NEWS - Archive April 2007

Headlines 27 April, 2007

Headlines 20 April, 2007

Headlines 13 April, 2007

The International Roma Day 2007

Headlines 6 April, 2007

Headlines 27 April, 2007


26/4/2007- German police confiscated guns and WWII German army helmets during a raid in the houses of dozens of sympathisers of extreme-right group named Sturm 34 on Thursday morning. Following the operation in the city of Dresden, authorities outlawed Sturm 34, a group named after the German word for storm which is Nazi jargon for rapid attack. The ban, signed by Interior Minister Albrecht Buttolo, applies immediately. Police said the group numbered 40 to 50 with a further 100 sympathizers. Police said the guns which were which in the dawn raids fire blanks and do not require licences. Sturm 34 had attempted to to establish a "liberated nationalist zone" in the Mittweida area of the Saxony state by assaulting foreigners and anyone who disagreed with it, the state Interior Ministry said in Dresden. Elsewhere, police from two states raided homes of neo-Nazis who had apparently conducted a paramilitary summer camp training in the use of guns. Police acted after receiving photos of mock executions taking place at the event. The searches for guns and propaganda in the Osnabrueck area covered parts of both Lower Saxony and North-Rhine Westphalia states. Prosecutors said some of the group were members of the extreme-right National Democratic Party (NPD). German police have cracked down several times over the years to stop racists proclaiming "liberated nationalist zones" where blacks and Asians are too scared to use the streets. At the last Saxony state election, nine per cent of voters supported the NPD. The neo-nazi party has focused its campaign efforts on backward, poor sections of the former communist region.



25/4/2007- On Friday 4th April a group of supporters of SK Slovan Bratislava displayed a banner with title "Alles Gute Adi“ and a smiley face in a form of Adolf Hitler. The letter S in this sign was replaced by a sigurnia - a symbol used as a sign for SS units. This incident took place at the match against FC Senec. Slovan supporters also were chanting "racist, fascist, hooligans“, repeated several times. This was not, however, an isolated incident connected with Slovan Ultras supporters. They are infamous for their similar racist and fascist behaviour - at a match with Artmedia Petrzalka on April 7th, in Bratislava, the same group of ultras chanted monkey noises directed at the African player. Karim Guede, from Togo, playing as a defensive midfield for Artmedia. The approach of club officials and players is also quite disturbing. Players of SK Slovan greeted and clapped their supporters after the match. Slovan Ultras also published an article describing their meeting with club officials, which took place couple of days after the match with Artmedia. The article says that the meeting was held in a very friendly atmosphere and they have been praised for their support for the SK Slovan team and they have received support for their activities from the club officials. Not a word about racist chanting, which happend at the same match, and not a word about the nazi symbols. When the club officials were asked about this incident by journalists, they stated that they denounce any racist or fascist expressions, but given their previous support to the same groups of ultras, which organised and carried out the public display, it does not seem to be meant seriously. The Slovak Football Association has issued today a statement condemning the incident and calling for police action against those involved; however it has failed to implement article 55 of FIFA disciplinary code into its own statutes. This is a further example of a clear lack of a pro-active approach towards similar cases of racism and nazism in slovak football grounds.
© email source



24/4/2007- This year April, 20 was marked traditionally with neo-nazi assaults on minorities, with various manifestations and with a raise of the police presence in the cities. However, foreign students were asked not to leave their dormitories for several days lest they should be attacked, a fact which proves the police to be inefficient. There have not been registered any hate crimes committed on April, 20 itself, perhaps, because this kind of information is usually delayed or, perhaps, because neo-nazis do not risk attacking on the exact date in fear of the mobilized police. Usually a raise of neo-nazi violence is registered during the fortnight around April, 20. This year seven people were murdered and more than twenty people injured in April in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian towns. Six of the seven murders took place in Moscow.

On April, 16 a 46 year old Karen Abramyan, a Moscow businessman, an ethnic Armenian, was stabbed to death by two youngsters in front of his block of flats. His son could observe the attack through the window. Abramyan was taken to the hospital, but died there. The same day the body of a 26 year old ethnic Tajik was found in another Moscow district. He had 35 stabbed wounds. Two students were arrested in connection with these two crimes. Reportedly they may be responsible for some other recent hate attacks in Moscow. On the weekend following April, 20 several manifestations of different nature were held in Moscow. A remarkable detail is that two ultra right wing manifestations had been sanctioned by the city authorities, while a peaceful human rights "excursion" was dispersed. On April, 22 about 20 people came to the city center just to take a walk and to see the places of the most violent police actions during the April, 14 opposition manifestation, they had no slogans or leaflets on them but faced several hundred policemen. Five of the human rights activists were detained. Meanwhile, the Nazi slogans and salutes at the two sanctioned rightwing manifestations on April, 21 did not provoke the police to stop them.

One rightwing manifestation took place on Slavyanskaja Square, close to the building of the administration of the Russian president and gathered up to 250 people. The organizers, Party for the Defense of the Russian Constitution "Rus", appealed to members of the neo-Nazi movement National-Socialist Society (NSO) and of the group “Format 18” to take part in the meeting. The official subject of the manifestation was freedom of choice. Maxim Martsinkevich, the leader of Format 18, made a cynic announcement on his website, inviting his comrades to come and celebrate the birthday of… one of the creators of the Cyrillic alphabet, whose monument stands on the square. There were other national socialist organizations present, such as RONS (Russian Nation-wide Unity), the Russian Will and others. The speech made by Dmitry Rumyantsev, the leader of NSO, became the culmination of the meeting. It was a pure national socialist call to violence and a declaration of superiority. The speech was widely spread through the Internet. Special police troops, which were there to safeguard the event, did not interfere.

Another nationalist manifestation took place on the same day on Pushkinskaya square, in the city center. The official demand expressed at this meeting was to change the name of one of the Moscow streets from "Ahmet Kadyrov street" to "Street of the Pskov commandos" (in memory of the soldiers from Pskov killed in Chechnya). There were up to 300 people from the Slavic Union (SS), the National State Party of Russia (NDPR), the Russian Nation-wide Unity (RONS), the Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), the Russian Order, as well as members of the so-called "Kurjanovich crew" (supporters of Nikolai Kurjanovich, an MP) and of the Union of Orthodox Gonfaloniers. However, the speakers went beyond the declared subject and passed to anti-Caucasian slogans and propaganda of fighting. Alexander Belov (Potkin), the leader of DPNI, was detained by the police for his anti-police speech full of obscenities. None of the people making nazi salutes was arrested.
© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis



25/4/2007- A week after Moscow police violently dispersed a peaceful opposition rally on the dubious claim that it was illegal, Moscow city authorities granted permission for neo-Nazis to publicly mark the birthday of Adolf Hitler, a man who once planned to wipe the Russian capital off the face of the earth, according to an April 22, 2007 report posted on the Russian language web site of Radio Liberty. Around 350 extremists rallied in front of the presidential administration's building in Moscow on April 21, screaming neo-Nazi slogans and making the fascist salute as police looked casually on, despite the fact that under Russian law, the public incitement of ethnic hatred is illegal. Pictures of the rally were posted on Radio Liberty's web site. This is the second time Moscow officials have granted official permission for extremist nationalist rallies; the first came on April 14, the day of the opposition "Other Russia" march. In a possible sign of collaboration between government officials and nationalist hate groups, members of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration and three State Duma members were granted permission to hold their rally in an apparent attempt to deny public space to the "Other Russia" march, whose participants were savagely beaten by police.
© FSU Monitor



Westbound labor migrants are leaving thousands of Romanian youngsters behind every year.

26/4/2007- To reach Sperieteni, a village some 50 kilometers from Bucharest, leave the highway and drive half an hour along a dusty, unpaved road. Despite its remoteness, the village is infamous in Dambovita County. “If you’re looking for a place where only children and old people live, you have to go to Sperieteni,” says a woman in a village on the main road. Indeed, the children here – as in many other settlements in the county – grow up virtually alone, many waiting for their house-cleaning mothers to call from Italy or Spain on Christmas, hoping to see them for perhaps two weeks during the summer holiday. Some wait to finish carpentry or another trade school, then join their fathers on construction sites across Europe. Others end up in foster homes or even orphanages, though they have parents. And on occasion, a 10-year-old drops out of school, runs away from home, or even hangs himself in the closet with father’s tie. The Romanian government estimates that 40,000 children – though the actual figure may be much higher – have been left behind by migrants who go west in search of a job and money they cannot find at home. These are the children raised by mail, telephone, even webcams. But the parents’ financial calculations wreak long-term costs on their children: teachers describe assorted behavioral issues in the classroom, while of greater concern, hospitals in eastern Romania recently began reporting a rash of suicides and suicide attempts among troubled adolescents unable to cope with their feelings. While westward migration has been widespread over the past 17 years, government officials and activists say they were unaware of any such crisis until Romanian media first began highlighting the problem last year. “We are devastated that 10- or 12-year-olds commit suicide because they cannot talk on the phone with their parents,” says local UNICEF representative Pierre Poupard.

Young and old
Some child protection activists blame parents for limited understanding of their children’s emotional needs and the stigma attached to any form of psychological therapy as a sign the person is “crazy.” And the problem of children left behind may soon grow – if, as some observers predict, Romania’s accession to the European Union this past January encourages countless more Romanians to emigrate. For a Frenchman like Poupard who came to Romania to monitor children’s rights, the tens of thousands left in the care of relatives – and deprived of that special parental bond – is quite unique. “It’s an alarming phenomenon,” he says. “But we cannot judge anybody. We need to understand first. In Romanian society, there is the idea that a child’s upbringing needs only material things: a roof, food, and going to school. But the parents have to understand that a child needs his or her mother.” In Sperieteni itself, the place hums on a springlike Saturday afternoon. The road is full of boys playing football and girls skipping rope. Old women sit on small chairs in front of their gates, sighing from time to time, keeping an eye on their grandchildren. They don’t talk to strangers easily. The words come heavily. “Eh, most of the young ones have left; more than half the village,” whispers an old woman in her seventies, sitting alone under a blossoming cherry tree. “A few have taken the children with them. But the rest live with their grannies. It’s so difficult to live here now. I am old and at my age, it’s not easy to take care of the house and these girls.” Indeed, her daughter, Liliana, left her two daughters, 12 and 9, with her two years ago when she went to Spain to work as a housekeeper. “She had to,” her mother laments, her voice rising as she paints a picture of parental sacrifice. “Her husband left her. We had no sign of him for years. She had nothing to do here, in this village. She had to go to get money and raise these girls properly.”

Soon the old woman returns to her own troubles. The girls “ are so difficult to raise,” she says. “Liliana sends money every month, but it’s still difficult. I am ill … I don’t know what to do with them. I would give them to an orphanage, but they won’t accept them.” A state institution would only accept the girls if they were orphans. By now all the children in the neighborhood have surrounded the old woman. Her granddaughters have taken their place by her side. As their grandmother calmly admits to having considered giving them away, the girls look down. “I miss Mom,” says Nicoleta, the older sister. “Most of the children in my class are home alone – 15 out of 20. I hope my mom will come home to take us with her. I have seen her once this year on the webcam. It didn’t work very well, but we saw each other. I want to go live with her. She promised to come home at Easter, because she couldn’t be here on Christmas.” She seems calm, perhaps trying not to cry in front of strangers. “I want to go and work there with Mom,” she says. “But I have to wait and finish high school first.”

It all looks good on paper
Sperieteni Mayor Marin Voinescu’s papers document just 100 people who have left the village of some 2,000 for Spain. “I'm glad they left,” Voinescu says. “They have spared me some money from the budget. They all relied on the social programs.” Local women typically work as maids in Spain, the men on construction sites. However, the mayor asserts, “We don’t have abandoned children here.” With scientific precision, he states, “Out of 100 people who left, four have taken the children with them. We have three children at the orphanage in good conditions, and the rest are with their grandparents – who are young and healthy, physically and psychologically as well.” Voinescu notes that children whose parents work abroad are better dressed at school and often envied by their classmates. Anamaria Neagu, the village English teacher, agrees. Yet their classmates’ envy only adds to the children’s sorrow, Neagu says: “Most of the children at school have both of their parents away. Grandparents and aunts take care of them, but this is not enough for a child. The teenagers often have behavior problems – they are violent, they skip school.”  She talked to some parents about their children’s problems, but they weren’t receptive. “They don't seem to believe the kids are acting this way because they don’t have the parents at home,” she says. "They are not all very educated people. They worked all their lives. They grew up alone, too: ‘Remember when our parents used to work double shifts in the factories during Ceausescu’s time, and we would play outside with the apartment key hanging around our necks? If we survived, why couldn’t these kids face it?’ That's what the parents say. Most of them chose to work abroad, to live in outskirts of Paris or Rome, to save money and support their children. And they expect the children to understand this.”

Getting rid of the jobless
Sperieteni and Dambovita County are hardly unique. In other parts of Romania, like the impoverished Moldavia region, Italy is more popular, especially for nurses and women who care for the elderly. Numbers are difficult to assess. According to an Open Society Foundation study, more than 2.5 million Romanians – one in nine – currently work abroad. Many took their children with them and moved away for good. But most only go for a couple of years and leave the children behind, believing they are safer at home, in school, in the care of relatives. The national Authority for the Protection of Children’s Rights estimates there are 13,000 families with either one or both parents away, leaving some 40,000 children in a relative’s care. But Authority spokeswoman Cristina Niculescu asserts the numbers are far from the reality. The statistics, she says, rely on the good will of local officials to count these children. And many did not answer the government’s demand to send accurate numbers. On 26 April, the children's authority raised its estimate to 60,000 children whose parents currently work abroad. Her boss at the Authority, Bogdan Panait, expresses his frustration. “Most mayors believe … they are getting rid of the unemployed and won’t have to spend the budget on stipends for the poor,” Panait says. “And there is the mentality that there is nothing wrong with the grandparents raising the children.” But he says the generational gap should not be underestimated.

Observers suggest the government is at a loss over the situation. But Panait says the children's rights authority is trying to cope, issuing in June 2006 an order for child-protection agencies nationwide to count the children left alone and monitor them. Yet, there is no deadline and no sanction against agencies not doing their job properly. The children who cannot be cared for by relatives should by law be placed in institutions or foster care. But, according to the Authority, only 600 children of 40,000 are now in this situation. These are the truly abandoned children. Their parents left for good, typically disappearing without a trace, so the state stepped in. The others are only to be monitored by the too few and poorly paid social assistants. “Moreover, the government recently prepared a new draft law on preventing child neglect,” Panait says. The bill would set up some 10 specialized offices and information centers to help the children whose parents left to work abroad. But it's a long way from becoming law. Another tool to keep track of children left behind is the requirement that migrant workers who find a job through government agencies must give the name of the person caring for their children. Some 40 percent find a job through such agencies. The children of the rest, those who inform no official bodies they are leaving, are most in danger, Panait says. “We are trying to find a solution for the problem, but it is rather new to us,” he says. “This phenomenon has been going on for years now. But we became aware of it just a few months ago.”

The search for alternatives
Child care professionals and the general public both became aware of the phenomenon early in 2006, when the media revealed several suicides among such children. One 11-year-old boy who had lived for two years with a foster family in a village in Iasi County was found hanging from a beam in the basement. It shocked the public. He was well taken care of, the media reported, but missed his mother. This March, a 16-year-old girl in Campulung Moldovenesc, in northern Romania, hanged herself in the bathroom, reportedly because she had low grades and didn’t want to disappoint her father, who was working in Italy. It took exposure of these deaths for child-protection workers to link migration with adolescent suicide. The problem appears to be larger than anybody thought. According to a study released by the Social Alternatives Foundation in Iasi, a quarter of the children left by parents skip classes or drop out of school. Moreover, some 30 percent of juvenile delinquents have parents working abroad. Over the past year, the situation in eastern Romania has been even more dramatic. Dozens of villages are populated only by children and old people. In Iasi County, a local hospital has estimated that every four days, a schoolboy or girl tries to commit suicide. The psychologists at St. Mary Children’s Hospital in Iasi have so far treated 89 children for life-threatening overdoses of pills. Many tell doctors they miss their absent mothers and fathers. A hospital spokeswoman says the staff is struggling with the epidemic. “We have the psychologists, and these children get therapy here, but it’s not enough,” Dr. Catalina Ionescu says. “They should be in therapy after they leave the hospital, too. And they can’t, because they come from rural areas and most people [there] think that if you talk to a psychologist, you must be crazy.” Meanwhile, just a handful of nongovernmental organizations and concerned individuals search for a solution of their own. To date, the Social Alternatives Foundation is the only NGO to request UNICEF’s help.

UNICEF’s Poupard says he hasn’t seen anything comparable among other emigrants: “I’m sure that if you ask a mother from any other European country, 'Do you want to leave for the United States, for Japan or China, and leave your child behind?' I’m sure she’ll answer, ‘Are you crazy? I would never leave my child for all the gold in the world' ... People from North Africa migrate in great numbers to Western Europe. But the pattern is different. First the man goes, works for a couple of years and then he brings the family. But the mother always stays with the child.” In Romania, though, women leave first, because it’s easier for them to land a job as maids or caretakers of the elderly. Poupard insists that Romanians need to change their mentality. “A child needs the mother, needs love; it’s only natural,” he says. “Putting a child in an institution is not the answer. We need to assess the cause, understand, and then do something. Explain to parents what their kids need. Talk to the children. Contact the parents and tell them the kid is in trouble. There are ways.” Neagu, the English teacher in Sperieteni, says she would never leave her little boy, Mihaita. Her husband left for Spain in May 2006. Their 13-month-old, she says, has only seen his father once since, on the computer, and cries “Daddy, Daddy!” every time the phone rings. Yet Neagu says she knows dozens of children less fortunate than her child. At least Mihaita has her to hold him when he cries. Meanwhile, she’s saddened to see some schoolchildren around her falling apart. “They have money,” she says, “but what’s the use without a parent’s love?”
© Transitions Online



24/4/2007- Koné Jaoussou stood in a doorway on the infamous Grande Borne council estate, shaking his head at the prospect of a victory for Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential election. “If Sarkozy wins this place is going to explode again,” said the 28-year-old immigrant from Mali as he recalled the violence that rocked La Grande Borne in 2005 and again last year. “There’ll be riots here and in the suburbs all over France.” Mr Jaoussou’s views are shared widely among the 11,000 people who live on the bleak 1970s estate in Grigny, outside Paris, the home to 52 different nationalities. Many say that the youths, who have come to see Mr Sarkozy as a figure of hate, would greet his election with a fresh round of firebomb attacks on cars, buses and the police. Similar rumours have been circulating on other troubled suburban estates and senior police officers appear to be taking them seriously. Privately they say they are preparing for clashes if Mr Sarkozy is elected on May 6. “We have to be ready for these gangs to demonstrate like they do on New Year’s Eve,” one high ranking officer told Le Figaro, referring to the street battles that have become an annual ritual in the suburbs. Zair Issa, 18, who is also from Mali, agreed on the likelihood of a violent response to the election of the centre-right candidate as he joined in the conversation with Mr Jaoussou. Wearing dark glasses, a large metal chain and a T-shirt with the words “Ghetto Class” across the chest, he said that the hardline former Interior Minister was viewed as the enemy by youths in France’s immigrant communities. “It’s because of him that we get police identity checks all the time,” he said. “It’s oppressive.”

Jean-François Charmand, 38, a painter and decorator with flip-flops on his feet and a cannabis joint in his hand, said that Mr Sarkozy’s crackdown on crime had served to unleash police brutality on ethnic minorities. “If Sarkozy’s elected it’s going to be chaos,” he said, fingering a multi-coloured necklace. “We’re going to have even more police coming after les blacks and even less freedom than we do now.” Mr Sarkozy’s image in la banlieue is used by his opponents as proof that he would be unable to heal the rifts within French society. Their attempt to portray him as a dangerously divisive figure will be one of the keys to the election. However, on La Grande Borne estate — where only 44 per cent of adults are in work — there was evidence to support his claim that France needs radical change. Cats scavenged on rubbish uncollected on the pavements. A burnt-out car was visible in the car park. And a young woman sat on a table outside one of the council blocks. “Don’t talk to her,” said a youth standing in a doorway. The teenager — probably a spotter for a gang that pays him to alert drug dealers to the arrival of police — approached menacingly. “Get away,” he said. Mr Jaoussou said that the youth was typical of a generation that had adopted a ghetto mentality. “The young people around here feel rejected and you can understand why,” he said. “As far as the French are concerned blacks are fit only to be cleaners and manual workers.”
© The Times Online



24/4/2007- "Let's unearth the truth about what happened in 1915 together". That was the headline of a page-wide advertisement from the Turkish government in some international newspapers. Ankara hopes to win public support over the issue of the Armenian genocide in 1915. The proposal to let Armenian and Turkish historians investigate the matter together, however, is not new and neither is the support from Washington for this idea. But the timing of the adverstisment, just before the annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, was very clever. In the advertisement, Ankara invites Armenia to establish a joint commission of historians to investigate the 1915 killings of thousands of Armenians in the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Estimates range from 800,000 to 1.2 million Armenians who have died between 1915 and 1917 in the mass killings and deportation of Armenians. However, for mainly nationalistic reasons, Ankara still refuses to acknowledge that what happened was genocide, the planned extermination of an ethnic group.

Thorny issue
The genocide denial remains a thorny issue in Turkish relations not only with Armenia, but with the US, the EU and several European countries as well. That explains the advertisement, which also quotes US President George W Bush and his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice who are backing the proposal. But according to Professor Eric Jan Zurcher, Turkey expert at Leiden University, neither the proposal, nor the American support is new. The proposal is a few years old and has been categorically rejected by the Armenian government. The Armenians claim no extra research is needed to establish the historical facts. The Americans support the Turkish proposal since they are bound by the need to maintain good relations with Turkey and the demands from Armenian pressure groups. So in the end, the advertisement very much looks like a publicity stunt to win time for Turkey.

Fruitless debates
And the chances of any joint commission of historians reaching the same conclusions are still very small, fears Mr Zurcher. Historians appointed by the Armenian and Turkish governments will first of all be selected for their loyalty to the national points of view on this issue. So the attempt to find a common conclusion will most likely end up in some fruitless debates. Then there remains another possible pitfall, warns Professor Zurcher. In the initial stages, Ankara hinted that such a joint commission of historians would get exclusive rights on the issue. That could bar independent historians from using Turkish archives, for instance and it would possibly silence the debate on the Armenian Genocide for the time being which might be exactly what the Turks are after. This leaves the Armenians, demonstrating at the Turkish embassy in The Hague, with their clear demands: a penalty on denial of the Armenian Genocide and no Turkish EU-membership without acknowledging the genocide by Ankara. Whether the Armenians will have it their way remains very doubtful however. Although more than 90 years have passed since the atrocities took place, the discussion is a long way from reaching a conclusion.
© Radio Netherlands



Every other Norwegian man believes that flirtatious women have themselves to blame if they are raped.

25/4/2007- The shock results appear in a report compiled by Amnesty in cooperation with Reform - resource center for men. One in five men surveyed said that a woman known to have several partners is fully or partly responsible if sexually assaulted, and 28 percent believed that a woman who dresses sexily is wholly or partly responsible for a sexual assault. "I think the results of this study are frightening. I am the father of a teenage girl. It is disturbing to see that Norwegian men believe she is responsible if she should be assaulted after flirting with a man," John Peder Egenæs, secretary general of Amnesty International Norway told newspaper VG. Fully 48 percent of those surveyed believe that women are fully or partly responsible for a sexual assault if they openly flirt before the attack. "It is unacceptable to blame women who have been exposed to sexual assault and violence. This confirms that female-hostile attitudes are alive and well," said victim's legal counsel Trine Rjukan. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said he was disappointed over Norwegian men's attitude towards women and found the study's results frightening. "I had hoped and believed that we had come further than that in terms of men's view of violence against women," Stoltenberg said.
© Aftenpost



25/4/2007- A bus driver in Malmö has been suspended after he allegedly tried to stop a woman from boarding because she was wearing a burqa. The incident happened on Tuesday morning when Leonora O. boarded the number 35 bus on her usual route between the Rosengård housing estate and the city's central station. According to Leonora, the driver stopped her from boarding, saying that her burqa made her hard to identify. A burqa covers a woman from head to toe, with a small mesh screen to see through. "I have never before needed to identify myself on a public bus. Wearing a burqa is my own choice and doesn't make me any more threatening than anyone else," she told Metro. Leonora stayed on the bus anyway, but claims that the driver mocked her and looked at her angrily. Bus operator Arriva says that the driver has a different version of events, but he has been suspended while an investigation is carried out. The driver has also been reported to police. There are no rules on Malmö public buses requiring passengers to identify themselves.
© The Local



24/4/2007- The Swedish government is ready to invest in the education of imams. But Muslim organizations must first reach agreement regarding their needs, said Education Minister Lars Leijonborg when the issue was discussed in parliament on Tuesday. Leijonborg's approach was criticized however by Social Democrat member of parliament Luciano Astudillo, who argued that the time for waiting was over. He felt that a third level institution should immediately be given the task of setting a curriculum based on consultation with Muslim interest groups. There are around 400,000 Muslims living in Sweden, ranging from the wholly secular to the most devout. According to Astudillo, it is futile to expect that organizations that are as different as night and day will be able to come to some sort of agreement. "We need to answer the question: what do we want Islam to be? How do we want that religion to develop?" said Astudillo. He also pointed out that many imams who are flown in to Sweden from other countries do not speak the language and do not understand Swedish society. "It is a dangerous development. If we just let this happen, there is a risk that young, rootless people will be drawn to militant branches," said Astudillo. But Leijonborg replied by warning of the dangers of "religious imperialism". "We, with our Christian roots, should be careful about formulating what we want Islam to be," he said. The outgoing Liberal Party leader also added that it was natural for the state to use tax revenues to finance the training of imams, in the same way that Sweden already finances the education of priests and ministers. "It is completely reasonable that the state should contribute with economic resources," said Leijonborg.
© The Local



23/4/2007- Despite a wave of reprisals for the nationalist Danish People's Party over its criticism of Muslim women wearing headscarves, politicians and pundits on the left have also spoken out against the practice. A Muslim politician's statement that she will continue to wear her headscarf in parliament if elected is making strange political bedfellows, as voices from the political left and right chime in with their criticism of the garment. After Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, 25, a local politician from Odense, announced her plans, MP Søren Krarup of the nationalist Danish People's Party (DF) questioned whether addressing parliament wearing a headscarf was constitutional, and later compared the headscarf to the Nazi swastika. Abdol-Hamid has the backing of her party, the leftist Red-Green Alliance, but some of its supporters do not support her. Benito Scocozza, a noted historian and communist politician who generally endorses the Red-Green Alliance’s viewpoints, criticised the party for its support of what he sees as a religious issue and one that goes against the principle of gender equality. Other leftist voices, including Nahid Riazi, the Socialist People’s Party equality spokesperson, also denounced the Red-Green Alliance’s position. ‘From a feministic standpoint, it’s tragic and sad that a left-wing party - one that should unconditionally stand up for equality between the sexes - has special rules for Muslim women who behave in a manner that promotes gender discrimination,’ Riazi told public service broadcaster DR. While the prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and several other top politicians were quick to denounce the remarks, some have now admitted that they have mixed emotions about the headscarf.

‘I’m not crazy about it. I don’t really understand it,’ Helle Thorning-Schmidt, leader of the Social Democrats, told MetroXpress newspaper. ‘The comments from the Danish People’s Party over the past few days haven’t exactly helped integration, but I believe it is important to discuss the headscarf - just in a manner that doesn’t create division.’ Parliament does have the right to determine appropriate dress, and in the past improperly dressed MPs have been barred from speaking. Thorning-Schmidt said that despite her personal dislike for the headscarf, she felt the guidelines did not cover headscarves. ‘The rule for MPs is that they should be nicely dressed and I would say that the headscarf reflects that.’ In addition to Krarup, a vicar in the Evangelical Lutheran church, two other DF politicians, Morten Messerschmidt, the party's EU spokesperson, and Mogens Camre, a DF MEP, made similar comments about Muslim headscarves. All three were later reported reported to the police for possible violations of anti-racism legislation. Camre, who said women wearing headscarves were 'brainwashed little creatures', later retracted his statement.
© The Copenhagen Post



24/4/2007- Italy’s interior ministry has published a "values charter" for religious minorities that promotes integration while shunning polygamy and the wearing of face-concealing veils. The charter, presented Monday by Interior Minister Giuliano Amato, enshrines "the right to religious freedom and equality between man and woman," according to the ministry’s website. The charter advocates the "monogamous family and wants to prevent women from experiencing humiliation and polygamy," said Carlo Cardia, the head of the committee that drafted the accord, according to the ANSA news agency. The seven-page document refers to European values and those of the Italian constitution, and condemns terrorism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Regarding the veil, it says that while "no restrictions on clothing exist in Italy ... (veils that) cover the face are not acceptable because they prevent the recognition of the person and are an obstacle for establishing relationships with others." Amato said the document would serve as a guide for relations between the ministry and Italy’s various religious communities and should help "consolidate Italian Islam." The non-binding charter "cannot be imposed on anyone," Amato said, adding that it was just the start of a process. More than a million Muslims make up the second largest religious community in Italy, after Roman Catholicism. The largest Muslim organisation, UCOII, was critical of the charter even though it took part in its drafting. "The veil has never been humiliating to women," said UCOII president Mohamed Nour Dachan, adding that he felt the charter should mention "the positive role of Islam in the history of Europe."



27/4/2007- A genealogy web site said Friday that it will post 3 million names of slaves held across the British Empire in the early 19th century, putting hundreds of thousands of pages of searchable information online to help slaves' descendants research their past. The project will use registers that the British government created between 1813 and 1834 in an effort to stamp out the slave trade by ensuring plantation owners did not buy new slaves. Britain abolished the trade in 1807. Slavery itself was outlawed in the colonies 17 years later. Information from about 700 registers from 23 British territories and dependencies will be made available online, free of charge, within the next 12 months, said Simon Ziviani, a spokesman for The database will be searchable by first and last name, island, plantation, age and sex, he said. One of the most exhaustive documents, the 1834 Barbados Slave Register, was posted online by the site Friday. Slaves generally left few written records, making it difficult for their descendants to reconstruct their lives, Ziviani said. "Hopefully [the database] will provide a missing piece of the puzzle," he said. The site could help those outside Britain carry out research that might not have been possible otherwise, said Mia Morris, the founder of black historical and cultural web site Colonies were required to conduct censuses of slaves and their owners every three years. Records were kept on site and copies submitted to the Office for the Registry of Colonial Slaves. After the office was disbanded, some 200,000 pages of names were placed in the National Archives in Kew, in west London. "Everyone I've talked to expressed frustration with going to the Caribbean and finding the records incomplete or missing," Morris said. She said delving through the archive's 19th century paperwork was more daunting than simply browsing the web. Although estimates vary, researchers say tens of millions of African men, women and children were enslaved and shipped to the Caribbean and the Americas. Many of these were sent to British-controlled islands such as Barbados, Jamaica and the Bahamas, where they were forced to work in plantations. is part of a global network of genealogy sites providing over 5 billion records to the public. While some of its services are provided for free, members usually have to pay for access to census records and the site's message boards and photo service.
© Associated Press



25/4/2007- Next month a powerful cry for justice will be heard. On 7 May, a demonstration will be held in Parliament Square in support of an amnesty for Britain's undocumented migrants. The campaign's organisers, a group called "Strangers into Citizens", argue that Britain's estimated 300,000 to 500,000 irregular migrants should be given a temporary work permit if they can show they have been here for four years or more. At the end of this period they should be entitled to apply for leave to remain. There is a humanitarian justification for this proposal. Many of those who stand to benefit, such as failed asylum-seekers, are destitute and homeless. They are afraid to come forward for help from the state because they would run the risk of being deported. Regularising their status would help them access accommodation and healthcare. But this would be far more than an act of charity. Historically, immigrants have always contributed greatly to the public wealth through their hard work. This scheme would enable the present generation to contribute more fully. By regularising those who work in the black economy, the Treasury's tax take would be boosted by about £5bn a year. Moreover, the plan would also open the British economy to an untapped set of skills. It is often impossible for academics or doctors who have sought asylum in Britain to work in the field in which they have been trained. While their claims are being processed, they are forced to live on state handouts. If they are turned down, they often disappear into the black economy to do menial jobs. Under this scheme, they would be free to use their training for the wider public good.

There are several reasons why an undocumented worker will not want to be deported. Some will be in fear of their lives. Others will want to stay because they have decent jobs in Britain. Many will have family ties. But virtually all will have one thing in common: they would like to work legally. It is a myth that most foreigners come to Britain to live on benefits. An amnesty would help to expose this pernicious lie. So that is the moral and economic justification. But let us be pragmatic too. At the present rate of deportations, it would take a quarter of century to remove all the undocumented migrants in Britain. And this is assuming no one else applies for asylum or overstays their visa in that time. And even if all these undocumented migrants could be located and deported overnight, such a policy would have a devastating effect on our economy. No government would long survive the consequences.

The status quo serves the interests of no one. The Government responds to the xenophobic tub-thumping of the right-wing press by announcing "crackdowns" on illegal immigrants. Ministers step up efforts to deport people. Home Office bureaucrats go after the softest targets such as children and refugees who have made a life in small communities, which then prompts a local outcry. Immigrants' lives are made miserable, ministers are criticised for failing to get to grips with the problem, and the reactionary press becomes ever more hysterical. This plan offers a way to break a vicious circle. There is no reason why it should not work. The United States held such an amnesty in 1986 and is considering another now. Spain, Italy and Germany have held similar regularisation schemes. And an opinion poll by "Strangers into Citizens" indicates that two-thirds of the British public support an amnesty for those migrants who are prepared to work and pay tax. An amnesty would be humane, efficient and economically justified. It would also be morally just. This is a proposal whose time has arrived.
© Independent Digital



An official inquiry is being launched into evidence gathered by the BBC that migrant workers are being trafficked into Britain and exploited.  Undercover footage

26/4/2007- Employment Protection Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said he took the findings "most seriously". Any firm found to have breached minimum standards of "dignity and respect" would be "taken to task", he said. Experts said the workers' treatment was "modern-day slavery", but all companies targeted by the probe deny wrongdoing. Undercover Lithuanian journalist Audrius Lelkaitis, working as part of the BBC News investigation, posed as a migrant worker seeking a job in the UK. He discovered a new underclass subjected to deception, systematic underpayment and appalling living conditions. BBC News' Allan Little said he had received emails "from across the country from people who say they know of similar abuses" following an undercover investigation into the problem, broadcast on BBC News on Wednesday. He went on: "That suggests that labour exploitation may be widespread. "There is a recurring theme in these emails - why hasn't the government acted to clamp down on the abuse?" Meanwhile, Mr Fitzpatrick said the employment agency standards inspectorate and national minimum wage enforcement teams were responsible for ensuring workers were not mistreated. "If we find there are breaches we will take organisations, employers and others to task," he added.

Illegal deductions
Mr Lelkaitis paid hundreds of pounds to agencies in Lithuania and London in return for the promise of a job in Hull which did not exist. After being offered work with licensed gangmasters Focus Staff Limited in Hull he was paid below the minimum wage two weeks in arrears. After three weeks, he received £97 for 20 hours' work in his first week, although £50 was deducted for accommodation costs. He also had money deducted for accommodation without it being shown on his payslip, which is illegal, and was forced to live in overcrowded accommodation. Paul Whitehouse, who chairs the Gangmasters' Licensing Authority, told BBC 2's Newsnight: "It's two hundred years since slavery was abolished. We mustn't allow it to continue now." Speaking on the same programme, Jack Dromey - deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union - said the government "needs to go much further" to combat the exploitation of migrant workers. "We need robustly to enforce the existing that we see gangmasters - rogue gangmasters - go to jail," he said. Mike Dickenson, director of Focus Staff Limited, denied any illegal practices. "I don't underpay my workers," he said. "Everything I do is legal and above board," he said.

'Bonded labour'
Deputy Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, programme director of the UK Human Trafficking Centre, said the opening of Europe's borders had brought with it a new kind of people trafficking. He said: "This quite clearly is labour exploitation. Certain elements are there; there's a deception and there's a movement of people with an expectation of being paid a reasonable and appropriate wage. "This is a kind of forced or bonded labour. This is modern day slavery." Aidan McQuade, director of campaign group Anti-Slavery International, said trafficking to exploit labour involved a number of factors. These included the use of deception, intimidation, the removal of documents, excessive charges for accommodation and transport, the exploitation of someone's irregular immigration status or the fact they are in debt, in order to force them to work in conditions they do not agree to, he said. He added: "Some of these mechanisms are reported in this BBC News investigation."
© BBC News



25/4/2007- A campaign for an estimated 500,000 illegal workers in Britain to be given the official right to earn a living would have popular support, according to findings in an opinion poll. The plight of illegal immigrants who are denied any right to work has been called "modern-day slavery". It is said to be flourishing in Britain while we avert our eyes to the scandal under our noses. Liam Byrne, the Immigration minister, said mass migration had enriched Britain but left UK society so "unsettled" that the issue could cost Labour the next general election. But an opinion poll commissioned by Strangers into Citizens - a campaign to give employment rights to illegal immigrants -shows that 66 per cent of people in the UK would accept refused asylum-seekers and those who had overstayed their visas if they worked and paid taxes. The poll was conducted last weekend by ORB with a sample of 1,004 adults across the UK. "This poll makes clear that just talking tough will not be enough to fob off the UK public on immigration," said Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. "They want the political parties to get real and respond in a way that is workable and fair to migrants who are living as members of our society." "Strangers into Citizens" is calling for the Government to allow a pathway for long-term illegal workers in this country to earn a living legally. They will hold a rally at Trafalgar Square on Monday 7 May to call for all immigrants who have been in this country for four years to be allowed a work permit for two years. It would become a route to "leave to remain" indefinitely while they work and pay taxes. The campaign challenges the Home Office policy of stepping up the removal of illegal immigrants, who have either overstayed their visas or been refused asylum.

Mr Byrne is introducing a points-based managed migration system, with tighter border controls and a crackdown on employers who recruit illegal immigrants. Austin Ivereigh, the co-ordinator of the campaign, said: "We are not calling for a general 'amnesty' but a six-year pathway to citizenship for long-term migrants. It is certainly not issuing a 'green light for unprecedented migration'." He said one-off naturalisation programmes had been introduced in Spain, Germany and the US as part of a wider strategy of border enforcement. "It may not stop illegal immigration - that is a matter for border controls - but they do bring thousands out of limbo, recognise realities, clear asylum logjams, bring huge benefits to the state and shrink the underground economy on which people-trafficking and exploitative employers thrive," said Mr Ivereigh. Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, said: "Migrants contribute hugely to the economic, civic and cultural life of London and the UK. To have a substantial number of them living here without regular status - because of deep-rooted failings in the immigration system - is deeply damaging to London as well as to them." The Labour deputy leadership candidate Jon Cruddas said: "We must deal with those who no one wants to talk about - the 500,000 or so who have no status. Regularisation is about providing a solution to the problem everyone knows exist but which everyone runs from." Jack Dromey, the deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said the economic and moral case for an "earned amnesty" for migrants was overwhelming."

'Denis', 32, doctor: 'I would have gone home a long time ago if it was safe' He is secretive and deeply troubled by the threat of being returned to his native Zimbabwe. Denis - not his real name - will not show his face and insists on anonymity. But the 32-year-old is a qualified doctor. "It is very difficult and it is humiliating," he said. "I am a professional person, but I am living on handouts from my friends." He speaks good English and was trained as a doctor before he fled Zimbabwe in 2002 after threats to his life. Since settling in this country he has got a girlfriend, also a Zimbabwean illegal immigrant, and they have a daughter, aged 18 months. "I am crashing down at a flat," he said. "I am not supposed to be here. We are staying with a friend who has a council flat, but she is not supposed to have us here. She is afraid she will be evicted if they find us." Denis is adamant he will not work illegally. "I want to be a professional doctor. I am afraid of taking any other work that will undermine my career. I am so scared for my life. I would have gone home a long time ago if I felt it was safe. I came to Britain because I just wanted somewhere safe and better to work. I cannot go anywhere else because my documents are with the Home Office." 'Lucas', shop assistant: 'I always try to stay away from trouble' A young Venezuelan with a big smile and a gentle manner, "Lucas" has been living in the UK for 10 years, first studying English and working part time, and then working full time. He has done a variety of jobs - as a cleaner, working in a hotel and teaching Spanish on a freelance basis. For the past two years he has worked in a shop, and is well-liked by his colleagues and customers. His employers are not aware of his immigration status. He has a national insurance number and has paid taxes and national insurance contributions in all of his jobs. He has survived as an undocumented worker by working hard and keeping a low profile. "I am very careful, and always try to stay away from trouble," he says. He avoids the authorities as much as possible - he would be very wary of reporting a crime to the police, and does not have a GP. If he were to fall ill he would go to A&E, where he could be treated anonymously. He arrived in London in 1998. "I came to the UK on a tourist visa and then enrolled as an English student for two-and-a-half years," he says. When he tried to renew his visa a third time, however, he was told that he had been in the country for too long.
© Independent Digital



An African-Caribbean radio presenter's parting salvo to his Birmingham employers has sparked a new race row in the already divided city
By Adrian Goldberg 

23/4/2007- The cosy world of Dave and Sue, the imaginary middle-aged couple who represent the target audience for BBC local radio, has just been shattered by a race row in the West Midlands. Black presenter Robert Beckford has quit his Sunday morning religious show on the Birmingham-based radio station BBC WM after a pay dispute, and his parting shot is the accusation that his former employers appear "aggressive not progressive" towards the African-Caribbean community. Even Greg Dyke, who famously called the BBC "hideously white", did not go that far. So is there any evidence for Beckford's claims? A quick trawl through the station's schedules suggests there might be.

