NEWS - Archive May 2008

ITALIAN ROMA COMMUNITY UNDER SIEGE

Headlines 30 May, 2008

Headlines 23 May, 2008

Headlines 16 May, 2008

Headlines 9 May, 2008

Headlines 2 May, 2008

ITALIAN ROMA COMMUNITY UNDER SIEGE

ADL URGES ITALY TO PUBLICLY CONDEMN XENOPHOBIA AGAINST ROMA(press release)

27/5/2008- The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today called on the Italian government to “publicly condemn xenophobia against Roma,” following recent violence targeting the Roma community in Italy. “We urge the Italian government to publicly condemn xenophobia against Roma and the anti-Roma rhetoric that fosters an atmosphere in which attacks like those in Milan and Naples can be possible,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “Italy’s vibrant democracy will be strengthened by a clear message from the government that it is committed to protecting its Roma residents and all victims of hate violence.” In a letter to His Excellent Roberto Maroni, Italian Minister of Interior, Mr. Foxman noted that all countries share the common challenge of crafting a fair and workable immigration system while ensuring humane treatment of immigrants, adding: “Failure to speak out in this way could send the terribly wrong message to the entire community that perpetrators of xenophobic violence can act with impunity in Italy.” ADL, which has developed a variety of anti-bias education programs that sensitize law enforcement, civil society, youth and others, said it would welcome the opportunity to share these programs with the Italian government. The League has spoken out in the United States against the demonization and stereotyping of immigrants as part of America’s public debate on reforming its own immigration system. Earlier this month in Naples, angry residents burned down two Roma camps after allegations that a Roma teenager attempted to kidnap an Italian baby. Italian authorities have also recently implemented a security crackdown on street crime and illegal immigration, and are considering tougher immigration policies.
© Anti-Defamation League

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ITALY'S CRACKDOWN ON ROMA CRITICISED ACROSS EUROPE

20/5/2008- Italy and Spain have quarrelled over Rome's plans to tighten up its immigration policies as part of a bid to tackle rising tensions among Italians towards migrants from Romania. Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister and former European commissioner for immigration, complained about comments on Italy's affairs made by leading politicians in Madrid, noting "Frankly, it's time to stop these [political] pitch invasions." "Declarations from ministers that interfere with the activities of a government elected by the Italian citizens are not acceptable, especially in areas like immigration which need close cooperation between Spain and Italy," Mr Frattini said in a radio interview. He reacted to earlier statements by Spain's deputy premier Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega who had said that the Spanish executive "rejects violence, racism and the xenophobia, and therefore cannot agree with what is happening in Italy." A pair of Mr Zapatero's ministers added fuel to the fire over the weekend, with the Spanish secretary of labour and immigration, Corbacho Celestine, saying Silvio Berlusconi "wants to criminalise those that are different." The statements came shortly after last week's attacks on Roma communities in Italy in which inhabitants of Naples set fire to camp-like homes of Roma families and forced them to flee. The violent move came after a report that a Roma girl allegedly attempted to kidnap a baby. The issue was one of the key political themes of the early parliamentary elections won by the centre-right leader Berlusconi, who tasked Roberto Maroni from the anti-immigrant Northern League to chair the interior affairs portfolio. "It is time to intervene with force to avoid episodes of the unjustifiable violence that we saw in Naples," Mr Maroni said in reaction to the incident, suggesting "firm measures" are needed to tackle the country's "security emergency."

European Commission spokesperson Pietro Petrucci said that Italy had not violated community laws "up to this moment", with regard to free movement of people, adding that the executive is "following the situation closely." The events in Italy have sparked critical comments from several European quarters, with MEPs due today (20 May) to debate the crackdowns on Roma in Italy and elsewhere across Europe. Hungarian liberal MEP and a Roma herself Viktoria Mohacsi visited gypsy camps outside Rome and Naples. According to Italy's AGI news agency, she said that she had been "frightened and filled with horror" by what she had seen. She referred to "[the] random night roundups, assault in prisons, gratuitous arrests and a general persecutory climate unworthy of a country which considers itself democratic." "The current situation in Italy is difficult," said the German chairperson of the European Parliament's Socialist group, Martin Schultz, adding, "But we don't want to conceal the fact that the issue of minority protection and integration of Roma in society is not a uniquely Italian problem in Europe."

Deja vu
The same discussion - also following violent attacks against Roma communities in Italy and after criticism in Romania against Rome's methods of tackling the problem - took place last autumn. Back in November, EU lawmakers adopted a resolution suggesting that a network of organisations deal with the social inclusion of Roma as well as promote the rights and duties of the Roma community. In addition, the then prime minister of Italy, centre-left leader Romano Prodi and his Romanian liberal counterpart Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, urged the European Commission to help EU countries cope with the integration of other member states' citizens - in particular of Roma origin. Brussels responded that most initiatives regarding Roma are already in place. On Tuesday, the EU executive and the Slovenian presidency are set to be asked the same question once again by MEPs.
© EUobserver

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ANTI-ROMA EVENTS IN ITALY ARE A WAKE UP CALL FOR THE EU (statement ERPC)

The European Roma Policy Coalition calls for coordinated EU action based on European anti-discrimination legislation, social inclusion measures and the respect of human rights.

20/5/2008- As representatives of human rights, anti-discrimination, anti-racism, social inclusion and Roma rights organizations promoting values of human rights and democracy, we firmly condemn the recent attacks against the Roma community in Italy that were carried out by non-state actors, as well as the statements of discriminatory nature made by high ranking Italian politicians. We therefore urgently call on the Italian authorities to take action against anti-Roma discourses in Italian media and to stop anti-Roma discourses by politicians; and take all the necessary measures to provide protection to the Roma community and pursue their active inclusion in society. Furthermore, we request a prompt reaction by the European Commission and the European Council to these events.

Italy, a European Union Member State, is blatantly disregarding the values and principles of the Union as enshrined in Article 6 of the treaty establishing the European Union, by conducting arbitrary detentions with a view to facilitate expulsions, making provisions for discriminatory anti-Romani and anti-Romanian laws and measures and by fuelling racism through anti-Romani speech.
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We are addressing this call to all EU institutions to condemn and take action against the anti-Romani hate speech and actions of discriminatory nature that contravene Italy’s non-discrimination obligations under European and international human rights law.

We call on the European Commission, as guardian of the treaties to do the utmost to ensure that the rights of EU citizens are being protected against state abuse perpetrated on grounds of ethnic or national origin. To come up with an EU Roma strategy aiming at making Roma inclusion an urgent priority, to provide leadership and coordination for Member States in their responsibility to ensure the respect for the rights of their Roma citizens.

Further, we call on the Members of the European Parliament to convene an emergency session and appoint a fact finding mission to review the planned discriminatory legal measures, instances of inciting racial hatred and fanatic anti-Romani behaviour in Italy. The European Parliament needs to condemn such acts and convey its position publicly.

Finally, we urge the Italian authorities as a matter of urgency to take all necessary steps to provide adequate protection to the Roma against such attacks and other acts of violence and ensure that an independent investigation is conducted into each attack carried out by non-state actors and state actors. Persons believed to be responsible for the violence should be brought to justice and adequate reparation, including compensation, made available to all victims and their families. We also call on the Italian authorities to refrain from engaging in racist speech against Roma persons, and to seek in every possible way to counteract violent anti-Roma sentiments in broader society.

We urge the EU member states to join up, coordinate measures towards social inclusion of Roma as the right way forward rather than further marginalizing and expelling Roma from one country to another. We urge the Commission to provide leadership and a coordination role for Members States in helping to ensure respect for the rights of their Roma citizens. We firmly believe that joint coordinated action by the EU has to set the standard, in order to avoid the bad and damaging examples set by Italy in these days. We call this approach the EU Roma Policy.

We commend the statements of the Spanish deputy premier, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega as an example for other European governments: "The government [of Spain] rejects violence, racism and xenophobia and does not support what is happening in Italy... [we] do not support the policy of expulsions without respect for the law and rights, or actions which exalt violence, racism and xenophobia."

Signatories

Amnesty International, EU Office, Natalia Alonso, Deputy Director
European Roma Rights Centre, Vera Egenberger, Director
European Roma Information Office, Ivan Ivanov, Director
European Network for Anti Racism, Pascale Charon, Director
Open Society Institute, Brussels, Andre Wilkens, Director
Spolu International Foundation, Ruus Dijksterhuis , Director
Minority Rights Group, Mark Lattimer, Director
European Roma Grassroots Organisation, Valeriu Nicolae, Director
Roma Education Fund, Rumyan Russinov , Deputy Director
Fundacion Secretariado Gitano, Isidor Rodriguez, Director
© email source

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ERIO STATEMENT CONCERNING THE AGGRESSIVE RACIST ATTACKS AGAINST ROMA PEOPLE IN ITALY

20/5/2008- The European Roma Information Office ERIO express its deep concern on the aggressive racial attacks against Roma people in Italy by members of the Italian society and on the passive position held by the Italian authorities. ERIO asks the Italian government to take urgent measures to stop Anti-Roma attacks and ensure security and protection to Roma communities. The latest violent cases against Roma carried out by non-state individuals as well as by police forces are clear signs of an organized anti-Roma action in Italy. On May 11 the Roma camp in via Novara, in Milan was put on fire with several Molotov cocktails bottles thrown by extremist groups. On May 13 anti-Roma riots exploded in the Ponticelli area in Naples, and several hundred Roma had to flee from their camps because of the violent attacks from angry local Italian citizens. These attacks were provoked by the alleged attempt of a Romani girl to kidnap a six-months old baby from its Italian parents. On May 12 and 13 a large scale arbitrary arrests of more than 400 Roma, that were registered and fingerprinted and obviously prepared for deportation, took place in Florence.

All these events and other incidents in different regions of Italy which took place last week are results of a long time tension between local Italians and Roma people, fostered by anti-Roma statements from high level politicians and State representatives. Italian decision makers and right wing extremist try to justify their anti-Roma attitude by an individual case transformed in collective responsibility. Therefore, the European Roma Information Office calls the Italian government to take urgent measures to stop Anti-Roma attacks and ensure security and protection to Roma communities. Ivan Ivanov, ERIO executive director, invites "the Italian police authorities to investigate and take legal action against those responsible for the violent attacks against Roma". The Roma community in Italy is mainly made up by European citizens. Therefore they should enjoy the same rights and protection against discrimination like other European citizens residing in Italy. So, while designing its immigration regulations, Italian government has to make sure that this legislation is in conformity with: the European Directive 2004/38 against discrimination, the Race Equality Directive 2000/43 EC , the EU Migration Package which will be adopted soon and other European human rights documents subscribed by Italy. Mr. Ivanov added that "the immigration package which is under elaboration in Italy should not lead to discrimination because the measures taken so far have disproportionate impact on Roma".

Italian government has to urgently adopt policies for the smooth integration of Roma communities and ensure for them equal access to education, employment, housing, health care and public services. In order to do this, Italy shall use the European funds provided for Roma integration. European Roma Information Office also asks the European Commission to ensure that the principle of equal treatment is strictly followed by each Member state, to adopt a horizontal approach concerning Roma' situation in Europe and to propose as soon as possible a specific European Roma policy. "Europe has to tackle anti-Gypsysm and discrimination in different policy fields - said Mr. Ivanov - including measures for Roma's integration, to establish effective monitoring in order to ensure full implementation of the anti-discrimination legislation at national level, and to guarantee the respect of human rights and equal treatment of Roma in accordance with the European legislation and basic principles". On the other hand, ERIO welcomes the today initiative of the European Parliament to debate on the situation of Roma in Italy and other EU countries. ERIO asks MEPs to find concrete proposals for the solution of the crises. ERIO also suggests to set up meetings with representatives of the Italian Parliament to discuss possible legislative measures concerning the living conditions of Roma.
© The European Roma Information Office

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ANTI-ROMA VIOLENCE IN ITALY: ARE WE BACK TO 1930? (Press release, ERTF)

19/5/2008- Today, in a letter addressed to the European Union and the European Parliament the European Roma and Travellers Forum expressed concern over the violent attack on the informal settlements in Italy in which hundreds of Roma have been forced to run off for fear of their life. “The recent events in Italy remind us of the Nazi and Fascist periods in the early 1930s, when Roma/Sinty and Jews were singled out for discrimination and persecution leading finally to the genocide of millions of innocent people” said Mr. Kawczynski, President of the European Roma and Travellers Forum. The European Roma and Travellers Forum calls upon the European Union and the European Parliament to take immediate and concrete actions for the protection and equal treatment of all EU citizen. Italian politicians and the media are blaming immigrants of Roma origin for the increase of criminality act in the country. Mr. Kawczynski maintains that “Criminal elements can be found in every sector of the population irrespective of ethnicity and social class. This does not mean that the whole sector – in this case the Roma - are criminals. Singling out the Roma community as main reason for the increase of criminality in Italy can only contribute toward increasing the tension and higher number of violent attacks”.

*The European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), which has a partnership agreement with the Council of Europe and a special status with this institution, is Europe’s largest and most inclusive Roma organisation. It brings together Europe’s main international Roma-NGOs and more than 1,500 national Roma organisations from most of the Council of Europe member states.
© The European Roma and Travellers Forum

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ENAR CALLS FOR URGENT ACTION TO PUT AN END TO ANTI-ROMA VIOLENCE IN ITALY(Press release)

19/5/2008- The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) strongly condemns the violent attacks on Roma settlements in Italy last week and urges all relevant EU institutions to take action to denounce these events. Last week, a number of Roma settlements around Naples and Milan were set on fire by residents following reports of a Roma girl allegedly having attempted to steal a baby. ENAR is seriously concerned by the political and media discourse used in Italy to build a “Roma emergency”. The Italian authorities are conducting arbitrary detentions and expulsions, making provisions for discriminatory anti-Romani and anti-Romanian laws and measures and openly inciting its population to racially motivated violence. The Italian Interior Minister Mr. Roberto Maroni on 11 May stated that “all Roma camps will have to be dismantled, and the inhabitants will be either expelled or incarcerated”. It seems also that the Italian government is about to adopt a new security decree to control or expel immigrants, especially the Roma. These measures and the current xenophobic discourse are propagating prejudice and encouraging the double identification Roma/criminals. A recent opinion poll showed that 70% of Italians would like to “expel” the Roma from Italy, regardless of the fact that a little more than 50% of them are Italian nationals and 20% are EU citizens. Presenting the Roma as a threat to public security stigmatises an entire ethnic minority and goes against the very principles and values upon which the European Union is founded. ENAR therefore urgently calls on the Italian authorities to stop making anti-Roma discourses and to take all the necessary measures to ensure the protection of the Roma community. ENAR also urges all EU institutions to condemn and take action against the anti-Roma hate speech and discriminatory actions taken by Italian authorities.

ENAR President Mohammed Aziz said: “We are extremely worried by the anti-Roma and anti-immigrant rhetoric currently being used in Italy, resulting in the introduction of discriminatory measures and in fuelling racist sentiment. Italian and EU politicians must stand up to the EU commitment to fundamental rights and focus on promoting the social inclusion of Roma and implementing anti-discrimination policies.”
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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68% OF ITALIANS WANT ROMA EXPELLED - POLL

19/5/2008- Sixty-eight per cent of Italians, fuelled by often inflammatory attacks by the new rightwing government, want to see all of the country's 150,000 Gypsies, many of them Italian citizens, expelled, according to an opinion poll. The survey, published as mobs in Naples burned down Gypsy camps this week, revealed that the majority also wanted all Gypsy camps in Italy to be demolished. About 70,000 Gypsies in Italy hold Italian passports, including about 30,000 descended from 15th-century Gypsy settlers in the country. The remainder have arrived since, many fleeing the Balkans during the 1990s. Another 10,000 Gypsies came from Romania after it joined the European Union in January 2007, according to an Italian human rights organisation, EveryOne, part of the approximately half million Romanians believed to be in Italy. Romanians were among the 268 immigrants rounded up in a nationwide police crackdown on prostitution and drug dealing this week, after new prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's likening of foreign criminals to "an army of evil". But Romanian officials have sought to distinguish between the Romanians and Romanian Gypsies entering Italy. Flavio Tosi, the mayor of Verona and a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, said his city had the biggest Romanian community in Italy, 7,000 strong, "working as builders, artisans and domestics. And they themselves say the Roma are a problem," he said. In a second poll, 81% of Italian respondents said they found all Gypsies, Romanian or not, "barely likeable or not likeable at all", a greater number than the 61% who said they felt the same way about non-Gypsy Romanians.

Young Neapolitans who threw Molotov cocktails into a Naples Gypsy camp this week, after a girl was accused of trying to abduct a baby, bragged that they were undertaking "ethnic cleansing". A UN spokeswoman compared the scenes to the forced migration of Gypsies from the Balkans. "We never thought we'd see such images in Italy," said Laura Boldrini. "This hostility is a result of the generally inflammatory language of the current government, as well as the previous one," said EveryOne director Matteo Pegoraro. "Italian football stars at Milan teams assumed to have Gypsy heritage, such as Andrea Pirlo, are now also the subject of threatening chants." Commenting on the attacks in Naples, Umberto Bossi, the head of the Northern League party said: "People are going to do what the political class cannot." The defence minister, Ignazio La Russa, said yesterday he would consider deploying soldiers to Italian streets to help fight crime, while a group of Bosnian Gypsies in Rome said they were mounting night guard patrols of their camp to defend against vigilante attacks. Europe's leading human rights watchdog urged the government to prevent attacks on Roma communities. Christian Strohal, head of Vienna-based OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said: "The current stigmatisation of Roma and immigrant groups in Italy is dangerous as it ... increases the potential for violence."
© Romano vodi

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ITALY: NEW ROMA COMMISSIONER PLANNED FOR CAPITAL

14/5/2008- Rome's new conservative mayor Gianni Alemanno said on Wednesday he plans to appoint a special commissioner for the Roma Gypsies in the capital. "We floated the proposal to create a special Roma commissioner during the election campaign. In a few days this will become reality in the capital," Alemanno told Italy's Radio 24. "We are not talking about Sinti or fairground folk, but a growing invasion - it's an emergency," Alemanno said. "There are 16 million nomadic people living in Europe and if these mass movements are not controlled, there is the risk that all those people move from the poorest countries to those considered to be richer," Alemanno claimed. Alemanno's announcement followed Italy's new interior minister Roberto Maroni and Milan's mayor Letizia Moratti's agreement on Tuesday to create a special commissioner for the Roma Gypsies in Milan. A government official, the prefect of Milan, will be appointed the special Roma Gypsy commissioner in the city and is expected to be given the task of demolishing over 60 illegal Roma camps on the outskirts of the city that have angered residents. The moves come amid a series of high profile criminal cases involving Italy's Roma community causing public sentiment against the Roma to run high across the country. On Wednesday, furious residents in the low-income Ponticelli district of the southern Italian city of Naples, burned to the ground a Roma camp, whose 100 inhabitants had earlier been evacuated by police. Last Saturday, a 17-year-old Roma girl allegedly attempted to kidnap a baby girl in Ponticelli. On Tuesday, incensed locals started a protest against the camp and hurled several molotov cocktails onto the shacks setting them alight. The Roma girl is being held in custody on suspicion of abduction and housebreaking.

The Italian government on Tuesday unveiled a set of five points to safeguard security, including the expulsion of immigrants who are not gainfully employed. Maroni said the government intends to dismantle Roma camps which are present in and around many of Italy's major cities. Many Roma have Romanian nationality and Maroni was scheduled on Thursday to meet Romania's interior minister Cristian David to discuss the issue of Romanian immigrants. Romania has complained over the Italian government's plans to tighten border controls and prime minister Calin Tariceanu said earlier this week that plans to make illegal migration to Italy a crime punishable by up to four years' jail, could stoke xenophobic attitudes towards Romania. In late November last year, the previous centre-left government expelled over 200 Romanian nationals with criminal records, in the wake of the murder of a housewife in Rome, allegedly by a Roma man of Romanian origin.
© Aki

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OSCE HUMAN RIGHTS BODY CONCERNED ABOUT ANTI-ROMA VIOLENCE IN ITALY

16/5/2008- The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) today expressed concern over the violent attacks on informal Roma settlements in Italy. The ODIHR called on the Italian authorities to ensure the protection of the Roma population and urged politicians and the media to refrain from anti-Roma rhetoric. "We are troubled by the recent incidents of violence against Roma in Italy," said Ambassador Christian Strohal, the ODIHR's Director. Andrzej Mirga, the head of the ODIHR's Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues, added: "There has been a worrying rise of anti-Roma and anti-immigrant rhetoric in recent months across Italy. There must be no place for racial stereotyping and inciting hatred and violence in a tolerant democratic society." Earlier this week, several Roma settlements near Naples were attacked and set on fire by residents from neighbouring communities following reports of a Roma teenager allegedly having attempted to kidnap a child. Hundreds of Roma are reported to have fled their settlements for fear of further attacks or have been relocated by the authorities for security reasons. Immigrants from Romania, in particular those of Roma origin, are widely blamed by politicians and in the media for an increase in crime in Italy. "Frustrations about high crime levels may be understandable. But the current stigmatization of Roma and immigrant groups in Italy is dangerous as it contributes to fuelling tensions and increases the potential for violence," Strohal said.
© OSCE

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MIGRANT HATE FEARS OVER ITALY GIPSY CAMP FIRE

The burning of a gipsy camp in Naples has triggered fears that the new Italian government is inspiring a hate campaign against immigrants.

14/5/2008- Around 100 Roma gipsies were rescued on Tuesday night by firefighters and police after an attack on their camp in Ponticelli, on the outskirts of the city. More crowds gathered yesterday to launch Molotov cocktails at the camp and burn its remaining buildings. The mob at Ponticelli was enraged by news that an unnamed 16-year-old Romanian girl from a different part of town was arrested for trying to snatch an unattended six-month old baby. The episode sent tensions about immigrants spiralling in the city. Vincenzo Esposito, a spokesman for a charity which helps immigrants, said a "witch-hunt" was underway. "No Roma gipsies have ever been prosecuted for stealing children, but they are looking for culprits," he said. In Genoa, around 100 residents of the Teglia district gathered yesterday to protest outside a nearby immigrant camp, which they said was full of filth and criminals. The anti-immigrant sentiment has been fuelled by the neo-fascists of the new government, who have promised to expel immigrants and dismantle every makeshift camp in the country. Walter Veltroni, the leader of the opposition, said: "We must be careful of this immigrant hunt, of vigilantes." However, Roberto Maroni, a member of the far-right Northern League who has now become Home minister, said he had a five-point, zero tolerance plan to deal with immigrants. "The first point will be the fight against illegal immigration. We may make it a criminal offence," said Mr Maroni. He added that he would then negotiate with Romania to take many of its citizens back and then hand power to cities to deal with their immigrant populations. Extraordinary commissions are being set up in Italy's five biggest cities to arrest and expel illegal immigrants.
© The Telegraph

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ITALY TELLS SPAIN TO STOP MEDDLING OVER IMMIGRATION

19/5/2008- Italy's foreign minister said the Spanish government's criticism of its immigration policies was unacceptable and told Madrid on Monday to stay out of Italian affairs. "Declarations from ministers that interfere with the activities of a government elected by the Italian citizens are not acceptable, especially in areas like immigration which need close cooperation between Spain and Italy," Franco Frattini said in a radio interview. "Frankly, it's time to stop these (political) pitch invasions," he said. Frattini was referring to comments on Friday by Spain's deputy prime minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, who criticised the immigration stance of the new Italian government run by conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "The government rejects violence, racism and xenophobia and therefore cannot agree with what is happening in Italy," she said. Berlusconi's government is discussing legislation that could make illegal immigration a custodial offence. According to media reports it might also hasten deportations and turn holding centres into detention camps. The policies come after an election where crime committed by foreigners, especially Roma or gypsies, became a major political issue. Police arrested some 400 suspected illegal immigrants associated with crime in a crackdown last week. Some Italians have taken the law into their own hands. An illegal Roma camp
in Naples had to be evacuated after local people set fire to shacks after news of a Roma girl apparently trying to kidnap an Italian baby. A European human rights watchdog has criticised events in Italy. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said it was "troubled by the recent incidents of violence against Roma in Italy".

© Reuters

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ITALIAN TOLERANCE GOES UP IN SMOKE AS GYPSY CAMP IS BURNT TO GROUND

16/5/2008- In cruel and unusual concert, Italy's new government, its police and paramilitary carabinieri, and even its gangsters, have turned their joint might against the nation's enemy number one: the Gypsies. Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI and a small number of left-wingers raised lonely voices in central Naples against the national hardening of hearts towards Europe's perennial outsiders. To little avail: the Pope's appeal for a spirit of welcome and acceptance was met with a hail of angry rejection in blogged comments on news websites. But what will remain scorched in the nation's memory – as a mark of shame, or a beacon pointing the way forward, depending on how you see it – are the flaming structures of the Gypsy camp burnt in the Ponticelli district of Naples on Wednesday. Residents of the former communist stronghold on the northern outskirts of Naples have been raising hell about the camp since Saturday, when a woman claimed a Gypsy girl had entered her flat and tried to steal her baby. The first Molotov cocktails descended on the improvised huts and cabins on Tuesday evening, after which the 800-odd inhabitants began moving out of the area in groups. On Wednesday the fire-raisers, said to belong to the Camorra, the Neapolitan equivalent of the Mafia, burnt the camp in earnest, watched by applauding local people and unchallenged by the police. When firefighters showed up to douse the blaze, local people taunted and whistled at them. The last Roma moved out under police protection. Only then did local politicians shed a few crocodile tears: Antonio Bassolino, governor of the Campania region, declaring: "We must stop with the greatest determination these disturbing episodes against the Roma." Rosa Russo Iervolino, the Mayor of Naples, chimed in: "It is unthinkable that anyone could imagine that I could justify reprisals against the Roma." But the first act of ethnic cleansing in the new Italy passed off with little fuss. Flora Martinelli, the woman who reported the alleged kidnap attempt on her baby, said: "I'm very sorry for what's happening, I didn't want it to come to this. But the Gypsies had to go."

Roma have been living in Italy for seven centuries, and 70,000 of the 160,000-strong population have Italian citizenship. They amount to less than 0.3 per cent of the population, one of the lowest proportions in Europe. But their poverty and resistance to integration have made them far more conspicuous than other communities. And the influx of thousands more from Romania in the past year has confirmed the view of many Italians that the Gypsies and their eyesore encampments are the source of all their problems. The forces of law and order took up the struggle yesterday. In Rome, some 50 Roma without identification and living in the city's biggest Gypsy camp were arrested as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration which resulted in more than 400 arrests nationwide. Meanwhile, the government announced that its new diktat on security is almost ready and will be approved at its first cabinet meeting in Naples, as announced by Mr Berlusconi, to symbolise his determination to crack the city's chronic refuse problem. The "decree law", which will have immediate effect, is expected to make illegal immigration a criminal offence, punishable by up to four years in prison. The discussion of the draft of the law and the announcement that there will be no more amnesties have thrown the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who work informally as nurses and old people's companions into a panic. Now the government is trying to fine tune the law so it only applies to criminally inclined clandestini – and Gypsies.
© Independent Digital

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ITALY POLICE TO PROTECT GYPSIES

14/5/2008- Italian police are being forced to protect Roma Gypsies who have come under attack from local residents in Naples two nights running. Makeshift homes were set alight as demonstrators attacked two camps. The disturbance was sparked by an alleged kidnap attempt by a Roma teenager. There is deep suspicion throughout the country of the Roma community. The government is preparing controversial anti-immigration measures targeting Romanians in particular. The incidents in Naples began when a 16-year-old Roma girl was caught inside an apartment last weekend, allegedly trying to steal a six-month-old baby girl. Her arrest has sparked two days of bitter protests. On Wednesday night, vigilante groups in the suburb of Ponticelli took to the streets chasing the Roma out of two squatter camps. Molotov cocktails were thrown into makeshift huts as the Roma fled for the local police station. When they had gone, the two camps were torched.

YouTube clip of protest against Roma camp

YouTube clip of Ponticelli Roma camp burning 

Bad image
The Roma community is perceived they are responsible for a disproportionate level of crime. In national elections last month, the centre-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi, which included the anti-immigration Northern League and the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale, swept to victory largely on its pledge to tackle illegal immigration. In Rome, Gianni Alemanno, also of the Alleanza Nazionale, was elected mayor on a pledge to expel 20,000 people. Silvio Berlusconi has described the Roma and those committing the crime as "an army of evil". But critics say the government is stoking the suspicion and the reprisals, and last night the Vatican weighed in to appeal for calm. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian bishops' conference, said fear was understandable, but it could never be right for people to take the law into their own hands. Romanian Interior Minister Cristian David is due to arrive in Rome on Thursday to try and defuse the growing tension. He has proposed sending Romanian policemen and prosecutors to help the Italians combat crime. So far in these attacks, there have been no reports of any deaths or injuries. But the people in the suburb of Ponticelli are demanding the Roma leave for good. The 16-year-old girl is now on remand on suspicion of kidnap.
© BBC News

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Headlines 30 May, 2008

NEO NAZI GROUPS GATHER FOR TROODOS SUMMER CAMP (Cyprus)

30/5/2008- Cyprus has been named as a summer camping destination by two European far right political organisations. The National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), led by Udo Voigt, is considered to be a de facto neo-Nazi organization. The NPD has had a turbulent history marked by a federal government bid to ban it in 2003, while a year later it won 9.2 per cent of the overall vote in the Saxony state election. Forza Nuova (FN) or New Force, an Italian neo-fascist party led by Roberto Fiore, is singled out by experts as “the largest and most active extreme right group” in Italy. Local youth organisations EDON, affiliated to governing AKEL, and NEDISY of main right wing opposition DISY were not impressed. “They have made official announcements as to common activities throughout Europe and Cyprus is included,” EDON’s General-secretary Christos Christofides told the Mail. “They decorated their announcement with nationalist and racist garnishing about how Cyprus has been overtaken by Muslims and how Greek Orthodox churches have been destroyed in the occupied areas.” NEDISY President Christoforos Fokaides said that, “we’ve seen neo-fascist activity arising intermittently in the past. I can confirm that these two organisations are indeed planning to come to Cyprus in the summer.” The NPD-FN announcement was shrouded – deliberately it seems – in an air of secrecy. “We don’t know when they intend to arrive or where they intend to go,” Christofides said. “It is understandable why they would not be specific as to when they want to come,” Fokaides added, implying that the organisations did not want to provoke any reaction that would potentially annul their trip.

Did the NPD and FN have contacts in Cyprus?
“I imagine that they are in contact with Chrysi Avyi [Golden Dawn] members,” Christofides said. “Unfortunately, we’ve witnessed Nazi and fascist symbols appear in football stadiums during games,” he added. Chrysi Avgi is an extreme right nationalist organisation based in Greece which is thought to have pockets of support in Cyprus as well. Fokaides told the Mail that, “we don’t know who they are co-operating with. The information we have is from abroad, but we will wait and see if local fascists express themselves in relation to the matter. “The issue is whether locals here are organised into groups or not. We do know that the NPD and FN are very well-organised.” Christofides and Fokaides highlighted the criminal elements tainting these organisations. “These organisations are dangerous. Some of their members have committed serious criminal offences in their home countries,” said Christofides. Fokaides cautioned that, “we have to be careful how we go about this since freedom of expression is protected by law. “Our concerns are centred on the fact that these organisations contain criminal elements, disseminate untruths and incite violence.” Both leaders said a press conference would be held next week in which a common statement with other youth groups and other social partners is to be released. “Our aim is to act preventively and as a whole,” Christofides said. “We want to mobilise people against this phenomenon. One reason why, historically, fascism gained a foothold in interwar Europe was because it was not met with popular resistance. “The best way to counter fascism is via a popular movement.”
© Cyprus Mail

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MIGRANT WORKERS IN GREECE WAGE HISTORIC STRIKE

28/5/2008- Migrant workers laboring in the strawberry fields of Nea Manolada, in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region, where 90 percent of the country’s strawberry production is concentrated, waged a historic strike last month that will pave the way for immigrant workers in the country to battle for their rights, side by side with Greek workers. After a three-day strike April 18-20, the field laborers returned to work with a wage increase to 25-26 euros per day. Their wages had been 22-23 euros for a full workday. The strikers have vowed to continue their fight for a daily wage of 30 euros. Though over 2,000 of the 2,500 agricultural laborers in Nea Manolada are undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and other countries, they fought back against police terror and the vicious attacks of the large producers, demanding better working and living conditions as well as a higher wage. The All-Workers Militant Front (PAME) has been in Manolada for the past year aiding migrant laborers to organize their struggle and to link these issues to wider workers’ struggles throughout Greece. On May 11, PAME forces from all over Peloponnese and nearby islands mobilized in Manolada in a mass show of support for the field laborers. The rally’s theme was “Greek and Immigrant Workers United in Struggle!” Large landowners made determined efforts to turn Greek farmers against PAME and the strikers, claiming that immigrant labor costs Greeks their jobs.

Migrant agricultural laborers in Nea Manolada live and work in squalid conditions. They are forced to work every day, including Sunday. Lost days mean lost wages and the threat of firing. They harvest strawberries in greenhouses in 113 degrees Fahrenheit. There are no toilets at the work site; workers must use the fields. The only water supply comes from the pipes used to water the strawberries. Many workers live in the greenhouses because they cannot afford rent elsewhere. They cover their makeshift beds of wood pallets with newspapers and rags. No running water, electricity or toilets are available. Those “lucky” enough to have housing live with 25 people or more sharing one toilet in abandoned village houses or warehouses where they pay up to 50 euro per month per person. Workers must pay out of pocket for all medical care, to a government that refuses to grant free medical care to undocumented permanent immigrants. Yet they have many medical problems because of the exhausting work and the excessive use of pesticides and fungicides without protective equipment. Many workers are raising young children under such foul and desperate conditions. The government refuses to guarantee the workers’ basic rights but instead does all it can to support the “right” of large landowners to extract the greatest maximum profit from them. Just half an hour of work represents the actual cost of labor on a given day; the other six and a half hours line the pockets of the boss. In clearer terms, on average a strawberry worker fills five crates per hour, with 10 boxes per crate. Each box is sold for roughly 3 euros. Do the math! Given the profits involved, it is clear why strikers and members of PAME were under attack. From the very first day, strikers were terrorized by the bosses. During the strike’s second day, three of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) members present for support were attacked and wounded, while armed groups stormed the workers’ shanties. Threats and provocations continued into the third day while the police looked on.

