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Quotes of the day - Editorial - Opinion - Working groups
Quotes of the day
'Religion is like a family doctor, you want to have one but you hope you never have to go there.'
'...the 2nd largest building in the world and they drop us off at the wrong side!'
LOST IN CEAUSESCU'S FOLLY
The morning of the NGO meeting here in Bucharest started with an annoying lack of organizational ability on the part of the host, the Romanian government. TnD/ODIHR had secured three rooms for the workgroups sessions. When we arrived here at the Palatul Parliamentului (Palace of Parliament), an enormous bulk of a building, 2nd largest structure in Europe, all of a sudden there were only 2 rooms available, and the organizers really had to get very angry to bring that back to 3 again. It's not like there's not enough room in the former palace of dictator Ceausescu. Built between 1967 and 1989, it has more than a 1000 rooms. You could house all of the 75.000 stray dogs of Bucharest in here.
After the introductory statements were made in the plenary hall -where ODIHR also made it clear that the NGO recommendations which are produced today will be a consensus product - we were sent on our way to the working groups which are being held in parallel sessions. I decided to go the meeting on Muslim Hate in the 'Human Rights Room'. Well, I was in for a special treat. We set out going there accompanied by a guide. After her sudden disappearance, part of our group -including one of the presenters- got lost in the bowels of the building.
45 minutes of searching and mounting frustration finally got us to a room where the always so calm ambassador Orhun, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office's Personal Representative on Combating Violence and Discrimination against Muslims and moderator of the session, was getting somewhat angry. Rightly so. A goof-up like that could've easily destroyed the meeting and the rest of the program. It would not be the last facilitation problem that day. It being June in Bucharest means that it is quite hot here - and the Palace has no air conditioning at all. Translation problems. Scheduling problems. Guided tours getting in the way. There was a lack of water all the time. Some people almost fainted. Complaining about that got you a morose stare from the Romanian staff or just a harsh 'NO' if you had the audacity to ask for anything drinkable. 'Thank you very much shall I just die right here then' only brought more abrasive remarks. 'It is not the coffee break yet!'.
Sure, rumor had it there was a coffee bar somewhere that also sold water - just 3 kilometers down the corridor in the other side of the building on one of the eleven other floors. No thanks.
Luckily the TnD and ODIHR staff managed to do some real fancy footwork to get the strangely unresponsive Rumanian hosts to produce what they had promised. It was like pulling teeth, though. TnD and ODIHR staff was running around, overworked, totally stressed but handling all the adversity. They did a hell of a job -some of them even from a distance in Warsaw- and took NGO bitchin' and moaning about upholding and not diluting the language of our recommendations - we are after all a passionate lot- in their stride.
ODIHR leadership really is between a rock and a hard place - they are on the side of the NGOs but their collective bosses are the OSCE participating states, and those really don't want 'strong opinions'. It upsets their cozy diplomatic stability too much and pins them down on taking measures they say they want but might not really want - see what I mean? So ODIHR has to 'filter' and maneuver to get some stuff adopted and implemented. Political reality at the OSCE is like playing three-dimensional chess.
By Ronald Eissens
MUTUAL RESPECT AND UNDERSTANDING
Diplomacy versus Advocacy - Participating States versus Civil Society
By Suzette Bronkhorst
I like OSCE conferences and meetings because, for an inter- governmental institution, you have to give them credit for the space they give NGOs to bring their point of view to the table. As the number of NGOs that are 'discovering' the OSCE increases, and therefore the amount of input, so does the feeling from the governmental side that it is losing control.
Civil society recognizes that -when making recommendations or doing an intervention- you don't use profanities and you apply OSCE-lingo. E.g. the EU has member states but the OSCE has participating states. However, NGOs have a duty to speak out clear and concise about issues. They are not obliged to use obfuscating or neutral language, as to avoid stepping on 'political toes'. Civil society is NOT the cheerleader for whatever states decide to do.
In the past NGOs have organized a few preparatory meetings for Civil society. For the tolerance conference in Cordoba (2005), the Spanish leadership provided resources for a daylong preparation. Now ODIHR has been tasked with organising these pre-meetings. I applaud them for coming up with the idea and wanting to organise these meetings. However, although ODIHR should ensure that any documents that derive from these meetings are in line with universally recognised human rights standards , the wording and the agenda for any such meeting should be drafted by civil society itself.