Although more than 6% of Birmingham's population is of Caribbean heritage, WM has just a single, two-hour programme for the community each week, and as it is broadcast on Saturday night, it is obviously meant for people without a social life. Beckford, an academic who also makes documentaries for Channel 4, says: "This is a bigger issue than me. I'm not bitter that I' m leaving, and I have found other things to do. But in a city known for being divided beneath the surface, the media should set an example for good practice, and the BBC should lead the way in that. "Yet if you ask if the BBC in the Midlands can claim to represent the African-Caribbean community, the answer in the last 10 years has to be no. I don't think it's unique, either, if you look across at places like Manchester, Leeds and so on."

Chasing the mythical, cardigan-wearing Dave and Sue cannot exactly help the search for more diverse audiences, but the BBC's national Asian Network at least provides a career ladder for young ethnic minority talent. There is no corresponding outlet for African-Caribbeans, though, unless you include the digital "urban music" channel 1Xtra which, embarrassingly for the corporation, has more white listeners than black. The result is that, off-microphone as well as on it, there are precious few opportunities for others with Beckford's background to break through. In multicultural Birmingham this has not gone unnoticed, especially as WM has just handed veteran jock Les Ross (a Dave and Sue favourite) a prime afternoon slot.

"They've promoted a white, middle-class pensioner, but they are happy to see a working-class African-Caribbean man leave. There is a danger that they will be seen as aggressive, not progressive," comments Beckford. A group of community leaders in the West Midlands obviously agrees; they are now demanding a meeting with director general Mark Thompson. Meanwhile, Beckford's former employers at BBC WM bristle at any hint of racism, pointing out that they won an award for promoting community cohesion in the wake of the 2005 Lozells riots. They also say they employ four black presenters, without mentioning that the quartet all have off-peak roles. Rather more worrying is the station's frankly risible claim to broadcast "10 hours of programming per week for the African-Caribbean population". Displaying a rather worrying grasp of geography, this figure includes the soul and Motown show, which has a white presenter and showcases the music of, er, black America. It is a response that betrays a complacent, institutional racism; or maybe it is just that in Dave and Sue's world, those darkies all look, and sound, the same.

· Adrian Goldberg used to present BBC WM's breakfast show and now runs
© The Guardian



11 years after a racist attack in Germany left him paralysed, this Briton wants to take his life 

23/4/2007- A British construction worker who was paralysed from the neck down after being attacked by neo-Nazis near Berlin 11 years ago has announced plans to take his own life by the end of the year. Noel Martin, 47, who rammed his car into a tree after far-right extremists hurled a 44lb concrete block at him in Mahlow, south of Berlin, has outlined his wishes in his autobiography, Call It My Life, to be published in Germany this week. Martin told The Observer by telephone from his home in Edgbaston, Birmingham, that he felt he had nothing left to live for because his life had been reduced to being confined to a wheelchair and reliant on round-the-clock care. 'It's not a life, it's an existence,' he said. 'I can't feel anything, so I can't touch the world and can only watch as it passes by.' Martin, a Briton of Jamaican origin, said that he had contacted Dignitas, the assisted-suicide clinic in Switzerland. 'They assessed my case and agreed that, based on my condition, my wish to die is justified.' It is towards the end of the 252-page book that he announces his intentions. He says he will drink a cocktail through a straw, and 'shut (my) eyes and wake up in another world'. He said his only regret was that he had not been able to carry out a double suicide pact with his wife Jacqui, who died of cancer in 2000.

Martin's story, first highlighted in Britain by The Observer shortly after the attack, is well known in Germany, where he has returned twice since the attack in 1996 to support anti-racism youth exchanges and protest marches. His efforts have even extended to inviting a reformed neo-Nazi and her children to his house last Christmas. News of his suicide wish was greeted with shock by politicians. Matthias Platzeck, head of the state of Brandenburg, where the attack took place, appealed to him to change his mind. 'Brandenburg needs you,' he said. 'You give us courage. You are an inspiration for us.' But some residents of the town of Mahlow were among the respondents to neo-Nazi websites who gloated over Martin's plans. Opening his post with the word 'Heil,' one wrote: 'He wants to take his own life just to attract some attention.'  Another neo-Nazi, identified as Andi, wrote: 'No one will miss him ... if he believes he has to kill himself, then please, we won't stop him.' The taunts were repeated on the German TV news magazine programme Panorama, in which one neo-Nazi said: 'It's fine by us if he goes and buries his carcass in Switzerland.' The neo-Nazi response rubs further salt into the wounds of a shameful case which illustrated how ingrained far-right extremism is in many eastern German towns. Martin's two attackers, Mario P, who drove the car, and Sandro R, who threw the stone, received sentences of only eight and five years each for what the judge dismissed as 'silly racism'. Both have long since been released.

Martin's autobiography spans his happy childhood in Jamaica, his less happy move to Birmingham, and his fateful decision to take up a job as a plasterer in Germany. One evening in June 1996 Noel, accompanied by two of his British workmates, was taunted by two neo-Nazis who shouted 'nigger piss off' before chasing the men in a car. The last thing he recalls of the incident was a concrete block being hurled through a side window of his car. He slammed the vehicle against a tree, waking from a coma weeks later to find that he had no feeling from the neck down. The tree has since been replaced by a local charity with a granite monument marking the spot. Martin's autobiography outlines in graphic detail the pain of his everyday life, including his daily struggle with sweat attacks, cramps and haemorrhoids. 'People should be aware that I got a life sentence and all that that means,' he said. Getting up in the morning takes four hours and he controls the joystick of his wheelchair using some muscles in his right shoulder. A huge bedsore which has seen him confined to bed for four months will prevent him from travelling to Potsdam, east of Berlin, for the launch of his book tomorrow. Instead he will be represented by his son, Negus, 29, and a video message from Martin pre-recorded by a German camera team at his home earlier this month will be played on a large screen. Robin Herrnfeld, a friend of Martin's with whom he wrote the book over several years, said that his intention to commit suicide was far from being a cry for help. 'He's very serious about taking his own life,' she said. 'He describes his life as a prison, and however much I or his friends encourage him to go on, I think his mind is made up.'

Martin said that all that was delaying him were some legal loose ends as he attempts to put all his assets into a computer library charity for poor Jamaicans before he dies. 'I would go to Switzerland tomorrow,' he said. 'But then the government would get my house and everything that I and my wife worked for all our lives, and I would very much like that to be my legacy.'
© The Observer


ALARM BELLS IN MUSLIM HEARTS (Netherlands, comment)

Dutch writer Margriet de Moor looks at Islam in the light of Europe and Europe in the light of Islam.

23/4/2007- I currently live in one of the most interesting countries in Europe. As a Dutch writer I used to have the feeling that the major events were taking place elsewhere, but those days are now past. I am an inhabitant of a remarkable country, one that first of all is tiny and over-populated, that secondly has four big cities – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague – half of whose populations already consist of people of foreign origins, most of them Muslims, and that thirdly has recently witnessed two political murders, one of which was committed directly in the name of Allah. I am thus an inhabitant of a country that has all the makings of considerable social, political and religious trouble and yet has managed to stay calm. For sure, there has been a certain amount of commotion in parliament recently, rather entertaining commotion, I thought, involving heated discussions of our good old humanist principles and revolving around Rita Verdonk, our Minister for Immigration and Integration. Discussion about our legally enshrined right to freedom of opinion, concerning Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a politician who is sometimes called our "black Voltaire." On the streets, though, things have remained calm. And although even in the Netherlands immigrants and their offspring live mainly on the outskirts of town and are generally dependent on social welfare, nothing has happened here that is remotely reminiscent of the state of war in the French satellite communities. Neo-Nazi movements to be taken seriously, like the ones in Germany, are practically non-existent in the Netherlands.

Could it be that beneath the surface of this relative calm, this peacefulness of the polder regions, our national tolerance still lies dormant, which until recently was just as famous world-wide as our clogs and windmills? Tolerance is often mentioned in the same breath as respect, yet our version of tolerance, which has its roots in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is not based on respect. On the contrary, we used to hold a deep hatred of other people's religion. Catholics and Calvinists did not have an ounce of respect for the views of the other side, and our eighty years war was not just an uprising against Spain but a bloody Jihad of Orthodox Calvinists against Catholicism. At the same time, this country has always lived from trade and shipping, practical affairs involving people. The law of profit says rather matter-of-factly: avoid confrontation and do business. The proud "Republiek der Zeven Provinciën" espoused tolerance for the simple reason that it was better for business. Dutch tolerance is by nature not ideological but pragmatic. The fact that the Christian religion prescribes tolerance came in very handy when the Dutch trading cities realised in the seventeenth century that quarrelling over religious questions had to come to an end. "Hold onto business," the motto of the Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, has deep historical roots.

It wouldn't surprise me if all the fuss being made about Islam were to lead to a Christian renaissance in Europe. And indeed, Islam is already busy injecting some momentum into Europe's original religion. Religion is as beautiful and dangerous as poetry. It forges a direct connection with a sphere that the average sceptical West European is only prepared to enter with great reservation. The poetic dimension of religion, beautiful for its unrestrained and rapturous qualities, has always remained attractive: a world in which human reason has little to say, yet a world that touches us all the same. It is the rituals, the dogmas, which today seem so foolish and absurd, and above all religion's stories that continue to connect us to this daunting enigma, in spite of our secret fears that we may depend on it. There is something there that is larger than we are. Something before which we would like to bow down in grave humbleness. How dangerous the poetry of a religion can be is, of course, amply demonstrated by our own European history. We are all familiar enough with it, so I don't really need to mention the rape and subjugation of Constantinople in 1204, or the brutality with which the Latin crusaders behaved there, making the schism between the Catholics of the East and West irrevocable. I do not need to recall the founding of the Dominican Order in the thirteenth century, or the persecution of Jews and heretics, or the dog with the burning torch in its mouth. After a package tour across the ocean and a couple of interesting excursions we may become aware, perhaps even feel slightly ashamed, that the cultures of the Incas and the Maya were destroyed in the name of the Catholic kings of Castile and Aragon. As for our own times, the modern phenomenon of Islamic suicide bombers allows us to watch the dangerous poetry of religion on an almost daily basis.

Islam is a religion that prohibits images. And yet images of Islam buzz around the world. One of them has become engraved in my mind, and probably not just in mine. Sajida al-Rishawi, a white scarf wound round her head and neck, is holding open her dark coat with her hands. Her shoulders are raised, her neck bending slightly forwards. The body language of this thirty-five-year old woman is an expression of surrender – not surprisingly, since this video shows her following her arrest. And yet I believe it also expresses precisely her devotion to the cause of spreading death among the infidels and the renegade Muslims at a wedding party in the Radisson Hotel in Amman in November 2005. Her timid face looks away from the whitish grey belt of explosives, showing through the opening in the folds of her coat. In each hand she holds the end of a red cord – a detonation that never happened, at least hers didn't. While her husband's belt of explosives did what it was intended to do, both to him and to the wedding guests, when she pulled the cord nothing happened, and she was condemned to stay on earth, an earth that in a split second became a hell. As an art form a video still of this kind has rather an alienating effect. I look at the icon of a female martyr whose seat in heaven has remained empty. The "fleurs du mal" of a religion. Horrible, gruesome... my heart bleeds for her.

And yet I will say it once more: religion is beautiful. When I recently got lost while driving through North Brabant and saw how many churches there were, even in the smallest villages, monstrosities from the late nineteenth century that today are often used for a purpose other than that for which they were intended – like the "Belief, Hope and Love" supermarket, or "The Good Shepherd" housing complex – my eye was caught by a small figure on a door nailed shut on a tall, cold facade. It was a Pieta. The Christian religion is especially beautiful, particularly Catholicism, because it ignores the second of the Ten Commandments: "You shall not make for yourself a graven image." But people need images. I remember how I reached the highway that morning, a grey highway in a grey January landscape, feeling warm inside thanks to that naive little figure. Of course I know that "the Church" has constructed a number of dogmas around the story of this mother holding her dead son in her lap, dogmas that give verbal expression to such nonsense that most believers take them for what they are: stories. The story of them rising to heaven, the blue metaphysical heaven, both of them, body and soul. Or the story that she was pregnant and had given birth, yet was still a virgin. I like these exotic fantasies, which I believe are there to dazzle us. For what is behind them is too large and too fiery for the eyes of a mortal. A little figure like this is not concerned with the peculiarities of a doctrine. Rather, in the second it takes for a car to pass, it radiates a quiet sadness that is somehow reassuring, a tacit accord with anyone who has ever asked in despair where God was when they needed him.

I cannot deny that the current commotion surrounding Islam brings me back to my own ancestral religion and its archetypal dogma. The sect of the Jewish Rabbi had the nerve – the outrageous presumptuousness – to preach mutual forgiveness. It is only logical for me to ask myself whether the violence, be it verbal or in the form of bombs, that accompanies the swiftly spreading new principal religion in Europe like a wildly fluttering flag, really belongs to this religion. Or is it simply a form of imperialism, of the kind Constantine the Great used in the fourth century and Charlemagne in the early ninth century to Christianise Europe? As I am writing this there is an Israeli newspaper and an American magazine lying on my desk. "Muslims About to Take Over Europe," writes old Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton University, in the Jerusalem Post. Lewis, a Middle East specialist, accuses Europe of being spineless, of surrendering without a fight. The American magazine on my desk is Newsweek. In it Fareed Zakaria writes that the present religious struggle between Shiites and Sunni Muslims in Iraq could well be the beginning of an Islamic Reformation. Zakaria is the author of the book "The Future of Freedom" (2003). In it you can read that in his opinion a liberal Islam will emerge not through the arguments of liberal theologians, whether Islamic or non-Islamic, but as a result of social conditions, as happened in Christian Europe in the sixteenth century.

I suspect there are quite a few Europeans like me who, when they look at the violence between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, sometimes think back to our own wretched history of many centuries ago. However, apart from the burning and killing there do not seem to me to be many parallels with our Christian Reformation. The two main currents of Islam are both very old. What they are currently seeking is not theological renewal, but power. My pragmatic Dutch logic tells me that Iraq is the last place that a liberal form of Islam could emerge. And it also tells me that social conditions can certainly be combined with theology – and indeed they must be – if a reform is to be successful. And finally my polder logic even tells me something rather irreverent. If Islam is ever to experience a Reform at all, it will not happen in the witches' cauldron where religion comes from, but in the affluent West. And then it could very well happen that the Martin Luther of this movement, and by that I mean the voice that will present the arguments, will be the voice of a woman. How I miss Ayaan Hirsi Ali! How I miss our Somali Dutchwoman, our controversial black politician with the gentle voice, a voice that when she spoke seemed to stand before her. Bang! Without mincing her words she drew a connection between domestic violence against Muslim women, avenging honour and female circumcision and the Machismo of Islam. And it was claimed that she did not reach her target group, the Muslimas? Secretly, though, all of them swallowed what she said, their ears burning.

In one of the Dutch shelters for battered women, 80 percent of whose residents are Muslimas, Ayaan held a discussion with four young women following a screening of the film "Submission." She received no applause. The women, women who had been beaten by their husbands, were deeply offended, angry, hurt by what they saw as the blasphemy of projecting Koran texts onto naked women's bodies, never mind whether these texts sanctioned violence against them or not. "You must stop!" they called out in pious rage, but since then alarm bells have gone off in their hearts. I supported Ayaan's way of doing things. Kicking up a rumpus, being confrontational, excellent methods, I thought. Polemic is what propels public debate. Of course the Muslimas were not really her target group, they were and continue to be part of her appeal for reason with regard to Islam and the state. Ayaan Hirsi Ali did not argue as a political activist. For critical thinkers like her, whose wisdom has been nurtured by the most bitter personal experiences, the aim is to increase people's awareness. But actually, from a strategic point of view, it's a shame she's renounced her faith. A female Islamic Luther, and a black one to boot, wouldn't it have been wonderful? Or rather, since she isn't a theologian, perhaps a black Voltaire? Although, of course, Voltaire, the caustic Frenchman who fought against the power of the clergy, always retained his faith.

Europe is secular, enlightened, democratic, but Europe is – above all – prosperous. As I said above, if Islam is to experience a reform at all, then in will be in prosperous Europe. But why, among all of Europe's characteristics, do I choose to focus on its prosperity? New arrivals in the West, whether they come from the former East bloc, from Africa or from the Middle East, always stare in amazement at its wealth, the kind of wealth that is provocative, arouses fury and is fascinating. The violence perpetrated against the West in the name of Islam may be justified in terms of doctrine; but it is primarily a reaction to a cultural provocation that is perceived as intolerable, a provocation that manifests itself as prosperity. What they fail to realise quite so quickly, however, is that the West's wealth is in a certain sense a by-product of something else, for it is based on an underlying ideology expressed chiefly in terms of absence: Here there is no censorship, there are no prisons full of dissidents, no powerful network of official corruption, no judicial power operating in the service of a political dictator or party programme, no fear of the authorities and certainly no fear of a religion of any kind. Some time ago, during a talk in Leipzig, I asked the rhetorical question of whether there was any writer working on a novel with the title 2084. What interested me about this was whether Islam, which is in the process of becoming firmly and permanently established in our midst, will ever really be at home – or indeed, integrated – in secular, enlightened, democratic, prosperous Europe.

Many people are extremely pessimistic about whether Islam is even capable of reforming itself. Christianity is founded on the New Testament with its precepts of love thy neighbour and of forgiveness – meant both literally and in a broader sense, in other words, not just to be applied to one's own clan – and what is really an astounding assumption of the separation of church and state. Matthew 22, 15,22: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." But just how broad-minded or absolute are the foundations of Islam, as it currently manifests itself all over the world, with its undeniable dogma of violence? And furthermore: how well known are the basic teachings of Islam to the dear faithful? In his time Luther thought it was absolutely essential that all believers should be able to read or hear the New Testament themselves. That was why he translated the Holy Book into German. I do not need to spend much time here listing what the European, the non-Muslim and, perhaps in his or her heart of hearts, the Muslim European finds absolutely unacceptable about Islam. The average Dutch person tends to regard things like the Jihad, the introduction of Sharia law and the repression of women by men decreed by Allah as a farce, or after some reflection as an annoying consequence of the Arab colonisation of the Middle East with a militant form of Islam many centuries ago. There are two reasons why I think that a reform of Islam will take place in the West. The first is the flourishing of Islamic studies. Research into the sources, into the story of Muhammad as a historic figure and the doctrine of Islam is currently taking place independently of Islamic orthodoxy. But a scholar living in our part of the world is less likely to be subjected to the fate undergone by the Sudanese politician, theologian and writer Mahmud Taha. Taha, who for sound, scholarly reasons proposed recognising only the Koran texts from Mohammed's time in Mecca – and these are peaceful texts without the obligatory Jihad –, was executed in Khartoum prison in 1985 after being accused of having lost his faith.

The second reason for a possible Islamic reform here in the West is the social conditions that Fareed Zakaria has already talked about. Here I focus, once again, on the Netherlands, a country that is currently so interesting internationally. Every religion adapts itself to the everyday practices and conditions of the country in which it exists. That is inevitable. When I travelled through Uzbekistan with my daughter in late 1992, we stayed with a family in Samarkand where the father was a Muslim and the mother and eight-year-old daughter Orthodox Catholics. And when my Albanian publisher and his family took me on an expedition into the mountains I saw a similar, even more complex arrangement: again, the man was a Muslim and the woman an Orthodox Catholic, but the daughter was a Roman Catholic. Afterwards, of course, I thought a lot about these families' easy- going attitude to religion. I suspect it was because of the Stalinist dictatorship in these countries that the individual religions, which were all illegal, were concerned with things other than the exact tenets of their religious doctrine. Conditions in the Netherlands are the opposite of a dictatorship. This country is probably the freest, most liberal in the world, and one of the most prosperous to boot. I belong to the unrestrained generation, the generation that in 1960s protested passionately against almost all holders of power of that time. Since then this rebellious impetus has been thoroughly placated. During the 1970s and 1980s, which culminated in a mood of oblivious contentment at the turn of the century, the only movement to maintain a constant presence was feminism.

I know what fascinates and shocks our Muslim new arrivals. If I look at it through their eyes, I am shocked, too, by the banal, trivial attitude to sex in our contemporary society, which appears to be a kind of obsession, forced on people in a compulsive way, often in the service of aggressive commercial interests. Nevertheless, I can still imagine that some Muslima soon start to find this less shocking than their decorously covered heads might lead one to believe. They know, often better than we do, that in countries where females walk around completely covered up, like in Afghanistan or Pakistan, this express taboo seems to provoke men in an uncontrollable fashion. How sex-obsessed is a culture that teaches a woman that she is basically a walking, sitting or reclining set of genitals? How over-aroused is a society in which men are expected to have no qualms about throwing themselves on any woman who happens to walk by, unless a powerful signal, in the form of a divinely ordained dress code, forbids them to do so? Our obsession may look different to theirs, but in fact they are just two sides of the same coin. The prediction that Islamic women will be the first to feel strangely at ease amid our European prosperity, with all the principles that go with it, does not seem illogical to me.

When I'm feeling optimistic I sometimes see the Netherlands, a small laconic country not inclined towards the large-scale or the theatrical, as a kind of laboratory on the edge of Europe. Now and then the mixture of dangerous, easily inflammable substances results in a little explosion, but basically the process of ordinary chemical reactions just continues. It is not only the world that is changing, the earth is changing as well. Of all the European countries, the Netherlands will be the most threatened when at some point in the near future, in weather conditions that are statistically probable, the stormy sea once again rises aggressively. My novel "Drowned" is set against the background of a natural disaster involving many dead which occurred in the south of the Netherlands half a century ago. A recurring sentence in the book is: "It could have been worse ...."  I am thinking of the novel 2084 still to be written. Historical developments often come about very abruptly. The question of whether the teaching of Mohammed can coexist peacefully with that of Jesus, the hero of the Gospels, will probably have been answered by then. But in the case of the Netherlands this question might well lose its importance in the face of a sudden dictatorship, and this time I don't mean a political one. The storm tide barrier in the Oosterschelde, the defences along the coast and the dyke separating Northern Holland and Friesland are masterpieces of hydraulic engineering that have so far proven pretty reliable. They ensure that the inhabitants of the Netherlands can live below sea level.

All of them together.

This article originally appeared in German in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on April 17, 2007.
Margriet de Moor, born in 1941 in Nordwijk, lives as a freelance writer in Bussum, near Hilversum.




21/4/2007- Spain's governing Socialists are to pass a law declaring the political courts that operated under dictator General Francisco Franco to be illegitimate, thus opening the way for thousands of sentences to be declared null, according to Spanish politicians. Prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's government has cleared the way for death sentences and other decisions of military tribunals and special courts to be challenged, Spain's communist-led United Left coalition group announced. A new law will declare Franco's court martials, public order tribunals and courts set up specifically to pursue communists and freemasons as "contrary to the law" and "illegitimate", said the United Left leader, Gaspar Llamazares. That would allow families of victims to ask the supreme court to declare their sentences null and, in turn, seek compensation, said Mr Llamazares. "This is a qualitative leap from impunity towards justice," he said. Campaigners welcomed the agreement between the Socialists and United Left, who jointly see themselves as representing the republicans who lost the civil war against Franco's rightwing rebels. Campaigners said the new deal improved on an earlier Socialist proposal which shied away from annulling sentences and prevented the naming of those who administered Franco's political courts until his death in 1975. The law would concentrate on the victims of Franco's nationalist side during the civil war rather than on the victims of the republic's mainly leftwing defenders, according to Mr Llamazares. Those killed in republican areas included more than 6,000 priests, monks and nuns. Spain's rightwing opposition People's party accused Mr Zapatero, whose grandfather was shot by Franco's firing squad, of stirring up confrontation and of betraying a tacit agreement in democratic Spain not to rake over the coals of the civil war. "Parliament has never before been used to look back at that tragic and dramatic moment of history, the civil war," said parliamentary spokesman Eduardo Zaplana. Mr Llamazares said the draft was not finalised, but that the United Left and the Socialists agreed on the fundamentals.
© The Guardian



24/4/2007- A senior Roman Catholic official has launched a wide-ranging attack on modern life in what many see as yet another attempt by the church to influence Italian domestic politics. Speaking to an audience of priests, Archbishop Angelo Amato said that the media are responsible for presenting abortion and gay rights are signs of progress in human society. The church is planning a rally in Rome next month in opposition to the Italian government's decision to grant unmarried couples, gay and straight, some legal rights. It is expected that tens of thousands of the devout will take to the streets to protest against gay rights. Archbishop Amato said that watching television and reading newspapers was like watching a film about evil, and said that euphemistic language is responsible for making practices like abortion seem normal and progressive. He also extended his wrath to political leaders outside the Catholic sphere of influence, such as Britain, complaining about, "parliaments of so-called civilised nations where laws contrary to the nature of the human being are being promulgated, such as the approval of marriage between people of the same sex." The Vatican-organised protest against gay rights will be yet another test for the nine-party coalition government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi. The hardline Catholic attitude, which they claim is in defence of marriage, is rejected by the majority of Italians. A survey for newspaper La Repubblica in February found strong support for the government's proposed new law. 67% of practising Catholics support protections for heterosexual co-habitees, a number which falls to 35% who think gay and lesbians should get legal protection. Overall, 80% of Italians are in favour. Couples will be able to formally register with their local authority, and will have rights over property and inheritance. They will also have the right to visit their partner in hospital. Former Italian president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, 88, who attends church on a daily basis, recently told the press that the Church should not interfere. "Should such an intervention take place ... it would destroy the freedom and dignity of Catholic lawmakers in parliament," he told la Repubblica newspaper. "A rigid attitude by the Church would be really damaging."
© Pink News



27/4/2007- Poland's prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, rejected EU criticism of a ban on "homosexual propaganda" in schools yesterday, saying that it was not in society's interests to increase the number of gay people. Mr Kaczynski dismissed suggestions that homosexual people faced discrimination in Poland, in a blunt response to an EU parliament vote earlier in the day in which MEPs called for a fact-finding mission to the country to investigate recent anti-gay comments by senior officials. "Nobody is limiting gay rights in Poland," said Mr Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice party, which stresses Roman Catholic Values and governs with the small League of Polish Families, which is militantly anti-abortion and anti-gay rights. "However, if we're talking about not having homosexual propaganda in Polish schools, I fully agree with those who feel this way. Such propaganda should not be in schools; it definitely doesn't serve youth well. It's not in the interests of any society to increase the number of homosexuals, that's obvious." In Strasbourg the European parliament issued a resolution calling for more robust action from Polish leaders. "The European parliament ... calls on the ... Polish authorities publicly to condemn and take measures against declarations by public leaders inciting discrimination and hatred based on sexual orientation," said the resolution, which was sponsored by socialists, liberals and greens but largely opposed by conservatives. Last month Poland's deputy education minister, Miroslaw Orzechowski, said that teachers deemed to be promoting "homosexual culture" in Polish schools would be fired, and the government has drafted corresponding legislation. This year the education minister, Roman Giertych, the leader of the League of Polish Families, said "one must limit homosexual propaganda so that children won't have an improper view of family". Mr Kaczynski had previously distanced himself from the comments. His twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, has drawn criticism from human rights groups after he banned a gay parade when he was mayor of Warsaw.
© The Guardian



25/4/2007- A Polish proposal to ban discussion of homosexuality in schools would violate European law, the European commissioner for equal opportunity said Wednesday. "Such a law, if it were to emerge, would be in contradiction with the European human rights convention and the EU charter on fundamental rights," Vladimir Spidla told the European Parliament as part of a debate on homophobia. Several Polish parliament members walked out after a vote to suspend the debate failed. Poland's deputy education minister, Miroslaw Orzechowski, said last month that legislation was being prepared that would lead to the dismissal of teachers who promoted "homosexual attitudes." It would also prohibit gay organisations from providing information in schools on protection from sexually transmitted diseases, the deputy minister said. Spidla said it appeared the proposed Polish legislation had not yet been formulated. The organisation Human Rights Watch has also criticised the proposal as a violation of basic rights. Meanwhile far-right Polish MEP Maciej Giertych, already in trouble over an anti-semitic tract, published a homophobic pamphlet bearing the parliament's logo. Entitled "European values" the opinion piece, seen by AFP, states that homosexuality is "biologically useless" and "reversible" as long as there is "the desire to become heterosexual and the spiritual motivation". Gay parades should be banned, he adds. Giertych offers his support to his deputy education minister's plan to sack teachers who promote homosexuality. "The EU shouldn't dictate how we should conduct ourselves on moral issues," he says in the tract. Giertych is the father of Roman Giertych, Poland's education minister and deputy premier. While both are the masterminds of the far-right League of Polish Families -- led by Roman Giertych -- Giertych senior sits as a non-affiliated MEP. In March European parliament president Hans-Gert Poettering reprimanded the euro MP for publishing an anti-Semitic tract also bearing the parliamentary logo. In the earlier pamphlet he argues that Jews "form the ghettoes themselves" resulting in "biological differences." He also argued that Jews backed both sides in conflicts, whereas "we" -- an apparent reference to Christians -- "fight for justice."
© EUbusiness



25/4/2007- British labour MEP Michael Cashman says he moved into politics after Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s expressed similar views on homosexuality as the current political leaders in Poland. While enjoying equality as a gay citizen in his own country, he argues that pressure from Europe can help Polish gays and lesbians to achieve the same. Mr Cashman heads the European Parliament's inter-party group on gay and lesbian rights, which gathers around 60 deputies from all groups except the far-right ITS and monitors European developments in the area. It has been involved in the most recent calls for a statement on homophobia from the European Commission and EU presidency to be presented on Wednesday (25 April), along with a parliamentary debate and resolution on the issue. MEPs adopted two resolutions on homophobia over the past year - in June and January 2006, with Poland being highlighted as a country sparking most serious concern. Mr Cashman told EUobserver he thinks the main goal of such resolutions is "to signal not only to Poland but also other countries that we will keep up the pressure" until the EU institutions take legal action against national measures that go contrary to European anti-discrimination rules. "Sadly, it is not only statements on the part of the Polish government but also concrete moves," he said, referring to previous attempts to ban gay parades, the education ministry's plan to punish 'homosexual propaganda' and the intention of the Polish Ombudsman for Children to list jobs for which homosexuals are unfit. The parliament's legal services have confirmed that Poland is currently not in breach of any EU laws on anti-discrimination, but the new Vienna-based fundamental rights agency has been tasked by MEPs to continue research. Mr Cashman says that hateful statements from leading politicians are harmful to the everyday life of homosexuals as they are echoed on the ground and create a feeling that it is alright to attack gays and lesbians. "What Poland should know better than other countries - as it had lived under the oppression of the Soviet domination - is that if you deny with hate speak somebody else's right, eventually someone will come and take away your right." "I know Poland is a very conservative country. But Poland also stood next to the UK fighting for peace during WWII. I now ask for the same principles to be given to men and women - the peace to live their lives offending none, imposing upon none. Is that such a hard and difficult thing for a national government to deliver? I don't think so."

Proud to be in gay lobby
Some deputies argue the issue of discrimination against homosexuals in Europe has been overblown by their strong lobby in the EU legislature. Mr Cashman says "if we are a lobby standing up for people despised and discriminated against, I'm proud to be part of that lobby." "The defence of human rights you can either choose or it chooses you. I went into politics because in my own country, in 1987, the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher attempted do exactly what Giertych [Polish education minister] and his mates are attempting now." "They were using virtually the same words as the Poles now about ending 'the promotion of homosexuality' even though they never defined what 'promote' means." "At the moment in the UK as a gay man I have absolute equality. But in politics I have to imagine that when there's discrimination allowed against another person, then it could be me." Mr Cashman argues that EU human rights legislation is not complete and left-leaning groups in the European Parliament are still pressing for broadening the scope of the so called 'race directive' so as to protect citizens against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. "This would in practice mean that you couldn't be discriminated against when applying for public housing with your partner, or in other services where we can experience barriers in everyday life." However, he is pessimistic about such progress soon as these provisions would require unanimous agreement by all member states. "But what I'd like from all these initiatives is that we wouldn't have to take them. That we would have achieved the equality and we can trust politicians to respect the rights of others. That day is a long way away so the work goes on."
© EUobserver



25/4/2007- Members of the European Parliament have denounced as "a scandal" a threat by the Polish government to strip a leading Polish MEP of his mandate. Bronislaw Geremek, a former dissident, is refusing to submit a declaration that he did not co-operate with the communist-era secret police. He is required to do so by a Polish law which entered into force on 15 March. One MEP said Poland's behaviour was an "absolute scandal". Another described it as "Stalinist". The president of the parliament, German MEP Hans-Gert Poettering, said he would examine all legal possibilities that would allow Mr Geremek to continue his work in the parliament. Polish election officials have already written to Mr Geremek warning that his mandate will be revoked, if he does not comply with the law.

'Secret web'
The measure is part of a push by President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, to screen professors, journalists and politicians for past collaboration. Mr Geremek, 75, a former foreign minister and member of the parliament's Liberal group, says he has already made a declaration that he did not work as an informant when he ran for election to the European Parliament three years ago. He said the new law threatened freedom of speech and created "a kind of ministry of truth". The leader of the Liberal group, Graham Watson, said Mr Geremek "rightly objects to the witch-hunt his government seeks". Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit said: "If the [Polish] government uses Stalinist or fascist methods, we must defend our colleagues against all loonies." The Kaczynskis say Poland is infiltrated by a "web" of ex-communists and secret police who went into business and other areas of public life in the years after 1989, when the country's first post-communist government was formed.
© BBC News



25/4/2007- Leading European Union lawmakers on Wednesday demanded to make human rights a basic part of EU-US relations, warning the EU against a focus on boosting economic ties only. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) made their comments days before a summit in Washington which is expected to be a litmus test for transatlantic relations. "We have to strengthen economic political ties, but future US policies must be based on democratic values," said German Green MEP Angelika Beer. Germany, which currently runs the rotating EU presidency, wants to use the April 30 summit to get agreement on a transatlantic economic partnership aimed at breaking down trade barriers. European and US officials have repeatedly clashed over a number of issues including climate change, human rights and civil liberties. "The EU is determined to combat terrorism and organized crime, but that has to be based on respect for human rights," said Joseph Daul, chairman of parliament's influential conservative European People's Party. Liberal Democrat group leader Graham Watson of Britain said the EU must "resist US moves for unilateralism" in issues of common concern. "On economic, environmental and ethical grounds the US has been shredding the values for which America enjoyed our respect," he said. US practices in its so-called "war against terror" continue to frustrate the EU.

Europeans are concerned over alleged secret US prisons in Europe to interrogate terror suspects, the sharing of air passenger details and a secret deal on the transfer of bank data to the US. "In the name of the common values of the transatlantic business dialogue, will we have to keep quiet about the Iraq war or (the) Guantanamo (prison camp)? About the death penalty?" asked French MEP Francis Wurtz, president of parliament's leftist European United Left party. The EU is also angered over the US's long-standing resistance to caps on carbon emissions. The bloc aims to move towards a framework to replace an international climate change agreement after 2012 and has vowed to slash its own emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. Watson said the EU must use the summit "to force recognition of the greatest security threat of the modern age climate change and get the Americans to stabilize and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."  German Minister for European Affairs Guenter Gloser told parliamentarians the bloc would also press Washington to lift visa restrictions on citizens from the EU's eastern and central countries. The US does not require visas from citizens of the EU's old member states, but Greeks and most citizens of the 10 new EU countries that joined the bloc in 2004 have to apply for a visa. Slovenia is the only new EU member state to be part of the scheme. EU Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said visa requirements for citizens of eastern and central European countries were "essentially discrimination."
© Expatica News



23/4/2007- A group of European Parliament members have submitted a draft declaration to the European Parliament requiring ISPs to take action against online hate speech. Sponsored by Glyn Ford and Claude Moraes of the UK, Viktória Mohácsi of Hungary, and Bernd Posselt and Feleknas Uca of Germany, the declaration calls on ISPs to better monitor the content of the sites they host in order to keep hate speech off the web. The five European MPs sponsoring the declaration would like to see racism and hate speech banished from the Internet completely, starting with Europe. Should European ISPs not go along, the MPs will try to get the European Commission to enact legislation on the issue, reports Heise Online. Currently, the EU runs the Safer Internet Plus program, which intends to "promote safer use of the Internet" while fighting against "illegal content and content unwanted by" end users. The MPs are calling on the EC to act within the framework of that program to force ISPs to take hate speech and racist web sites online. The MPs efforts to ban hate speech face the same fundamental obstacles that other legislative efforts to govern content on the Internet run into. For everything from hate speech to digital piracy, the Internet's carefully designed lack of respect for international borders always thwarts efforts to eradicate certain types of content from the 'Net as a whole. A related problem that afflicts European anti-hate speech legislation in particular is that laws defining illegal speech differ markedly from one country to the next. It may be illegal to sell Nazi memorabilia in Germany, but keeping eBay's online auctions completely free of such stuff has posed a problem precisely because it's not illegal to sell it in other countries.
© ARS Technica



What is the role of the Middle East conflict in Jewish-Muslim dialogue? Is the media a positive force for change in inter-religious relations? How can local communities be successfully engaged in dialogue? These were a number of the questions tackled by representatives of Jewish and Muslim organisations at a Conference on Jewish-Muslim Dialogue held in Brussels last week.

23/4/2007- Addressed by speakers including Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid (Chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK), Rabbi Michel Serfaty (Founder & President of Amitié Judéo-Musulmane de France) and European Commission Culture Director Vladimir Sucha, participants were reminded of their shared religious and cultural heritage and were encouraged to join forces rather than working against each other. A key outcome of the Conference was the establishment of a European Platform for Jewish-Muslim Co-operation to both encourage and to raise the profile of local, national and Europe-wide dialogue and co-operation initiatives. In providing a forum for the sharing of experiences, ideas and good practices, the Conference also witnessed the initiation of new partnerships between organisations and the development of project ideas in the arts, media coverage of Jewish and Muslim issues, religious diversity training, grassroots involvement, academic co-operation and joint lobbying efforts. Awards for best practice in Jewish-Muslim co-operative initiatives were also proposed.

The Conference also saw the release of ‘mapping reports’ compiling information on partnerships, initiatives and best practice in the field of Jewish-Muslim dialogue in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, the UK and France. Presented by Dr Richard Stone, Founding Director of Alif-Alef UK, the reports show that although there are real challenges facing dialogue initiatives – including not only the Middle East conflict and gender issues but also structural differences between communities and the need for time and effort to sustain dialogue – there is nevertheless a great deal of positive contact between Jewish and Muslim communities in the countries studied, and this is growing. Organised by Brussels-based Jewish anti-racism organisation CEJI with guidance from a Jewish -Muslim Steering Group, the European Conference on Jewish-Muslim Dialogue was conceived with a view to promoting dialogue, exchange of best practice, co-operation and partnership between Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe. It welcomed seventy Jews and Muslims from Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, the UK and France who are involved in or interested in dialogue at a community level. Organisations represented included the European Muslim Network, the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) and Islamic Relief.

Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid, Chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK and the National Association of British Pakistanis and Conference Steering Group member stated of the initiative: ‘The European Conference comes at a crucial time in Jewish-Muslim relations. In bringing together people working to increase religious harmony and tolerance within their own communities, it provides a much-needed focus on their achievements and is an important step towards tackling animosity and misunderstanding between Jews and Muslims.’ As CEJI Director Robin Sclafani explained, Jewish-Muslim dialogue initiatives are valuable not only for creating respect and understanding between communities but also as ‘a source of inspiration for intercultural relations as a whole and a demonstration of solidarity in the fight against all forms of racism’. Participant Shereen Williams of Radio Salaam Shalom, the UK’s first Muslim and Jewish radio station, added: ‘There is an increasing understanding that Jews and Muslims in the UK and worldwide have a common history that dates back thousands of years. Now, more than ever, it is time to draw on and learn from our positive cultural experiences.’


Headlines 20 April, 2007


20/4/2007- Mario Machado, leader of the Portuguese far-right movement National Front (FN), was imprisoned Friday after 14 hours of questioning, a spokesman for the court said. A Lisbon judge decreed preventative prison for Machado. His lawyer did not give details, saying the charges against him were "public knowledge. "  Nearly 30 far-right militants, including Machado, were detained Wednesday for possession of weapons and racist activities. Police searched some 60 addresses around the country. Three of the detainees were placed under house arrest pending trial. Six were ordered to report regularly to the authorities. The rest were released. Machado was sentenced to four years in prison in 1997 for participating in the killing of Alcino Monteiro, a Portuguese citizen of African origin, in Lisbon in 1995. The arrests were made ahead of a Saturday meeting of European far-right parties and organizations in Lisbon. The organizer of the event, the National Renovation Party (PNR), has called on immigrants to "leave Portugal to the Portuguese. " The police swoop was aimed at making clear that Portugal would not become an operational base for European far-right groups, according to press reports.
© Jurnalo



19/4/2007- A leading Moscow university ordered its foreign students on Thursday to remain in their dormitories for the next three days because of fears of ethnic violence before Adolf Hitler's birthday, students said. Hundreds of students at the prestigious Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy were told to stock up on food and warned they would not be let out of the dormitories through Saturday in an attempt to protect them amid a marked rise in hate crimes. Ethnically motivated violence tends to increase in the days leading up to and after Hitler's birthday on April 20, when some members of ultra-nationalist organizations shout slogans and stage attacks on dark-skinned foreign and other non-Slavic-looking people. The measure at Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy did not appear to be exclusive. Other universities and organizations have in the past also warned foreigners of possible violence ahead of Hitler's birthday. In Moscow, authorities have closed down some outdoor markets over the last couple of years where many traders are foreigners. Liah Ganeline, a second-year student at Sechenov from Israel, said authorities have locked down her dormitory in southern Moscow - which houses about 500 students from Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus region - every April 20 for the past several years. She said officials call it a fire safety drill. She said another dormitory housing several hundred students in central Moscow was subject to similar restrictions. Ms. Ganeline said, however, that all students were aware of the real reason, and noted that someone had scrawled the word "skinheads" over an announcement of the lockdown posted on a dormitory wall. Last year, she said, a group of skinheads threw firebombs at the dormitory building after shouting offensive slogans and giving the Nazi salute.

