Auteur: Nikolaj Nielsen
BRUSSELS - French leader Francois Hollande has joined German chancellor Angela Merkel in a warning against racism in his New Year speech.
In a televised address on Wednesday (31 December) focused largely on the economy, Hollande spoke of defending French values in the face of new social devisions.
He spoke out against stigmatising any single religion and defended the ideals of secularism and the dignity of women.
"It's when France forgets its principles that it loses itself," he said.
“I am making the fight against racism and anti-Semitism a national priority".
He added that France cannot forget its history, in reference to the deportation of Jews to German extermination camps during the second world war.
France has some of the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe. Both communities are subjected to slurs and violence.
But last year’s Israeli military operation against Gaza provoked an backlash against the Jewish community in France.
The operation, which killed over 2,000 people, sparked street protests and is said to have contributed to a rise in attacks against Jewish targets after a fall in 2013.
France had recorded a 31 percent decline from 2012 (614) to 2013 (423) in the number of anti-Semitic actions and threats, according to France’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.
It notes that while Jews represent less than 1 percent of the French population, 40 percent of racist violence perpetrated in France in 2013 targeted Jews.
The most affected regions include Ile-de-France, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, and Rhone-Alpes.
The commission also says racist attacks against other minorities like the Roma, blacks, and France's large Muslim communities have increased over the years.
Recent targets include government officials such as the black justice minister Christiane Taubira and Muslim education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.
Meanwhile, Merkel made similar comments in her New Year’s address.
The chancellor had spoken out against the so-called Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida).
In mid-December, some 17,000 Pegida supporters demonstrated in the eastern city of Dresden.
“Today many people are again shouting on Mondays: 'We are the people’. But what they really mean is: you are not one of us, because of your skin color or your religion,” said Merkel.