May I be so bold as to make a recommendation here?
Perhaps civil society should create a body for NGOs that do advocacy within the OSCE. This body could possibly elect a preparatory committee to, together with ODIHR Civil Society coordinators, organise pre-meetings.
Pre-meetings are an opportunity for NGOs to exchange views and ideas and to create joint statements. However, this can never prevent organisations from doing individual interventions and/or recommendations during the governmental meetings. In the past few years ODIHR has worked hard on raising the OSCE profile within the NGO community, securing more input and therefore civil support for human rights. These efforts haven't been in vain. More NGOs are attending meetings. Any true democratic institution will not collapse because of some criticism or opposing opinions. On the contrary, democracy thrives on this.
To have fruitful interaction between participating States and participating NGOs, States have to accept that the language of advocacy is different from the language of diplomacy. I'm not saying here that civil society is incapable of being diplomatic. We're not, but being diplomatic should not be the same as being in line with mainstream policies. Advocacy requires the opposite of going along with those; we're in the business of trying to improve and change existing policies.
 When the NGO forum (sponsored and promoted by the UN) during the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban turned into a hate-fest, the UN leadership didn't intervene or speak out against it. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, just refused to present the NGO documents to the governmental conference.
Going back to the Discrimination of Muslims meeting. Since 45 minutes were lost already the presenters had to turbo it a bit but still excellent speeches were given and lively discussion developed. One remark by presenter Mohamed Boudjenane struck me as the core of hate against Muslims today; 'we're waiting for another 9/11 to happen and obviously it will happen since as history has proven time and time again crazy people do not learn from horrible acts like that. So when it happens, what will we do?'
Muslims in Europe do not exactly have it easy these days. Fear and loathing, that's what they're the subject of. Every Muslim a terrorist or at least a potential one. Funny, never ever did anybody claim that all the Catholic Irish were terrorists. Or that Christianity is a backwards religion since its main representative thinks it unwise to allow the use of condoms, by this advocating and inciting the spread of AIDS on a grand scale. Hate crime against Muslims is on the rise. It's time to divorce the word Muslim from the word terrorist. The meeting deliberated on these and other issues and ended with an excellent set of recommendations.
The working group on antisemitism recycled some of the commitments that were made at the OSCE during the strong push of the last 5 years on countering antisemitism. Some new recommendations were added, most importantly on academic antisemitism, boycott-attempts of Israeli academics, and antisemitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.
The Christianophobia meeting addressed the rights of the non-believers as one of the biggest discriminated groups in Europe (!), and talked amongst other things, about the discrimination of Jehovah witnesses in Armenia by forcing them to do alternative military service within the military structure. Also there was some inter-religious criticism between Greek orthodox and catholic delegates that fortunately ended with the conclusion that of course all will be conquered by love.
There were a lot of other good meetings - have a look at the list of consolidated recommendations that was produced (179 in total!).
The last working session of the day dealt with 'Cooperation between civil society and NGOs'. Two important recommendations made there were:
1. We call upon OSCE-ODIHR to facilitate and support civil society/NGO participation in OSCE political meetings and other platforms to address participating States; in this regard, create a 'safe space' for open discussion on issues relating to the human dimension.
2. Civil society should create a body for NGOs that engages in advocacy within the OSCE. This body could possibly elect a preparatory committee to, together with ODIHR Civil Society coordinators, organize pre-meetings. This would ensure that ODIHR would provide an arena for civil society instead of being a filter.
Editorial - Working Sessions Day One - Common tendencies within the extreme right spectrum in Europe: Civil society against right-wing extremism
Quotes of the day
'Wow, looks like Durban WCAR follow up in Bucharest, now also the governments behave badly!'
'Is that woman drunk or on drugs or something?'