On the third day, landowners agreed to increase wages and strikers agreed to go back to work, vowing to continue their struggle for a 30 euro daily wage. KKE is demanding that the Ministries of Labor and the Interior intervene, with no results as yet. The strike shows migrants have power when that power is channeled into mass collective action. KKE proposes a framework of organization and struggle for the needs of migrants and their families including immediate legalization and equal rights in work, health care, education and social security.
© People's Weekly World

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FRANCE ARRESTS 8 OVER MOSQUE ATTACK

28/05/2008- French police have arrested eight people, including several soldiers, over an arson attack on a mosque in southwestern France. The suspects, aged 18 to 30, were taken into custody Wednesday for questioning over the April 20 attack in Colomier near the city of Toulouse, in which arsonists started a fire in the mosque entrance and trashed a next-door prayer room. The arrests took place near the cities of Toulouse, Castres and Carcassonne, where two soldiers were reportedly detained at their barracks, AFP quoted local newspaper La Depeche du Midi as saying. State prosecutor Michel Valet said it was "too soon to say" if the suspects had links to extreme-right groups. President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to step up the fight against Islamophobia in France following the mass desecration last month of the Muslim section of the country's biggest war cemetery. France is home to Europe's largest Muslim community, estimated at five million.
© Presstv

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GENDER EQUALITY NOT BALANCED (Estonia)

27/05/2008- Estonian Social Affairs Minister Maret Maripuu said that Estonia's main problem was a large pay difference between men and women. "Firmly rooted stereotypes rule in Estonian families, with the mothers taking care of children and fathers attempting to earn more money. It is not simple for young mothers to return to work from looking after children. They accept lower pay than women and this further increases the pay gap between men and women," the minister said. Gender equality on the labor market and in the workplace is one of the issues at Tuesday's meeting on Saarmeaa of the Nordic and Baltic countries' ministers dealing with gender equality issues. "At the meeting we will discuss with our Nordic colleagues how to unite working and family life so everyone would benefit by it," Maripuu said. Ministers will also discuss how to fight against violence directed at women and human trafficking. Maripuu said human trafficking was a common worry for the Baltic and Nordic countries. "This is a cross-border problem that is difficult to deal with alone," she said. "The cooperation so far has been very substantial and we wish it would certainly continue. At the meeting we will make proposals for the improvement of cooperation concerning information exchange and return of the victims." Nyamko Sabuni, the minister of the Swedish presidency, will inform participants at the meeting of activities of the European Union in the sphere of gender equality, including on sexual and reproductive health. Cooperation between the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Baltic countries for the promotion of gender equality started in 1998. The priorities of the cooperation are to exchange information, foster cooperation between scientists and cooperation in order to fight violence against women. The first meeting of ministers dealing with gender equality issues took place in 2006.
© The Baltic Times

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PUTIN DENIES RUSSIA RIGHTS ABUSE

29/5/2008- Russian ex-President Vladimir Putin has denied allegations of encroachments on human rights in his country. "Concerns about the lack of human rights in Russia are strongly exaggerated", he said in France, on his first Western visit as prime minister. Russia came under strong criticism over its human rights record during Mr Putin's eight years in office. In Paris, Mr Putin and French leaders also discussed strained EU-Russia ties and co-operation in the energy sector. Mr Putin held talks with his French counterpart Francois Fillon and also had dinner with President Nicolas Sarkozy - a rare honour for visiting prime ministers. Although newly named Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is officially in charge of the country, many analysts say much power and influence - particularly on foreign policy matters - lies with his predecessor.

Putin's defence
"All this talk about human rights is often used as an instrument of pressure on Russia, with the aim of achieving some goals that have nothing to do with human rights in Russia," Mr Putin said at a joint news conference with Mr Fillon. "We listen attentively to conscientious critics and react properly to what they say. We're developing our country and the system of democracy; we give support to civic society and the mass media," he said. Mr Putin also added that "problems with human rights you have in any country". The Kremlin has been repeatedly criticised by Western governments and human rights groups for harassing political opposition, stifling independent media and putting pressure on non-governmental organisations.

Detente hopes
In Paris, Mr Putin also discussed plans for a new pact between the EU and Russia which would put an end to two years of acrimony. "We have agreed that we will work together for the earliest beginning of talks on a new strategic partnership," Mr Putin said. "We are hoping for a detente in the EU-Russia relationship," Mr Fillon said after the talks. On Monday, EU member states agreed that negotiations on a co-operation deal with Russia could begin. The talks are due to be launched at a Siberia summit in June. France was chosen as Mr Putin's first destination because the country is due to take on the EU presidency on 1 July.
© BBC News

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RUSSIAN EDITOR GUILTY OF PRINTING ANTI-SEMITISM

28/05/2008- A Russian newspaper editor received a year-and-a-half suspended sentence for publishing an anti-Semitic article.Nabigula Dzhavatkhanov published an article in January 2005 called "An Answer to Zionists" in the independent newspaper Mnenie Naroda, or Opinion of the People, distributed in a majority Muslim republic on Russia's southern border, according to the Sova Information-Analytical Center.The editor was found guilty of inciting ethnic hatred under Russia's hate crimes laws. The article's author also was found guilty, but the statute of limitations had expired and he will not be sent to prison, according to a report in the Jewish News Agency. A court in Dagestan, a republic in the turbulent Caucasus region of Russia, found that the article "contained statements intended to stir up enmity and hatred toward the Jewish people." Socio-psychological experts examined the article, the local prosecutor said, and determined it contained "signs of extremism."
© JTA News

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AMNESTY HIGHLIGHTS RACISM IN RUSSIA, CHECHNYA RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

28/05/2008- Amnesty International highlighted in a report on Wednesday a rise in race-hate attacks in Russia, the authorities' increasing intolerance of dissent, and ongoing human rights violations in the North Caucasus. "The number of racist attacks that came to the attention of the media rose; at least 61 people were killed across the country," the organization said in a 400-page human rights report.The international rights group said Russian authorities have recognized the problem, and that the number prosecutions for racially motivated crimes has increased, but that these measures have failed to curb racist violence. Russia's non-governmental organizations called on Tuesday for drafting a national program to counter racism and xenophobia. The Moscow Human Rights Bureau, citing its data at a news conference, said 126 race-hate crimes were committed in the first five months of this year, in which 66 people were killed and 132 injured. Racist attacks occur mainly in big cities, including Moscow, St Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod, where the majority of foreigners and ethnic minorities live. Voronezh in western Russia, which has a large number of foreign students, has also seen a large number of attacks. Amnesty International also traditionally criticized Russia for strict media control and arrests of protestors, human rights activists and political opponents, some of whom have suffered beatings. Amnesty said there were fewer reported cases of disappearances in Chechnya last year, as "individuals were reluctant to report abuses fearing reprisals." The group said serious human rights violations were still frequent in the North Caucasus republic, which has remained unstable since the end of the second military campaign against separatism in the early 2000s. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia was responsible for enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions in 15 judgments relating to the second Chechen conflict. Neighboring Ingushetia saw an increase in serious violations, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, Amnesty said.
© RIA Novosti

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AMNESTY CRITICISES TREATMENT OF ASYLUM SEEKERS (Switzerland)

28/05/2008- Approaching the 60th birthday of codified global human rights, Amnesty International has launched a characteristically fierce broadside against world leaders. Switzerland fared better in the human rights organisation's annual report than alphabetical neighbours Syria and Swaziland, but Amnesty again highlighted issues of racial discrimination and treatment of asylum seekers in the alpine nation."Injustice, inequality and impunity are the hallmarks of our world today," Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary- general, said on Wednesday. This year marks 60 years since the United Nations Convention on Human Rights came into force. "2007 was characterised by the impotence of Western governments and the ambivalence or reluctance of emerging powers to tackle some of the world's worst human rights crises," she added. Amnesty International has again demanded the United States close its Guantánamo detention camp and called on Chinese authorities to follow through on free speech guarantees. "The most powerful must lead by example," Khan said. Regarding Switzerland, Amnesty was concerned by racism and cited a 2006 report by the UN special rapporteur on the subject, which concluded that the lack of a national policy on racism made it difficult to tackle the problem. "Switzerland has no real action plan to combat racism and xenophobia," Manon Schick, spokeswoman for Amnesty's Swiss section, told swissinfo. swissinfo contacted the Federal Migration Office and Federal Office against Racism but no one at either office was available for comment. Amnesty has also taken aim at the high profile and controversial election campaign of the rightwing Swiss People's Party last autumn, which featured a flock of white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag."The reaction of other countries shows that they were very surprised that this could happen in Switzerland," Schick said. She calls the scapegoating of migrants and asylum seekers a "very European problem".

Cantonal differences
Amid complaints and questions from two UN special rapporteurs into the election matter, the government said it was reluctant to intervene, particularly in a political campaign. It pointed to the courts to weigh the balance between free speech and following international law.Amnesty says this can be complicated in Switzerland. "It's very difficult for the federal state to be sure that conventions are respected," Schick said. The country's federalist structure places the responsibility on cantons – rather than the national government – to uphold obligations prescribed under international law. Schick refers to the case of Samson Chukwu, a Nigerian who died in Swiss police custody in 2001 awaiting deportation. Although the authorities were exonerated, the UN Committee against Torture eventually recommended compensation for the family. The only problem: Amnesty says the canton – in this case Valais – was not aware of the recommendation. Schick calls it "very problematic" that UN reports fail to reach cantonal authorities. "It's a big problem sometimes, but it's also sometimes a big chance," she said. Decentralisation can also result in faster adoption of new laws. "We had the example of some cantons taking very progressive measures to combat domestic violence," Schick said. The cantons of St Gallen and Neuchâtel were among the first to introduce measures to forcibly remove abusive men from their homes. Similar legislation was eventually adopted by other cantons. "If we had waited for a federal decision, it would have taken a long time to get there," she said.

Ethical code
Among other positive points for Switzerland, Amnesty mentions a move by the Lausanne city police department to adopt an ethical code, provide sensitivity training and recruit minorities. "They are now ready to talk about human rights issues and I think this is very important even if they have not taken all the measures we were asking for," Schick said. Disputes between police and demonstrators – an issue the rights organisation has cited in the past – are now passed along to an independent investigator, something Amnesty has called for in the past. "It shows that there is now a conscience, that they have to investigate these problems if they want to show that they really respect human rights," she said.
© Swissinfo

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AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL SLAMS OFFICIALS FOR ROMA DISCRIMINATION (Czech Rep.)

28/05/2008- Racist remarks, surveys play into damning report. In its latest annual report, Amnesty International once again slams Czech officials for discriminating against the Roma people, Mladá fronta Dnes wrote on Wednesday. Roma, or Gypsies, still battle routine intimidation by police, as well as discrimination in education, healthcare and employment, the report says. Racist remarks made by Jiøí Èunek, the vice prime minister and head of the Christian Democrat Party were cited in the report. So were remarks made by Otakar Motejl, the national ombudsman, who criticized Èunek's forced eviction of several Roma families from the center of Vsetín where Èunek was mayor. The report also mentions an earlier survey which showed that three-fourths of Czechs would not want to have a Roma neighbor, a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the Czech education system was guilty of discrimination by routinely putting Roma children into "special" schools, and evidence that forced sterilization of Roma women went on through 2004. Amnesty International also mentioned the Czech Republic's refusal to ratify a European Union anti-discrimination law (vetoed last year by President Václav Klaus), or to recognize the International Criminal Tribunal.
© The Prague Post Online

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CZECH REPUBLIC: READ THE PAPERS AND FEAR THE MUSLIMS (opinion)

23/05/2008- One result of the Czech media and politicians' frequent warnings of the dangers of Islamic terrorism has been a growing Islamophobia. Attitudes towards Muslims are said to have worsened following the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, and the media has since played with Czechs' fears of terrorism by supporting pro-U.S. foreign policy goals. Recent U.S. plans to protect the West from alleged Middle Eastern missile threats by extending its missile defence system to the Czech Republic and Poland have been accompanied by media reports on imminent dangers of Islamic terrorism. A recent poll shows that 80 percent of Czechs would not want to live next to an Arab, and that they associate them with terrorism. Two-thirds of Czechs fear terrorism, and a similar number fear Islam. A study by the Czech interior ministry last year showed that most Czechs automatically connect symbols of Islam with terrorism. Back in 1998 local people in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, had reacted with fear and hostility to the building of the first mosque in the Czech Republic. And still today, three-quarters of Czechs would like to forbid the building of mosques on Czech soil. Stereotypes also abound among school students. A poll published by the non-governmental organisation 'People in Need' shows that most of their information comes from the media.

The Czech Republic has a Muslim community of 20,000 in a population of 10 million. They come mostly from Arab North African and Middle Eastern countries, with some also from Turkey, the Balkans and Central Asia. Vladimir Sanka, head of the Islamic Centre in Prague, says that as in other European countries, some sectors of society see Islam as a danger to European civilisation. "Media generalise and give simplistic, sensationalist news without explaining what is at the root of conflicts, so when the media describes Muslims as people who don't respect human life, it is in a way understandable that people become afraid of 'Muslim extremists' or 'Islamic terrorism'," Sanka told IPS. Sanka says the media have periodically given undue attention to false alarms that cast a shadow on the Muslim community but are more likely connected to right-wing extremists. "Last year someone sent a written bomb threat to a school, and it was spoken about in the media as an issue of Muslims attacking Christian schools. Two years ago there was an alleged threat to a Jewish synagogue. In neither case was anybody (Muslim) found responsible." Sanka says discrimination persists in public space. "In general we have our freedom and rights, but less than Christians and Jews: unlike them, we cannot establish religious schools, our religious marriages are not recognised, we get no state donations, and nothing is taught about our religion in schools."

Czech politicians say the risk of terrorist attacks is constantly growing, and the government approved a plan last February to fight terrorism. Czech police say terrorists use the country as an entry point to Europe, but that the local Muslim community is not infiltrated by extremists. But Czech officials have played a role in presenting negative depictions of Muslims. "As I watch the persistent and successful struggle of the Israelis to maintain a civilisation in the onrush of barbarianism, it awakens optimism in me," Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said in an address celebrating Israel's Independence Day in Jerusalem last year. Since the election of the neo-liberal Civic Democrats (ODS) in 2006, Czech foreign policy has neglected Arab countries. "This substantial orientation is not part of a policy prepared by experts, but it is part of the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim course of the people around Mirek Topolanek," Lukas Lhotan wrote in Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes last year. On another visit to Jerusalem in March this year, Topolanek backed Israel's fight against terrorism and said "I naturally agree with Israel's role as a defender." He failed to visit Palestinian areas as is the custom with European officials. Citing lack of time, Topolanek instead invited a young Palestinian student based in Prague to join him on the government airplane, but the plan fell through because the student got stuck in the Gaza strip due to an Israeli military blockade. Topolanek described a visit to Syria by leader of the opposition Social-Democratic Party Jiri Paroubek in February as "regrettable" after the iDnes.cz group accused Paroubek of establishing contact with a "brutal dictatorial party openly sponsoring terrorism." Visits to Syria by government officials both before and after Paroubek's trip went largely unnoticed in the predominantly right-wing media. While Czechs maintain pragmatic economic relations with Iran and Syria, opinion makers often pressure governments to isolate what they consider dictatorial regimes. "The media is pro-U.S. and pro-Israel to the extent that it represents an extreme in Europe," Sanka told IPS. But while in the past the Czech government has reinforced stereotypes of Muslims, Sanka also notes positive examples, as with the swift removal and straight condemnation by authorities of anti-Muslim posters. In March posters mocking the Prophet Muhammad and signed 'Friends of Freedom of Speech' appeared on the streets of Brno, possibly in connection with a Czech decision not to broadcast a film on Islam by Dutch deputy Geert Wilders. But even in this case, some of the media's condemnation was half-hearted.
© IPS-Inter Press Service

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NEO-NAZI BLOOD AND HONOUR WEBSITE OPEN AGAIN(Czech Rep.)

29/5/2008- Access to the website of the Czech branch of the extremly radical neo-Nazi group, Blood and Honour, that was recently blocked by the U.S. FBI, is open again and Czech police do not know why, the daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) wrote Thursday. Earlier, Czech police announced that the FBI blocked access to the website a few days ago. Why is the website available again? No one from the Czech police is able to give an answer, HN writes. "We have no information from the FBI because it is their case," Czech organised crime unit (UOOZ) spokeswoman Pavela Kopecka told the paper. The FBI blocked access to the website because Blood and Honour is on the U.S. list of terrorist organisations and because it openly declares its support for the militant Group Combat 18 originally formed in London. However, the website is available again, HN writes. "We have two explanations. Either the operators changed the provider or inappropriate and dangerous materials have been withdrawn and the reason to block the website ceased to exist," Kopecka said. However, texts related to Combat 18 are still on the website. They call for the promotion of the ideas of Nazism, including violence, the paper writes. The FBI officer in charge of the Czech Republic is expected to provide information to the Czech policy on why the website was first closed and why it is open again. However, both the information and the name of the officer will probably be kept secret, HN writes. Czech police were unsuccessfully pressing for the website's blocking for several years because its contents violated Czech law. U.S. authorities blocked it only now since the U.S. legislation on extremism is more liberal, HN said earlier. The Czech Blood and Honour was behind several attacks against anti-fascists in the 1990s, but Czech police arrested its leaders. The group has been neither very active nor very dangerous since then, HN wrote previously.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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FBI SHUTS DOWN CZECH NEO-NAZI GROUP WEB SITE

28/05/2008- Blood and Honour operated on American server: The FBI has shut down a Web site operated by a Czech neo-Nazi group for having terrorist content, Hospodáøské noviny wrote on Wednesday. Czech police had been trying for years to convince the U.S. authorities to shut down the Web site. Until now, they had had no success, due to America's liberal communications laws. "Due to the freedom of speech laws, these Web sites are not considered to be illegal in the United States," said František Valeš who monitors the sites for the Czech Helsinki Committee. European neo-Nazi groups often post their Web sites on servers in the United States and other countries where media laws are more liberal. In Europe, Nazi propaganda is against the law. Now, however, the Czech branch of the neo-Nazi group Blood and Honour has made it onto the FBI's list of terrorist organizations, and the FBI has shut down the site. Blood and Honour is an international neo-Nazi organization founded in the 1980s in London by Ian Stuart Donaldson, the lead singer of the skinhead band Screwdriver. Its aim, in addition to disseminating Nazi propaganda, is to make money to fund the movement through concerts and CDs. "There were instructions on the manufacture of weapons and links to Combat 18," said the Karel Kuchaøík, the head of the Czech police section on criminal communications. Combat 18 is the militant wing of the movement; the numbers refer to the initials of Adolf Hitler. "We repeatedly asked the American police to give us information about the Web site administrators," Kuchaèík said, adding that the Czechs found out the site had been blocked during routine monitoring – Americans had not bothered to inform them of the measure. Czech police arrested the leaders of the Blood and Honour movement in 1999, and Jaroslav Brož, the head of the Plzeò branch was sentenced to four years in jail for distributing hate propaganda. The FBI shut down the Polish Blood and Honour Web site two years ago.
© The Prague Post Online

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REFUGEE COUNCIL STEPS IN TO PREVENT DEPORTATION(Denmark)

The Danish Refugee Council wants to stop the deportation of 12 Iraqis

27/5/2008- The Danish Refugee Council has announced its support of 12 Iraqis who have been charged of a criminal offence and who were subsequently slated for deportation, reports public broadcaster DR. The organisation is attempting to prevent the expulsions by making a case with the European Human Rights Court, according to Anne la Cour, head of the council's asylum department. The most pressing case concerns an Iraqi who will be deported from the country in a few days time. 'Right now, we're looking at whether there is sufficient evidence for us to request the assistance of the Human Rights Court,' la Cour said. The refugee council, referring to the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR's advising against any deportation of people to central and southern Iraq, believes that the Iraqis will face persecution and other atrocities should they return to their homeland. Two Iraqis charged with criminal offences were already sent back last Wednesday. One of them was imprisoned upon arrival, whereas the other according to the Danish National Police, was not detained.
© The Copenhagen Post

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WASTING TIME AT THE MIGRATION BOARD(Sweden)

Ronnie Gilchrist spends a trying afternoon at the offices of the Migration Board with an MBA student who urgently needs the agency to rectify a bureaucratic error.

29/5/2008- Jenny sits patiently in the Swedish Migration Board’s grey-tiled, symmetrically decorated waiting room in Solna on the outskirts of Stockholm. She is here because of a mistake made by the Swedish Migration Board. For the fourth time since she got here, she answers her phone. “I will be there at three,” she tells the person on the other end of the line. To me she says: “I have a group meeting at three for the Ericsson project and, well, you know, the way this is going I just don’t know”. She hunches her shoulders and sinks back into the chair. Jennifer is an exchange student from the United States. She has been studying for an MBA at Handelshögskolan (Stockholm School of Economics) since August. She graduates in July. But Jenny has a problem: during her application process the Swedish Migration Board made a mistake. They only permitted her a student visa until June 31st. Time passes. Our conversation has run dry and the coffee machine is out of order. We have been waiting at the Migration Board since one o’clock. It is now three and Jenny has missed her meeting. We sit and wait. What else can we do? Outside the sun is shining but inside the dim light is reminiscent of an operating ward. The people waiting come from all over the world. Jenny and I manage to discern snatches of conversations in Turkish, Russian and Chinese.

In the corner there are kids sliding on the rails intended to help the women transport their baby carts up and down the stairs. I observe the children’s ability to turn even the most irritating of situations into an adventure. Above us is a digital screen with bleeping queue numbers. The bleeps have temporarily become the pacemaker by which we mark time. Finally we hear the bleep we have been waiting for, as the number printed on our note and stained in our minds appears on the screen. We hurry to the booth, walk into the tight cubicle, close the curtain behind ourselves and stare at a bulletproof window with nobody sitting behind it. “It was booth 14?” Jenny asks. I get up to check the digital sign and see that it still flashing the number 14. I go back to the booth, confirm my findings to Jenny, and we continue admiring the pane of glass before us. We watch attentively for another 15 minutes but the movie does not improve. Eventually, a young woman comes to our aid and asks Jenny in Swedish what the problem is. Jenny replies in English but it seems Sweden’s second language is not spoken at the Migration Board. Clearly they are not leaving it solely to the language institutes to preserve Sweden’s native tongue. After three or four sentences, the woman ceases her efforts at teaching Swedish and switches instead to flawless English. Jenny explains her situation and hands over documentation from her school and her health insurance, the only two requirements for obtaining a student visa. The woman looks through them before reading from a computer screen:
“Your visa was permitted for the time that you have health insurance.”

“But my health insurance is good until the 12th of August,” says Jenny, while gesticulating at the form that accompanied her original visa application. The woman looks first at the computer screen, then at Jenny’s bewildered expression. She walks away without explanation. The woman returns: “You have to go to Norrköping, they take care of all student visa applications,” she says. “Can’t we call?” Jenny enquires. “There is a pay phone in the lobby, but it only takes cards,” is the answer given. Jenny is quickly running out of patience. This whole process is starting to tear at her nerves. She suggests to the woman that she should call her colleagues in Norrköping and find out what is going on. “No,” says the woman. “But it’s your mistake, why should I have to waste another day to sort this out?” Jenny wonders. Back in Swedish-speaking mode, the woman says: “You can apply for a new visa. It will most likely be granted. Here is the application form.” Jenny finally thinks we are getting somewhere but it seems that, to add insult to injury, this new application is going to cost her 1,000 kronor ($164). Jenny brushes the slightly damp hair from her forehead and takes a deep breath. The girl behind the bulletproof glass explains that it was up to Jenny to appeal the original decision within 30 days of receiving the confirmation letter. After another 15 minutes of debating the legalities and irregularities of the situation, we come to the conclusion that the woman has no authority and can’t help Jenny in any way. It has become clear to us that another sabbatical will be needed. We leave the booth with wet backs and dry throats. We are tired and angry as we discuss the idiocy of the whole situation. Nobody is left in the lobby; the Migration Board closes at 3 o’clock. We leave the building without a visa and without the assignment that Jenny should have been writing. All we have is a wasted day.
© The Local

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THE POLITICS OF FEAR RETURN TO ITALY

Immigrants are under attack from the resurgent Right - and even from vigilante mobs

29/5/2008- Is Italy succumbing to a wave of racism and xenophobia under its new centre-right Government? To Senada Salkanovic it looks that way: as she cuddles her daughter Brenda, 7, on the step of her shack at a Gypsy camp on Via Casilina, on the eastern outskirts of Rome, she wonders where she and her six children will go when the bulldozers arrive. The rubbish-strewn camp, consisting of wood and corrugated-iron cabins and dilapidated caravans, sits next to a disused airfield and is due for demolition as part of a new crackdown on illegal immigration and crime. Already nearly 40 huts have been dismantled, and 150 of the camp's 800 inhabitants have left. “Where are we supposed to go?” asks Senada, who came to Italy from the former Yugoslavia 20 years ago. Her makeshift home, equipped with cupboards, a sink and a stove, is neat and well kept, in contrast to the dusty squalor outside. “They say we are all thieves, but I work as a cleaner.” “This Government is stoking up fear,” says Najo Adzovic, her husband. “Most people in this camp are refugees from crises in the Balkans. We are used as scapegoats when what we need are jobs, housing and status. We need to find our voice.” Across town, at another Roma camp made of converted containers next to a bus depot in the southwestern suburb of Magliana, I find Riccardo Di Segni, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, talking to Hanifa Rustic, an elderly Bosnian who tells him that she came to Italy at the age of 13, fleeing pro-Nazi Croatian Fascists in an earlier era of intolerance.

“There are alarming signs of racism in Italy today,” says Di Segni, who is visiting the camp to express Jewish solidarity. Jews and Gypsies both ended up in Hitler's concentration camps, he points out. “We have to be on the alert, not only because of what is happening but because of what could happen. First one group is singled out, then another. This must be stopped now.” “We are treated like criminals even though most Roma people are honest,” says Mioara Miclescu, a Romanian at the Magliana camp who runs a laundry employing Roma women. “We are living in fear.” Many illegal immigrants are not the muggers and pickpockets of popular nightmare but badanti - cleaners and carers for the elderly who cannot obtain residence permits because of bureaucratic obstacles. The plight of Italy's Roma population made headlines two weeks ago when youths on motorcycles and scooters hurled Molotov cocktails into a nomad camp at Ponticelli, outside Naples, a city brought to its knees by the unresolved problem of how to dispose of its rubbish. Smoke from the burning camp joined that already rising from mountains of rubbish set on fire by desperate locals. The Naples arson attacks - apparently co-ordinated by clans of the Camorra, the Naples Mafia, which is also behind the rubbish problem - were sparked by an alleged attempt by a teenage Roma girl to abduct a baby from a flat near the camp. When the new Cabinet of Silvio Berlusconi, who won a sweeping election victory last month, met in Naples last week, one of the provisions in its emergency decree on crime and immigration was the arrest of Gypsies who use children to steal or beg.

The Berlusconi coalition combines his Forza Italia with the anti-immigrant Northern League and the “post-Fascist” Alleanza Nazionale. All agree with Berlusconi that “Italians have the right not to live in fear” - which means targeting those who make Italians afraid. Illegal immigration is about to become a crime for the first time, punishable by up to four years in prison, with new detention centres to hold clandestini prior to their expulsion. Another measure, aimed at the thousands of Romanians who have poured into Italy since Romania joined the EU, states that EU citizens will be expelled if they cannot show that they have the “economic resources” to stay for longer than three months. Vigilante “neighbourhood patrols” have sprung up in many Italian towns, and mayors are being given special powers to “ensure public safety”. In Rome, where the election of Gianni Alemanno of Alleanza Nazionale a month ago was greeted by Fascist salutes from some supporters and cries of “Duce, Duce”, there were clashes on Tuesday between extreme Left and extreme Right supporters at Rome University. Last weekend masked youths went on the rampage in the hitherto peaceful and trendy multiracial quarter of Pigneto, smashing the windows of Asian businesses and beating up Indian and Bangladeshi shopkeepers. The pretext was an allegation that one of the shopkeepers was harbouring a North African who had stolen a purse, but witnesses had no doubt that this was a racist attack. Kabir Humayun, a Bangladeshi shopkeeper, said; “I'm terrified that it will happen again. I'm worried for my wife and children.”  “Where will this all end?” asked Islam Serajul, whose launderette-cum-phone centre was trashed. “And why now? I have been here six years with no problems.”

Alemanno, a former neo-Fascist youth leader who - like the rest of Alleanza Nazionale - has rejected the legacy of Mussolini, insists that he was as horrified as anyone. He met the targeted shopkeepers, shook their hands and offered them compensation from public funds. He accepted a bag of nuts as a present, and blamed the previous left-of-centre Rome administration for creating intolerance by being soft on crime. But shortly after he left, a poster went up on one of the smashed shopfronts that read: “We oppose the hypocrisy of those who feed racism and xenophobia”. Vladimir Luxuria, a transsexual and former parliamentary deputy who lives in Pigneto, says: “The thugs who attacked the Asians don't just feel legitimised by Alemanno, they feel sponsored by him.” Next month, a new opera about a shanty town by the composer Giorgio Battistelli, Miracolo a Milano, has its Rome premiere. Inspired by the anti-immigrant panic that followed the murder at a suburban railway station last October of Giovanna Reggiani, the wife of a naval officer, allegedly by a Romanian vagrant, it is “a parable about alienated people, whether those living next to railway lines and under bridges in Italy, or Italians as a whole,” Battistelli says. Walter Veltroni, the former centre-left mayor of Rome, claimed at the time of the murder that Roma were responsible for 75 per cent of the city's crime. It is this kind of remark that has led MEPs and the European Commission to give warning of Italian xenophobia, joined yesterday by Amnesty International, which referred to a “witch-hunt”.

Last week the European Roma Rights Centre, funded by George Soros, the Hungarian-born US financial speculator and political activist, wrote to Berlusconi demanding “urgent intervention by Italian authorities to protect Roma from further acts of racist aggression”.  Some Italians see all this alarm about intolerance as misplaced, and dismiss warnings of a return to 1930s-style Fascism as hysterical. “We have simply reached a tipping point” says Guglielmo, my neighbour. “I usually vote for the Centre Left but, like many others who switched to the Right this time, I am fed up to the back teeth with robberies, pickpockets, tramps, and the sight of hundreds of immigrants selling counterfeit handbags and sunglasses on our streets with impunity. Enough is enough.” There has been casual racism for years on Italy's football terraces, with insults routinely hurled at black players by far-right “ultras”. Skinhead violence is not directed only at foreigners, though - gays, anyone with long hair, anyone “different”, is also a target. This month a 29-year-old industrial designer died in Verona after being beaten into a coma by ultras for refusing one of them a cigarette. But foreigners stand out, and geography makes the Italians feel vulnerable. “We are closer to both the Balkans and North Africa than anyone in Europe, and our peninsular coastline is impossible to defend,” one Italian friend tells me. “We bear the brunt.” North African Muslims are the most visible objects of suspicion - especially in northern Italy, where the Northern League is strong - and there is a tendency to lump Roma gypsies and Romanians together. Of the three million legal immigrants in Italy - 5 per cent of the population - Romanians are the most numerous, closely followed by Albanians and Moroccans. According to police statistics, a third of all thefts, rapes and murders are committed by “foreigners”.

There are an estimated 600,000 illegal immigrants in Italy, and hundreds more arrive every week at Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island near the North African coast. Some are sent back but most make their way to the mainland. In 2006, of 124,383 immigrants “detained for illegal entry” and ordered to be expelled, only 13,397 were actually “accompanied to the frontier” to make sure that they left. The rest were served with expulsion orders but then absconded to live rough. Marco Brazzoduro, a professor of social policy at Rome University who has taken up the Roma cause, argues that Italians are not racist. “This is more about poverty than race,” he says. “The poor are always to blame. It is undeniable that Roma people beg and steal, but so do other immigrants - and Italians.” Professor Brazzoduro, who began by doing research on the Roma people and was drawn into helping them, has set up a dressmaking workshop for seven Roma women, with “a waiting list of 40 more”. Many Italians feel that their way of life is threatened by a combination of immigration and globalisation. In an economy of near-zero growth, the family businesses that are the backbone of Italy are struggling. In Pigneto, residents tell you that trouble has been brewing for some time, with the gap between rich and poor threatening social harmony. “On the one hand house prices have rocketed as the wealthy move in, while on other the area is flooded with illegal street traders, criminals and drug dealers,” one says. “I don't see why Alemanno had to apologise,” says the barman at a café near one of the smashed shops. “Attacking people is out of order, but it is beoming impossible to live here - noise all night, drugs, drunkards. I'm not a racist, it's just that our neighbourhood is being destroyed.”

According to Opera Nomadi, an organisation set up to represent Roma immigrants, Roma gypsies began coming to Italy in the late Middle Ages, and half of Italy's 150,000 Roma are Italian citizens. Many of them make a living by dealing in scrap metal and second-hand goods, and many Roma children attend Italian schools. “Not all Roma are Romanians, and not all Romanians are Roma,” says Ilvo Diamanti, a leading sociologist. He agrees with Professor Brazzoduro that Italians are not racist, “but they are xenophobic, in the sense that foreigners arouse fear. But then that is true throughout Europe. To say that this is a phenomenon that has exploded because Berlusconi is back in power is surreal.” Giuliano Ferrara, formerly Berlusconi's spokesman and now a prominent editor and television pundit, agrees. “It was entirely predictable that once Berlusconi returned to power a Greek chorus would appear to warn us all that Italian democracy is in danger, that Italy is introducing mass deportations and concentration camps,” he says. In reality, he adds, violence against immigrants and gypsies has been “limited”. The true problem, Ferrara says, is that Italy has had to cope with an influx of immigrants who end up living in poverty on the edges of cities - the very margins in which Italy's own poorest people live. “There is no ethnic persecution in Italy,” he insists. “To draw comparisons with what happened to the Jews, who were exterminated, is irresponsible.” Roberto Maroni, the Interior Minister and deputy leader of the Northern League, points out that making illegal entry into Italy a crime merely brings the nation into line with Britain, France and Germany. As for vigilante attacks on immigrants, “that is what happens when gypsies steal babies, or when Romanians commit sexual violence”. The Right was elected, he says, to do something about it. “The whole point of our security package is to reassure citizens, precisely so that they don't take the law into their own hands. It is the job of the state to guarantee public safety.”

Italy remains a tolerant country, partly thanks to Roman Catholic traditions of hospitality and charity. But if a doctor were to take Italy's temperature at the moment, he might conclude that it was in a feverish and troubled state of mind. Italians, the writer Claudio Magris observes, seem to have forgotten that just half a century ago they, too, were a nation of poor emigrants to America. “We, above all, should know what it is like to be strangers in a strange land,” he says. The danger is that the more Italians feel threatened and hard done by, the more xenophobia will take hold, according to Marco Lodoli, a Rome journalist. Italy is a tolerant mixture of traditions - a macedonia (fruit salad) - he says, but “the fruit is turning sour. The air is electric, it will take only a flash of lightning to cause the next explosion. Today it is Naples or Pigneto. Tomorrow, who knows?”