"It is nice that the university is taking care of us, but on the other hand it's absurd that our freedom is being limited because of some militant groups," said Ms. Ganeline. "In a normal, democratic country the authorities don't obey the interests of these groups, but on the contrary protect people from them," she told The Associated Press by telephone. Only practicing physicians in training were allowed to leave the building, she said, along with students who had signed a statement saying they were responsible for their own safety and had received approval from university officials. Others were given permission to miss classes. Sergei Baranov, acting dean of the university's foreign students department, said the school was conducting emergency drills through Saturday. Asked why only foreign students were involved in the exercise, Baranov said the university was at the same time trying to protect students from possible violence. "We are trying to kill two birds with one stone - these days the danger of some incidents is higher," he said. Ms. Ganeline bought two cartons of milk, four containers of yogurt, apples, corn and rolls of toilet paper and prepared to spend the next three days isolated in the dorm with fellow students. "It's horrible that this is happening," she said, referring to the rising xenophobic sentiments in Russia. Russia has seen a marked rise in racism and xenophobia over the past several years, with nonwhite or dark-skinned residents, foreigners and Jews bearing the brunt of the violence. According to the human rights center Sova, which monitors xenophobia, 53 people were killed in 2006 and 460 others were injured in apparent hate crimes. Activists say authorities do little or nothing to combat the problem and that obvious hate crimes are regularly classified as mere hooliganism. Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau for Human rights, said authorities should do more to prosecute hate groups and protect foreign students rather than subject them to restrictions. "The activity of radicals is significantly increasing," he said. "But the decisions of the university officials ... must not violate the freedom of movement of foreigners."
© Associated Press



19/4/2007- Bulgaria's Labour and Social Policy Minister Emiliya Maslarova has called for stopping the "incubator moms and cuckoos", referring to Roma women who systematically give birth to children they later abandon. Malsarova explained that the government has opened four crisis centers for such cases in the country. She added that a total of 10 centers offering complex social services have been opened in just a year. Parenting is not only a privilege, it is also a responsibility and people should realize that, Maslarova added, Bulgaria's Ombudsman Ginyo Ganev supported her by saying that the children have to grow healthy, educated and in a secure environment. Maslarova's statement caused outrage in ethnic Evroroma party, and they dubbed it "irresponsible." "This statement was an expression of open discrimination and ethnic intolerance," the party commented in a statement. Maslarova should think about doing something with all those irresponsible sons and daughters that leave their parents on the hands of the state. They added that it was a known fact that much more cash went for homes for the elderly than for orphanages and it was also a fact that there isn't a single Roma in a nursing home for the elderly.
© Novinite



17/4/2007- The Roma in Spain may have been instrumental in creating flamenco, but members of this community - the oldest minority group in the country - continue to be socially marginalized and suffer discrimination, a study has found. The survey, commissioned by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry and carried out in 1,600 Roma households, paints a grim picture of a community of 700,000 people where poverty and illiteracy are high and a sense of injustice is pervasive. The views of the Roma contrast sharply with those of Spain 's four million immigrants, who feel comfortable in their adopted society, surveys indicate. Spain has earned plaudits in recent years for managing to absorb Europe 's fastest-growing immigrant population with relatively little friction. "It is worrying," Amparo Valcarce, deputy minister for social affairs, said in a telephone interview. She called the social gap between the Roma and the Spanish population as a whole "abysmal." "These people have been living with us for 500 years," Valcarce said. "They are Spanish, but they have not been well integrated." Spain's population of Roma - the largest in Western Europe - form the biggest minority group in the country. Like the wider Roma population, they have a history of persecution. Known in Spain as Gitanos and commonly called Gypsies in English, the Roma are believed to have migrated to Europe from the Punjab region, now shared by Pakistan and India , at the beginning of the last millennium. They settled in Spain about 500 years ago, but were persecuted for centuries as Catholic rulers tried to assimilate or expel minorities. The Roma were traditionally concentrated in the southern region of Andalusia, where they played a key role in the development of flamenco, the soulfully rhythmic music and dance that are Spain 's iconic art form. The Punjabi melodies and rhythms brought by the Roma are considered just one of the musical influences that gave rise to flamenco, along with Arabic, Jewish and Andalusian folk music. But the Roma incubated the art form, which only gained wider recognition in the last 200 years.

The new study of the Roma, made public late last week, was commissioned by the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to guide official programs aimed at helping the community. Valcarce said a labor bill being debated in Parliament would provide a new mechanism for self-employed people - like the large Roma population of traveling salesmen - to pay and claim social security benefits. The government is drafting another bill that would subsidize and offer tax breaks to companies that employ marginalized or disabled people. Three-quarters of those polled in the survey, which was conducted by the National Statistical Institute, were on temporary work contracts or were self-employed. Seventeen percent received some kind of social benefit - three times the national average. The survey showed poor levels of literacy and school attendance among the Roma: 15 percent of those polled were illiterate and the same percentage had attended school for five years or less. Just a third had attended school to the minimum legal age of 16, and only a tiny 0.2 percent had received university-level education, compared with a national average of 20 percent. Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia, head of Unión Romaní, a Spanish organization that represents the Roma, said that illiteracy levels in the community were in fact close to 40 percent but had fallen from about 80 percent three decades ago as a result of government programs that have helped the younger generation. In the poll, two in five said their father was illiterate and three in five said their mother was illiterate. "The situation before was shocking," said Ramírez, who expects illiteracy rates to halve again over the next six or seven years. "You don't see figures like this in Rwanda or Burundi ." According to the survey, 47 percent of Roma consider racism or discrimination to be their biggest problem. More than half of those surveyed said they had been discriminated against when they tried to get a job or rent an apartment. Four out of 10 said they had encountered discrimination when doing everyday things, like shopping or going to a bar, swimming pool or disco.
© International Herald Tribune



19/4/2007- This Saturday's March for Tolerance in the Polish city of Krakow will be picketed by a rightwing group with a history of hatred for gay people. All-Polish Youth has said they will take to the streets to protest against homosexual rights. "We will not permit the sodomites to enter the city's main square," a spokesman for the group said, according to Catholic World News. The gay rights march is part of the 4th Krakow Festival of Gay and Lesbian Culture. Last July thousands of people marched in the Polish capital of Warsaw to protest against increased homophobia in the country. A counter parade by far-right groups was cancelled after pressure from politicians. All-Polish Youth were until recently in alliance with the League of Polish Families, a political party who are junior partners in the country's coalition government. Roman Giertych, lead the League and is deputy Prime Minister of Poland as well as Education Minister. He was reported last month to want to "prohibit the promotion of homosexuality and other deviance." A Ministry of Education press conference was told by junior Education minister Miroslaw Orzechowski that new laws will, "punish whomever promotes homosexuality or any other deviance of a sexual nature in educational establishments." It is thought punishment under the new law will include imprisonment. Roman Giertych recently caused outrage at a meeting of EU education ministers when he openly criticised the so-called "homosexual propaganda" in schools and suggested a EU-wide ban. He claimed to be speaking for the Polish government. Last month his father, Maciej, 70, was censured by the European Parliament for anti-semitism. It was the first time a rule that provides for penalties against MEPs for "exceptionally serious" violations of the Parliament's principles of mutual respect had been used. Giertych Snr is an MEP representing his son's League of Polish Families. He published a booklet last month with the EU logo on it in which he asserted that Jews are biologically different from other people and that they "prefer to voluntarily live separately from the communities which surround them." He believes that Jews should not be allowed to live in Europe.
© Pink News



18/4/2007- Three people were found with their throats slit in a publishing house in eastern Turkey that had printed Bibles and other Christian literature, the authorities said Wednesday. One of the victims was a German citizen. The authorities detained five men for questioning, three 19-year-olds and two 20-year-olds, but did not publicly identify them. However, the publishing house in Malatya, a town with a nationalist reputation, has had trouble in the past over a shipment of printed Bibles, and it seemed likely that the attackers had a nationalist agenda. Change is opening up Turkish society, and a nationalist fringe - xenophobes for whom the ethnic and religious purity of the Turkish state is worth killing for - have been using violence against its proponents more often in recent months. Hrant Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian descent killed this winter was one of the victims. A Roman Catholic priest killed last year was another. The trend is worrying for the government, whose prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been pushing hard for Turkey to gain entry to the European Union. Some European politicians have opposed Turkey's membership arguing that Turkey does not fit culturally or religiously, and the killings of Christians, though rare, do not help Turkey's case. The victims were found seated in chairs, their hands and feet bound, said Halil Ibrahim Dasoz, a government official in Malatya in comments on Turkish NTV television. One died later from his wounds. He had also been stabbed in the back and stomach. The state-run Anatolian agency identified the victims as Tilman Ekkehart Geske, 46; Necati Aydin, 35; and Ugur Yuksel, whose age was not given. The German ambassador, Eckart Cuntz, confirmed through a spokesman that one of the victims was a German citizen. He declined to give further details. Reuters quoted Carlos Madrigal, an evangelical pastor in Istanbul, saying that he knew the victims and that they were evangelical Protestants.

The killings took place in the building where the publishing house was based, the Turkish interior minister, Abdulkadir Aksu, said at a news conference on national television. The five suspects were apprehended quickly, because a police station was located close by, Aksu said. Several of the young men were carrying weapons. Another, who had broken his leg in a jump from a window, was also detained. NTV television broadcast footage of authorities rushing four young men down the stairwell of a building. The recent nationalist attacks are ghosts from Turkey's past. Malatya once had a heavy Armenian population, but lost it in the bloody founding of the Turkish state, which was trying to scrub the nation free of minority identity to build a new Turkey. It encouraged nationalists to resettle in the area in an effort to preserve Turkish identity there. "Nationalism is on the rise in Turkey," said Ali Bulac, a Turkish newspaper columnist in Istanbul. "It stands against the U.S. and the EU." The Anatolian news agency reported that the young men had been staying at a youth hostel in town, preparing for university entrance exams. One had been thrown out for getting into a fight. It also reported that they had checked out of the hostel recently and that a note incriminating them in the killing was found on one of them. The publishing house had changed its name after having trouble with nationalist groups that had forcefully blocked a shipment of bibles, Meftun Kilinc, a reporter for ERTV, a television station in Malatya, said in a telephone interview. She said the new name was Zirve Publishing. Turkish nationalists tout their Muslim identity, but often have more in common with hard-line secularists of the state elite than with Islamists. The distinction is important because of the broad debate now roiling Turkish society over the role of religion and its proper relation to the state. That disagreement has come sharply into focus in recent weeks as the country faces an election to its presidency, the post safeguarding secularism. Erdogan, whose political background is Islamic, may try to compete for it, a possibility that has hard-line secularists worried.
© International Herald Tribune



17/4/2007- Serbia has been struck by a string of attacks against government critics that is fueling concerns of a possible explosion of ultranationalist sentiment as Kosovo moves toward independence. Many people, including the country's pro-Western president, Boris Tadic, even warn of a return to the days of violence and turmoil under Slobodan Milosevic, the late president. In recent weeks, unknown assailants have thrown grenades at a journalist's home, made death threats against a reporter, tossed bricks into an opposition politician's living room and ransacked the offices of a Muslim party. "What year are we in?" said Marija Pavlovic, a 40-year-old doctor. "I really thought all this was behind us." Her fears have found a voice on the Internet. "All this is just the same as seven or eight years ago," a person who gave the name Dusan Nedeljkovic wrote on a blog. "I want to know who is responsible and when all this is going to end." Western support for Kosovo self-rule and a United Nations plan granting supervised independence have unleashed a wave of anti-Western rhetoric among conservative politicians; some have even called for abandoning Serbia's bid for membership in the European Union or cutting diplomatic ties with Western countries. That has all fed the nationalist furor.

Liberals in Serbia were particularly alarmed this past weekend when two hand grenades exploded at the bedroom window of an independent journalist, Dejan Anastasijevic, hurting no one but causing extensive damage to his home. "I never thought it would come to this," said Anastasijevic, who once testified at the Milosevic genocide trial at the UN war crimes tribunal. "I'm in shock." The bombing of Anastasijevic's home came just days after a neo-Nazi group posted death threats on the Internet against another independent journalist in the north. The group's skinhead members stood in military formation wearing black shirts and waving Serbian flags in a protest last month on Belgrade's main square, vowing never to give up Kosovo. The police did not intervene. In another incident last week, three men wearing T-shirts with the image of the fugitive war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic broke into the offices of a Muslim-led party in Belgrade, shouting insults and telling party activists to leave Serbia. And on March 1, a brick was thrown into the home of a liberal politician, Vesna Pesic, one of the founders of Serbia's antiwar movement and a former ambassador to Mexico. There were no injuries. "Such crimes are attempts to return Serbia to the 1990s and the era of wars," Tadic warned. "But we must not, at any price, give up our goal of building a democratic society. The reaction of the state must be the harshest possible."

Despite promises of a crackdown, critics claim that the post-Milosevic authorities, especially the current conservative government, have not done enough to sideline nationalist groups following Milosevic's fall from power in 2000. The critics argue that the failure of the government to decisively distance itself from the Milosevic era and arrest Mladic and others charged with war crimes was encouraging the extremist groups. "Recent attacks are a consequence of the political climate in the country," said Natasa Kandic, a leading human rights activist in Serbia who has won international praise for her efforts to expose the war crimes committed during the Balkan wars. Vojin Dimitrijevic, another human rights activist and international law expert said that "large parts of our political elite have been sending signals" in support of the nationalist organizations. Cedomir Jovanovic, leader of the Liberal Party and the only leading Serbian politician supporting independence for Kosovo, said official policies offered a green light for a "lynching of all those who think differently than the quasi-reformers." Pesic, an ally of Jovanovic, agreed that the Kosovo dispute had revived Milosevic-era divisions. "Once again," she said, "we are being divided into patriots and traitors."
© Associated Press



15/4/2007- The Poles call it the law of lustration, a term meaning ritual purification; the word has strong connotations of repentance and penitence in Poland, where history and Catholicism are so closely intertwined. Under the law, which was passed last October and entered into force on 15 March this year, 700,000 Poles are required to confess any collaboration with the communists between 1945 and 1989. All senior civil servants, university professors, lawyers, headmasters and journalists born before 1972 must now confess their past sins by 15 May. They must all fill in a form and answer the question: “Did you secretly and knowingly collaborate with the former communist security services?” The forms must be handed to their immediate superiors, who will forward them to the Institute of National Memory in Warsaw, which will check its records and issue a certificate of political purity. Journalists employed in any public service will be dismissed automatically if they collaborated. Anyone who refuses to answer the question or who is proved to have lied may be banned from their profession for 10 years. This mad law, which is causing uproar in the European Union, makes the McCarthyites of the United States in the 1950s look like amateurs at the practise of anti-communism. It is the main feature of a witchhunt launched by the authorities after the conservative president, Lech Kaczynski, and his twin brother, prime minister Jaroskaw Kaczynski, came to power in Poland in October 2005. Many Poles consider the law to be unconstitutional because it requires citizens to prove that they did not do something. It may be quashed by the Constitutional Court, which will deliver its verdict in May.
The ruling rightwing, Catholic and nationalist coalition (the Kaczynski brothers’ Law and Justice party, the agrarian Self Defence party and the League of Polish Families) is pursuing a disturbing policy of tough enforcement of moral values. Roman Giertych, deputy prime minister, minister of education and leader of the League, has just tabled a homophobic bill, causing more international uproar and protests from human rights organisations. Under the bill, which could be presented within a month, any person disclosing their homosexuality “or any other sexual deviation” in a university or scholastic establishment would be liable to a fine, dismissal or a term of imprisonment. The minister’s father, the League MEP Maciej Giertych, caused protests in February when he published an antisemitic pamphlet, paid for by the European parliament and issued under its logo, containing such statements as “the Jews create their own ghettos” and “antisemitism is not racism”. These anti-communist purges and attempts to reimpose an authoritarian moral order in Poland — and also to some extent in Ukraine, Lithuania and other countries formerly in the eastern bloc — conceal a worrying nostalgia for the period before the second world war, when racism was blatant. Some of those caught up in the current wave of revisionism go as far as extolling collaboration with the Third Reich against the Soviet Union. The idea, so popular with the media, that Putin’s Russia is merely a covert extension of the old USSR inspires the spirit that prompted Warsaw to agree to instal on Polish territory the anti-missile shield designed by the Pentagon to protect the United States. It did that without deigning to consult its partners in the EU and Nato. Which goes to show that paranoia in politics can lead not only to spiritual atrophy but also to a special form of treachery.
© Z Magazine



20/4/2007- Petr Uhl, a well-known former Czechoslovak pre-November 1989 dissident, told CTK today that he has left the Czech Government Human Rights Council also over what he called "xenophobic stands of Deputy PM Jiri Cunek." Uhl was the council's member from early 2006. Cunek, chairman of the junior ruling Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), deputy PM, local development minister and senator, aroused the first wave of criticism last autumn when, in his capacity as mayor of Vsetin, north Moravia, he had tens of Romany families moved out from a local dilapidated house to new container-like flats on the town outskirts and some even elsewhere in Moravia. In a TV programme he said that Vsetin is getting rid of an ulcer this way. The most recently Cunek irritated Czech Romanies when he said that if one wants social benefits from the state, he/she must get sunburnt and make a mess at squares. Cunek later asserted that he aimed his words at politicians, not at Romanies. Uhl said that he has departed from the council also because the government has withdrawn from its agenda two proposals the human rights council submitted. One concerned the establishment of a special body to enquire into police officers' offences, which are now dealt with by the Interior Minister's Inspection. International organisations, too, have recommended that the Czech Republic found an independent institution to deal with unlawful actions of policemen. The other proposal suggested that the government change the statutes of the government councils and working groups so that the bodies include more women. "The government has breached its order of procedure and the Human Rights Council's statutes, and showed disrespect of its advisory bodies," Uhl said. He said that he would withdraw from the committee against torture for the same reasons. Since March 1, Uhl has also been a member of the interim board of the EC's fundamental rights agency. He said he would not care about the post if Cunek remained in government. Apart from Cunek's KDU-CSL, the centre-right government comprises the Civic Democrats (ODS) of PM Mirek Topolanek and the Greens (SZ) of Martin Bursik.
© Prague Daily Monitor



17/4/2007- Czech police will not deal with a criminal complaint that Prague lawyer Kolja Kubicek filed against Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek for his controversial statements connected with Nazism, according to a statement received by Kubicek a copy of which CTK obtained. The statement says that Prague 1 state attorney office deputy head Ivona Horska found no reason to start police investigation. "I have found no reasons that would justify my handing the complaint over to the police," Horska said. In his complaint, Kubicek pointed out that by his statements Topolanek publicly demonstrated his internal admiration of National Socialists and fascists. Kubicek's complaint was prompted by Topolanek's using the German expression "Es kommt der Tag..." (The day will come) in an SMS message to journalists for which he was also criticised by war veterans. These words were used by Nazi-oriented members of the Sudeten German party in the 1930s as an appeal to ceding the Czechoslovak German border regions to the Third Reich. Kubicek also pointed to Topolanek's statement made before last June's elections, according to which his Civic Democrats (ODS) were preparing a "Night of the Long Knives" or a purge in the civil service when it came to power. In his complaint, Kubicek pointed out that Topolanek repeated the statements for which he wanted him to be prosecuted for many years on various occasions.
© Prague Daily Monitor



16/4/2007- Fourteen Romany organisations and 100 individuals have filed a criminal complaint against Czech Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL) for his statements that Romanies believe defame them, chairwoman of the Athinganoi group Monika Mihalickova told CTK today. By his statement that if a person in the Czech Republic wants to receive state support he or she "should get sunburnt, make a mess with their family and put up fires on the squares," Cunek could have instigated hatred towards the Romany minority and limit their rights and freedoms, she said. Previously Cunek said that he meant his words to address politicians and not Romanies. "We firmly believe that someone will seriously deal with the case. A criminal complaint is one of a few opportunities that we, as citizens of this country, have to demand justice," Mihalickova, who is also deputy chairwoman of the government's council for Romany issues, said. Cunek told CTK today that Romany organisations and individuals had a right to file a criminal complaint. "Everyone can file a complaint if he believes that a crime was committed," Cunek said without elaborating. Romany lawyer Martin Conka who filed the complaint pointed out that extremists hailed Cunek for his statements and said that Cunek was the only politician who is not afraid to express his views on Romanies and accompany them with deeds. For months, Cunek has faced criticism for his decision, in his former capacity as mayor of Vsetin, north Moravia, to evict dozens of Romany families from a dilapidating house to container-like flats on the town outskirts and some even to other Moravian regions. According to the complaint, by his statements Cunek could have committed a crime of the defamation of a nation, an ethnic group, a race and a faith and endanger one of the fundamental human rights - equality irrespective of ethnic origin, and the ban on discrimination. Police suspect Cunek, who is also Local Development Minister and senator, of having accepted a 500,000-crown bribe in 2002 when he was mayor of Vsetin. Although Romany activists, the opposition and the junior governing Green Party want him to leave the government he has pleaded not guilty and refused to step down from the government posts. Two months ago the Senate stripped Cunek of parliamentary immunity to allow his criminal prosecution.
© Prague Daily Monitor



15/4/2007- Czech Deputy Prime Minister and Christian Democrat leader Jiri Cunek believes that in his capacity he has the right to take part in the solution to all problems, including those relating to Romanies, Cunek told the commercial television station Prima today. Earlier this year, Cunek angered Romanies by his having spoken in the tabloid Blesk about "sunburnt people," alluding to Romanies' skin colour, who "make mess with their family and put up fires on town squares." On Saturday, the Greens asked Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek to see to it that Cunek no longer speak on the Romany issue. Topolanek told journalists today he could not forbid to cabinet members to voice their personal and party views. Topolanek said that he did not like to see the cabinet members speaking about the affairs that were not within their agenda. "I dislike this among many ministers," Topolanek said. Education Minister Dana Kuchtova (Greens), for one, should not speak about energy policy, he added. Cunek told Prima today that he was really interested in solving the problem of socially weak Romany families. The government should arrive at a programme that would really change their situation, Cunek said. "It should not be as until now when the programmes only slowed down the Romanies' plight," he said, adding that he had passed his knowledge to Minister Stehlikova(Greens) who is drafting a Romany policy concept. The state should change its policy as it should set down some duties for the families depending on welfare benefits, Cunek said. The welfare support should depend on whether they send their children to school or pre-school facilities, he added.

Ivan Vesely, chairman of the Romany association Dzeno, denounced Cunek's statement. "In my view, it was xenophobic and racist," Vesely said. However, he said that he agreed with Cunek's views that the state should resolve the problem of socially weak Romany families not only by prevention, but also by repression. The government should invest more in elementary schools and other facilities that are to ensure that Romany children successfully pass the elementary school, which will open their way to further education, Bursik said. Greens leader Martin Bursik said he agreed with Cunek's idea that the people who have no jobs should be motivated to look for them. "However, this should not be only targetted in a xenophobic way on the Romany community," Bursik said. "It is not so that there is an active policy putting the Romany community at an advantage. Everyone is equal before the state," he added. Most television viewers were not opposed to what Cunek said about the Romanies. Over 90 percent of those who took part in a televised poll said they did not think that Cunek should resign over his statement.
© Prague Daily Monitor



The Prison Service will be the target of fresh criticism over emerging evidence of how a Muslim prisoner was murdered by his cellmate

15/4/2007- Britain's prison system faces scrutiny this weekend over its treatment of ethnic minority prisoners as new evidence is revealed about how an Asian inmate was killed by his white cellmate. The inquest into the death of Shahid Aziz, 30, will pose new questions about the role of staff at Leeds prison and raise fresh concerns about overcrowding in Britain's jails. Aziz was murdered within minutes of being locked in the same cell as Peter McCann, who had twice been caught in possession of an object with a blade in the weeks before the killing and had attacked fellow inmates on two previous occasions. Despite his history of violence, McCann, 25, was considered a 'low risk' threat to other prisoners. The inquest will be told that, after slashing Aziz's throat, McCann pulled him around the cell by his necklace and then struck him about the head. The two had never met before the day of the killing. After the murder on 2 April 2004, McCann said he had become angry that Aziz had spoken to another inmate in Urdu and expressed the view that white and Asian inmates should not share cells. He denied he was racist and alleged Aziz had pulled the weapon on him first, although McCann suffered no injuries. The Aziz inquest gives new hope to the family of the murdered man, who believe his death may have been racially motivated, a claim denied by police who investigated the murder. The inquest will hear evidence that Aziz, who was serving time for criminal damage and was awaiting trial on drugs charges, was involved in a fight with a prison officer three weeks before he was placed in the cell with McCann. Aziz's family want to establish what triggered the altercation which led to Aziz being placed in segregation. In the weeks leading up to his death, Aziz had complained of racist abuse by officers whom he alleged had told him that he would never get out of jail alive.

Along with other Muslim prisoners, Aziz had submitted a petition complaining about racism in the prison. The day before he was killed he had given a statement to police in support of a white prisoner who alleged he had been assaulted by prison officers. The family claim that after Aziz's death they learned of a number of serious allegations made by black and Asian prisoners against prison staff at Leeds. The case has parallels with the murder of Zahid Mubarek, 19, who was beaten to death by Robert Stewart, a racist skinhead who had the letters 'RIP' tattooed on his forehead. An inquiry found 186 separate failings had resulted in Stewart being placed in a cell with Mubarek at Feltham Young Offenders' Institute in Middlesex in March 2000. The report found the prison service was plagued by institutional racism and called for an end to cell sharing. The Aziz inquest, which will be heard by a jury, is expected to last five weeks and will hear evidence from more than 60 witnesses including the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, the governor of Leeds prison, Ian Blakeman, and McCann, who is now serving life for murder. Parveen Mahmood, Aziz's widow, said she hoped the inquest would shine light on whether her husband's fight with the prison officer was in any way responsible for him being placed in a cell with McCann. 'I want to know if there is a link between the incident with the prison officer and Shahid's murder,' she said. 'I hope that the many questions which I've had for over three years will finally be answered at the inquest - otherwise I will have been cheated.'  The family have expressed concern that the judge at McCann's trial accepted his claim he was threatened by Aziz first. 'The judge said that only Peter McCann knows who had the knife to begin with,' Mohammed Farooq, Aziz's oldest brother, said shortly after the trial. 'In fact, all the evidence we have been told about points to the conclusion that Shahid never had the knife that Peter McCann used to kill Shahid.'

Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, the group that campaigns on behalf of families of prisoners who die in custody, said the hearing would provide a new opportunity to test the accountability of the prison service. It is unprecedented for an inquest to be heard into the murder of a person in custody if there has already been a prosecution. 'In the case of Zahid Mubarek nobody was brought to account,' Coles said. 'We need to establish: how does the prison service demonstrate it has learnt lessons?' She said that question needed to be addressed urgently. 'With an ever expanding prison population, there is every danger this could happen again.' Since 2000 there have been 11 murders in prisons in England and Wales.
© The Observer



15/4/2007- Scottish bosses are years behind their counterparts in London, with discriminatory attitudes to women and ethnic minorities in the boardroom, one of Scotland's most senior business advisers has claimed. Hywel Ball, who recently took over as managing partner of Ernst & Young in Scotland, said his wife had suffered discrimination when the couple first moved to Scotland 12 years ago. "She was finance director of South East Water and when she started looking for a similar role in Scotland, she was told that women finance directors would not work here," he said. "Obviously things have improved since then, but the environment still lags London." Ball warned that Scottish companies were missing out on talent by ignoring women and non-white candidates for jobs. He said: "I don't think Scotland is serious enough about diversity issues as we need to be. We do not therefore leverage all the talent pool that is available. "Diversity is not just about gender, but this is an obvious area. We have two female partners in Scotland, and off the top of my head there are two female Scottish finance directors. This is hardly reflective of the population." Julie Hall, vice-president of the Association of Scottish Businesswomen, backed Ball's comments. "I think Scotland is behind," she said. "Once women have families, or are even thinking about it, that changes people's perceptions of them. There needs to be more flexible working, and it needs to be available for men as well, so that women do not feel they are solely responsible for childcare."

But David Lonsdale, CBI Scotland's spokesman, denied Scottish business was rife with sexism or racism. He said: "This is not an issue that has come across my desk. We are in a market where the best firms are trying to recruit the best talent. There are examples of women such as Mary Dickson [managing director] at First ScotRail, and Linda Urquhart, who is the next CBI Scotland director but one. At the end of the day it is down to talent, experience and ability to do the job."  Rowena Arshad, the Equal Opportunities Commissioner for Scotland, recently said that the country featured "a significant lack of women at the top" in politics, business and the public sector. But the gap between men and women appears to be widening at a UK level. A survey last year revealed the number of female board directors in FTSE 100 firms had fallen from 121 in 2005 to 117 in 2006, with only three women chief executives. A recent review ordered by the Prime Minister, Fairness And Freedom, found that women with young children were the group most discriminated against at work. Ball, who previously ran E&Y's energy, chemicals and utilities team from London, said his firm was coming under increasing pressure from young recruits who wanted to work for more socially responsible clients. E&Y plans to set up a centre of excellence in renewable energy at its Edinburgh office.
© The Scotsman



14/4/2007- The number of pupils suspended from school for racist abuse rose by nearly a third in a year, government figures revealed yesterday. There was a 29% rise in temporary exclusions for this reason in England in 2004-05, taking the figure to 3,390, according to the most recently available information collated by the Department for Education. Suspensions for all reasons rose by 13% on the previous year, with a quarter of all suspensions due to physical attacks on other pupils or staff. Racist abuse accounts for just 1% of suspensions, but the rise is worrying political parties and other bodies trying to encourage community cohesion. The Commission for Racial Equality said: "Most kids are honest, law-abiding and tolerant. However, these figures suggest that somewhere along the line something is going seriously wrong. Worryingly, racism is a learned behaviour - these kids are not born racists. This hints that this problem is deep-rooted and ingrained." A spokesperson added that, unless it was tackled, "this problem will spiral out of control and will impact on wider society, causing more unrest in Britain's local communities".

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, who obtained the figures through parliamentary questions, said they were "another shocking picture of the poor state of race relations in Britain today." Citizenship classes were "clearly failing miserably ... We need our schools to teach tolerance, not hate." The education department said: "We deplore any act of racist bullying and fully back teachers in taking tough action when it occurs - these statistics show that schools are. We have given teachers clear legal powers to tackle ill-discipline." Ministers are concerned that schools are reluctant to report racist bullying because they do not want to get a reputation for having a racism problem. But Malcolm Trobe , president of the Association of School and College Leaders, believed schools were recording racist incidents properly. The suspensions figure indicated schools were better at identifying the problem and taking a strong line. Detailed figures show there were 389,560 suspensions for all reasons, up from 344,510 the previous year. Physical attacks on pupils were up 17% to 80,700. Attacks on adults were up 16% to 18,480; verbal abuse against pupils up 19% to 15,550; and verbal abuse against adults up 18% to 89,570. The only area where there was a significant drop in suspensions was for drug- or alcohol-related misdemeanours.
© The Guardian



19/4/2007- The Neo-Nazi website, 'Redwatch', has published pictures of local members of Ógra Sinn Féin. Redwatch's motto is "Remember places, traitors' faces, they'll all pay for their crimes." Its founder was expelled from the far-right British National Party for being too extreme. Redwatch is linked to paramilitary Nazi group Combat 18, which in turn has links with the LVF. West Tyrone Ógra has said they will not be intimidated. Spokesperson Barry McColgan said they had hoped the days of political intimidation were over. "We hoped we were moving towards a situation where Ógra members, like members of any political grouping, should be able to operate in any area they wish without intimidation," McColgan said. "We were photographed at a march outside the BBC offices in Belfast, which was organised in protest at against the media's portrayal of events in the Middle East last summer." "The march was organised by the Anti-War Movement in conjunction with the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Friends of Palestine society at QUB. "We won't be deterred; in fact it will make us more resilient. "We are getting stronger, more young people are joining Ógra and more people are voting for Sinn Féin. If the might of the British war machine and its death squads couldn't deter republicanism then neither will a website representing a minority, fascist view." Matthew Collins from Anti-Fascist magazine Searchlight has studied the far right for years. "Redwatch is dangerous and sinister," he said. "People put on the site have been attacked and have been harassed. "Combat 18 has set up this idea of leaderless resistance. They themselves don't organize attacks. They'll set out a menu on the internet." Collins said Redwatch was international, with similar sites in several other countries. "If your face is on Redwatch, you must be doing something right," he said.
© The Ulster Herald



15/4/2007- Immigrants now make up almost one in 10 of the Irish Republic's population, according to a new study that suggests the foreign influx has significantly boosted Ireland's 'Celtic tiger' economy. Foreign workers are estimated to have added up to 3 per cent growth to Irish gross national product between 2003 and 2005, according to two leading economists. Alan Barrett and Adele Bergin track the recent impact of non-Irish immigrants on the Republic's economy in a new book, Immigration and Social Change in the Republic of Ireland. 'The net immigrant inflow ... is estimated to have added between 2.3 per cent and 3 per cent to GNP,' they write. 'The route through which this was achieved was to lower high-skilled wages relative to where they otherwise would have been and to facilitate the increased employment of high-skilled labour. 'The effect of this was then to increase the demand for low-skilled labour and hence low-skilled wages ... Immigration ... has been positive in terms of both increasing GNP and reducing earnings inequality.' Barrett and Bergin, who work for the Economic and Social Research Institute, one of the Republic's leading think tanks, estimate that non-Irish immigrants - most of whom come from the Baltic states, the Czech Republic, China and Eastern Europe - make up around 9 per cent of the population and number around 363,000. As a group, they are more educated than their Irish counterparts; almost 40 per cent of immigrants are educated to degree level compared with 17.5 per cent of Irish workers.

Bryan Fanning, the book's editor and an expert on immigration and racism in Ireland, says the findings paint a positive picture of migration into the Republic. 'We should think about the Celtic Tiger in three waves,' he said. 'The first came about partly because of an influx of indigenous Irish women into the labour force in the 1990s. 'The second wave, at the start of the new century was planned with the Irish government actively going after skilled workers who had left the state and were enticed home. The final wave started about 2002 and involved tens of thousands of non-Irish nationals.' Indeed, Fanning, who is a lecturer at University College Dublin, believes that problems for the Irish economy will start as and when the immigrants return home. And despite the contribution of migrant workers, he argues that many - particularly non-EU nationals - are not being looked after by Irish social policy: 'Take a Filipino nurse helping to fill labour gaps in the health service. Because she is not from the EU she is not entitled, for example, to get any child benefit.' However, Fanning is optimistic that politicians in the forthcoming general election, expected in May, will not exploit race and immigration. 'There is racism in society,' he said. 'Ireland is no different than anywhere else. But ... no politician of any significance in any Irish party has tried to play the race card.'
© The Observer



16/4/2007- When France last held a presidential election, the far-right's Jean-Marie Le Pen stunned the world by muscling his way into a runoff with incumbent Jacques Chirac. Could he score a similar coup in next week's ballot? Unlikely. But with polls giving him up to 16 percent of the vote, it's clear the xenophobic slogans he spouts with a strange mixture of truculence and charm still resonate strongly with an electorate that sees globalization as one of its worst enemies. In fact, the issues preoccupying the French — jobs, immigration, integrating a large and restive Muslim minority — have catapulted many of Le Pen's views into the mainstream, with both leading candidates on the left and right lifting lines from the veteran nationalist. It's a phenomenon seen across Europe: Deep anxieties over security and unemployment have fueled a sharp shift to the right, causing mainstream politicians to implement policies that just a few years ago would have seemed the exclusive terrain of ultranationalist forces. In the Netherlands — which was traumatized by the 2004 slaying of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by a Muslim fanatic — the government is imposing citizenship tests and imprisoning asylum-seekers before deporting them. In Britain, center-left Prime Minister Tony Blair campaigned two years ago on the slogan "Your country's borders protected," while his conservative rivals proposed HIV and tuberculosis tests for immigrants. But the hard-right does not appear to be drastically bleeding supporters as the center co-opts its agenda. To the contrary, many nationalist groups appear to be enjoying a resurgence. In elections in October last year, Austria's two rightist parties won more than 15 percent of the vote — far short of the stunning 26.9 percent firebrand Joerg Haider received in 1999 but enough to trouble the centrist majority. In Dutch elections just a few weeks later, an anti-immigrant party won nine seats in the 150 seat parliament. Far-right parties also made electoral strides last year in Sweden and Britain.

In France, the wily 78-year-old Le Pen has also capitalized on the mainstream's embrace of his ideas, gloating as frontrunners Nicolas Sarkozy on the right and Segolene Royal on the left hoist two of his pet issues — immigration and national identity — to center stage. Thirty percent of respondents in a poll by TNS Sofres published in December said they agreed with Le Pen's positions — the highest figure since 1996. Sarkozy says he wants to create a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity and has also reworked Le Pen's longtime catchphrase: "France, love it or leave it." Royal, who is polling second, has pulled at patriotic heart strings by calling for all French to keep the tricolor flag at home and making supporters sing the national anthem, "La Marseillaise," at her rallies. She also wants military boot camps for young criminals. Le Pen's National Front today claims 75,000 members, and spokesman Thibaut de la Tocnay says membership shot up by several thousand after the November 2005 riots in immigrant-heavy suburbs. But it has never been clear how much Le Pen's enduring wider appeal is a protest vote against the political elite. Le Pen's stated hope to pull France out of the European Union and its common currency, the euro, appears unworkable, and many are turned off by his opposition to abortion and calls to restore the death penalty. In 2002, voters from across the political spectrum rallied to keep him out of the presidential palace: Chirac trounced him in the runoff, winning 82 percent of the vote. And if Le Pen himself still attracts support, his foot soldiers say they remain marginalized. Young party members on a poster run in this conservative city in eastern France said they are regularly harassed for their views. The group's leader, Pascal Baum, claimed his party affiliation once cost him a job. "The dice of the system has been rigged against us," Baum complained. Since he founded the party in 1972, much of its appeal has been Le Pen himself. He gained nearly five million votes in the first round of the 2002 election. No other far-right candidate has ever earned double-digit percentages in a presidential vote: He has three times. "Le Pen dreams of himself as the remedy; he knows he's just a symptom, a thermometer measuring France's fever," wrote editorialist Renaud Dely in left-leaning daily Liberation. "The worse France is, the better Le Pen is."
© Associated Press



17/4/2007- The Comédie-Française, the most prestigious theatre company in France, has been forced to cancel a play amid a row over its choice of a white actor for the role of an Arab. The controversy, which has underlined the lack of opportunities for members of ethnic minorities on stage and televi-sion in France, was sparked by the production of Return to the Desert, by the late playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès. The author’s brother, François, withdrew his authori-sation to stage the play after the part of an Algerian servant, Aziz, was given to the Comédie-Française member Michel Favory. Mr Koltès said that his brother had made plain his wish for the servant to be played by an Arab. There are, however, no actors of Arab origin among the troupe’s 56 members. An initial series of 30 performances went ahead as Mr Koltès engaged in bitter exchanges with Muriel Mayette, the director of the Comédie-Française. The rest of the run was scrapped amid accusations of racism and legal threats after Mr Koltès, who holds the copyright of his brother’s work, refused to renew the contract. Mrs Mayette has hastily rearranged the spring season to replace four performances already in the company’s schedule. Return to the Desert, which is about the Algerian war of independence, was the first Koltãs play to be staged at the Comédie-Française, and was put on 18 years after the author died of an Aids-related illness. Mrs Mayette, in an angry defence of her cast list, said: “Taking on an Algerian to play the role of an Algerian would show an alarming lack of openness of mind and reflection on what theatre is about. “With this logic, the Chinese should not play Moliãre. It’s obviously absurd. Theatre must be a place of exchanges.”

