The truth about migrants

The advantage of a dog whistle is that people don’t have to say things that would put them in an unflattering light.

PM Robert Fico PM Robert Fico (Source: TASR)

“Dog whistle” communication uses apparently innocuous statements to conceal hatred and bigotry, or to stir it in the listener. It’s a form of speech used by politicians to send messages that they know to be unacceptable in civilized society; to understand the intended meaning, you have to share the prejudice of the speaker.

Prime Minister Robert Fico has always been a dab hand with a dog whistle, such as in a blog he wrote way back in 2002 on the need for a new law to protect Slovak forests from “criminals with axes”. After huffing on about “the authority of the state”, “primitive legal infractions” and the impotence of “human rights saints”, Fico got to the real point of his diatribe: stirring racial passions. “We should rename Slovak Paradise (national forest reserve) Gypsy Tree-stump,” he wrote.

But Fico has rarely played his whistle with such virtuosity and such gusto as over the last six months. Refugees, he has repeatedly claimed, will not be admitted to Slovakia because “there is a danger that among the migrants a wave of people will come to Europe, not seeking work or a better life, but in order to spread terrorism.”

Which, if it were true, might not be an objectionable statement – governments have a duty to protect their citizens from attack. Except this “wave” of migrants bent on terrorizing Europe never materialized, because it never existed in the first place. Moreover, as revealed in a recent university survey on attitudes towards migrants, Slovaks are actually less afraid for their lives than for their jobs.

So what is Fico’s fear-mongering all about? Why bang on about terrorism if it is risibly untrue, and if it doesn’t resonate with the very people who are supposed to be listening?

The advantage of a dog whistle is that people don’t have to say things that would put them in an unflattering light. Such as that many Slovaks would rather not have to live beside indigent newcomers who remind them of the Roma. So Fico talks about terrorist threats from migrants, and people in surveys talk about competition for scarce jobs. Everyone blows on their whistles and no one has to speak the plain, unappealing truth, which is that the majority of people in this country reject greater religious, cultural and racial diversity.

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