Should I join NSUI or AISA?
You are both active in the LINKS * KANAX, a network that campaigns for anti-racism in and around the Left Party. Last weekend in Germany there were probably the biggest demos against police violence and structural racism that black groups have called. Did you expect that beforehand - why were the demos so big? What potential do you see in this?
Belma: As Links * Kanax, we were involved in the demonstrations across Germany and called for participation. The demos were so big in Germany because black people and we - people with migration and refugee backgrounds and migrants - are affected by racist police measures. Here, too, people die in police custody! In addition, we cannot trust a state power that has played a very inglorious role in the NSU or that approves right-wing extremist structures in the Bundeswehr and police. We must therefore fight against racism every day.
Jules: The video of George Floyd's murder exposed the horrific police violence and racism in the United States so clearly that it broke the barrel for good. At the same time, racism has also grown stronger in Germany in recent years. Fortunately, resistance to it is also growing!
In the past few weeks, many social movements have been paralyzed. Corona dominated everything. Why do we have to talk about racism also and especially in the Corona crisis?
Belma: I think that Corona has increased racism in society. Friends who are perceived as Asian are increasingly exposed to attacks. In the last few years alone, over a hundred attacks on people who were read in Asia have been statistically recorded - but the victim counseling centers suspect a far higher number of unreported cases.
Jules: The police checks have increased massively in my district. Almost every day there is a police team car on my doorstep, which is usually not the case. Sometimes people are checked for no reason. I live in a district that is heavily influenced by migrants. I don't know what it looks like in richer neighborhoods - I suspect it is different there.
Statistics from the USA and UK have shown that people of color get sick and die disproportionately from Covid19 due to precarious working and living conditions. There are hardly any statistics on this in Germany because the number of cases is not high enough. Do you still see evidence of such a connection in this country?
Jules: There are many factors. Not only in terms of health, but also the economic consequences of the crisis. For example with the unemployment figures. Migration background is not asked separately here, only citizenship. But there we see that people without German citizenship are dismissed significantly more often during the crisis. Even with short-time work benefits, especially in smaller industrial companies, people without a German passport are often affected. However, the tendency to dismiss is likely to worsen among migrants with and without a German passport, as their employment contracts often do not contain any security. In addition, migrants often start their own businesses with small shops - here, too, there is a risk of further impoverishment during the crisis. Since the 9,000 euros in emergency aid cannot be used for living expenses, many will have to close their shops.
Belma: Basically, the share of migrant employees is highest in the low-wage sector and in other insecure employment relationships, where redundancies can be implemented more easily. These are also the areas where occupational safety is often the weakest and also the possibility of staying at home in the event of illness. This of course increases the vulnerability to the virus. Added to this is the feeling of insecurity: In my personal environment, trust in equal treatment through government measures is often very limited. For example, there is a fear that a ventilator might be switched off faster than it might be for a person with no history of migration. Ferda Ataman recently formulated this fear on Twitter and received a lot of incomprehension and hatred for it. Many still consider this accusation outrageous and have no idea that such fears are based on experience.
Jules: In addition, there are already clear examples such as the meat industry or agriculture, where migrants make up a large part of the employees, where there is hardly any occupational safety and where the corona infections were massive. While this is not direct, institutional discrimination, it is a consequence of the fact that there is hardly any effective advocacy for these people who defends their rights. It took 200 Covid19 victims at Westfleisch until someone took care of the working conditions or noticed that placement in collective accommodation increases the risk of infection. It is similar with the refugee homes - in NRW three homes have already been largely evacuated because coronaviruses naturally spread when people live together in a confined space.
Given the new debate on appreciation for care and “systemically important” professions - would you say that there is a moment of politicization that also includes migrant work? That the usually invisible, badly paid work has become more visible?
