Political correctness, we noticed is something that is getting mentioned more and more often in the Western world – most of the time in a negative way. The war on political correctness was, for instance, one of the main slogans for Donald Trump’s pre-election campaign, which caught many by surprise when it resonated and ensured his victory in the presidential election. “You’ll be able to say “Merry Christmas!” again, instead of having to say “Season’s Greetings”, – that was one of Trumps most repeated promises.
The fact that political correctness is starting to take even more grotesque forms can be observed not only in America and Western Europe, but in Latvia as well. For example, in one of the last sessions in Saeima (Latvian parliament) regarding the legality aspects of the presidential institutions, one of the speakers called upon the fathers of our constitution (Satversme) and immediately after that he corrected himself and said that it would be more politically correct to say “parents of the constitution”, not “fathers of the constitution” as it may offend one of the three “genders”.
As British researcher, Anthony Browne commented in his book “Retreat of Reason”, “Political correctness is more than a joke or updating of historic language usage. It is a system of beliefs and pattern of thoughts that permeates many aspects of modern life, holding a vice-like grip over public debate, deciding what can be debated and what the terms of debate are, and which government policies are acceptable and which aren’t.” In his view, the role of political correctness has significantly grown during the last decades and it has become one of the dominating elements in public discourse, not only in Great Britain, but across whole of the Western Europe.
Political correctness has not been really studied in scientific literature, but the rare researches that have been made on this topic, can conclude that the roots of political correctness can be traced to Marxism. Perhaps that is the reason why political correctness has not really gotten to Eastern Europe as much as it has put its claws on Western Europe. Those who got a taste of the USSR, still remember the silent rules of a totalitarian regime, which told people how to act so they would not lose their career, wellbeing and freedom. At home you would speak one thing, but on the street another. Eastern Europeans have already experienced this forced censorship. Perhaps that is why political correctness is not that popular in these parts of Europe.
It is considered, that the modern political correctness was born in 1945 on the ruins of Berlin. Hitler’s Germany was defeated and destroyed alongside with the national socialist ideology, which preached racism and in whose name millions of people were killed.
Naturally, the new post-war ideology of Europe had to be the exact opposite of Nazism. By form it was exactly the same, no less expressive or uncompromising, but regarding content – it was utterly the opposite. Anthony Browne formulates political correctness thus: “Political correctness is an ideology that classifies certain groups of people as victims in need of protection from criticism, and which makes believers feel that no dissent should be tolerated.”
In other words – embodying tolerance through intolerance to those who dare to object.
In practical terms it was like this: in post-war Europe certain things in public discourse got tabooed.
Migration was one of these things, or more accurately, being against migration. It was interpreted as being against people of other skin color and automatically supporting the Nazis. In a situation like this a meaningful debate, regarding migration problems in post-war Europe, was not possible. No one wanted to be labeled as a Nazi and put in risk his career and reputation.
Powell was right
One of the few European politicians, who dared to speak openly about the threats caused by migration, when this problem was just in the beginning phase, was British Conservative politician, Enoch Powell. His 1968 April 20th speech in Birmingham, today known with a name “Blood Rivers”, has gone down in history. In this speech Powell warned of the dramatic consequences of uncontrolled immigration. Powell predicted the growth of immigrant community up to one third until the end of the century, for what he was widely ridiculed in that time media. Powell was actually wrong. Today the immigrant community in Birmingham, where the famous speech resounded, is not one third, but more than 40 %, while majority of children are registered as Muslims.
The next day after the politically incorrect speech, Powell was removed from the office in Conservatives’ Shadow Cabinet. He had violated the unwritten border of political correctness, objecting the mass invasion of immigrants of different skin color. The public judgement of Powell was yet another affirmation, that any discussion about immigration was de facto not possible, and such, also did not take place for decades – not only in Great Britain, but in whole Western Europe, especially in Germany and Austria, where the collective sense of guilt for Nazi crimes had completely paralyzed the open exchange of opinions in immigration matters.
American scientist Glenn Loury in his work “Self-Censorship in Public Discourse” writes: “Groups may embark on a tragic course of action, believed by many at the outset to be ill-conceived, but that has become impossible to criticize.” That is why it will slowly like a river flow to the abyss unsuspended.