'She hijacked the delegation'
'Mostly it's best to let her rant and rave until she stops'
Ever heard of ambassador Julie Finley, the U.S. chief of mission to the OSCE? She's been in office since August 2005 and up to now she did not really make an impression, although rumor had it that she was a real hardliner. Well, duh. Never during the 5 years that we've been going to OSCE meetings did we ever see anything like what happened today. So what happened? During the afternoon session on antisemitism a delegate from Egypt made a flippant remark: 'Well yes, but we should also talk about other forms of discrimination, not only about antisemitism' Which is of course not a very appropriate thing to say in a session about antisemitism, certainly not coming from a country where antisemitism runs rampant in both politics and rhetoric in society, schoolbooks and the media.
However, the reply from ambassador Finley was way out of proportion. She started by launching a personal attack again the Egyptian delegate, calling him names, questioning his mental capacity, hitting the table with her fist, screaming, and stating that it would be better 'to all go back to Vienna and work on antisemitism, the rest can take care of themselves'. In other words: 'we care about antisemitism and other forms of discrimination can go to hell' Finley also snarled at another delegate who made a appalled noise, telling him 'you'd better not interfere!!'
The room was aghast. The other U.S. delegation members huddled around her to try to calm her down. The Egyptian delegate made use of the right of reply by starting his own hate-filled diatribe. It was all the fault of the Jews, antisemitism did not exist and certainly not in Egypt which had always been so kind to Jews yada yada yada, implying that ambassador Finley's hissy fit was in fact orchestrated by Jews - or something.
Meanwhile the room started to overflow with people who came running in to see the fun and games. The moderator of the session, Professor Weisskirchen, had sort-of frozen on the spot and was not able to take any action to stop the nasty uproar. Weisskirchen is too nice, really. But then again, it is not every day that diplomats behave like hooligans. Ambassador Strohal, director of ODIHR, missed it all and was grabbed by one of his aides when he came in: 'you missed it! It was horrible! Come over here, I'll tell you'. 10 minutes later Ambassador Omer Orhun had to take over to start the session on hate against Muslims. Ouch.
Questioning other delegates about Finley we were told that 'she does this all the time during meetings in Vienna'.
Makes you wonder what's wrong with this woman. She did no-one a service by this, certainly not the Jewish NGOs. Looks like she's trying to destroy 5 years of bridge-building and attempts at balance seeking and creating solidarity in dealing with all the forms of discrimination, work done at the OSCE by ODIHR, a number of participating states and civil society. Some say I should be even-handed and blame the Egyptian delegate as much as I do Finley. Well, I don't. The U.S.A., with all its faults and flaws, has a long history of doing excellent work in the OSCE region, oftentimes being a moral guide, facilitator of democratization and a champion of Human Rights. It should really not engage in banana republic behavior. Even President Bush displays better manners than Foaming-at-the-mouth Finley.
The atmosphere here today is somewhat like the infamous World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001, but only warped; this time it's governmental delegates that dish-out hate, while the NGOs try to save the day. Last few hours of the conference we noticed some U.S. delegation members walking the corridors with paper bags diplomatically pulled over their heads.
By Ronald Eissens
WORKING SESSIONS - DAY ONE
The morning of the 1st day of the governmental part of the OSCE conference started by an address by the President of Romania, Mr. Traian Basescu, President Basescu spoke nice words about all the measures Romania is taking to fight the discrimination of Roma, which was not surprising since he was involved in a scandal recently for calling a journalist 'a dirty gypsy'. We will see if this is the usual lip service being paid or a real attempt to rectify his bad remark and finally take real action against the -partly state organized and sanctioned- discrimination of Roma in his country. Don't hold your breath, a president who in the same speech says that democracy is a 'political regime' still has a whole lot to learn.
Following were speeches given by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Prince Hassan of Jordania. Prince Hassan talked mainly about his own region, the middle east, the plight of Muslims, and the problems in Iraq. This annoyed congressman Eric Cantor somewhat. The tone was set for a full-out screaming fit between the U.S. and Egypt later in the day. Elie Wiesel (by video message) warned against neo-nazi and racist groups, openly holding public meetings and doing their 'activities' in Europe. He also stressed that of the three 'illnesses' of the 20th century, nazims and communism and antisemitism, antisemitism was the only one still around.