Belma: I'm afraid that the increased awareness of these problems is limited in time. The exploitation in the asparagus harvest or in the meat industry were also known before Corona. I feel much more like there is a blunting. The conditions are noted, but no one is willing to pay more for a minced steak. And above all, the meat industry is neither ready to convert its production to sustainability, nor to forego large profits in order not to let the prices for meat get too high. Ultimately, this would have to be guaranteed by law. Apart from left-wing or migrant circles, where there is not only outrage but also great solidarity, I cannot see any major changes.
Jules: And if you look at the campaigns in which the systemically relevant professions are thanked, the disproportionate immigrant participation in these activities is not at all reflected.
Belma: The appreciation for women in systemically important professions is correct, but the fact that there are also migrants is not mentioned and not shown. In the authority where I work, mainly migrant cleaners, women with headscarves, work - they don't get applause at the window. Incidentally, there is also a large proportion of traditional migrant workers among doctors, who come from the Czech Republic or Poland, for example. These people are also ignored and the solidarity seems to relate solely to ethnic German.
So is there a certain racism involved in the debate about systemic relevance?
Jules: I wouldn't go that far. First of all, it is an important step that the disadvantage of traditional female professions is recognized in the mainstream. It became clear that the working class does not only consist of the German automotive industry. But now we also have to fight to ensure that people with a migration background are also part of the working class.
Belma: Well, the fact is that white German workers continue to shape the picture. This is the visual language on the posters of all parties, on which the employees are applauded and thanked. And that is compatible with the narrative that Corona came from outside, for example imported by people who read Asian.
What is this narrative about?
Jules: The fact that Corona - whether as a virus or as a conspiracy - comes from outside, is one of the central stories in the so-called hygiene demos. In parts of the right-wing scene, there is the view that Jewish people benefit from Corona and that the refugees and Chinese people are bringing Corona to Germany. Constellations such as those in Göttingen, where the corona outbreak in a high-rise housing estate led to the general condemnation of large migrant families, where the Ramadan festivals were marked as places of contagion and "foreign places" - are particularly dangerous - the behavior of individuals becomes stigmatized and Used prejudice of a whole group without looking carefully what happened there. This harbors enormous racist explosives.
Belma: Such agitation makes the crisis ethnic and destabilizes the social situation even more. Ultimately, a culprit is always sought. These are then the weakest, those who have no rights, those who are not seen as German. For us this means that we have to defend ourselves primarily against these ascriptions.
How do you rate the hygiene demos politically? How do you deal with them?
Belma: We have a very negative attitude within LINKS * KANAX. I see it as a right-wing authoritarian movement with völkisch tendencies. A Jewish world conspiracy is imagined and a re-nationalization propagated. It is dangerous when celebrities DER LINKE speak there, sympathize with it or show understanding. These are not civil rights demonstrations, and if they should be, they contradict any idea of solidarity that goes beyond national borders and border demarcations. You have to draw a clear line here. All migrant, Muslim, Jewish and Roma and Sinti organizations reject these demos. And so too Links * Kanax.
Jules: I share the position of the associations: we shouldn't take part in these demonstrations. Regarding the point of participation of a prominent left in a special demo, I have a slightly different assessment. This was about a specific demonstration in Aachen, where in large parts a different political spectrum was represented than is perhaps the case in Berlin. Nevertheless, I would not have taken part in this demo because I also consider the theses represented there to be wrong.
To what extent have social infrastructures, which are important for the everyday life of migrant communities, also collapsed as a result of the corona measures? Which ones should be given special support now, in the coming crises?
Jules: A lot has been lost in the social and cultural area. The exchange offered by tea rooms, for example, is missing. Normally you are invited to Iftar every day during Ramadan, you see friends and you are in contact. In Essen, at least before the end of Ramadan, open-air prayer was possible. That worked out very well. In many other municipalities this was not possible, which of course means that there is no sense of community. This can break communities. In addition, they often have no financial reserves. Small associations are sometimes only supported by the participation of the members, and depending on donations, which are also at risk.