Mrs Mayette has won the backing of the French cultural Establishment. The Association of Theatre Directors has accused Mr Koltès of “abuse of power”. In a statement it suggested that he was seeking to turn the Comédie-Française into a slave to his brothers’ whims. Mr Koltès reacted furiously to what he said was an attempt to “insinuate” that his brother was a racist because of his refusal to countenance a white actor for an Arab role. “I consider that Mrs Mayette has quite simply not respected the contract . . . which stipulates that the production must respect the author’s instructions on the cast.” He said that the choice of Favory stripped the play of an essential part of meaning. Amirouche Laidi, the chairman of Averroès, which campaigns for ethnic diversity, said that producers were afraid of “shocking” or “troubling” their audiences by giving parts to black or Arab actors. He said members of France’s five million-strong minority ethnic community were portrayed as criminals or police officers. Mrs Mayette said: “We have had several actors of North African origin in the past in the company. I’m sure there will be others in the future and I’ll be all the happier for it.”
© The Times Online



16/4/2007- Fadela, Afef, Naima and Yasmine all grew up in North African families in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, and all want a policy of firmness on immigration and welfare reform from France's next president. For centuries Marseille has acted as a melting pot, absorbing waves of immigration from Italy, Armenia, eastern Europe and France's former African colonies that made it the country's most ethnically-mixed city. "Marseille is a land of welcome. People here say they are 'Marseillais' first, and French second," said Myriam Salah-Eddine, the 35-year-old daughter of Moroccan immigrants and a deputy to the city's centre-right mayor. "There is a real sense of belonging," forged in loyalty to the local football team and star player Zinedine Zidane and helped by a sunny climate and urban planning that managed to avoid immigrant ghettoes, she said. But among established North Africans, estimated at around 150,000 people out of a population of 800,000, there are signs that attitudes towards immigration are toughening. Fatima Arazi, a 51-year-old photographer who moved to France from Morocco 30 years ago, runs a tea room and women's association in an immigrant district of central Marseille. Though she belongs to a network campaigning for an amnesty for illegal immigrants already settled in France, Fatima has come to back a radical line on immigration. "North Africans are sick of seeing their countrymen living in misery. There just isn't enough work here," said Fatima, who runs co-development schemes in African villages "to persuade people not to come here in the first place." "The going rate for illegal immigrant workers in the neighbourhood is 15 euros a day for a woman, 20 for a man -- how can you live on that?" She says she cannot bear to see Muslim women in their 50s forced to work as prostitutes in the neighbourhood and advocates "one big amnesty and then we stop everything".

For Yasmine Mendy, 21, a catering student who arrived in France from Morocco as a baby, "We need to stop immigration and sort out our own problems first." Algerian-born Fadela Garbi, also 21 and training to become a laboratory technician, agrees there should be "no more immigration at all", admitting that she doesn't "want immigrants pinching my job". Only Samia -- a 21-year-old biotechnology student whose parents arrived illegally from Tunisia -- said she supported further immigration "if it can give people a chance, like I had." The others deny any affinity with the far-right National Front (FN) leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who calls for zero immigration, the deportation of all illegal immigrants and the scrapping of welfare protection for foreigners. "If Le Pen wins, my suitcases are ready -- I'll get straight out of here!" said Fatima with a rueful laugh. But an ethnic minority vote for the FN exists in the Bouches-du-Rhone region around Marseille, where Le Pen clocked up one of his highest scores in the run-off against Jacques Chirac in 2002. "A lot of people from minorities do vote for the FN, though it's hard to put a figure on it," said Salah-Eddine, who belongs to the UMP party of Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing presidential frontrunner. "Many black and Arab people have real trouble accepting a small fraction of their community that soils their image -- like Islamic extremists -- and they imagine that Le Pen targets only those people." Asked who they would back in Sunday's vote, the women in Fatima's tea room gave short shrift to the Socialist candidate Segolene Royal. "Segolene's just trying to pull the wool over our eyes," said Yasmine, while Fatima worried "no one knows how she plans to pay for all these promises." "People think 'I'm North African so I have to vote for the left'," said Naima Yahia-Berrouiguet, a 30-year-old secretary of Algerian parents. "But Segolene just wants to raise taxes -- with the left we're going to sacrifice people on middle-incomes."

All approved of Sarkozy's campaign pledge to make work pay more than welfare -- and were unfazed by his description of young troublemakers in immigrant suburbs as "racaille" (rabble). "Guys here boast about being 'racailles'. It's not even an insult," Fadela said. Fatima said she "agrees with seven out of 10 things Sarkozy says", complaining that "France's welfare system has created a culture of layabouts -- once you add up all the different benefits, it's not even worth getting a job." But she and the others were also uncomfortable with his blunt style -- Fadela reproaching him for always "taking the side of the police" and Naima warning "for young people, it would be like a Big Brother society if he's elected." Afef, 43, a soft-spoken mother of five who arrived in France from Tunisia as a toddler and works as a school caretaker, said: "I agree with Sarkozy's ideas, on tax and jobs for young people -- but he scares me." So four of the six women said they were preparing, without much conviction, to vote for the centrist Francois Bayrou because, in Samia's words, "There's no other choice. Sarkozy has lots of good ideas -- but his methods just aren't right".
© Expatica News



14/4/2007- Lilian Thuram, part of France's famed multiethnic soccer team, lashed out at Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday, accusing the conservative presidential candidate of being racist and causing dangerous divisions in the country. Thuram has often spoken out against racism and last year caused a furore by inviting homeless immigrants to an international football match. "Sarkozy's rhetoric isn't quasi-racist, it is racist," Thuram said in an interview with Spain's El Mundo newspaper. "He wants to create a ministry of immigration and national identity and that's dangerous ... When you start to divide people and see one group here, Muslims there, the blacks over there, you teach people to see others as different." Sarkozy has defended his plans for a ministry to protect France's traditional values, saying France had a "gigantic problem" with integration. "What is being integrated? My mother is French, my father is French. Why do I have to be 'integrated'? Because I am black. You'd never ask if a white man was integrated," Thuram was quoted as saying. "France doesn't have a problem with immigration, it has a problem with citizenship. Some French people don't think other Frenchmen are French. If I stop playing football tomorrow and I go back to France, people won't see me as a Frenchman, they'll see me as an immigrant," he said. Sarkozy has focused his campaign on immigration, security and national identity issues that traditionally belong to the far-right National Front in a bid to draw away support from its candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in an April 22 first round vote. The top two candidates meet in a run-off on May 6 if no one obtains a majority.
© Reuters



17/4/2007- The German Defense Ministry has said it has dismissed a German army instructor who was filmed ordering a recruit to imagine he was firing a gun at African-Americans in a training exercise. A Defense Ministry spokesman said the lance-corporal, whose name is being withheld, had been stripped of his rank and pay. The ministry also said it was still investigating a second solider who filmed the training scenes with his camera-phone. The army instructor was filmed last year as he told a recruit to imagine he was in the Bronx borough New York City. "You're in the Bronx, a black van pulls up in front of you and three African-Americans get out and start really insulting your mother," the video shows the instructor telling a recruit. "Every time you pull the trigger I want to hear you shout 'mother....' very loudly." As the recruit fires his weapon, he repeats the obscenity each time, as the trainer tells him to yell louder. German television broadcasters aired the 90-second video clip over the weekend, weeks after it had already been posted on the Internet.

"Contradicts ethics" 
On Monday, Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said the video was "absolutely unacceptable" and that it contradicted the armed forces' educational standards and ethics. Raabe said military authorities had known about the video since January and were treating the situation as an "individual case" that was not indicative of further racism in the Bundeswehr. In New York, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also condemned the video on Monday. Under German military law, an enlisted man can be immediately dismissed during his first four years in service if he breaches military discipline and his continued service would undermine the good standing of the armed forces. The German army has been faced with numerous, embarrassing scandals in recent years that have damaged its image. One includes the publication of pictures German soldiers in Afghanistan took of each other while holding skulls they had found. Another incident involves allegations that torture has been used during army training exercises.
© Deutsche Welle



The German Defense Ministry has begun an inquiry into a video showing a recruit being encouraged to imagine he is shooting 'African-Americans' in the Bronx.

16/4/2007- What with its new-found taste for overseas assignments, you would think the German Army might have developed a finely tuned sense of cultural awareness by now. But it still seems in need of sensitivity training. First there was the scandal over German soldiers posing with skulls in Afghanistan. Now the army is in trouble again over a video showing a recruit being encouraged to imagine he is shooting African-Americans in the Bronx. German Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said Monday that the army was investigating the incident. "This behavior is absolutely unacceptable and contradicts the training standards of the German army," Raabe said at a press conference, where he emphasized that the incident was an "isolated case." The army had begun a probe into the incident which would probably be completed within two to four weeks, he said. The video in question shows an army recruit being trained in machine gun use by an army instructor. First the recruit is encouraged to imagine he is shooting terrorists in an airport. The soldier lets off a couple of rounds, apparently to the instructor's satisfaction. The second visualization exercise involves a more urban scenario. "You are in the Bronx," the instructor says. "A black van stops in front of you. Three African-Americans get out and insult your mother in the coarsest possible way." The recruit is told to fire and shout the English expletive "motherfucker" with each round, which he does after first laughing at the absurdity of the instructions given him. The instructor tells him to shout louder, and the recruit obeys.

Raabe said the video, which was shown on German national television Saturday, had been shot in July 2006 at barracks in the northern German town of Rendsburg, adding that the army had been aware of its existence since January. The video has been available for viewing on a German video site for months but was only recently discovered by the newsweekly Stern. The video has been condemned by Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. "The German government obviously has work to do to correct something that is insidious," he said in comments Saturday. "Clearly these folks don't know anything about African-Americans or the Bronx." New York Governor Eliot Spitzer likewise condemned the video saying: "Obviously that is a deeply offensive comment. It's one that I trust does not reflect the training practices of the German army." The Rev. Al Sharpton called on US President George W. Bush to condemn the incident and said it was unacceptable to depict "blacks as target practice." The incident is the latest in a series of incidents which has marred the German Army's reputation. As well as the skull incident in Afghanistan, four former army instructors who allegedly abused recruits in 2004 are currently being prosecuted in an on-going court case. And two former commanders of German special forces were recently criticized for praising a World War II Nazi commando unit as an inspiration for Germany's modern-day elite soldiers.
© Spiegel Online



14/4/2007- A German army instructor ordered a soldier to envision himself in New York City facing hostile blacks while firing his machine gun, a video that aired Saturday on national television showed. The president of the Bronx, the New York City borough that the army instructor referred to in his directions to the soldier, demanded an apology from the German military and said the clip "indicates that bias and assumptions and racism is alive and well around the world." Coming after scandals involving photos of German soldiers posing with skulls in Afghanistan and the abuse of recruits by instructors, the video seemed likely to raise more questions about training practices in Germany's conscript army. The Defense Ministry said the video was shot in July 2006 at barracks in the northern town of Rendsburg and that the army has been aware of it since January. "We are currently investigating the incident," said Florian Naggies, a spokesman for the army and Defense Ministry. He did not identify the instructor or the soldier. The clip shows an instructor and a soldier in camouflage uniforms in a forest. The instructor tells the soldier, "You are in the Bronx. A black van is stopping in front of you. Three African-Americans are getting out and they are insulting your mother in the worst ways. ... Act." The soldier fires his machine gun several times and yells an obscenity several times in English. The instructor then tells the soldier to curse even louder.

In New York, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. said whoever was responsible for the video should be disciplined. "We need to put to rest the prejudices and the hate that is allowed ... to be perpetuated so easily and cheaply," said Carrion, who is of Puerto Rican descent. "The German government obviously has work to do to correct something that is insidious ... Clearly these folks don't know anything about African Americans or the Bronx," he said. Carrion, who just returned from a trip to Germany to promote Bronx tourism, said he would be willing to go back to talk to people in the German military about his borough. "If we can get a delegation of German military officials to come or government officials, I will host them," he added. "I'll take them around the Bronx." The Rev. Al Sharpton said he was outraged that Germans were "depicting blacks as target practice." "I think this is an incredibly racist kind of insult to African-Americans and it speaks to the kind of institutional racism that people think we are hallucinating about," he said. The existence of the video was first reported on the home page of the German news magazine Stern on Friday and excerpts were aired on the news television channel n-tv on Saturday. According to Stern, the 90-second clip had been posted on a website used by soldiers to exchange private videos. A soldier who used the site alerted his superiors, the magazine reported. The video is the latest embarrassment for the German army. Eighteen army instructors are currently on trial for allegedly abusing and humiliating 163 recruits in 2004. Last year, newspapers published photos of German soldiers in Afghanistan posing with a skulls — including one who exposed himself while holding a skull. "We can no longer talk about an isolated case," said Lt. Juergen Rose of the Darmstaedter Signal, a group of current and former army officers and sergeants who independently review military procedures. "Things like this don't happen in the army on an everyday basis, but unfortunately in recent years there have been a number of comparable incidents." Carrion said he spent much of his visit to Germany telling people about the "turnaround of the Bronx," which became a national symbol of urban decay after a 1977 visit by President Jimmy Carter. Movies like Fort Apache: The Bronx, about a police precinct overrun by crime, added to the negative images. Unemployment and crime have fallen dramatically in the borough, while investment in housing, office space and other projects is way up, Carrion said. The New York Yankees are building a new stadium next to their old one in the borough, a 53,000-seat open-air ballpark that is set to open in 2009. The people of the Bronx, especially black residents, "deserve an apology from the German military," Carrion said.
© Associated Press



14/4/2007- The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) considers the threat posed by neo-Nazi groups to be at the lowest level for some time, but concerns remain. Neo-Nazi circles are less organized and have fewer members than before according to this year's PST assessment, newspaper Dagbladet reports. "Membership levels are harder to monitor than before ... Nevertheless, we can say that the activity level of these groups has been lower lately," PST information chief Trond Hugubakken told Dagbladet. The stabbing death of teenager Benjamin Hermansen by neo-Nazis in 2001 resulted in a drop in extremist activity, and the PST believe that preventive measures by police have produced good results. But there are concerns that things make take a turn for the worse soon. "Activities in neo-Nazi circles swing in four to five year cycles. Therefore we must expect that Nazi activities could begin to rise again," Hugubakken said. The deputy leader of SOS Racism, Ola Melbye Pettersen, has also noted that neo-Nazi activity is lower than before. "The activity level varies. Now we are in a downturn but there are signs that this is a trend that is already beginning to change. There are a number of new initiatives beginning," Pettersen told Dagbladet.
© Aftenpost



15/4/2007- In a dramatic about-face, the Vatican ambassador to the Holy Land attended the official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony Sunday night at Yad Vashem, reversing an earlier decision that threatened to upset already delicate relations between Israel and the Vatican. The planned boycott stemmed from a photo caption at the Holocaust museum referring to the silence of Pope Pius XII during World War II.  "Since my action was not intended as a move to disassociate myself from the commemoration but to call attention to the manner in which the pope is presented - my aim has been achieved," Monsignor Antonio Franco said in an interview on Vatican Radio. "I have no motives to keep up the tensions, and therefore I will participate in the ceremony," he added. Yad Vashem on Sunday immediately welcomed Franco's change of heart, which was made public in the early afternoon. "We believe that the Vatican's representative's decision to attend the ceremony at Yad Vashem and identify with the memory of the victims is the right thing to do," a Yad Vashem statement read. "Yad Vashem believes that it was inappropriate to link an issue of historical research with commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust." The caption, which first appeared when the new Holocaust Museum was inaugurated at Yad Vashem in 2005, states that the pope's reaction to the murder of the Jews during the Holocaust is controversial. Franco, who took up his position in Jerusalem last year, had said his move was an effort to "attract attention" on the issue, which he said was offensive to Catholics and was a question of "human rights." The role of Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 until his death in 1958, has long been controversial. The Vatican has defended him over his silence. Yad Vashem informed Franco that it would reexamine Pius XII's conduct during the Holocaust if the Vatican opened its World War II-era archives to the museum's research staff, which the Vatican never has done. Yad Vashem said the caption accurately reflected history.

"The Holocaust museum presents the historical truth on Pope Pius XII as is known to scholars today," it said in a statement. That message along with the willingness to reexamine the issue was reiterated in a letter Yad Vashem sent to Franco on Sunday. "The evaluation of the role of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust poses a challenge to those who wish to seriously confront it," Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev wrote. "It is a complex issue, and we will continue to make sure that we are firmly rooted in the most updated historical truth. We would be pleased to examine any new documentation that may come to light on this issue." Vatican Spokesperson Father Federico Lombardo said Franco's decision to participate in the ceremony was taken after receiving a letter from Yad Vashem, which showed "an openness to dialogue." The unusual open diplomatic wrangling came as the Vatican presses ahead with its plans to beatify Pius XII over the objection of Israel and Jewish groups around the world. Israel's Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority had said the planned boycott would have marked the first time in which a foreign emissary deliberately skipped the ceremony. Over the weekend, Yad Vashem had called on Franco to do some "soul-searching" over his planned boycott of official ceremony. The solemn one-hour state ceremony, which marks the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, is attended by all foreign ambassadors to Israel or their representatives, as well as Israeli VIP's and Holocaust survivors. The central theme of this year's ceremony - coming at a time when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a "myth" and has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map - is bearing witness. During the ceremony, six torches were lit by Holocaust survivors in memory of the six million Jewish victims. The chief rabbis recited Psalms and Kaddish. "We do not have the right to forget and we do not have the authority to forgive," Acting President Dalia Itzik said in her address.

"There are many, gathered in prestigious academic institutions, whose eyes are blinded and hearts are closed by hatred for Israel," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said. "They deny the right of the Jewish people to exist in a sovereign state. They are the first to find justification for any atrocious act against the residents of Israel and to vehemently condemn any defensive action taken by the State of Israel." Former justice minister Yosef Lapid, a Holocaust survivor and chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, said Ahmadinejad was not satisfied with six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and for him the gas chambers in Auschwitz were just the introduction. "The enlightened world preaches to us to be conciliatory for peace, but we ask, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, those who are preaching morals, what will happen if your plans go wrong? What will you say then, 'Sorry, we were wrong,'" Lapid said. "Then they will send us medical equipment, open orphanages and pray for our lost souls," he added. "If you want to understand us, think about the Holocaust because we think about it every day... We will never again take risks, we will not allow another Yad Vashem to be established," Lapid said. On Monday a two-minute siren will sound at 10 a.m. at the start of a series of daylong ceremonies. The official wreath-laying ceremony will take place just after the siren is sounded at the Warsaw Ghetto uprising memorial at Yad Vashem. The "Unto Every Person There is a Name" ceremony will follow - in which Holocaust victims' names are read out - at both the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem and the Knesset. Approximately 250,000 Holocaust survivors are thought to be living in the country. Nearly one-third of them live in poverty, recent Israeli welfare reports have found, prompting growing calls for additional government assistance.
© Jerusalem Post



· Shock as envoy rejects invite to Jerusalem service · Row grows over reference to pope's wartime role 

14/4/2007- The Vatican ambassador to Israel has sparked a row after refusing to attend tomorrow's annual Holocaust memorial service in Jerusalem in protest at a description of the wartime role of Pope Pius XII. Monsignor Antonio Franco, who arrived in Jerusalem last year, has called on Israel's official Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, to change a picture caption that criticises the pontiff for failing to condemn the deportation and mass killing of Jews under the Nazis. Earlier this month he turned down a formal invitation to Sunday's torch-lighting remembrance ceremony. The museum said it was "shocked" at Msgr Franco's decision and called on the Vatican to open its archives for examination of the troubled history of Pius XII. The dispute revolves around a paragraph-long caption of Pius XII installed when the newly designed museum was opened in 2005. A letter of complaint was also sent by the previous Vatican ambassador a year ago. The text notes that Pius XII's reaction to the Holocaust is controversial and states: "When he was elected pope in 1939, he shelved a letter against racism and anti-semitism that his predecessor had prepared. Even when reports about the murder of Jews reached the Vatican the Pope did not protest either verbally or in writing." The description also says Pius XII chose not to sign a December 1942 Allied declaration condemning the extermination of Jews and did not intervene when Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz. Pius XII has long been regarded as one of the most controversial popes. In the past critics have dismissed him as "Hitler's pope" for failing to speak out against the Holocaust and suggested his silence was aimed at averting a communist takeover in Europe. Others, though, have argued he was trying to defend a Catholic minority in Germany from the Nazis and should be fast-tracked for canonisation.

Msgr Franco, an Italian who has been a Vatican diplomat for 35 years, accepted there was debate and disagreement about the part played by the pope during the second world war but he opposed the wording of the text at Yad Vashem. "I consider this picture in that place and the caption that accompanies it unfair and something that disturbs my feelings and the feelings of Catholics all over the world. It does not correspond to the truth," he told the Guardian yesterday. "My approach is not polemic," he said. "It is an approach of dialogue and research and discussion and to see if perhaps it could be presented in another way." Msgr Franco, 70, defended Pius XII's silence over the Holocaust. "It was not really silence, it was a policy taken to avoid worsening the situation," he said. "When there were public statements and declarations there would be a huge number of people who were simply eliminated. Repression was the response to any kind of public position taken." Yad Vashem stood by its text, although it said yesterday it was "prepared to continue examining the issue". It also called on the Vatican to open up its archives of documents relating to Pius XII. "Yad Vashem is shocked by, and regrets, that the Vatican's delegate to Israel has chosen not to respect the memory of the Holocaust and not to participate in the official ceremony in which the state of Israel and the Jewish people join in memory of the victims," Iris Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for the museum, said in a statement. "The Holocaust history museum presents the historical truth on Pope Pius XII as is known to scholars today. It is unacceptable to use diplomatic pressure when dealing with historical research." Relations between Israel and the Vatican have been fraught for years. Full diplomatic ties were only established in 1993 and there have been continuing disagreements over the taxing of church property in and around Jerusalem. Last month Israeli government officials postponed at the last minute a trip to the Vatican for what would have been the first fully attended meeting of a joint commission on church-state issues for five years.

Pius XII was pope from 1939 until his death in 1958 and perhaps the most controversial leader of the Catholic church in its modern history. A caption in a display at the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, criticises the pope's failure to condemn the killings of Jews under the Nazis. Although he has been criticised as 'Hitler's pope' some defenders of Pius XII are lobbying for him to be made a saint. The row over the church's role in the second world war has soured relations between the Vatican and Israel. Four months after inauguration Benedict XVI visited a synagogue in Cologne, condemned the Holocaust and called for better relations.
© The Guardian



16/4/2007- During 2006, the number of anti-Semitic acts around the world sky-rocketed, a report compiled by the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University and the World Jewish Congress claims. The report was released for Holocaust Memorial Day on Monday. There was a dramatic rise "in physical, verbal and visual manifestations" of anti-Semitism in 2006, according to the report. The number of physical attacks against Jews, including children and teenagers, has doubled since 2005.  590 incidents of violence or vandalism were recorded in 2006, which indicates a 15 percent increase from 2004. The 2006 figures also represents a 31 percent increase from 2005, when anti-Semitic incidents declined. According to the report, most of the attacks were random, making it very difficult for law enforcement officials to bring the criminals to justice. However, according to Ynetnews, many of the attacks were committed by Muslim immigrants and far-right extremist groups. The majority of anti-Semitic incidents worldwide occurred in Western Europe, with a total of 324 violent attacks -- or 54 percent of the total number. North America, which has a Jewish population over five times the size of Western Europe's, is responsible for only 17 percent of the attacks, and another 13 percent of the incidents occurred in the former Soviet Union. Statistics show that anti-Semitic acts in the UK are the highest in 20 years, while France and Belgium also have steep increases in anti-Semitism. Australia, Canada (especially in the French speaking regions) and South Africa had great increases in anti-Semitic incidents in 2006. However, in the US, anti-Semitic acts declined 12 percent. According to the report, the Second Lebanon War sparked an increase in anti-Semitism. "There is no doubt that the war and the hostile mood surrounding it brought violence by Muslim extremists and far-right groups against Jews to escalate worldwide."  In addition, the report cites Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad's Holocaust-denial and calls for the eradication of Israel as a cause for the rise in anti-Semitism. "His claims represent an increasing belief in Europe, whereby Palestinians are victims of a holocaust; they also coincide with another viewpoint that is gaining momentum among post-colonial, intellectual circles, anti-Americans and advocates for anti-globalization, who, for various reasons, regard the establishment of the State of Israel as a historic mistake," the report explained.
© Israel Insider



18/4/2007- After six years of heated political debate, EU member states are set to agree on a common anti-racism law, under which offenders will face up to three years in jail for stirring-up racial hatred or denying acts of genocide, such as the Holocaust. One diplomat in Brussels confirmed to EUobserver that the controversial piece of law is in its final-tuning phase and is likely to gain EU blessing at a justice and interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday (19 April). The latest draft – cited by the Reuters news agency - foresees an EU-wide jail sentence of at least one to three years for "publicly inciting to violence or hatred, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin." The same rules would also apply to people "publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes" as defined by international crime courts. According to the Financial Times, such wording has been carefully chosen to only include denial of the Holocaust during the second world war, as well as the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, but would not criminalise denying mass killings of Armenians during the Ottoman empire in 1915, something that Turkey strongly opposes labelling as genocide. The draft of the legislation is "the lowest common denominator," an EU diplomat told EUobserver, as the differences in national legal systems relating to freedom of expression also had to be respected. For example, denial of the Holocaust is already illegal in Germany and Austria, while for example in the UK it is allowed under freedom of speech rules, unless it specifically incites racial hatred.

Stalinism – a final stumbling block
However, an ultimate breakthrough is highly dependent on a demand voiced by four new member states. Poland and the Baltic countries - all carrying the burden of a repressive communist past - continue to hold on to their demand that "crimes under the Stalin regime in the former Soviet Union" become part of the bill's scope. "We believe Stalinist acts of genocide should be condemned in this document. It would put them on an equal footing with Nazi crimes in an international forum," an Estonian diplomat was cited as saying by the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita. On top of this, Warsaw would like to attach a unilateral declaration condemning "distortions" of the past, namely the use of the phrase "Polish death camps" to talk about Nazi death camps on Polish territory. However, "very, very many people are against this [to put Stalinism into the main body of the hate crimes text]," a German diplomat said, according to Rzeczpospolita. According to an EU diplomat speaking to EUobserver, it is more likely that the law would see "a reference to the crimes of totalitarian regimes," with a final proposal to be tabled today. If a deal is struck on Thursday (19 April), it would be a major success for Germany, currently sitting at the EU helm, which sees an EU-wide law combating racism and xenophobia as a moral obligation due to its historical background.
© EUobserver



EU governments must make the framework decision on racism and xenophobia a minimum standard for action rather than inaction

17/4/2007- On the occasion of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 19-20 April, the European Network against Racism (ENAR) is concerned that member states will seek to adopt a weak framework decision on racism and xenophobia, in order to end long-standing negotiations without any substantial intent to provide strengthened protections for those who experience racist crime and violence in Europe. Over the last months, ENAR has welcomed the efforts of the German presidency, and appreciates the energy and drive which it has brought to the negotiations on this instrument. It is long past time that EU member states demonstrated their commitment to anti-racism by adopting this legal standard. However, in reality the protracted discussions have resulted in a weak text, which will not require substantive changes to the legal orders of many member states. In taking protection against racism seriously, member states will have to approach this tool for what it is - a minimum standard. The move to finally adopt the framework decision is an important initiative, coming as it does in a week which marks Holocaust Remembrance Day/Yom Ha’Shoah on 15 April. The implementation of this instrument should, however, amount to much more than the sum of its political compromises. The act of finally agreeing this text does not in itself represent concrete action to address the persistent and increasing problems of racism and xenophobia seen throughout Europe. Evidence gathered by ENAR and other bodies demonstrates that member states cannot afford to see this development as the end rather than the means.

ENAR is very concerned that the Council has not given due regard to the views of the European Parliament on this subject. Despite calls for a ‘re-consultation’ with the Parliament, the move to finalise the framework decision comes before the adoption of a European parliamentary report. The report which was discussed by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs last week has not yet been adopted in plenary. Much of the content of the original Commission proposal has been removed, and many escape clauses have been introduced to allow member states to circumnavigate their responsibilities. Recently ENAR has been disappointed by developments such as:
+ The removal of the provisions on mutual assistance, which would have provided a substantial step forward in dealing with ‘cross-border racism’. 
+ The introduction of maximum criminal penalties of at least one to 1 and 3 years, without minimum provisions. 
+ The inclusion of vague language defining as criminal only those acts likely to ‘disturb public order’ or which are ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’.

ENAR is very concerned that its call for the inclusion of a non-regression clause, and a specific reference to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), have not been included in the text. The addition of these elements, called for in the draft European Parliament report, would strengthen the implementation of the text, and provide a benchmark against which to measure its impact. Consequently ENAR calls for member states not to further compromise the text by including a reference publicly condoning, denying or trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes to cases not motivated by racism and xenophobia. This is a specific tool and such references, outside of the sphere of racism, risk undermining it. In 2006, ENAR adopted a general policy paper in which it called for a comprehensive European approach to combating racist crimeThe current negotiations are a long way from fulfilling that objective, and ENAR will continue to advocate for an instrument which requires meaningful and effective change with regard to national law. ENAR will closely monitor the impact of the implementation of this instrument and looks forward to a comprehensive review within three years, which should involve consultation with NGOs, the European Parliament and the European Fundamental Rights Agency.
© EUropean Network Against Racism



17/4/2007- “Bullying is bullying” whether it's done online or in a schoolyard, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday as his government introduced new legislation to add cyber-bullying to the list of offences for which a student can be suspended or expelled from an Ontario school. Changes to the province's Safe Schools Act were introduced Tuesday to stop students from posting comments, pictures or videos attacking another student or teacher on popular online sites such as YouTube. It's the first time either physical or online bullying will be formally prohibited in provincial schools. “Whether you do it online by way of the latest technology or you're doing it in person or over the old fashioned telephone, it still causes pain and suffering,” Mr. McGuinty said before a Liberal caucus meeting. “It's unacceptable, and I'm proud of the fact our safe schools act will in fact broaden the ambit of offences and take into account bullying and cyber-bullying.” Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday she wants to help students grapple with the new technologies they use and to teach them to start taking responsibility for their online actions. But Ms. Wynne said she will also make sure troubled students who are suspended or expelled get a chance to return to school by providing $31 million next year for new education programs to help them. “We must ensure that there are strong consequences for inappropriate behaviour, as well as provide programs so students can earn their way back into the classroom and complete their education,” she said. “Bullying is not currently listed as an infraction, and it's about time that we recognized the seriousness of these behaviours.” Ms. Wynne said the government wanted to get feedback from students as it moves to clarify the definition of bullying in the legislation to include Internet activities.

She noted one recent incident where students at a suburban Toronto high school posted derogatory comments about the vice-principal on the popular website, and felt their right to free speech was being trampled when they were suspended. “The adults involved were looking at the situation through a completely different lens than the students,” said Ms. Wynne. “I think we have to start having meaningful conversations with kids about how they perceive these technologies and the danger that can be done in the name of using a new technology.” Liz Sandals, Ms. Wynne's Parliamentary Assistant who carried out the review of the Safe Schools Act, said principals will be given new authority to deal with Internet-based bullying that often does not take place on school property. “Existing legislation gives the principal quite clearly the authority to deal with infractions that occur at school or at a school event,” said Ms. Sandals. “The proposed legislation adds to that list “an incident that has an impact on school climate,” and . . . that will clearly give the principal the authority to deal with Internet incidents.” Ms. Wynne also announced the zero-tolerance provisions in the Safe Schools Act will be eliminated and replaced with what she calls “a stronger and more rational approach to discipline.” The act has been widely criticized as unfairly targeting visible minorities, disabled and low-income students, and was the subject of an official complaint against the Ministry of Education by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. “We'll be providing training to vice-principals and principals on how to apply discipline in a non-discriminatory manner, including considerations for anti-racism, cross-cultural differences and accommodating students with disabilities,” said Ms. Wynne.
© Globe and Mail


Headlines 13 April, 2007


Moldovan authorities deny LGBT community the constitutional right to a freedom of assembly for a third year

13/4/2007-  On 11 April 2007, the municipal authorities of the Moldovan capital city Chisinau banned public event planned by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) orgnaisation GenderDoc-M for 27 April as part of the 6th Moldovan LGBT Pride festival. The event was planned as part of the Council of Europe’s “All Different ­ All Equal” campaign. This is the third time the Chisinau city bans LGBT event. The decision comes despite the ruling of the Moldovan Supreme Court last December that previous ban on LGBT Pride march was illegal. Some of the arguments used by members of the commission in charge of authorisation against the event were possible public disorder, propaganda of sex and Moldovan Christian values.

In this situation Information Centre “GenderDoc-M” has to state that the ban of the manifestation is illegal because the reasons presented by the commission are disproportional to the right of the people to assemble freely, provided by the article 11 (p.2) of European convention of Human Rights. The City Hall refusal breaks basic principles of Moldovan constitution, the obligations taken by Moldova within the EU-Moldova Action Plan, as well as violates the decision of the Moldovan Supreme Court on the matter. This fact gives us the reason despite negative decision taken by the commission to go out on the street at the time indicated in the application to City Hall to protest against local authorities’ violation of basic human rights. All the responsibility for the consequences of this action we will lay on those taking the decisions blatantly violating basic human rights.

GenderDoc-M also asks all European institutions and EU member states to discuss the subject of the LGBT rights with Moldovan authorities and particularly this ban of the public manifestation. Despite this discriminating decision the Sixth Moldovan LGBT Pride Festival, "Rainbow over the Nistru - 2007" will take place as planned. All its events will be of peaceful manner and include cultural and entertainment activities, including open discussion “Religion and homosexulaity”, premiere in Moldova of “Vagina Monologues”, rainbow mess, mini-football match and concerts. There are many guests from Sweden, Romania, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Netherlands, Belgium and other countries will participate in the Pride festival.
© GenderDoc-M



13/4/2007- The number of migrants coming to the Spanish Canary Islands has halved compared to this time last year following tightened naval patrols, EU authorities announced on Thursday (12 April.) Boat-born migrants arriving on the Canary Islands dropped by 60 percent in the first three months of this year to 1,525 from 3,914 during the same period last year, Reuters reported a Canaries government representative as saying. The EU's new border agency, Frontex, is being credited with the drop in figures. In February, it started an ocean patrol operation called 'Hera III' under which a total of 1,167 would-be migrants have been diverted back to the West African coast. "As our risk analysis shows, the migration flow towards the Canary Islands will remain one of the most-used routes of illegal migration to the European Union," said Frontex head Ilkka Laitinen, according to AFP. "Therefore this route will stay in our focus and sequels of Hera III will be launched throughout the year," he said. Frontex, which has been up and running since October 2005 and launched its first sea patrols last August, says the aim of operations like Hera III is "to stop migrants from leaving the shores on the long sea journey and thus reduce the danger of losses of human lives." African migrants look to the Canary Islands as the first point of access to the European Union with thousands in recent years trying to make the perilous journey across the open sea to reach the point where they think they can have a chance of a better life. In the second half of 2006, an average of 3000 a month were arriving on the islands and countless more perished on the way. Last year was seen as a crisis point on the immigration issue for the EU, with Spain, Italy and island Malta - as the southern most points of the bloc - regularly bringing the matter up at the highest political level in the EU saying they could not cope alone. However, their calls for help revealed a glaring lack of solidarity between member states with several governments reluctant to help kit out the poorly-equipped Frontex agency with boats and planes.

Job centre in Mali
Brussels has now turned its attention more to the causes of immigration. "It is the job of the EU to steer the migration into manageable proportions. We will only succeed if we are able to help African nations change economic and social conditions so that no one is forced to leave because of hardship," EU development commissioner Louis Michel told German daily Die Welt in an interview. He also said the bloc was intending to invest €22 billion in the next six year on anti-poverty measures. Among these measures is a plan to set up a job centre in Mali which would be a place for setting up legitimate employment opportunities in the building and agricultural sectors in countries like France and Spain but also jobs in other African countries. Meanwhile, the EU also plans to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, with proposals on the issue set to be published by the European Commission later this year. Mr Michel said that he expected that this year's number of African migrants coming to the EU to drop below the 30,000 recorded in 2006.
© EUobserver



13/4/2007- German Chancellor Angela Merkel sharply criticized a fellow conservative on Friday for "whitewashing" the Nazi past of his predecessor, the former leader of a powerful southern German state. Merkel said she called Günther Öttinger, the state premier of Baden-Württemberg, to reprimand him for his controversial eulogy of the former state leader Hans Karl Filbinger, who died on April 1. Öttinger had caused a furor on Wednesday when he eulogized Filbinger, a former navy judge under the Third Reich, as an "opponent of the Nazi regime." In a statement, Merkel said she wished that “beyond honoring the great life’s work of premier Hans Filbinger, critical questions about the Nazi era had also been posed.” She said this was especially important “out of respect for the feelings of the victims” of the Nazi regime. Öttinger had outraged political and religious leaders on Wednesday when he claimed that “there is no verdict that Hans Filbinger handed down that led to someone losing his life.” Evidence directly contradicts this claim, as Nazi-era documents show that Filbinger was involved -- as a judge and prosecutor -- in death sentences against deserters during World War II. Öttinger claimed during the eulogy that Filbinger was not a real Nazi, but like millions of other Germans was forced to bow to the pressure of the times.

Massive criticism
In the state capital Stuttgart, Rabbi Joel Berger told the daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger that Öttinger “better have damned good evidence for publicly claiming Filbinger was an opponent of the Nazi regime.” The leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, went further, telling AFP news service that Öttinger’s claim was “dangerous and, for the survivors, an insulting perversion of historical reality.” Öttinger also came under fire from Social Democrats and the opposition Green party. Ute Vogt, leader of the Social Democratic Party in Baden-Württemberg, echoed Knobloch’s view that Öttinger “is distorting history,” she told German television. “He issued two death sentences. It’s wrong to call Filbinger a victim,” she said. And the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international organization that hunts down Nazi war criminals, has called on Öttinger to resign. “The Öttinger comments are absolutely incredible,” Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israeli chapter in Jerusalem, told Reuters news agency. “It is unacceptable for a German state premier to deny and whitewash the Nazi past of an ex-leader and Nazi judge,” he said, “and we call for his resignation.”

Filbinger resigned over Nazi past
Günther Öttinger is a prominent political leader of the Christian Democratic Union, which rules in coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party at the national level but enjoys a wide electoral margin in Baden-Württemberg, a predominantly conservative state. In 2005, Öttinger was elected premier of this wealthy southern state and, eight days later, state party leader. For his part, Hans Filbinger was elected state premier of Baden-Württemberg in 1966, and led the state for over a decade. But in 1978, he resigned after his role as a Nazi judge came to light through a play by Rolf Hochhuth. Filbinger never publicly expressed regret about his Nazi past, and the state chapter of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has fiercely defended his record, naming him its honorary chairman in 1979.
© Deutsche Welle



13/4/2007- Communist East Germany officially took pride in its "anti-fascism" yet party youth members used Nazi salutes, the Holocaust was virtually ignored and Jewish cemeteries were flattened to make way for car parks. A dark and little known aspect of East Germany emerged yesterday at a Berlin exhibition which exposes the communist state's role in creating a fertile breeding ground for anti-Semitism, right-wing violence and xenophobia. Entitled "We never had any of that " in an ironic reference to the official Communist Party boast that East Germany was Nazi- free, the exhibition is the result of eight months' research by historians and pupils in provincial archives. Annette Kahane, head of the Berlin-based Amadeu foundation, which organised the project, said yesterday: "The exhibition's findings do a lot to explain why extreme right-wing political parties and right-wing violence have grown in the east since reunification." More than 100 people have been killed by xenophobic far-right violence - much of it in the east - since Germany reunified in 1990. Researchers unearthed files complied by the notorious Stasi secret police which showed that Nazi sympathisers in the East began vandalising Jewish cemeteries as early as 1946. Hushed up by the Communist Party, police and state-controlled media, the practice continued right up to the last days of East Germany in 1989 - when neo-Nazis daubed anti-Semitic graffiti over gravestones in one of East Berlin's largest Jewish cemeteries and dumped a maggot-ridden pig's carcass on the site. The People's Police routinely dismissed such incidents as the work of " rowdies". The files also contain photographs of a covert 100- member "Nazi- SS" organisation that flourished on the East German Baltic coast in the 1970s and 1980s, attacking citizens they felt behaved "like Jews". The pictures show one member standing to attention in a black uniform and sporting a home-made swastika armband.