After this Magda Matache (NGO Romani CRISS) presented some highlights from the consolidated recommendations (179 in total) on behalf of the NGOs.
She closed her speech by saying 'I stand here before you and maybe I should identify as a dirty gypsy, like the Romanian president said recently, but no, I stand here as a proud Roma woman'. Which made the smile on the face of President Basescu disappear real fast. Oops.
More on this days sessions later. Since our news team is understaffed (2), underpaid, overworked, suffering from heatstroke and non-existing or crappy internet connections and above all extremely tired we will have 'reconvene' later.
Working sessions day 1 (continued)
The first working session of the day was on combating antisemitism. As was to be expected, it became clear that despite OSCE commitments manifestations of antisemitism in the OSCE region, including hate crime against Jews, were still on the rise. Several speakers pledged their support for the special OSCE representative on antisemitism, Professor Gert Weisskirchen. A number of Jewish NGOs made excellent contributions although some were a bit heavy-handed in driving the message home; 'antisemitism is the oldest and most vicious of all forms of racism', seemingly afraid that somebody would not have noticed this. Later in the session ambassador Julie Finley, the U.S. chief of mission to the OSCE blew her top when the Egyptian spokesperson (Egypt is one of the OSCE Mediterranean partners for cooperation who almost never show up during conferences) started to make flippant -and later antisemitic- remarks. The vicious and counterproductive rant of Ambassador Finley is described in this day's editorial.
Strangely enough, Finley's attack on the fact that the conference also dealt with other forms of discrimination, 'Let's all go back to Vienna and work on antisemitism, the rest of the issues can take care of themselves', is not exactly U.S. policy. At the contrary. U.S. delegation officials have, during the last five years, always worked for including other forms of discrimination. During the OSCE parliamentary assembly 2003 in Rotterdam, at an NGO side event organized by Magenta Foundation and CIDI (Netherlands) the previous U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Mr.Stephan Minikes stated: "You NGOs better make sure to include all forms of racism in your advocacy since this is the only way to mainstream and keep antisemitism firmly on the agenda". Another U.S. delegation member present at the side event, congessman Chris Smith, firmly agreed. Probably he and some others in the U.S. delegation are suffering from a bout of amnesia because they made it clear that 'the other issues' really take second place to antisemitism. Which is a real disservice, not only towards 'the other issues' but also towards the Jewish NGOs since it creates, as the hierarchy of suffering always does, resentment. What's more, during the closing session of the conference Chris Smith himself made a statement that reversed his 2003 position.
The session on combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims was next. Since the U.S. delegation was still reeling out in the corridor because of the Finley situation, the only U.S. delegate sitting in the plenary was Imam Talal Eid, who had the good sense of just not replying when the Egyptian ambassador, not satisfied with his time allotment during his attack on Finley, simply started a new one. Although moderator Ambassador Orhun succeeded in leading the meeting in a productive manner, many were out in the corridors discussing the scandal or were just totally distracted. Issues talked about were amongst others: hate crimes against Muslims and mosques, discriminatory and negative (political) rhetoric, the image of Muslims in the media, the Muslims=Terrorists equation.
The day ended as per usual with lots of receptions.
COMMON TENDENCIES WITHIN THE EXTREME RIGHT SPECTRUM IN EUROPE: Civil society against right-wing extremism
This is an attempt made by a group of NGOs from Spain, Germany, Slovakia and Russia, all active members within the European network "UNITED for Intercultural Action", to analyze the tendencies and common trends in right-wing extremism across Europe. We consider it of paramount importance to concentrate not only on how different the revelations of right-wing extremism across Europe are, but in which respect they are similar. We believe that there are enough grounds to state that there are conspicuous common trends and that it is vital to highlight them and address their revelations in the course of all European actions or by means of networks.
We acknowledge that even what we call common trends, are rather diversified manifestations of xenophobia, racism, fascism, anti-Semitism, totalitarianism and other forms of intolerance, which can vary in scope and scale from country to country and even from region to region. Nevertheless, we find it crucial never to be tired of generalizing at the pan-European level what we are eye witnessing in the countries we reside.