Belma: Many victim counseling centers that provide advice and support after racist attacks have also been closed. The advice centers for refugees only gave very limited advice, which meant that the necessary help was not offered. This was about existential, indispensable tasks. The greater the fear that further cuts will primarily affect these areas. Incidentally, the fact that a lot of information about the pandemic was initially only available online and not in all languages, such as here in Berlin, did not help to build trust in the state authorities.
As LINKS * KANAX, you are particularly committed to ensuring that the DIE LINKE party plays a progressive and solidary role in these disputes. How do you rate the party's role in recent times?
Jules: It would have helped if more structures and offers with a left-wing perspective had been visible to migrants. If we had made it even clearer that we are also fighting to maintain their structures and communities, that would certainly have had a positive effect. DIE LINKE could have done a much better job for years before Corona to reach people with a migration background. That would have created a broader basis to be able to argue credibly in the communities now. It is good to start today, but it only partially compensates for what has been neglected by the party and the extra-parliamentary left for decades.
What did the LINKE miss?
Belma: The LINKE did not include any migrant structures in the party, in parliaments or in representative functions. I think no attempt was ever made to speak to migrants on an equal footing. I notice this in the headscarf debate, which is still predominantly conducted from a white perspective: either you have to liberate the woman with the headscarf or explain it in a paternalistic way. The lurching course in the migration debate since 2015 has made the LINKE, as a solidary and internationalist party, untrustworthy for many. If actors of DIE LINKE speak of migrants as of a mass displacement between individual states, if they only discuss migration in terms of regulatory policy and if they refuse to see it as an opportunity for diversity and solidarity, then migrants and refugees can be considered not win for the LEFT.
Jules: If the LINKE does not do everything to prevent deportations, especially where we have direct opportunities through governments, then people whose brothers and sisters have been deported will not want to get involved in LINKE politics. But the failures also lie in everyday life: until the terrorist attack in Hanau, left-wing local politicians also discredited shisha bars as places to be avoided. The migrant culture was simply not recognized - and neither was it understood. That is why our structures, our festivals and celebrations hardly speak to anyone in the communities. Why are there no festivals of the LEFT where halay dances take place or where falafel and shish tavuk are offered? That would be a sign of cultural rapprochement. It would make it clear that apart from political issues, there is also cultural empathy.
There is a growing awareness within the Party of the importance of organizing and the development of an activating practice. Do you also have debates at LINKS * KANAX about how the party should organize itself, how it should change its practice?
Belma: There is hardly anyone within LINKS * KANAX who relies solely on parliamentary politics. Our approach is very practical and tries to build on the experiences of migrant communities. Many of LINKS * KANAX are also part of the movement of the left, all of them are part of anti-racist movements. For us it goes without saying that political change must come from below, because at the latest the NSU and Hanau have shown that nothing can be expected from the government and state authorities. That is why we argue for the LINKE to get involved in the Muslim, Alevi, Kurdish, Turkish, Roma and Sinti and Arab communities and make a difference where migrants live and work. For the SPD and IGMetall it was clear in the labor disputes of the 1970s that the guest workers of the time were not only union activists, but also potential comrades. You were received in the party with an accession form. Even if the SPD appeared in many debates in some cases critical of migration and lack of solidarity, it acted correctly here. DIE LINKE has not implemented anything like this anywhere.
And beyond that: What should LINKE consider from your perspective in the dispute over economic stimulus packages and the distribution of crisis burdens?
Jules: We have to be much tougher when it comes to economic policy. The rich have to pay for the crisis. If you don't want the poor to become even poorer, which affects migrants and women in particular, then Hartz IV must be abolished and pensions, basic security and the minimum wage increased to a level where you can live. Parts of the Union are currently even calling for the minimum wage to be reduced. This is the worst that could happen to migrants, as many of them live on the verge of subsistence.
Belma: We have to make it clear that the interests of people must come before capital interests. From a migrant point of view, this means that the kiosk owner around the corner, the tea rooms and meeting places, people without income, the illegalized and other marginalized groups have to benefit from the billions in investments and not the car industry.
Interview conducted by Rhonda Koch.
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