Exactly so it happened with a mass immigration in Europe. There was no critique and discussion. The problem was not admitted. And if there is no problem, then there is no solution. The process was left of its own accord, the number of immigrants continued to grow, but the integration de facto did not happen. The social and ethnic problems increased more and more, but the self censorship oppressed by political correctness did not allow solving them.
For Latvians, who have lived under the occupation of USSR, this is quite a well known picture. The occupied Latvia experienced something similar – but in much harsher way and performed by totalitarian system. Massive colonization and forced immigration of foreigners was one of the main or maybe the biggest problem of occupied Latvia for decades. But it was forbidden to speak out about it, not to even mention objecting.
The politcorrecting of terms
I do not know any Latvian, who liked, that Russian colonists massively settled here in Latvia. There was a general dissatisfaction with it, in a result of which the word “Russians” during the Soviet time even got a negative connotation, which had never existed in Latvian language before. Because of this, it became politically correct to use the term “people of Russian ethnicity” instead of “Russians”. It humanized the immigrants oppressed by the occupation power a little bit. Interesting, that this practice, introduced by Soviet politcorrectors, still is remaining even today. It is acceptable to call any other nation in its name – Estonians, Lithuanians, Americans – but Russians (especially those living in Latvia) are still most often called “people of ethnicity”, such demonstrating, that the speaker has not meant anything bad.
Terminology has an important role in politically correct messages. To accept “war refugees” and “economical migrants” are different things. Not only morally, but also legally those are two different situations. The accepting of war refugees is defined by Geneva Convention. Most of the Europeans, who are raised in Christian traditions, see it as a moral duty to take in the persecuted one, who is in danger.
In 2014 and 2015, when our continent was reached by recently biggest influx of migrants, European politically correct politicians and mass media used the term “refugee crisis” most often, thus creating a wrong impression, that the most of the settlers are Syrian war refugees. Later it turned out (and European Commission admitted it), that most of them were economical migrants from the countries with no war, including many from EU candidate countries in Balkans.
As I have observed in OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and other international forums, in past year the term “refugee crisis” was gradually replaced by “migration crisis”, which reflects the real problem more accurately and also marks the adequate solutions.
The role of media
The central role in propagating the politically correct approaches has always belonged to media. For instance, in Soviet time despite the people’s smoldering dissatisfaction with migrant influx, the press and news-reels depicted totally different scene: Russians and Latvians hand in hand friendly built the communism, and expressed in newspaper columns their joy about the more and more new comrades from the wide Soviet motherland.
Something similar we see in the politically correct Europe nowadays. Anthony Browne writes: “The broadcast media and the BBC in particular, stick to the politically correct text on most issues because it safely protects them from criticism. The BBC can endlessly promote mass immigration against the wishes of its license fee payers”.
Latvian public media is not much different in this way. Although surveys of 2015 showed, that the majority of people are against the accepting of immigrants, the public media created opposite impression, predominantly reflecting the immigration supporting opinion. Besides, the journalists of Latvian public media, for example, Edgars Kupčs, without any hesitation rudely cursed with damns those who were against taking in migrants, in the columns of public media.
Thus was expressed the classical political correctness – or preaching of the tolerance through the intolerance towards those, who dare to object. British journalist John Midgley writes about that: “Political correctness is often about a small group of people trying to foist their views on a majority, relying on the silence and decency of the majority to allow even the most bizarre of ideas to become the norm.”
Though recently we see, that majority begin to object, both in Europe and America. The risks to ruin reputation and career still remain, but despite that people begin to protest louder and louder. What has happened?
The stakes become too high
The terrorist acts in Paris, sexual harassment in Cologne, rapes in Malmo, murders in Freiburg, attacks in Brussels and et cetera, et cetera. Violence and crime rates have increased after mass immigration. A very politically incorrect conclusion. Though, as acknowledged by already quoted Browne, “PC’s enemy is a society’s sense of vulnerability. When people feel insecure, they more strongly resist what they see as the idiocies of PC because they believe the stakes are too high.”
That is what is currently going on in Western Europe. Hiding of inconvenient facts and pretense has not made it easier to solve the problem. More and more Europeans realize that today. Sometime everyone will realize that. But, when it will be and will it not be too late to solve the consequences of mass immigration at all, preserving the European civilization – we do not know that. The time will show.
Latvian MP, historian and film director