Yes, it could happen here
Italians riot against Gypsies in their midst; South Africans riot against Zimbabweans and other immigrants. In troubled times, the foreigner is always hated. Mass immigration usually takes place without the consent, and even against the wishes, of the receiving population, who are then inclined to bitterness at the disregarding of their wishes. We in Britain should not be too quick to congratulate ourselves that there have not yet been many outbreaks of violent xenophobia, even though we have far more immigrants, from many more countries, than Italy. I remember how, in the early 1960s, we used to laugh at the absurdity of Italian football hooliganism, only to become world leaders in it ourselves shortly afterwards. Our nervousness in this respect is demonstrated every time a young member of an ethnic minority is murdered. Was he killed by racists? If he was, will there be further outbreaks of violence? We breathe a sigh of relief when it turns out, as seems to have been the case with the young man killed recently in Dewsbury, that the act was non-racist. It seems that, in exhibiting some of the worst characteristics of contemporary British culture, immigrant groups are adjusting to the ways of their adopted country. In Britain, ethnic and cultural tensions are not necessarily between native Britons and others. There are plenty of tensions between different minorities. For example, Sikhs and Muslims do not see eye to eye, and I have met many patients with horror stories to tell of clashes between them, especially over matters matrimonial. The “communities” sometimes even set up vigilante groups to police their borders. The real danger comes not when people of different origins intermingle but when they segregate themselves into virtual ghettoes. Resentment leads men to do the worst things, and is rarely absent from the human heart. It is at its most dangerous when it has an easy target.
© The Times Online

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FEARS OF RACIST VIOLENCE RISE AS GANG GOES ON RAMPAGE IN ROME(Italy)

26/5/2008- Fears of rising intolerance towards migrants in Italy grew after a masked group armed with sticks went on the rampage in a multi-ethnic Rome neighbourhood, smashing shop windows while hurling abuse. In the 10-minute blitz on Saturday, the group of between 10 and 20 men attacked a food shop owned by an Indian migrant and two stores operated by Bangladeshis, disappearing before police arrived. The assault comes as Silvio Berlusconi's administration launches a crackdown on illegal immigration, and days after a mob firebombed Gypsy camps in Naples. Last month crowds at Rome's town hall welcomed newly-elected mayor Gianni Alemanno with fascist salutes. Alemanno, a former neo-fascist, was voted in after promising to expel 20,000 migrants from Rome he said had broken the law. Yesterday he said he was "outraged" by the attack and promised "exemplary punishment for the guilty". Opposition politician Piero Fassino spoke of "an unbelievable wave of racist violence that can only provoke horror". The Pigneto neighbourhood, where the attack took place, is a traditionally working-class area, recently settled in by migrants as well as students and artists. It has a reputation for peaceful co-existence, although locals said the masked assailants were probably from the area. Police yesterday suggested the trouble had started earlier in the day with a row between an Italian man and a migrant over stolen money. "Italy is not a racist country," said interior minister Roberto Maroni of the anti-immigrant Northern League party. "Episodes of this kind are sometimes inflamed by crimes committed by illegal immigrants." Also on Saturday, Cristian Floris, who works for a gay website in Rome, was assaulted outside his house by two men.
© The Guardian

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ITALY RIGHTISTS RAZE VERONA MOSQUE

24/5/2008- Italy's far-right, anti-immigrant Northern League party has started its mission in the new government with bringing down a mosque in the northern city of Verona. "[The mosque destruction] reinforces Muslim fears of seeing the League in the ruling coalition," Ali Abu Shwaima, the head of Milan-based Islamic Centre, told IslamOnline.net on Saturday, May 24. Bulldozers brought down last week a building housing a Muslim prayer room in the city. "I never felt at ease with this mosque," Elisonder Antonneli, the head of Verona city council, said. "This place will be turned into a park and a car parking space and will be named after (Italian writer) Oriana Fallaci." Fallaci, who died in 2006, was notorious for anti-Islam stances. Following the 9/11 attacks, the far-right writer published a book entitled "Rage and Pride" in which she ridiculed the Noble Qur'an. She has also authored another book "The Force of Reason" in which she warned that Europe was turning into "an Islamic province, an Islamic colony" and that "to believe that a good Islam and a bad Islam exist goes against all reason." The Northern League has four ministers in Silovio Berlusconi's government, including the portfolio of the Interior. The League grabbed 8 percent of the vote in last month's general elections, securing Berlusconi's right-wing coalition a comfortable majority in the parliament. The party has nearly doubled its parliamentary strength from 4.5 percent two years ago. The Northern League is widely accused of racism with many critics calling it the BNP of Italy, a reference to the British right-wing party. Its election campaign played on issues such as immigration crime and economic and cultural fears from immigration.

Hard Time
Abu Shwaima, the Muslim leader, said Italian Muslims will face hard times under the far-right league. "We believe the life of Italian Muslims will get more complicated," he said. He said Muslims in the city of Verona used to find spiritual comfort at the razed mosque. "The mosque destruction is sign of spiraling Islamophobia in many European countries," he said. There are nearly 20,000 Muslims in Verona. "I used to pray in the mosque for years," an Italian Muslim in Verona told IOL, requesting anonymity. "But this Friday I went to the mosque for prayers but I could not as it was razed. "We live in a state of anticipation and fear after the mosque was destroyed and we want Arab and Muslim governments to pile pressures on Italy to stop anti-immigrant and anti-Islam policies." Abu Shwaima, the Muslim leader, has a similar message. "We want to tell the Muslim world that mosques' construction in Italy is almost a mission impossible. "Except for the Milan-based Islamic Center and the Rome mosque, there are no real mosques in Italy." Last November, former Italian deputy Education Minister and League member Mariella Mazzetto angered Muslims after parading a pig on the site of a planned mosque in the northern city of Padua. Two months earlier, League senator Roberto Calderoli called for a "Pig Day" protest against the mosque construction in the northern city of Bologna. In 2006, protesters left a pig's head at a mosque building site in the central Italian city of Tuscany. Italy has a Muslim population of some 1.2 million, including 20,000 reverts, according to unofficial estimates.
© Islam Online

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MIGRANT NGO IN ITALY SPURS RESEARCH

26/5/2008- Filipina migrants in Italy were usually employed by migration professionals to conduct research. But in a recently published United Nations report, they were the subject. “Gender, Remittances and Local Rural Development: The case of Filipino migration to Italy,” a report funded by the United Nations’ International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), focused on the Filipino community in Italy as a case study to draw attention to the high feminization of migration. "The Filipino community in Italy is more feminized than any other migrant group and is highly concentrated in the domestic service sector, characterized by its intense demand for foreign female labor,” UN-INSTRAW’s Social Affairs Officer Caroline Taborga said. Italy is the sixth most popular destination of Filipino migrants (preceded by Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates). Italy also hosts the largest number of Filipino migrants within Europe. There are about 128,000 Filipinos residing in Italy as of 2006. Their US$44 million dollar annual remittances is the fourth largest source of money sent by OFWs to beneficiaries back home. According to the study, Filipino women remit back home more regularly than their male counterparts. Taborga said that in cities like Rome and Milan, Filipinas account for up to 70 percent of all Filipino migrants.

The study, which also had the support of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Filipino Women’s Council (FWC), a non-governmental organization in Italy dealing with Filipino migrants. FWC’s lead field researched Charito Basa emailed to abs-cbnNEWS.com that their group was chosen to conduct the research, which involved collecting qualitative data during two round-table sessions and 132 in-depth personal interviews with 61 migrants in Rome and 71 members of migrant households in the selected rural communities in the provinces of Pampanga, Batangas, Ilocos Sur, Oriental Mindoro and Tarlac. “We did the fieldwork and we were also consulted on the analysis. The validation workshop was left in our hands, which was an excellent experience,” Basa wrote. According to Basa, FWC members are often called on to do research on migrants from other countries. She said this particular study was different because this time, the Filipino researchers are “not just as respondents and guinea pigs.” “We’ve influenced the recommendations and we’re meant to push for follow up actions,” she said. Among others, the report recommended more efforts to urgently increase awareness among Filipino migrants about the available alternatives for sending remittances and their potential for promoting rural development in the communities back home. “With the insight we have gained from having participated in this process, it is now imperative that Filipino migrant associations are supported both financially and technically in the proposals they have developed to promote positive change and overcome current challenges to local/community development,” Basa said.
© ABS-CBN

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BRITAIN CONCERNED OVER INCREASE IN ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENTS

28/05/2008- A wave of anti-Semitic graffiti appeared in London last week, including in Stamford Hill, where a large section of London’s Orthodox Jewish community lives. According to the Community Security Trust, a registered charity that plays a vital role in helping protect Jewish people and their property, there were 20 separate incidents of insulting messages scrawled in various locations across North and North East London. Parliament member Diane Abbott said she was "very concerned about the spate of anti-Semitic graffiti in the Hackney area," which was "very threatening and disturbing for the whole community." She expressed her regret that a member of the British National Party had won a seat on the Greater London Assembly.Mark Gardner, director of communications at the Community Security Trust, emphasized that the message of much of the graffiti – for example, "Jihad is the only solution for Israel" – was not only anti-Israel but also blatantly anti-Semitic. "In the mindset of the perpetrators, when they talk about jihad, they mean a jihad by all Muslims against all Jews," he said.Last week the House of Commons heard a speech by Britain’s chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, on the occasion of the government’s first-year report on its investigation of anti-Semitism. Rabbi Sacks focused on the increasing feeling of vulnerability among Britain’s Jews and the antagonism voiced against Jewish students on campus. The minister for Europe, MP Jim Murphy, reiterated the vital nature of the work of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, whose creation "was a turning point in how we deal with discrimination" and the "unique evil" of anti-Semitism.
© The Jewish Press

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AIDS TREATMENT UGANDAN WOMAN REFUSED ASYLUM(uk)

27/5/2008- A Ugandan woman seeking the right to stay in the UK for Aids treatment today lost the final round of a 10-year legal battle to avoid being sent home. European judges ruled that the woman's human rights would not be breached by the Government's refusal to grant her asylum, even though health care for Aids in Uganda is not as good as in the UK. The woman, now aged 34 and named in court only as "N", is believed to be still living in Clapham, London, more than 10 years after entering the UK illegally under an assumed name. She was so ill she was admitted to hospital in March 1998 and within three days solicitors lodged an asylum application, claiming she had been ill-treated and raped by the Ugandan resistance movement and would be in danger if returned home. Eight months later she was diagnosed with two advanced Aids-related illnesses - and a report put her life expectancy at less than 12 months if forced back to Uganda where there was "no prospect of her getting adequate therapy". But the Home Secretary rejected the asylum bid as not credible, saying there was no evidence of a risk from the Ugandan authorities. In addition, Aids treatment in Uganda was comparable to any other African country. An appeal backed the Government on asylum, but said the state of Aids treatment in Uganda meant it risked breaching human rights bans on "inhuman or degrading treatment" if "N" were sent back. But a counter-appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal delivered a verdict that low-cost Aids treatment was available in Uganda, even if the level of medical care "falls below that of the UK". "N" then turned to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, losing in both cases. The last resort - the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg - has now ruled by a 14-3 majority that there would be no breach of the Human Rights Convention if "N" were to be sent back to Uganda.
© Independent Digital

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WARNING OVER MENTAL HEALTH 'RACISM' (uk)

27/5/2008- Asian patients suffering depression and other mental health problems are missing out on treatment because of "institutional racism" in the health service, the chief executive of an NHS Trust has claimed. Women from south Asian backgrounds are twice as likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population, and there are concerns that this may be in part due to their failure to obtain help with mental problems. Antony Sheehan, the chief executive of Leicestershire NHS Trust, said that the mental health service had effectively chosen not to engage with the Asian community. He told the BBC: "We really should acknowledge that the impact of institutional racism is there in mental health and other health and social care services in the same way it has been recognised in the criminal justice system. "Candidly, the real issue is just how we have chosen not to connect with the community." The chairman of the Mental Health Act Commission, Lord Patel of Bradford, warned that unless greater efforts are made to offer support to Asian communities, they could suffer similar levels of problems to black African and Caribbean groups, which are vastly over-represented in mental health institutions. People from these ethnic groups are as much as 18 times more likely to end up in a mental institution than the national average, and Lord Patel said that the system must be alert to signs that people from Asian backgrounds are also experiencing problems. "If we ignore these messages then in the next 10 to 20 years we're quite likely - or very likely - to see the same numbers of south Asian people ending up in the mental health system as young black African and Caribbean people are doing now," he told the BBC. "That's completely unacceptable in the 21st century."
© Press Association

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ARUBA AND NETHERLANDS ANTILLES ACCUSE THE HAGUE OF DISCRIMINATION(Netherlands)

Parliaments of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles have accused The Hague of discrimination following talks on the island of St Maarten.

26/5/2008- The parliaments of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, which have autonomous status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, have accused The Hague of discrimination. After talks on the island of St Maarten, they issued a statement in which they "rejected Dutch policy in the strongest possible terms". The main issue is that the government has created the "Antillian Referral Index", in addition to a general referral index for problem youths. Both systems are intended to allow local councils, police, schools and social services to coordinate their efforts by exchanging information. The Aruba and Netherlands Antilles' parliaments believe that a special index for Antillians is unnecessary and discriminatory. They point to a report published by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, which condemns the Antillian Referral Index.
© Expatica News

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FREE BIBLES FOR AMSTERDAM POLICE(Netherlands)

Shortly after being told they can buy discounted copies of the Qur’an, Amsterdam police are now told that they can received free Bibles.

30/5/2008- Members of the Amsterdam-Amstelland police force, who can already buy a discounted copy of Kader Abdolah's translation of the Qur'an, will soon receive a bonus: a free copy of the Dutch Authorised Version of the Bible. It is part of an action by the Dutch Reformed Church Bible Foundation, which sees it as its duty to distribute the 1637 version of the Bible as widely as possible. Officers in Amsterdam will be the first to receive the free copies; if police forces in other cities express an interest, they will get them too. The decision to provide Amsterdam police officers with a discounted copy of the Qur'an was heavily criticised by parties on the left and right of the political spectrum. The Socialist Party and the Christian SGP and ChristenUnie feared it would influence the neutral attitude expected of police officers. Former Integration Minister Rita Verdonk, now leading her movement Proud of the Netherlands, stated that the police should focus strictly on Dutch culture. Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst responded to questions from the right-wing Freedom Party (PVV) by saying that it was not a question of favouring one religion or culture over the other, but of giving police an opportunity to widen their knowledge in order to be better prepared for their work in a city with many different nationalities. Kader Abdolah's translation of the Qur'an leads the bestseller lists in The Netherlands. He fled Iran in 1985 and was granted political asylum in the Netherlands three years later. He has written several novels in Dutch and has a weekly column in the newspaper De Volkskrant.
© Expatica News

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POLICE SEIZE COMPUTERS IN EXTREME-RIGHT SEARCH(Netherlands)

Police have searched the house of an individual suspected of ties to the 'Holland-hardcore' website, one of the biggest extreme-right websites in The Netherlands.

29/5/2008- Police have searched the house of an individual suspected of ties to the 'Holland-hardcore' website, one of the biggest extreme-right websites in The Netherlands. During the search, which took place near The Hague, several computers were seized. The Dutch Complaints Bureau for Discrimination on the Internet reported Holland-hardcore to the police after receiving many complaints about racist and discriminatory statements on the site. Most of these were directed at Muslims. The Bureau hopes by its action to make it clear that such a site will not be tolerated in the Netherlands.
© Expatica News

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TURKISH GAY GROUP WILL FIGHT BAN

30/5/2008- A leading Turkish gay rights group will fight a court ruling that ordered it be closed for "violating morality". Lambda, which has become increasingly vocal in calling for gay, lesbian and transgender rights in Turkey, says it will appeal against the decision. Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but many gay and transgender people complain of discrimination. A report last week by Human Rights Watch highlighted extensive harassment and called for legal reforms. The court said the group must be closed, following a complaint, initiated by the Istanbul governor's office, that Lambda violated laws on the protection of the family, and an article banning bodies "with objectives that violate law and morality". "This is a mistake and we hope that the Appeals Court will correct it," the group's lawyer, Firat Soyle, told the AFP news agency. The group can continue to operate in the mean time. Mr Soyle said a prosecutor threw out a similar application against another gay rights advocacy group, KAOS-GL in 2005, saying that homosexuality does not amount to immorality.

'Visibility breeds violence'
Lambda says the state wants to pressure it into silence, pointing to a police raid on its offices last month. Gay, lesbian and transgender people have been becoming more visible in Turkey - last Saturday the first ever gay rights march was held in the capital, Ankara. But, they say, the more visible they are, the more they are encountering hostility in what remains a conservative society. "Things were tough before, but they're getting worse," Demet, who is transgender, told the BBC. "One thing we have learned is that visibility breeds violence," says Scott Long, of Human Rights Watch.
© BBC News

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FACING HATE CRIME IN TURKEY

A report by Human Rights Watch says gay and transgender people in Turkey are subject to "endemic abuses", and calls on the government to act to protect them. The BBC's Sarah Rainsford met some of the victims.

24/5/2008- "This is my first photograph as a transsexual," a woman tells me, in her flat in back-street Istanbul. She points to a snapshot of herself with long-flowing hair and thick make-up. On the opposite page of the album, a man with a moustache reminds her how she used to be. Smoking heavily, the woman - who asks me not to use her name - tells me she grew up as a man in the conservative east of Turkey. She moved to Istanbul in her 30s, where she finally felt able to live as a woman. "It's all I wanted," she says. "I used to dance as a woman and see the image of a man in the mirror and that upset me."

'Systemic violence'
But she has paid a heavy price for her transformation. Once a businessman, she is now a sex-worker because no-one else will employ her. And like many transgender prostitutes here, she is a frequent victim of violence - mostly from the police. "I've been beaten many times," she shrugs. "Once, I was walking down the street and the police said 'don't pass!'. Then two more came, they dragged me into the basement of the police station and they hit me in the face and beat me so badly I had to live for 15 days with an extremely swollen head." Her experience is typical of those documented by Human Rights Watch in its latest report. It describes this type of violence as "systemic" in Turkey and records a wide range of abuses on the streets, in the family and from the police. The BBC asked Istanbul police and the governor's office to comment. Both declined. "Things were tough before, but they're getting worse," says Demet, who has been fighting for the rights of transgender people like herself for two decades or more. "The police are making it harder for us to work on the streets. They're closing down the houses we use. They even banned us from walking past the police station. We never had that before." Demet blames the rise to power of a conservative, religious government - bringing bureaucrats to match. Others point to the highly patriarchal nature of society here. Transgender women are singled-out for the worst abuse, as the most visible. But many gay men and lesbians recount how difficult it is to be "out" even in relatively liberal Istanbul. Emrecan recently had a full beer bottle thrown at him and a friend on their way home from a gay club. "It was very very scary for me," he recalls. "It brought back memories of when I was badly beaten as a student. It took me a very long time to get over that. I had to actively work on being on the streets without fear."

Uneasy defiance
Whilst Turkey's democratisation - and the EU accession process - have encouraged some to be more open about their sexuality, that could have a flip-side. "One thing we have learned is that visibility breeds violence," says Scott Long, of Human Rights Watch.  "The more people are seen to be claiming their political rights, the more there is a backlash from society and the police," he says. That certainly seems true for Lambda. Tucked above a tattoo parlour, the only support group in Istanbul for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is a place where they can relax, be themselves and be safe. Now the group faces closure, accused of violating Turkish morality and family values. The charges were filed by the governor's office when Lambda applied to be registered as an association. "Maybe it's because we demanded state recognition," muses activist Bora Bengisun. "If we live behind closed doors, our existence is not a problem. But if we're visible and organised that's when the problems start." The group is determined to keep-up its activism, regardless. It is pushing for equal rights and recognition for sexual minorities in Turkish law, a call backed by Human Rights Watch. They also want to lift the military's classification of homosexuality as an illness which makes a man unfit for compulsory service, and end the humiliating tests used to "prove" it. "The military doctor asked for photographs. He wanted to see me in full action, with my face visible," Emrecan explains. "Once I gave him that in colour, A3 sized, I was given a psychiatric evaluation. It was unbelievable. My family know I'm gay, but I don't know how other people deal with it." Defying the current hostile climate, one former sex-worker has found her own way to battle prejudice. Esmeray began living as a woman when she was 18. Since then she has survived prostitution, poverty and all kinds of abuse. Now she is touring the country, telling her own story as a stand-up act. "My message is that we are here, living with you, get used to it," Esmeray says of her unique act. "One of my aims is to make homosexuality more visible here, and to give the message to homosexuals that they can come out, we're here." For now though, not many people feel able to do that.
© BBC News

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TURKISH COMMUNITY WARNS OF CONTINUED RACISM IN GERMANY

Germany's Turkish community warned of continued racism in the country, while marking the 15th anniversary of an anti-foreigner arson attack in the western city of Solingen which killed five Turkish women and girls, the press reported Thursday.

30/5/2008- There is still a high degree of xenophobia in Germany society which has to be combated through better education, stressed the Turkish community of Germany (TGD) and the Foundation of Turkish Studies (ZfT) in a statement. "Aggressive behaviour and prejudices are already being taught at the age of a child. Therefore, one must act pedagogically at an early stage," ZfT director,Faruk Sen was quoted saying. There are 7.5 million foreigners living in Germany of which 2.5 million are Turks. A recent confidential government report revealed widespread xenophobia among millions of teenagers in Germany. Almost every German youth said there are too many foreigners living in Germany. Nearly every 9th grader has Islamophobic tendencies while every 13 teenager admits to having committed a right-wing motivated criminal act. Germany has been the scene of a series of vicious neo-Nazi attacks in recent months, especially against foreigners. German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has repeatedly warned of a growing far-right problem in his country, branding it a "steadily growing danger." Schaeuble had voiced concern that the number of far-right crimes between 2005 and 2006 rose from 15,000 to 18,000 offenses, indicating a 9.3 percent increase. Meanwhile, the number of anti-foreigner attacks hovered at 511 in 2006, showing a 37 percent rise from the previous year. Political observers link the dramatic rise in the number of far-right crimes to the recent success of neo-Nazi parties in key regional elections in several east German states. Young neo-Nazis feel also more and more emboldened to commit hate crimes, knowing that police won't charge them with an offense. Most of the suspects implicated in far-right crimes are juveniles. Hate crime experts and sociologists have repeatedly stressed that Germany's political leadership lacked a clear and effective strategy to fight neo-Nazi and racist crimes.
© Mathaba

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THREE GERMANS GIVEN SUSPENDED TERMS: RACIST ATTACK ON AFRICAN MEN

30/5/2008- Three far-right men were given suspended prison terms Friday for a vicious, racist attack on two immigrants from Africa that marred a country wine festival in Germany last summer. A Sudanese man, 39, who was working at the festival, was clubbed to the ground with a wine bottle. An Egyptian, 39, who tried to rescue his co-worker, lost a finger when he was slashed with the jagged edge of a broken bottle. The court in the city of Mainz handed down terms of 8 to 18 months on three attackers, convicting them of causing grave bodily harm, but suspended the terms conditional on the men not getting into further trouble. A teenaged defendant was sentenced to 80 hours of community service. The men must pay 8,000 euros in compensation to the victims. Sentence was to be passed later on a fifth accused. The August 19 attack in the wine-growing town of Guntersblum occurred on the same day as an attack on Indian men in the eastern German town of Muegeln. Both racist assaults sickened Germany. Four of the men, known associates of a local neo-Nazi group, had admitted uttering racist swear-words including "nigger." Defence lawyers denied there was any neo-nazi Motive. The accused claimed they had been very drunk and felt that the two immigrants were "provoking" them. They were tried in a closed, youth court at Mainz because one of them was a minor at the time of the offence.
© DPA

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NEO-NAZIS ATTACK AFRICAN MAN IN VIERSEN(Germany)

25/5/2008- An African man was assaulted on Saturday night in Viersen, in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, in what appears to have been a neo-Nazi racist attack. Police in Mönchengladbach said on Sunday that the 34-year-old man was assaulted by four unknown suspects in a pedestrian zone, who threatened him with knives and an iron rod. The suspects beat the man with a construction beam and fled the scene. Police said they are looking for men with shaved heads and bomber jackets. The victim suffered minor injuries. The attack comes after an announcement in March by Uwe-Karsten Heye, former German government spokesman and a co-founder of Gesicht Zeigen!, an organization working against right-wing violence, who said that 2007 was a new "negative record" year, with some 600 injuries attributed to racist attacks. Since German reunification in 1990, Heye said 130 asylum seekers, immigrants, and homeless people have been killed in such crimes by right-wing extremists. The incident also coincides with a statements made by North Rhine-Westphalia’s head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hartwig Möller, on Sunday about the 15th anniversary of a deadly right-wing extremist fire attack in Solingen. Two women and three children of Turkish origin were killed in May of 1993 when four young men set fire to their home. “We don’t have such terrible attacks in North Rhine-Westphalia any more, but more than 120 people are victims of right-wing attacks each year. That is unacceptable,” he told news agency DDP. Möller said that extremist groups attempting to insert their ideology into mainstream society are particularly dangerous. “They subtly tie themselves to the worries of the citizens over too many immigrants and foment prejudice and hate against their foreign neighbors,” Möller said.
© The Local - Germany

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MONUMENT TO GAY VICTIMS OF THE NAZIS UNVEILED IN BERLIN(Germany)

25/5/2008- A monument with footage of two men kissing will be unveiled on Tuesday in Berlin in memory of the thousands of homosexuals persecuted, tortured and murdered by the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. The memorial, near the Brandenburg Gate and a stone’s throw from the main Holocaust memorial, consists of an imposing, grey concrete slab around four metres (13 feet) high. At eye-level inside the monument, designed by Norwegian-Danish duo Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen at a cost of €450,000, is a gap containing a television screen showing two men kissing. The video will be changed regularly and in two years is scheduled to show two women, Günter Dworek from the Federation of Gays and Lesbians in Germany (LSVD), a driving force behind the project, told AFP. On the facade is a text detailing the suffering of gays under Hitler, who outlawed homosexuality in 1936 and convicted around 50,000 people for “unnatural” behaviour deemed unbecoming of the Aryan “master race." “A simple kiss could land you in trouble,” it says in the text.

It is estimated that between 5,000 and 15,000 gays were sent to concentration camps together with Jews, political opponents, gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses and others considered undesirable. Once there, few were killed right away. Most were forced to wear a pink triangle, putting them at the bottom of the camp hierarchy, and died of hunger, disease, abuse or exhaustion. Very few returned. Gays were also subjected to medical experiments to try to “cure” them of their sexual orientation such as hormonal injections, castration or crude brain operations. Lesbians escaped the same treatment but were forced to conceal their sexuality and could expect vicious abuse if they fell foul of the regime for other reasons.

Attending the unveiling of the monument will be Berlin’s openly gay mayor Klaus Wowereit, Culture Minister Bernd Neumann, as well as representatives of Germany’s Jewish and Roma communities. Absent though will be any survivors. The last known survivor—Pierre Seel, a Frenchman deported in 1941 when he was 17-years-old, died in November 2005. In his memoirs he described how his first love, 18 year-old Jo, was torn apart by dogs in front of other prisoners. Homosexuality remained illegal until 1969 and was only formally decriminalized in Germany in 1994. For many years, the persecution of gays during the Nazi era was swept under the carpet. "Homosexuals were excluded from compensation laws in the 1950s because it was thought at the time that they had been persecuted as criminals. The few who managed to receive compensation got it late,” Dworek said. The monument also pays homage to those elsewhere suffering a similar plight today, recalling that in many countries homosexuals still face discrimination and persecution.
© The Local - Germany

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GERMAN FAR-RIGHT PARTY, IN DISARRAY, STILL COULD FACE BAN

28/05/2008- The leading German extreme rightist party is on the ropes, because of financial mismanagement, criminal investigations and fierce competition from the left for the populist protest vote. The debate among the authorities here is whether to try to ban it or to allow it to self-destruct quietly. There is no question that the group, the National Democratic Party, has fallen on hard times. In February, Erwin Kemna, its treasurer, was arrested and charged with stealing nearly $1 million in party money. Last week, the xenophobic, anti-European and, critics say, neo-Nazi party lost its appeal to reverse a fine of about $1.4 million for false filings for public financing. The National Democrats chose not to campaign in the regional election in February in Hamburg, where another far-right party garnered a mere 0.8 percent of the vote. In simultaneous elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony in January, the party earned just 0.9 percent and 1.5 percent of the vote, while the surging far-left - but increasingly mainstream - Left Party leapt over the 5 percent hurdle for representation in the state Parliaments in all three places. At the National Democrats' party conference last weekend in Bamberg, the newly re-elected party chief, Udo Voigt, attacked the Left Party in his closing address, saying, "The Left is not the advocate of the little people but, through its politics of internationalism, the advocate of barbaric capital." The conference was plagued by rancorous debate over the embezzlement case. Voigt, who has led the party for 12 years, won with 199 of the 223 votes of the assembled delegates, but the vote appeared to be more a show of unity than a sign of strength. "In these difficult times, the most harm would come from tearing ourselves apart," said Andreas Molau, a leading party member from Lower Saxony, in announcing that he would not run against Voigt.

The party had 7,200 members last year, according to government records. It remains a force in the east, where its representatives sit in two state parliaments, and it continues to draw public financing, as do all political parties in Germany - which particularly galls those who would like to see the National Democratic Party banned as an extremist group. But its recent run of troubles raises the question of whether it has devolved into a collection of isolated nationalists or can function as a hub for a dangerous rightist scene in Germany. Hajo Funke, a political scientist at Free University in Berlin who studies rightist extremism, says that the National Democratic Party, or NPD, is certainly a neo-Nazi organization, and that German neo-Nazis, to whom he attributes more than 150 murders and 15,000 violent crimes since reunification in 1990, remain a significant threat. "This milieu, this scene, is not broken," Funke said. "It's a smoldering fire underground that always breaks out again." But the battle to ban the party could backfire by giving the National Democrats a rallying point. The previous government tried to ban the party in 2001 but eventually lost its case before Germany's highest court in 2003. The next year, the National Democratic Party won 9.2 percent of the vote in the former eastern state of Saxony, sending it over the 5 percent threshold and into the state Parliament. Two years after that, the National Democrats won representation in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.

Whether the party's success in the courts, and the attention it won them, contributed to the political successes that followed is unclear, but the Christian Democratic Union, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, is in no hurry to risk a second failure, especially with the National Democrats already on the rocks. "An unsuccessful attempt to ban it is not in the interest of the political fight against the NPD," Wolfgang Schäuble, the nation's top security official, said in an interview in his office last week. The problem, Schäuble said, is that the German Constitution sets "very high hurdles" against party bans. Only two parties have been banned in postwar Germany: the successor to the Nazi Party, in 1952, and the Communist Party, in 1956. The Christian Democrats' coalition partners, the Social Democrats, who led the previous fight for a ban, say it is worth the chance and have pushed to try again. "Some political parties are so dangerous to democracy that we have to pull the emergency brake of a ban," said Ehrhart Körting, a Social Democrat who is Schäuble's counterpart for the city of Berlin, where the National Democrats sit on four local councils but not in the legislature. "We cannot yet say that the NPD is not dangerous, because this weakness is not lasting."
© International Herald Tribune

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FAR-RIGHT NPD APPOINTS HOLOCAUST DENIER AS VICE PRESIDENT(Germany)

25/5/2008- Germany's main far-right group, the National Democratic Party (NPD), embraced a leading extremist Sunday, May 25 but avoided explicit expressions of neo-Nazi opinion which are prohibited under German law. Juergen Rieger, a lawyer who has advised and defended neo-Nazis, was appointed one of the group's three vice-presidents. Rieger has convictions for Holocaust denial and assault. Reporters suggested that the overtly neo-Nazi faction within the NPD was gaining a greater voice in the anti-foreigner party, which has seats in two of Germany's 16 state assemblies but has never won parliamentary representation at federal level. A party spokesman later welcomed Rieger's appointment, saying he would energize the NPD. Under party leader Udo Voigt, the NPD has sought the support of militants who praise Adolf Hitler's National-Socialist or Nazi doctrines, though Voigt insists that the NPD's nationalist views comply with Germany's democratic constitution. In a speech to delegates, leader Voigt won applause as he said the party's policy was both nationalist and socialist, but used German grammar to carefully separate them into two words. He said this had no connection whatever to the Nazi era. More than 2,000 people demonstrated Saturday against the annual convention of the NPD in the Bavarian city of Bamberg. Kurt Beck, leader of Germany's co-ruling Social Democratic Party SPD, called in Leipzig for the NPD to be compulsorily dissolved. "It ought not to be allowed," he said. "A robust democracy ought not to give state support to people who want to abolish democracy."
© DPA

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FAR-RIGHT CONFERENCE PROMPTS ANTI NEO-NAZI PROTESTS(Germany)

24/5/2008- Germany's main far-right group, the National Democratic Party (NPD), began a two-day annual conference in the city of Bamberg Saturday, May 24, with thousands of demonstrators outside demanding that the NPD be banned. The anti-foreigner party was expected to re-elect its leader Udo Voigt and affirm its extreme nationalist policies. Voigt told supporters the government had failed in 2003 in a law case to ban the NPD and was now trying to undermine the group by "drying up" its income. He said a fine for filing fraudulent accounts had dealt a "serious blow" to the party. The NPD has seats in two of Germany's 16 state assemblies, but has never won seats at federal level because of a rule blocking representation to groups with less than 5 per cent of the national vote. About 2,000 people attended two anti-NPD rallies in Bamberg. After lethal clashes between the opponents on May 1 in Hamburg, riot police kept a close eye on about 450 militant leftists who marched into Bamberg from its railway station to confront the NPD. Police detained 19, but there was no major trouble.