The exhibition documents how Stasi officers were "concerned" by reports that members of the Communist Party Free German Youth movement in Potsdam near Berlin routinely used the Nazi salute to greet each other and insulted their critics as " Jewish Pigs". Another example showed how officials in Hagenow demolished a 150-year-old Jewish cemetery to make way for a municipal car park and used the gravestones as the steps for its pedestrian entrance. In schools, the Jewish aspect of the Holocaust was downplayed or ignored. At the same time propaganda routinely criticised Israel, comparing its actions to the Nazi genocide. The communist regime gave its unreserved backing to the Palestinian cause. "East Germany practised a very aggressive form of anti-Semitism by remaining completely silent about the fate of Jews, even the ones who lived in the east," Mrs Kahane, who grew up in the east, said yesterday, "People liked to say: 'Oh yes the Jews allowed themselves to be led to their slaughter like lambs - they could have fought'." The project's organisers said official attitudes ensured that many older East Germans had been led to believe that they represented Germany's "socialist victory" over fascism and that their part in the rise of Nazism was reduced to that of bystanders. The idea that Jews rather that communist resistance fighters suffered in the death camps was often dismissed as "capitalist propaganda". "East Germany suppressed the Nazi era in its own special way," said Mrs Kahane.
© Independent Digital



12/4/2007- An umbrella group set up this week by Muslims in Germany called Thursday for Islam to be granted many of the same legal privileges as the main Christian churches and Judaism. Ayyub Axel Koehler, the German Muslim leader who is taking the first, six-month turn as spokesman for the Muslim Coordination Council, said in Cologne, "Islamic instruction in public schools, running Islamic cemeteries: you have to have legal status first." Germany has more than 3.2 million residents of Muslim heritage in an overall population of 82 million. Their mosques are owned by incorporated societies with no especial religious status under German law. "We are concerned about the integration of Islam and Muslims into the German legal system," said Koehler, who heads the German Council of Muslims, one of four rival bodies that established the umbrella group. He said that wherever German law granted rights to a "religious community," a legal term embracing the Catholic and Lutheran churches and the Jewish community, Islam ought to be included as well. German officials have to date rejected this, arguing that only tiny numbers of Muslims are dues-paying members of Islamic societies such as mosque councils, so their federations are not representative. Hans-Peter Uhl, an interior-policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said this week many German Muslims would never grant the umbrella group the authority to speak in their name. "Islam is not organized like a church," responded Koehler, adding that Germany had to accept that far more Muslims prayed than joined mosque assemblies. "When the call to Friday prayers goes out, almost all of them come in," he said.
© Expatica News



13/4/2007- A group of anti-fascist activists in Saratov, Russia have written an open letter accusing local police of collaborating with neo-Nazis and targeting anti-fascists for torture and threats. The letter, received by UCSJ on April 10, describes a March 31 incident during which neo-Nazis telephoned an anti-fascist and proposed a meeting in a public place. Ten anti-fascists came to the meeting spot, where they encountered an equal number of neo-Nazis who splashed them with some liquid and ran off. The anti-fascists chased them, but were obstructed by police, who were allegedly spurred on by one of the neo-Nazis screaming, “There they are!” The police then took one of the anti-fascists to the station, where they allegedly tortured him in the presence of three neo-Nazis whom the anti-fascists described as acting in a friendly and informal manner with the officers as they clubbed the anti-fascist in his kidneys and asked him the names and addresses of his comrades. He was released the next morning. The next Saturday (April 7), UBOP (anti-mafia police) officers detained anti-fascists on the street and allegedly threatened them with physical harm if they fight against neo-Nazis in the future. They released them without charging them. “According to our figures, over the past five years, Nazi skinheads have killed over ten non-Russians in Saratov alone,” the statement read. “Why is the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] hiding this fact?... Murders committed by Nazis are stubbornly classified as hooliganism at the same time that their gangs openly gather in the very center of the city next to police headquarters.”
© FSU Monitor



By Paul Goble

13/4/2007– The loutish behavior of ethnic Russian hockey fans at a match between a Russian team and a Tatar one has stirred debate between those who see such anti-Tatar outbursts as simply an excess of emotion and those who are convinced that such actions threaten ethnic peace in the Russian Federation. On April 11, Kazan’s Ak Bars ice hockey squad traveled to Magnitogorsk to play that city’s Metallurg team in a championship match. Russian fans held up banners with slogans like “Beat Up the Tatars!” “Don’t Shame the Memory of Ivan the Terrible!” and “Drown the Tatars—Save Russia!”  The federal Sports television channel carried the match, broadcasting pictures of these fans and their banners to a wide audience and provoking outrage among the authorities in Tatarstan, concern by Orthodox and Islamic leaders, and dismissive comments by some Russian politicians. Immediately after the match, Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev denounced the behavior of the Russian fans and said that such actions must not be allowed to go unpunished lest they exert an unhealthy influence on relations between Russians and Tatars. Tatarstan youth affairs minister Marat Bariyev dispatched telegrams of complaint to the Metallurg hockey team, to the Russian Hockey Federation and to the Russian Sports organization expressing Kazan’s outrage at the Russian fans’ “impermissible” actions. The news agency took the lead in investigating the case and determining the reaction of political and religious leaders to it. In a summary of its findings, the agency said that these banners were the latest in a series of outrageous actions by fans in the Russian Federation. The news service said that “in recent times,” some Russian sports fans have carried flags “with Nazi symbols” on them and have changed “corresponding slogans.” And it noted that in such gatherings, activities of this kind can prove “difficult to control and have tragic consequences.”

Yuri Sharandin, who heads the Federation Council’s committee on constitutional law, told that in the case of the Magnitogorsk match, there was every basis for bringing charges against those who prepared and held up these signs. And he suggested that the Metallurg club itself should be heavily fined or even disqualified. His fellow senator, Nikolai Tulayev, who heads the upper house committee on parliamentary activity, agreed: All this is “dangerous,” he said, because it can quickly spread from sports arenas to every day life. Consequently, the authorities must “react to this in the harshest way possible.” Senator Issa Kostoyev, a member of the Federation Council’s security committee, took a similar position. He told that the use of such slogans must be nipped in the bud. Otherwise, he suggested, calls for “’Beating Up the Tatars’” will be followed by calls to “beat up” Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Chechens, Negroes, Jews, and so on.” But not all of the members of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament agreed. Anatoliy Lyskov, who chairs that body’s committee on legal and judicial questions, said “only people of Tatar nationality could conceive such slogans as nationalistic.” Instead, he said, these slogans were a kind of “sports humor.” He noted that earlier fans had changed “Beat Up the Georgians” when that republic’s team was in Moscow or urged that “Let Us Remind the Swedes of Poltava” when a Russian team played Sweden. But despite his general conclusion, Lyskov acknowledged that “it is possible” that such slogans could have unfortunate consequences. Members of the Duma were also divided on the banners displayed in Magnitogorsk. Aleksandr Chuyev, the deputy head of the committee on social groups and religious organizations, said what had happened at the Ak Bars-Metallurg game was “a purely hooligan-like situation,” reflecting “an absence of culture.”

Gennadiy Gudkov, a member of the Duma security committee, agreed that the slogans of the Magnitogorsk fans were insulting, but given that those who held them up were mostly young people, “it is not worth speaking about extremism in this case.” “Making a tragedy out of it” by bringing serious charges is thus a mistake, he said. And Yevgeniy Roizman, another member of the Duma security committee, was similarly inclined. The slogans the fans held up at the Magnitogorsk match were indeed “swinish,” he said. But “it is not necessary to turn one’s attention on the behavior of the fans.” Two religious leaders also weighed in on this issue in comments to the news service. Father Vsevolod Chaplin, the deputy head of the External Affairs Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, denounced the appearance of these slogans: “Russia is unthinkable without the Tatars,” a community that supports inter-religious peace. And Gusman-khazrat Iskhakov, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Tatarstan, said that what struck him most about this case was “the very strange behavior of the militiamen of the Urals city.” Had they been doing their jobs, those responsible would have been at least detained, but that did not happen. “The reaction from the procuracy and the Ministry of Internal Affairs toward extremists ‘showing themselves’ at hockey matches must be quick,” Iskhakov said. If not, bystanders are likely to conclude that officials have given a kind of permission for actions of this kind. Should that happen, the situation in the multi-national Russian Federation might quickly get out of hand.
© Window on Eurasia Blog



“Clear political leadership, awareness raising and education of future generations are crucial to combating anti-Semitism”

13/4/2007- On Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day, on 16 April 2007, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency is organizing a video conference with Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust authority, to emphasize the role of education in combating anti-Semitism and racial hatred. Beate Winkler, FRA Interim Director: “The lessons of the Shoah remain relevant today and for future generations. Education against racial hatred and intolerance and for mutual respect is crucial to avoid a repeat of this break in civilisation. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders and opinion makers. It is therefore vital that they understand fully what the Shoah means and how that experience can help shape a more tolerant society. One in which respect for diversity and protection of minorities is an integral part of our democracies.” FRA together with Yad Vashem will bring together a group of Austrian pupils to speak, via video conference, with holocaust survivors in Israel. The Holocaust survivors give testimony about their lives during the Nazi terror: Without past you do not have a future. The pupils will also learn about current educational initiatives to combat anti-Semitism and racism. Beate Winkler: “I support very strongly this initiative with Yad Vashem and it demonstrates one of the tasks of the new Agency to raise awareness and teach the values associated with fundamental rights. Only in remembering and learning from the past can we hope to secure the future. We must learn and pass on these wider lessons about the dangers of racism and about stereotyping people on the basis of ethnic origin, race or religion.”  “Schools can teach against the evils of anti-Semitism to ensure that never again can it gain a foothold. There are a variety of educational initiatives and tools available which provide valuable support to teachers and educationalists. These require wider distribution and use across the EU. I believe that FRA can play a role in drawing greater attention to them.” Beate Winkler concluded: “In order to combat anti-Semitism and racism we need a very strong and clear political leadership. Therefore, I welcome the proposed EU Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia, which draws also attention to the transnational dimension of racist acts and the corresponding need for a response at European level. This proposed EU legislation would ensure that, throughout the European Union, racist and xenophobic acts are punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties. FRA calls on EU governments to adopt this proposed EU legislation, which would make illegal, among others, public incitement to racist violence and hatred.”

In order to provide policy makers with a firm basis for anti-racist policies, FRA collects data and information on racist crime, anti-Semitism, and discrimination across the EU. The available data indicate an increase in anti-Semitic activity in some EU Member States over the past years, with incidents ranging from hate mail to arson.

Background information:
+ On the evolution of anti-Semitism in the EU, check the EUMC update report “Anti-Semitism Summary overview of the situation in the European Union” (December 2006)
+ For a detailed account check the EUMC reports on “Manifestations of anti-Semitism in the EU 2002 – 2003” and “Perceptions of anti-Semitism in the European Union

+ On 12 April 1951, the Knesset (Israel's parliament) proclaimed Yom Hashoah U'Mered HaGetaot (Holocaust and Ghetto Revolt Remembrance Day) to be the 27th of Nissan. The name then became known as Yom Hashoah Ve Hagevurah (Devastation and Heroism Day), and later simplified to Yom Hashoah. This year, the Yom Hashoah will be on 16 April 2007. Background material on education 
© EU Fundamental Rights Agency



13/4/2007- Deputy Prime Minister and Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) chairman Jiri Cunek today distanced himself from the support that representatives of neo-Nazi, xenophobic and ultra-right forces expressed to him for his position on Romanies. "My behaviour has never had racist or xenophobic motives. On the contrary, I have always sought an equal approach to all," Cunek says in a press statement. Cunek recently spoke about Romanies as about "sunburnt people who make mess with their family and put up fires in the square." For months, Cunek has faced criticism over his decision, in his former capacity as mayor of Vsetin, north Moravia, to evict dozens of Romany families from a dilapidating house to container-like flats on the town outskirts and some even to other Moravian regions. Romany activists, the opposition and the junior governing Green Party want him to leave the government. According to neo-Nazis, Cunek is the only politician who is not afraid of expressing his views on Romanies and accompanies his statements by deeds. Several supporters of the ultra-right National Party, including its chairwoman Petra Edelmannova, attended a Romany demonstration of protest against Cunek's position that was staged outside the Government Office on Wednesday. According to this party, Romany protests are "outrageous Gypsy arrogance and stubbornness."  The National Party is considering holding a demonstration in support of Cunek. "Cunek openly said what we have been saying for a long time," Edelmannova said, adding that Czech society "resented Romany style of life and the fact that they live to the detriment of the system."

The daily Pravo has recently quoted other representatives of extremist parties and people who openly promote fascism as saying that they like Cunek's performance in top policy and his statements concerning Romanies. "He has my full support. He entered politics with his uncompromising position, he names things with their proper names and he accompanies his statements with deeds. That is why he has become inconvenient for some people. His corruption scandal is an expedient matter," far-right activist Jan Kopal said. Police have accused Cunek, who is also local development minister and senator, of taking a half-million-crown bribe in 2002 when he was mayor of Vsetin. However, Cunek pleads innocent and he has refused to step down from the government posts and the KDU-CSL helm. The Christian Democrats have so far backed him up. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek (Civic Democrats, ODS) has made it clear that he will not force Cunek to resign.
© Prague Daily Monitor



12/4/2007- Just three months after taking office Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek is struggling to keep his centre-right coalition government afloat. A fragile majority in the lower house, a rebel in his own party who is threatening to vote against the government's proposed tax reforms and worst of all a deputy prime minister accused of corruption who has been rocking the boat for weeks. On top of all this, around two hundred angry Roma demonstrators gathered outside government headquarters on Wednesday to demand the dismissal of the said deputy prime minister - Jiri Cunek - for offensive remarks he made about them in a newspaper interview. Chants of "shame on Cunek" and "down with the racist" filled the air outside the Czech government headquarters on Wednesday, as Roma demonstrators called for his head. They were angry at Mr Cunek for telling a tabloid newspaper that ordinary Czechs who were not well off and seeking government assistance would have to get a suntan and cause chaos in their families in order convince others that they were poor. "He has no business being in cabinet. Let him go back to the town of Vsetin where he came from. He is not a statesman - he is a village politician."

Jiri Cunek, the man who first came to prominence by getting tough on Roma rent defaulters in Vsetin came out and attempted to speak with the protesters, claiming that he was not a racist, but his words were drowned out by calls for him to go. Although the protesters chanted the prime minister's name, only the minister for minorities Dzamila Stehlikova came out to receive their petition.
"The prime minister is aware of what is going on - he is working to resolve the problem," his spokesman told the assembled crowd.
Vocal as the Roma demonstration outside the government headquarters was, the prime minister faced far greater pressure within. His coalition allies from the Green Party have threatened to walk out of the government if Mr. Cunek remains. The problem is that with 100 seats in the 200 seat lower house the prime minister cannot afford to lose either the Christian Democrats or the Greens if he wants to keep the coalition government in office. The Christian Democrats have closed ranks around their embattled leader and, faced with the Greens' ultimatum, Prime Minister Topolanek may be forced to sack Jiri Cunek himself.
© Radio Prague



11/4/2007- Czech Deputy Prime Minister and Local Development Minister Jiri Cunek (the Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL) is no longer preparing his own concept of Romany integration as he announced in early March, Cunek told CTK today. He said that he would cooperate on the concept with Minister Dzamila Stehlikova (Greens) who is in charge of minority affairs. Cunek said a month ago that he wanted to submit his own concept to the cabinet within three months. He said that he had decided so because the previous concepts were not "workable." "We have agreed on the concept with Stehlikova and we will collaborate. For the sake of some unity we will work together and I do not want to submit it in my own right," Cunek said. Stehlikova told CTK earlier that she had no information about Cunek's concept. She said that a new agency aimed to help municipalities solve Romany integration would launch full operation. Stehlikova said that the agency was already working, but only as a monitoring centre. She said the agency draw up complete projects on individual municipalities that would show interest in it. The project will solve problems concerning the education, employment and housing of socially isolated residents. Special assistants and preparatory classes will be established at schools. Professional retraining of Romanies will focus on jobs that are available in the given region. For months, Cunek has faced criticism over his decision, in his former capacity as mayor of Vsetin, north Moravia, to evict dozens of Romany families from a dilapidating house to container-like flats on the town outskirts and some even to other Moravian regions. Most recently, Cunek provoked criticism by his statements on Romanies, some say they were racists. Romany activists, the opposition and the Greens want him to leave the government.
© Prague Daily Monitor



Alarm for anti-fascist groups as BNP targets voters in countryside areas

8/4/2007- The British National Party is to field a record 655 candidates at next month's local elections, double the number who stood for it last time around. The revelation has alarmed anti-fascist groups, which had predicted the party would field around only 500. They warn that the BNP is attempting to take its message out of the cities and into rural areas which have seen an influx of in eastern European immigrants. The party, which fielded 365 candidates at the last local elections, now holds 49 council seats. It appears to be gathering support in the run-up to polling day on 3 May as its chairman, Nick Griffin, takes personal responsibility for the campaign, touring remoter areas in an attempt to spread its message. The anti-fascist group Searchlight has identified 92 wards which could fall to the BNP and says the party believes it could win as many as 100 seats. Last night the BNP said it had seen a surge in supporters in recent weeks and that the total number of candidates it intends to field could rise above 700. 'We have more than doubled the number of candidates standing,' said Phil Edwards, its spokesman. 'We just want to give people the chance to vote for us. Many of our new candidates have joined the party quite recently. This shows we are becoming a mainstream political party and are gaining support.' But the organisation Unite Against Fascism said people needed to see through the BNP's increasingly slick messages. 'It is a fascist party,' said Denis Fernando of UAF. 'It has a history of criminal convictions, violence and Holocaust denial. These are not the politics of a normal political party, but a fascist group, utilising the democratic system to gain a foothold in mainstream politics.'

The BNP has been buoyed by its performance last month in a by-election in the Bede ward of Bedworth in Warwickshire. The town has previously shown little inclination for right-wing politics, but in Bede, the BNP came second behind Labour with 31 per cent of the vote, taking more votes than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats combined. In contrast, the party picked up just 9 per cent of the vote at the 2004 European elections. Key areas identified by BNP strategists for the local elections include rural areas in the south west and eastern England as well as Wales, where the party is putting up a record 20 candidates in the National Assembly election. The message boards of Vote Freedom, the BNP website which is co-ordinating the party's local election campaign, carry an increasing number of comments from sympathisers disillusioned with the three main political parties. One supporter in Melton in Lincolnshire, who identifies his main concerns as crime, health and a 'fair deal' for agriculture, said: 'I don't think the three main parties are capable of providing the solutions. When I went to my first BNP meeting I didn't find any jackbooted skinheads. I found ordinary men and women like myself.'
© The Observer



6/4/2007- The miniscule but active extreme right groups in Portugal, which in the last few days have gained some notoriety in the press despite their small size, have invited like-minded organisations from other European countries to a "continent-wide" meeting of leaders opposed to immigration. For the first time since Portugal returned to democracy 33 years ago, after a dictatorship that lasted from 1926 to 1974, the leaders of European organisations that are labelled racist, xenophobic and neo-Nazi will meet in this country, in "a secret place." The initiative came from the National Renewal Party (PNR) of Portugal, which invited its counterparts from the rest of Europe to meet on Apr. 21 "in a spot that has not yet been decided, but will not be publicly divulged even after it has been chosen," according to its leader, José Pinto Coelho. The date set for the meeting and the decision to hold it in Portugal have been interpreted as a provocation to the more than 300 delegates of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), who will hold their world congress in Lisbon from Apr. 19-21.

The keynote speaker at the opening session of the FIDH congress will be former Portuguese president Antonio dos Santos Ramalho Eanes (1976-1986), one of the leaders of the Apr. 25, 1974 coup in which leftist army officers overthrew the dictatorship, after which they dismantled what was left of the Portuguese empire -- the two measures by the officers that drew the harshest criticism from the extreme right. Early this week, the PNR drew broad public attention when it placed a huge billboard in the Marqués de Pombal square in downtown Lisbon with a huge photo of Pinto Coelho and the inscription "No More Immigration; Nationalism Is the Solution; Portugal for the Portuguese", as well as the image of an airplane taking off with a caption reading "Have a Good Trip". The billboard drew howls of outrage, ranging from a statement by the minister of the presidency, Pedro Silva Pereira, condemning the initiative to editorials in virtually every Portuguese newspaper. But others rejected the xenophobic billboard with humour. Ricardo de Araujo Pereira, Portugal's most popular humorist, whose TV show "Gato Fedorento" (Smelly Cat) is a big hit, placed his own similar-sized billboard alongside the PNR's.

Araujo Pereira's sign shows him and the three other young comedians from his TV programme in a photomontage imitating Pinto Coelho's expression, and reads: "More immigration. The best way to irritate foreigners is by forcing them to live in Portugal. With the Portuguese, we can't achieve a thing", and the drawing of an airplane landing, with the inscription "Welcome". According to a lengthy report published in Friday's edition of the Jornal de Noticias newspaper, from the northern city of Oporto, the preparations for the meeting of far-right European groups are being closely monitored by the Security Information Service (SIS) and the police. The press reported that SIS's Interior Security Report 2006 assesses the growing organisational capacity of extreme-right groups and their relations with "skinheads" and neo-nazis from the rest of the continent, as well as the possibility of violent clashes with the extreme left, as "a real potential risk to national security." In statements to Jornal de Noticias, Pinto Coelho said "the party is going to act as it always has: we will indicate on our web site a meeting point near the place where the conference will be held."

The gathering, titled "First International Conference", will be dedicated to "Nationalist Activism". The inclusion of organisations from the rest of Europe emerged from contacts made last year with leading European far-right movements, especially Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front (FN) in France and the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). Pinto Coelho said it is "very important" for his party that other groups in Europe -- from Spain, Italy, Britain, Belgium and Switzerland as well as France and Germany -- have accepted the invitation to come to Portugal, because "it is an indication that things are changing in our country, and that the PNR is viewed with respect in nationalist Europe." José Mussuaili, a popular Portuguese television personality and journalist whose father was from Mozambique, told IPS that the meeting of the far-right groups shows that "unfortunately, Portugal is turning into a nest of these gentlemen." "Since everything reaches Portugal late, these phenomena are only just now emerging here, and I feel sad that this country, the most 'African' country in Europe, is passing through this phase, although I am firmly convinced that it will be short-lived," said Mussuaili, who describes himself as "the first black man to appear on screen, 15 years ago."

Araujo Pereira, for his part, commented to IPS with irony that "for once in my life I totally agree with the PNR: when people like the European extreme-right come to Lisbon, it only makes sense to say 'foreigners get out of Portugal'." More seriously, "Gato Fedorento" has received threats from the far-right because of its billboard, even though the city government of Lisbon issued an order that it be taken down because it was put up without a municipal permit. The local authorities have threatened a heavy fine if it is not removed. The threats were placed on the web site of the Forum Nacional, which "defends the white race." On the site, unidentified individuals say that the four comedians "should be considered traitors to the fatherland and suffer in accordance, even if that means resorting to physical violence."  The threats include the announcement of "a visit" to the school attended by Araujo Pereira's young daughter. In response, the comedian said he had "no comment, except to report that I have already presented the case to the authorities." With respect to the order from the Lisbon city government "we will not remove the sign, but will pay the fine." "Our sign is humorous, not political. It's only political satire, although I do not deny that it could have political repercussions," he admitted in his interview with IPS.

In an editorial Friday, the Diario de Noticias of Lisbon deplored that there are nationalist protests of this kind in a country like Portugal, "which has thousands of emigrants living in France and Venezuela, just to mention the most recent flows." It also underlined "how positive it is to be compatriots of these intelligent young men" from "Gato Fedorento", who "laughed in (Pinto Coelho's) face." "You would have to ignore what Portugal is, ignore (the village of) Murtosa that went to New Jersey, the island of São Jorge (in the Azores) that moved to California, the outskirts of Funchal (in the Madeira Islands) that settled in Caracas, the neighbour who went to work in Luxembourg or the mother who was a caretaker in Paris to dare to be so ignoble and mean to immigrants, who are the other face of emigrants," said the editorial. The Diario Económico of Lisbon used statistics to lash out at the PNR, pointing out that the xenophobic billboard was attacking 7.1 percent of the national wealth, "which is what foreign workers are worth" in Portugal, since they generate 14.5 billion dollars a year -- the same amount that is produced by Portugal Telecom (PT), the largest Portuguese company. Besides the clearly negative social and political aspects of the question, the newspaper argues that in strictly economic terms, urging foreigners to leave the country is tantamount to saying "Bon voyage Portugal Telecom. Get out of here."
© Inter Press Service



9/4/2007- A new opinion poll has shown that Sweden's opposition parties would sail the victory if a general election was held today. The Christian Democrats would fall short of the four percent necessary for a place in the Riksdag, while the far right Sweden Democrats edge ever closer to the parliamentary threshold. The Social Democrats , Left Party and Greens enjoy the combined support of 52.1 percent of those questioned for a Novus Opinion poll carried out on behalf of TV4 for the month of March. The four parties of the governing Alliance could only count on the votes of 42.3 percent of the survey's participants. Compared to earlier polls, the Moderate Party remained stable, while the Centre Party and the Liberal Party both saw their stock rise somewhat. But support for the Christian Democrats has dropped to a new low. With 3.3 percent of the votes, the party would drop out of the Riksdag if an election was called today. The result represents a drop of one percentage point since February's poll and is most apparent among older men and in small towns. Göran Hägglund's party has been overtaken by the Sweden Democrats, which saw its support increase by 0.6 percentage points to 3.5 percent. The poll also showed that the Moderate Party is continuing to lose voters among the self-employed, many of whom now favour the Centre Party. Since January, the Moderate Party's support among those who are self-employed has dropped by 19.1 percentage points to 36.4 percent.
© The Local



7/4/2007- The first ethnic minority president of the National Union of Teachers has said ministers fuel racism by ordering schools to teach "British values". London assistant head teacher Baljeet Ghale told the union's annual conference Britain did not have a monopoly on free speech and tolerance. The move only fuelled the "shadow of racism" behind some notions of Britishness, she said. A government spokesman dismissed her claims as "nonsense". Ms Ghale, who came to England from Kenya at the age of eight, also criticised Labour's record on other education issues. In January, the government published a report it had commissioned from Sir Keith Ajegbo in the wake of the London bombings, into how "citizenship" and "diversity" were being taught in schools. It said more could be done to ensure children "explore, discuss and debate their identities". At the NUT conference, in Harrogate, Ms Ghale said Education Secretary Alan Johnson had described the "values we hold very dear in Britain" as "free speech, tolerance, respect for the rule of law".  "Well, in what way, I'd like to know, are these values that are not held by the peoples of other countries?" she said. It was another example of government making policy without talking to those it would most affect. She wanted an education system that valued diversity and accepted her right to support Tottenham Hotspur - but France in the European Cup, Brazil in the World Cup, Kenya in the Olympics and India in cricket but England in the Ashes. She went on: "I certainly don't pass Tebbit's cricket test but none of my affiliations make me a less valuable person or less committed to being part of this society, but they do make me a global citizen." For some people, racism lay behind notions of what it meant to be British, she said. The government's move was not about integration, participation or national pride but failure to assimilate or who should be here in the first place. "To demand that people conform to an imposed view of Britishness only fuels that racism," Ms Ghale said.

A spokesman for the Department of Education and Skills said: "It is nonsense to suggest that learning British values in citizenship classes - based on a major independent review by respected former headteacher Sir Keith Ajegbo - has anything to do with racism. "On the contrary, teenagers learning about shared British history is one of the essential building blocks of community cohesion. "Sir Keith's report in January concluded that all children should be taught core British values such as tolerance, freedom of speech and justice and included a series of recommendations aimed at improving community cohesion and helping children understand both diversity and identity." In her wider attack on Labour's record, the NUT president gave examples of failures in the school rebuilding programme, such as a new roof on part of a school being removed because the supplier had not been paid. She said the money being spent on academies should be spread more widely around the system and she highlighted the smaller class sizes enjoyed by pupils in Cuba. She called for the end of national testing and league tables and accused the government of having a negative and low expectation of pupils. "If the current government was marked with an Ofsted grading it would be given a notice to improve," she said. Its leadership and management was inadequate and change was required.
© BBC News



8/4/2007- The BNP has recruited nearly half its Holyrood candidates from England so that they qualify for a free political broadcast on national television. At least 14 of the BNP's 32 candidates standing in next month's elections live south of the Border - but have Scottish sounding names. Among those canvassing will be five regional party organisers, while another, fighting in the Highlands and Islands, will also be involved in a simultaneous by-election campaign 625 miles away in Berkshire. Gerry Gable, editor of anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, said the BNP's approach to the elections is not surprising. He said: "They did the same thing in Wales previously. They could not rally enough support there, so they asked for people living outside the country but with Welsh-sounding names to get in touch. "They had also had a fundraising group specifically for the campaign in Wales, but that was based in Humberside." Among the candidates in the Highlands and Islands region for the Scottish parliament elections is Roger Robertson, a south-east England organiser. The Lothians sees Sadie Graham from the East Midlands and Tim Rait, who unsuccessfully stood in Maidenhead in the 2005 general election. Mid Scotland and Fife has Michaela MacKenzie, who stood in Warwickshire North two years ago. Meanwhile, the West of Scotland region has Kevin Scott, north-east of England regional organiser. The election fight between Labour and the SNP has dominated the run-up to this year's Scottish elections, but critics of the BNP fear this could play right into the hands of Nick Griffin's party. Recently, the BNP has been trying to raise its profile in the North East of Scotland, a move which critics claim is in direct response to the influx of migrant Eastern European workers there. But because of its traditional lack of support in Scotland, the party has had to rethink its strategy for next month's Holyrood challenge.

Among the methods that it has adopted is the creation of an organisation called 'Scottish Heritage', which the party describes as its "election fund". By using the name, the BNP has been able to hire various venues without disclosing the reality of who is behind it. Several hotels in Glasgow and Edinburgh are believed to have allowed the party to hold fundraising events booked under this name recently. The strategy was cited as an illustration of the BNP acting deviously to try to maintain a place in "mainstream" politics. Gable added: "Using a name such as 'Scottish Heritage' is a classic smokescreen for them. "They known that no-one wants to be associated with such an organisation, so the only way they can get round it is to fudge the issue." A senior official of the union, Unison, said this was an attempt by the BNP to appear "more Scottish" to the electorate. The official, who asked to remain anonymous, added: "People can see the BNP for what they are ... it is precisely why they are having to 'import' people from down south, because they do not have the support necessary here. "It does not surprise me that they are doing this, because they are topping up their electoral list so they qualify for the TV time. "These people have no chance of winning and they know that, but they are just here to make up the numbers." But Kenny Smith, the BNP's secretary in Scotland, defended the party's decision to "import" candidates from England. He said: "We are fielding candidates in each region to get the TV broadcast. We are standing 32 candidates and we have to take in candidates from down south to make the threshold and meet the requirements. "It is not unlike what UKIP or other parties do. After all, we are a British party." Smith claimed the fact that English-based candidates had Scottish-sounding names was a coincidence. He described Scottish Heritage as a "legitimate fundraising organisation".
© The Scotsman



8/4/2007- Concerned Polish teenagers have held a vocal demonstration against anti-Semitism in Lodz, the second largest city of Poland, displaying pictures of anti-Semitic slogans painted on many of the buildings in the city. Around 60 youngsters participated in the event held at Lodz city hall on March 14, a prelude to the larger Colourful Tolerance protest on March 21 where hundreds of Lodz residents marched through the city, painting over anti-Semitic and other racist graffiti. At the city hall demo, the teenagers held up pictures of a number of buildings in Lodz which have been covered with anti-Semitic slogans such as “Jews to the gas!”. The demo drew differing reactions. Some of the city hall employees stopped to look at the pictures, some of them talked to the teenagers and same of them just walked by without any reaction. The teenagers appealed to the city’s Mayor, Jerzy Kropiwnicki in a petition. “We appeal to you to intensify fight with authors of graffiti and the graffiti itself,” they said. “We want the anti-Semitic slogans, which are offending all residents of our city, to disappear”. The petition was distributed among the City Council members.

Mayoral participation
Kropiwnicki is a strong supporter of the anti-racism campaigns and joined the participants in the Colourful Tolerance protest. When he was elected as a mayor in 2002, he initiated a policy of “zero tolerance” on anti-Semitism in the city, aiming to change the image of Lodz, known in Poland and abroad as the most anti-Semitic city in the country. Many buildings featured anti-Semitic graffiti such as one illustrating a Star of David hanging on gallows. The city is covered with this kind of graffiti because it has two football teams, Widzew and £KS, and the hooligan elements of their supporters often call each other “Jews”, considered very offensive in many Polish circles. Former Israeli ambassador in Poland Shevach Weiss even once joked that Lodz is the only city in the world that has two Jewish football teams in the top division.



13/4/2007- Five years after the Sangatte refugee centre was closed, the mayor of Calais has offered to provide new facilities for the hundreds of people living rough near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. The industrial outskirts of Calais are a grimy, noisy and forbidding place. But they remain the home to around 500 migrants sleeping rough in makeshift tents. Many have fled conflicts in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur. They have no passports and no money. Most rely on charity for food and clothes. French volunteers organise daily soup kitchens, where bowls of hearty stew are handed out to anyone who is hungry. Hundreds of people wait patiently in line for the food. Many have terrible tales to tell. Like Javed, who is only 14, but hitch-hiked here from his home in the Afghan capital, Kabul, after the Taleban killed both his parents. Or Abdul Aziz, who says he was tortured for five years in a jail in Yemen. Like most migrants here, he is desperate to reach Britain. He says: "I just think life will be better there. I can be free. Free to live and work. I cannot go home, it is too bad, too painful. "I don't know how I will get to Britain, but I will try everything." This is a familiar scene among the migrants. For them Calais is just a staging post on the way to Britain.

'Better life'
Every night dozens try to stow away in cars, trains and trucks - anything they think might cross through the Channel Tunnel into England. Many don't make it. Some of those I meet have broken limbs by falling off moving vehicles. Others are arrested and deported. But still they keep coming - dreaming of a better life and asylum in the UK. Charities in Calais are struggling to cope. Now the city's mayor has offered to build some basic facilities for the migrants on a derelict football pitch. There will be a soup kitchen and showers, but no accommodation. The idea is popular with charities, but many people in Calais and across the channel in Kent are suspicious. They worry that better facilities may attract more people and make the problem worse. Jacky Verhaegen, form the charity Secours Catholique, laughed this off. "The plan is not for Sangatte 2. "We'll just be offering what we do now - food and a hot shower. "Refugees come to Calais to get to Britain, not for a free bowl of soup."
© BBC News



12/4/2007- French officials and charity workers have met to discuss plans to open a new centre for asylum seekers in Calais. The town's mayor has proposed the reception centre to cope with growing numbers of migrants sleeping rough. Five years ago the Sangatte refugee camp closed following concerns it was a base for illegal immigrants to enter the UK through the Channel Tunnel. The centre has been dubbed "Sangatte 2" but the mayor says it will be different because it lacks sleeping facilities. The new centre would offer food, showers and information and advice for about 500 foreign nationals who sleep rough in Calais. Local charities believe it would be better to have a permanent centre where they could care for the migrants. The charities want to turn a dog training ground into a welcome centre but unlike Sangatte people would not be able to sleep there. BBC News special correspondent Gavin Hewitt says the mayor has not yet decided whether to support a new welfare centre but that if he does it will be a very sensitive issue between the French and UK governments. Sangatte was open for about three years and almost all the 67,000 migrants who passed through it headed for the UK.

'Bad move'
In February, South East MEP Richard Ashworth and Ashford MP Damian Green both voiced their concern about plans for the centre.
Mr Ashworth wrote to the French government and asked France's interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy to intervene. The MEP said the centre would become a starting point for organised efforts to enter the UK unlawfully, and that he could see it "rapidly turning into Sangatte 2". Mr Green also compared the centre to Sangatte, and said if it opened it would be a "very bad move". The Red Cross-run Sangatte refugee camp, which housed up to 2,000 people on the outskirts of Calais, closed in December 2002 after a deal was struck between the British and French governments. The Home Office said it understood from the French government that there were no plans to establish a new Sangatte-style centre in the Calais area. "There have always been humanitarian services for migrants in the Calais area," said a Home Office spokesman. The spokesman said the closure of Sangatte and the establishment of UK border controls on the other side of the Channel had "significantly reduced pressure on our borders". Official figures show the number of illegal immigrants detected entering Kent from Calais fell 88% from more than 10,000 in 2002 to 1,500 in 2006.
© BBC News



13/4/2007- An investigating judge filed preliminary charges Friday against two supporters of France's extreme-right National Front party for allegedly attacking a young man of North African origin, judicial officials said. The men could face charges of "voluntary violence with a weapon" for allegedly breaking the jaw of 20-year-old Amael Dhorbane. The names of the men have not been released, in accordance with French law. The anti-discrimination group SOS Racisme said Dhorbane and three other youths of North African origin tangled Wednesday with the National Front supporters as the men were hanging campaign posters for a local party candidate in the eastern Beaujolais region. The men allegedly swerved their van into Dhorbane, who responded by smashing one of the vehicle's windows, SOS Racisme said. The men then got out and attacked the youths with wooden bats. A kick to Dhorbane's face shattered his jaw, SOS Racisme said. National Front officials have stood by its supporters, insisting the men had been ambushed. "I approve of their having defended themselves," Bruno Gollnisch, the National Front's No. 2 official, said in a statement. The skirmish came in the run-up to key French presidential elections on April 22. Opinion polls suggest the National Front's candidate, veteran firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen, running in fourth place. Under French law, preliminary charges mean that the investigating magistrates have determined that there is strong and concordant evidence to suggest involvement in a crime. It gives the magistrates time to pursue their probe before they decide whether to send the suspects for trial or drop the case.
© International Herald Tribune



10/4/2007- The candidate who claims to be closest to the people rarely leaves his office, except to go to the radio or TV studio. The candidate who promises never to lie to the electorate refuses to say what he would do if elected. Jean-Marie Le Pen, 78, is the "invisible man" of the French presidential campaign: invisible but ever-present, like a virus. He began the campaign pretending to be a more mellow, and more tolerant, man. But in his latest broadcast appearance - he seldom appears in public - the veteran far-right leader reverted to his favourite theme: xenophobia. The front-running, centre-right candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, "comes from an immigrant background," Mr Le Pen told a radio interviewer on Sunday. By comparison, he, Mr Le Pen, was a candidate of the terroir: literally, a candidate rooted in the native earth. "It's obvious, there's a difference," Mr Le Pen said. "There is a choice there which might be considered fundamental by a certain number of French people". This is Jean-Marie Le Pen at his most poisonous and his most plausible - and also his most effective. Mr Sarkozy, 52, the man who is favourite to be the next President of France, is indeed half-Hungarian and a quarter-jewish on his maternal, French side. He does not look particularly French; his name does not sound French. Ask almost anyone in France if this will make a difference to their choice in the presidential election on 22 April and 6 May and they will say "no". Mr Le Pen knows, however, that it does make a difference, for a significant minority of French people, especially people on the hard right, tempted to vote for Mr Sarkozy.

Mr Le Pen, and he alone, has been prepared to break the taboo and make a public issue of Mr Sarkozy's Hungarian and Jewish blood. When challenged - as he knew he would be - he immediately pointed out that Mr Sarkozy had himself boasted of his immigrant background during the campaign. If Mr Sarkozy had not mentioned his family, Mr Le Pen said, he would not have mentioned it either. At 78, fighting his fifth - and presumably last - presidential campaign, Mr Le Pen has lost none of his tactical brilliance or his moral cynicism. He knows, better than anyone, how to touch the buttons of inchoate anger and xenophobia. Although placed fourth by the polls, Mr Le Pen insists that a "tsunami" of "rejection of the system" will carry him into the crucial top two places in the first round on 22 April. Can he repeat his extraordinary coup of 2002 and reach the second round? Mr Le Pen has been creeping up in the opinion polls, to around 13 or 14 per cent. Last time he knocked out the Socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, with just under 17 per cent. There are two candidates ahead of him this year: the unconvincing Socialist, Ségolène Royal, and the likeable but undynamic centrist François Bayrou. Mr Le Pen predicts that they will cancel one another out, and he will dart between them, with about 20 per cent of the vote, and reach the second round.

There are a number of reasons to believe that Mr Le Pen will fail. First, he has never scored more than 18 per cent in a national election. Second, he is an old man and beginning to look his age. (His decision barely to go on the road is partly strategic but may also be intended to conserve his flagging energy.) Finally, he has a candidate running against him this time - Mr Sarkozy - who has stolen and moderated many of his favourite issues: immigration, insecurity, excessive taxation and nationalism. Another shock cannot not be ruled out, however. Mr Le Pen predicts that somewhere around 5 per cent of the 30 per cent of voters now supporting Mr Sarkozy will return to the far right on 22 April. Hence his decision to make Mr Sarkozy's Hungarian - and implicitly his Jewish - blood an election issue. And there is a further complication. Pollsters in France have never managed accurately to gauge Mr Le Pen's support. Le Pen voters systematically lie. This year his electorate is even harder to plumb than ever. An unknown but significant minority of far left voters - and even Arab and African - voters say they are tempted to vote Le Pen this time out of bloody-mindedness, frustration or determination to "make the system explode". Last fling or not, Mr Le Pen may have one shot left in his locker.

Sarkozy brushes off far-right jab at immigrant roots 
10/4/2007 (AFP) - French presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday brushed off remarks from far-right rival Jean-Marie Le Pen who said Sarkozy's immigrant roots should be a factor for voters who head to the polls in less than two weeks. The leader of the far-right National Front at the weekend described Sarkozy as "a candidate who hails from immigration" and asserted: "I am a candidate from this land."  "Jean-Marie Le Pen said there was a difference between him and me. He's right. We are different, very different, I would add," said Sarkozy in a television interview. Born in France to a Hungarian father and French mother of Greek Jewish origin, Sarkozy has often talked about being the target of taunts because of his foreign-sounding name during his childhood in the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly. Asked whether his zero-immigration policy would have prevented the Sarkozy family from emigrating to France, Le Pen replied: "France could have done without Nicolas Sarkozy who would have perhaps had a very nice career in Hungary." "It's true that there is a difference, a choice that could be considered fundamental by a certain number of Frenchmen," said Le Pen. Sarkozy, 52, the candidate of the governing party, said he was unfazed by Le Pen's "habit of making provocative statements". "I am not shocked. I am a candidate for the presidency. I know it's hard, it's tough. If I weren't able to withstand all that and remain calm, it would then be better for me to do something else," said Sarkozy.
© Independent Digital



Musicians orchestrate street campaign to get youth to the polls as the right makes headway 

8/4/2007- French rapper Xiao-Venom Blackara, better known in his quartier as XV, is a busy man this weekend. He has two pressing tasks: organising his first major concert and mobilising his neighbours and friends for the presidential elections in two weeks. That the two events will take place within a few days of each other is no coincidence. 'You have got to vote and you have got to learn about politics. The most dangerous thing in the world is ignorance,' says the rapper, 24, from a rundown area of north-east Paris, says. 'It is about having a say, about making sure our voices are heard.' XV is not alone. With the hardline right-wing former Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy still leading the polls and, according to surveys published yesterday, strong and growing support for extreme right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, French rappers are taking centre stage in the increasingly bitter battle for the votes of the nation's wavering and uncertain electorate. Yesterday's Liberation, the left-wing newspaper, was edited by Diams, a female rapper whose latest album, In My Bubble, has sold 700,000 copies and who at every concert calls on her fans to vote. 'I read all the manifestoes, but I'm not going to make an explicit choice because I don't want to influence people ... to incite people to vote is to discover the country,' Diams, 26, told the newspaper. '[However], if Sarko or Le Pen are elected I'm getting ready for it to kick off.' Many of the rappers, some of whom have recorded short briefings on their records on how to vote, are motivated by the threat of a repeat of the elections of 2002 when a lacklustre left-wing campaign and a widespread sense of insecurity carried Le Pen through to the second run-off vote. 'That was the great revelation,' said Olivier Cachin, author of several books on French rap. 'It was a very precise break with what had gone before.'