First and foremost, we would like to point out two major tendencies: on the one hand, we observe that right-wing (RW) ideology becomes a mainstream legitimate rhetoric on different levels and by different ways; on the other hand, we can immediately see how this is linked with the increase of attacks and violence motivated by hate across Europe.
A number of minor trends might reinforce the first argument.
Firstly, the adoption of RW speech and ideology in governmental structures and ruling parties is becoming more and more visible. It manifests itself in the appropriation of speech of RW groups by conservatives, liberals and even left-wing parties in office for the sake of populism. The case in point is the so-called "Russian project" of the party "United Russia", which focuses on the crimes against ethnically Russian citizens and promotes the Russian national idea discourse, which happened to be the niche of the RW groups only.
Another example is the debate about a "new patriotism" in Germany which was initiated by the governing Christian Democratic Union CDU in 2004. Its appeal that patriotism must play a stronger role in Germany was heavily criticized in being close to nationalistic positions. At the same time, Conservative spokesmen attached the discussion about immigration rules to the demand for a leitkultur, a "defining German culture", in clearly turning against any kind of multiculturalism. Such rhetoric inevitably expresses associations with the ideology originally spread by the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party of Germany NPD. Thus, under the label of patriotism and leitkultur, the CDU politics represents a turn to the right which eventually plays into the hands of right-wing extremists.
In the case of Slovakia, participants of the latest congress of Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) declared that they should also come up with ideas of nation and national pride, because otherwise it remain an open area to extreme nationalist parties like the Slovak national party (SNS), infamous for its xenophobic and even racist statements. This means a clear turn of political strategy from Christian and democratic values to nation-based populism and use of nationalistic sentiment by mainstream parties.
One more demonstration of such RW ideology adoption is the institutionalization of racism. This tendency reveals itself mostly in Eastern Europe and is the most warning one, because it shows how much some countries have already gone beyond democratic values. Anti-Georgian campaign in Russia brought to the surface the directives of officials of different levels that ordered, for example, heads of schools to trace down and report pupils' nationalities and the background of their parents in search of the illegal migrants of Georgian origin.
Secondly, we can state that the process is mutual: RW ideologists assume the popular social rhetoric. Debating about the possible solutions to the problems of unemployment, illegal migration, globalization, Roma issues or terrorism in Spain, RW groups and parties attract the audience. For example, the same National Democratic Party of Germany NPD organized several anti-globalization demonstrations across Germany during the G-8-summit in Heiligendamm in June 2007.
Thirdly, we face the change and extension of RW hate targets to those that majority of the population feel reluctant to support. Such groups as homosexuals, homeless, prostitutes and antifascists and other youths belonging to non-right-wing extremist subcultures are being attacked across Europe, but these assaults do not provoke a backlash and are seldom stated as hate crimes.
Fourthly, it becomes evident that RW groups and movements establish themselves quickly and effectively, using quite business-like efficient methodologies. Some movements as Movement against Illegal Immigration in Russia prefer the network scheme, supporting individuals or grass-root groups in the regions that are easy to be gathered if need be. Another instance is the "Rudolf Hess memorial march" which used to take place on 17 August, the anniversary of his death, in the Bavarian city of Wunsiedel. Neo-Nazis from Germany and Europe gathered every year to commemorate the death of Hitler's deputy until the demonstration was banned in 2005 due to a stricter German legislation. In 2004, about 5000 right-wing extremists from all over Europe belonging to party-political structures and sub-cultural movements marched in Wunsiedel, making it the biggest Nazi demonstration in Germany since 1945.
In recent years, the activities of the parties, groups, movements professing right-wing ideology, have also become more marketing-oriented. The approaches to the target audience encompass brand promotion via e-shops (i.e. "Thor Steinar", as an identity brand for RW extremists, etc.), election campaigns, door-to-door polls and creative stickers and flyers or street graffiti. In this way, the RW bigotry ideas reach the consumers nicely packed.