Bamberg mayor calls for peaceful protests
Mainstream groups attended a "festival for democracy" on Bamberg's main square, where Mayor Andreas Starke said his city had vainly sought by legal means to prevent the NPD conference taking place there. He called for anti-NPD protests to be peaceful. "This party stokes hate and prejudices, it's racist and anti-Semitic. We, on the other hand, avow ourselves to the values of the Constitution, to freedom, tolerance and human rights," he said. Anti-subversion agencies who monitor the NPD estimate its card- carrying membership has grown recently by 1,000 to 7,000 as Germany neo-Nazis rally to it. The NPD denies that it is neo-Nazi. German law outlaws neo-Nazi organizations. In the northern German port city of Kiel, police counted 1,200 demonstrators Saturday at an anti-NPD rally. The protesters were alarmed by poll data suggesting the NPD would win some seats in the Kiel city council in an election on Sunday.
© Deutsche Welle

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RESIDENCE PERMIT FOR IRANIAN KURD GIVEN SANCTUARY BY CHURCH(Finland)

Court overrules Directorate of Immigration

24/5/2008- Iranian Kurd Naze Aghai, who had been given sanctuary by a Lutheran church in Turku, is to be granted a residence permit in Finland. The Helsinki Administrative Court on Thursday overturned a decision by the Directorate of Immigration (recently renamed the Finnish Immigration Service) to refuse Aghai entry. The decision means that the directorate will be compelled to grant her a residence permit. Jouni Lehikoinen, Vicar of the St. Michael’s parish in Turku, which offered its assistance to Aghai, said that he believes the publicity that the case has received in Finland has affected the outcome. "Because of it, she might have faced persecution in Iran”, Lehikoinen said. The Aghai case reached the public eye when the parish took her under its wing in June last year. At that time Aghai had been in hiding for about three months, to avoid being sent back to Iran. The case has also been seen as a precedent in seeking sanctuary from a church. Last year the Finnish Ecumenical Council gave instructions to churches on offering sanctuary. According to the guidelines, Christian parishes are obligated to help if someone asks for assistance, fearing that his or her life is in danger. Aghai has emphasised that she would face torture and death in her home country. She has taken part in the activities of a banned party, has refused marriage, and sought sanctuary in a Christian church in Finland. “The decision was a great relief. Naze already has a place to live in Turku, an apartment provided by the parish, and friends in the city. I hope that she will stay in Turku and get her life in order”, Lehikoinen says. Aghai came to Finland in February 2005, and her asylum application was turned down in October of that same year. Later the Administrative Court rejected her appeal over the decision, and the Supreme Administrative Court refused to hear an appeal. When Aghai was supposed to have been deported in March 2007, she went into hiding. St. Michael’s’ parish helped Aghai organise her living arrangements, and to draw up a new asylum application, which the Directorate of Immigration rejected in September. However, the Administrative Court now ruled that the deportation order should not be implemented.
© Helsingin Sanomat

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GAY ACTIVISTS MARCH IN ROMANIA DESPITE OPPOSITION

24/5/2008- Around 200 gay activists marched through Bucharest on Saturday in a heavily policed pride parade that defied efforts by religious and far-right groups to have the annual event banned. Earlier this week, anti-gay groups tried to get a court to rule against the march, Romania's fifth annual gay festival. Two counter-demonstrations were held ahead of the parade. At one, members of a far-right group chanted "Romania does not want you" in a protest they said was "against sin." Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001, but gay people often face hostility in this largely conservative country of 22 million where the powerful Orthodox church views homosexuality as a sin and a disease. Police said the gay rights march passed off without incident. "It is encouraging," riot police spokesman Marius Militaru told reporters. "People are becoming aware that we are heading towards a degree of normality." Last year riot police detained dozens of protesters who tried to break up a gay rights march. About 1,200 police were deployed to protect the parade this year. "I want to thank the police here today ... but we should be able to march and be ourselves without the police marching along," Michael Cashman, a British member of the European Parliament, told activists.
© Reuters

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EUROPE: MOBILISING AGAINST 'FOREIGN CRIMINALS' (Comment)

Populist politicians - mostly, although not entirely, from centre and extreme-Right parties - are seeking to win elections by mobilising voters against foreign criminals, 'immigrant' youth and the Roma. But this resort to xenophobia via crime comes at a high social cost.
By Liz Fekete


27/5/2008- Politicians who make use of divisive and reckless populism to gain votes, put post-war European democratic standards and values at risk. This was most dramatically shown in Italy, in November 2007, when, shameful, deportation policies, based on the collective punishment of all Romanian immigrants (read Roma), were introduced by a centre-left government. This followed the arrest of a Roma for the sexual assault and murder of Giovanna Reggiani, the 47-year-old wife of a navy captain whose body was found in a ditch near her home in Rome. But, in Switzerland, too, thanks to populist proposals advanced by the extremist Swiss People's Party (SVP), the notion of 'collective punishment' is on the agenda. The SVP believes that the entire family of a criminal under the age of 18 should be deported as soon as sentence has been passed. If such a law were passed, say civil libertarians, it would be the first such law in Europe since the Nazi practice of Sippenhaft - or kin liability - whereby relatives of criminals were held responsible for their crimes and punished equally. Politicians' calls for swift action and authoritarian measures (including deportations) to deal with 'foreign crime' has been accompanied by the production of electoral campaign materials incorporating racist images of dark and threatening aliens. The interplay between sensationalised media reporting on crime and the statements of populist politicians is another alarming trend. In one week, German TV channels broadcast images from a video capturing a brutal attack by two teenagers on an elderly man on the Munich metro. The Hesse CDU then sought to make this attack the dominant issue in the regional election and, in this, was directly supported by the mass-circulation Bild newspaper which featured frequent stories about 'foreign' repeat offenders with long criminal records.

In France, political manipulation of the media over issues of crime and punishment has been linked to the ruling L'Union pour un Mouvement Populaire's (UMP) 'Plan Banlieues'. French President and UMP leader Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of cynically manipulating the police and the media for political gain in the run-up to the March 2008 municipal elections (for city mayors and municipal councillors in France's 100 departments). A few weeks before the elections, thousands of riot police in armoured vans invaded housing estates in the Paris suburbs in order to round-up the 'ringleaders' of the November 2007 disturbances that started in Villiers-le-Bel after the death of two teenagers in disputed circumstances involving the police. The media were tipped off about the raids in advance and accompanied the police on this military-style enterprise. As images from the police raids were broadcast repeatedly on television, opposition parties asked whether the rendering of justice had been degraded into a theatrical 'security spectacle'. But examination of electoral issues also reveals something far more encouraging, that the resort to tactical populism has spurned a new resistance. In Rome, it was the Jewish community, utilising the slogan 'one man guilty, not a whole people', who mobilised via the EveryOne Group to oppose the climate of anti-Roma hatred. In Switzerland, racist images deployed by the Swiss People's Party in its election campaign (a poster, in cartoon form, depicted three white sheep standing on a Swiss flag, with one of the sheep kicking out a black sheep with a flick of its back legs) gave rise to the broad-front politics of the Black Sheep Committee. Meanwhile, in France, young people of immigrant descent living in the neglected and run-down banlieues are defending themselves from demonisation and criminalisation. Truth and Justice was formed to defend those arrested, counter police mis-information and ensure that the perspectives of the youth of Villiers-le-Bel inform the media debate.
© Institute of Race Relations

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ENAR STATEMENT ON DURBAN REVIEW CONFERENCE

26/5/2008- The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) welcomes the Durban Review Conference, which it sees as an important opportunity to address the problems of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances. ENAR therefore pledges full support and commitment to the entire Durban process, including its preparatory stages. ENAR calls for the process to be transparent, inclusive (including being open to the greatest level of NGO participation possible) and appropriately regulated/moderated - to ensure robust discussions and debate but in a safe space for all. ENAR is committed to assisting and participating in the Durban process in order to achieve its high level vision, objectives and work towards the purposes of realising full respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all minority and vulnerable individuals and groups. ENAR works for all oppressed groups and against all forms of oppressions, without taking sides or favouring one group over another. ENAR is primarily a non-governmental anti-racism and anti-discrimination organisation - and as such, as a matter of both principle and practice, wherever there is racism and racist practice, ENAR affirms its stand that none is above criticism - whether they are an individual, a group or a government/state. It is solely on this basis and precisely with this understanding that ENAR extends support to or shows solidarity with victims of racism, discrimination and related intolerance.
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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U.N. RACISM FOLLOW-UP CONFERENCE SET FOR APRIL 2009(Switzerland)

27/5/2008- A major United Nations conference on racism and xenophobia, a follow-up to an acrimonious 2001 summit on the same subjects, will be held in Geneva in April 2009, the world body said. Diplomats resolved their differences on the date, duration and venue of the Durban Review Conference at closed-door talks on Monday, the U.N. said in a statement issued overnight. Preparatory talks had been marked by difficult negotiations between Western and Islamic countries amid calls by American Jewish groups for the United States to boycott what they fear could be an anti-Israel event, according to diplomats involved. The conference will be held from April 20 to 24 next year to chart progress in the global fight against racism since a landmark conference seven years ago which laid down a blueprint for addressing the issue. The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was marked by wrangling about Middle Eastern and African demands for reparations for slavery, and attempts by Islamic countries to brand Israel as racist. Canada said earlier this year it would not take part in the Durban follow-up forum because it was likely to descend into "regrettable anti-Semitism." The United States, Israel's main ally, is seeking guarantees it will not become an anti-Israel event, diplomats say. The European Union (EU) took part in Geneva preparatory talks and has signalled it will decide later this year whether to attend the follow-up conference. Israel and the United States walked out of the 2001 Durban conference in protest over draft conference texts branding Israel as a racist and apartheid state -- language that was later dropped. Diplomats have agreed a range of issues, including which non-governmental organisations may be accredited to take part in the follow-up meeting, and have begun drafting the review conference's final document, the U.N. statement said. Further preparatory talks are slated for October, before which regional sessions will be held. Brazil will host a Latin American session set for mid-June, and Nigeria has offered to host the African session. South Africa -- currently wracked by violent attacks on immigrants which have killed 56 people in the last fortnight -- backed away this month from hosting the follow-up conference.
© Reuters

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THE CURSED OLD PLAGUE RISES TO THE SURFACE(South Africa)

By Eleanor Momberg

25/5/2008- This week as I trudged the pavements of Gauteng speaking to fellow citizens about the latest wave of violent xenophobic attacks the words of Nelson Mandela's inaugural speech as president of a democratic South Africa on May 10 1994 kept creeping into my head: "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another." These words rang so true for millions of people then. They should do so now. The violence that has racked the shacklands of the province in the past two weeks has brought back the experience of oppression. People are suffering indignity at the hands of fellow Africans, and South Africa runs the risk of again becoming the "skunk of the world". Foreign governments are issuing travel warnings, security is again an issue and foreigners who have fled here to seek refuge from the oppression they endured in their home countries are again fleeing for their lives.

Albert Luthuli told an interviewer in 1961 that Africans were prepared to welcome anybody to stay who dissociated himself from foreign fatherlands and who was willing to call himself African. Luthuli would be sorely disappointed by what is happening in South Africa today. Africans are turning on Africans. The cameraderie that leaders dreamt of is all but destroyed. While political leaders blame a third force and the right wing for the violence, they deny that government policies are the cause of the mayhem. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) says the xenophobic violence has been deliberately unleashed ahead of next year's general election. Manala Manzini, the NIA director general, says that although there are pure criminal elements at work, intelligence agencies are looking very carefully at "other sources motivating this with their own political agenda". He says the attacks are more complicated than just xenophobia, because South Africans of Tsonga and Venda descent have also been targeted. But the attacks in Alexandra and on the East Rand are nothing new. Xenophobic attacks have been on the increase in South Africa since 1994. In these attacks, foreigners, particularly Africans, have been thrown from trains, killed, harassed, assaulted, chased from their homes and had their businesses ransacked, looted and burned. Who can forget the attacks on Somalis in Cape Town in the 1990s and the attacks in 2000 on foreigners, including refugees, in Dunoon near Milnerton? During those attacks, foreigners and their South African wives and children sought shelter at a local police station. Dunoon residents demanded that all African refugees leave their areas for good. On Thursday the attacks started again.

The violence in Alexandra came only weeks after similar xenophobic attacks in Mamelodi and Atteridgeville in Pretoria. There have been sporadic attacks in the Olievenhoutbosch informal settlement, south west of Centurion, for more than two years, apparently because foreigners have been able to access low-cost housing that South Africans have been waiting to receive for years. Wednesday night saw a resurgence of xenophobic attacks there. Seven years after the advent of democracy, Bronwyn Harris of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation published the results of her research into xenophobia, stating that not only black Africans but also economic migrants were taking the brunt of the violence. "Xenophobia is a phenomenon that is on the increase - foreigners are the new enemy," she said in the report published just days before the United Nations World Racism Conference held in Durban in 2001. Harris found that attitudes towards Africans, including refugees, were marked by intolerance, prejudice, extortion, harassment, abuse and violence. Victims were blamed for the country's social problems. Black and white South Africans were fearful that Africans from neighbouring states would take their jobs. Police had lent legitimacy to xenophobic perceptions by linking foreigners to crime. Public and political figures had demonstrated their prejudices through inflammatory statements about migrants and foreigners. The media had perpetuated negative stereotypes about migrants and regularly connected them with crime, poverty and unemployment.

Caira Neveling rightly noted in her 2006 thesis "Implementing the immigration act: a cause of or hindrance to xenophobia in South Africa?" that "with South Africa's new position internationally, particularly in Africa, and with its commitment to human rights, democracy and regional integration, xenophobia stands in jarring contrast to its new ideals and principles". South Africa's transition to democracy brought about a change in its public policies. But these policies and legislation were based on basic principles such as control, discrimination, apartheid ideology and prejudice that were firmly rooted in the past. "If South Africa wants to solve the problem of xenophobia, it is important to address immigration policy and factors influencing the implementation of that policy," Neveling concluded. Dr Owen Sichone, the Zambian-born senior lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Cape Town, said in a Human Sciences Research Council publication on xenophobia and xenophilia, that despite the country's proud reputation as a model of democracy, apartheid had been replaced by xenophobia, "the evil that best describes South Africa's relations with African refugees and immigrants".

As the new task team appointed by the government searches for the causes of the latest outbreaks of xenophobia, one ponders the success, or failure, of the Roll Back Xenophobia campaign launched by the Human Rights Commission and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees amid much publicity in 1998. The campaign was a response to rising levels of xenophobia, particularly targeting asylum seekers and migrants. The latest wave of attacks has left South Africans divided over whether foreigners should be driven out of the country or not. But citizens appear to be united in their belief that the government is doing too little to control the influx of illegal immigrants and the need for a harsher stance on Zimbabwe. Although all are critical of the violence, saying it is unnecessary, the causes are a matter of debate. Some believe it is being driven by criminals, others say it is politically motivated, some believe it is tribal, and still others believe it is the manifestation of a level of frustration among the poorest of the poor because of a lack of service delivery. "This is being done by criminals. You can, with two of your friends, go and rob a foreigner and attack him and say he robbed you. Then others will come and join, and so it will carry on," says Thabo, an Olievenhoutbosch resident. A Centurion petrol attendant who came to Gauteng from Limpopo to find employment, decries the situation, saying it is "not okay" to attack and chase foreigners away. "They are our brothers and sisters. They are African like us, so why must we chase them away? "Sure, some do crime, but not all of them. The Zimbabweans must be allowed to stay. How can they go back to their own country where there is still a crisis?" asks the man, who does not want to be named.

On the other hand, he can understand the reasons for xenophobic attacks, attributing them to the fact that "foreigners have access to everything, including houses". They also find it easier to get jobs because they do not belong to unions and are prepared to work for less pay. "It is not okay that they are able to access services we do not get. It is okay if they get it legally, but most of them don't. They come here and get RDP houses and buy houses in [security] complexes. Where do they get the money out of hand to do that?" he asks. He welcomes the deployment of the army to back up the police, saying this is necessary because the police are unable to control the situation. Salina, a domestic worker, blames criminals for the violent attacks, charging that it is easier to blame a foreigner for the crime situation in her township than it is for South African citizens to admit that they are also to blame. She believes everyone has a right to live where they choose. If foreigners wants to make their home in South Africa, they are welcome. Salina is deeply upset that people who are contributing to the micro economy are being targeted. "In Mamelodi and in Tembisa it is the foreigners who own the businesses. When they come here they start by selling steel wool. When they get that money they buy sweets and sell those. Then it is plastic bottles and they make money; they make business. "They are good for us. I get so angry when the local people say they are bad and must go." She also questions why Shangaan-speaking South Africans are being attacked, pointing out that she was a born-and-bred South African. "You will not find someone of my tribe in Zimbabwe, so why do they want to attack us?" she asks. Her remarks are echoed by another domestic worker waiting for a taxi ride home. The young woman points out that many foreigners have married South Africans and have families here. Why, she asks, should they now be forced to leave?

Thabo feels very strongly about the fact that all foreign nationals, especially illegal immigrants and refugees, must return to their countries of origin. "They must go. We don't want to hurt them, but they must go in peace," he says. The exception is Zimbabweans - those in the country legally can stay until the crisis there has been resolved. Thabo whispers that all foreigners do crime. The Mozambicans and Nigerians, he says, are the "most dangerous" criminals who should go home. He believes the latest outbreak of violence could result in retaliatory attacks from foreigners who were attacked during last year's fights in Olievenhoutbosch. "My family is not safe anymore. We have been robbed twice and all around us are foreigners. We are not safe from these criminals," he says. His friend, a marketing student, who does not want to be named, says corruption is to blame for many of the attacks - foreigners are easily able to lay their hands on forged IDs, giving them access to services "they are not entitled to". "This government does not belong to them. They did not vote for it. We do not have houses because of them. Some of them have a house here and they have one at home. That means they have two houses, so they must leave." Sichone has argued that foreigners are not necessarily better workers - their circumstances demand greater discipline and sacrifice in order to pay monthly rents and other bills while still sending money home to relatives. The student believes his chances of finding employment are slim because "any post will probably be filled by a foreigner". He is adamant that all the problems start at South Africa's borders. They are too porous, are not properly policed and border posts are manned by corrupt officials who let anybody in, he says. "The government must work hard to secure our borders. Home affairs must be sorted out. We are helping the government, now, to send them back. "Those that married South Africans, and their families, must also go. We will drive them out."

As Fats Bookhalane, a South African comedian, once commented, South Africans easily blame their failures on other people. Amid wavering policy, the government's failure to heed warnings from researchers and commentators, the precedent of previous attacks and the opportunism of criminals, an opportunity has perhaps been missed to take responsibility for the fact that some of us accept we are a nation meant to help others. Unfortunately, others just don't want to share their land with outsiders.
© The Sunday Independent

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THE NIGHTMARE IS A WAKE-UP CALL(South Africa, opinion)

By Loren Landau, Yunus Ballim and Tawana Kupe

25/5/2008- The past two weeks have been trying for all South Africans. Witnessing the horrific cruelty of our neighbours to our neighbours has left many of us feeling desperate, despondent and disillusioned, and we have no idea how long this current round of violence will last or who will be targeted next. Authorising the military to respond might be the right choice to stop the murders but it is not without its dangers. For many, the mix of violent protest and military evokes horrors we hoped would recede into our distant collective memory. Undoubtedly, the murders of foreigners and South Africans will be a rallying point for future violence. The aching familiarity of these events makes us wonder why we have been so powerless to prevent them. Before we go pointing fingers at others, let us admit one uncomfortable truth: we have all chosen - through omission and commission - to make this violence possible. There is no third force to blame and no evil mastermind. Are the government's shortcomings - poor service delivery, corruption and denialism - not also our own? Did we not elect this government, and do we not have the right and strength to change its policies? Too many of us in the middle class have been distracted by threats to our own economic and physical security to worry about what is happening to others. We send our children overseas, add another private guard to the security detail, or talk at the gym or in our office meetings about injustice, but do little to fight it. Many of us are now responding to the needs of the displaced, but where were we before?

Many among us have worked for good, but we remain tarnished by how tolerant we have been of xenophobia and hatred in our midst. We need only compare the furore over an unforgivable racist prank at the University of the Free State to the virtual silence from the government and civil society when foreigners were murdered in townships outside Pretoria in the same week. Although charges of racism against employers or officials can end their careers, belittling and excluding foreigners from jobs, services and our social lives is often seen as patriotic. There is a deep irony in accepting such dehumanising and murderous activity while we busy ourselves righting past injustices. If nothing else, we must reconsider what it means to be South African and what it is to be in South Africa. This means opening up avenues immediately for foreigners to live among us. Our top leaders have only recently made unequivocal statements about accepting non-nationals in our communities. In part this is opportunism because, although President Thabo Mbeki asks us to get used to the new Zimbabwean arrivals, his government refuses to recognise them as refugees or offer them succour.

We have heard more encouraging messages from others, such as Jacob Zuma, the ANC president, that we should accept foreigners because of past kindnesses to an exiled ANC. But this talk is a short-sighted and dangerous justification for accepting foreigners among us. Not only will non-ANC supporters balk at this reference to the ANC and exile but also these reciprocal obligations are also narrowly bound by time and generation. Already there are young Zimbabweans and Tanzanians at places such as the University of the Witwatersrand who know little about the ANC freedom struggle and don't feel they should be welcomed here because their parents supported our struggle. How long will this obligation continue, and will our children welcome Mozambicans because of something our parents did? More worryingly, where does this leave people such as the Somalis, Chinese and Pakistanis who are not from one of the frontline states? So why should we work to make foreigners part of our communities? Precisely because they are, have been and will be. South Africa is a rich country in a relatively poor region and with that comes a responsibility to share our wealth with those who helped to create it and continue to do so. In many instances, they are foreigners. We must also develop an approach to international migration that is in line with our commitments to promote South African welfare. Our country will stagnate without the skills and energies of people from throughout the region - not only those of doctors, teachers and engineers, but also those of the thousands of foreign small-scale entrepreneurs who provide services and jobs that South Africa so desperately needs.

Yes, there are times when foreigners compete with South Africans or work for wages below those we would accept, but increased border controls won't stop people coming; they will only marginalise those who are here and force them to work for less. By granting them legal status and union membership, they too can join our fight against abuse and exploitation. Ensuring such security would heighten migrants' social and material investments in South African communities, something that would benefit us, the migrants and their families back home. In this way, they can become a powerful force for development throughout the region. As Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe become stronger so too will markets for South African goods and services. Providing legal status would also relieve urban police forces from their immigration-control duties, freeing them to do what we really need - fight crime. A national discussion about how to build communities that include people from beyond our borders is needed. But we must not limit debate to the poor communities shamed by this month's ethnic cleansing - xenophobia is all too present among civil society and among our academic colleagues. At Wits University, an institution with a long history of struggle against injustice, we regularly hear not-so-quiet whispers about hiring foreigners or promoting them to senior positions. Is it really better to deny South African students the insights and perspectives of foreigners in order to provide jobs for a few South Africans? Academic xenophobia is not only about jobs but also about how we work. Much as we complain of United States President George Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown or "Uncle Bob" Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, many sense that only South Africans are qualified to offer critical perspectives on what is right and wrong in our society. Much of this is rooted in our own insecurity stemming from our years of isolation. We prefer to talk among ourselves rather than to look out into the broader world. This is a problem.

To understand South Africa today, we must move beyond our obsession with technical fixes. While the government demands that the university must produce engineers, doctors and information technology specialists, we must continually question if that is what is needed to create an equitable society. We must support new kinds of research and teaching that will help us to understand the relationships between local situations and broader regional or global trends. This means taking off the blinkers that limit our gaze to our own borders and history. We are more than willing to work in the service of South Africa, but we need not always work in the service of the government. This week hundreds of academics lined Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg demanding stronger leadership to quell the attacks and intolerance. But it must not end there. We are now asking Mbeki to work with Wits and other academic institutions to investigate the roots of these problems. A panel of party-loyal government experts will not be enough to find long-term and just solutions. If we have learned nothing else from the misery and fear of the past weeks, it is that we can no longer sit silently by while others stop South Africa from belonging to all who live in it.

Professor Loren Landau is head of forced migration studies, Yunus Ballim is deputy vice-chancellor and vice-principal, and Tawana Kupe is dean of humanities at the University of Witwatersrand
© The Sunday Independent

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ETHNIC CLEANSING: SOUTH AFRICA'S SHAME

Horrific attacks on immigrants in the townships is a bitter legacy of apartheid. Jeremy Gordin in Johannesburg and Raymond Whitaker report

25/5/2008- It was as if the apartheid era had returned in South Africa. To a world largely unaware of the growing tensions between the country's poorest and the migrants who have streamed in from the rest of Africa, the sight of soldiers on township streets, policemen using shotguns for crowd control, and, above all, the sickening spectacle of "necklacing" came as a shock. What passions could arouse a mob to place a petrol-soaked tyre around a man's body, pinning his arms to his side, and burn him to death? Under white rule it was the brutal punishment for township informers; now it is the struggle for survival under an ANC government that many accuse of having become remote and ineffectual. According to critics, President Thabo Mbeki and his ministers have been more interested in winning the approval of international financial institutions than in focusing on the widening gap between rich and poor, and the competition at the bottom between locals and foreigners. Significantly, the trouble first erupted on 11 May in dilapidated Alexandra township, north-east of Johannesburg's city centre and right alongside Sandton, one of the richest areas in South Africa. Nowhere else in the country is the legacy of apartheid so visible: while a sprinkling of wealthy black entrepreneurs and administrators have made the jump to Sandton, it is still predominantly white. The population of "Alex", as everyone calls it, remains entirely black. But in the township's narrow, dusty streets, South Africans have been joined by people from all over the continent – mainly Zimbabweans fleeing economic chaos under Robert Mugabe and Mozambicans to whom even Alex looks prosperous, but also Nigerians, Somalis and Congolese. By definition, those prepared to leave their own country in search of a better life are often more enterprising than those who have never stirred from home, and many of the shops and stalls in Alex and other poor areas were run by foreigners, arousing envy. With unemployment having grown by 12 per cent last year to nearly four million jobless – 23 per cent of the workforce – South Africans believed migrants were taking their jobs. They were also easy scapegoats for the country's appalling crime rate.

From Alex two weeks ago, violence against foreigners, usually by crowds going from house to house at night, spread rapidly to Diepsloot, one of the vast squatter camps on the edge of Johannesburg. When the police intervened, the attacks shifted to smaller squatter camps east of the city. It was here that the dreadful "necklacing" death of one victim was photographed. By yesterday there had been outbreaks in Northwest province, Durban and Cape Town. But by far the worst of the violence was in Gauteng province, around Johannesburg. Forty-three people have died and about 23,000 foreigners, mainly Zimbabweans and Mozambicans, have been forced by armed gangs to flee their homes with nothing but their lives. The Mozambican government declared a state of emergency to help its citizens, and by yesterday more than 15,000 had gone home, some in chartered buses, many others on their own. Jose Abilio arrived with nothing to show for his five years in South Africa but two shirts in a plastic bag. "I left everything when the mobs came to attack our home in Alexandra, and since then I have been living at a police station," he said. In grimly misnamed Primrose, a drab inner suburb of Germiston, east of Johannesburg, a refugee camp had sprung up on waste ground between the local police station and the Primrose Methodist church. About 2,000 Mozambicans and Zimbabweans who fled last Sunday from a pogrom in the local squatter camp, less than a mile away, were crammed into plastic tents. They were fed by charities, but in the freezing Highveld winter, with too few portable toilets, the scene was miserable and squalid. People tried to sleep under piles of blankets, or stood around fires they made by pulling branches off the nearby trees.

While some of the Alex victims said the attacks were perpetrated by "Zulus" from a nearby hostel, those at the Primrose camp said their attackers were some of their closest neighbours. They came at night and told the migrants to go back where they came from, there and then, or die. These neighbours then stole their meagre possessions and demolished their shacks. "You know that so many people have been beaten to death and one of them necklaced," said Solomon Chibebe , a Mozambican who had made his own neat, small tent with blankets on the side of the waste ground for himself, his wife, Anita, and young daughter, Constance. "So when they came to my house and told me to go ... I went." "It is the Zulus, it is the Zulus," shouted another man, a Zimbabwean. "No, no, that is rubbish," said his compatriot, Henry Dziva . "If you want to blame someone, it's the newspapers, especially the tabloids. They always write, 'Foreigners raped this one, foreigners raped that one, foreigners are the criminals'." There have been numerous stories in the newspapers about Zimbabwean criminal gangs and Nigerian drug lords. Foreigners are perceived to have, and perhaps indeed have, jumped the housing lists by paying bribes to move into so-called RDP (reconstruction and development programme) houses – built by the government, with electricity and sanitation – before locals. Township dwellers, squatter-camp inhabitants and rural people have been short-changed by the civil service. "Years of corruption within the civil service have resulted in it becoming the breeding ground of what Nelson Mandela once called the scoundrels who prey on the public purse," wrote Jabulani Sikhakhane of Business Report last week.

But what the wave of violence has shown most clearly is that South Africa's isolation from the rest of the continent has not disappeared with the end of apartheid. Never did Mr Mbeki seem so out of tune with the public mood than when when he spoke out on the violence last week. His condemnation of "these shameful and criminal acts" was to be expected, but his finger-wagging admonition to South Africans that "citizens from other countries on the African continent and beyond are as human as we are, and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity" cut little ice. More representative was the black police constable guarding the Primrose camp. "There are just too many of these people here, you know, and something was going to happen to them," he shrugged, before going off on patrol. The marauders have been very careful to confine themselves to attacking foreigners and their "property" only, and South Africans have largely been indifferent. Only 50 yards from the camp is a brightly lit petrol station with a Steers fast food restaurant. "Ja, I watched them hacking people with pangas [machetes] just across the road," said the white manager. "But they didn't come here, so we just carried on. Who knows, some of the killers might have come across here for a hamburger in the middle of things, I don't know."

ANC leaders who spent years in exile feel a debt of gratitude to the African countries that sheltered them, as Mr Mbeki's statement shows. It also helps to explain his failure to act against Mr Mugabe's misrule in Zimbabwe, with results that have come to haunt him at home. There are said to be as many as three million Zimbabweans in South Africa, and they are not as willing as the Mozambicans to return home. When questions about the growing influx were raised at the end of last year, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Home Affairs, said the government refused to recognise them as refugees. That would have contradicted the official stance that there was nothing wrong in Zimbabwe, but the minister assured questioners that "contingency arrangements were in place" if there was a humanitarian crisis. Instead, its incompetence has been exposed, and its response to the violence has been to blame a mysterious "third force". Essop Pahad, the Minister in the Presidency, said right-wingers had always targeted what he called the "lumpenproletariat" with xenophobic propaganda. The fact that pamphlets were printed, warning foreigners to leave the country, was taken as evidence that the attacks were organised rather than spontaneous, accompanied by rumours that Zulu-based groups were behind the violence. Others, such as Steven Friedman of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, countered that the government had simply been ignoring for years the powder keg of resentment that has been waiting to be ignited – and that may have been set off by, among other things, the farce of the recent Zimbabwean presidential elections and Mr Mbeki's obvious powerlessness.

Whatever the cause, to some extent the perpetrators have succeeded in doing in 14 days what the South African government has not been able to do in 14 years – "dealing with" the human flood that has swept into the country since the end of apartheid. But their methods raise another spectre from the last century, which first gained a name not in Africa but the Balkans: that of ethnic cleansing.
© Independent Digital

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Headlines 23 May, 2008

EUROPA: HOME TO ROMA, BUT NO PLACE TO BE

A Roma ghetto in Ponticelli neighbourhood of Naples, Italy, was burnt down May 14 by locals angry over a reported attempt by a Roma young woman to kidnap a baby. The incident shows that, when it comes to living together with the 10 million Roma, Europeans today have no better answer than the "Gypsy hunts" of the Middle Ages.

17/5/2008- The attempted kidnap in Naples is merely the last in a string of publicised crimes committed in Italy by Roma, usually from Romania. In the most notorious case, Romanian Nicolae Mailat raped and killed Italian teacher Giovanna Reggiani Oct. 30, 2007, on the outskirts of Rome. Italian human rights organisation Opera Nomadi has calculated that of the 160,000 Roma living in Italy, roughly 60,000 come from Romania. Most of them inhabit improvised camps on the outskirts of towns or next to rivers. The Roma are a community that is believed to have migrated to Europe from India since the 14th century. According to a survey commissioned this year by the Romanian Agency for Governmental Strategies, over 60 percent of Italians believe that criminality rates in their country have increased because of Romanians. Italians further said they considered Roma "the most difficult to tolerate." Close to one million Romanians currently work in Italy. Romanians are said to be responsible for most of the illegalities committed by foreigners there. There is no clear indication that criminality rates for Roma from Romania are higher than for their non-Roma compatriots. Anti-Roma and anti-Romanian feeling has been growing in Italy since last fall, reaching a boiling point with the attempted kidnap in Naples. Several shanty towns inhabited by Roma across the country have been burnt down over the past week. The Italian authorities are currently raiding Roma camps, rounding up "illegal immigrants" and issuing expulsion decrees.

While Italy’s rejection of Roma is in the limelight these days, "voluntary repatriations" of Roma from France to Romania have been taking place for months without much public discussion. The French government pays for the flights back home and gives 300 euros to each person agreeing to return to Romania. At the beginning of April, trains leaving from Bucharest to various towns in the country were full of Roma families returning from France. One of the women told IPS that the money would be spent on Easter celebrations and that her family would try to return to Western Europe. On the trains, the Roma slept in the corridors, while non-Roma inside the sitting compartments guarded the doors carefully. This reporter was not let into a compartment until those inside were confident she is not Roma. Non-Roma Romanians are keen to be differentiated from the Roma. They claim they do honest work in the West and should not be demonised because of the criminal acts committed by Roma. But allegations that Roma commit more crimes than non-Roma are unfounded. A 2008 study commissioned by the National Agency for Roma in Bucharest (’Come Closer. Inclusion and Exclusion of Roma in Present-Day Romanian Society) quotes chief police officer Stefan Campean from the General Police Inspectorate as saying that in spite of the public perception, Roma do not commit more crimes than non-Roma in Romania. Besides, most of the offences by Roma are petty crime, often involving food thefts. While Western European countries are pushing Roma eastwards, back to their places of origin, in countries like Romania and Bulgaria, where Roma have lived for seven centuries, they are usually excluded from regular residential areas, schools and jobs.

About 2.5 million Roma live in Romania, and close to another million in neighbouring Bulgaria, out of a total of six million all over Central and Eastern Europe. In Zapaden Park, a neighbourhood in the Western part of Bulgarian capital Sofia, the areas inhabited by Roma begin right where the city ends along with the paved roads. To visit Roma dwellings, one has to walk a muddy path, and fields scattered with trash on both sides. The garbage collecting truck makes its way along the same route, seemingly just cruising around because at no point do the workers stop to pick up the dirt. There are no waste collecting points anyway, so the people in the area are forced to dump their rubbish in the street. This is the classic picture of Roma urban areas in Bulgaria and Romania, spatially segregated from the non-Roma neighbourhoods, and often lacking basic facilities. In Romania, according to the 2008 study ’Come Closer’, 60 percent of the Roma interviewed declared that someone in their family had gone to bed hungry in the past month. Over 50 percent of Roma children do not have a winter coat and another 50 percent live in a household that cannot afford shoes for all members. The same study shows that only 17 percent of Roma households have access to gas and just 14 percent have water pipes in the house. Some 40 percent of the Roma interviewed do not have any documents for the land their shelters are situated on. According to the Institute for Quality of Life Research in Bucharest, 47 percent of employable Roma in Romania had jobs in 2007, a significant improvement over previous years. However, write the authors of ’Come Closer’, "Roma are generally informally employed, on a daily basis, mostly in unqualified occupations which require hard physical work, but which are stigmatised as temporary, inferior occupations."