This weekend Le Pen's score in the polls is higher than at a similar time five years ago - boosted by a campaign, orchestrated by his daughter, which has sought to 'de-demonise' him. 'We are tracking Le Pen carefully and his vote is rising in a way that is not dissimilar to 2002,' said one pollster yesterday. Today's polls reveal that Le Pen, who has been repeatedly accused of incitement to racial hatred and Holocaust denial, and the centre-right contender, Francis Bayrou, have further closed the gap on Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate. Le Pen is already confident enough to be preparing his strategy for a second round run-off. However the rappers' efforts to get young people in France's deprived banlieues to register to vote have paid off. In Seine-Saint-Denis, the department which suffered most in the riots of 18 months ago, a rise of 9 per cent, double the national average, has been logged with far higher levels in specific communities such as Aulnay-sous-Bois where the riots started. Deprived areas with big immigrant populations in the south such as the Var and the Bouches-du-Rhone, have also registered big increases, far in excess of those expected due to demographic growth. In Paris itself it is the poorest 10th, 18th and 19th arrondissements that have seen the most new voters. Yet, though some rappers such as the best-selling Akhenaton have backed Royal, the new votes will not automatically go to the left. Another well-known musician, Doc Gyneco, has backed Sarkozy, whose liberal economic programme sometimes appeals in deprived areas that hope for more job opportunities for those without 'the right diplomas, contacts or colour of skin'. 'Though his vision of France is worrying, economically there are some things in the programme of Sarkozy that look logical to us,' Feniski of Saipan Supa Crew said.

For XV, the critical element is 'to listen to all the arguments to force the candidates to make the effort to persuade us. We've even got to listen to Le Pen,' he said. 'It's important to understand what the guy is saying even if you don't agree with it. A lot of French people are going to vote for him and we need to know why.' And the new mobilisation among France's youngest and poorest is not necessarily a vote of confidence in the political system. 'No one thinks that they are going to change the world,' said author Cachin. 'It is a more a bid to avoid the nightmare scenario than to realise a dream.'
© The Observer



10/4/2007- Families of ethnic origin want the same from their living environment as native Dutch do. This emerged on Tuesday from a study on the connection between minorities and the city by the Erasmus University and Movisie, a new knowledge centre which focuses on social care. Just like many native Dutch people, middle class families of ethnic origin are increasingly abandoning the cities for suburban municipalities and new developments outside the cities. Various estimates indicate that ethnic minorities could make up some 30 percent of the population in municipalities around the large cities in the coming years. The city could face problems if all these active "middle-classers" continue to seek housing elsewhere. Middle-class families of ethnic origin are eager to move into newly built homes in safe, green neighbourhoods where native Dutch are also living. In contrast to native Dutch they have little interest in fixing up homes that need a lot of work. This reminds them too much of the old homes in which they grew up. The proximity of churches, mosques and other religious centres plays no role whatsoever. But families do want their children to be able to attend good "mixed" schools nearby. The reputation of the area plays an important role as well. "Acting quickly and providing good quality homes can keep people in the cities," says researcher Radboud Engbersen. "The exodus is not automatic. We can do something about it. Construction must be undertaken with this group specifically in mind. We have to consider what they find important."
© Expatica News


The International Roma Day 2007


International Roma Day is one of a few celebrations that the Roma minority has got. In 1990's it became an international event. Even though Roma live sparsely in various countries, they try to coordinate celebrations of the April 8, as well as to find a common symbol. In 2004, it was a tree planting. It was candles lighting that dominated the celebration last year. And flower throwing into rivers a year before the last one. Flowers drifted along the Nile, the Amazon River, and along the Czech Vltava River too. Though an effort has been made, paradoxically, the celebration is not very known by the majority and by many ordinary Roma as well. Just people working in civic sectors, who try to organize celebrations in particular towns and cities, know about this event. What kind of celebration is it? Since when has it been celebrated? Why the April 8?

Beginning of 1970's brought Roma's emancipatory aspirations from national association level into international one. Just on the April 8 1971, there had been the first international Roma meeting near to London. Initiators of this holding have in particular been Grattan Puxon and Donald Kenrick from England, Jarko Jovanocia from Yugoslavia, Mateo Maximoffem from France, and many others. Let's just remind to all of us that Roma living in the Czechoslovakian socialistic republic established the first official organization located in Bohemia in 1969, which was called Gypsy-Roma Union (Svaz CikánÛ-RomÛ). This organization was established in Slovakia as well. In London, delegates of the first international holding officially constituted the first international Romani organization that has been named IRU (International Romani Union). The IRU was called the World Romani Union from the beginning. As another outcome of the conference, representatives validated the labeling Rom that has been taken instead of Gypsy. Therefore, we do not talk about any invention adopted after the November 89, as estimated by many. Approval of two attributes, which are a feature of any nation, had also been done. These two attributes we talk about are the Romani flag and the Romani anthem.

Even though there had been two more IRU's congresses later on, the April 8m has been recognized as the International Roma Day. This happened in Warsaw in 1990, when the fourth international congress had been hold. The April 8 should remind the day, when the official approval of international Roma cooperation set seal upon. Since that time, the Roma movement has got an international and socio-political dimension. During such a day, all participants of the celebration are reminding themselves about the common origin, language, culture, unity and cooperation and in the first place about "romipen", which means the identity preservation.

The pope Jan Pavel II has played a part in popularizing the International Roma Day especially in Christian countries in the year 2000. He used general audience that came together to the Vatican's St. Peter Square on 8th of April. During this convenience of the International Roma Day, he asked all the worshippers for more respect to Roma.
© Romano vodi



7/4/2007- International Roma Day, which is celebrated on the 8th of April, is quite famous in Eastern and Central Europe. However, while we know a lot about Roma situation in Romania or Hungary, little attention is paid to Roma in Belarus, small country situated, as some people believe, in the centre of Europe. To collect some information on Roma community in Belarus we organized an interview with Nicolas Kalinin, Belarusian delegate to European Roma Travelers Forum.
By Olia Yatskevich

- Talking about Roma issues in Belarus I cannot see a lot of differences from the communist period. The situation of Roma people in Belarus very similar to Roma issues in other parts of Europe. Belarus is not another Earth. All problems, which exist in Europe, can be detected in Belarus as well. But Belarus have specific feature – in this country government doing everything feasible and unfeasible to ignore Roma minority. As a conclusion, which based on 2 years term observations, I can deduce that all national minorities in Belarus incur the same problems.

- Why this problem is so specific?
- I think device “if we can’t understand it – this does not exist” refers directly to this situation. Belarusian government does not want to recognize that in Belarus Roma people have the same problems as, for example, in Poland. Belarusian government does not want to admit well-known fact. Of course it looks exceedingly strange.

- How you can describe multiethnic situation in Belarus?
- I can repeat once again that future generations will study history using Belarusian example. Frankly speaking Belarusians are very tolerant people. A lot of people have Jewish, Tatars, Polish roots. I believe Belarusian nationalism is artificially created. At the same time, a lot of clear cases of discrimination against national minorities can be noticed. But this discrimination is not based on inter-national relations. It politically colored. It looks like exception but it existing. The cause of this discrimination rooted in soviet period. Extent last period from collapse of Soviet Union nothing altered in multiethnic relations in Belarus. The government policy is totally same.

- What can you say about governmental policy towards Roma?
- Belarusian government has done a lot of steps backward and nothing beneficial for Roma. I understand now that official authority is absolutely disable in direction of national minority and religion faith direction. Soviet standards are inappropriate now. Official Committee on national and religious affairs works applying old Soviets methodology which existed 20 years ago. Of course, it is a huge step back. Flexibility has been never encouraged in Belarus.

- What are the main problems faced by Belarusian population?
- Belarus is in difficult situation. It relats to all parts of the society (economy, multiethnic relations, political environment etc). Modern life goals new aims, new priorities. Lack of flexibility in all branches of modern Belarusian society can play negative but crucial role in the future. World changes. Modern society pursuits equal relations in multiethnic Europe. It concerns all branches. As we see China recognized it. Belarus last country, which blind to new challenges.

- Is the some specific authority who dealing with national minorities in Belarus?
- Yes, we have special committee, in all local authority we have people, who dealing with this issue. As from Soviet Union period we have a lot of different committees, so complicated system, when nobody responsible but everyone is boss. We knew from Soviet period when quality doesn’t mean quantity. You cannot restore broken flint- glass cap using hammer. Of course, you will destroy beautiful and useful thing. At the same time delicate relations between minorities cannot be solved using police forces, pressure, intimidations or violence. Fear is not so pleasant feeling for long-term relations.

- Do you think this situation can be changes?
- My attempts to establish dialog with other minorities was a significant step forward. We all face the same problems. I think unity of national minorities is big step forward. Regarding Roma issues I think Roma political participation deserves more attention. I can the difference of Roma political parties in other countries Eastern and Central Europe. Roma political participation has big future. Very interesting fact, but when specialist decided to explore who votes for Roma candidates, they found that not-Roma voters vote in favor of Roma candidates. I think unity of national minorities and national minority political participation are two main essential points.

-Do you think political party in Belarus will be willing to support Roma candidates?
- I am really disappointed in all political parties in Belarus. I think all opposition political movement is a bad organized show to spend grants. I am really disappointed. It seems to me that time when USA and EU will change they strategy towards Belarus is not so far. Last 13 years it was knocking in locked door. Changes are need. In Belarus we have good relation with Belarusian “greens”. Our point of views coincides with Belarusian Greens party.

- Do you believe the situation will change soon?
- I think democracy is inevitable. Together we are strong.
© Transitions Online Blogs



8/4/2007- Bulgaria will mark the International Day of the Roma people with many festive events, most of them organized by the Ministry of Culture and the local municipalities. Many NGOs and civic organizations will also take part in celebrating the day, mainly by financing the events. A dirge for the Roma who died in the Nazi camps in World War II will be held in Sofia's Holy Sunday Church. There will be a concert and other festive events later in the day in the Roma neighborhood in the capital city. The most interesting events will be held in the black sea town Kavarna, where the Mayor Tsonko Tsonev will organize several competitions like Mister AC/DC, Miss Armoured Transporter (named after the Bulgarian band with the same name) and Miss Kyuchek 2007. The Danube town of Vidin has planned to gather all Roma leaders from the region. They will later go to the river to throw wreaths and flowers to float on the flow. Every year on this day at 12 p.m. sharp on the banks of rivers all over the world, Roma people go to pay their respects for the victims of the Holocaust.
© Novinite



6/4/2007- A hearing of the Council on Ethno-national Policy under the President of Ukraine took place in Kyiv on April 4, 2007. The meeting was chaired by People’s Deputy of Ukraine Hennadiy Udovenko. The sitting also saw participation of President’s Secretariat Main Service for Humanitarian Policy and Preservation of National and Cultural Heritage Oleksandr Bystrushkin, State People’s Deputies, heads of national minorities NGOs, scientists and experts. The meeting’s participants discussed issues related to proposal elaboration on development support and efficient implementation of state ethno-national policy aimed at keeping civil concord in society and harmonization of interethnic relations. All-Ukrainian Union of NGOs “Congress of Roma of Ukraine” head and Council’s member Petro Grygorichenko proposed the following measures to be further implemented:
- Development of Comprehensive Nationwide Strategy on Roma Support in Ukraine 2008-2012.
- Ukraine’s accession to the “Decade of Roma Inclusion”.
- Romani language inclusion to the list of languages protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
- Implementation of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) Decree “On celebration of the International Day of Roma Holocaust”, and in particular, paragraph 3 on making proposals as regards to inclusion of Roma Holocaust victims and members of their families to the list of persons suffered from the World War II, and on the grounds of this, to ensure their right for indemnities.
© Romano vodi



6/4/2007- The European Roma Information Office (ERIO) would like to officially recognise Roma communities around the world for the 8th April, the International Roma Day. Since the establishment of this day in 1971, at the First Romani World Congress, official celebrations have been taking place throughout Europe, and public statements on this occasion have been made not only by Roma organisations, but also by European and governmental agencies. In spite of these positive signs, the fact is that Roma remain the most discriminated and disadvantaged community in Europe. Policies aimed at the improvement of the Roma situation have been implemented by national governments and, especially, by European institutions and international organisations. Unfortunately, these efforts are not reflected in the living conditions of Roma communities and in their societal position.

In vast European regions, Roma live in impoverished settlements. In various European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a large number of Roma children attend schools for the mentally disabled. The unemployment among Roma is extremely high. According to surveys, Roma are facing the strongest patterns of discrimination and racism. Roma are continually subject to acts of racist violence, stigmatisation by a large part of the media, and offensive and discriminatory statements by politicians, even at the European Parliament. The majority of the Roma populations are still fighting for their full recognition as European citizens.

The European Commission has declared 2007 as the “European Year for Equal Opportunities”. Yet this remains a distant dream for Roma who do not have access to equal opportunities as citizens in most European societies. The positive commitment of national governments and European institutions to promote equal treatment and opportunities should be reflected in concrete actions. Actions should be undertaken which aim at school desegregation of Roma children, at providing Roma access to adequate employment, at tackling housing deprivation and forced evictions of Roma settlements, and at guaranteeing access to health services.

A big step forward would be the adoption of the European Parliament’s Resolution on the Situation of Roma in Europe (28 April 2005) by national governments. This would establish the framework conditions for the social inclusion of Roma and to ensure their equal treatment and social integration. This ambitious goal will become reality through advocacy actions pushing national governments for the adoption of the Roma Resolution and through the effective engagement of European institutions.

The European Roma Information Office (ERIO) is deeply committed in policy development aiming at the improvement of the situation of Roma throughout Europe, the ultimate goal being to eradicate social exclusion and discrimination against Roma.
© European Roma Information Office



The EU must not lose sight of the urgent need to fight for the inclusion of Roma, Sinti and Travellers

6/4/2007- On the occasion on International Roma Day on 8 April*, the European Network Against Racism recalls the words of Vladimir Špidla, the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities that “the situation of the Roma is a European issue that calls for an EU solution”. In recent years the EU has done much to promote the inclusion of Roma, Sinti and Traveller communities, including the establishment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination legal framework and the implementation of substantial funding measures. However deep-seated problems remain for Europe’s largest minority. A recent Eurobarometer survey, conducted in January 2007 for the launch of the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, found that 77% of Europeans believe that being a Roma is a disadvantage in their society. ENAR members and other NGOs across Europe continue to document widespread abuse and disadvantage experienced by Roma, Sinti and Traveller communities. In its 2005 Shadow Report on Racism in Europe ENAR concluded that: “Roma, Sinti and Travellers represent a particular group that have consistently experienced discrimination in Europe.” The European Union must effectively mainstream its response to the situation of Roma across the whole range of tools available to it. In particular ENAR calls for the strategic and targeted use of the Open Method of Coordination on Social Inclusion and Social Protection, and of the Lisbon Process on Growth and Jobs. Both strategies and their national reports have not to date adequately addressed the urgent need to respond to the situation of Roma communities. “Roma are the largest and one of the most excluded minorities in Europe”, said Bashy Quraishy, ENAR President, adding that “the European Union has achieved much in terms of Roma inclusion, but clearly the picture remains serious; the EU must now maintain its energy and reinvigorate its efforts to find solutions to the problems facing these communities”.

*Established in 1971, International Roma Day celebrates a community dispersed throughout Europe, facing enormous economic, social and political challenges.
© EUropean Network Against Racism



The discrimination and disadvantage faced by Roma and Travellers in Europe is a well-documented fact. Solutions have been outlined in action plans and numerous strategies. What we need now is more action on the ground, the rigorous implementation of adequately-resourced policies, and specific measures that tackle deep-rooted discrimination and negative stereotypes of Roma and Travellers,” said Beate Winkler, interim Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, in a statement ahead of International Roma Day (8 April).

4/4/2007- Beate Winkler called on authorities at European, national and local level to step up efforts to address the entrenched discrimination of Roma and Travellers in education, employment, access to health care and services. She encouraged governments to make use of ‘positive action’ to achieve equality in practice. “Nothing is more unfair than the equal treatment of unequals. To remove deep-rooted discrimination against Roma and Travellers, we need more than just equal treatment. Take the example of the labour market. The unemployment rate among Roma in several EU Member States is as high as 70-90%. The EU anti-discrimination law specifically allows for positive action. Employers could, for instance, run targeted recruitment campaigns or offer vocational training to Roma and Travellers. We need more such measures to enable Roma and Travellers to compete on equal terms with other job applicants,” Beate Winkler commented. She continued: “When, if not during this European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, will we make real progress in turning these principles of equality into reality? The Year must raise awareness of the ongoing discrimination against Roma and Travellers and encourage action to combat it.”  Roma form one of the largest ethnic minority groups in the EU-27. They are amongst the groups most vulnerable to discrimination. According to a recent Eurobarometer survey on discrimination, 77% of Europeans believe that being a Roma tends to be a disadvantage in their country. The Fundamental Rights Agency has documented that Roma and Travellers are subjected to racially motivated violence. They face systemic discrimination in education, public health care, services and employment. Romani women and children often fall victim to multiple discrimination on the grounds of age, ethnicity and gender.

For background:
· A broad majority of Europeans (77%) believe that being a Roma is a disadvantage in their society.
· Education systems across the EU are failing Roma pupils. As a result, Roma pupils tend to leave education early, which deprives them of the qualifications that would enable them to compete in the labour market. Segregation in the education of Roma and Traveller pupils still persists in many EU countries - sometimes as the unintended effect of policies and practices, and sometimes as a result of residential segregation.
· According to data available to FRA, the marginalisation of Roma on labour markets persists in nearly all Member States where they represent a significant minority. Unemployment among Roma is estimated to reach 70-90% in at least three Member States.
· In the field of housing, Roma and Travellers are among the groups facing most discrimination. Surveys show that they are the group “least wanted” as neighbours by majority populations. A common problem in some Member States is a lack of provision of accommodation sites by the authorities. This often results in people from these groups living in unapproved accommodation, which lacks basic sanitary facilities. In some countries, the extreme deprivation of Roma housing is heightened by subjection to evictions and forced relocations.
· In the field of access to health care, Roma are subjected to discriminatory treatment, ranging from segregation in maternity wards to discriminatory treatment by medical professionals.
· The designation of 8 April as International Roma Day goes back to the fourth congress of the International Romani Union in Warsaw in 1990. The International Roma Day is celebrated as tribute to the first international meeting of Roma representatives, on 8 April 1971, near London.

Further information concerning Roma and Travellers in Europe:
FRA Reports:
· Romani women and access to public health care
· Roma and Travellers in Public Education
· Annual Report 2006

European Commission reports:
· Eurobarometer Survey on Discrimination in the EU
· European Commission Portal on Roma

Other international organisations:
· Council of Europe Roma and Travellers Division
· Contact Point on Roma and Sinti Issues (ODIHR-OSCE)
© EU Fundamental Rights Agency



3/4/2007- Sunday, April 8th, is International Roma Day but events are being held around Prague throughout the week to commemorate the occasion. International Roma Day is a young holiday, which was only established in 1990, but it is one of the few festivals shared by the Roma population the world over. Traditional music is perhaps the best known feature of Roma culture but organisers of this year's celebrations say they don't want Roma culture being stereotyped as just that. Still, concerts featuring traditional gypsy music will be an important part of the celebrations, together with panel discussions and film projections. There will also be opportunities to taste traditional Roma cuisine and a chance to watch a bowling and a football tournament. The events are organised by the Prague-based Romani students' organisation Athinganoi. Zdenek Horvath of Athinganoi says why he thinks the majority population should be aware of International Roma Day.
"I believe any international day has a meaning for society. And considering there are all kinds of international days why not pay attention to a day dedicated to a nation so rich culturally and otherwise as the Roma."

At the moment, the Czech Roma community is concerned by recent offensive statements made by Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek regarding the Roma. Zdenek Horvath says while his organisation would much rather concentrate on the celebrations of International Roma Day they cannot refrain from commenting on Mr Cunek's statements.
"Our organisation is outraged by Mr Cunek's statements about his fellow citizens whose opinion he should take into consideration as minister and deputy prime minister. It is apparent that Mr Cunek tried to strike a populist note and succeeded. That is a pity because I don't believe that the Czech nation is inherently xenophobic as is often said. It looks like Mr Cunek is trying to add fuel to a fire which had gone out long ago."
© Radio Prague



5/4/2007- The Head of the OSCE Spillover Monitor Mission to Skopje, Ambassador Giorgio Radicati, marked International Roma Day, celebrated on 8 April, by hosting a meeting with ethnic Roma leaders from central and local governments, representing different political parties. "This is an opportunity to highlight the need for more ambitious participation from Roma communities in political life and consensus among Roma leaders in order to positively impact public policies pertinent to Roma affairs in the country," said Ambassador Radicati. "The country is currently implementing its own National Strategy on Roma, which is based on the OSCE Action Plan on Roma and Sinti, so it is important that Roma people closely follow the process and participate in decision-making at the national and local level." The OSCE Mission continues to support the country's efforts to implement the Action Plan. Several projects are underway and will continue throughout the year including: on promoting co-operation between citizens and police in Roma communities, on training ethnic Roma municipal councillors in decentralization issues and strategic planning, on developing the capacity of ethnic Roma advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations. On 10 April, the Mission will also support a local initiative to celebrate Roma Day with elementary schools in Kumanovo.



School in Szeged to close after local government pressured to act. Local support promised for Roma pupils.

4/4/2007- Szeged's deputy mayor, László Sólymos, has announced the Ferenc Móra middle school, where 80% of pupils are disadvantaged children, will close by the end of the academic year. The news follows heavy pressure from the local Roma minority council, and a petition signed by parents demanding an end to Roma segregation. Parents will be able to choose from around 10 institutions to place their children, according to where they live, whether a sibling already attends the school, as well as the best accommodation options, Sólymos added, and promised local support for helping Roma pupil's integration into the mainstream.

Most are integrated
"Segregation is not a typical problem in Szeged, as most Roma children are integrated," Sólymos told The Budapest Sun. "This particular school is the only one where, due to housing and infrastructure, this problem occurred, and it will be solved by being closed down."  Last week, the Ministry of Education announced a tender for supporting the education and capabilities of disadvantaged children, while international initiatives from the likes of UNESCO, the Soros Foundation and other NGOs are trying to put more and more pressure on schools and local authorities to integrate Roma children fully into the mainstream. Gypsy students are often segregated from non-Roma children and face disadvantages in every aspect of their education, the latest report from the Open Society Institute stated. Although, according to the report, governments participating in the Decade of Roma inclusion 2005-2015 have set an ambitious course towards changing the situation, in the first two years of the program "policies and programs remain unfulfilled and Roma children continue to face discrimination, isolation, and exclusion."

Pm calls on EU
Speaking at an international conference on Monday, April 2, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány said that the social integration of the Roma "is not merely a national issue, but a European one too." The two-day conference was organized by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and topics of discussion included the integration of Roma in central and eastern Europe. Gyurcsány said the European Union did not yet have a comprehensive program or institution to deal with the problem, MTI reports. The community of millions of Roma people in the EU, he said, felt abandoned. "Let us act together to make the problems of our Roma countrymen... an European issue. "The walls and borders are there in the hearts... removing them is a universal human obligation binding all of us." he said. Foreign Minister Kinga Göncz recently noted that 2007 is a year dedicated to equal opportunities in the EU, and this is expected to further the cause of Roma integration.
© The Budapest Sun



Statement by Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe on International Roma Day

5/4/2007- Ignorance breeds fear, and fear breeds prejudice and intolerance. For centuries, Roma have been discriminated against because of their way of life and because they remain faithful to their traditions. For centuries, Europe has been treating its Roma population unfairly, and has been depriving itself of the opportunity to understand and enjoy the full extent of its cultural richness, heritage and diversity. Through learning, tolerance and respect for Roma and their culture, we can make Europe a better place for all. International Roma Day is an opportunity for Roma to express their pride in being Roma and for the rest of us to express our pride in having Roma in our midst. The fight against prejudice and discrimination is a priority for the Council of Europe, which is currently conducting a campaign in South Eastern Europe with the slogan “Dosta – Go beyond prejudice, meet the Roma”. Tolerance and mutual respect is also the central message of the Council of Europe Youth campaign “All Different, All Equal”.
© Council of Europe


Headlines 6 April, 2007


6/4/2007- Three leading politicians from the governing Alliance have presented a series of guidelines for the introduction of new immigrants into Swedish society. Local councils that can offer jobs to newly arrived immigrants will be rewarded with money from state coffers. The aim of the scheme is to encourage councils with a healthy labour market - rather than those with a generous housing market - to take in more immigrants and refugees. In a joint statement, Sweden's ministers for integration, migration and education - Nyamko Sabuni, Tobias Billström and Lars Leijonborg - explained that Sweden is currently faced with challenges similar to those encountered at the time of the war in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The high number of asylum seekers from Iraq presents a particular challenge, they said. Malmö's Social Democratic councillor Ilmar Reepalu has welcomed the new guidelines. "Finally an end to refugee policies characterized by indulgent liberalism," he said. In order to speed up the introduction of immigrants to the labour market, new arrivals will be encouraged to move to "those municipalities where the jobs are". The government has set aside 600 million kronor ($84 million) in its new spring budget to help stimulate the reform. The money is to be used to encourage municipalities in need of labour to sign agreements surrounding the reception of immigrants. A further 400 million kronor has been earmarked for wage subsidies, which - in combination with funds from the government's 'new start' job scheme - will be used to finance 80 percent of an person's wage.

To qualify for a grant, local councils must commit to organizing introductory discussions with new immigrants within the first week of their arrival. An agreement will then be reached as to how each individual can best approach the tasks of getting a job, learning Swedish and/or entering the education system. Councils also have to ensure that their Swedish language courses pass muster, while at the same time keeping a close eye on attendance figures. Any immigrant found not to be learning Swedish or putting sufficient effort into seeking employment may have his or her benefits reduced or completely withdrawn. Ilmar Reepalu has long been critical off Sweden's current integration policy. He is positive towards a shift in focus that would prevent asylum seekers from themselves deciding where they want to live - a system introduced by former Liberal Party Immigration Minister Birgit Friggebo in the early 1990s. According to Reepalu, the system has meant that towns popular with immigrants, such as Södertälje and Malmö, have had a heavy burden to bear. "Labour Market Minister Littorin has explained that, beginning on July 2nd, unemployed Swedes must be prepared to move to areas where there are jobs. Otherwise they will lose their unemployment benefits. That really has to be the case for people from other countries too," said Reepalu. The ministers have not yet gone quite so far with their new proposal. But a new report commissioned by the government to help crystallize its integration policy may well reach the same conclusion as Reepalu. The report is to be completed by June 2nd, 2008.
© The Local



Given the region’s prevailing nationalist sentiments, it is not surprising that some Bosniaks should look longingly toward others who have their very own states.
By by Tihomir Loza, deputy director of TOL

5/4/2007- Serb and Croat leaders in Bosnia have just acquired what they say is the most tangible proof yet of their Bosniak counterparts’ alleged desire to turn Bosnia into a state ruled by the largest ethnic group alone. This gift was given to them by the leader of the Bosnian Muslim community, Mustafa Ceric, whose explosive words at a recent conference on European Muslims in Vienna received extensive coverage. “It is obvious that only Bosnian Muslims are expected to share their country, their political power, and their future with those who committed genocide against them. It is clear to everyone now that all the ethnic and national groups of the former Yugoslavia … realized their right to form a mother country and national state. It is clear that only Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Muslims are the majority, is expected to have three presidents, a tribal and not civic constitution, as well as a police divided along ethnic lines. Only the Bosnian Muslims are obliged to reconcile with those who committed genocide against them. Only the Bosnian Muslims must be supervised, because they are not trusted, while they are expected to trust everyone, even those who committed genocide against them,” Ceric said. To anyone familiar with Bosnia’s internal dynamics and sensitivities the statement must sound scandalous. Since no one would ever dream of asking the Bosniaks to trust, be reconciled, or share power with persons who committed genocide in Srebrenica, there is no doubt that Ceric was blaming the Serbs as a group for genocide. His words would indeed be of great interest to Bosnian prosecutors if they were gutsy enough to consider charging a luminary of Ceric’s power with propagating ethnic intolerance. Ceric is probably one of the two most powerful Bosniaks at the moment, the other one being the Bosniak member of the country’s tripartite presidency, Haris Silajdzic, for whose election Ceric openly campaigned last year. But Ceric not only bluntly insulted Bosnia’s Serbs by holding them collectively guilty of crimes committed during the 1992–1995 war. He also denied them – as well as the Bosnian Croats – the right, guaranteed by the constitution as well as by Bosnia’s historical experience, to remain in Bosnia as its equal, “constituent,” communities, something that no top official ever dared to put in so many words and that would also be of interest to truly independent prosecutors.

Recklessly playing with guilt
But is Ceric’s statement really a proof that leaders such as Silajdzic and Ceric are seeking to subjugate the country’s non-Bosniaks by turning Bosnia into a one-man-one-vote democracy, as many Serbs and Croats seem to think? Are the Bosniak arguments in favor of centralizing Bosnia to allegedly make it more effective just a Western-friendly camouflage hiding a desire to create a constitutional framework that would allow the Bosniaks to ignore the others? Worse still, are people like Silajdzic and Ceric, as some Serbs and Croats now whisper, pursuing a form of ethnic cleansing through policies that could be described as “worse is better,” the point of which is stop Bosnia from moving forward? – For Serbs and Coats tend to leave, or not come back to, a stagnating or worsening Bosnia, while the same is not always true of Bosniaks, who often have no alternative. It is now probably beyond doubt that different Bosniak leaders do harbor some hopes along some of these lines and that many, though by no means all, among them argue for a centralized Bosnia essentially because they think it will give their community an advantage over the less numerous Serbs and Croats. But one would in all likelihood go way too far to read it all as part of a wider strategy. For there is indeed another, slightly more benevolent way to interpret Ceric’s words or Silajdzic’s erratic actions, and that is to view them primarily as a big political lament. While Ceric cannot be excused for recklessly playing with the notion of collective guilt and the very essence of Bosnia’s internal fabric – the assumption of ethnic equality – he did pretty accurately, though perhaps unintentionally, point out two issues that will continue to haunt Bosnia if left unattended. The first – as TOL has touched upon before – relates to what appears to be the insufficiency of individual war-crimes trials in promoting reconciliation. While the Hague tribunal as well as local courts have heard hundreds of cases and will hear many more, the three communities, the Bosniaks as the chief victims of the war in particular, don’t seem to pay close enough attention and prefer instead to cast one another as monolithic groups when it comes to examining the past. In fact, the Bosniaks often sound as if they feel that individual trials somehow trivialize their suffering. And while this is perhaps partly due to the continued impunity of a few top Serb leaders, there is little doubt that Ceric does speak for many in his community when he holds the Serbs collectively guilty of genocide. The Serbs and Croats seem to hold the Bosniaks in a similarly high esteem, and they don’t always like each other either.

Can't help the way we feel
The second issue is related specifically to the position of the Bosniaks after Yugoslavia’s demise. Ceric rightly points out that all the main Yugoslav ethnic groups, some much smaller than the Bosniaks, ended up with what in essence are their ethnic states, with ethnic Albanians just about to get a second one. The trend was, of course, wider than the Balkans. Most of the larger Soviet ethnic groups also ended up forming states in which they make a majority, and the Slovaks too went for independence shortly after the fall of communism. The Bosniaks were not in a position to form such a state, not because they were Muslim, as Ceric suggests, but primarily because the Yugoslav republic in which most of them lived, Bosnia, was also home to two other large ethnic groups. But given the region’s prevailing nationalist sentiments, it is not surprising that some Bosniaks, perhaps most, should look longingly toward others who have their very own states. And it shouldn’t surprise that some think Bosnia is or should be that state. That in reality Bosnia was never going to be, nor could it ever become, such a state does not cancel such feelings. When it comes to matters of identity and statehood, people feel what they feel. Ceric communicated those feelings accurately, though very insensitively and thus irresponsibly. Which brings us back to that possible more kindly interpretation of Ceric’s words. Rather than plotting a Bosniak-dominated Bosnia, maybe Ceric and Silajdzic are just frustrated with, and feel like lamenting, the fact that Bosnia cannot possibly be turned into such a state? And maybe they don’t mean any actual harm to the Serbs and Croats, but simply wish they didn’t have to share Bosnia with them and feel they are entitled to loudly bemoan the sad fact that they do? This would still be disturbing from a political point of view, but it would at least be understandable, though not justifiable, from a human point of view considering the trauma of Bosniak experience in the war.

But how can Bosnia ever become a viable country if its largest group is frustrated with the only conceivable foundation on which that country can stand, namely ethnic equality? Add to it the record of the two smaller groups, which have not exactly distinguished themselves at trying to make Bosnia work (indeed, the Serbs and Croats often seem to regard the very existence of Bosnia as a curse), and an entirely unworkable proposition seems to appear before your eyes. Except that Bosnia is not the only complicated country in the world that eventually became viable. But it will not become viable if its people’s true feelings are not articulated sincerely and openly and then addressed constructively. Oblique lament is hardly going to help.
© Transitions Online



In the past few weeks, a debate on the alleged conflict of interest presented by the dual nationality held by two deputy ministers in the Dutch government has demonstrated the ability of right-wing Freedom Party (PVV) leader Geert Wilders to set the political agenda.

5/4/2007- But opposition to Mr Wilders is growing among fellow politicians and journalists, and even well-known Islam critics such as Afshin Ellian and Sylvain Ephimenco are now publicly distancing themselves from the PVV leader. Their opponents, in turn, are jeering at them, saying they must be scared of the monster they helped create. These developments appear to mark a new episode in the Dutch Islam debate. An open letter to Geert Wilders published in the 12 March edition of the magazine Opinio states:
"You are using pseudo-theological one-liners about the Koran and the Prophet to intentionally create as much resentment as possible among offended Muslims."

Sharp-tongued critic
The letter would not have created much of a stir had it been written by anyone other than columnist Sylvain Ephimenco, who in the past years has manifested himself as a sharp-tongued critic of Islam. He is one of a group of intellectuals known as The Friends of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who give their unconditional support to the former Somali-Dutch MP in her campaign against the "excesses of Islam."  Geert Wilders has never made a secret of the fact that his objections against immigrants mainly concern Muslims. But he has outdone himself with his recent diatribes against Islam. He has called the Prophet Muhammad a barbarian, an aggressive warlord and says that Muslims who want to stay in the Netherlands had better tear out and throw away half the Koran.

Popular broadsides
His broadsides against Islam are guaranteed to curry favour with a certain segment of the Dutch electorate, but create only increasing aversion among fellow politicians and leading commentators. Now Dutch Islam critics such as "The Friends of Ayaan Hirsi Ali" are turning against him, too. Early this month, columnist Afshin Ellian dealt the first blow: Mr Wilders, Afshin Ellian wrote in his column in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper of 3 March, is radicalising and rapidly developing into an extreme right-wing politician. Notably, Afshin Ellian backed his criticism with a reference to former conservative VVD politician Frits Bolkestein who, in the early 1990s, opened the attack on Islam but has been saying for some time now that people like Geert Wilders have taken things too far. Others, including author Leon de Winter, philosopher Bart Jan Spruijt and Labour ideologist Paul Scheffer have made similar comments.

Sylvain Ephimenco's open letter reads as something of a manifesto for this group of critics. In it, Geert Wilders is blamed for "taking the debate hostage and polluting it by sponging off the words and thoughts of others, turning them into caricatures. It will come as no surprise that publicists who until recently took part in the debate are now leaving the space you occupy, probably in fear of being associated with you." Sylvain Ephimenco says Geert Wilders is not just turning against extremists but against Muslims as a group, and that his statements about the Prophet and the Koran appear only serve to insult as many Muslims as possible. And this, in the full knowledge that: "To a Muslim, every page in the Koran is sacred."

Backs turned
Sylvain Ephimenco says Geert Wilders is going too far, which is why The Friends of Ayaan Hirsi Ali have turned their backs on him. However, Professor Emeritus of Sociology J.A.A. van Doorn rejects their criticisms. He is an old-fashioned left-wing intellectual who has for years rejected the criticisms of Islam as propounded by Afshin Ellian and others which, he says, only serve to drive Dutch Muslims and non-Muslims further apart. He denies that Geert Wilders is turning the words of others into caricatures. In Trouw newspaper of 17 March he argues that: "Geert Wilders' actions and statements follow on naturally from what Ayaan Hirsi Ali en her admirers have been saying for years." Professor Van Doorn writes that Sylvain Ephimenco's indignation over Geert Wilder's attacks on Islam does not ring true. Didn't his much admired Ayaan Hirsi Ali call the Prophet a paedophile? Didn't his ally Afshin Ellian recently wonder aloud whether the Koran should be banned as being a source of inspiration for terrorism?

Wilders as disciple
According to Professor Van Doorn, commentators like Afshin Ellian and Sylvain Ephimenco have for years been 'prompting' Geert Wilders. He is their disciple. But now that Geert Wilders is putting their words into action, they are taking fright and turning their backs on him. However, Professor Van Doorn argues it is now too late to pull back: "The aforementioned commentators would do better to ask themselves whether they are not complicit in Geert Wilders' crusade." Even left-wing magazine De Groene Amsterdammer has devoted a sarcastic commentary to the 'change of heart' on the part of the Dutch Islam critics. The item's author, Hubert Smeets, says that Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her friends appreciated the outspokenness of the late populist politician Pim Fortuin who was killed in 2002. But Geert Wilders actually puts his money where his mouth is, and that's giving The Friends of Ayaan Hirsi Ali a bad case of cold feet. Fortunately they are honest enough to admit it squarely, which is much to be admired. De Groene Amsterdammer has created an award to express its admiration: the Woollen Sock. De Groene Amsterdammer says: "The first to be awarded the Woollen Sock will be columnists Afshin Ellian and Sylvain Ephimenco. At the end of the year, we will hand out a final award on the basis of a shortlist of Woollen Sock winners: the Green Wellington Boot."
© Radio Netherlands



Language Requirement 'Against Human Rights'
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül has criticized a new German immigration law which requires spouses to have a certain level of German before they are allowed into the country. He also emphasized that Turkish entry into the EU is not automatic and that Europe shouldn't fear Turkey.

5/4/2007- Turkey has criticized a German draft immigration law which stipulates that if spouses wish to join their partners in Germany they have to possess a basic proficiency in the German language. In an interview in Thursday's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gül, said "I wish that all Turks in Germany could speak German. But making it compulsory is against human rights. And it doesn't solve the problem."  The German cabinet approved the new immigration bill in March, but it still has to be approved by the Bundestag, Germany's parliament. Among other measures, the law stipulates that in the case of immigrating spouses, the person coming to Germany must be at least 18 years old and be able to speak at least basic German. The government says it wants to improve the integration of foreigners, while also attempting to reduce the number of forced and fake marriages. Addressing the issue of Turkey's ambitions to join the European Union, Gül said that he didn't consider Turkish accession to be "automatic." He said Europe should not fear Turkey and that on some issues the country was further ahead than a few EU member states. He pointed, for example, to the Maastricht criteria which determine a member state's eligibility for the euro. Turkey, he said, had already fulfilled the five benchmarks.

Gül was quick to praise the current German EU presidency. "Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, supports us. We now hope for some progress in the negotiations with the EU."  However, the minister was critical of the decision not to invite Turkey to the EU's 50th anniversary celebrations in March. "It says something about Europe's vision." Enthusiasm for the EU has dropped significantly in Turkey, he said. He put this down to the tone of the debate within Europe about Turkey, which many Turkish people find offensive. Gül met with his German counterpart in Berlin on Tuesday and after the meeting Steinmeier said that there was movement again on a possible entry of Turkey into the EU. The two men talked about the possibility of opening further chapters in the accession talks between Brussels and Ankara. Turkish EU membership talks had been partially suspended for eight of the 35 accession chapters in December 2006, due to Turkey's reluctance to open up its ports and airports to ships and planes from Cyprus. Brussels gave the green light to open one of those chapters -- on enterprise and industrial policy -- with Turkey last week. At the news conference after the meeting Gül said "Turkey always appreciated support of Germany ... when Turkey-EU relations are in question."
© Spiegel Online



3/4/2007- The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by death threats made against Dinko Gruhonjic, head of the Vojvodina branch of the independent news agency BETA and chairman of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina, by a local neo-Nazi group. The threats, which were posted on a neo-Nazi Web site this week, stem from Gruhonjic’s coverage of National Formation, a neo-Nazi group based in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad, the journalist told CPJ. Gruhonjic’s reports publicized the group’s activities, including a 2005 organized attack where neo-Nazis armed with crowbars, attacked participants marking the anniversary of Kristallnacht—a pogrom against Jews throughout Germany and parts of Austria in 1938—according to local and international press reports. In November 2006, a local court convicted 18 of the group’s members of inciting hatred and endangering public security. The group’s leader, Goran Davidovic, was sentenced to one year in prison, according to local and international press reports. Davidovic, who is currently appealing the decision, is not in custody. Davidovic and other members of the group have threatened Gruhonjic in the past, local sources told CPJ. Davidovic denounced the journalist as an enemy of the Serbian people and as a traitor in an autobiography published in December 2006. Gruhonjic has filed a civil defamation suit against Davidovic for the comments, the journalist told CPJ. “We call on authorities to thoroughly investigate the threats made against our colleague Dinko Gruhonjic, and take immediate measures to protect the safety of Gruhonjic and his family,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Every effort should be made to bring those responsible to justice without delay.” Police are currently investigating the threats made against Gruhonjic but no suspects have been detained. Local journalists told CPJ they are frightened by the threats made against Gruhonjic and angered by the lack of reaction from authorities, which they say exacerbates the vulnerable position of independent journalists in Serbia.
© Committee to Protect Journalists



5/4/2007- Three priests from a working class suburb of Madrid risk being defrocked for refusing to abandon their work with drug addicts, immigrants and criminals. Spain’s powerful Roman Catholic Church has ordered them to close their parish in the gritty neighbourhood of Vallecas. “We are staying here until they throw us out,” said Father Enrique de Castro — known in Spain as “the red priest” for his Leftist leanings. Along with his two collegues, Fathers Javier Baeza and Pepe DÍaz, Father de Castro has been threatened with “serious punishment” by the Church for his defiance. He says that he will simply move sites if he is denied entry to his church. “The parish is not the building, it’s the people,” he said. Antonio MarÍa Rouco, the Archbishop of Madrid, ordered the priests this week to hand the church over to a Catholic charity and forbade them from holding Easter Mass. The order followed a call by Pope Benedict XVI for bishops to join an “ideological battle” to rescue the Catholic faith from unorthodoxy. According to the archbishop, known for his staunch conservatism, the parish “does not conform to Church doctine” and must close. Many in the neighbourhood, however, have rallied round the priests, saying that the Church has lost touch with the poor. In keeping with its unorthodox methods the parish was yesterday allowing graffiti artists from all over Madrid to paint its walls with slogans urging resistance. Many parishioners say that they will refuse to go elsewhere. Some of those housed by the church say that they would have to live on the streets.

