
in accordance with his/her ethnic origin and/or belonging. Thus, many
people correctly define 'antiracism' as racism inside out. However,
the similarity between 'antiracism' and the orthodox Marxist class
approach is obvious as well as the 'antiracist' contribution to
reinforcement of ethnic and racial boundaries, ethnic enmity and
victimisation complex of the 'subordinate' groups. Gravely important
is that this paradigm closes the way both to positive forward-looking
solutions and constructive discussions: any kind of disagreement would
be labeled as 'racist'.
The final documents of the NGO Forum and, to a lesser degree, of the
WCAR rest on three basic elements. The first one is various forms of
the mentioned class approach, including intensive exploitation of the
term 'institutional racism' and some new related concepts like
'environmental racism' and 'cultural discrimination'. The second one
is the fight against the dead - eradication of the historical
'injustices' including compensations, reparations and apology for
slavery, slave trade and colonialism. The third one is the idea of
group rights in sense of 'rights' of groups and peoples as such (like
the 'peoples' right to self-determination').
My Russian colleagues and I myself were often unable to decide whether
the people offered all this stuff seriously or were just kidding. It
was quite apparent that the broadly interpreted notion of
'institutional racism' actually contained the following message:
'We define the social inequalities along ethnic and racial lines as
racism and unjust discrimination notwithstanding they result from
deliberated deeds or spontaneous processes. We are convinced that
finally they are caused by a hidden hostility of the 'dominant'
towards 'subordinate' groups. We are neither able nor willing to prove
it; nevertheless, the 'dominant' groups will pay.' What is mostly
important: this attitude makes senseless the notion of rightful and
wrongful behaviour and thus eliminates the grounds for legal
approaches to the issues of racism and discrimination.
To my mind, Eastern and Central Europeans including ex-Soviet
nationals must understand quite well what the claims for 'restoration
of historical justice' mean. Doesn't anybody know that the entire
human history consists of crimes and injustices and that different
people have different views on what was just and unjust? Does anybody
want to eradicate the global history? Does anybody really want to open
the Pandora box of mutual claims? Don't the people know how the claims
for 'self-determination' and 'group rights' feed violent conflict and
discriminatory practices? Such questions seem to be totally ignored by
most people convened in Durban, basically by the NGO delegates. On
this background, individual phantasmagoric ideas like granting the
Roma people the status of a 'non-territorial nation' with a guaranteed
seat in the UN or recognition of the indigenous peoples as such
subjects of law are not amazing.
Most of the people coming to NGO Forum can hardly be defined as human
rights defenders, rather they are victim defenders. The reverse side
of the victimisation complex is the 'everything permitted' syndrome.
Not surprisingly, the revolutionary spirit was very strong in Durban.
Class approach, fight for 'historical justice' and the goal of 'group
rights' make a very fertile soil for it. The manifestations against
Zionism and for the 'black power' were a good illustration. It was
quite 'natural' that few people were willing to condemn terrorism and
separatism as one of the main sources of contemporary racism and
The political interests and agendas behind the inflammatory slogans
are quite understandable. However, the position of the so-called
'civil society' at large looks strange. I admit, of course, that many
positive ideas were put forward and inserted into the documents issued
at the both conferences. The prior concern for my colleagues and me
was the complete lack of any opposition to the very conceptual basis
of the draft documents and discussion agenda. Approximately 80 NGOs of
more than 3 thousand present in Durban joined the statement of the
Eastern and Central European Caucus. This document was a protest
against both the intolerant wording and the undemocratic adoption
procedure of the NGO Forum Declaration and the Programme of Action.
However, it still remains unclear whether the people disagreed either
with the basic ideology or just with harsh anti-Israeli and
anti-Zionist rhetoric.
There was no evidence that anybody tried to challenge the class
approach, sought for 'historical justice' and group rights both before
and during the NGO Forum. The debates concerned some particular
issues. Of course, the atmosphere and the audience were not favourable
for any meaningful discussion… Nevertheless, the situation raises some
questions. Is the contemporary 'antiracism' a domain of extreme
leftist and nationalist ideas? Are they really shared by the NGO
community at large outside Eastern and Central Europe or even the
former Soviet Union? Does the 'racism inside out' constitute the
antiracist mainstream even in Europe? Is antiracism becoming a symbol
of political radicalism and irresponsibility? Can our organisations
find reliable and responsible partners outside the region in combating
ethnic discrimination and hate speech?
Alexander Ossipov

Alexander Ossipov,
programme manager,
The 'Memorial' Human Rights Centre,
2 Maly Karetny per., Moscow 103051 Russia,
tel. 7 095 370 70 83 pr.
fax 7 095 209 57 79
e-mail <>

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