August 30th 2020
Back in June, there was an online promotion for a “Black Lives Matter” event on the cathedral green in Exeter. One of the pictures used was of a black girl throwing some shade at Nigel Farage when he and Ann Widdecombe briefly visited Exeter for the European elections. I showed it to a mixed-race friend and political ally of mine, and she agreed it was dumb. The obvious question was “What on Earth has Nigel Farage or Brexit got to do with BLM?” However, it also raises far broader questions. If the UK is not innocent, then how guilty is the European Union of racism or indeed any crime against black people? The truth is, Britain’s history of colonialism and racist rule is further behind us than the scandalous politicians that have engineered the EU project – which has all the same problems and could be accused of “micro-aggressions” today.
Take Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, for example. This President of France lost his re-election in 1981 due to the Diamonds Affair, a scandal unveiled by a satirical newspaper. Giscard had been Minister of Finance in 1973 when he was secretly offered diamonds from the notorious Central African tyrant Emperor Bokassa. It was perhaps no coincidence that throughout his presidency, Giscard was an ally of Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a military leader who became president for life before crowning himself in a lavish coronation ceremony which cost an entire third of the developing country’s annual budget and all of the foreign aid provided by France. Under Giscard, French taxpayers supported the authoritarian regime, which was at times friendly with Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya. In 1979, the extravagant Emperor Bokassa massacred civilians during the food riots, and when primary school children protested against government-mandated costed school uniforms, around a hundred poor pupils were killed by troops, with Bokassa himself allegedly beating innocent youngsters to death with a cane. Giscard sent in the French military to assist a controversial coup – which was later overturned in another coup. During Bokassa’s trial, the absolute monarch was accused of cannibalism, although this was never proved.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this foreign affair of bribery and bloodshed would be a career-ruining scandal, but after losing the General Election in France, Giscard went on to become a leader in the European Parliament. As French President, he was always a proponent of greater EU integration, with his rivals accusing him of leading “a party of foreigners”. It was probably for this reason that Giscard was appointed President of the European Convention by the European Council in December 2001. This institution was established to decide the future of the union, with Giscard himself drafting EU treaties. Although his legislation was unsuccessful, this politician, who aided tyranny in Africa, probably set the trajectory for our continent for years to come.
Another French President who was supportive of the EU but perhaps not black people was François Mitterrand. The socialist leader was initially a Eurosceptic, but he went on to support the enlargement of the European Union to include Spain and Portugal in 1986 and 1992, and, along with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, fathered the Maastricht Treaty. Mitterrand’s presidency oversaw France’s involvement in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. In the years prior to the tribal massacres, the African country had negotiated arms deals through its embassy in Paris. At the time, Human Rights Watch reported Mitterrand’s government supporting Rwanda militarily, as it did other French-speaking African countries at the time, delivering arms without following their own rules amid rising tensions between the two ethnic groups: the Hutus and the Tutsi minority. In the first few days of the genocide, the French army evacuated European expatriates such as missionaries and aid workers but left behind innocent Tutsi people, often dropping them off at Rwandan checkpoints where they would be killed, hacked to death with machetes and garden tools. The UN mandated that France launch Operation Turquoise, a mission to create a safe zone in Rwanda, which is estimated to have saved 15,000 lives. However, the safe zone also allowed many perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide to escape the country and evade justice. The Europhile President Mitterrand also maintained good, close relations with apartheid South Africa, like many other pro-EU leaders at the time, and supported the corrupt president of Gabon because he regarded the country to be of strategic importance. Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, who was uncompromising in his opposition to racial segregation in South Africa, on the other hand, warned the European Union could be dangerous if allowed to overpower national sovereignty, and his country did not join the bloc whilst he was in office.
This modern history may sound a few-steps-removed from the supernational bloc we know today, but the current European Union itself has policies that have done more harm than good to people who are not white. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy has been criticised for leaving farmers in third world countries at a disadvantage, with Asian and African farmers unable to compete with cheap competition from Europe. Needless to say, the EU’s soft-border policies and poor handling of the migrant crisis have only encouraged more people from Sub-Saharan Africa to make risky journeys to this continent, with thousands drowning off the coast and some perishing in the deserts.
The European Union’s institutions also can be, and have been, accused of the “everyday racism” Black Lives Matter activists complain about. The Green MEP for Yorkshire and Humber, Maagid Maagid, cited racial discrimination when he had a bad encounter with security guards in the European Parliament – it was probably because he was a newcomer they didn’t recognise and his hoodie, baseball cap, and t-shirt that read “fuck fascism” broke the dress code of any normal parliament, rather than his ethnicity, but BLM aren’t interested in details like that. Perhaps a better example of a “micro-aggression” would be the treatment of Louis Stedman-Bryce, the gay, black Brexit Party MEP for Scotland: he criticised the President of the European Commission for talking about “gender diversity” but not ethnic diversity, calling her speech “rubbish” and pointing out that most ethnic minority people in the room were actually cleaners, before being told that his language was “offensive”. Stedman-Bryce and his Eurosceptic colleagues then pointed out that the “Bollocks to Brexit” t-shirts worn by overwhelmingly white Lib Dem MEPs were more offensive but received no such criticism. If a black Labour politician like Diane Abbott had been treated in such a way, the left would have been outraged, but there was no notable uproar when the EU institution treated a Eurosceptic politician with many diversity points in such a way. Given the Brexit Party was the most ethnically diverse group in the European Parliament, the place will now be considerably whiter. Will that be enough for the race-obsessives to have a problem with it? It is genuinely possible that some of the more well-meaning protesters of recent months will actually join us in the Brexit club and pay more attention to the future of our continent than the imperfect past of our country. At the same time, many of the people taking selfies at the rallies and riots will just look massive hypocrites.