“They can’t shut us down,” said Youssef, 24, a Moroccan immigrant, who has been coming to the parish since he arrived in Spain seven years ago. “Where would we go?” The Vallecas priests have also drawn the ire of Spain’s bishops with their unorthodox teachings, which draw on Latin America’s “liberation theology” and emphasise the Church’s role as a champion of the poor. The parish is certainly unconventional. Christians and nonChristians mill around, smoking and chatting about their latest social projects. The parish offers free legal counselling for people in trouble with the law as well as advice on jobs, housing and drug counselling. “What we have here is unique,” said Carmen DÍaz Bermejo, who organises a group called Mothers Against Drugs at the parish. “The damage they would do by closing it is incalculable.” A mural of Jesus painted on the church wall bears the slogan “Free the prisoners!” — a reference to the parishioners who have previously been in jail. The priests perform Mass in street clothes and hand out Spanish doughnuts called rosquillas during communion. “We’ve tried to adapt our teaching to people’s real circumstances,” said Father de Castro. Church officials have not been impressed. “We can’t just do and say whatever we want in Mass,” said JoaquÍn MartÍn, of Madrid’s archdiocese.

Troublesome priests
Pope John Paul II sidelined Latin American priests in the 1970s and 1980s who rejected the region’s military rulers and supported left-wing rebel groups instead
Father Raymond Gravel, a Canadian Catholic priest, has long opposed Vatican views on homosexuality and abortion
Monks at the Esphigmenou monastery in northern Greece, above, took up arms against their Church last year to prevent their own eviction. They used crowbars and sledgehammers to fight other monks loyal to the Orthodox Patriarch
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has been split between rival Christian groups since 1852. In 2002 an Egyptian sat in Ethiopian-controlled shade, prompting violence that put 11 in hospital
© The Times Online



4/4/2007- Spain has promised to resume development aid to Cuba in return for Havana's pledge to open dialogue on human rights. Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos held talks with Cuba's acting president, Raul Castro late on Tuesday. It was the first visit by a European Union minister since 2003. The visit "continues developing the fixed objectives," said Moratinos, referring to the resumption of aid. Moratinos added: "That is the great news. (Aid) had been suspended for many years and we're going to resume cooperating with the Cuban goverment." Havana stopped accepting development assistance from EU member-states in the summer of 2003 during the diplomatic crisis between Cuba and Brussels sparked by the Castro government's execution of three ferry hijackers and imprisonment of 75 peaceful dissidents. The Spanish government, headed at the time by conservative Premier Jose Maria Aznar, led the push for EU sanctions against Cuba. Moratinos did not say if in his talks with Cuban officials they had negotiated on the possible return of the Spanish Cultural Center to Havana, a venue that has been managed by Cuban authorities since the 2003 crisis. Spain invested USD 3.9 million in the restoration and running of the centre. Moratinos also did not mention the possible areas of dialogue that could be pursued with the Cuban government regarding human rights, one of the most sensitive issues for the Havana regime. But he did say that "logically" the matter had been part of the visit's agenda. Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said on Monday Havana was ready to begin a dialogue with Spain on the matter and set up a formal mechanism for the talks. "Cuba is willing to do so (talk with Spain about human rights) at this time. With the European Union, there would have to be conditions like the full elimination of the sanctions against Cuba, the elimination of the common position," he said.

At their meeting, Moratinos handed Raul Castro a letter written by Spain's King Juan Carlos to Fidel Castro, who has been convalescing since late July from a serious illness. The two-paragraph letter was written out longhand by the king as he was flying over Cuba returning to Madrid last Friday after his visit to Guatemala, it was reported. "I send you my warmest greetings, with my best wishes for you to continue your progress of recovery and my thanks for the gift you sent me in Colombia via Eusebio Leal (the historian of the City of Havana)," read the letter. "I take advantage of this opportunity to express sincere wishes for prosperity for the beloved people of Cuba," the letter concludes. Castro, who in August turned 81, underwent emergency abdominal surgery in late July - the precise nature of which has remained a "state secret" - and temporarily handed over power to his younger brother Raul. In November 1999, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia made their first and only visit Havana to preside at the Ibero-American Summit, one of the many at which both Juan Carlos and Castro have been present. Officials with the Spanish delegation did not say anything about a possible meeting with Cuban dissidents, something that does not appear on the Spanish minister's official agenda. In recent days, members of the internal opposition have expressed their desire to have contact with the minister and have asked him to intercede with the regime to free the dissidents currently being held in prison. The Ladies in White, a group made up of the wives and other relatives of the 75 Cuban dissidents arrested and sentenced in 2003 to lengthy prison terms for allegedly subversive activities, called on Moratinos in a video released in Havana on Monday to ask the Castro regime to release jailed opponents. The Cuban government has roughly 300 political prisoners in its jails. Moratinos also met briefly with Cuba's Catholic primate, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
© Expatica News



5/4/2007- A traditional Easter parade in Spain broke new ground by allowing Muslim prayer beads to be entwined in the hands of a statue of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin of Hope was paraded through the streets of Ceuta, one of Spain’s two north African enclaves, with a string of Muslim prayer beads entwined in her hand, an unprecedented step during the yearly Holy Week celebrations. The black prayer beads were donated to the brotherhood which puts on the procession by a Muslim family. One of the members of the brotherhood is a doctor who treated a sick family member. Members of the brotherhood said the thoughtfulness of the Muslim family showed the multicultural character of Ceuta, a city which Morocco lays claim to along with the other enclave of Melilla. During the holiest week of the Christian calendar, the move has been seen as another example of changing attitudes in modern Spain, which has a rising Muslim population mainly through immigration from Morocco. Re-enactments of the battles between Christians and Moors – or Muslims - have provided traditional entertainment for tourists keen to know about the Christian victory which forced Muslims out of Spain in the 15th century. But conscious of sensibilities towards the Muslims communities, these pageants are increasingly seen as politically incorrect. Another example of changing sensibilities was found in the unlikely form of the ninots – huge satirical papier mache models - which form pride of place at Valencia’s Las Fallas festival. Last year they were toned down so as not to offend Muslims in the wake of the row over the Prophet Mohammed cartoons published in a Danish magazine.
© Expatica News



5/4/2007- On March 27, a nazi gang attacked a group of skaters in Izhevsk (Udmurtia). Stanislav Korepanov, 17, was severely beaten and hospitalised in the attack and, though operated on, died four days later. As many as 400 young people attended a memorial meeting, on 3 April, at the location of the attack on him which had taken place late in the evening in the city centre, only a hundred meters from the palace of the President of Udmurtia. In the assault, several dozen young men dressed as skinheads approached a small group of skaters and started to beat them with metal bars, empty bottles and wooden laths. One of the attackers was armed with a small hatchet. Several people sustained minor injuries but Stanislav, who was beaten by 5 to 7 people, suffered an open craniocerebral injury and other serious traumas. The attackers obviously thought they were attacking anti-fascists because, according to the victims', they were shouting "White power" and, allegedly, something like "Kill antifa". Four people were detained on suspicion of committing this crime, but they were released later because they had, apparently, been caught just at random by the police. However, one of those who beat Stanislav Korepanov – the one who hit him with an empty bottle – was also detained and identified by the victims who said they even knew his nickname. Another person was put on a wanted list by police.

The Izhevsk district prosecutor's office has initiated charges of deliberate infliction of serious bodily harm leading through carelessness to death (Article 111(4) of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation). However, the incident does not really look like "careless bodily harm", considering the weapons the attackers had on them and way they were fighting. According to the prosecutor, the detained suspect admitted his participation in the attack but is remaining silent about his motives. However, as the prosecutor says, there is other evidence of his participation in so-called "extremist associations". According to journalists in Izhevsk, two attackers were recognised by the victims as supporters of Nikolai Baburin's People's Will party. An interesting fact is that the attack was videotaped and the video was later posted on a neo-nazi website called Format 18. The police found this video on the Internet and showed it to the victims, which obviously means that this website was known to them. However, nothing has been done to close down this website or to find its creators. This is not the first neo-nazi attack on subcultural youngsters and/or anti-fascists in Izhevsk. Two years ago, Oleg S., an anti-fascist and anarchist was severely beaten by the members of a neo-nazi group called the Party of Freedom. Though the culprits were brought to justice the attack was not recognized as a hate crime by the court.
© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis



6/4/2007- The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has ordered Russia to pay a Chechen woman about $70,000 in compensation for moral damages related to her husband’s disappearance and alleged killing in 2000, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported on Thursday.  Asmart Baisayeva claimed that her husband, Shakhid Baisayev, disappeared in March of 2000 on his way to work, at a time when Russia was conducting a military campaign in the troubled North Caucasus republic. Following his disappearance, she received a videotape recording showing him being beaten by soldiers and then taken away, as well as pictures of his presumed grave. Russian courts had considered the case of missing man 12 times, but failed each time to identify those guilty of his disappearance. On March 14, 2006, Russia announced that the investigation of the case was still open. The European Court also ruled Thursday that in addition to the 52,000 euros paid to Asmart Baisayeva in moral damages, Russia must also pay some 13,000 euros (about $17,400) for the court’s expenses. The case of Baisayeva is the most recent of some 200 similar cases currently pending before the Strasbourg Court. Last July the Strasbourg-based court also obliged the Russian government to pay for moral damages amounting $44,000 to a woman whose son disappeared in Chechnya. The ECHR ruled in favor of Fatima Bazorkina, a Chechen resident whose son, Khadzhimurat Yandiyev, 25, has been missing since 2000. The court found that authorities had violated the European Convention on Human Rights and accused them of failing to protect Yandarbiyev from ill treatment and refusing to conduct a thorough investigation into his disappearance. Various estimates by human rights groups indicate that more than 3,000 people have been reported missing in Chechnya since 1999, when the second military campaign against separatists was launched. In 2006, the court considered 106 cases involving Russia, and only six were ruled in the state’s favor, while the total number of complaints by Russian citizens reached 10,000. As a result, compensation worth more than 1.4 million euros will be paid from the Russian budget.
© MosNews



2/4/2007- Migrant workers in Russia found themselves legislated out of a job yesterday after a law reserving retail jobs for ethnic Russians entered into force. The legislation, which has been described as state-sponsored racism by human rights activists, bans non-Russians from working in large chunks of the country's retail sector. In particular it prevents anyone who doesn't hold a Russian passport from working in Russia's huge indoor and outdoor food-and-clothing markets and in the thousands of roadside kiosks that sell anything from newspapers to cosmetics. Such jobs are usually low paid and involve working at least 12-hour days. Until yesterday, it was not uncommon to visit a market staffed exclusively by migrant workers from across the former Soviet Union. But, as of yesterday, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from countries such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan are looking for a new job. In Russia's Far East, where such positions have typically been filled by Chinese migrant workers, the impact was felt immediately. Many of them appear to have already packed their bags and returned home. At Ussuriysk's vast market near the Chinese border, almost all the stalls were reported to be deserted. "We had hoped good sense would prevail ... This could disrupt the economy and bring many problems," said Sergei Simakov, a district councillor from Ussuriysk.

Some commentators have raised fears that prices may rise as employers are forced to pay higher wages and have questioned whether ethnic Russians will be willing to take up jobs that entail such long hours. At Moscow's famous Dorogomilovsky food market several stalls were denuded of their usually exotic mixture of fruit and vegetables from across the vast region. In their place hung signs that read: "Wanted: Sales-people. Must be Russian." Officials from the country's migration service raided a Moscow market yesterday. That is a sign that the Kremlin expects the new law to be scrupulously followed. Four foreign workers were detained. A spokesman for the Federal Migration Service said the raid proved that the new law was effective. "Considering that this particular market has 1,200 trading stalls and only four foreigners were detected you can conclude that in general the law is working." The Kremlin insists that there is nothing racist about the law that it says is intended to protect the rights of ethnic Russians, who have complained of being squeezed out of the retail sector by migrant workers. In public question-and-answer sessions, President Vladimir Putin is often asked what he plans to do to clean up markets controlled by what some people call "ethnic criminal gangs". The issue has become heavily politicised after a dispute between ethnic Russians and Chechens last year in the northern town of Kondopog escalated into a race riot that left two men dead.

Mikhail Fradkov, the Prime Minister, has claimed that the new legislation will make life easier for migrant workers too. "These measures are designed to sort out migration, bring order to markets, and have been prepared for sanitary reasons and to create good conditions for Russian producers in the first instance." Human rights activists have warned that nationalism is on the march ahead of parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election next year and have accused the state of pandering to racists. Sova, a group that monitors racist violence, says 539 people suffered racist attacks last year, of whom 54 died. Allison Gill, the head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said the new law meant the Kremlin had become complicit in racism. "It is discrimination and is xenophobic and racist," she told The Independent. "The government needs to be sending a signal that it is not acceptable to discriminate against non-Russians. It should not be participating." The irony, she added, was that in the Soviet era Russia was famous for promoting "friendship between peoples" hosting large numbers of students from the developing world. "But now that slogan seems to have been turned on its head. It is now Russia for Russians."
© Independent Digital



2/4/2007- Moscow City Court has rejected the appeal filed by organizers of the Moscow gay pride parade challenging the Tverskoy district court’s ruling that banned the event, Interfax news agency reported April 2. One of the organizers Nikolay Alexeyev says they plan to appeal to the Supreme Court if needed. The Supreme Court’s ruling “is expected to be more objective,” he thinks. An organizing committee for a second gay pride parade, set for May 27, the day marking the 14th anniversary of the day criminal prosecution of homosexuals was abolished in Russia, was set up in Moscow on March 19. An application for permission to hold a gay pride parade will be submitted to the Moscow government two weeks before the event. The organizers claimed that they would turn out for the march whether or not city authorities give their consent. On May 26, 2006, Moscow Tverskoy court upheld the decision of the authorities to ban the gay pride parade, set for the next day. On September 19 the Moscow City Court rejected the organizers’ appeal and upheld the earlier ruling and on December 25 the Moscow City Court rejected a second appeal filed by the organizers. On January 29, the organizers of the Moscow gay pride parade submitted a complaint against the Russian Federation to the European Court of Human Rights, demanding that the ban be qualified as going against the European Convention on Human Rights and seeking compensation of 20,000 euro.
© MosNews



The excitement was everywhere but at the ballot box during last month's elections in Russia's second city.
By Galina Stolyarovawriter for The St. Petersburg Times.

2/4/2007- The small, modest-looking posters plastered over the walls of apartment buildings in the Vasileostrovsky district conveyed shocking news. "Alexei Kovalyov, Just Russia candidate in the elections for the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, was stabbed on the steps of the popular Count Suvorov restaurant at 11:48 p.m. on 23 February 2007," the posters read. "The politician was attacked by a group of three armed youths … he received 26 stab wounds, with 15 of them fatal."  In another part of town, a similar poster told an equally dramatic story about the tragic death of another Just Russia candidate, Sergei Andreyev. According to the poster, Andreyev had been unfortunate enough to dine by chance at the same restaurant on the night of 23 February. Once again three assailants had attacked him, also at exactly 11:48 p.m., leaving Andreyev dying, with 26 wounds, of which 15 were fatal. The Count Suvorov restaurant is known as a favorite dining spot of Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. The posters even claimed the two politicians were to share the same grave at the Smolensky cemetery and that the funerals were to be held at the same time. Two people were especially surprised and distressed by these shocking reports: the two candidates themselves, both of whom turned out to be very much alive.

Bag of tricks
Many observers think the balloting in St. Petersburg and other regions on 11 March was seen as a trial run by Kremlin strategists to lay the groundwork for the December elections to the State Duma. Analysts generally sympathetic to the Kremlin and more critical voices alike suspect the "black propaganda" against Just Russia candidates was designed to give the appearance of real competition in a party arena dominated by forces friendly toward President Vladimir Putin. The poster "assassinations" are a new development but are reminiscent of techniques used in the 2003 election campaign for the regional parliament, when a fake suicide threat was distributed purportedly written by a candidate from the opposition Yabloko party, Mikhail Amosov. "Serving in parliament is my life," that letter read. "If you do not elect me, I am going to commit suicide." "It was meant to make the candidate look unstable or mentally disturbed," explains political analyst Boris Vishnevsky, a member of the political council of Yabloko's St. Petersburg branch. Yury Korgunyuk, of the Moscow-based think-tank INDEM, said the variety of tricks used in St. Petersburg's elections is a sign of what could happen nationwide in the campaigns for State Duma elections in December.

St. Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city and most important political center after Moscow, as well as being President Vladimir Putin's home town. Just why candidates of the Just Russia party were targets of the most outrageous tricks of the recent campaign is far from clear. Just Russia is not regarded as an opposition party. It largely supports the policies of Putin and the United Russia party that was created by the Kremlin. Indeed, many opponents of the Kremlin dismiss it as a United Russia clone. But Maria Matskevich, a senior political analyst with the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said it was difficult to predict the future of Just Russia. And she sounded a warning to Kremlin spin doctors. “When you create a clone, you never know for certain how your creature will eventually develop,” she said. “One day, it could rebel and perhaps turn into a Frankenstein monster.” Analysts also saw signs of a pseudo-conflict between the two pro-Kremlin parties in another dirty trick played during the St. Petersburg campaign. A realistic-looking copy of the official city government paper, Peterburgsky Dnevnik, appeared with a sensational story about the son of city governor Valentina Matvienko. But the paper was a fake and so were the allegations of Sergei Matvienko's past drug use and the breakup of his marriage to a popular singer. An analyst with a pro-Kremlin think tank saw the counterfeit Peterburgsky Dnevnik as an attempt to damage United Russia. Although the governor has never publicly endorsed United Russia and is not a party member, she is widely associated with this pro-presidential party. During the regional campaign she could be seen on large billboards shaking hands with United Russia politicians under the slogan "Together We Will Do It All."

Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst with the National Strategy Institute think tank, said that although it’s not clear who was behind the smear campaign against her son, its goal was clear. The real target was not Sergei but his mother, he said, and whoever printed up the fake papers was probably trying to create the appearance of bad blood between United Russia and Just Russia, not least because it might well be assumed that Mironov, as a leader of the Just Russia, was behind the attack. “It was meant to incite hatred between Governor Valentina Matvienko, an open supporter of United Russia, and Sergei Mironov, the leader of Just Russia,” Belkovsky said. "This is why the negative campaign was devoted to the subject most sensitive to Matvienko: the adventures of her son Sergei.” There is no real rivalry between United Russia and Just Russia, Matskevich believes. She characterized the election campaign as “a triumph of hypocrisy.”  “What we got was a cynical trade-off between two pro-Kremlin parties, equally loyal to the president,” she said. “It was an imitation of choice, and a step toward a fictitious two-party system." The intended victim of one of the false stabbing reports, Just Russia candidate Andreyev, says that the dirty tricks used against him and others are illustrations of just how far electoral standards in Russia have fallen. “Until now, the quantity of black propaganda and stories planted to damage rival candidates has been limited in number, mainly due to fears that if used too much it could lead to the voters boycotting elections,” Andreyev said. “But nowadays nobody cares about turnout any more and mud-slinging has become rampant. Parties are no longer afraid of the voters getting fed up with all this and ignoring the elections."

A critic eliminated
Some Kremlin critics say that a recent move to abolish minimum voter turnout has left the democratic process more vulnerable than ever to abuse. In previous elections the vote was declared invalid if less than 25 percent of the electorate voted. This rule was seen as a deterrent to perpetrators of negative campaigning and dirty tricks, since these methods are seen as increasing voter apathy, and causing more voters to stay at home. But this rule was abolished by the State Duma in December. The move was criticized by the former head of the Central Election Commission, Alexander Veshnyakov, who said that Russia "was not prepared for this reform." Putin did not re-appoint the experienced expert when Veshnyakov's term came to an end following the March elections. Veshnyakov was the only official on the commission to voice criticism of Russia's election laws and the way they are implemented. Speaking to reporters on 29 March, Veshnyakov suggested his departure should not be seen as an attack on democracy in Russia. On the other hand he said that most election violations had been carried out for the benefit of United Russia. It was widely believed that President Putin wanted a more pliant person in the job. And this seemed to be confirmed when Veshnyakov’s successor was named on 29 March. Vladimir Churov, the new commission chief, was a close colleague of Putin’s in the early 1990s in St. Petersburg city hall. Churov, the only candidate nominated for the electoral commission post, lost no time in making a clear distinction between himself and Veshnyakov, and suggesting he will not cause trouble for the Kremlin. “Unlike my predecessor, I intend to comment less on election laws, but will comply with them and demand compliance from others,” Churov told reporters.

Complaints from all sides
A malaise is affecting the whole electoral process in Russia, Matskevich argues. She suggests apathy and disillusion are growing, and that the electoral process had already been undermined by the disqualification of some opposition parties for technical reasons. Yabloko was barred from contesting elections in several regions and was rejected from the St. Petersburg ballot for narrowly exceeding the limit of invalid signatures on a citizens' petition. In St. Petersburg, United Russia won 23 out of the 50 seats in the city assembly. Just Russia came second, with 13 seats, followed by the Communist Party (9 seats), and the far-right Liberal Democratic Party (5 seats). A very similar picture was seen in most of the other regions where elections were held. United Russia topped the poll in 13 out of the 14 regions. The only exception was Stavropol, where Just Russia won a majority. "Stabbing" victim Sergei Andreyev is convinced his party lost seats due not only to "black propaganda" but to outright fraud as well. Andreyev lost his seat in the city assembly to United Russia rival Anton Sikharulidze, an Olympic figure-skating champion. He alleges that ballot boxes were tampered with to ensure that the United Russia man won in the city's 16th district.

Ten polling stations in the district recorded voter turnout of 69 to 79 percent, although the average voter turnout across the city was only 33 percent. The St. Petersburg Election Commission rejected Andreyev's request for a recount, saying he lacked strong evidence of fraud. But a member of the 16th district election commission reported an unusual incident at one polling station. About 20 men entered and surrounded a ballot box, Eleonora Ratsiborinskaya said. “They completely blocked the view for us, and when I protested, they told me to shut up,” Ratsiborinskaya said at a news conference on 16 March. The other Just Russia candidate targeted by the posters, Alexei Kovalyov, also lost his seat. In the opinion of Yabloko analyst Boris Vishnevsky, the dirtiest trick in the St. Petersburg campaign was the massive use of administrative pressure. “For example, even in my youngest child’s kindergarten, the staff were asking the mothers to vote for United Russia,” he said. “The key argument was ‘if the party doesn't win, we won't get the money for new windows, and your children will get sick.’ One can hardly imagine a more cynical exercise.” The March elections unleashed a record number of complaints about irregularities from nearly all participating parties, spanning the political spectrum from far left to far right. Only United Russia made no complaints. A committee of the State Duma is due to review the complaints soon. The Yabloko party branded the elections “illegitimate” and promised to prove its accusations in the European Court of Human Rights. Another liberal, centrist party, the Union of Right Forces, alleged that election results were falsified and votes stolen from the party in the Moscow and Oryol regions. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said that his party cannot accept the elections results, which he branded “not credible.” And the attention-seeking leader of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has suggested that heads of regional election commissions who “allowed such blatant falsifications to happen” should pay for their shortcomings by committing suicide.
© Transitions Online



Are recent clashes in Kazakhstan about ethnicity or economics?
By Joanna Lillis, freelance writer who specializes in Central Asian affairs.

4/4/2007- A fatal clash between ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Chechens in a village in southeastern Kazakhstan has raised questions about whether the country’s much-touted ethnic harmony is under threat, and whether socioeconomic tensions are endangering stability in this booming state. The unrest began on 17 March with a fight over a game of billiards and ended with an attack on the house of a Chechen family that left five dead. Eyewitnesses say violence broke out in the village of Malovodnoye, about 80 kilometers east of Almaty, when Takhir Makhmakhanov, an ethnic Chechen from the neighboring village of Kazatkom, refused to concede defeat to his rival, Baurzhan Salimbayev, an ethnic Kazakh. After the two came to blows, Salimbayev left the billiards hall but was chased by Makhmakhanov, who ran into him with an off-road vehicle and broke his leg, then shot him in the other leg. The next day, Salimbayev went to the Makhmakhanov family home in the neighboring village with a convoy of some 50 carloads of supporters who besieged the house. Eyewitnesses say shots were fired from inside. In the ensuing fracas, nine people were injured. Three died that day and two more died after being hospitalized. Three of the dead were brothers of Takhir Makhmakhanov, who is now on the run. The Makhmakhanov family disputes this version of events, saying the attack was long planned and their house was fired on from the crowd. Some 50 people have been arrested and face charges ranging from premeditated murder to hooliganism and damage to property. The incident was followed by rallies in which participants demanded the family’s removal from the village. In response to the clashes, riot police were brought in from across the Almaty region to restore order. Approaches to both villages remain heavily guarded. In late March, police were patrolling approaches to Malovodnoye, which lies on a key artery linking Kazakhstan’s commercial capital with China. In Kazatkom, some 10 kilometers across the open steppe, police were guarding the entrance to the village, where the charred remains of the Makhmakhanovs’ home stand: the house was set on fire by the angry crowd. The family has been moved to an undisclosed, secure location. “It’s quiet on the streets – you can see for yourself,” a senior police officer, who declined to identify himself, told EurasiaNet as he stood guard at the emergency headquarters set up in Malovodnoye. Local authorities declined to comment.

News of five deaths over a game of billiards caused consternation in Kazakhstan, which prides itself on social stability and ethnic harmony. Home to more than 130 ethnic groups, Kazakhstan cannot afford ethnic discord. The Almaty region’s Enbek district, where the clash occurred, is home to many Turks, Chechens, Uighurs and Kurds, who, according to local member of parliament Serik Abdrakhmanov, make up more than half of the district’s population. The presence of tens of thousands of Chechens in Kazakhstan today is linked to a decision made by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to deport the ethnic group en masse during World War II. Some see Kazakhstan’s diversity as a source of tension. “Relations [between ethnic communities] are bad,” a woman out shopping in Malovodnoye told EurasiaNet on condition of anonymity. A fellow villager, who also declined to identify himself, disagreed. “[Ethnicity] could be just coincidence. [The fight] was just a settling of scores,” he said. Both, however, pointed to discrepancies in living standards among villagers as a factor behind the incident. An income gap is readily evident: it is a common sight for large houses – such as that belonging to the Makhmakhanov family in nearby Kazatkom – to stand near the small, dilapidated houses of their less well-off neighbors. The ethnicities of those involved in the clash have attracted media attention, yet the roots of the incident may lie elsewhere. As Kazakhstan’s oil-rich economy booms – growing at a roughly double-digit rate for the last six years – the rich-poor and rural-urban divides have widened, leading to social discontent.

Left out
While Kazakhstan’s elite and burgeoning middle class have been riding the oil boom, the poor have struggled to adapt to market conditions. Many have grown poorer, battling to reconcile rising prices with low wages. Sixteen percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day, according to the UN Development Program. In a 28 March statement, Abdrakhmanov, the local MP, called for a sober evaluation of the underlying causes of the clash, which lie “beyond the boundaries of these villages,” he said. With local authorities understaffed, under-resourced and lacking real power in Kazakhstan’s centralized system, people have little influence over “vital local issues: the sale of land plots, property, the use of water resources.” “Discontent is growing in the villages,” Abdrakhmanov added. “Rural relations are becoming more and more acute, especially near cities. Despite a reduction in the number of cattle, there is a lack of pasture and of land to make hay, because land is not always allocated fairly,” the statement continued. Land is a sensitive topic. As prices for land and housing rocket, the less well-off are coming under increasing economic stress. Land disputes on the outskirts of Almaty led to clashes between inhabitants and police last summer, as people accused of settling there illegally were evicted. Observers have pointed to a perception among ordinary people that the rich and powerful are protected by a system in which corruption is endemic. “Shadow business is flourishing in many areas under the ‘protection’ of law-enforcement structures,” Abdrakhmanov alleged. Talgat Ryskulbekov, the deputy head of the Spirit of December nationalist movement who visited the troubled villages to mediate, agrees that inhabitants have a perception that the rich can operate under impunity. “For the local authorities and the police, money talks,” Ryskulbekov told EurasiaNet.

Ryskulbekov ruled out an ethnic motive: “Some people want to say it was something ethnic. Nothing of the sort!” Chechen community leader Akhmed Muradov has condemned police inaction over rumors that had been circulating of trouble between the communities and accused forces that oppose stability of being behind events. Dos Kushim, leader of the Fate of the Nation nationalist movement, points to historical inequities as the root of conflict. “I think … the whole problem lies in the social and – no less important – moral suppression of the Kazakhs that has emerged historically,” he said in remarks carried on the website. “Under the Soviet Union, the Kazakhs’ language, culture and self-identification were given no expression, and after the fall of the USSR and with the gaining of independence a mass of problems remain unresolved.” This latest bout of unrest is the third in six months. In October, discontent at labor conditions in the western oilfields led to a mass brawl between Kazakh and Turkish workers at Tengiz, which saw more than 200 injured. In November, fighting erupted between up to 300 ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Uighurs in the village of Shelek, 20 kilometers from Malovodnoye. As such clashes become more frequent, the government needs to address the root causes to preserve the ethnic harmony it prides itself on.
© Eurasia Net



3/4/2007- "Happy is he who says he is a Turk," pipe hundreds of uniformed children in unison, lined up in the playground before a golden statue of Turkey's revered father Atatürk, for a daily pledge of hard work and sacrifice. The enthusiastic chanting ends and the children file into school, past an inscription saying their first duty is to defend Turkey and another of the national anthem -- texts which appear again on the classroom walls and preface all their textbooks. When they move up to high school they will take a weekly class from army officers about the military's exploits. Their school books will tell them European powers have their sights set on Anatolia and Turkey's geography makes it vulnerable to all kinds of internal and external threats . Textbooks are peppered with the sayings of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded modern Turkey in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. "Homeland ... we are all a sacrifice for you!" comes particularly recommended by one textbook's authors. These are just some of the features of Turkey's education system that reformist teachers and activists want changed. They say it encourages blind nationalism -- something Turkey is looking at more seriously since the ultranationalist-inspired murder in January of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

Political rows with the EU, which Ankara hopes to join, have also fanned nationalism -- especially in an election year -- but many experts say the seeds are first sown at school. "In newly founded nation states like ours education is an effective political lever to train and transform people ... but in recent decades this concept, which needs to be loosened, continues," Ziya Selcuk, university professor and former head of the government's Training and Education Board, told Reuters. This government has reformed the curriculum in a way teachers say makes students more active and reduces traditional rote learning, but the emphasis on nationalism remains. "There's still some emphasis on militarism, the importance of being martyred, the importance of going to war, dying in war and so on," said Batuhan Aydagül, deputy coordinator of the Education Reform Initiative. Teachers also say they feel pressure not to stray from the official line or curriculum in class. "If you present some arguments that are the opposite of the established arguments ... you might get a reaction, absolutely, from students, from other teachers, from directors -- negative reactions of course," said one teacher, who declined to be named. His colleague, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, laughed at the idea of criticizing Atatürk in a history lesson, saying to do so would spark investigation by prosecutors. "They think ... if you do such a thing you confuse their minds and confusion is not good for young people," the first teacher said.

But the textbooks could be confusing for some: while foreign historians say Ottoman forces massacred Armenians in 1915, high school history books here say it was the other way around. "It must not be forgotten that in eastern Anatolia the Armenians carried out genocide," one 2005-dated book reads. In its latest progress report the EU also criticized the portrayal of minorities such as Armenians, saying further work was needed to remove discriminatory language from textbooks. Nationalism is not the only problem with schools in Turkey, which, hemmed in by the budget restraints of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) accord, spends little on education. With a population of 74 million, Turkey already struggles to find jobs for its ever-growing army of young people. But in terms of spending per head as a proportion of the economy, Turkey spends least among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Primary school teacher Ayºe Panus said parents at her public school -- where there are 21 teachers for 680 pupils -- make contributions of about 50 lira ($35) a year to keep it going. Turkey is also around the bottom of the OECD league in terms of years spent at school, the proportion of the population with tertiary education and the math ability of 15-year-olds. Teachers are low paid and spend the first years of their career in a state-assigned posting. This government has increased spending, but experts say more is needed to narrow the gap in Turkey's two-tier system between high quality selective academies and regular schools. Enrolment has also improved, especially for girls -- helped by a high-profile government and UNICEF-backed campaign to persuade conservative rural parents to send their daughters to school. Citing such progress, the EU says Turkey is well prepared for accession when it comes to education, but many disagree. "On the one hand they want to be in Europe, and on the other ... they are encouraging the feeling that there are enemies all around," said Panus.
© Reuters



4/4/2007- The Asylum and Migration Forum is taking an unusual initiative to highlight the plight of the tens of thousands of people who face being expelled from Belgium because they do not have the right papers. For the next two days five illegals will be displayed in a glass house erected on the Muntplein in central Brussels. The Asylum and Migration Forum wants to attack what it calls the "lottery of regularisation". The umbrella of organisations defending the interests of would be immigrants told the daily De Standaard that legislation relating to regularisation and regularisation procedures is unclear. The five illegals include a Congolese, a Russian and a Colombian mother, a Serbian father and a single Moroccan man. Their stories resemble those of many illegals who face a precarious existence in our land. Under the motto "Who can stay?" passers-by can vote on who is allowed to stay and who gets sent home, but you can also cast your vote by sms text message or via the website. In actual fact they all want to stay. One of the illegals has undergone the regularisation procedure with success and has now been given permission to stay in Belgium. After you have voted, you will discover the plight of the people in the glass house.

The Forum for Asylum and Migration is an umbrella association of 130 organisations that work to change asylum and migration policy. Not only refugee organisations are involved, but the trade unions too have signed the basic platform of the forum.
© Flanders News



2/4/2007- Home Affairs Minister Patrick Dewael is appealing a decision by the court in Bruges to allow a Kazach family to stay. The family entered the country illegally in 2000. Dewael says the court ruling is "legal nonsense." He stressed that a decision had already been taken by the Council of State and that the court was not authorised. "We are going to appeal," Dewael said on Sunday. Last week the court in Bruges temporarily suspended the planned deportation of the family on grounds of the children's good school results. The court also suspended the deportation order ratified by the Council of State on 7 February 2002 until three months after the Ministry for Foreigners (DVZ) makes a decision on the family's new applications for asylum. The applications date from 8 September 2005 and 4 January 2007. Dewael says the court ruling is "legal nonsense." "In this case the court is not authorised. The Council of State, which is authorised, declared the deportation order to be valid. The court in Bruges should have declared itself unauthorised to rule in the case and that is why we are going to appeal," Dewael says. Dewael says the Kazach family should have left the country a long time ago. "There are hundreds and thousands of people who do comply with this kind of decision and there are others who wrongfully think that they can draw rights from an illegal stay," Dewael says. It is unacceptable that the parents are trying to "use their children" to get resident permits. "I cannot work with that kind of reasoning," he said. Dewael reiterated that he does not think there is any support in Parliament for a general amnesty for people without legal papers. Nor does he want to send out the message that "illegality pays" and says he does not want to return to the situation years ago when more than 40,000 asylum applications were submitted each year. Less than 1,000 are submitted each month now.

Children not deported after holiday
Children may not be deported between the Easter holiday and the end of the school year. The federal minister for home affairs Patrick Dewael (Open VLD) and the Flemish government came to an agreement to this effect, says Flemish MP Ludo Sannen (Socialist-Left wing SP.A-Spirit). He is insisting that Dewael keep this agreement. The MP was referring to an intervention by the Flemish education minister Frank Vandenbroucke (SP.A), who confirmed in the Flemish Parliament on 15 February 2006 that agreements between Dewael and the Flemish government had been put down in writing. The agreement includes that children may not be taken out of school between Easter and the summer holiday. Children who have made an effort so far must also be given the opportunity to take exams and receive a transcript of marks or a diploma. It was also agreed that children will not be picked up by authorities at the school gates or in the classroom.
© Expatica News



4/4/2007- The bishop of Namur, Monsignor Léonard, denies that he described homosexuals as "abnormal." "I do not think that I used the word 'abnormal'," the bishop says. In an interview in weekly magazine Télémoustique the bishop reportedly said that gay men and lesbians were "abnormal." The magazine says Léonard described homosexuality as "a form of human sexuality that had not developed properly." "I don't believe I used the word 'abnormal.' I always avoid that word," Léonard said on Wednesday. The bishop of Namur laments that he was not able to read the article before it was published. "I am speaking, as Freud did, about a sexuality that has stopped developing. That does not prevent me from respecting homosexuals," Léonard explained. In the interview the bishop also talked about other ethical issues. He voiced his disapproval of euthanasia, abortion and contraception. "Contraceptive methods are a form of Russian roulette, because they are only 90 to 95 percent reliable, as protection against AIDS for instance," the bishop reportedly said. Léonard stressed on Wednesday that he never said that contraceptives are "useless against AIDS." "I answered that contraceptives were the lesser evil in the case of risky sexual behaviour," he said. The bishop thinks that everyone who engages in risky sexual behaviour should protect themselves fully. "The only protection which is 100 percent safe is to avoid such behaviour. I am not criticising the good work that those who work to combat AIDS are doing," Léonard said.
© Expatica News



3/4/2007- Representatives of 27 NGOs and academic institutions today sharply criticised the words of Czech PM Mirek Topolanek (Civic Democrats, ODS) on equal opportunities for men and women in their protest note released to CTK. Topolanek said at the opening of the European Year of Equal Opportunities on Monday that women are not a disadvantaged group and that minorities should assimilate in society. The authors of the protest note call on the government to explain its stance on equal opportunities since, they say, Topolanek's statements are at variance with the values the Czech Republic pledged to pursue on entering the EU. Topolanek said that maternity and pregnancy are a privilege of women that distinctively differs them from men and logically puts them into a different position on the labour market. Women have the right to decide freely whether they want to have children or career, Topolanek said. He added that he, on the contrary, considers rigid protective measures a problem since they disadvantage women and employers then prefer employing men to women. Activists disagree with Topolanek. They point to statistical data proving that women receive lower pay for the same work, that lower salaries are mainly in the fields where women predominate, such as the school system and health care, and that women have generally lower chances to advance to higher managerial positions. The Gender Studies association has offered Topolanek free consultations about discrimination of women on the labour market as his statements show he is not sufficiently informed on the problem.

