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New Left Review I/186, March-April 1991


Étienne Balibar

Es Gibt Keinen Staat in Europa: Racism and Politics in Europe Today

I would like to start by explaining how I came to modify the agreed theme and, to some extent, focus of this contribution. [*] This paper was first delivered to the ‘Migration and Racism’ Congress in Hamburg, 27–30 September 1990. There were some general reasons for doing so, which occurred to me as I was reading the Congress programme, but recent political events provided a still more decisive impetus. The general title of our Congress—‘Migration and Racism’—corresponds to a long-standing project that was conceived in a different conjuncture. It would seem to imply two ideas which, though being far from defunct, now need to be contextualized, or placed in a broader and more complex whole. It is clearer than ever that the problem we are discussing is crucial to a genuine human-rights policy in the years ahead of us. However, ‘Migration and Racism’ suggests that there is a particular correlation between two apparently well-defined phenomena, the one seeming to belong to the realm of economic and demographic facts, the other to the field of social behaviour and ideologies. This means that while the present pattern of migrations does not inevitably ‘produce’ racism—as a certain conservative discourse frequently maintains—it does give contemporary racism a focus, such that in our countries it is above all an anti-immigrant racism directed against the Gastarbeiter, their families and their descendants. This is apparently what makes it distinctive in relation to other historical situations. There can be no doubt that French writers have been quite inclined to see things in this way, and our German friends have spontaneously done the same. This is the first idea that has to be examined.

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