Another contribution to the organizational growth reveals the tendency towards self-education of the community by means of editing and publishing a lot of literature, opening bookshops and manufacturing paraphernalia, organizing physical activities and Waffen-SS ("Armed SS") Official lectures of ideologists in the provinces, like the "workshops" with the former Theodor Soucek in Málaga, Spain, or the visit of the Spanish Delegation of Alianza Nacional to the former Luftwaffe officer Roman Gastager, dwelling in Dresden, Germany. New generations of Nazis are being indoctrinated and trained across Europe.
International networks of right-wing extremists play a very important role in their daily operations and use different and not compatible legal regulations in various European countries. Cases of printing CDs with hate music in one country, the booklets in another one and selling them through online shops registered in a third country illustrate this trend.
Fifthly, the RW culture does not isolate itself from the mass culture, but intrudes very actively into it, infecting some subcultures as well. The fact that ideologists have become public people in some countries, like Dmitriy Demushkin - the head of the Slavic Union, Russia, who is routinely invited to take part in the TV debates on state TV channels, is but alarming. The cooperation of bands in the black metal, hard core punk, folk and other scenes is ubiquitous in Europe and is stated e.g. in the reports of Polish 'Never Again' association. The contamination of other subcultures like bikers, street-racers let alone football fans has a pervasive character. We are faced with new, updated, more clever and better prepared groups of right-wing extremists, hiding their message of hate into new cloths and symbols.
Sixthly, cyber hate has become the universal tool of inciting animosity. Websites and blogs serve as ideological covers for racist attacks and threats at activists and human rights defenders. Another tendency interlinked with the global network is the occurrence of websites specifically collecting and disseminating hate trailers and videos for PCs and mobile phones such as a Format18 web-site administrated in Russia.
The second tendency that we have mentioned in the very beginning is the increase of hate-motivated violence across Europe. Due to the above-mentioned successful strategies according to the data provided by NGOs the number of attacks is rising constantly. In Russia, according to SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, in 2006 there was a 17% growth of racist violence in comparison to 2005 with 536 victims and a death toll of 54. In Spain, the Movement against Intolerance has an estimation of 4000 aggressions in 200 cities across the country according to the special RAXEN Report of 2007 with data of 2006.
In England, data collections of the Fundamental Rights Agency (former EUMC) announce 57902 racist incidents and 37000 hate crimes in 2005. In Slovakia, police recorded 121 cases of racially motivated crimes in 2005, and 188 cases in 2006. It is noteworthy that the pan-European data are hardly incompatible and shows but success of England, in this case, to establish a well-functioning data collection system, rather than the worst situation with hate-motivated crimes in Europe as it might seem. In this respect, the setting up of a unified data collection system across Europe both from law enforcement agencies and NGOs is of acute necessity.
In conclusion, we would like to state that the tendency towards mainstreaming takes place not only due to the huge solidarity within the RW extremist community, but because of the fact that political and civil society actors have almost failed to suggest an attractive alternative agenda. The most concerning issue is the danger of allowing our values - human rights, equality and dignity - to become marginalized in the long run. Civil Society has a role to play in the struggle against right-wing extremism. Promoting democracy as a value, showing that its works, teaching against the totalitarianism temptation, spreading the principles of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms. We as a network of NGOs from Spain, Germany, Slovakia and Russia call for solidarity and hard work towards setting an attractive agenda promoting the values of democracy. We have a strong commitment and a great determination to put these ideas into action.
Movimiento Contra la Intolerancia - Movement against Intolerance (Spain)
Kulturbüro Sachsen - Cultural Office Saxony (Germany)
Ludia proti rasizmu - People against Racism (Slovakia)
International Youth Human Rights Movement (Russia)
UNITED for Intercultural Action - European network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants and refugees
Quotes of the day
'Some of the megalomania of this building found its way into the speeches'
'The EU supports most, if not all of these NGO recommendations'
'This must be the only building in which it is hotter in basement than on the first floor. Must be because we're close to hell'
Free coffee and DVDs!
