Obama's Election Inspires European Minorities Barack Obama's election has already had a palpable impact in Europe: it is giving Europe's millions of minorities a new sense of pride and empowerment.
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Obama's Election Inspires European Minorities

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Obama's Election Inspires European Minorities

Obama's Election Inspires European Minorities

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

Barack Obama's election has already had a palpable impact in Europe. It's giving Europe's millions of minorities a new sense of pride and empowerment. NPR's senior European correspondent Sylvia Poggioli joins us now from Rome to talk about her three-part series on minorities and racism in Europe, which airs on Morning Edition this week. Hi, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Hi. David.

GREENE: So you've been traveling to several countries, I understand, for the past few weeks. What are you seeing as far as an Obama effect on the continent?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, I found that the biggest impact was among minorities. Everyone I spoke to was euphoric. This is how some young rappers in the poor housing projects of Jean-Villier(ph) outside of Paris reacted when I told them that I was American.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE SPEAKING IN FRENCH)

POGGIOLI: They cheered, Obama's election is out of this world. It seems to me that the election of an African-American has inspired a new kind of consciousness among minorities and immigrants in Europe, and has emboldened many of them to begin demanding their full civil rights.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about civil rights in Europe. Is there a lack of civil rights legislation in the continent, or is it there and it's just not being applied?

POGGIOLI: It's there, and it's not applied. And also, there is a deep-rooted reluctance to embrace the idea of a multicultural society. There are millions of people of immigrant origin now in Europe, and they're economically crucial in a continent with low birth rates and aging populations. But everywhere I went, in Germany, in France and in Italy, these people are not considered full-fledged members of society, even when they have citizenship. A German political scientist, Jan Tekau(ph), told me that traditionally, the concept of national identity in Europe is based on exclusion.

M: For hundreds and thousands of years, identities were created by excluding those who were not part of the crowd, by drawing up borders, and this is why becoming a German, when you are from Africa or Asia or Turkey or elsewhere, is such a difficult thing because not only do you have to subscribe to everything that's normal here, you also have to overcome this exclusion barrier.

GREENE: And if we're seeing these exclusion barriers, as we heard there, Sylvia, I mean, are you seeing the same ones in all the countries you reported on, or how do the situations differ?

POGGIOLI: Mass immigration arrived later and much faster in Italy than in most other European countries, and Italians are obviously unprepared. Among all Europeans, they're the most hostile toward immigrants. Amnesty International has accused Italian politicians of legitimizing racist language. Jean-Leonard Touadi, the only black member of the Italian parliament, told me politicians' favorite buzz word is security.

M: Security means, first of all, all migrants are criminals or potentially criminals, and this is not true. That that means to indicate to the Italian population what is the heart of their insecurity.

GREENE: I know those rappers that you played for us sounded pretty emboldened by the Obama election. Has this moment in the United States emboldened minorities around the continent?

POGGIOLI: Perhaps the most immediate impact of the U.S. election, though, has been in France, which has been rocked in the past by riots by minority youth. President Nicolas Sarkozy has felt the pressure. Last month, he acknowledged the failure to achieve a color-blind society, and he nominated a new diversity czar. He is Yazit Sabeg. He - a self-made millionaire whose parents were Algerian immigrants. He's promoting American-style affirmative-action policies, long a taboo because they clash with French ideals of egalitarianism.

M: What has happened in the States, it's a lesson for us. We have to start a process to transform the French society and to admit that we have to correct the equality.

POGGIOLI: Now, nobody expects Europe to produce an Obama of its own anytime soon. However, France seems to be taking the lead in acknowledging that European societies can no longer see themselves as monocultural and monoethnic.

GREENE: We've been talking to NPR senior European correspondent Sylvia Poggioli, and you can listen to the first part of Sylvia's series on minorities and racism in Europe on Morning Edition tomorrow. Thanks so much for speaking with us, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, David.

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