Only 9 percent of the Roma interviewed for the ’Come Closer’ study had completed high school, and another 2 percent held university degrees. In some regions, as many as 10 percent of the Roma do not hold valid identity documents, Andreea Socaciu from the local Association for Community Partnership told IPS. This situation leads to difficulties in accessing education, jobs and social welfare. Socaciu, who is involved in a programme helping Roma get official papers, says "there are areas where we are back in the Middle Ages. Entire families live in 20 square metre spaces, in one room, with no facilities. Children are forced to drop out of school, so the labour force of the future is jeopardised." A national strategy for documenting Roma and facilitating their access to information about health, education and jobs was put forward in 2005, says Socaciu, adding that what her organisation does is merely "the starting point." Other measures taken by Romanian authorities include reserving places in higher education for Roma students and providing "health mediators" for Roma communities. Progress is slow, however, and the authors of ’Come Closer’ say that working abroad remains "the main strategy for emancipation" for Roma. Of those interviewed, 74 percent declared they plan to go abroad for work, half of them saying they will do this within a year, an indication of the seriousness of their intentions. "Those who come to Italy for work don’t do it because this is a beautiful country, they do it because of poverty at home," says Najo Adzovic, the informal leader of a Roma camp on the outskirts of Rome. "Conditions must be created for them to return to their country with dignity. They need a work place above all. Perhaps Italian businessmen, who make good money in Romania, could offer work places to Roma."
© IPS-Inter Press Service

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ITALIAN EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES MINISTER REJECTS 'GAY PRIDE' MARCH

19/5/2008- Italy's new minister for equal opportunities has angered rights groups by refusing to back a "gay pride" march because, she said, gays no longer suffer discrimination in Italy. The appointment of Mara Carfagna, a 32-year-old former Miss Italy contestant and television showgirl, to the equal opportunities post was seen by some rights groups as a deliberate provocation by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Carfagna said in comments published Monday that she would not back the June gay pride event in Bologna because "gay prides are pointless." "Homosexuality is no longer a problem, at least not the way the organizers of these demonstrations would have us believe," Carfagna said. "Gay pride's only aim is official recognition for homosexual couples, on the same level with marriage. I cannot agree to that." "Gone are the times when homosexuals were declared mentally ill," Carfagna told Corriere della Sera. "Today there is such a thing as integration into society." She said she would sponsor seminars dealing with "discrimination and violence" against gay people. The rights group Arcigay asked how she could say gay people suffer no discrimination in a country where they "are forced to hide their sexual orientation at home, at school and at work." The head of Arcigay, Aurelio Mancuso, said Carfagna lived in "a fairy-tale land." He said 14 gays or lesbians had been murdered in Italy in the past two years, 50 had suffered serious attacks and thousands had been discriminated against. The center-left government that collapsed in January failed to win legal status for same-sex unions because of opposition from Roman Catholic politicians. Italy is in a dwindling group of European Union countries that have not recognized gay marriage or civil unions. The center-left opposition's shadow minister for youth, Pina Picierno, said Carfagna was being manipulated in the battle between Catholics and secularists over gay marriage. The Communist politician Manuela Palermi put Carfagna's lack of backing for the march in the context of the new government's tough line on immigrants and social issues. "Immigrants hunted down, Roma camps set on fire, a boy in Verona killed by neo-Nazis, women attacked on abortion," she said. "A racist country turning more and more Taliban, incapable of secular thought: That's the image Italy is projecting."
© Reuters

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EURO SEAT FOR ITALIAN NEO-FASCIST FIORE

A leading Italian neo-fascist with a nine-year conviction for conspiracy after the bombing of Bologna train station in 1980 has taken a seat in the European Parliament.

23/5/2008- Roberto Fiore, 49, came to Britain in the wake of the bombing, which left 85 people dead and over 200 wounded. The attack was carried out by the Nucleus of Armed Revolutionaries, a far-Right terrorist group. Although Mr Fiore, a member of the Third Position cell, was not directly involved in the execution of the bombing, he was convicted for conspiring to carry out an armed attack. He lived in the UK for several years. "He is absolutely the most extreme person who has ever served in the European Parliament," said Glyn Ford, a Labour MEP. "There are other MEPs who feel strongly about this. We usually put up a cordon sanitaire around the far-Right politicians."  Fiore, who is close friends with Nick Griffen, the chairman of the British National Party, won his seat in Brussels after the resignation of Alessandra Mussolini. Fiore was part of a far-right coalition, Social Alternative, which won one seat in the parliament in elections in 2005. Alessandra Mussolini had occupied the seat until her resignation in April to serve in the Italian parliament. Since Mr Fiore was the next highest-ranking member in the coalition, he won the right to become her replacement. Mr Fiore's own party, Forza Nuova, failed to win any seats in the Italian general election last month. He said his new career as an MEP "could not have got off to a better start". He took part in a debate in Strasbourg on immigration this week, where he argued for temporary immigrant camps to be dismantled and their residents to be expelled. "I called for a suspension of the Schengen [free movement] treaty so that we can control our borders efficiently," he said.
© The Telegraph

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GAY MAYOR OF PARIS SETS HIS SIGHTS ON FRENCH PRESIDENCY(France)

23/5/2008- Will a black American president shake hands one day with a gay president of France? Barack Obama has already taken strides towards reversing the conventional, racial wisdom of US politics. Bertrand Delanoë, the popular, successful, gruff, acerbic – and gay – Mayor of Paris took his first step yesterday on a four-year obstacle course which could, in theory, take him to the Elysée Palace in 2012. In the introduction to a book of interviews, outlining a market-oriented and even Blairist future for Socialism in France, M. Delanoë hinted strongly that he would run for the leadership of the Parti Socialiste in November and probably seek the party's presidential nomination in four years' time. He was ready, he said, to "invest my convictions and energy in my country" if "democracy and the Socialist Party call on me... to act". In a brief reference to his sexual orientation, M. Delanoë rejected the view – often voiced in the provinces but a taboo subject for the Paris media – that La France profonde is not ready to elect a homosexual as president of the republic. "People say that homosexuality is acceptable in Paris but not in the suburbs or in the provinces but that's a false idea," he said. "So long as people feel that it is not a problem for me, then it's not a problem for them." When they discuss M. Delanoë's prospects, national newspapers avoid this subject, to the point of absurdity. Blogs and chat-rooms on the internet are less cautious. A typical contributor yesterday said that M. Delanoë was "poking himself in the eye" if he ignored the rampant homophobia, among both right-wing and left-wing voters, in the French provinces.

Opinion polls paint a much more encouraging picture for M. Delanoë. A survey this month for the magazine Le Point said that 57 per cent of French people thought that the Mayor of Paris would make a good president, compared to only 28 per cent for Ségolène Royal, the failed Socialist candidate last year. The reliability of polls four years before the next election is open to doubt. All the same, the findings and M. Delanoë's approaching book launch, panicked Mme Royal into an early declaration of her own interest in the Socialist Party leadership last weekend. Although other candidates exist, the struggle to be the Next Big Thing on the French left looks likely to be a two-horse race between M. Delanoë, 58, and Mme Royal, 54. Since he was elected Mayor of Paris in 2001 (and re-elected earlier this year), M. Delanoë has established himself as a competent, inventive politician, capable of bridging the ideological gulf in France between socialist ideals and market realities. A typical Delanoë initiative – the Vélib help-yourself bicycles for hire scheme – is cheap to users, funded by a private company in return for advertising space and provides revenue to the town hall. In a book of interviews with the editor of Libération, Laurent Joffrin, published yesterday, M. Delanoë promises to bring the same kind of pragmatic, market-oriented socialist politics to the whole country. The word "liberal" – in the sense of free-market economics – should not be shunned by the French left but reclaimed as a left-wing concept, M. Delanoë said. Social democracy should be about ideals and aims and "good management", he said, not about anti-capitalist ideology. The Mayor even went as far as to say that the former British prime minister Tony Blair – a figure of hatred and scorn on the French left – had achieved "excellent things".
© Independent Digital

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MIGRANTS TO GET METAL HOMES OF THEIR OWN(Russia)

22/5/2005- A City Hall plan to house migrant workers in metal containers was sharply criticized Wednesday by ethnic community leaders, who complained that it would lead to the segregation of native Muscovites and the capital's large population of migrants. The container plan was approved at a Tuesday meeting of the city government, and it is part of a larger drive to reform the treatment of migrant laborers, most of which consists of noncontroversial initiatives, such as simplifying registration procedures. The moveable structures will allow migrants to live comfortably near the places where they work, such as construction sites, a city official said Wednesday. "It's not about ghettoization, but about creating comfortable living conditions for workers," Alexei Alexandrov, head of the city government committee on interregional relations and national policy, said by telephone. But Tafik Melikov, a spokesman for Azeri community group Odzhakh, criticized the housing of migrants at construction sites, arguing that it isolated the migrant labor force from the rest of Moscow. Most Azeris just want to live with their neighbors like normal people, Melikov said. "Many of us left home to work here a long time ago," he said. "[Migrants] came here with their families and their children, and this is a fact that, unfortunately, is not being considered." Melikov said he supported other parts of City Hall's program, such as easier registration under the so-called "one window" program. Alexandrov shrugged off concerns that separate living areas for migrants would lead to segregation, arguing that most migrants do not want to stay permanently in the capital.

"Those who come for temporary work don't aim to integrate into our culture or study the language," he said. "They just want to earn their money and leave." Alexandrov also touted the project as a public-safety program of sorts. Separate living spaces can help lower the risk of migrants infecting healthy Russians with their many illnesses, he said. "A rather high percentage of them are have dangerous diseases, and what, are they supposed to use public transport?" he said. Estimates of the size of Moscow's migrant-worker population vary, but they are widely believed to number in the millions. Many come from impoverished former Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Finding suitable housing for the throng of short-term laborers is a thorny issue, especially against the backdrop of Moscow's exorbitant housing costs. Many migrants live in crowded apartments, dormitories or rickety trailers. While many construction workers already live in temporary metal structures near their construction sites, the difference with the new, City Hall-approved containers is that they have already been cleared by city health and safety inspectors, making it simple for employers to set them up. Employers will pay to set up the containers, said Olga Veldina, an assistant to Alexandrov. She described the plan as a way that the city government is helping companies that use migrant labor. Although living in a box may not appeal to everyone, the company that designed the containers said they were safe and had all the utilities needed for habitation. "There will be central heating or electric heating, light, electric connections, bathrooms, sinks and shower cabins," said Viktor Nosikov, deputy director of the Center for Structural Calculations. The containers will be metal on the outside and made of plaster slabs on the inside, with nonflammable basalt fiber used as thermal insulation, Nosikov said. Each will have an area of 14 square meters and is designed to house two people. They can also be connected to each other to form a two-story building meant to house 100 people, he said.

Nosikov even proposed some other potential applications for the containers. "In the future, they may be used by students and to host guests for different events," he said. Activists representing migrant workers were less enthusiastic about the containers. One Moscow-based Uzbek political activist described the plan as an example of Russia's long history of exploiting minorities. He complained that City Hall treats them as disposable. "The Moscow government loves people from Central Asia," said Bakram Kharoyev, an activist who consults for Human Rights Watch. "They love it when we come here to work, and they love that we work so cheaply." Allison Gill, a researcher specializing in migrant labor issues with Human Rights Watch, was disturbed by the sound of the plan. Migrant laborers are already ruefully alienated, she said. "The sound of living on construction sites in plastic boxes raises concerns about basic living conditions," she said. But another diaspora leader said the problems of living in boxed housing were nothing compared with being stabbed to death or sleeping in a stairwell. Gavor Dzhugayeva, director of the Tajikistan Foundation for Immigration and Law, said rising xenophobia was the real problem facing migrants in Moscow. Attacks against dark-skinned foreigners have skyrocketed this year, according to organizations that keep track of hate crimes. "It's much safer to live in a compact apartment than an area that's full of nationalists," Dzhugayeva said. "The main problem is reforming the system of registration for migrant laborers so that they can live in safety and receive the aid they need."
© The Moscow Times

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EXTREMIST GROUP STEPS UP PRESSURE ON IMMIGRANTS (Russia)

20/5/2008- Members of the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) launched a verbal attack on the pro-Kremlin United Russia party last weekend for introducing a series of reforms to the process of obtaining Russian citizenship. Activists from the radical youth movement staged a protest outside the party’s local headquarters calling for an end to the reforms. In April, the State Duma voted to support the first draft of the newly amended law on Russian citizenship that cancels the requirement for five-year residence in the country for former Soviet citizens permanently residing abroad and planning to relocate to Russia. Under the new law, such applicants would no longer have to pass a Russian language exam or confirm their source of income. The DPNI said that enabling mostly non-Slavic people to obtain citizenship would be, paradoxically, “a step that would inevitably result in the further growth of xenophobic sentiment in the country.” “We do not want to believe that you are fully aware of all the negative consequences of such a move and that you really want this kind of future for the country, and therefore suggest that you use your influence to persuade the United Russia parliamentarians to end the plan,” reads the DPNI appeal to United Russia. No official reaction has followed from United Russia.

Over the past several years the DPNI has been notorious for its nationalist rhetoric. Its website publishes a “crime watch” about crimes committed in Russia by non-Slavs. The movement has also been involved in a number of street clashes with pro-tolerance movements. Earlier this month, the Leninsky district court handed down suspended sentences to a group of anti-fascist activists responsible for starting a brawl with members of DPNI in September 2006. The members of the “antifa” group — antifa refers to individuals and groups that are dedicated to fighting fascist tendencies — claimed responsibility for the street clash that resulted in three people being sent to city hospitals with stab wounds and head injuries. Six members of the movement were tried on charges of a premeditated act of hooliganism. Oleg Smirnov, Alexei Kogodovsky and Pyotr Osipov were each sentenced to a year in prison last Thursday, while Vyacheslav Sidorov and Maxim Khorkov were each sentenced to six months in jail. Igor Malyshev received six months in a labor camp. All the sentences were suspended. The prosecution, which had demanded six years in prison for Smirnov and tougher punishments for the rest of the defendants, is planning to appeal the verdict. The street fight was typical of the clashes between the two movements but it has become particularly notorious. Violence broke out when activists from Antifa tried to disrupt a meeting of the DPNI on Pionerskaya Ploshchad on Sept. 17, 2006. The meeting’s participants were expressing support for a race riot in the Karelian town of Kondopoga. The movement campaigns for the immediate deportation of immigrants from CIS countries.

Some members of the antifa group said they were driven to violence by the murder of Timur Kacharava, a student of the St. Petersburg State University and antifascist activist who was stabbed to death by a group of skinheads outside a bookstore on Ligovsky Prospekt in November 2005. Timur’s killer, Alexander Shabalin, received 12 years in jail although the other members of the gang that attacked Timur were given suspended sentences. “Yes, we did go there to disrupt their meeting, and yes, we were prepared to fight,” said Andrei, a witness to the fight and antifa member who asked that his last name be withheld to protect his safety. “After the murder of Timur Kacharava we realized that fascists and nationalists understand only one language, the language of force,” he added. “If the authorities do nothing, we have nothing left to do but fight. We are aware of the fact that this makes us more vulnerable, but there doesn’t seem to be any other way of drawing attention to the problem. Verbal methods do not work.” As Russia garners negative headlines worldwide due to a marked rise in skinhead violence against foreigners and minorities, the anti-racist activists have gotten far less attention. The antifascist movement’s modest numbers are dwarfed by its opponents in the much larger, more vocal and often violent nationalist movement. In addition to being subject to vicious assaults from skinheads, they are treated with suspicion and hostility by the police.

Most of the political elite and general public are either ambivalent about or indifferent to their goals. At their own rallies, police and counter demonstrators usually outnumber them. Alexander Vinnikov of the Movement Against Racism compared the current political climate to the atmosphere of Tsarist Russia in the 1910s, complete with pogroms and outbursts of anti-Semitism. “The hatred is a broader force now and is now directed at Georgians and other non-Russians,” he said. “True, it has not come to the pogroms yet but the degree of violence is steadily growing.” Vinnikov and other rights activists say there has been a lack of leadership from Russia’s political elite and from law-enforcement bodies, which often appear to be in a state of denial about hate crimes. The authorities have shown little interest in nurturing civil society or supporting groups seeking to do so. The opposite is often the case. Antifascists claim it is the hands-off attitude of the authorities that has propelled them to act aggressively. Originally a peaceful movement, it started showing signs of splitting apart after the brutal murder of Kacharava. After Kacharava’s death, some of the more radical members of the movement felt the time had come to change tactics and go on the offensive, said Ruslan Linkov, chairman of the small opposition organizaton, Democratic Russia. Linkov said the police often appear more interested in portraying antifascist activists as extremists rather than combating far-right extremists. This, Linkov said, plays into an overall mood of xenophobia among the general public. “The Movement Against Illegal Immigration is an extremist organization, that openly calls for ethnic cleansing. Yet it has not been troubled much by the police,” he said. “This shows that the police and many government officials must sympathize with the nationalists. They also seem to be trying to spread the responsibility for street violence more evenly among various political forces,” Linkov said.
© The St. Petersburg Times

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HATE CRIMES: SELF-DEFENSE LESSONS (Russia, commentary)

Russia's police offer a solution to increasing attacks on foreigners: run fast.
By Galina Stolyarova, writer for The St. Petersburg Times.


22/5/2008- Sit near the emergency-stop button in public transport, do not use your mobile phone on the street, walk in groups, practice sprinting and shouting loudly, and the skinheads will not get you. That is the general thrust of guidelines for non-Russian students compiled by the Russian police to be distributed on campuses and at hostels. The document is aimed at helping foreign students to avoid attacks by skinheads and to resist assailants. The risks are high indeed. According to statistics collected by the Moscow-based SOVA Center, a nongovernmental organization that monitors ethnic intolerance and tracks hate crimes, in 2007 69 people died and more than 600 were injured in xenophobic attacks in Russia. Racially motivated crimes were registered in 39 of Russia's 84 regions. Two reports released this year argue that the number of hate crimes in Russia is likely to increase in the near future. "We have seen the situation exacerbate in recent months: since early January 2008 there have already been more than 25 apparently ethnically motivated attacks [in Russia]," said Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights and a member of the Public Chamber. "At least 14 people have died in what the organization regards as hate crimes, with 20 more people sustaining injuries." Most of the incidents were registered in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tolyatti, and Voronezh, but attacks have also been seen in a number of new places. Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy head of the SOVA Center, said xenophobia in Russia is taking off at high speed, with apparent hate crimes seen in at least seven regions of Russia since the beginning of the year. The victims have included citizens of Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Mauritius, Syria, Kenya, Libya, and other countries, almost half of them students at Russian universities.

We can't help you
Students have appealed to the police for more protection, asking that patrol cars be assigned to monitor areas that are known for frequent attacks, especially around some of the hostels. Instead, they were presented with a leaflet that encourages them to practice sprinting and to rely on self-defense. The requests for patrol cars were brushed off. The whole city needs patrolling and there are not enough patrol cars to escort and watch every non-Slav or foreigner, officers say. The leaflet suggests anyone concerned about their safety should carry a gas-powered gun. However, the guidelines say it is sprinters who have the best chances of escaping from skinheads. "If you feel threatened, walk faster, and look back to check if you are being followed," the document says. "Once you have decided to run, do it as fast as you can. Try to attract the attention of passers-by. Do not be embarrassed to shout loudly." If one takes the leaflet's suggestions to their logical conclusion, the resulting image would make for a pathetic sight: a group of Africans marching around, armed with gas-powered guns, looking in every direction for a possible attack by skinheads. Against the backdrop of the alarming pattern of rapidly increasing hate-crimes and the cries for help from foreign students, the suggestions are insulting and cynical. Not only do the authorities refuse to recognize the scale – and even the existence – of the problem, they also appear to be deaf and blind to the victims' pleas. Only a few weeks ago, on 9 May, Russia celebrated its victory over fascism by reviving the tradition of pompous military parades. But the country's officials refuse to recognize the existence of fascist and nationalist moods, while these sentiments have been gaining strength. At most, some officials deign to acknowledge sporadic cases of fascism, but in one voice they deny it as a tendency and a growing problem that needs a strategic response.

Emboldening the terrorists
The pattern of ethnically motivated crimes in Russia is changing, too. It used to be mostly skinhead groups who were responsible for such attacks, but xenophobic attitudes are spreading, judging by the growing share of hate crimes committed by people who are not involved in gangs or radical groups. At the same time, ultra-nationalist organizations are becoming increasingly aggressive. And they feel secure enough even to send advice to the authorities. In May, members of the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) launched a verbal attack on the pro-Kremlin United Russia party for introducing a series of changes to the process of obtaining Russian citizenship. In April, the State Duma voted preliminarily to support the newly amended law on Russian citizenship that abolished the requirement of having five-year residence in the country for former Soviet citizens living abroad who plan to return to Russia. Under the new law, such applicants would no longer have to pass a Russian language exam or prove their source of income. DPNI said that enabling mostly non-Slavic people to obtain citizenship would be, paradoxically, "a step that would inevitably result in the further growth of xenophobic sentiment in the country." The radical youth group presented a petition to the party's St. Petersburg office. "We do not want to believe that you are fully aware of all the negative consequences of such a move and that you really want this kind of future for the country, and therefore suggest that you use your influence to persuade the United Russia parliamentarians to put an end to the plan," reads DPNI's letter to United Russia.

Over the past several years DPNI has been notorious for its nationalist rhetoric and street protests under the "Russia for Russians" slogans. Its website publishes a "crime watch" about crimes committed in Russia by non-Slavs. It's revealing that such groups, who openly call for ethnic cleansing, are not being bothered by the police. Not only do they operate unhindered and have websites, they now dare to advise political parties on immigration policies – without even being criticized. United Russia did not condemn the appeal and has offered no comment on the issue. There has clearly been a lack of leadership from Russia's political leaders and law-enforcement bodies. As well as immediate measures, such as the installation of surveillance cameras and increased patrols in areas where beatings and attacks are frequently reported, a coherent strategy is needed to combat the problem. In the meantime, it is the potential victims of the attacks who are doing the real work to challenge xenophobic attitudes. Members of St. Petersburg's African community have been visiting local schools and colleges to give lively lectures and talks about African culture. One such lecture at a St. Petersburg college, that I attended, ended with the students happily joining the guests in an improvised concert on African percussion instruments. It is high time that the authorities commissioned an in-depth analysis and assessment of the scope of extremism and nationalism, both in Russia as a whole and specifically in the most notorious hot spots, and for the results to be widely publicized to open people's eyes to the epidemic. It does not help that only human rights groups are aware of the issues: it is essential that ordinary people get the true picture. The circumstances surrounding crimes that are often classified as robberies, hooliganism, or homicide without a hate motive remain obscure to them.
© Transitions Online

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BITS FROM RUSSIA

Hate crimes charges dropped in Russia
26/5/2008- Prosecutors in a Russian town near Moscow dropped hate crimes charges against youths who attacked a Jewish school. Police in Bryansk last December arrested one college student and three teenagers in connection with five separate attacks on a Jewish school during late October and throughout November. The youths, who are members of a neo-Nazi gang, shattered all but one of the windows of the Ohr Avner Jewish school and also shouted anti-Semitic threats to students of the school. Though investigators said the attacks were motivated by ethnic hatred, prosecutors ruled May 21 that the youths will only face charges of vandalism and hooliganism in a local court. (©JTA)

Raid on Kurgan Neo-Nazi's Home Yields Arsenal of Explosives
22/5/2008- A police raid on the home of the former head of the Kurgan branch of the neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity (RNU) yielded an arsenal of explosives, according to a May 13, 2008 report in the local newspaper Kurgan i Kurgantsy. FSB officers detained the man, whose name the article did not reveal, on March 18 with two Molotov cocktails in his possession. A search of his home uncovered extremist literature, homemade knives, and bomb-making materials. He faces illegal weapons charges and if convicted could receive up to four years in prison. What the suspect intended to do with the explosives he had in his possession at the time of his detention was not explained in the article. During the mid to late 1990s, the RNU was Russia's leading neo-Nazi group, but it split into several components and most of its regional branches disappeared. Kurgan seems to be an exception, since RNU activists continue to distribute literature near the Russia movie theater once a week, according to the article.

Moscow Investigators Charge Neo-Nazi Gang With Over 30 Attacks
22/5/2008- Moscow prosecutors have charged nine neo-Nazis with 32 attacks on ethnic minorities, including 19 murders and 13 attempted murders, according to a May 16, 2008 report by the ITAR-TASS news agency. The suspects, who include one young woman, are a mix of college students and minors. They allegedly committed their crimes between August 2006 and April 2007, usually late at night. The gang would pick a solitary ethnic minority as a victim, beat and stab him, then flee the scene. Prosecutors allege that the attacks were all motivated by ethnic hatred, an assertion bolstered by extremist literature found in the suspects' possession and the ethnicity of their victims, who included Chinese, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, and Azerbaijanis. All face hate crimes murder (Article 105) charges and ethnic incitement (Article 282) charges; their case will soon be sent to the Moscow City Court.

Racist Attack in Kaliningrad
23/5/2008- Two men attacked a black lawyer who works for the Kaliningrad regional legislature, according to a May 21, 2008 article in the national daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. Aleksandr Burger-Gasanov was attacked on the evening of May 9 (Victory Day) near his home. The victim noticed two men approaching him, but the attack happened too fast for him to react. He lost two liters of blood as a result of the ferocity of the attack, which was accompanied by racist abuse, including the "N word" which has migrated from English to the lexicon of the Russian far-right. In what may be a coincidence, a few days before the attack, the far-right rock band "Korroziya Metalla" played in Kaliningrad and allegedly performed a song calling on its listeners to kill black people. Police are investigating the attack as an incident of "hooliganism." Last year, the victim's younger brother was stabbed, and police eventually closed that investigation, arguing that there "was no crime" committed.

Moscow Region Court Sentences Neo-Nazis
23/5/2008- Eight neo-Nazis were sentenced by a Moscow region court after being found guilty of a November 19, 2006 attack on a Kyrgyz man, according to a May 23, 2008 report by the Jewish.ru web site. Three of the defendants got 5-6 year sentences, while the rest received suspended sentences after being found guilty of assault motivated by ethnic hatred. The defendants attacked their victim on a suburban commuter train while yelling the far-right slogan "Russia for Russians!"

Attack on Jewish Community in Bashkortostan
19/5/2008- Drunken youths banged metal pipes on the door of a Jewish community center in Salavat, Russia (Republic of Bashkortostan) in an attempt to break in during a religious service, according to a May 19, 2008 report by the AEN news agency. "Four youths asked in a very rude way if we were Jews" and then attempted to force entry into the building, a local community leader was quoted as saying. "It was terrible. Those guys were drunk and could have done anything," he added. The attack scared the congregation, especially the children, but police did arrive in time to detain the youths. It is not clear what charges they face.

Crackdown on Antisemitic Incitement in Two Cities
19/5/2008- Prosecutors in two Russian cities have recently taken steps against antisemitic incitement. In the first case, prosecutors in Novosibirsk have succeeded in shutting down the newspaper "Otchizna" for violating laws against the incitement of ethnic hatred, in this case against Jews, according to a May 16, 2008 report by the Sova Information-Analytical Center. Meanwhile in the Astrakhan region, four members of the bizarre antisemitic cult "Towards God's Kingdom" are on trial for forming an extremist group and inciting ethnic hatred, according to a May 15, 2008 posting on the web site "Kavkazsky Uzel." Prosecutors argue that the defendants, who include a doctor, an engineer, and a teacher at the Moscow Aviation Institute, were members of the cult since 2002 and as such engaged in antisemitic agitation, including public statements aimed at demonizing Jews.
© FSU Monitor

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EMPLOYMENT AGENCY SUED FOR DISCRIMINATION(Sweden)

23/5/2008- The Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination (DO) is suing the Swedish Employment agency for 160,000 kronor ($27,000) in damages to a Muslim man who lost his benefits after refusing to shake a woman's hand during an interview. In May 2006 the 24-year-old man applied for a trainee position as a welder at a company in Älmhult in southern Sweden. During the interview, the man declined to shake hands with the woman interviewing him, citing religious reasons that do not allow him physical contact with women outside of his family. He did explain this to the woman and instead put his hand on his chest, and bowed. However, not only did the gesture cost him the chance of securing the trainee position, he also had his unemployment benefits removed. This is the first time the DO has sued the employment agency, Caroline Dieb, information chief for the DO, told The Local. "By taking away the man's unemployment benefits the employment agency has not followed the law which deems that all should be treated equally, regardless of ethnic or religious persuasion," she said. Apparently the company interviewing the man reported that they would not hire him due to "incompetence", but the employment agency instead chose to interpret his actions during the interview as the real cause and therefore withdrew his benefits. According to Dieb this constitutes "indirect discrimination" and she believes they have a strong chance of winning the case at the District Court. Speaking to the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, Katri Linna of the DO explained that the employment agency had completely misjudged the situation. "If an official body cannot follow the law then how are we to motivate the individual to do so?" she said.
© The Local

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BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS ROCK MIGRATION BOARD(Sweden)

22/5/2008- The Swedish Migration Board has called in the police to help investigate an alleged residence permit bribery scandal. The investigation follows a Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper report about a 20-year-old immigrant from Afghanistan who claims he paid a Migration Board (Migrationsverket) employee 40,000 kronor ($6,750) after the employee promised to procure a Swedish residence permit for him. “If these allegations turn out to be true, I’ll be really appalled,” said Mikael Ribbenvik, head of Asylum Reception and Detention at the Migration Board, to The Local. “We’ve handed over everything related to the criminal investigation to the police. Our internal investigation is to determine whether or not the man should be suspended while the police investigation takes place.” The Afghan man, who is currently residing in Sweden illegally following the rejection of his asylum claims, had been renting a room in the apartment of the Migration Board employee. While living there, the employee offered to help arrange a residence permit for the 20-year-old. In conversations recorded by the Afghan on his mobile phone, the Migration Board employee claims that others with rejected asylum claims have paid between 85,000 and 120,000 kronor for a Swedish residence permit, according to DN. The 20-year-old had given the man passport pictures and a total of 40,000 kronor for a residence permit. A final installment of 10,000 kronor was to be handed over upon receipt of the permit, but the Migration Board employee never delivered the document. “At first he said that I would get the residence permit within three or four weeks, but the time passed and nothing happened,” said the Afghan to DN “I’ve been swindled.” According to the Ribbenvik, the employee in question works as an administrative assistant at the Solna reception center near Stockholm. “I want to stress that he is no position to issue residence permits. He works at a lower level with administrative tasks only,” he said. The man, who is currently on sick leave, denied any involvement in the matter when confronted with the charges. A decision about a possible suspension will be made on Monday, said Ribbenvik.
© The Local

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APPROACHING ITS MOMENT IN THE SPOTLIGHT, SERBIA IS DIVIDED

23/5/2008- As Belgrade prepared to be host to the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday - the wildly popular event that is also the continent's most abiding celebration of kitsch - Serbia remained bitterly divided over whether to link itself to Europe and the West or to cleave to the nationalism of the past. For many Serbs, the televised contest, which has drawn 15,000 revelers to the nation's capital and will be watched by millions of devotees across the globe, is an opportunity to show the world that the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic is a thing of the past. Locals said they were eager to show an image of Serbia different from that projected by the mobs of radicals who attacked foreign embassies in February to protest Western support of an independent Kosovo. "We are not all crazy nationalists," said Alisa Dogramadzieva, 38, a café owner who plans to attend the contest with friends. "We have had sanctions and bombings and political difficulties, but Belgrade has always been a cultural and cosmopolitan center and we want to show that we are part of Europe too." On Friday, the once war-torn city appeared momentarily to forget the past as drag queens took cruises down the Sava River while revelers downed Serbian brandy and ate "Abba salad" in tribute to the Swedish band that won Eurovision in 1974 with the hit song "Waterloo."

The one sour note, organizers said, was a threat by a far-right nationalist group, "Obraz," or Honor, that it would attack any gay people showing off their sexuality during Eurovision, which typically attracts a large gay following. A state prosecutor also announced Friday that a suspect had been arrested in connection with the February attack on the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade after a plaque from the embassy was found proudly hanging outside his restaurant. While a majority of Belgrade residents appeared happy to have Eurovision - an honor bestowed on Serbia after the Serbian singer Marija Serifovic won the contest last year with a rousing ballad, "Molitva" - the country's turbulent politics continued to cast a shadow. This month, a pro-Western coalition declared victory in parliamentary elections but immediately faced a challenge from nationalist rivals who vowed to team up to form a government. The final vote in the elections gave President Boris Tadic, leader of the moderate Democratic Party, which supports closer ties with the EU and Washington, the most seats in Parliament, but not enough to govern alone. With the rightist Radical Party and the nationalist party of the outgoing prime minister Vojislav Kostunica joining forces to form a coalition, Serbia faces the possibility of a nationalist government that wants to turn its back on Europe and forge closer ties with Moscow and China. In a sign that the political showdown is far from over, both pro-European and nationalist parties this week said they had secured the support of at least 126 lawmakers - the number needed to form a government in Serbia's 250-seat parliament. But Tadic, who held talks with the parties, said Thursday night that no party yet had the means to govern.

Ivan Milosevic, a leading political analyst who supports Serbia's integration into the EU, said: "It can still go either way. Sometimes in the morning, I think the nationalists are ahead, and by afternoon, I breathe relief that the pro-EU forces are winning." "The political maneuvering on both sides will drag on for weeks, if not months," he said. The great paradox of the election is that the Socialist Party of Slobodan Milosevic, which did better than expected in the vote, could prove to be the party that moves Serbia into the European fold. The pro-EU grouping and the nationalist bloc both are actively wooing the Socialist Party, which took Serbia to war against the West in the 1990s but is now determined to reinvent itself as a mainstream center-left party. In the weeks since the election, the Socialists have been in coalition talks with the Radicals and Kostunica's nationalists, but the Socialist leader, Ivica Dacic, has left the door open to talks with Tadic's pro-EU bloc. Analysts said the Socialists could swing toward Tadic because Dacic opposed the nationalists' goal of annulling a political and economic agreement between Brussels and Serbia that would help clear the way for Serbia's EU membership. Tadic argued that joining forces with Slobodan Milosevic's party would help the country turn the page on a difficult past. "My job is to enable national reconciliation in Serbia," he told the state news agency Tanjung, "to unite the political forces of the 90s and the political forces that led Serbia after 2000, toward common goals." Even as Tadic's party indicated it was ready to govern Serbia, Radical Party officials said Thursday they were poised to achieve a parliamentary majority. They made it clear that Kostunica, who helped lead the revolt that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic but has since adapted Milosevic's nationalist language, would be their choice for prime minister. Kostunica argues that Serbia should punish the EU for its support of an independent Kosovo by joining with Russia instead. Dragan Markovic, leader of a party that is aligned with the Socialists, said Friday that the group would decide Saturday whether it would continue talks with the nationalists or whether it would accelerate talks with Tadic.
© International Herald Tribune

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SPANISH SPORTS PERSONALITIES BACK ANTI-RACISM CAMPAIGN

22/5/2008- A group of Spanish athletes have backed a campaign aimed at combating racism in sport. The campaign, which encourages Spaniards to "say no to racism in every language", is organized by the Spanish Olympic Committee, the Spanish Paralympic Committee and Madrid's Regional Government. The group included Real Madrid soccer players Fernando Gago and Marcelo, sailor Theresa Zabell and several Paralympic swimmers. With Madrid bidding for the 2016 Olympics, Spain is keen to improve its image, which has been tarnished by incidents of racist behavior over recent years. In 2004, spectators directed monkey chants at black England players during an international soccer friendly against Spain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. Many believe those actions hurt the city's bid for the 2012 Olympics. Spanish league soccer games have sometimes been marred by spectators' racist taunting, while British driver Lewis Hamilton endured the same treatment during Formula One testing in Barcelona on Feb. 2 this year. Mercedes Coghen, leader of the Spanish capital's 2016 Olympic bid, said Thursday that the campaign would help show that sport could be "a vehicle for social change." "One of the core principles of our bid for the Olympics in 2016 is inclusion for everyone. Sport can promote strong social values such as cooperation, teamwork, fair play and respect for others and rules," Coghen said.
© International Herald Tribune

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THREE RECENT BLACK DEATHS IN MET POLICE CUSTODY(uk)

An investigation has been launched after the death of 23-year-old Ayodeji Awogboro in the custody of the Metropolitan police on 11 May.

