The total misinformation about the outbreak of the coronavirus (2019n-CoV), originated in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, has caused paranoia, which has resulted in racist acts and discrimination against Asians in Central and Eastern Europe.
For example, in the Baltic countries, several web portals have used this misinformation as bait, with claims that the virus had reached the region, although no infection has been reported.
Media do not create panic in Croatia
Many tourists from China and East Asia visit the Balkan countries, either through routes with European buses or cruises that include bus routes between ports. If a cruise ship lands in Dubrovnik, Croatia, its passengers would have to travel to cities in Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, northern Macedonia, and finally Greece, where they would join the ship again in Thessaloniki.
Some media chose to sensationally track the movement of buses with Chinese tourists traveling from Italy via Slovenia through Slovenia and Bosnia, from the border crossing to the security measures taken in each city along the road.
Sometimes these stories include a human aspect, such as the one related to the “state of siege” on the Croatian border after the arrival of buses with Chinese tourists. The report described two girls from Shanghai who “cried and apologized to the other passengers (not Chinese)” for the delay.
Photos of tourists from Taiwan visiting the city of Šibenik with a “Nismo iz Kine” sign (We are not from China) became viral after being published on the Facebook page Dnevna doza prosječnog Dalmatinca (Daily dose of an average Dalmatian) . The photos received praise as a touch of sweetness, unlike the terrible situation portrayed by the media inside and outside the region.
The Croatian newspaper “Večernji list” published an interview with Xiaotong Chen-Li, owner of five Chinese-Asian restaurants in Zagreb, in which he states that despite the precaution of the people, the number of customers did not decrease, and in addition, their Restaurants mainly use ingredients from the area, and the rest are imported from the member countries of the European Union.
Insults and apologies in North Macedonia
North Macedonia has also seen an increase in Asian tourists in recent years, arriving in a country with fertile ground for misinformation. A local newspaper promoted an absurd statement, attributed to a Bulgarian doctor, who states that alcohol consumption would cure the disease.
On January 29, 2020, a Skopje citizen posted a video of him in which he is seen approaching a group of bewildered Asians on a street in the center of the capital. The video, which shows two men and three women who try to stoically ignore the insults of man, shocked a multi-ethnic country and very sensitive to acts of racism. Netizens shared the video on Twitter and Facebook as evidence of bad action.
At first it was thought that they were tourists, but then Sloboden Pečat newspaper revealed that they were members of a religious organization called “Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL)”. Then they told SDK.mk that it was an isolated event, and that the Macedonians had received them cordially in the four years they have been conducting school workshops with peace and tolerance.
The mayor of Skopje, Petre Šilegov, apologized for the xenophobic attack, said the fact “brought shame to the city and the country and is completely opposed to the fundamental values of the city such as solidarity, cosmopolitanism and union.” Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski also issued a public apology for the hate speech and demanded quick action from the interior minister.
Dehran Muratov, a Skopje-based journalist, commented on the subject in an editorial entitled “Do not fear, the coronavirus is afraid of being infected by you”
Лек за корона вирусот сигурно ќе се најде, но за идиотизмот, глупоста, просталукот, малограѓанството, несолидарноста, за говорот на омраза, расизмот … лек тешко дека ќе се најде.
Среде Скопје да навредиш група на граѓани кои ти заличија на Кинези само затоа што на ТВ, интернет, Фејсбук виде дека некаде во Кина досега стотици се починати, а илјадници заразени од смртоносната болест, и наместо да има жал и сочувство, ти да ги навредиш и опсуеш, навистина треба да си опериран од чувства.
The cure for the coronavirus will be discovered, but it would be difficult to find the cure for idiocy, stupidity, rudeness, the mentality of small bourgeois, lack of solidarity, bitter and racist discourse …
You have to be unable to feel any emotion to insult a group because they look like Chinese, just because on TV or on the Internet or Facebook we saw that somewhere in China, hundreds of people have died and thousands are infected by this deadly disease. To insult and blaspheme instead of expressing pain and compassion.
There is no taxi for a man with Chinese features in Minsk
In Belarus, where there is a significant Chinese community because of the policy of rapprochement between Minsk and Beijing, a recent case of discrimination illustrates how coronavirus-related xenophobia can affect the average citizen. On February 11, a Kazakh citizen identified as Nursultan asked for a taxi. When the taxi arrived, the taxi driver refused to open the door and walked away. Nursultan contacted the taxi driver to try to understand what happened and published screenshots of his conversation on a portal:
Nursultan: Why did you leave? LOL
Driver: You looked Chinese
Nursultan: This is what the lack of information does to people!
Driver: I don't see the why I should risk my life for 3 roubles. Good luck Haha!
Nursultan: Because you left? haha
Driver: You seem chinese
Nursultan: This is what the lack of information does to people!
Driver: I don't see why I have to risk my life for three rubles. Good luck. haha!
Nursultan contacted the taxi company, which apologized and said he will not work with that taxi driver again.
Discrimination against other groups of Asians in the Czech Republic
In the Czech Republic, which houses a large Vietnamese community, an Asian restaurant generated anger when it posted an ad on its front door that reads “To protect public health, the restaurant will not temporarily accept Chinese customers.”
The photo was first published on The Prague Geezer's Facebook page, and then it was reproduced hundreds of times.
Soon the outrage of the public forced the restaurant to withdraw the ad and to issue an apology on its Facebook page, in which it blames the “lack of knowledge about the disease”, and expresses regret for the announcement that caused more harm than good.
Discrimination based on racism is a crime in the Czech Republic, but in this case the police were not alerted. :
Xenophobia samples have been common in Western Europe, a popular destination among travelers around the world. For example, Italy has more than 300,000 people of Chinese descent, and more than five million tourists visited the country in 2018. However, it seems that Italy responds to xenophobia in a way that the other countries in the region They should emulate:
#Coronavirus On a train in Italy. A teenage Chinese boy boards the train. A woman comments loudly: “There you go, we are all going to be infected.” He replies in perfect Italian with a Roman inflection: “Ma’am, in my whole life I've seen China only on google maps.”
– Tommaso Valletti (@TomValletti) February 1, 2020
In a train from Italy. A Chinese teenager board the train. A woman comments out loud: “Well, we will all be infected.” The boy responded in perfect Italian with a Roman accent: “Madam, in all my life I have only seen China through Google Maps.”