Your part in the fight against racism

16th June 2000

ONE evening around 8 o’clock in the city of Stuttgart, back in the late 1980s, myself and a mate boarded a bus in the town centre to take us out to the suburb where we lived.

We had been to a local hostelry and had a few jars but we were in general good order. The bus was nearly full, a few empty seats, with workers making their way home.

About 10 minutes out a middle aged man in the seat in front turned around and started shouting ‘auslander raus’ at us. This means ‘foreigners out’ and is a general refrain and slogan of the German far right.

We obliged the chap by raising our arms in Nazi salutes and shouting back ‘Seig Heil’ and ‘Heil Hitler’ along with more traditional Irish greetings like ‘go on, ya Nazi bastard’. Stuff like that.

Incensed, the man rose from his seat, screaming various German obscenities at us. He then made a lunge at us. I stood up and gave him a fairly firm shove backward leaving him sitting on his arse in the aisle.

The bus driver pulled the bus into the side of the road and announced that he was calling the police. Our adversary settled himself back into his seat and an eerie silence descended on the bus.

Then an extraordinary thing happened. Starting with mutterings and one word put-downs, the other Germans on the bus began to attack the man. By the time the police arrived the man was being subjected to a barrage of criticism, the kindest of which was that great German word ‘arseloc’ meaning asshole. Not a single comment was directed at us.

The police asked us what happened; asked the man what happened; and then asked the passengers. The end result was that the man was arrested, or at least the police took him away, and we were left to finish our journey.

I have to say I was surprised at the outcome as we had clearly played our part in the incident.

It’s the sort of experience that you file away as a foreign adventure, but it has been brought back to me by the arrival of so many foreigners over the past two years.

I wonder what would happen if a Nigerian was subjected to an anti-foreigner tirade on the bus. Would our instinct be to defend the foreigner and castigate the abuser? I’m not so sure.

Immigrants complain that they are subjected to constant abuse. If they can hear it so too can ordinary Dubliners.

The Germans on the bus were outraged by one of their own attacking an outsider.

Perhaps we are only getting used to the newly arrived immigrants and the racism that they are subjected to.

Without a doubt people who abuse foreigners have taken solace from this silence. But it doesn’t reflect the opinions of the vast majority of Dubliners.

So if you hear any of this nonsense, let the perpetrators know that they don’t speak for you. A quick ‘shut up’ will suffice, with due regard to your own safety.

This abuse is just another form of bullying which, of course, lets us all down. If racists get away with it, they just get bolder.

When in Germany I came across other examples of hatred and racism. I also found ordinary Germans to be tremendously kind and considerate.

From the old lady who gave me sweets at a bus-stop, to the woman who picked me up at 1am on a rainy night and then drove me 10 miles out of her way, to the young German bloke we met in a pub who lent us his flat for the summer, the examples of German generosity I came across are unforgettable.

Part of that is civic pride and part of it is decency. We’ve got the decency, but I’m not sure about the civic pride.

If we want to have pride in this city, we’re going to have to fight for it. We’re going to have to do the right thing.

Ideas about tolerance, racism, mutual respect, etc can become leaden with politics and ideology. Common decency is not.

Sometimes the outsider is abused through ignorance. Perhaps if the abuser felt the chill wind of ostracism they might reflect on their own behaviour.


As well as that…

No Irish need apply

The High Court has decided that it’s just too much work for the Government to have to advertise job vacancies and that it’s up to the Cabinet to appoint whoever they like.

How can someone so well paid talk such rubbish? How is the Cabinet qualified to assess people for State jobs and aren’t they supposed to be busy anyhow?

Under European law all contracts are to be subject to competitive tendering. Why are appointments excluded? I’ll bet that it has come as a huge surprise to a lot of people that citizens have so few rights vis-a-vis the Government.

PDs’ dodgy landing

Bad news for the tánaiste from the northside. People in Santry are up in arms over airplane noise.

Mary Harney wants to see Casement Aerodrome used as Dublin’s second airport. But the final approach for arriving jets will start at Dalkey and take in most of the leafy suburbs on the southside.

This is PD territory. Both Harney and Liz O’Donnell have constituents on the flight path. If northsiders won’t put up with the noise while the other runway is being fixed, southsiders certainly won’t want it permanently.