22/5/2008- According to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is conducting its own investigation into his death, police followed his car after he allegedly failed to stop at a red traffic light on Seven Sisters Road, north London. After he stopped his car, he ran away and was pursued by police who arrested him. He was taken to Islington police station where he became 'unwell', an ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital where he died. In a controversial move, the north London coroner Dr Andrew Reid refused the IPCC investigators access to the post mortem. The IPCC told IRR News: 'David Petch, the commissioner with responsibility for this case, had decided to independently investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr Awogboro's death. He was therefore surprised and disappointed that the coroner resisted an IPCC presence at the post mortem. The IPCC challenged the coroner's decision at the High Court and Mr Justice Collins ordered the coroner to permit the IPCC's attendance at the post mortem.'

Investigation into death in Chelsea
The IPCC is also investigating the actions of the Metropolitan police in relation to the death of a 32-year-old Black man who died in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital five days after his arrest on 25 April. Police officers were called to a Chelsea block of flats where a man had been detained on suspicion of burglary. He was arrested but 'fell ill' and was taken to hospital where he died. The man has been named as Edward Sharman.

Investigation into death at Osterley tube station
Another recent case, in which the IPCC is managing a Met police investigation, is the death of 43-year-old Savraj Powar who was hit by a train at Osterley tube station in west London on 13 May. Met police had gone to his home and placed him under arrest. According to the IPCC, 'as officers carried out their enquiries' he managed to escape and drove away; he was found dead shortly after.

No charges for police officers following death
The CPS has decided that because of 'insufficient evidence' no police officers will face charges in connection with the death of 43-year-old Frank Ogboru in Woolwich, southeast London on 26 September 2006. Frank, a Nigerian man, died after being arrested. CS spray was used and he was restrained by at last four officers, before he 'became unwell and stopped breathing.' Attempts were made to resuscitate him, London Ambulance Service was called and he was taken to Queen Elizabeth hospital where he was pronounced dead. The IPCC will now send a file to the Metropolitan Police Service for their recommendation as to whether any disciplinary action is proposed. The IPCC will then take the final decision. An inquest has yet to be held.
© Institute of Race Relations

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FOR FOURTH TIME, UKRAINIAN COURT HANDS DOWN HATE CRIMES VERDICT

19/5/2008- For only the fourth time since the break up of the Soviet Union, a Ukrainian court handed down a conviction on hate crimes charges. This latest sentence is the third in two months (the first took place four years ago), perhaps showing that the criminal justice system is finally taking the problem of neo-Nazi violence in Ukraine seriously. Details of the case were reported by the local newspaper Fakty i Kommentarii in its May 16, 2008 issue. Four young men in Kiev got 13 year sentences after being convicted of the April 23, 2007 murder of a 31 year old Korean man, Kang Jong Von (name as transliterated). The victim reportedly came to Ukraine out of love for the local culture and a desire to perfect his command of the Ukrainian language. He survived for three weeks after the attack in a Kiev hospital, but eventually succumbed to his injuries. The defendants, all aged between 17-20, come for the most part from broken homes. One of the defendants sports a swastika tattoo, which he got after serving in the army, an experience that his mother said changed an already troubled youth for the worse. Multiple witnesses testified that the defendants screamed racist abuse while attacking their victim and that the defendant with the swastika tattoo jumped on his head with heavy boots as he lay prone on the ground. A police official was quoted in the article saying that the "surprising level of cruelty" the victim suffered, along with the language the defendants used during the attack ("slant eyes," "this is Slavic land and we are the masters here," etc.) pointed strongly to ethnic hatred as the motive for the killing. The defendants reportedly showed no regret during the trial and laughed during at a witness from the Korean embassy. Only one of their parents reportedly bothered to apologize to the victim's family, though she did so privately, saying that she couldn't come to the trial out of shame for what her son had done. Another mother, however, was spotted wearing the typical boots that neo-Nazis favor, and some parents and other supporters of the defendants reportedly attacked journalists trying to cover the trial. A group of young people stood up in the courtroom and made the fascist salute after the sentence was read.
© FSU Monitor

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THIRTEEN SUSPECTS IN CZECH ARMY EXTREMISM CASE

21/5/2008- The Czech military police have checked 13 suspects in the case of suspected supporters of extremist movements in the Czech military, the general staff told CTK Wednesday. Five people have left the military and in the case of another five the suspicion has not been confirmed and they remain in the army. The situation of the remaining two soldiers is being dealt with, the general staff said. One soldier will not have his contract with the military extended, it said. One soldier has been convicted and dismissed from the military by the end of March, the staff said. It added, without elaborating, that three soldiers from the total number of suspects left the military within the trial period of their service and another one submitted a notice that the military accepted by the end of February. "In five cases illegal conduct has not been proved and the soldiers were reinstalled in their posts," the staff said. The media informed recently that two soldiers from the Zatec, north Bohemia, rapid deployment brigade and one soldier from the artillery brigade in Jince, central Bohemia, attended international meetings and demonstrations of neo-Nazis. After the information was published the military exerted pressure on the soldiers to leave the army ranks. Their salaries were lowered and their access to weapons banned. The soldiers did not participate in the training. The military said earlier that the new soldiers would have to sign an affidavit before joining the army in which they should pledge that they do not support the movements aimed at suppressing people's rights and freedoms and do not declare national or racial hatred.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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SURVEY: MANY CZECHS COMPLAIN ABOUT AGE DISCRIMINATION

19/5/2008- Most Czechs feel discriminated against over their age and almost 20 percent have experienced such discrimination personally, according to a Brno' Masaryk University's survey that was presented by Lucie Vindovicova at a discussion in Prague Monday. The survey showed that the elderly mainly feel discriminated against at work. Minister in charge of human rights and minorities Dzamila Stehlikova (junior government Green Party, SZ) said an effective protection was lacking at the Czech labour market of not only the elderly but also of very young people. "The Labour Code does not address the problem even after it has been amended. It merely refers to the anti-discrimination law but President Vaclav Klaus vetoed the relevant bill last week," Stehlikova said today. The Czech Republic is the last European Union country not to have passed the anti-discrimination law. For this it faces a complaint from the European Commission and a high fine, Stehlikova said. According to the survey, more than half of respondents have heard about people who lost their jobs because of their age. One-third of respondents said they themselves lost a job or this happened to some of their relatives. From 2003 to 2007 the number of people who lost their jobs because of their age has grown from 24 to 34 percent.

The number of people who believe they receive the wages lower than they deserve because of their age has also grown from 10 to 14 percent. However, this does not mean that the situation has worsened, Vidovicova said. It could be a consequence of society reacting more sensitively to these cases and of people being more aware that they are discriminated against because of their age, she said. According to the survey, people over 55 and young people at about 18 are most often exposed to discrimination. Elderly people also complain about the lack of respect towards them and point out that they are being treated as second rate citizens, Vodovicova said. The Ageismus 2007 survey was conducted on 1584 respondents aged between 15 and 83. There are about 1.5 million people over 65 in the Czech Republic. They make up 15 percent of the population. Demographers expect the number of elderly people to reach 2.2 million in 2030 when they are to make up almost a quarter of the population. In the middle of the century their number is to exceed 2.6 million which would be one-third of the population, according to estimates.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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NEW EU LEGISLATION TO BAN DISCRIMINATION: TIME TO FLEX THOSE DEMOCRATIC MUSCLES!

20/5/2008- Today the European Parliament will vote on a key report on non-discrimination in the EU by Liz Lynne MEP. The European Parliament has been a consistent supporter of real and effective laws on anti-discrimination and ENAR is urging all MEPs to ‘flex their democratic muscle’ and support the report and its call for the Commission to bring forward comprehensive antidiscrimination
legislation on grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation and religion and belief. Earlier this year, the European Commission stated its aim to bring forward legislation which will ensure that discrimination is prohibited on all grounds. But as the time has come to make real the EU’s fundamental values of equality and non-discrimination, the voice of the EU seems to be increasingly blurred: it seems now the proposal will only include disability, and not the other discrimination grounds. The European Parliament now has the chance to step up the pressure on the Commission to heed its call for strong support for legislation covering all discrimination grounds. Not all discrimination grounds are legally protected in the same way at European or national level and significant gaps in protection remain. If you are Muslim, disabled, old, or lesbian, you can still be discriminated against in education or refused access to healthcare or housing. For people with multilayered identities such as a gay Christian wanting a good education or a disabled Black woman, the gaps are even wider. It is only by fighting for comprehensive protection against all grounds of discrimination that we will achieve equal opportunities for all in jobs, accommodation, schools, etc.

ENAR President Mohammed Aziz stated:
“There is a real opportunity to ‘complete the circle’ from commitment to reality and achieve effective protection for Europe’s numerous and multi-faceted victims of discrimination as a core part of the legacy of this Commission, this Parliament and this Council. The European Parliament must ensure this legacy will not be a missed opportunity.”
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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PROMOTING EQUALITY FOR LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER PEOPLE (press release FRA)

16/5/2008- “The combat against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a priority issue to ensure equal rights to all people in the EU”, said Constantinos Manolopoulos, FRA’s Acting Director, ahead of International Day against Homophobia on 17 May 2008. “This day is an occasion to recall the discrimination and prejudices that many LGBT people still face in some EU Member States. We must address this social ill head on.” FRA joins in the efforts by developing a comprehensive study on homophobia and discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation across the European Union. This study has been requested by the European Parliament to examine the need for new European Community legislation to combat discrimination. Initial results of FRA’s ongoing project highlight that key issues include the access to civil partnerships or marriage, the achievement of social acceptance and visibility in areas such as employment, sports and the media as well as the importance of fair and non-discriminatory pension and tenancy laws. Effective legislation is hereby seen as a key instrument in tackling and overcoming such challenges across the EU. The European Union and the Council of Europe play a lead role in promoting human rights and equality for LGBT people in Europe.

The European Community Treaty and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights list sexual orientation among the prohibited grounds for discrimination. The European Parliament has taken a strong position against homophobia in its Resolution of April 2007. It also gave its full support to the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity in the recently adopted “Annual Report on Human Rights in the World 2007 and the European Union's policy on the matter”. There have been some recent landmark decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. Finally, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, in his latest viewpoint, called on States to take concrete action to make “human rights principles apply also to sexual orientation and gender identity”. “The fight against homophobia must continue with all possible means. Our forthcoming study aims to make a strong contribution to this common effort and to help the EU institutions and Member States in making equality a reality for all people in the EU who face discrimination today”, said Constantinos Manolopoulos.
© EU Fundamental Rights Agency

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GAMBIA GAY DEATH THREAT CONDEMNED

23/5/2008- Gay rights activists have condemned Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's threat to behead homosexuals. Last week he told a political rally that gay people had 24 hours to leave the country. He promised "stricter laws than Iran" on homosexuality and said he would "cut off the head" of any gay person found in The Gambia. Carey Johnson of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council said the comments were "disgraceful". "What president Jammeh fails to realise is that there are a significant population of Gambians who are gay, and he has no right to ask them to leave," Mr Johnson said. The speech was "doubly disgraceful" because The Gambia is the host country for the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, he said. Mr Johnson said the speech, part of President Jammeh's 13-day tour of the country, was an attempt to scapegoat gay people and blame them for the country's ills. "He's fighting to maintain his control over the country, he finds the weakest group and lays all the problems at their door," Mr Johnson said.

'History of homophobia'
"The Gambia is a country of believers... sinful and immoral practices [such] as homosexuality will not be tolerated in this country," the president told a crowd at a political rally on May 15. "Jammeh has a long history of homophobia," said British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell. "If he tries to carry out these threats, international aid donors are likely to withdraw their support, and foreign tourists will stay away in droves, thereby damaging the Gambian economy," he added. Correspondents say a number of homosexual men have fled to The Gambia from neighbouring Senegal after a crackdown there following arrests at a "gay wedding" in February. Both countries are predominantly Muslim and President Jammeh cultivates an image of being a devout Muslim. In February last year, he was condemned by campaigners when he claimed to have cured people of HIV and Aids. His "cure" was a mixture of herbs that patients ate and spread on their bodies.
© BBC News

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FAR-RIGHT NPD LOSES APPEAL, FACES HEFTY FINE(Germany)

Germany's far-right National Democratic Party lost its appeal to reverse an 870,000 euro ($1.3 million) fine for the abuse of government subsidies.

23/5/2008- The ruling on Tuesday, May 20, had judges from the Berlin administrative tribunal upholding a penalty for filing false accounts from 1997 to 1999 by inserting income from fictitious donations. This meant most of the government subsidies, an amount granted to all German political parties in proportion to their votes and fundraising, were made void for those years. The NPD, which has seats in two of the 16 German states but no representation at federal level, was accused of cheating on the formula by booking campaign work by its members in Thuringia state, such as leafleting and photocopying, as equivalent to cash donations. The tribunal condemned this, saying the members of other parties did such work without any reward. Several of the other German political parties have been calling for the NPD to be shut down, charging that it is neo-Nazi; anti-democratic parties are barred from legal existence under the German constitution. The NPD refutes this allegation.

Audits to continue
The NPD general secretary, Peter Marx, accused the government of trying to bankrupt the party through audits. All of Germany's political parties have only modest fund-raising capacities and instead receive large sums from government funds to pay staff and fund campaigning. They argue that neutral subsidies prevent them becoming beholden to rich donors. Parliamentary counsel Christian Kirchberg said further audits of the NPD's regional chapters would follow.
© Deutsche Welle

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GERMAN POST ACCIDENTALLY PRINTS NAZI STAMP

Germany's national postal system inadvertently printed a set of stamps featuring a picture of Nazi leader Rudolf Hess.

21/5/2008- Neo-Nazis used a customized postage stamp service offered by German mail carrier Deutsche Post to issue 20 stamps featuring Hess. Deutsche Post began offering the customized stamp service, Plusbrief Individuell, in February. It allows clients to upload a digital photograph of a loved one or a commercial product. A week later they receive printed, post-paid envelopes showing the same picture. Neo-Nazis apparently exploited the opportunity by uploading a picture of Hess, who was Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's deputy. Hess committed suicide in Berlin while serving a life sentence for war crimes in Spandau prison. He is a hero to neo-Nazis, who often demonstrate on the anniversary of his death in August. The Post staff did not notice they had been tricked into issuing the 55-cent stamps. "It was a slip-up. We are very sorry about it," said Post spokesman Dirk Klasen at the company's offices in Bonn. "It runs in most cases without difficulty," Klasen said. "Only with the Hess image did something go awry. I presume it came from the far-right scene. But those 20 envelopes won't shake up German democracy." Earlier this year, the company intercepted a request to have stamps printed featuring Hitler as a small child, he said.

Procedure review is planned
The latest newsletter of the far-right National Democratic Party gloated about being able to slip the stamp past Deutsche Post's quality control personnel. "The Hess stamp is out there," wrote Hannes Natter in the May edition of Deutsche Stimme, or German Voice. Deutsche Post is now going to review its oversight procedures, Klasen said, though he added that "there can be no 100 percent certainty" that something else would not slip through.
© Deutsche Welle

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GERMANY'S NEW NEO-NAZIS

20/5/2008- A new generation of neo-Nazis has German security officials concerned: The black-clad mob is extremely violent and growing in numbers. On May 1 the northern German port city of Hamburg experienced the worst violence it has seen in years. A group of neo-Nazis attacked police and far-left demonstrators; the mob erected road blocks, set cars on fire and hurled bottles and stones at police. The police later said there would have been fatalities if it wasn't for the water cannons and the riot gear with which the officers broke up the two groups. Nevertheless, dozens of people, including several police officers, were severely injured. May 1 has always been a traditional day of protests in Germany, always dominated, however, by far-left violence. For the first time, the street clashes in Hamburg shed light on a group of neo-Nazis who are purposefully pursuing violence. They dress in black hooded sweaters and wear black sunglasses and hats, making them look almost like their far-left rivals. Calling themselves "Autonomous Nationalists," these young neo-Nazis don't believe in political work -- they believe in violence only. "This group wants to be excessively violent," Hajo Funke, one of Germany's leading experts on far-right extremism, told United Press International in a telephone interview. "And the problem is that more young extremists are joining them, fueled also by activities like the one in Hamburg." The estimated total manpower of the Autonomous Nationalists over the past year has doubled to 440.

While officials downplayed the importance of the black-clad mob in 2007, there seems to be no reason to do so today: Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble last week in Berlin said the violent neo-Nazis stood for a "new quality" of far-right violence. Heinz Fromm, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a domestic intelligence agency, said his agents would "very carefully" monitor the development of the group. Germany's strongest far-right group, the National Democratic Party, which over the past years won seats in two state parliaments in eastern Germany, likely will do the same. When it comes to dealing with the Autonomous Nationalists, the NPD seems to be torn between a desire to welcome those young comrades and fears of alienating right-wing conservatives. For years, the NPD has pursued the strategy of cloaking itself as a normal democratic party, which of course it isn't, Funke said. "Some of the NPD cadres are just as violence-prone as the Autonomous Nationalists," he said. "Because of their common ideology, they are all designed to be wild." Over the past years, however, the NPD has tried to look as tame as possible: In eastern German regions rattled by unemployment, the NPD founded grassroots organizations like sports and cultural clubs used to disseminate neo-Nazi propaganda. This development has government officials worried. By organizing social events and even extra tuition for schoolchildren, right-wing extremists are trying to "nest in the middle of society," Schaeuble, the interior minister, said, adding that Germany had to make sure that this plan fails. It won't do so by outlawing the party, however, at least not in the short run. Schaeuble said the prospects that such a ban would succeed were rather low. Germany's highest court in 2003 already threw out such an attempt after it surfaced that the government was using witnesses who had been working for Berlin as secret informants from inside the NPD.

Maybe the government is hoping that the NPD will disappear for other reasons: The party has had to battle severe financial problems over the past years and could face difficulties competing effectively in future state elections. At the end of this month the NPD will hold its annual party congress in the Bavarian town of Bamberg. Observers are bracing for violence, mainly because of the Autonomous Nationalists. "We may see the entire violence potential there, and it may explode and target third parties, such as political opponents or even journalists," Funke said. "Everything is possible in Bamberg."
© United Press International

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NEO-NAZI HOTLINE CREATED IN GERMANY

Germany has created a neo-Nazi hotline and website for parents worried that their children are falling in with far-Right extremists.

19/5/2008- Counselling Against Far-Right Extremism will also provide counselling to youths who would like to get out of the neo-Nazi milieu or leave far-Right groups – known as "comradeships". The project, which is also aimed at friends and relatives of neo-Nazis, is part of a campaign to curb a rising wave of neo-Nazism in Germany and an increase in hate and race crime. The portal and the hotline are offering counselling to parents and teachers on what to do if they notice that their children are wearing bomber-jackets, draw swastikas on the walls, shave their head or give the Hitler salute. "There are concerned mothers, teachers and employers who notice that something is wrong but are not sure how to act. We want to help those who want to do something against far-Right extremism," Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, one of the co-ordinators of the project, said. In the first three months of this year, 1,311 crimes were committed by neo-Nazis, with 191 people were seriously injured. In the same period last year, 853 comparable crimes were committed, with 160 people injured. Politicians however warn that the real numbers could be considerably higher, as many violent offences committed by neo-Nazis are not being registered as such by the police. Petra Pau, an MP for the Social Democrats and a deputy president of the German parliament, said: "On average, there is one indictable offence happening every hour and two-and-half violent offences taking place daily. But this is only according to the official statistics. I suspect the real numbers are considerably higher." Michael Flood, a lawyer from Berlin contacted the service after his 13-year-old son held a lecture on Adolf Hitler. Mr Flood said: "We didn’t know how to deal with the problem. There were enough things on offer for parents whose children have problems with drugs and alcohol, but there was nothing for neo-Nazis until now. "The online portal gives family members the chance to come out of their isolation and see that there are other families out there with the same problems."
© The Telegraph

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GERMANY REPORTS SMALL DECLINE IN FAR-RIGHT VIOLENCE

16/5/2008- Far-right violence in Germany declined slightly last year, the government said Thursday, but the country's top security official urged vigilance against extremists' efforts to win over young people. An annual report from the country's domestic intelligence agency found that acts of violence with a far-right motivation slipped to 980 last year from 1,047 in 2006. The report also saw a small decrease in the number of far-right extremists prepared to use violence, which slipped to 10,000 from 10,400. It said the number of cases of incitement dipped to 2,472 from 2,592. Still, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that far-right extremists continued to try to "lodge themselves in the middle of society," for example by offering leisure activities for young people. The report found that "the high attractiveness of far-right extremist music, which entices young people in particular into their first contacts with the far-right extremist scene, did not decrease" last year. Concern over attacks by far-right extremists has been running high in Germany over recent years — a period in which the far-right National Democratic Party won seats in two regional legislatures in the formerly communist east. The government tried unsuccessfully in 2003 to ban the National Democratic Party, which it accused of inciting hate crimes against foreigners and Jews. Germany's highest court refused to hear the case because the government cited statements by party members who turned out to be paid informers for state authorities. Members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition have squabbled recently over whether to revive the ban effort. In rejecting the idea, Schaeuble pointed to the hurdles set by the court and argued that "the risk of another failure is not defensible."
© International Herald Tribune

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ROW OVER DENMARK COURT VEIL BAN

Danish diplomats to Muslim countries are preparing themselves for another wave of anti-Danish protests after the government announced it would bar judges from wearing headscarves and similar religious or political symbols in courtrooms.

19/5/2008- Although the ban will include crucifixes, Jewish skull caps and turbans as well as headscarves, the move is seen as being largely aimed at Muslim judges. It comes after pressure from the Danish People's Party (DPP), known for its anti-Muslim rhetoric. Earlier this month, the party produced a widely published poster showing a female judge wearing an all-encompassing burka. The accompanying text argues that a Muslim headscarf is more than just a feather-light piece of clothing. Rather, it suggests, it is a symbol of submission and tyranny. The final line of text reads: "Give us Denmark back." Critics have argued that the burka imagery is misleading as the head covering is already banned from Danish courtrooms.

Cartoon crisis
But DPP leader, Pia Kjaersgaard, said: "Some might take offence because we are using a burka in our campaign. And so what?" Mrs Kjaersgaard is a key ally of the Danish Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen - a potential candidate for the newly-created position of president of Europe. She has said that in hospital she would request another doctor were she to be introduced to one wearing a Muslim headscarf. Since 2005, when a Danish paper published a controversial cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a bearded man with a bomb in his turban, there have been a series of protests against Denmark across the Muslim world. "Denmark has learned from the cartoon crisis. With Denmark's tarnished reputation in the Middle East, the debate about headscarves is very likely to be misunderstood," said Hans Christian Korsholm Nielsen, director of the Danish Institute in Damascus. He said diplomats were already preparing themselves for a new round of protests. Danish Justice Minister Lene Espersen says the ban on religious symbols is needed because judges "must appear neutral and impartial". But Court President Torben Goldin says the ban is absurd. "Danish judges go through 15 years of training to ensure that they are only acting according to Danish law and not influenced by their religious or political beliefs," he said. He told Danish television that the ban merely had good "entertainment value".

'Anti-Muslim'
Danish Integration Minister Birthe Ronn Hornbech has said she is opposed to the ban, calling the DPP's campaign "fanatical anti-Muslim" in tone. In response, the DPP's second-in-command, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, agreed, saying: "To a great extent, we are anti-Muslim. "To a great extent, Islam is practised in a way which gives the Danish society problems." However, he denied that the party is fanatical. Mr Fogh Rasmussen's centre-right relies on DPP support in parliament to get legislation through. That, in return, gives the DPP the power to dictate the immigration and integration policy of the Danish government, commentators say. The DPP has said it intends to work for a further ban on Muslim headscarves to include school-teachers and medical personnel. Muslim groups have criticised the ban. "What's next? The length of my beard?" said Zubair Butt Hussain, a spokesman for the Danish Muslim Council. He is backed by Fahmy Almajid, an integration official, who called the ban "unbelievably stupid". "It is counter-productive to what we have been working towards for so many years - to get Muslim women to work and to show young Muslims that they are a part of Danish society," Mr Almajid said.

Symbolic scarf
Sabba Mirza, a 25-year-old female Muslim and law student, told a Danish newspaper that wearing her scarf was a personal choice. "My headscarf is part of the lifestyle I have chosen," she said. "If that prevents me from getting a job in Denmark, I'll have to move to a country where people are more enlightened and can see past the scarf." A survey published in Berlingske Tidende newspaper on Sunday found that 51% of Danish voters support the outlawing of religious symbols in courtrooms. However, the survey also showed even stronger support for barring judges as well as school-teachers, nurses and doctors from wearing T-shirts with political slogans, sexually revealing clothing or shorts. There have been no similar debates in countries like Sweden, Norway and Finland. British courts accept Muslim headscarves, as well as turbans, in courtrooms. In France, headscarves and other religious symbols are banned in schools and are unthinkable in courtrooms. But, so far, the presidency of the Danish parliament, the Folketinget, has said that it will not bar parliamentarians from wearing headscarves when speaking in parliament.
© BBC News

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SCHENGEN COUNTRIES MOVE TO LIMIT DETENTION OF ILLEGAL MIGRANTS

22/5/2008- The countries inside Europe's free-travel zone agreed Thursday that illegal migrants should be detained no longer than 18 months in a move that will force several countries to put a legal ceiling on detention periods. But the move, agreed upon by senior EU diplomats, was criticized by human rights groups, who argued that the limit should have been set significantly lower and could undermine individual rights. The accord was part of an effort to harmonize rules in the so-called Schengen free-travel zone on treatment of migrants who will also face a five-year re-entry ban. "This directive will establish a common set of rules applicable to third-country nationals staying illegally in the territory of member states," the EU said in a statement. The maximum period of detention will be limited to six months with the possibility of extending it for a further 12-month period, for example when the detainee refuses to cooperate. Amnesty International and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles said in a joint statement that the plans would "seriously undermine the fundamental rights of the individuals concerned." The most direct impact will be on Estonia, Finland, Greece, Malta, the Netherlands and Sweden, which have no formal limit on detention, and on Latvia, which has a 20-month limit. They will now have to legislate to lower the maximum to 18 months. But Amnesty International argued that countries such as Italy, which has a two-month limit, may raise it to 18 months even though there is no obligation to do so. The draft law must still be approved by EU lawmakers. One unresolved issue is whether migrants should be given automatic legal aid. The European Commission estimates that there are up to eight million illegal migrants in the bloc. More than 200,000 were arrested in the EU in the first half of 2007, fewer than 90,000 were expelled.
© International Herald Tribune

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XENOPHOBIA ACROSS EUROPE THREATENS TURKS, TURKEY’S EU ACCESSION PROCESS

The right has been on the rise in Europe. The rise of the right strengthens racist parties because rightist parties toughen their remarks, thereby becoming closer to racist parties, in order to win votes normally cast for the latter. The most prominent victims of this tough rhetoric are minorities, including Turks and naturalized European citizens, as well as Turkey's likely EU membership.

20/5/2008- In recently held British local elections, the Conservative Party's victory and the Labour Party's greatest landslide defeat in the last 40 years have catered to commentaries suggesting that the right will soon be "covering" Europe. The arrival of Christian Democrat Angela Merkel in power in Germany, the maintenance in France of the power in the hands of the right through Nicolas Sarkozy, the restoration of the Christian Democrats to power in Belgium and Italy's latest face of its Fascist Party having become a very strong partner in the government raise the question of "What on earth is happening in Europe?" Exceptions aside, the European right either opposes Turkey's membership or views it unfavorably. Because supporting Turkey's membership is a state policy in countries such as England, Spain, Italy and Sweden, the arrival of rightist parties in power changes nothing. Having placed the rise of the right in Europe under the magnifying glass, Today's Zaman has scrutinized the issue with its different dimensions in mind. The situation in Europe where the right has been getting stronger is as follows:

The French right, which took control of the Elysée Palace in 1995 after the two-term (14 year) presidency of the socialist François Mitterand, consolidated its power with Sarkozy, who was elected last year. If Jacques Chirac's rapidly deteriorated right managed to emerge from the ballot box in 2007 as the winner in both the general and presidential elections, the credit goes to Sarkozy's promises for realizing radical reforms and the left's disorderliness. Having adopted a harsh stance against immigrants with the slogan “zero tolerance” during his term as interior minister, Sarkozy hardened his stance during his election campaign. He adopted a populist rhetoric toward the Muslim minority and was criticized for his fear-mongering, which was meant to bring him more votes from the far right. His efforts to appeal to this far-right segment paid off during the elections. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s votes dropped from 20 percent in 2002, which had allowed him to move on to the second round of the elections, to 10 percent. As soon as he took office, Sarkozy, as he had promised, immediately created the first Immigration and National Identity Ministry in the history of Europe. All through his election campaign he defended the idea that Turkey did not belong in Europe and thus opposed its EU accession process, promising to stop the accession process if he was elected. However, at the first European summit he attended as the French president, he clearly saw that he could not stop the accession talks on his own. This time, he chose to impede the process through various methods. The French leader’s attitude toward legislation about an alleged Armenian genocide -- passed in the French National Assembly in 2006 and which makes it a crime to deny that the alleged mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during and after World War I were genocide -- remains unknown, with the legislation still awaiting deliberation in the Senate. The inactivity of the Elysée Palace and the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the main French center-right political party in power, in regard to this issue so far, is a curious development, whereas the Armenian diaspora in the country demands that this legislation, which penalizes the denial of the alleged genocide, be passed in the Senate before the European parliament elections set for 2009.

German voters not tilting toward far right; center sliding there
The rise of the right observed in many European countries manifests itself in Germany in the form of the center sliding toward the far right. At first glance, the far right in Germany appears weak. Since the late 1960s, German far-right parties have never managed to surpass the 5 percent election threshold and thus could not make it to the Federal Assembly. The number of far rightists in Germany was quoted as 38,600 in 2006. Of all these people, 10,400 were described as “prone to resorting to violence” while 21,500 of them were members of far-rightist parties. Having a closer look at people’s views reveals that between 15 to 20 percent of the German population is closer to the worldview of far rightists. This apparently small number of members of far-rightist parties is maintained through the policy of claiming the sensitivities of the far-rightist segments. This claim prevents voters from gravitating toward these parties. In particular, the intellectual stream, called the New Right (Neue Rechte), fulfills the function of a bridge between the right and the far right and endeavors to make rightist views dominant among the public. This trend in turn impacts Turks and Turkey’s EU accession process. However, the xenophobia and Islamophobia in Germany that adversely affect the Turks in the country are more prevalent than simply being exclusively rightist or far-rightist feelings. Far rightist views are shared by more than 15 percent of the population; xenophobia is widespread in about 30 percent; and signs of Islamophobia, or enmity towards Islam, are found in two-thirds of the population.

The rise of the right observed in many European countries manifests itself in Germany in the form of the center sliding toward the far right. At first glance, the far right in Germany appears weak. Since the late 1960s, German far-right parties have never managed to surpass the 5 percent election threshold and thus could not make it to the Federal Assembly. The number of far rightists in Germany was quoted as 38,600 in 2006. Of all these people, 10,400 were described as “prone to resorting to violence” while 21,500 of them were members of far-rightist parties. Having a closer look at people’s views reveals that between 15 to 20 percent of the German population is closer to the worldview of far rightists. This apparently small number of members of far-rightist parties is maintained through the policy of claiming the sensitivities of the far-rightist segments. This claim prevents voters from gravitating toward these parties. In particular, the intellectual stream, called the New Right (Neue Rechte), fulfills the function of a bridge between the right and the far right and endeavors to make rightist views dominant among the public. This trend in turn impacts Turks and Turkey’s EU accession process. However, the xenophobia and Islamophobia in Germany that adversely affect the Turks in the country are more prevalent than simply being exclusively rightist or far-rightist feelings. Far rightist views are shared by more than 15 percent of the population; xenophobia is widespread in about 30 percent; and signs of Islamophobia, or enmity towards Islam, are found in two-thirds of the population.

British right against racist party
In local elections held on May 1, the Conservative Party won 100 of the 159 local governments, with the Labour Party sustaining the heaviest defeat of the last 40 years. It would be more accurate to contend that the Conservative Party’s victory stemmed more from the scandals in which the Labour Party got involved in recent years than a swelling of nationalist feelings. Despite the existence of a far-right party in Britain, only the Liberal Party, in addition to the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, is on the political scene. The Conservative Party frequently emphasizes that people should never vote for the British National Party. The problems Turks face are mostly those encountered by all Muslims. A survey conducted by the Global Market Institute last year shows that 92 percent of Muslims living in Britain are of the opinion that the source of anti-Islamism is the media. The survey also shows that 50 percent of Britons share this view of Muslims, whereas minorities in Britain think that the Western media stereotypes the Muslim image and that the interpretation of Islam that favors the frequent use of violence, supported by a very small minority, is given very wide coverage in the media and in an extremely exaggerated fashion.

Source of inspiration for European far right: Danish People’s Party
The right wing in Denmark can be categorized under two fronts: While liberal and conservative parties can be described as traditional right, the far right is represented by the Danish People’s Party. The architect of the far right in Denmark is Mogens Glistrup, who founded his Progress Party in 1970. The real rise came about in 1995 when Pia Kjaersgaard parted ways with his “mentor” Glistrup and founded the Danish People’s Party. After building his chief policy on xenophobic roots, Kjaersgaard won 12 percent of the votes in the November 2001 elections and managed to bring 22 deputies into parliament, thereby becoming the key party in terms of “parliament arithmetic.” Kjaersgaard’s Dansk Folkeparti (DF) supported the liberal-conservative coalition government from outside parliament and left its mark on this term. Turning its rhetoric of “Denmark belongs to Danes” into a commonly held view, he managed to make this slogan the only topic of the election agenda. The word “foreigner/immigrant” meant “Muslim” for Kjaersgaard. Asserting “Where Islam exists, tolerance cannot exist,” he also became the secret architect of the harshest immigration law ever, which entered into force on July 1, 2002, in Europe. The DF never allowed for Muslims to cease to be in the spotlight and progressively increased its votes with this policy. Having raised the number of its deputies to 24 in the February 2005 elections, it won 25 seats in parliament in the November 2007 elections, becoming Denmark’s third-largest party. The Danish People’s Party attacks Islam and Muslims at every opportunity and objects to Turkey’s EU membership. Placing an incessant emphasis on Turkey’s place being in the Middle East, the party spreads fears that Turkey’s membership will mean the invasion of Europe by 70 million Muslims. It also defends cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed and Muslims published by the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in 2005 on every ground, while demanding that the headscarf be banned in public places.

According to many experts, the rise of the right in Europe was sparked by the DF’s rise to a key position in Denmark. The most important reason for this rise is that the Social Democrat Party remained indifferent toward problems faced by minorities during its term in power between 1994 and 2001, thereby turning 8 percent of the population into a problematic mass. Although social democrats garnered 90 percent of the ethnic vote in the previous elections, they left minorities high and dry with the rise of the far right and because they changed their message accordingly. They were punished for this by getting the lowest rate of votes of the last 100 years in the November 2007 elections.