Coming into The Palace this morning, shuttled from our hotel by the excellent service ODIHR had provided, we were met by a nice young guy who pointed to the right, saying 'free coffee that way!' We could even smell it. So most of our group followed our nose, ending up in a room where the 'World youth organization for Human Rights (or something like that) handed out free coffee and on a screen ran a trailer of a Human Rights public service announcement DVD. 'Come back at noon during our side event and you get the free video', was the message. Pretty smart. Pretty expensive too, but on my way to the first session of the day that thought did not make me suspicious. I did not make it to their side event -later I learned that the event was scrapped anyway, since the working sessions of the conference did not end at the indicated lunch time- but in the afternoon I was on my way to the plenary when I was -literally- grabbed and stopped by two of the 'free DVD guys', asking me if 'I already had my copy'
Being too busy with a zillion things I took a DVD, thanked them and gave them my card, waltzing into the plenary and distractedly looking at the back of the DVD. It had a quote by one Ron. L. Hubbard. Ouch. I should have known. Those guys were Scientology! It was all too slick, too yucky, empty smiles and obsessed eyes, the types you see walking the streets in any mayor city in Europe, grabbing people (I thought they had abandoned this method, cost them a few broken arms in the eighties and nineties) and taking them to their grotto for a 'free personality test', zooming in on the weak and the doubting, turning them into brainwashed dianetics-spouting automatons that transfer their full monthly salary to 'The Church', leave home and family and disappear into the scientology quicksand. Got to update the Spam filters fast, that's for sure. Last time Scientology bothered us with their lunacy we had to have our lawyer write a 'cease and desist' letter. Really, I have no problem with talking to groups that have a totally different view from ours, but we draw the line at crazy abusive cults.
Enough about them. The good news of today: Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Canadian Arab Federation and the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities launched a Joint Jewish-Muslim Appeal to the conference. Have a look here. I wish more NGOs would follow this sensible and hopeful path. By the way, the final Bucharest declaration that came out at the end of the day is pretty weak - more about that later!
The consolidated list of recommendations produced by the Civil Society preparatory meeting was read into the working sessions, per subject. At the start of each session the moderator gave one -or more- NGO Reps the floor. An excellent way of doing it we think, ensuring ownership and inclusion.
WORKING SESSIONS - DAY TWO
Day two started with a working session on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, also focusing on intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions. Several NGO reps read the most important NGO recommendations for that session. Suzette Bronkhorst did the ones on racism and xenophobia, but started with a personal note. "These recommendations were produced by the civil society preparatory meeting, a meeting which, I have to say, took place in an atmosphere of mutual trust, understanding and above all…respect". Most people in the room understood the reference to the misconduct of Ambassadors Saad (Egypt) and Finley (USA) of the previous day.
A whole lot of contributions were made. To name a few, Erika Harriford-McLaren read a statement
on the Hate Crimes campaign of Coalition Europe and the representative of the Holy See came with a statement on discrimination of Christians which had (at least) one interesting paragraph: "At times undue pressure is brought to bear upon people working in Public
Administration in contrast with their freedom to behave in accordance with the dictates of their own conscience. In one OSCE country provincial marriage commissioners were instructed to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or else resign their posts. Some commissioners resigned; others filed a complaint, since they felt that their right to freedom of conscience and religious freedom had been violated."
Of course those who are not in favor of the separation of Church and State have a right to object - for that is what's being stated here clearly. Fact is though that in countries were this separation is not in place -or just ignored- religious majorities often infringe upon the rights of minorities of another religion or another sexual preference. A collision of rights, which cannot be solved by confusing the rights of everybody to belong to a different religion or a different sexual preference as discrimination of the others. A statement by CSW, a Christian human rights NGO (whatever happened to universal Human Rights) was more realistic in its listing of discrimination and persecution of Christians and other religious.
The next session, Legislation in the field of tolerance and non-discrimination; the role of law enforcement in combating hate crime; data collection on hate crimes, saw many good contributions by Beate Winkler (FRA, Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU, formerly EUMC), Mike Whine (UK delegation), Oana Mihalache (Romani CRISS) and Alcee Hastings, who really saved the day (and to some extent the reputation of the U.S. at this conference). Mr. Hastings, Chairman of the Helsinki Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, US Helsinki Commission, held a passionate speech at the opening of the session, in which he referred to his own identity as an African-American and the history of segregation in the U.S.A. He also took up some other issues the U.S. delegation had left by the roadside, like the discrimination and the rights of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgendered people (GLBT).