Czech EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vladimir Spidla also reacted to Topolanek's words on Monday. Spidla noted that opponents of the equal opportunities idea are "by coincidence" almost always men with above-average salaries, belonging to the majority population. Minister Dzamila Stehlikova (Greens) in charge of minorities has also a different view on the issue than Topolanek. On behalf of the Czech women's lobby, the protest note has been supported by the Association of Businesswomen and Female Managers, the Czech Helsinki Committee, the Czech Women's Association, the Movement for Active Motherhood, the Word 21 - Women's Romany Group Manushe and the Union of Catholic Women. The Gender Information Centre NORA, the Gender Centre at Brno's Masaryk University and the gitA gender information and press agency have also signed the note.
© Prague Daily Monitor



5/4/2007- Czech Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek who faces criticism over his recent statements about Romanies is supported by small far-right parties and people who openly promote fascism, the daily Pravo writes today. "Cunek is not afraid to express the opinion of the majority society, but he does it in a populist way," Jiri Petrivalsky, head of the National Corporativism movement, said about Cunek's words about Romanies. According to the Interior Ministry, the National Corporativism take parts in neo-Nazi events. In reaction to a question whether other people would receive state subsidies similar to those given to Romanies Cunek told the tabloid daily Blesk last week that "for this they would have to get sunburnt [alluding to Romanies' skin colour], make a mess with their family, put up fires on town squares and only then some politicians would say they are really miserable people." "He said in public how Romanies behave, how they live and what is their attitude to the social values of the country," National Corporativism deputy head Roman Fojtik told Pravo. Fojtik said he shared the KDU-CSL views on pornography, abortions, drugs and crime. "I support him. He entered politics uncompromisingly, he says things directly and he also takes action," far-right activist Jan Kopal told the paper. National Party head Petra Edelmannova praised Cunek, too. The National Party aroused attention last year by their plan to build up a controversial memorial to victims of the Nazi internment camp for Romanies in Lety, south Bohemia. Cunek became widely known last autumn as mayor of Vsetin, north Moravia through his controversial decision to move Romany rent defaulters from a house in Vsetin's centre to the town's outskirts and outside the area. Cunek rocketed to top politics during the past six months: he was elected senator in late October, he became KDU-CSL chairman in December and was appointed Local Development Minister and Deputy PM in the centre-right government of Mirek Topolanek (Civic Democrats, ODS) in January. But police accused Cunek of corruption on suspicion of having accepted a bribe as Vsetin mayor five years ago and the political opposition has been calling for his resignation. Members of the government coalition have recently started being critical of Cunek, too.
© Czech News Agency



2/4/2007- The Czech Republic today officially launched its part of the EU campaign within the European Year of Equal Opportunities in 2007 with the aim to point to discrimination and promote equal chances for all people, Czech EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vladimir Spidla told reporters today. The Czech campaign includes seven larger projects as well as seminars, conferences and festivals. Spidla said that the EU countries have not yet succeeded to fulfil the idea of equal opportunities, but he added it is difficult to compare particular member states. "According to surveys conducted by Eurobarometer, discrimination on grounds of age, ethnic origin and gender is regarded the most frequent in the Czech Republic," said Spidla, adding that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is, on the contrary, rare. The Czech Republic still lacks the anti-discrimination law for which the country faces EU sanctions since the legislation should have been adopted with the Czech EU entry in 2004. Minister without Portfolio Dzamila Stehlikova (Greens), in charge of minorities, said that the law could be passed this year. At present the Government Legislative Council is to debate the bill, then the cabinet will assess it and submit it to the Chamber of Deputies, she added. The anti-discrimination law is to guarantee equal treatment and equal access to education, work, health care, welfare and housing and prevent discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, physical disability, language, religion, political conviction, property, marital status as well as membership in political parties and trade unions. "Discrimination is unacceptable. No one can be a second- or third-category citizen. This is a question of elementary democratic values and not of some political correctness," Spidla stressed. The seven Czech projects prepared on the occasion of the European Year of Equal Opportunities include an information campaign to remove prejudices against Romanies, a study on discrimination against the disabled, courses for teachers as well as a series of documentaries and a spot on discrimination.
© Prague Daily Monitor



2/4/2007- Romanies in Prerov whose houses are to be demolished by the Immofin company that wants to construct poly-functional buildings on the site are demanding that the company pay each family one million crowns and provide them with substitute flats before they abandon their former homes, the daily Prerovsky denik writes today. However, the company does not intend to meet their demands. About 500 residents live in 80 rental community flats in the devastated locality near the local railway station, the paper says. "We have set our conditions under which we are prepared to leave our flats. The tenants who have rental decrees for an infinitive period demand from Immofin one million crowns in compensation and a flat. The tenants who have rental decrees for a definitive period and who pay their rent properly demand 480,000 crowns (17.000 Euro) in compensation, but they will not demand a substitute flat," spokesman for the Etnikum Roma group Jiri Girga told the paper. However, even the tenants who do not pay rents have set their conditions. They want to receive substitute flats and do not want to be placed in a hostel, Girga said. "Our company will not pay any compensation to the Romanies," Immofin representative Bohumil Chodil told the paper. "We are negotiating with the town and we have selected three localities where we will have to build tenant houses for the people who will be moved from Skodova street (where the dilapidated houses are to be demolished). We have no intention to move them across the town. They will again live together, but only elsewhere," Chodil said. The Romanies recently asked Minister without Portfolio Dzamila Stehlikova to monitor the sale of the houses designed for demolition. Their representatives told CTK previously that they were afraid that they would receive worse housing. "We have a feeling that they want to move us to a ghetto. I don't like it," Andrej Dzuga told CTK in the past. Immofin is to purchase nine houses with the land plots for 1.5 million crowns. It intends to demolish the houses, clean the land and build poly-functional houses with office space there. Some 200 new flats are also to be built on the site. The Prerov Town Hall is expected to make its definitive decision on the question of the locality on April 16.

Another eviction of Czech Romanies ahead
4/4/2007- The Novy Jicin town hall has sold houses in the three streets near the town centre inhabited by about 200 Romany tenants, the local edition of the daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today. The new owners want to completely refurbish the houses and move out most of the tenants, MfD writes. However, the tenants, many of whom are rent-defaulters, want to defend themselves, it adds. The town hall wants to help at least the families that regularly pay the rent. If they do not owe anything to the town hall, they will be offered accommodation in the "low-standard flats." The Romany families want to defend themselves, arguing that they did not know that the houses were to be sold, MfD writes. The town hall says that it announced the plan to sell the houses according to the law. It says that some of the Romanies sought their purchase, but they offered lower sums than the current owners. Last year, Romany rent-defaulters were evicted from the North Moravian town of Vsetin under its former mayor, current Christian Democrat leader Jiri Cunek. The case caused national scandal with many protests from Romany organisations and NGOs.
© Prague Daily Monitor



7/4/2007- More than 800 title deeds to state-built homes will be handed to refugee families immediately after the Easter holidays, Interior Minister Neoklis Silikiotis said. Silikiotis said title deeds would continue to be handed to families every three months to meet the government’s target under an existing deed transfer scheme. The scheme foresees the transfer of 13,500 title deeds for refugee homes built on state-owned land by the end of 2008. Silikiotis said his ministry has already contacted lawyers and administrators of Turkish Cypriot-owned property on which settlements have been built so that the state can purchase the land. He said new legislation will be put forward granting refugees use and possession certificates for homes built on Turkish Cypriot property.

Authorities would ensure the certificates stand up to legal scrutiny. More difficult and time-consuming plans are underway to divvy up state-owned land into plots that would be given to refugees who live in homes built on Turkish Cypriot land. Silikiotis said legal difficulties associated with expropriations have made the government opt for purchasing land from Turkish Cypriots willing to sell.
The minister said he had already informed cabinet colleagues about all refugee settlements built on Turkish Cypriot land in the first days after assuming his post. The government initiated title deed transfer plans last year to defuse mounting frustration among refugees unable to return home following the rejection of the UN reunification blueprint. That frustration was compounded by runaway illegal development of Greek Cypriot land in the occupied north. Under the deed transfer plan, plots carved out of 4,000 donums of state land would be divided up among 8,556 refugee families living in homes built on Turkish Cypriot property. Another 4,956 refugees living in Turkish Cypriot homes would be allotted plots demarcated from 2,000 donums of state land. Those plots would be dispersed throughout the government-controlled areas – 200 donums in Nicosia, 800 in Limassol 900 in Larnaca and 100 in Paphos.
The plan is estimated to drain more than £150m from state coffers.
© Cyprus Weekly



5/4/2007- The Movement for Equality, Support and Anti-Racism (KISA) has hailed as, “a step in the right direction,” the Council of Ministers’ decision to approve the establishment of a special committee to form a policy framework for the integration of legal immigrants into society. According to the decision, the committee will comprise representatives of departments and services of the Ministry of the Interior, which will preside over the committee, as well as representatives from the Ministries of Labour and Social Insurance, Education and Culture, and Health. KISA President Doros Polycarpou yesterday told the Mail that his organisation has demanded such a policy for immigrants for a long time. “The Labour Ministry had been resisting, saying we don’t need an integration policy as we only have temporary migrants, but of course, this is not the case and was never accepted by the European Commission,” he said. “On a European level, integration is the biggest issue when it comes to migration.” Following discussions with immigrant representatives, non-governmental organisations and specialists, the committee will process a policy framework and a package of practical measures, which will be incorporated in an action plan for the integration of immigrants. Polycarpou explained that integration is connected to the acceptance of these people into society and called on measures to fight racism and discrimination to be introduced. “An image of multiculturalism must be promoted.” He also called for a non-discriminatory legal framework and equal rights, as well as a change to immigrants’ legal status in the labour market. “Obviously, they must be given help in learning the language, as well as general information on socio-economic issues.” Additionally, he wants government departments and the police to be given training on how they can improve access to their services, plus government funding for support programmes for immigrant organisations.

The committee will have to set up appropriate mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the measures to be included in the action plan. “We will be keeping a close eye on developments to make sure that this committee actually does its job,” Polycarpou said. He questioned its purely governmental make-up though, and called for the inclusion of representatives of civil society, “in order to turn it into a broader advisory committee, with the participation of migrant communities and NGOs.” The Permanent Secretary of the Interior Ministry told the Cyprus Mail that there was a debate whether to include NGOs on the committee, adding that they would be consulted on all issues under discussion. Lazaros Savvides said that the Ombudswoman will be working closely with the committee to ensure fairness, impartiality and equal opportunity. Regarding the exact package of practical measures, Savvides said it was best to wait for the committee to draft its action plan, adding that each Ministry involved has certain ideas under consideration. Polycarpou stated that there are currently 30,000 migrants on the island who are classified as illegal and are not in possession of the relevant documentation. “These people cannot be ignored,” he said, urging the government to address their legal status. There are an estimated 110,000 legal immigrants on the island, according to KISA, though the majority of these are short-term migrants. Parliament in January approved a bill, which harmonises Cyprus law with the acquis communautaire, as regards the right of the citizens and the members of their families to move and reside freely within all member states of the European Union. Under the law foreigners can, under certain conditions, acquire the right of permanent residence in the host member state after a five-year period of uninterrupted legal residence. This week, a delegation of the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee has been on the island as part of the second monitoring cycle of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. They have been meeting government officials, minority organisations and other representatives of civil society active in human rights and other related fields, as well as the media.

Waiting to learn their fate
In Cyprus, 12,508 asylum seekers were recorded as pending examination of their claims last year, while 924 were recorded as refugees, as persons granted subsidiary protection and humanitarian status, the UNHCR said yesterday. The main countries of origin of asylum seekers on the island are: Syria, Pakistan, Georgia, India, Iran, Bangladesh, the Palestinian Occupied Territories and China. The main countries of origin of recognised refugees, persons with subsidiary protection and persons with humanitarian status are: Iran, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Serbia and Montenegro. Out of the 12,508 asylum seekers at the end of 2006, 265 are from Iraq. With the displacement to continue unabated at a rate of 50,000 per month, it can be expected that more Iraqis will seek international protection in Cyprus as well. Iraqis regained the top spot among asylum seekers in the world’s industrialised countries in 2006, but the overall trend in applications by all nationalities fell for the fifth straight year. Asylum applications by Iraqis in industrialised countries rose 77 per cent last year- from 12,500 in 2005 to 22,200 in 2006, according to provisional statistics compiled by the UN refugee agency based on information provided by governments. The last time Iraq was the main country of origin for asylum seekers in industrialised countries was in 2002, prior to the fall of the previous Iraqi regime. An estimated two million Iraqis are currently outside their strife-torn homeland, primarily in neighbouring countries such as Syria (one million) and Jordan (750,000), which are not included in the industrialised country statistics.
© Cyprus Mail



1/4/2007- A fascist group is believed to be behind the vandalising of KISA (Action for Equality, Support and Antiracism) headquarters in central Nicosia. According to the centre’s managers, the vandals sprayed swastikas on the doors and walls of the colonial building headquarters in the old Nicosia area. The walls of the building were also sprayed with the slogan ‘Zito to ethnos’ (Long live the nation). KISA officials yesterday pointed out that it was the first time that the group have been physically targeted by a neo-fascist or neo-Nazi organisation. “These people usually seem to target Turkish Cypriots.” Two weeks ago, a group of around 30 fascist youths gate-crashed a bicommunal event. Enraged by the event, the youngsters shouted nationalist slogans and waved flags at the demonstrators. Some were also caught on camera making Nazi salutes to the demonstrators. KISA press officer Doros Michael says it is the first time a right wing organisation has specifically targeted a centre in Cyprus harbouring and aiding immigrants and refugees. “We believe that this attack is most likely linked to recent events that were organised between March 17 and 25,” said Michael. “We had staged some events in a European week aimed at raising awareness against racism. “We know from what has happened in Greece and it is vital that as a society we do not allow organisations like these to get stronger. We know that they are not that strong because they targeted us at night.”

The situation is still worrying and Michael noted the necessity for public awareness to stamp out the problem before it escalates into catastrophic proportions. “We believe the best way to tackle organisations like these is by creating awareness in schools, universities, colleges and places of employment. We have seen a recent rise in the activities of organisations like these with examples being the attack of Turkish Cypriot pupils at a school and in other areas on the island. He continued, “We mustn’t let them get away with it. We need to pull together as a society and stop them before the problem escalates.” The KISA centre hosts around 30 to 40 people from morning to night at the centre including a further 20 people a day for its internet cafe. “It is a very active centre and many friends and members visit the centre on a daily basis for cultural events and the like,” added Michael. KISA officials said they did not notify the police over the incident, saying they believed it was more important for them to contact the media and create public awareness over the issue.
© Cyprus Mail



3/4/2007- Some British schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim students, a government-sponsored survey has revealed. Teachers are afraid to confront anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial among Muslim pupils, according to a Historical Association survey funded by the Department for Education and Skills, The Daily Mail reported. The study examined "emotive and controversial" history teaching in schools. Researchers gave an example of a high school in the north of England that dropped the Holocaust as a subject of study. The report went on to say that in another department at the school, the Holocaust is taught despite anti-Semitic sentiment among pupils. The same department, however, avoids teaching the Crusades for fear of "Muslim rage" since their "balanced treatment of the topic would have challenged what was taught in some local mosques." The report said some schools are using history "as a vehicle for promoting political correctness." A different school found itself "strongly challenged by some Christian parents for their treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the history of the State of Israel that did not accord with the teachings of their denomination," according to The Daily Mail report. Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: "It is our understanding that this is not representative of the majority of schools in the UK and that the case in question was just one example brought to light by the Historical Association. However, this does not detract from the seriousness of the situation and highlights that more sufficient monitoring of how Holocaust education is taught in schools is needed. "The HET teaches about the Holocaust not only for its own sake but for the lessons it holds for today and for the future. We work with thousands of teachers across the UK ensuring that they are equipped and able to deal with the issues that arise from this subject, sensibly and sensitively. "We find that learning about the Holocaust can inspire young people to make a difference today - whether it is in their own communities, such as campaigning against far-right groups that promote hate and division or further afield, raising awareness about current genocide such as Darfur which we're witnessing today. "Holocaust education is crucial for young people to see where extremism can lead. That is why we are delighted at the government's decision to support our project taking thousands students from across the country to Auschwitz-Birkenau to see the horror of the Holocaust. Many of them return not just with a deeper understanding of the past but with a real mission for the future - to ensure that such events are never allowed to happen again."
© Jerusalem Post



New anti-discrimination chief says next generation must reject prejudice

1/4/2007- Children should be taught from an early age that discrimination against ethnic minorities, homosexuals, the disabled and women is unacceptable, says the head of Britain's new equality watchdog. Nicola Brewer, chief executive of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), believes there is an urgent need for children to reject discrimination if damaging repercussions for society are to be avoided. 'If kids come up against discrimination at school it can have a multiple negative effect later on,' Brewer told The Observer in her first interview since taking up her post a month ago. 'What kids learn about how to get on with people who are different from them is hugely important.' But her comments have prompted concern from some parent organisations which question the need for equality issues to be taught in schools. Brewer said a key aim of the new watchdog would be to stamp out discrimination in the classroom. 'If we could nurture a generation in which all forms of prejudice were seen as unacceptable that would be fantastic,' she said. Whereas most people today believe that racism and sexism are unacceptable, she said, other forms of discrimination, such as that against the elderly, the disabled and gay and lesbian people, are often tolerated. 'Some forms of discrimination are like drink-driving; you know you definitely shouldn't do it,' Brewer added. 'But other forms are like speeding, where people tend to do it if they think they can get away with it; even if people know it's wrong, they don't regard it as illegal.'

However, Andy Hibberd, co-founder of the Parent Organisation, said he would be concerned about any plans to bring equality issues into the classroom. 'I've got two young children under the age of 10 and I honestly don't believe that they understand what racism, homophobia or homosexuality is,' Hibberd said. 'I don't think that they need to be taught about something they don't yet understand. Infants are not inherently racist.' Brewer's comments were welcomed by anti-discrimination charities. 'Our experiences here have demonstrated that issues of prejudice exist across all age groups, and do indeed intensify as young people get older,' said Raja Miah of the charity PeaceMaker, which campaigns against racism in the playground. 'We have found that children and young people are not simply racist; where they have one prejudice they tend also to demonstrate prejudices right across the other equality themes.'

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers, said: 'Many people pay lip-service to the term equal opportunities but don't recognise it when breaches occur. Schools are important arenas for these discussions to take place with young people.' Brewer, a career civil servant with the Foreign Office before joining the CEHR, said that profound changes were taking place in society. 'The old ways of doing things aren't working. More people are coming into contact with different kinds of people, different kinds of values, different ethnic groups, different age groups. All of these issues are coming together in local situations where one group's interests and values come crunching up against another'. She added: 'We need to play a part in having really honest conversation about these issues. Is it really the case someone can't hear another person speaking through a veil?'
© The Guardian



31/3/2007- Mustapha Charkaui came to England from Morocco three decades ago in search of a better life. As a progressive Muslim who married a British woman and had three cleaning jobs, his life story is a tale of hard work and successful assimilation into British society. For 30 years, Mr Charkaui, 57, who was of Moroccan-Algerian heritage, woke up to pray at 6am, before starting work at a local hospital an hour later, usually returning home by 10pm. But earlier this month, his life was cut short when two intruders wearing balaclavas broke into his home in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and beat him and his wife with a spade. Although the men had covered their faces, glimpses caught by Mr Charkaui's wife, Krystina, revealed they were white or light skinned. While Mrs Charkaui suffered injuries after being knocked unconscious, Mr Charkaui, who was attacked in his bedroom, never woke up from a coma. Twelve days after his attackers smashed through the couple's patio doors, the father-of-one was dead. His family is not only devastated by his death, on 12 March, but left bewildered by the seeming randomness of the crime. Tarik Charkaui, 31, who also lives in Aylesbury, said his father had been an ideal citizen. "He worked his whole life and we had both British and Moroccan traditions at home," he said. Rajae El-Mouhandiz, a musician who lives in the Netherlands, who was Mr Charkaui's niece, said he and his 12 siblings were orphaned at an early age in Morocco. He emigrated to England as a young man and fell in love with a British woman. "My uncle worked all his life and combined three or four cleaning jobs in hospitals, and he did them with a smile on his face. He was helpful to everyone and paid for one of his sisters to go to England for medical treatment when she was sick." Ms Mouhandiz, who described her uncle as a generous, taciturn man who was known for his simple tastes, added that he was a "modern Muslim" who never lost touch with his roots but was also proud to be British. "He was a Muslim not in the sense of wearing a beard but through his deeds. He was helpful to everyone. He was a completely integrated and assimilated member of society," she said. Thames Valley Police called it a "totally unprovoked attack" and appealed for information.

Less than two weeks after Mr Charkaui's murder, an Afghan refugee who also worked as a cleaner in Oxford, 25 miles away, was found dead in his home by Thames Valley Police. Enayit Khalili, 26, who had lived in Rose Hill since he was given permanent leave to stay in 2001, was a cleaner at two local police stations in Oxford as well as a waiter in the city's greyhound stadium. He was found in his home after being stabbed. Four people remain on police bail in connection with the investigation. While his murder bears similarities to that of Mr Chakaui's death, police do not believe they are connected. A 30-year-old man was arrested on Thursday in connection with Mr Charkaui's death.
© Independent Digital



6/4/2007- A French publisher said Thursday it had blurred the face of the Prophet Mohammed in painting reproduced in a history textbook after teachers warned it could spark protests by Muslim students. The publisher Belin confirmed a report in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which said it had digitally masked the face of the prophet in a reproduction of a 13th-century miniature painting. Charlie Hebdo, which was acquitted earlier this month on charges of insulting the Muslim religion for printing cartoons of the prophet, published the miniature in question in its latest issue. Belin defended its decision to blur the image in a letter to several teachers who wrote to it to contest the move. "After presenting our new schoolbook to your fellow history and geography teachers in a number of schools, several told us that such a presentation of the Prophet Mohammed would today be perceived as provocative..." the letter said. Belin denied it had been "under pressure to blur the image" but said the teachers had warned of "the difficulty of teaching calmly in very heterogeneous classes," in a clear reference to Muslim students. A spokeswoman for the SNES teaching union, Alive Cardoso, attacked the decision saying it was "injustifiable to manipulate a source" and was "contrary to the work of a historian". A Paris court last month threw out a suit brought by two Muslim groups against Charlie Hebdo's editor for reprinting cartoons that had appeared in a Danish newspaper, sparking angry protests by Muslims worldwide in 2005. The trial was seen as an important test for freedom of expression in France and French presidential candidates stepped in support of the weekly.
© Expatica News



Seen as off-limits by some presidential candidates

6/4/2007- The bus was packed with journalists covering Jean-Marie Le Pen's presidential campaign, but none knew where it was headed. When it rolled to a halt, the far-right leader who rails against immigration, made his way into a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, mobbed by photographers and veiled women in long robes, some snapping pictures too. The 78-year-old Le Pen spent less than 30 minutes Friday in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil and canceled a second mystery stop on his tour. But, thanks to the secrecy, he succeeded in setting foot in what has long been seen as forbidden territory — the troubled suburbs, where conservative front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy has not yet dared to go. "You are the branches of the tree of France. You are fully French," Le Pen told the perplexed crowd at an Argenteuil shopping center. "You are the victims of a system that no longer controls anything." Sixteen days before the April 22 first-round vote, Le Pen also was thumbing his nose at Sarkozy, the former interior minister who, in October 2005, enraged many youths during a visit to Argenteuil by calling troublemakers "scum." The remark helped fuel the riots that erupted days later and spread through French housing projects for three weeks. Sarkozy has not returned to Argenteuil since and has avoided campaigning in sensitive neighborhoods. "Thank you all for having allowed me to speak here, where even our former interior minister dares not go," Le Pen said, standing in the plaza in front of a small shopping center.

Sarkozy's camp bristled at the media coup. "It is we who decide the rhythm of our campaign, and it is not for our adversaries to impose anything on us," said Sarkozy's spokesman, Xavier Bertrand. Le Pen's whistlestop visit in Argenteuil came a day after Sarkozy abruptly canceled a trip to a neighborhood in Lyon, in southeast France, as dozens of protesters held up signs reading, "You are not welcome" and "Get out, Sarkozy." Le Pen conceded later that secrecy was of the essence in making a successful trip to Argenteuil. Timing was, too, since he arrived in midmorning when the shopping center was nearly empty. "I didn't want the Argenteuil town hall and leftist organizations to prepare a welcome like the one I had yesterday," Le Pen said, referring to insults tossed at him during a daylong forum on women for presidential candidates. Crowds heckled him, shouting "fascist!" and "racist!" He responded: "You bunch of imbeciles." Reaching out to the poor suburbs of France, home mainly to immigrants and French of immigrant origin, has been a challenge for all candidates, especially those on the right. With a dramatic rise in voter registration in housing projects, poor neighborhoods also have become a potential pool for ballots badly needed by the dozen candidates running in the election's first round. A second-round runoff between the top two candidates follows May 6.

Le Pen stunned France with his second-place performance in the 2002 first-round vote, which took him into the runoff against incumbent Jacques Chirac. Polls now consistently put him in fourth place, behind Sarkozy, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal and Francois Bayrou, who portrays himself as a middle-of-the-roader between the right and left. Still, Le Pen insists he will again be in the runoff. As Sarkozy takes up traditional Le Pen-style themes like national identity, Le Pen, with his appeal to citizens of immigrant origin, is softening his. Most candidates on the left have made their way to poor neighborhoods, sometimes under heavy guard. In each case, it has been a media show. Le Pen opposes immigration, especially from former French colonies in Muslim North Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa. He has been convicted of racism and anti-Semitism. However, he worked Friday to portray his stance — France for the French — as one that includes French citizens of all origins. "You are French citizens, the legitimate children of France who are part of our republic," he said. Not everyone was convinced. "He came here as a publicity stunt," said 18-year-old Hakim Banoun. "We don't like him." "This disgusts us. We're horrified by his visit," said Karim Lazaar, a 36-year-old of North African origin who was born in France. Sarkozy "insulted us by calling us scum," Lazaar said. "But (Le Pen) has said worse."
© Associated Press



2/4/2007- The frontrunner in the French presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said France is "exasperated by uncontrolled immigration". Mr Sarkozy, of the centre-right UMP party, put the "national identity dispute" centre-stage on Monday. A riot in Paris last week sparked by the arrest of a Congolese man fuelled debate about immigration and security. Mr Sarkozy recently resigned as interior minister to concentrate on his campaign for the 22 April election. "What exasperates France?" Mr Sarkozy asked at a news conference on Monday. "France is exasperated by the dispute about national identity, by uncontrolled immigration, by fraud, by waste". He said there was "an obvious link between 30 or 40 years of a policy of uncontrolled immigration and the social explosion in French cities".

On Sunday Mr Sarkozy, himself the son of a Hungarian immigrant, accused his main rival, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, of "hysteria" over her reaction to his comments on immigration and national identity. Ms Royal replied on the French channel TV5 by calling his comments "contemptuous, shocking and humiliating". "Does that mean that if Mr Sarkozy were elected tomorrow he would start insulting the other heads of state and government who disagree with him?" she said. Mr Sarkozy has called controversially for the creation of a ministry of "immigration and national identity". The fighting between youths and police at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris last week revived memories of the three weeks of rioting that rocked French cities in 2005, involving mainly youths of Arab and African origin. The youths - many of them living in deprived suburbs with high unemployment - accused the authorities of racial discrimination. Mr Sarkozy said on Sunday that the French people would not show solidarity with rioters, accusing the Socialists of leniency towards them. Many respondents in a recent opinion poll said relations between the police and citizens had deteriorated in the past five years.

Security concerns
Mr Sarkozy was interior minister for much of that period, and the IFOP poll showed 43% still trusting him to protect people and goods, compared to 15% supporting Ms Royal. A second-round runoff between Mr Sarkozy and Ms Royal still looks the most likely outcome. Opinion polls for the 22 April election give a slight advantage to Mr Sarkozy. Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, the surprise of the campaign in March, has slipped in the polls below 20%. Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has seen his support nudge towards 15%. Mr Le Pen, who is running for the fifth time for president, has tended to gain from rows over immigration and security.
© BBC News



31/3/2007- Rioting French youths who hurled insults about presidential front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy may, ironically, help him win. Polls yesterday suggested that the outburst of violence at a Paris train station this week boosted support for the conservative who cultivated a law-and-order image as interior minister - and for far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Tuesday's rampage propelled security and France's frustrated young minorities into the spotlight of this tight and unpredictable race, highlighting the social tensions the next president will inherit. Some said the violence could mark a turning point in the campaign, less than a month before the first round of voting April 22. Many of the young people brawling at the Gare du Nord train station were Arab or black, like many of the youth who led riots across neglected suburban housing projects nationwide in 2005, releasing pent-up anger over discrimination, unemployment and economic inequality. After this week's clashes, Sarkozy concentrated on voters' fears with crackdown-on-criminals rhetoric. "A delinquent is a delinquent, a rapist is a rapist, whatever his age or the color of his skin," he said Thursday. His chief rival, Socialist Segolene Royal, focused on frustration with Sarkozy's policing policies and France's failure to solve the troubles of its ghettoized youth. An association representing low-income neighborhoods nationwide issued an appeal Thursday urging voters to back Royal. On Friday, she proposed that the government pay the salaries of unskilled high school graduates who are hired by small businesses for a year, in a bid to boost employment.

Le Pen, who has long blamed immigrants for the country's woes, said this week's violence "proved our analyses and predictions right." Le Pen shocked France and Europe by making it to second place in the 2002 elections. The right's tactics may be working. One poll released Friday by CSA showed Le Pen gaining 2 points since the Tuesday incident, Sarkozy maintaining his lead - and Royal dropping. Another, by OpinionWay, showed that voters have more faith in Sarkozy than in the other candidates to reduce violence. Still, the figures revealed persistent voter insecurity: Only 39 percent predicted that violence would drop under a President Sarkozy, with the rest expecting a rise or no change. Sarkozy won praise for handling the 2005 riots with no major bloodshed, and his popularity ratings rose 11 percent during the three-week spree of car torchings, according to one measure. But many French blame him for fueling the violence by calling youth troublemakers "scum." Sporadic clashes with police have continued in the troubled suburbs, and Tuesday they reached the heart of Paris.

After a 32-year-old Congolese man without a Metro ticket punched two inspectors during a routine check, dozens gathered to defend him. The group swelled to 300, and youths wielding metal bars smashed windows and looted stores. Eight train agents and a police officer were injured. Police arrested 13 people, including five minors. Two young men were convicted Thursday and sentenced to four months in prison, while another was sentenced Friday to six months behind bars. The man who sparked the riots is to remain in custody until his trial May 2. Some of the youths shouted slogans against Sarkozy. But instead of rallying voters to their cause, the rioters frightened and alienated many, said security expert Sebastian Roche of the state-funded National Center for Scientific Research. Tuesday's clashes haven't sparked more widespread violence - at least so far. "You cannot exclude an explosion in the housing projects" in the coming weeks, especially if Sarkozy wins, said Kamel Chibli, who helped organize the youth appeal to vote for Royal.
© Independent Digital



30/3/2007- French far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen charged Friday that a riot in a Paris train station this week showed French cities had become unstable due to "mass immigration". About 100 youths rioted for more than seven hours on Tuesday at the Gare du Nord station after police arrested a fare-dodger, reviving memories of the three weeks of suburbun unrest that exploded across the nation in late 2005. "This shows that the situation is unstable" in French urban areas, Le Pen told a media conference with the foreign press corps. "The cause is obviously, on the one hand, mass immigration, and all of the problems that this entails: problems at school, unemployment, housing etc," he argued. The 74-year-old National Front leader is in fourth position in the polls behind right-wing frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy, Socialist Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou whose campaigns for the April 22 vote were hijacked by debate about security following the clashes. "They say that security is making a forced entry into the election campaign," said Le Pen, "but these issues are on the minds of the French." A CSA poll released Friday showed Le Pen had gained two points in voting intentions for the first round, with 15 percent support. Sarkozy still leads with 26 percent of votes, followed by Royal at 24.5 percent and Bayrou at 19.5 percent of vote. A run-off between the two leading candidates is scheduled for May 6. Le Pen, who stunned the nation when he qualified for the second round in the 2002 presidential election, is calling for a halt to immigration and for social benefits to be cut off for foreigners living in France.
© Expatica News



" I am going to vote blank - - Segolene and Sarkozy just talk a load of bla-bla for idiots, " says Thierry Roessler, 45, a butcher who complains he is growing poorer by the year, however hard he works.

31/3/2007- The 180 people of Uttenhoffen in eastern France voted massively for Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 presidential election, but now say they will think twice before voting for the far-right leader again. There are however all the ingredients for a new shock when the picturesque hamlet joins the rest of the country in voting on April 22. Last time, 44 percent of voters backed the 78-year-old National Front (FN) leader, three times the national average. Many say they wanted to protest over petty crime and economic hardship, and that they were shocked when he made it into the second round run-off against Jacques Chirac. Only one young man, Frederic, an 18-year-old factory apprentice, says openly he will vote for Le Pen this time. "I'm against vandalism and disorder. I want more discipline in France: the country's going off the rails," he says, arguing that Le Pen is "the one promising most for workers." Some, like Madeleine Schweitzer, 65, reject Le Pen entirely. "Here in Alsace, we already experienced the rule of the far-right during the war," she said, in reference to World War II, when the region was annexed by the Nazis. Others rule him out on practical grounds.
"Le Pen has some good ideas, but I don't trust him to put them in practice -- he has no experience of power," said one 40-year-old technician who would not give his name. "Nothing has changed in the last five years -- but we won't vote Le Pen. He hasn't aged well," agreed another entrepreneur from the village, who backed the FN chief in 2002. In Uttenhoffen, voting intentions are split between right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and the centrist Francois Bayrou. None say they plan to vote for the Socialist Segolene Royal, seen as soft on crime and immigration, and keen to tax the working man. Others -- fired up against the mainstream candidates -- plan another kind of ballot protest. "I am going to vote blank -- Segolene and Sarkozy just talk a load of bla-bla for idiots," says Thierry Roessler, 45, a butcher who complains he is growing poorer by the year, however hard he works. But while few in Uttenhoffen admit to voting for the far-right, all can point out someone who does -- in one case an entire family of 16 -- and there is widesread approval of Le Pen's promise to halt immigration, cut welfare for foreigners and crack down on petty crime. "People think immigrants get given priority for jobs and housing, that they get too much help," said the village technician. Here as elsewhere, the stigma attached to the FN vote makes it difficult to accurately predict Le Pen's election scores. No one foresaw his shock breakthrough in the 2002 national election. Le Pen currently polls fourth in the race, on around 12 percent of voting intentions, behind Sarkozy, Royal and Bayrou. He says he is confident of making it to round two again.

For observers the question is why, in a part of Alsace with unemployment and immigration both below the national average, does Le Pen clock up such high scores? In the neighbouring village of Mertzwiller, 40 percent voted Le Pen in 2002, while one in four backed him in the nearby town of Hagenau -- compared to a national average of 16.8 percent. One answer is that "Alsaciens" pride themselves on being hard-working and resent what they see as a culture of welfare-dependency. Many also find it hard to identify with the multi-ethnic face of modern France, and are tempted by Le Pen's promise to turn back the clock. Uttenhoffen's deputy mayor Rene Urban says local problems also play a role: he shares village resentment against two gypsy camps in Mertzwiller, set up decades ago but still a source of tension. "The young ones, they ziz-zag like crazy in their cars, and they have no respect for the law," Urban says, adding that the local supermarket had been forced to put security guards at the door. Low wages and meagre pensions -- especially for retired farmers -- have also created frustration. "Before, there used to be the poor, those in the middle and the rich. Now there are only the rich and the poor," rails Roessler, the butcher. He used to work across the border in Germany but says he and his German colleagues are being squeezed out by Polish and Russian butchers who will work for half their salary. Now he drives 400 kilometres (250 miles) to Switzerland and back each week to earn a living and pay off his debts. "In despair" at his situation, he says he is thinking of selling his home and emigrating to Canada. "We're fed up: people are sick of having no money, sick of promises that are never kept -- on the left or the right," agreed Joseph Roth, a 50-year-old hospital guard, although he insisted Le Pen was "no good".
© The Tocqueville Connection



By Edward Mortimer, formerly chief speechwriter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, is now senior vice president and chief program officer of the Salzburg Seminar 

6/4/2007- Nine percent of people living in the European Union, and 13 percent in the United States, were born abroad. These figures are historic highs, and are likely to go higher still. Is this a problem? Certainly not for employers, who benefit from a seemingly inexhaustible influx of cheap labor. And not, overall, for either the receiving or the "sending" countries. The latter receive a massive boost to their development through the remittances the migrants send home, while the former get not only a boost to their productivity but also a stimulus to their economy as a whole, since migrants are consumers as well as producers. Less tangible, but no less important, are the benefits a receiving country derives from a culturally diverse population that includes many resourceful people with links to other parts of the world. Equally important are the benefits that a sending country can derive from a diaspora in the rich, northern world, whose more successful members become investors in - and advocates for - their former homeland. Many such countries are now making it easier for emigrants and their descendants to maintain dual citizenship.

Yet many people in both Europe and North America see the current migration boom as a major crisis. Indeed they have done their best to stop it. Massive fences have been built, not only along the U.S.-Mexican border but also on the Spanish-Moroccan one. The Mediterranean and the European Union's eastern borders - not to mention its airports - are more heavily policed. The northern world should be grateful to the migrants who nonetheless keep on coming - often paying extortionate fees to smugglers and cramming themselves into small, unseaworthy boats, or stifling sealed compartments in the bottom of trucks. They form the great army of "illegals" who clean offices, wash dishes in restaurants and care for many children or elderly relatives.  These people have effectively no rights - since they cannot challenge ill-treatment by employers or landlords without risking deportation. Most of us in the richer countries manage to ignore this, but we should not. For a society to declare something illegal while taking advantage of it every day, and indeed depending on it, is not only unethical but incoherent. It brings the law into disrepute and effectively cedes control of immigration policy to smugglers and traffickers.

Immigrants are now appearing in large numbers in countries or states that are not used to them. Spain, which 10 years ago was still a country of net emigration, now has 4.5 million immigrants, the largest figure for any country outside the United States. It is in countries like Spain, where national identity has become part of the debate; many say it is incumbent upon the immigrants to adapt. But identity is not timeless or unchanging. Today's Americans and Europeans are different, in many ways, from those who fought in World War II. The absorption or inclusion of immigrants is one factor of change, and it cannot be a one-way-process. Americans may find that easier to do because the United States is a nation consciously formed by successive waves of immigrants, and has a ready-made set of gestures and symbols by which citizens of different origin bind themselves together. In Europe, by contrast, public expressions of patriotism tend to be frowned on, because they recall the nationalisms that engendered two world wars.

Also, a high proportion of immigrants in Europe come from Muslim countries. Violent acts by extremists - the July 7 bombings in London, the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands - and wholly nonreligious riots by ghettoized and marginalized young people in France, have led many Europeans to fear an Islamic takeover of their societies, and to ask whether it is possible for Muslims to be European. But that, says Tariq Ramadan, the well-known advocate of a moderate, "European" Islam, "is a too-late question." Already millions of Muslims have been born within the Union and grown up as Europeans. It cannot be in anyone's interest to make them feel unwanted.
© International Herald Tribune



6/4/2007- Polish politicians reacted angrily on Thursday to a series of photos of the late pope John Paul II published with satirical captions by German newspaper Die Welt. Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga said she was "very upset" by the pictures, which are accompanied by texts claiming that they represent a series of miracles performed by the late pontiff. "This does not demand a pronouncement from the Foreign Minister, but as a private person, especially at Easter, I must say I'm shocked," Fotyga said according to the PAP news agency. President Lech Kaczynski called the satire disturbing, while the Catholic-conservative League of Polish Families called it scandalous and called for a boycott of the newspaper, the wire added. The series of pictures, posted on the website Welt Online on Tuesday, presents genuine photographic images of John Paul II taken at various stages of his pontificate. One picture shows an aged Pope holding up a communion wafer the size of a vinyl LP disc while celebrating Mass. The caption runs, "When 'DJ Johnpaulgeorgeandringo' put on (soul musician) Marvin Gaye's 'Sexual Healing' at a mass rave in Ibiza in 1998, several handicapped people jumped up spontaneously from their wheelchairs." Another shows the Pope meeting Cuban president Fidel Castro. "Cuba and its 'Maximo Leader' have defied the US embargo and all the CIA's assassination attempts for almost 50 years. Pater Balsamico says, 'It's already pretty close to a miracle,'" the caption says. The satirical photos were published a day after the Vatican announced that it was sifting evidence that a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, was miraculously cured of Parkinson's disease after praying to the late pope. But the photos have not been well received by Poland's right-wing government. Poland is a fiercely Catholic country, and the late pontiff - formerly archbishop of Krakow - is widely regarded in the country as having been the greatest Pole of all time. It is not the first time that Poland's current government has clashed with the German press. Last July German magazine Die Tageszeitung ran a story describing the round-faced President Kaczynski as "Poland's new potato." Kaczynski demanded that the German government take action over the insult, and pulled out of a planned summit with the French and German presidents, claiming stomach problems.
© Expatica News



3/4/2007- The European parliament’s bureau has rejected an appeal by Polish MEP Maciej Giertych to reverse a decision sanctioning him for publishing an anti-Semitic and xenophobic pamphlet. The reprimand was imposed by the European Parliament’s president Hans-Gert Poettering last month in Strasbourg. Giertych’s 32-page booklet titled ’Civilisations at war in Europe’ caused an uproar because of its statements about the Jewish people, including claims that Jews are ‘’biologically different” from “gentiles”, and “prefer to voluntarily live separately from the communities which surround them”. Despite evidence to the contrary, Giertych has flatly denied the accusations of anti-Semitism. The booklet bears the official logo of the European Parliament on its cover page. Giertych wrote last week to the bureau, the regulatory body responsible for the parliament’s budget and administrative matters, to revoke the reprimand. But in a letter to the former leader of the extreme-right ‘League of Polish families’ party, Poettering said that Giertych’s complaint contained “no element whatsoever which could lead to the reprimand being annulled.” “The bureau stressed that dialogue between cultures is an essential part of developing understanding between people,” said Poettering. “Your publication has not only singularly failed to reflect this understanding but could also compromise parliaments’ role in achieving this goal.” The reprimand is the mildest available measure under parliamentary disciplinary rules which would have allowed Poettering to impose a 10-day suspension from parliament.



5/4/2007- The state Senate apologized today for North Carolina’s role in perpetuating slavery after an unusually emotional debate where lawmakers talked about their experiences with racism. Senators approved the apology unanimously. Some talked about their personal histories as descendants of slave owners or descendants of slaves. Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue called the discussion “the most powerful words I’ve ever heard in here.” Senators tried to answer their critics, who have said that an apology is hollow and meaningless because the people who are apologizing never owned slaves. “What we’re talking about is state sponsored discrimination,” said Sen. Tony Foriest, an Alamance Democrat. “When we see things that are not right, we have the obligation to examine ourselves, and we don’t always do that.” A second resolution apologizing for slavery has been introduced in the House. States around the country are examining their histories with slavery. Virginia and Maryland have adopted formal resolutions apologizing for slavery. Measures have been proposed for Texas, Georgia, Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, Missouri and Vermont, the Los Angeles Times reported last month.
© The Newsobserver


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