Racists become strong partner of government for first time
General elections held in Italy on April 13-14 gave the rightist alliance led by Silvio Berlusconi a landslide victory. Berlusconi, who founded the People’s Party for Freedom (Popolo della Liberta [PDL]) with the support of the National Alliance Party (Alleanza Nazionale [AN]), the latest version of the mutated Fascist Party, and also supported by the Northern League (Lega Nord) from outside parliament, was charged by the Italian people with running the country for five years. The restoration of the rightist alliance to power in Italy will not directly affect the lives of the 20,000 Turks living in the country; however, the fact that Lega Nord holds anti-Islamist and xenophobic ideas and the likelihood that it may put these ideas into practice in the new Berlusconi government, the Turks, who account for a very small percentage among immigrants who live in the country, might also be negatively affected. Berlusconi’s arrival in power again is not expected to precipitate any negative developments in Turkish-Italian or Turkish-EU relations because Italy supports Turkey’s quest for EU membership as state policy. Just the contrary, it is highly likely that relations between the two countries will further flourish since Berlusconi is a pragmatist merchant-politician and has ties of personal friendship to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdođan. Nonetheless, it should not be forgotten that the smaller partner of the rightist alliance, the Northern League, is anti-Turkish.

Swedish far right against both EU, Turkey’s membership
The same voting traits can also be observed in Sweden, with the votes of leftist and social democrat parties progressively falling and those of rightist parties increasing. In the general elections of September 2006, the eight-year social democrat administration ended and a rightist coalition made up of four rightist parties formed the government. Currently, despite the existence of the Folk Parti, a party known to have a negative stance toward minorities, the government cannot implement blatantly populist policies owing to dominant egalitarian policies. What plays a great role in this is the Swedes’ ingrained idea of being against any sort of discrimination. The most unusual attitudes are probably those adopted by Nyamko Sabuni, the minister of integration and an immigrant himself, whose statements against immigrants and in particular Muslims draw very strong ire. Like the previous social democrat government, the rightist coalition in power fully supports Turkey’s EU membership. All of the seven parties in the Swedish parliament believe that Turkey’s membership would contribute a positive value to the union and that EU membership is definitely necessary for Turkey to realize its reforms to the fullest extent. While xenophobia is not allowed to grow, Sweden’s racist party, the Democrats of Sweden, is preparing to carry out an anti-Turkish campaign in order to surpass the 4 percent election threshold to enter parliament. Party officials think that opposing Turkey’s EU membership would earn them new votes. Party president Jimmi Akesson is known to be a defender of the idea that Sweden should leave the EU. Although his party is against the EU, they will spread propaganda against Turkey’s likely accession to the EU. In the 2006 elections, the Democrats of Sweden got only 2.9 percent of the vote and won a total of 282 seats in 144 local government councils.

With contributions by Today's Zaman reporters Ali Ýhsan Aydýn from Paris, Ýsmail Kul from Frankfurt, Hasan Cücük from Copenhagen, Ramazan Kerpeten from Stockholm, Ýbrahim Kaya from Rome, and Kamuran Samar from London.
© Today's Zaman

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U.N. RACISM INVESTIGATOR TO VISIT U.S. FROM MONDAY

17/5/2008- A special U.N. human rights investigator will visit the United States this month to probe racism, an issue that has forced its way into the race to secure the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. The United Nations said Doudou Diene would meet federal and local officials, as well as lawmakers and judicial authorities during the May 19-June 6 visit. "The special rapporteur will...gather first-hand information on issues related to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance," a U.N. statement said on Friday. His three-week visit, at U.S. government invitation, will cover eight cities -- Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Omaha, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Race has become a central issue in the U.S. election cycle because Sen. Barack Obama, the frontrunner in the battle for the Democratic nomination battle, stands to become the country's first African American president. His campaign has increased turnout among black voters but has also turned off some white voters in a country with a history of slavery and racial segregation. Diene, a Senegalese lawyer who has served in the independent post since 2002, will report his findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council next year. However, the United Nations has almost no clout when it comes to U.S. domestic affairs and is widely perceived by many as interfering. The United States is not among the 47 member states of the Geneva-based forum, but has observer status. In a report last year he said Islamophobia had grown worldwide since the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on the United States, carried out by al-Qaeda militants.

Death penalty
A U.N. panel which examined the U.S. record on racial discrimination last March urged the United States to halt racial profiling of Americans of Arab, Muslim and South Asian descent and to ensure immigrants and non-nationals are not mistreated. It also said America should impose a moratorium on the death penalty and stop sentencing young offenders to life in prison until it can root out racial bias from its justice system. Racial minorities were more likely than whites to be sentenced to death or to life without parole as juveniles, according to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It monitors compliance with an international treaty which Washington ratified in 1994. U.S. officials told the body, made up of 18 independent experts, that they were combating hate crimes such as displays of hangman's nooses and police brutality against minorities. Some 800 racially motivated incidents against people perceived to be Arab, Muslim, Sikh or South Asian had been investigated since the Sept. 11 attacks, they said at the time. Substantial progress had been made over the years in addressing disparities in housing, education, employment and health care, according to a U.S. report submitted to the talks.
© Reuters

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SOUTH AFRICAN BLAMES APARTHEID-ERA FORCES FOR VIOLENCE

23/5/2008- South Africa's security chief on Friday accused rightists linked to the former apartheid government of fanning violence against foreigners that has spread to Cape Town, the country's second-largest city and its tourist center. At least 42 people have been killed and more than 25,000 driven from their homes in 12 days of attacks by mobs who have stabbed, clubbed and burned migrants from other parts of Africa whom they accuse of taking jobs and fueling crime. The South African government has come under strong criticism for its slow reaction to the violence, which started in a Johannesburg township on May 11, and for not adequately addressing poverty widely blamed for the bloodshed. But Manala Manzini, head of the National Intelligence Agency, said that people linked to the apartheid-era security forces were stoking the violence. "Definitely there is a third hand involved. There is a deliberate effort, orchestrated, well-planned," he said. "We have information to the effect that elements that were involved in the pre-1994 election violence are in fact the same elements that have re-started contacts with people that they used in the past." Manzini said some of the violence had emanated from worker hostels where Zulu migrants traditionally live. Much of the township bloodshed in the final years of apartheid involved brutal clashes between supporters of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress, which has been in power since the end of white rule. Inkatha fighters were widely believed to have been clandestinely sponsored by the apartheid government. "We don't want to blame the IFP for this," Manzini said, but, he added, "some of their people might be used."

The police and prosecuting office said they would work together to speed up cases linked to the violence, while the Justice Department was considering the establishment of special courts to deal with suspects. Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka apologized to those caught up in the violence while on a visit to Nigeria, one of the countries whose citizens are threatened. "The violence is regrettable and shocking," she said before meeting Vice President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. "I want to apologize to those who have been affected and want to give the assurance that those who are responsible will be dealt with by the law," she said. The police said mobs had attacked Somalis and Zimbabweans overnight in Cape Town and looted their homes and shops. More shops were looted in Lwandle township near Strand, north of Cape Town, and Knysna, a resort town on the southwest coast. Hundreds of migrants were evacuated from a squatter camp near Cape Town, hub of the tourist industry. "We don't know the exact number of shops looted and burned, but it's a lot," said Billy Jones, senior superintendent with the Western Cape provincial police. He added that a Somali had died but that it was unclear whether the death had been linked to the attacks. The authorities said that a Malawian man had been shot in Durban overnight and that three other foreigners had been stabbed in North West Province. Mozambique said nearly 13,000 migrants and their families had left South Africa since the violence broke out, while Malawi said it had begun evacuating more than 850 of its citizens. There are an estimated three million migrants fleeing Zimbabwe's economic collapse, making them the biggest group among about five million immigrants in a country of 50 million people. After more than a week of sporadic anti-immigrant violence in Johannesburg, thousands of frightened immigrants are trying to return to their home countries.
© Reuters

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'XENOPHOBIA EQUALS RACISM' (South Africa)

16/5/2008- The xenophobia which fuelled recent attacks on residents in Alexandra and Diepsloot is the same as apartheid racism and is a crime, institutions across South Africa said on Friday. The Gauteng African National Congress said xenophobia was no different from the racism of apartheid. "In the same manner that we fought against racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination, we must fight against the hatred of foreign nationals." The treatment of foreigners in South Africa has been highlighted by a number of xenophobic attacks in Alexandra and Diepsloot this week which left a number of foreigners homeless and stripped of their belongings. The ANC said its leaders would be addressing public meetings across Gauteng this weekend to try and stop criminals using discrimination, hatred and fear to destabilise communities. Witwatersrand University vice-chancellor, Professor Loyiso Nongxa, said South Africans' apartheid history should be a warning against xenophobia. "Our memory of apartheid as an instrument of social exclusion should strongly warn us against all forms of division and exclusion, including the xenophobia that we are presently witnessing," he said. "We should not take for granted any of the freedoms gained."

On Friday, the People Against Suffering Suppression, Oppression and Poverty (Passop) said many immigrants were undocumented or illegal not by choice but because government was not processing refugee applications fast enough. "The refugees should not be punished for governmental shortcomings," said the organisation. On Friday, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) said it was concerned that victims of the attacks continued to be arrested and detained by members of the police. During attacks at Olifantsfontein on the East Rand, 32 foreign nationals were attacked, robbed of their belongings and told to leave South Africa by their attackers. The police in response to these attacks proceeded to arrest these victims as they were unable to produce any documentation as to their lawful status in South Africa." The people had since been transported to Lindela where they are being detained pending deportations. LHR said the victims of attacks were being deprived of their right to lay complaints and criminal charges. "Surely criminals must not be encouraged to attack foreign nationals because they know that they will most likely be deported before they are able to act at witness in a trial." The SA Jewish Board of Deputies said on Friday that South Africans should treat foreigners with ubuntu. "As a people who have been the target of hate crimes, genocide and prejudice for centuries, the Jewish community appeals to all citizens of South Africa to treat the strangers in our land in the great spirit of 'ubuntu'," said Owen Futeran, the chairman of the Cape Town council of the board. The Commission on Gender Equality said it very concerned about attacks focused on women, children and the elderly. It said it would monitor the assaults and particularly rape cases. On Friday, the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) in Gauteng on Friday urged the police to arrest all criminals hiding behind xenophobia. "They belong behind bars and sooner they go, the better," said spokesperson Lucas Qakazahe.
© Independent online

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Headlines 16 May, 2008

ITALIAN POLICE SWOOP ON MIGRANTS

15/5/2008- Police in Italy have arrested hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants in raids across the country. Expulsion orders were issued for several dozen of those detained. More than 100 Italians were also arrested. One raid was on a makeshift camp housing Roma (Gypsies), on the edge of Rome. Italian concern about immigrant crime has tended to focus on the Roma. Earlier this week, Roma families in Naples fled after angry locals set fire to their squatter homes. The police crackdown was part of a week-long operation in Rome, Naples and northern Italy. It is an apparent sign of the change of policy promised by the new right-wing government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, who belongs to the anti-immigrant Northern League, is set to hold talks with his counterpart from Romania, which has complained about discrimination against its citizens in Italy. Immigrants from Romania, but also Albania, Greece, China and Morocco, were among those arrested, Italy's La Repubblica news website reported. Romanian police assisted in the raids. The Roma community is perceived as responsible for a disproportionate level of crime in Italy, says the BBC's Christian Fraser.
© BBC News

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ITALIAN MINISTER WANTS TO BRING BACK BORDER CHECKS

11/5/2008- Italy's new interior minister wants to re-impose border controls for travellers from Europe's passport-free Schengen zone as part of security measures to crack down on crime and immigration. The package drawn up by Roberto Maroni, a member of the anti-immigration Northern League, would make illegal immigration a crime punishable by up to four years' imprisonment, according to details published by newspapers on Sunday. The package will be presented at a cabinet meeting this week. It is expected to be one of the first decrees approved by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's new conservative government, which was sworn in on Thursday. One of the most controversial measures favored by Maroni is negotiating a suspension of Italy's obligations under the European Union's Schengen scheme. The accord, between 24 of the 27 member states, lets travellers cross national boundaries without checks. The move is aimed mainly against Romanian immigrants and eastern European Roma people, who have been blamed for crimes in Italy. Romania, which joined the European Union last year, is not part of the Schengen system. The Italian authorities say its nationals enter Italy without checks through neighboring countries covered by the agreement. The system allows for the suspension of the passport-free rules only for reasons of public order or national security. Some member states have re-imposed border controls for limited periods in the past for security reasons at international summits or high-profile public events. Crime and immigration were important issues in the campaign for last month's parliamentary election, which Berlusconi overwhelmingly won. Berlusconi's new foreign minister, Franco Frattini, has said Italy should create a minimum income requirement for immigrants, including those from other European Union countries. The new mayor of Rome from the right-wing National Alliance party, part of Berlusconi's People of Freedom coalition, has pledged to expel 20,000 immigrant criminals and knock down illegal camps put up by mostly by Roma from Romania. More than 500,000 Romanians are estimated to live in Italy, a number that Rome says has risen dramatically in the past year.
© Reuters

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GADDAFI ACCUSES EUROPEANS OF KILLING MIGRANTS

16/5/2008- Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has accused European states of killing hundreds of African migrants by deliberately sinking their boats to stop them reaching Europe. "This tragedy is unfolding. A war on the Mediterranean sea is being waged against Africans," Gaddafi told leaders of African trade unions he met in Tripoli late on Thursday. The outspoken Libyan leader's remarks were carried by the Libyan state news agency Jana on Friday. It was the first time he had made such allegations and he did not name any country in particular. Migrant advocacy groups say many migrants die from starvation or drown after overloaded boats sink. "Europe seeks to defend itself and is doing anything it can to prevent migrants from reaching Europe. So they hit the boat and then announce all the people on board died," he said.  "They sometimes come to pretend to rescue a boat but they overturn it in order that the migrant workers on board die."  Libya is the main springboard for African migrants attempting to sail to Italy -- the main sea route for illegal migrants to spread into Europe. Migrant advocacy groups estimate about 100,000 migrants cross to Italy each year.
© Reuters

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TENTS AWAIT ASYLUM SEEKERS(Norway)

16/5/2008- Norway's left-centre government, overwhelmed by a sharp increase in the numbers of would-be refugees arriving in Norway, plans to start housing the asylum seekers in tents. "We don't have any choice," says Bjarne Håkon Hanssen, the cabinet minister in charge. Norway's asylum centers are filled to capacity and there's neither enough time nor immediate funding available to build proper housing for them. So the government is resorting to tents. The proposal has sparked outcry from refugee advocates and was soundly criticized on national television Thursday night, after details of the tent plan were revealed. Petter Eide, secretary general of Norwegian People's Aid, which is charged with building refugee facilities in Norway in addition to its overseas work, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he didn't like the proposal at all and didn't want to be part of any effort to scare off people trying to seek refuge in Norway. Hanssen, however, believes that Norway is spending far too much money on asylum seekers who have no real need for refuge. The tents, he claims, are viewed as a means of temporarily housing asylum seekers until their cases can be reviewed. The large tents, to be set up near existing asylum centers at Tanum in the Oslo suburb of Bærum and at Lierskogen in Buskerud County, would be able to house 80 and as many as 300 persons. Hanssen promises they would be of good quality with adequate sanitary facilities. More than 3,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Norway since New Year, double the number last year. Both Hanssen and Justice Minister Knut Storberget, both of the Labour Party, view tents as the only way to handle the influx. Hanssen also admitted he's sending a signal to prospective asylum seekers that Norway will be strict in its evaluations of their applications. He said the government also will step up efforts to repatriate refugees from Russia and Iraq, send special agents to overseas missions to help fight human trafficking and evaluate whether asylum seekers must be able to document their identity, not simply provide probable evidence of it, in order to obtain working permission in Norway.
© Aftenpost

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MINISTER'S DISSENTION USHERS IN HEADSCARF BAN(Denmark)

The government will introduce a bill making it illegal for judges to wear religious apparel

15/5/2008- Judges in the nation's courts will be banned from wearing headscarves and other religious apparel under a proposal put forward by the government on Wednesday. The bill, which also stated that judges in all courts would be required to wear robes, has the support of a vast majority in parliament, including the Social Democrats, the largest opposition party. The proposal comes after nearly a month of debate unleashed by a Court Administration decision that it had no legal grounds to exclude Muslim women who wore headscarves from becoming judges. 'Judges that make decisions in court cases, probate courts and county courts need to appear fair and neutral. And we are ready to pass legislation to ensure that,' Lene Espersen, the justice minister, said. The ban will apply to all forms of religious apparel, including Christian crosses and Jewish yarmulkes. The requirement that judges wear robes will be extended from those serving on the High and Supreme court to courts at all levels. Neither lawyers, juries nor lay judges will be affected by the decision. Nor will it apply to other trades. 'We don't plan on passing more legislation than is necessary,' Espersen said. 'The decision about whether nurses, teachers and other employees should be allowed to wear religious symbols should be made locally.' Although the government's decision comes after its own study of how other countries have dealt with the issue of judges and religious apparel, the announcement capped a day in which one of the cabinet's most outspoken ministers sent shockwaves through the government as she openly expressed her support for judges' right to do so. In a commentary in Politiken newspaper on Wednesday, Birthe Rønn Hornbeck, who serves as both immigration minister and minister for ecclesiastical affairs, stated her opposition to a ban, suggesting that doing so would put Denmark on the path towards a 'dictatorship'. She also criticised 'fanatic anti-Muslims' who had launched a misleading advertising campaign warning against permitting judges to wear headscarves. 'I think the question is so important that it requires us to look at it from all sides,' she said after being called to consultation with the prime minister. In addition to adding to the friction between her and leading members of her Liberal Party, publicly stating her opinion also broke the cabinet's pledge to remain silent on the issue until it had completed its review.
© The Copenhagen Post

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ASYLUM SEEKER TAKES HIS LIFE IN BELGIUM

A Cameroonian national has apparently taken his own life in a Belgian detention centre only days after a failed attempt to deport him to Cameroon.

15/5/2008- Ebenizer Folefack Sontsa, who is reported to have been either 29 or 32 years old, was found hanged by bed sheets in a bathroom at the detention centre in the northern town of Merksplas on 1 May. Detainees at the centre rioted in protest following the news of his death. The attempt to deport him happened just days before on board a Brussels Airlines flight bound for Douala. Ebenizer was reportedly restrained by police officers and was crying out that he did not want to return to Cameroon. When fellow passengers voiced their concerns about his treatment to flight attendants and began filming the events, police removed Ebenizer from the plane. Police also proceeded to remove three passengers from the Brussels Airlines flight, detaining one of them - Serge Fosso - for ten hours. Fosso, also a Cameroonian, claims he was punched and kicked by Belgian police as they took him away. He was subsequently banned from Brussels Airlines for six months. Ebenizer was returned to the detention centre and was, allegedly, left with significant injuries following the police attempts to restrain him onboard the plane. Officials at the Merksplas detention centre confirmed that his body displayed 'signs of trauma' on his return. An investigation is underway as to whether police used excessive force to restrain Ebenizer during the failed deportation. Following the death, ten years ago of a Nigerian woman, Semira Adamu, who was suffocated during a deportation when Belgian police used pillows to restrain her and stop her from crying out, four police officers were convicted and the interior minister resigned. The 'cushion' technique for subduing deportees was then suspended.
© Institute of Race Relations

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COUNCIL OF EUROPE URGES BELGIUM TO RESOLVE LINGUISTIC DISPUTE

Belgium has been found guilty of breaching obligations under a European charter on local democracy, says envoys of council.

15/5/2008- Council of Europe envoys urged Belgian authorities Wednesday to resolve a dispute over Francophone mayors in three areas on the Flemish outskirts of the Belgian capital. A fact-finding team from the Council of Europe, a leading human rights watchdog, said Belgium has breached its obligations under a European charter on local democracy, which it has signed. The Flemish regional authorities refused to appoint French-speaking mayors in 2007 in the affluent municipalities of Linkebeek, Wezembeek-Oppem and Kraainem, which are officially part of Flanders, but where the majority of inhabitants speak French. Flemish officials argued some of the election papers had been sent in French even though Dutch should be used in official correspondence and at city councils. The issue goes to the heart of the linguistic dispute that left the country without a government for months after last year's parliamentary elections. The spat over the mayors has dragged on since January 2007. The Council of Europe team, led by Michel Guegan, a mayor of a small village in the French region of Brittany, said Francophones in the three municipalities are being deprived of their right to participate in local matters. ''This is not an acceptable situation with regard to local autonomy,'' Guegan said, adding that the situation was ''serious.'' The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, can make recommendations to its 47 member states, but cannot impose sanctions on them for noncompliance with rules. Belgium, a country of 4.5 million Francophones and 6 million Dutch speakers, is bitterly divided along linguistic lines. The long-standing dispute is threatening to bring down a fragile five-party government of Prime Minister Yves Leterme two months after it came to power. Flemish parties are pushing for a plan to strip tens of thousands of French speakers of the right to vote for Francophone parties by splitting a bilingual electoral district around Brussels. The district is in Flanders, and Flemish parties are trying to prevent an increase of French-speaking people from moving to the area outside the Belgian capital. They insist the district should become monolingual Dutch-speaking. In 2003, Belgium's constitutional court declared illegal the boundaries of the voting district that joins two officially Dutch-speaking areas to Brussels, Belgium's bilingual capital. Belgian politicians, however, have persistently failed to agree on changes, with French-speaking politicians resisting reforms that would prevent the large Francophone minority in the outskirts of Brussels from voting for parties from their own linguistic group.
© Expatica News

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DUTCH CARTOONIST ARRESTED FOR POSSIBLE DISCRIMINATION AND INCITEMENT TO HATRED AND VIOLENCE

16/5/2005. This week the Amsterdam police arrested the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot for possible discrimination and incitement to hatred and violence against Afro-Europeans and Muslims. The home of the cartoonist was searched and a computer, usb sticks and mobile phone were seized.

Nekschot, a pseudonym that translates as ‘shot in the back of the neck’ is notorious for publishing cartoons in which Muslims and other minorities are often depicted in a defamatory or insulting sexual manner. The cartoonist, who has operated under this pseudonym from the start of his appearance on the Internet in 2002, claimed on his website that he took refuge on the internet because print media refused to publish his work.

Early 2005, the Dutch Complaints Bureau for Discrimination on the Internet (MDI) received more than 80 complaints about cartoons and texts on the Nekschot site. After concluding that some of the cartoons and texts might be considered as discriminatory expressions under the Dutch penal code, the MDI filed a case with the Public prosecutor’s office. Today the Prosecutors office has assessed eight cartoons as constituting a criminal offence, being discriminatory and inciting to hatred and violence against Afro-Europeans and Muslims. On its website the MDI stresses that the case has nothing to do with blasphemy, as ‘blasphemy is not discrimination and in the opinion of the MDI blasphemy should fall under the freedom of expression’.

The arrest of the cartoonist is causing some consternation with Dutch parliamentarians and on the Dutch part of the Internet. Says Socialist Party MP Jan de Wit: ‘the arrest is disproportionate. We’re dealing with a cartoonist, not a terrorist!’ Assuming that there might be a freedom of speech issue, a number of MPs have requested an emergency debate which will be held next Tuesday.

Dutch Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin says in a reaction that the police and the prosecutor’s office needed 3 years to discover the identity of Gregorius Nekschot and that the Prosecutors office is just doing its job. Cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, who was released by the police after 30 hours, claims that he is ‘only engaging in satire’ but also says that he is aware of what his cartoons are about and what the consequences can be. “That’s why I’m afraid to be convicted. Suppose I end up in jail, as creator of those cartoons I will have to fear for my life”.

It is telling for the mood in the Netherlands that even parliamentarians are more worried about the possible infringements on the freedom of speech of right-wing extremist politicians like Geert Wilders and a cartoonist who hates blacks and Muslims, than about the protection of citizens against racism and racist violence. Or are clueless about the laws they are supposed to know, like Mark Rutte, leader of the opposition party VVD (liberals), who stated during an Interview with the news show ‘Nova’ today that the Prosecutors office ‘is misinterpreting the penal code in the Nekschot-case’ and that incitement and defamation of groups in society ‘were never meant by the lawmaker to be punishable’. Oh boy.

In the meantime a deal seems to be in the making between the Prosecutors office and Gregorius Nekschot, who has removed the eight cartoons from his site after a request from the Prosecuter. MDI director Niels van Tamelen: ‘I’m not happy with that. I want this case to go to court so the judge can give a ruling on whether this is a matter of free speech or racism. That’s how it should go.’

The Netherlands, once a liberal democracy where the rights of all were protected, has learned from the murder of Theo van Gogh, Pim Fortuyn and the growing extremism of Islamists, but is failing in properly addressing right-wing extremism and racism. What the Dutch need to do to keep their society together is balancing the fight against radicalization and terrorism with the other imperative: the enforcing and promotion of anti-discrimination legislation and policies.
© I CARE News

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DUTCH CARTOONIST GUILTY OF DISCRIMINATION, SAYS PROSECUTOR - SUMMARY

16/5/2008- The Dutch public prosecution said Friday that a Dutch cartoonist going by the name Gregorius Nekschot has produced at least eight cartoons that violate Dutch anti-discrimination legislation and that incite people to commit violence. The eight cartoons have meanwhile been removed from the internet, the statement said. The public prosecutor however refrained from indicating whether or not Nekschot - Dutch for "shot in the neck" - would be charged and prosecuted. Police arrested the cartoonist on Wednesday and released him a day later. During his time in custody, the police searched his home and confiscated his work. The police studied dozens of cartoons in an attempt to investigate whether the cartoonist had violated Dutch anti-discrimination legislation. The police also tracked down the man transferring money to Nekschot on a monthly basis to finance the cartoonists' website www.gregoriusnekschot.nl. The arrest of the cartoonist and search for his sponsor follows an investigation by the public prosecutor after imam Abdul Jabbar van de Ven, a well-known Dutch convert to Islam, filed a complaint about Nekschot's cartoons in 2005. Nekchot publishes primarily on the internet. On his website he claimed he took refuge in the internet as his main platform because Dutch print media refused to publish his work. His website divides his work over more than ten categories, including "science" and "modern life," but even in those categories most of his cartoons feature Muslims and black people.
© DPA

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DUTCH IMMIGRATION EXAM DISCRIMINATORY, SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

The examination, which exempts Western migrants, is meant to keep certain group of people out.

15/5/2008- Human Rights Watch says that the examination many migrants have to take in their own countries before being allowed to come to The Netherlands is discriminatory. Non-Western migrants such as Turks and Moroccans have to sit the exam, while immigrants from the European Union, Japan and the United States are exempt. Human Rights Watch says it appears The Netherlands wants to keep certain groups out. Since 2006, non-western migrants have to sit an exam to prove they have adequate knowledge of Dutch language and culture. The exam, which was introduced by former Integration Minister Rita Verdonk, costs EUR 350. The number of applications from Turkey and Morocco has dropped substantially since its introduction.
© Expatica News

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GAYS EXPERIENCE DISCRIMINATION IN AMSTERDAM (Netherlands)

About 58 percent of gay people feel they have been discriminated against in 2008, reports survey.

15/5/2008- An Amsterdam Council survey shows that 58 percent of gay people in the capital felt they had been the victims of discrimination in 2008, reports NRC Handelsblad. In 2003, there were 32 reports of violent attacks on homosexuals, the figure rose to 119 in 2007. About a quarter of Amsterdammers as a whole felt they had been discriminated against in 2007, with the numbers noticeably higher in the Surinamese (38 percent), Turkish (39 percent), and Moroccan (52 percent) communities. An Amsterdam councillor is quoted as saying: "Amsterdam is one of the leaders in tackling discrimination. These figures demonstrate that our policies have to be made even tougher."
© Expatica News

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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LAW DEEMED CONSTITUTIONAL(Spain)

The Gender Violence Law will see harsher sentences on men convicted of domestic violence against their partners than a woman face for the same crime.

15/5/2008- The Constitutional Court has approved the controversial Gender Violence Law, which allows judges to impose harsher sentences on men convicted of domestic violence against their partners than a woman would face for the same crime. The constitutionality of the law was first raised by a Murcia judge in 2005, after it was claimed that it undermined the equality of male defendants in the eyes of the law. However, the argument that men do more harm in such cases than women won through with the judges on the Constitutional Court. Of the 12 judges on the court, seven voted in favour of the constitutionality of the law, with five voting against. That was sufficient to reject the 127 claims of unconstitutionality that have been filed by judges since the law was passed in 2005.
© Expatica News

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A CHILD’S BITTER STRUGGLE AGAINST RACISM (Cyprus)

15/5/2008- A teenage boy yesterday stunned an audience of educators, highlighting the deep-rooted problems of racism in Cyprus, when he used the words “inhuman” and “painful” to describe his “dream” move to the island. Andrei Stefan from Romania was asked to address a conference organised by the Nicosia Municipality and Palouriotissa Gymnasium entitled: “The smooth integration of immigrants into Cypriot society: The contribution of the school and local authority.” Speaking to an audience of teachers, parents, psychologists and researchers at Famagusta Gate in Nicosia, Andrei eloquently described in his now word-perfect Greek just how prejudice, racism and discrimination turned his dream move to Cyprus into a nightmare. The 16-year-old came to Cyprus five years ago with his mother. “We came hoping for a better tomorrow and for better living conditions since in our country, Romania, we faced many problems.” He told how his mother had described the country and the friends he would make once over here. “Even though I would speak, read and write in a foreign language, I used my mother’s words for comfort, ‘a better tomorrow’, that’s all I asked for.” “Instead of that, during my time at primary school, I endured an inhuman and painful experience with the children I met here. They tormented me with names and bad behaviour. Through all this I struggled to find a path to the better tomorrow that every immigrant searches for in a new country,” said Andrei. “I tried to justify inhuman and harsh behaviour that I got from all the kids, but I found no justification. The only thing that made us different was our country of origin and the language we spoke,” noted the teenager.

Andrei highlighted that the current approach to foreigners living in Cyprus prevented the country from taking advantage of what immigrants have to offer, their customs and traditions but also their own approaches to solving different problems. “The problem is we don’t get the chance to express ourselves, to state what we know and can offer,” he said. “Our proposed solutions are very often not accepted, they are faced with prejudice, and the excuse that ‘This is Cyprus, you are not in your country now’,” he added. “This racist behaviour troubles us greatly. It doesn’t let us participate with our views in solving problems, or improving everyday conditions, of which, at the end of the day, we are a part.” Andrei gave as an example the different approaches to entertainment. He argued that local teenagers had a “misconception” of what freedom is. “I believe we enjoyed healthier forms of entertainment [in Romania] where we had more participation but also help from the community, something we don’t find here.” Asked to elaborate, Andrei said back home teenagers would get help to play in and stage a rock concert in their neighbourhood where members of the community and friends would come and enjoy in a party atmosphere. “We’ve been trying to do the same for six months now and getting nowhere. Instead we end up going to clubs and bars and getting arrested by police,” he said. The teenager noted that racism was not everywhere, and thanked those who welcomed him with open arms, referring to his “inspired teachers”. Asked what advice he had for others like him coming to Cyprus he said: “Don’t be different.”

Advice for Cyprus?
“A change of attitude. Don’t look at someone and the first thing you see is difference.” He argued for more discussion in households, schools and the media about diversity in people: “So everything doesn’t look so foreign to them, so they don’t find it strange when they come across different physical characteristics, so they don’t think children from other countries with different cultures and views are wrong.” A first step would be to provide proper support for foreigners coming to Cyprus to learn the language. “We don’t seek special treatment, we ask for equal treatment without discrimination,” concluded Andrei. Chairman of the House Education Committee, Nicos Tornaritis, yesterday called on Cypriots with racist tendencies to take note of the fact that without economic migrants, Cyprus never would have joined the EU. Speaking at a conference dealing with the integration of immigrants in Cyprus, Tornaritis highlighted the fact that certain parents in particular schools put all the problems faced at schools on the shoulders of foreign children. “Some guy comes up and asks me how are we going to live with all these Poles, Brits, Russians etc, he doesn’t even mention Turkish Cypriots. But what have we been fighting for all these years if not to live with Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Latins, Armenians, and yes, economic migrants,” said Tornaritis.

Nicosia Mayor Eleni Mavrou criticised the media for failing to focus on the positive aspects of multiculturalism in Cyprus, where immigration counts for 10-14 per cent of the population. “I see there are no media and cameras (bar two journalists) here today. I’m sure if local children where fighting with foreign children in school, the cameras would have been there in no time. The media have responsibility to report on the positive as well as the negative,” she said. Headmistress of Palouriotissa gymnasium, Maria Theodotou, told the conference that one positive came out from the many negatives of a recent study undertaken by the school. “When asked if children have problems co-existing with immigrant children, the majority said NO.” The same study revealed that the majority of parents did not want their children being friends with foreign children or even in the same class. Theodotou said education needed readjustment to the new realities in Cyprus, “going beyond the traditional mono-cultural and mono-language character of education”.
Paraphrasing and updating the words of the ancient orator Pericles, she said: “We have our place open to foreigners but at the same time, we have our hearts and minds open to diversity.” Academic Constantinos Fellas stressed the need for recognition of the problem and for dialogue. “Racism is not something we can hide in the closet nor can it be accepted as a ‘soft’ form of ‘xenophobia’ based on naivety and/or ignorance,” he said.
© Cyprus Mail

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SERBIA EXPELS HUNGARIAN FAR RIGHT ACTIVIST

14/5/2008- A leader of the Hungary’s far-right 64 Counties Movement has been expelled from Serbia. Laszlo Toroczkai, a musician and leader of a far-right movement which Serbia's Interior Ministry has declared an extremist organisation, told Belgrade news agency Beta, that he had been banned from re-entering Serbia for two years. Toroczkai also claimed he was beaten up in the town of Subotica, in Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina, where he intended to perform with his Hungarian band “Cherry without Pip” during the election campaign of Serbia’s Hungarian Civic Alliance. Subotica is a home to a big portion of Serbia’s ethnic Hungarian minority which makes up about 4 percent of the country’s population. Toroczkai was then taken to police for lengthy questioning and then escorted to the border crossing. He reportedly crossed into Serbia via the border with Romania, after failing to do so at the Hungary-Serbian border. Hungarian news portal politics.hu reported the incident, adding Toroczkai held a speech in Subotica before being dragged out of his car by a group of local Serbs and then beaten up. The news portal also says Toroczkai was expelled from the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party several years ago after the party chairman Istvan Csurka found his views too radical. One of the 64 Counties Movement’s key goals is to reunify the lands Hungary lost after it was defeated in the First World War. This includes Vojvodina which up to 1918 was a part of Hungary.

Hungarian far-right figure attacked in Serbia
13/5/2008- László Toroczkai, the leader of the far-right 64 Vármegyei Ifjusági Mozgalom (64 County Youth Movement) was hospitalized after being dragged from his car and beaten by five Serbs in Vojvodina, Magyar Nemzet reports. Toroczkai lost a tooth, cracked a rib and received a concussion in the attack. According to reports, Toroczkai was in Subotica (Szabadka in Hungarian) to attend a political rally in light of the Serbian elections over the weekend. When he and a musical group he was traveling with were stopped at the border, Toroczkai entered Serbia via Romania. After giving a speech to a crowd in Subotica, Toroczkai was dragged from his car and beaten by five men shouting at him in Serbian. Transported to a hospital, local authorities then took him to the police station, where after a lengthy questioning he was released, and banned from Serbia for an additional two years. Toroczkai was expelled from the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party several years ago after party chairman István Csurka found his views too radical. (© Politics.hu)
© Balkan Insight

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HEALTH CHECKUP NEEDED(Serbia and Macedonia)

An ambitious effort to – finally – improve the health of Roma runs aground in Serbia and Macedonia.