Next session (5) had as subject Education to promote mutual respect and understanding, remembrance of the Holocaust, and inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. This was sort-of a spillover session. Most issues on Holocaust had already been covered in the session on antisemitism the day before. Still, there were some interesting contributions of which some also dealt with education and respect in general. Have a look here
The last working session of the day was devoted to addressing racist, xenophobic and discriminatory public discourse spread through, inter alia, the media, Internet, satellite TV and textbooks, while respecting freedom of expression. It was moderated by the OSCE Freedom of the Media office (FOM). "While respecting freedom of expression" is always the catch in sessions or conferences organized by FOM - their eternal mantra is that freedom of expression should be almost total and that any restriction to it should be as narrowly defined as possible. That's fine, since in most European countries there are specific laws addressing hate speech in that way. Not that this helps FOM to take a less fundamentalist stance. During conferences they organized over the last few years they always made it clear that they did not really believe in countering hate speech by restricting it. Even during the 2004 OSCE Meeting on the Relationship between Racist, Xenophobic and Anti-Semitic Propaganda on the Internet and Hate Crimes in Paris they tooted that horn.
This session brought no surprises from FOM. Luckily, the ODIHR came to the rescue with a mature statement on the issue of hate speech versus freedom of speech., closely followed by another excellent statement from Len Rudner (Canadian Jewish Congress). Of course some of the recommendations on cyber hate by The International Network Against Cyber Hate (INACH), made during the Civil Society preparatory meeting , were also read into the plenary.
During the closing session the moderators of all sessions gave a short summary. The final declaration of the conference was presented and a few delegates commented, amongst them U.S. Representative Chris Smith, Co-Chair of the delegation. Although he did it in a much more civilized (and obfuscating) way, Chris Smith confirmed what Finley already made quite clear: the U.S. is only interested in combating antisemitism. Which is quite a change from his 2003 stance. Does he really support this? Well, private opinions and public politics are sadly enough great bedfellows.
So are we happy with the final Bucharest declaration? Happy is not the word.
We are really happy with the way the NGO involvement in this conference went. We like to note that during the final session Helmut Kulitz, counselor of the German permanent mission to the OSCE, stated on behalf of the European Union that "The EU can agree with most, if not all the recommendations made by Civil Society".
Looking at the final declaration (The 'Bucharest Declaration') you can see that the word 'religion' is suddenly all over the place. The declaration is pretty short, and maybe somewhat too concise and diluted. The language on antisemitism and discrimination of Muslims is good. GLBT is missing completely but 'could be' included in 'related intolerances'. We will all have to work hard to make that, and other (previous) commitments a reality during the OSCE Human Dimensions Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in September this year.
The final Bucharest declaration can be found here.
All the documents per session (those uploaded by the OSCE up to now, anyway) can be found here.
No, Ambassador Finley's rant is not (yet) online on the official documents page of the conference. Probably it wont be - ever. I mean, how to do that? Cleaning it up does not leave much. The ambassador of Egypt's stuff is here - somewhat sanitized, but still bad enough.
Elke and her people
Do you sometimes wonder who's responsible for this whole paper thing, I mean all the copies and distribution of interventions, statements, papers, all the logistics behind it? Who's responsible for this fine working machinery? It is the OSCE Conference services. At all OSCE events you will see one or more cubicles with a big sign saying 'Documents Distribution Centre'. There you will find Elke Lidarik with her team, always friendly and calm, always able and willing to help you with getting your stuff into the record, copying, distributing, et cetera. Elke and her team are there for you always, and without her the whole OSCE traveling circus would be impossible. Not only is she enormously efficient, she's also a very nice person. Over the years we have borrowed many a cigarette from her. This world needs more Elkes!
Seen in the corridors
ODIHR Director Christian Strohal tripping over one of the huge carpets, taking a dive but...craftily landing on his feet. Of course not everybody at OSCE conferences is able to 'do a Strohal'.
People sitting on one of those huge rolled-up carpets in the basement, having lunch. Why are lunches like this always 'standing-only'? In your average conference crowd you'll find the elder, the disabled or those who have physical problems. All would appreciate at least some chairs.