12/5/2008- Bedrija K. last year gave birth to a son two months prematurely. She said medical staff in the hospital told her the baby would have to stay in an incubator until he reached full term. “But the next day, the doctor told me that I should leave and take the baby because I couldn’t pay the medical bill,” Bedrija, 18, said. The infant died several hours after being removed from the incubator, Bedrija said, her eyes filling with tears. Bedrija is a Romani woman living in eastern Macedonia. That makes her particularly unlucky. Beset by poverty and discrimination, the infant mortality rate for Macedonia’s Roma is twice the national average – 11 per 1,000 live births. They also suffer from higher incidences of coronary thrombosis, which is often linked to poor diet and habits, and hepatitis, an infection linked to poor sanitation. In neighboring Serbia, the situation is hardly better. Most of the country’s Roma live in unhygienic conditions, and Romani children often fall prey to skin and bacterial infections. Much of this illness, and even death, could be prevented, which is one of the goals of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, launched several years ago in nine Central and Eastern European countries: Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro.

The initiative was the brainchild of the founder of the Open Society Institute, George Soros, and then-World Bank President James Wolfensohn. Representatives of the participating countries, including prime ministers and other leading politicians, have drawn up policies to integrate Roma into their societies. Activities focus on education, employment, health, and housing. Meant to take aim at the causes of the problem -- illiteracy, poverty, and racism -- the program’s health component has so far brought little improvement in the lives of Roma in those countries, with Serbia and Macedonia lagging farthest behind. "An assessment of how the Roma Decade is being implemented shows that Serbia and Macedonia are far behind other countries participating in the Decade,” said Osman Balic, coordinator of the League for Roma Decade, a coalition of advocacy groups, government representatives, and donors. “This is mainly because the governments in these countries are relying solely on actions funded by donors.” The report, published in August, gave Serbia low marks – 1.24 on a scale from 0 to 4 – in implementing the program. Only Montenegro, which came to the effort late, fared worse. Macedonia also scraped bottom, with a score of 1.37. By various estimates, Roma make up 3 to 6 percent of the population in Macedonia and about 4 percent in Serbia. The report questions the Serbian government’s commitment to the Roma Decade. It points out that most activities considered part of the effort in that country are actually pilot programs conducted by foreign donors, and it cites a lack of coordination among the ministries in Serbia in tackling the problems of the Romani minority.

Neglect and red tape
Just within the field of health, those problems are many. Most of Serbia’s Roma live in isolated settlements known as mahala. According to the country’s Health Ministry, up to 75 percent live without indoor plumbing, electricity, or paved roads, and their settlements are often found near illegal garbage dumps,  Romani children often neglect basic hygiene like brushing their teeth and washing their hands, various studies have shown. Some 24 percent of Romani children in Serbia never drink milk, 70 percent eat meat products less than once a week, and 40 percent never eat fresh fruits or vegetables, according to a study conducted by the humanitarian organization Oxfam. Pediatricians accuse Romani parents of neglect, according to a 2006 study by the Belgrade-based Children’s Rights Center. The study says that “in most cases [Romani parents] bring children to the doctor in a very late stage of illness when hospitalization is the only solution.” The report also states that nearly 10 percent of Roma say they never take their children to the doctor. Still, most Decade-related activities focus not on changing parental habits but rather on making health care more accessible. Parents who try to use the health-care system frequently run into roadblocks: because many Roma lack a fixed address, they can’t obtain medical registration, which would entitle them to health care. “The current registration system is old-fashioned,” said Dusan Janjic, director of the Belgrade-based Forum for Ethnic Relations, a network of researchers and academics.

The Serbian system consists only of a police registration, which provides identity cards, although Janjic said it did not seem to be reluctance to deal with the police that keeps many Roma from registering. Janjic said the country should put in place a citizen registration system similar to the National Insurance Number system in the United Kingdom. “Lack of health documents is truly a big problem for Roma,” said Djordje Stojiljkovic, a former adviser to the Serbian Health Ministry who is involved in various Roma Decade projects. “We’ve had many cases of people trying to solve their problems without documents, through shortcuts and sideways, but they forget that with [the proper] documents they could solve their problems for good,” he said. In Macedonia, every person with state health insurance receives a certificate from the Health Ministry known as a blue stamp that provides for discounted prices on medicines and free hospital care. But to get a blue stamp, Macedonians must present official confirmation of either employment or unemployment, and most Roma don’t have such documents. In a country of about 2 million, some 35,000 people don’t have insurance, although what percentage are Roma is unknown. Last year, the Association for Emancipation, Solidarity, and Education of Roma Women in Skopje helped register more than 140 residents of Suto Orizari, a large Romani community, who asked for help in obtaining blue stamps. Suto Orizari is one of the 10 municipalities that make up the capital, Skopje. More than three-quarters of its roughly 17,000 residents are Roma. Also last year, the Health Ministry organized Macedonia’s first campaign for free medical exams for the entire population, carried out from July to October. In Topaana, the largest Romani settlement in the country, more than 100 adults and some 80 children were examined.

No Roma allowed
But the best intentions are sometimes thwarted by the worst. In Serbia, Romani patients are often insulted and humiliated by medical workers or even denied access to health care, according to the Belgrade-based Minority Rights Center. Ambulances often do not respond to calls from Romani settlements, and hospitals ask sick or pregnant Romani women to find transportation to hospitals themselves. Valentina Marovic, a 25-year-old Romani woman from Belgrade, took her 5-year-old son to the hospital to have him vaccinated after the Health Ministry had appealed to parents of asthmatic children to do so. But she said the doctor told her that he had no vaccine shots. “I told him that my child had to be vaccinated because he was asthmatic,” Marovic said. “The doctor […] arrogantly told me to go to the minister of health personally and ask him for a shot for my child.” Milorad Djordjevic, a non-Roma who said he heard the conversation between Marovic and the doctor, said his child received the vaccination right away from the same doctor. Romani activists have long argued that Romani mediators in hospitals could help defuse such situations. The Decade Watch report states that the Serbian government has been slow to act on this issue. Several cases have been filed in Serbia for discrimination against Roma, but they are difficult to prosecute when the defendants are from a government body or public institution such as a hospital or social care center, mostly because Roma are often afraid to speak out. Moreover Serbia’s lack of an anti-discrimination law makes the cases especially difficult to prosecute.

Likewise in Macedonia. One 26-year-old Romani woman from Kumanovo, a northern town of more than 105,000, gave birth to her first child in a hospital. The woman, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from medical workers, said she received no care because she lacked insurance and money. After two hours of begging to be received by a doctor, she said she gave birth on the hospital’s reception desk. “I had a very difficult pregnancy,” the woman said. “One night I had sharp pains and went to the Kumanovo hospital, but they wouldn’t admit me. … I asked the nurse to give me some medicine, but she told me not to complain too much. I doubled over, cried, and that same night I delivered,” said the woman, who is expecting a second child this spring. Another young woman said the staff refused to change the sheets on her bed during a recent hospital visit, though they changed sheets on other patients’ beds. “When I complained, they told me that at home I don’t have clean sheets and that I sleep on the floor,” she said. Those experiences are echoed in various reports on Romani rights in Macedonia, although representatives of hospitals interviewed for this article said they treat all patients with the same care. A 2006 report by the European Center for Minority Issues, a German-Danish organization whose mission is to resolve conflicts and improve minority-majority relations, urged the Macedonian government to register Roma, ensure health services for all vulnerable social groups, and introduce legal provisions, which are only just now being drafted, against discrimination. It also recommended continual training of the medical staff working with minorities. Shaban Saliu, a member of parliament, said in a speech last year that more Roma should be employed in health care. “The Ministry of Heath has to employ Roma who can contribute more directly to improve the health culture in the country,” Saliu said.

Progress report
For its part, Serbia has made some right moves. In 2005, the government released a plan for Romani health care. A year later, it earmarked funds for health projects for Roma to be implemented by hospitals in partnership with Roma organizations. They addressed issues such as immunizations, reproductive health, breast cancer, and chronic illness prevention. More than 20 projects were supported in 2006. The second Roma Decade health-related call for proposals was launched in September, and the Health Ministry approved 36 new projects. The total earmarked for health projects in the Roma Decade has so far been 10 million euros. “I think that our government has accepted its role [in the Roma Decade],” said Ljuan Koka, head of the National Secretariat for Roma Strategy. “It’s a difficult and very responsible role. However, there are still certain irresponsible actions. [For example], everyone in the government would like to be paid more for working on a Roma-related project. They don’t seem to understand the role of the public servant. They don’t understand that Roma are citizens of this country, as well, and deserve the same treatment as other citizens.” Macedonia, however, is another story. The Decade Watch report called health the weakest area of the country’s Decade effort. Although it was among the first to sign the Roma Decade declaration in 2005, it has not put together any health programs specifically for the Roma. Instead, that work has been left to private organizations, who have launched projects for testing and treating tuberculosis and stopping the spread of AIDS in Roma communities. Those efforts covered some 20,000 Roma. Another project aimed to combat the spread of sexually transmitted diseases through early detection and education. About 100,000 condoms have been distributed and about 1,000 women between the ages 15 to 64 have been tested. Many have started to visit gynecologists more often. Officials from the Health Ministry did not return requests for comment.

Like Serbia, Macedonia was criticized by the Decade Watch for failing to introduce health mediators. While hospitals employ social workers who help patients submit applications for health benefits and help coordinate among different social services and private advocacy groups, these social workers lack health training, do not go to Romani communities, and are not assigned to work exclusively with Roma. The health section of the Decade’s action plan in Macedonia focuses on education and raising awareness. It thus shifts the burden of reform from the government to the Romani community itself. The Decade Watch report states that the plan offers “absurd solutions,” that lack practicality, such as simply disseminating information on health insurance in Romani communities. Far more effective, some critics say, would be to make insurance available to individuals. The current method of insuring entire families through the heads of households is often used as “an instrument of control over women,” the report states. Generally, Decade Watch says Macedonia does a fair amount of fudging in its plan to improve Romani health. Rather than presenting long-term plans, for instance, the government relies on the recurrent, but still short-term, benefits of efforts like setting up new clinics or mobile health teams. “As a result, the health [plan] manages to appear substantial even as it provides for very little action from the Macedonian government over the entire course of the Decade,” it states.
© Transitions Online

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IN PLACE OF DRUMS AND SAMOSAS(uk, opinion)

In a 'super diverse' Britain, the key to social cohesion is not a new British 'identity' but tackling poverty and inequality
By Sukhvinder Stubbs, chief executive of Barrow Cadbury Trust

14/5/2008- Everyone seems to agree that multiculturalism is dead: an outdated policy that helped to divide our diverse communities by enabling and promoting difference. Many commentators claim it fostered segregation, and this criticism was amplified in the wake of the 7/7 London bombings in 2005 and the 2001 riots in northern towns. It is now rare to hear government officials mention multiculturalism. The race relations industry has spawned new buzz-words. Ministers prefer "integration", "cohesion" and "belonging". The prime minister, we are told, spends many a night scribbling his thoughts on "what it means to be British". Multiculturalism may no longer be the model of social harmony, but before we consign it to history's recycling bin, it is worth considering whether the approach brought any benefits to Britain.

Frosty reception
Multiculturalism was a product of its time. Britain in the 1950s and 60s was a very different place to the modern, globalised state it is today. The UK was steeped in a racist colonial history that ascribed zero value to Asian or African cultures, and new migrants who came from old colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent faced a frosty reception. Many immigrants were given the menial jobs "indigenous" Britons refused to do. They settled in the poorest inner-city areas, often in slums earmarked for demolition. And for those expecting a land of milk and honey, the makeshift signs dangling from boarding house windows declaring "No blacks, no dogs, no Irish" ensured newcomers knew their place. The approach defined as multiculturalism helped reverse this post-war tide of racial and cultural superiority by valuing diversity. Embracing other cultures as "different but equal" helped Britain shed its colonial skin. Its success is evident across modern Britain. The Notting Hill Carnival, for example, is no longer demonised as an "orgy of violence", as it was in the 1960s. In today's Britain, however, there are three reasons why multiculturalism is no longer the right approach.

First, it is unworkable in an age of super-diversity. Immigrants no longer hail from a handful of countries in Africa, the Caribbean or the Indian subcontinent. Today's newcomers come from all over the world. As academic Steven Vertovec points out, changing immigration patterns mean Britain's minorities can no longer be categorised into large, well-organised African-Caribbean and South Asian communities. With scores of nationalities living here, the government can no longer build a community centre for every community. Second, Britain's ethnic minorities have moved on from the low points of the 50s and 60s. My parents and I emigrated from the Punjab in the early 1960s and settled in inner-city Birmingham. In those days, whether you were Caribbean, Pakistani or Indian, life was similar, and in a desperate and hostile climate, we were "all in it together". Today, there is no common trajectory for Britain's ethnic minorities. Some communities have pressed ahead, while others have not. Multiculturalism assumed a level playing field for black and minority ethnic (BME) people. Today's playing field has troughs and mounds. Third, and most important, multiculturalism focused on culture rather than economics. It played an important role in highlighting and appreciating cultural difference. Aside from the current rise in Islamophobia, that cultural debate has largely been won. The main concern of disadvantaged BME communities is no longer racism but poverty. The "steel bands and samosas" approach to community relations needs to make way for more immediate "bread and butter" concerns.

That is not to say racism no longer exists, or that many BME people no longer face discrimination, in the jobs market, in education and in politics. Research by Shamit Saggar, professor of political science at the University of Sussex, shows that BME people suffer an "ethnic penalty" that makes it harder for them to achieve. As Britain becomes more plural, however, there is reason to believe that such barriers to success are no longer insurmountable. Race and ethnicity have ceased to be the main problems. Rather, a confluence of factors shapes the life chances of BME people. Race still matters in modern Britain, but rather less than before. An individual's aspirations, their social capital, their inheritance, the place in which they live and the school in which they study also have an important impact in determining BME people's chances in life. Values, too, play a role. In some families of south Asian origin, for instance, women are discouraged from going to school or getting a good job. This has a devastating impact on their prospects. Similarly, among poor, white communities, teenage pregnancies have become commonplace, blighting the prospects of many girls. Clunky, multiculturalist policies are no longer a useful way of addressing the needs of BME communities. Instead, the government must tackle the chronic economic problems that impoverished communities - black and white - currently face. The Labour government has done much, but far too many communities remain blighted by poverty, underachievement and crime. If the government wants to enhance cohesion, ensuring that every baby born in Britain has an equal chance in life is the surest way to give everyone a genuine stake in the country's future.

However, rather than concrete initiatives to reduce inequality, Whitehall churns out counterproductive, populist proposals for oaths of allegiance and an overhaul of the Proms. For reasons so far unexplained, these ideas are supposed to enhance BME Britons' "sense of belonging". But far from helping, such suggestions often make their lives worse by stirring the far-right's cauldron of hate. If only ministers would take a lead from the medical profession: first, do no harm.

Habits of solidarity
In an increasingly plural country, it isn't healthy for different communities to live parallel lives. But just attacking multiculturalism is not good enough. The Labour government should stick to what it is best at: reducing poverty and inequality. Community cohesion initiatives, airdropped from Whitehall, rarely work. Local community groups are far better placed to build bonds of commonality between Britain's increasingly diverse populace. The Ashiana Community Project in Birmingham is one example of a community group helping to foster "habits of solidarity" between people of different ethnicities, religions and backgrounds. Ashiana uses local "community mentors" to encourage marginalised local women to participate in health, education and confidence-building programmes. Women from different communities forge close bonds as they overcome their mutual concerns together. In doing so, this project not only fosters cohesion but also helps address the poverty and inequality that lie at the heart of people's concerns. The multiculturalist approach to race relations has passed its sell-by date. In the rush to find an alternative, ministers should avoid current fixations with culture and identity. In super-diverse, global Britain, the path to cohesion lies in the more mundane task of equipping all with the tools to succeed in the global marketplace.
© The Guardian

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PRIDE & PREJUDICE: HOW THE FAR RIGHT MUSCLED IN ON MIDDLE ENGLAND

It was the place he dubbed Everytown, the corner of Britain that most accurately represents the nation at large. So when the people of Maltby swung towards the BNP in this month's local elections, ex-resident Julian Baggini returned to discover how the politics of hatred took root in Labour's Yorkshire heartland

13/5/2008- Billy Blair? Yeah, he's a friend of ours. He's a good bloke." It's not unusual to hear local shopkeepers back their newly elected councillor straight after an election. What is extraordinary is that here in Maltby, Rotherham, Will Blair has just won the seat for the BNP and the shopkeeper in question is Birmingham-born British Asian Kaz Singh. Singh's comment is a warning to anyone trying to make easy sense of the success of nationalist parties in this month's local elections. Blair's win is of particular interest to me because Maltby is part of the S66 district of Rotherham that I lived in for six months in 2005 to help write my book on English beliefs and values, Welcome to Everytown. S66 was the area thrown up by a search of a demographic database for the postcode that most accurately reflected the mix of the country as a whole. In the light of this, the results of the council elections were particularly intriguing. The three main wards in S66 are an incredible mix of wealth, poverty and middling comfort, ranging from former pit village Maltby to affluent Hellaby. Labour entered the election holding two of the three seats up for election and was wiped out. The BNP's Will Blair took Maltby, with only 23 per cent of the votes cast, but nationalists did well in all three wards, where nearly one in four of those who voted opted for UKIP or the BNP. For those who comfort themselves that these parties only do well in poor, white, working-class areas, this is something of a wake-up call.

So I went back to S66 last week, as I have done several times since writing the book, to find out why the BNP had done so well. It quickly became obvious that although the nationalist success defies simplistic explanation, the main push is an astonishingly deep and widespread disillusion with Labour. I met countless people like the father and son drinking at the Joker pub, in Sunnyside, who had both voted Labour all their lives until this election, when they opted for UKIP over the only other alternative, a Conservative. "This area's Labour," explained the father, "but it's not New Labour." Likewise, an 83-year-old called Margaret, who voted BNP in the other Rotherham ward where the party won, having voted Labour in every previous poll. "They promise you this, that and the other and you get nowhere, don't you?" she told me. So why is Labour so unloved in one of its heartlands? Local factors played an important part. In Maltby, three independents stood in the aftermath of a bizarre parish council election following a row over the eviction of a church youth club from the town hall. A 15-3 Labour-Independent majority was turned on its head when Independents won 15 seats. In Brinsworth and Catcliffe, the other ward to go BNP, there was deep discontent over the clean-up after last summer's floods, and because the sitting councillor was the mayor, he didn't campaign, as is the convention. Nationally, in contrast, UKIP and the BNP barely made any impact at all, and 93 per cent still voted for one of the main three parties. But it would be complacent to write off the large nationalist vote as a purely local quirk. Rotherham could be a warning of how New Labour might pay the price for what has given it success so far: its efficient election machine which has been targeting the swing voters such as Worcester Woman at the expense of Maltby Man. When so much effort is made wooing the middle 20 per cent of the electorate, it should not be surprising that the remaining 80 per cent feel unloved.

Rotherham MP Denis MacShane goes further. "In 1960, if you were on average working wages, you paid 8 per cent of your income in tax," he told me in the sunny garden of his Rotherham home. "By 1970 that had become 20 per cent, and Labour wondered why it lost. The contract then was informal but clear: you'll pay a lot of your income as a working-class man in tax; in return, you'll get health, education and housing; and, on the whole, that contract held until about 15 years ago, and then it was broken, particularity in the area of housing. I mean, we built 25 social houses in South Yorkshire the year before last. When one resource is scarce (and housing is scarce), the fight over that resource becomes potentially vicious." MacShane's point explains how the pull of the nationalist parties has exploited the push away from Labour. Almost everyone I spoke to agreed that immigration was now out of control and that immigrants were being granted resources denied to the "indigenous" population. Such fears are almost certainly heightened by xenophobia, which has an ignoble history in the area. MacShane recalls how collieries were split after the war when Polish soldiers were sent down the mines and the Yorkshire National Union of Miners wouldn't accept them, and how the National Front won 6 per cent of the vote in a 1976 by-election. The latent racist threat is probably why Labour councillor Shaukat Ali, who heads MAARI (Multi-Agency Approach to Racial Incidents), described the situation after the BNP victory as tense, and didn't want to talk at all.

But to dismiss all opposition to immigration as racist is nonsense. For example, Singh explained that he had no problem with his new councillor's anti-immigration stance because he was British too, born and bred here. It's just that he doesn't think there are enough jobs and houses for the large numbers still coming in. He reminded me of many views I heard while working on a Joseph Rowntree inquiry into refused asylum-seekers last year. Opposition to new immigration by families of immigrants is not at all uncommon, and if this is not based on race, why can't the opposition of a white Briton be equally free of bigotry? Artist and former miner Stewart Platt is a good example. His house proudly sports a cross-of-St-George plaque, but Platt didn't vote BNP in Maltby because: "I'm not racist and that's all I've ever known it stand for." However, he also says: "If it were against all immigrants that's done owt wrong, then deporting them, I agree with that, but it's always been a black thing." Most of those who did vote BNP differ from Stewart only in that they do not think the party is racist. This also seems to be the case with the elected councillor Will Blair. The BNP national office wasn't keen to help me meet Blair. Nick Griffin's number two, Simon Darby, reacted to my requests by saying that articles in papers such as The Independent were usually just sneering, and saying (falsely, I believe) that I had once called the BNP nutters in print. Ironically, Blair turned out to be a much better advert for the BNP than the defensive and dismissive Darby. Perhaps this is because, although he has been a BNP member for six years, Blair seems either not aware of or to disagree with its view that ethnic minorities should not comprise more than 2-3 per cent of the population. What he wants to defend is British culture, not Anglo-Saxon genes, which is just as well, since he comes from Co Antrim in Northern Ireland. "I've always believed in the British way of life," he says, a claim underlined by his racing-pigeon coops behind him.

Blair is, by all accounts, a model member of his community, involved in charitable events and chair of the traders' association. "I knew most of the people round this area would vote for me because they know me. I'm always helpful and try to do my best for people." But he thinks the people on the other side of town put their crosses next to his name because of his party. "They're frightened of losing their heritage and way of life." Blair talks about the classic fears of a country transformed by immigrants, benefits claimed and jobs stolen. "We're not talking about any breed or colour here, we're talking about people coming into the country and if you'll do it for £10 an hour, they'll do it for £5 an hour. I think people worry about their families, their children, their grandchildren, they think that within the next 10, 15 years, there'll be no work for them. I think people are frightened." It's easy to assume that racism lurks behind these fears, but Blair seems genuinely to be free of prejudice. "The best doctor I've ever had is a Pakistani. That man has done everything I have asked for my health. If he had a problem, I'd help him. I can go to the cash-and-carry and I can shake any man's hand, English, Indian, Pakistani, Polish. They know that they're here the same as me: they're doing a job and they're putting money back into society." But this is not quite the politics of the national BNP, which explicitly talks about the importance of race. Its 2005 election manifesto claimed that the tendency "to create and sustain social and political structures in which individual freedom, equality before the law, private property and popular participation in decision-making, is to some extent at least genetically predetermined" and that therefore "the idea that it is possible to allow large numbers of people from very different ethnic groups and cultures to settle here ... is fatally flawed." If this is the real voice of the BNP, then nothing I heard from anyone in Rotherham gave me reason to think many truly support it.

I'm prepared to believe that, like many of his voters, Blair does not oppose immigration on the basis of race hatred. But if this is true, why do so many believe that incomers are causing problems? The question is puzzling, because the areas that voted most strongly for the nationalist parties actually have the lowest ethnic-minority populations. Maltby, for example, is almost completely white and was home to only nine out of the 363 racial incidents in Rotherham reported to MAARI last year. Yet almost everyone had improbable stories to tell about the preferential treatment immigrants received, when we know benefit rules make this impossible. Blair told me: "If you went to France or these other countries, they don't give you the handouts, so they think: 'We'll go to that England place.'" Platt says: "There's a shop in Maltby – they give them a grant and he furnishes their houses. They can't all be made-up stories, they do get money, and that's why a lot of people are against it." Similarly, local former steelworker Colin Newey, whom I know and would swear hasn't a racist bone in his body, said: "My older brother told me someone from Poland got a van to go looking for work." Lurid tabloid headlines are partly to blame for this. The Federation of Poles in Great Britain has repeatedly claimed that Daily Mail reporting has been defamatory to Poles living in this country. But it's harder to blame the media for the widely repeated claim that ethnic minorities are becoming the majority in certain areas of the town. I asked an old friend to take to me these areas of the town which he said were now predominantly Asian. In one we saw more whites than blacks or Asians. In another, we hardly saw anyone from any visible minority at all. At one point, he pulled over, wound down his window and asked someone walking by: "Excuse me, are there many immigrants around here?" The guy shrugged his shoulders, perplexed. "Not really, no."

Rotherham town centre remains a predominantly white shopping area. And yet, looking around All Saints Square, I had to remind myself that, having lived in large cities, I don't see Rotherham as long-term residents do. When you're not used to seeing people who look or sound different, you notice such people when they do turn up, even if they are only a sizeable minority. Again, this isn't racist. As Denis MacShane explains, it is "indisputable" that Rotherham, like much of the country, has experienced the fact that "three huge waves, coming from different sources, of non-indigenous 'Brits' have arrived very hard and very visibly in the last decade." These were asylum-seekers from Eastern Europe and the Middle East; people from the subcontinent who came, often to marry cousins, after rules on marriage were relaxed; and then the Eastern European migrant workers coming in after EU enlargement. Whenever an area has a large influx of newcomers over a relatively short period of time, it always makes people who have become used to it having a settled, familiar character worried that it is all about to change. This is understandable. When small villages complain about the effects of city people with no links to the area moving in in large numbers, no one accuses them of urbanism. The great failure of those in favour of a diverse society with the free movement of people has been to refuse to face up to the challenges such changes present, for fear of siding with the racists. But there has been another failure. Look at the BNP's literature and you'll find that, on occasion, it points to some inconsistencies in the stance of "politically correct" liberals that are indeed hard to justify. For example, by coincidence, only a few days before going to Rotherham, I had been interviewing the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton and he had mentioned how the organiser of the English Music Festival received no Arts Council funding "because of the word English". Yet a festival of virtually any other national culture would be funded. Even if the frequency of these sort of cases is overstated, there has been an inconsistency between the acceptability of asserting Englishness compared with other national or ethnic identities.

Things may now be changing in this regard. But if it is the case that minority cultures have sometimes been given greater respect than the majority one, then it is easy for people to believe that this is symptomatic of a wider bias against what the BNP calls the indigenous British population. Patriotism, if not allowed to express itself, will gravitate to wherever it is given a home, which right now is in nationalism. Of course, this has been a worry for some years, which is why Gordon Brown, among others, has been trying to reclaim patriotism for the Left. So far, it has not succeeded; in part, because no one has found a way of promoting national identity that is genuinely inclusive yet not utterly banal. Those worried by the nationalist success in Everytown should take heart from the fact that everyone seems to agree that, whether they loathe the BNP or love it, most people in Maltby are not racist. The most incredible testimony of this comes from a woman who is remarkably well placed to judge such things. Brenda Abou El Ola has lived in Maltby most of her life and married a Palestinian man in Lebanon. She's writing a book about what happened when they went back to live in Rotherham and confronted the reality of being an immigrant in Maltby. "Put it this way," she told me, "we are perfectly happily married, but I am now living on my own in Maltby, and my husband and the two lads are renting a house in Eastwood for the simple reason that it wasn't working in Maltby." One incident in particular explains why. "One night, my son, who was born and bred in Maltby, was walking home and a 15- year-old boy came out, drugged up or whatever, with a knife, threatening my son about my situation – 'Why don't you get you're mother to take her black Bs back to where they came from?' – and various threats on his and our lives."

Her son went into his flat and called the police, who didn't initially come, but his mother was not so retiring when he called her. "Me, being the person I am, and against my husband's and stepson's recommendations, went out on to the street to ask what was going on. He came towards me with the knife saying the same comments, and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor." The attack broke her jaw and the next day her face was bruised and swollen so badly "I didn't want to leave the house for days, it looked so shocking". The attacker got off with nothing more than a "severe talking to", having said that he was sorry. Despite this and racial harassment of her two stepsons at school, Abou El Ola chooses to stay in Maltby. "I like it here. I brought up my first family here and I feel at home." She thinks most of the people are good and decent, and that those who voted BNP did so for the main reason that they "have had enough of Labour and want something different". So are the mainstream parties, and Labour in particular, ready to learn the lessons of the nationalist successes in Rotherham? It won't be easy. As Denis MacShane put it: "The difficulty is that you have to see that part of the argument that has some validity. Just because a BNP guy is saying that many people who are born and brought up here feel that there's too much foreign in Britain doesn't mean to say it's untrue. The question is how do you react to that?" The answer, he believes, includes swifter return of asylum-seekers whose claims are unjustified, promotion of the English language, and construction of "a set of rules we expect people to abide by". Whether he's right or wrong, to dismiss as racist the tough questions that he and others are now asking would be to repeat the mistakes that have led the BNP to victory in South Yorkshire. Unless mainstream politics finds a way of responding to the fears and desires of the voters who feel disenfranchised and afraid in a changing world, nationalist parties can look forward to even more success in the future.

Welcome to Everytown: A Journey into the English Mind is published by Granta. www.julianbaggini.com

The rise of the BNP
+ The British National Party was founded in 1982 following splits in the far right National Front, but its recent growth from political obscurity dates from 1999, when Cambridge-educated Nick Griffin (inset) took over as leader, and set about replacing its crew cuts with a modernised, besuited image.

+ The BNP secured its first council seat – in London's Tower Hamlets – in 1993. Today, the party has around 56 local councillors, a net gain of 10 in local elections earlier this month, when it also gained for the first time a seat on the London Assembly. With parish and community councils, the party claims 100 elected representatives across the country.

+ Richard Barnbrook, elected to the London Assembly under the capital-wide party top-up system, also polled nearly 200,000 votes in the mayoral election.

+ The party's greatest stronghold is in east London, with 12 councillors in Barking and Dagenham: it is the borough's official opposition party. It has moved out of its core areas in the North-west to target London and rural seats, playing on fears about immigration, but also attempting to benefit from anger over fuel prices.

+ In 2006, Griffin was cleared of race-hate charges relating to speeches filmed by a BBC undercover team. But the party – has suffered splits and polled less than 1 per cent in the last general election.

+The BNP has fewer than 1 per cent of the councillors in England and Wales.
Ben Russell
© Independent Digital

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GOVERNMENT STEPPING UP ACTION TO TACKLE ANTI-SEMITISM(uk)

13/5/2008- Action to tackle anti-Semitism in communities is being stepped up, Cohesion Minister Parmjit Dhanda said today. The announcement coincides with the publication of the Government's one year on response to the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism. In March 2007 Government responded to the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism report and undertook to report back to Parliament on progress in implementing its recommendations. These actions included measures to improve the recording and reporting of anti-Semitic incidents; increasing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in prosecuting hate crimes, promoting community cohesion and shared values; the creation of a cross government working task group and an increase in the work being done by schools on this issue. The Government says it has made significant progress against the 35 recommendations made by the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry's constructive and comprehensive report, including:

* The Crown Prosecution Service's comprehensive review on the low number of antisemitic prosecutions and the subsequent commitment to develop an Action Plan, which sets out the work needed to build on the progress that has already been achieved.
* Ensuring that by April 2009 all police forces will collect data on all hate crime, including anti-Semitism.
* Agreeing that local authorities can use their devolved capital funding for investment in security at schools where this is a priority.
* Funding the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (EISCA) to research the impact of antisemitic discourse.
* The launch of the Race for Justice Declaration - a cross-government strategy which aims to combat all forms of hate crime.
* A commitment to significantly increase the level of annual core funding provided to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for each of the next three years.

Cohesion Minister Parmjit Dhanda said: "We have made good progress against the recommendations but there is no room for complacency. We will continue to take practical, effective action to stamp out antisemitism whenever and wherever it occurs. "We are committed to increasing the number of hate crimes brought to prosecution, tackling anti-Semitism on university campuses, and challenging hate crime and extremism on the internet. "We have agreed to continue our support of the cross-departmental and Jewish stakeholder working group and will report back to parliament on further progress in 2010. "I am delighted with the progress we have made and I' am very grateful to the APPG for initiating this important work." John Mann MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against anti-Semitism said: "I am delighted to see that real progress has been made over the past 12 months. "The purpose of the Inquiry our group commissioned was to engage government and civil society as partners in the struggle against prejudice and discrimination and this report shows that we are advancing towards where we need to be with particularly good news relating to prosecutions, policing and international cooperation. "Parliament will continue to watch with interest as these recommendations and innovations are implemented, especially in the most pressing spheres like antisemitism on campus. "There is no room for complacency in this essential endeavour - we look to government and civil society to sustain this encouraging effort and anticipate government's next progress report by 2010."
© 24Dash.com

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MOLDOVAN POLICE ALLOWS FOR VIOLENT PRECLUSION OF A PUBLIC LGBT MANIFESTATION

11//2008- Today participants in the 7th Moldovan Pride were precluded from marching peacefully in support of anti-discrimination legislation and tolerance in the centre of Chisinau. Police did not guarantee the right to freedom of assembly. Large aggressive coordinated groups, including extremist religious groups, members of the neo-fascist movement “New Right”, and legionnaires blocked the bus with participants, forced the door, violently hit the windows, and attempted to remove the engine, while shouting “lets get them out and beat them up”. The police distanced itself from the events by taking the role of passive observers. GenderDoc-M has informed local authorities and the ministry of internal affairs as early as 21st of April about the route of the march, and asked for protection. The law on freedom of assembly of Moldova guarantees peaceful assembly to everyone, and puts an obligation on the police to guarantee the exercise of the right and the safety of participants. The police did not facilitate the exit of pride participants from the bus into the street, did not side out the rival aggressive groups from intervention, and through their passivity encouraged escalation of violence and the built up of the all-permissive hostile atmosphere. Independent human rights observers witnessed hatred shouts, such as “Beat them to death”, “Don’t let them escape”. No medical emergency was foreseen. Information received from independent observers also says that all action of protest was prepared and coordinated by special security service of Moldova. Participants of protest action were brought to Chisinau with minibuses from different parts of Moldova.

About 60 people were blocked in the bus for over 45 minutes. Two unidentified well-built men wearing the signs of the rival groups, forced the doors from both sides of the bus and demanded ceasing of all march materials (banners asking for anti-discrimination law and tolerance, European Union and Moldovan flags and rainbow balloons) as condition for lifting the blockage of the bus. According to the estimates of independent observers from 200 to 400 people had surrounded the bus. The core of the crowd were teenagers, some dressed military-style, some wearing black masks and others skinhead-like wearing A4 posters with derogatory messages and signs. The outer ring of the crowd was mostly middle-aged men wearing black clothes encouraging the former. No police was identified by the observes on the place. Some 6 traffic police cars stood approximately 100 meters away without taking any action whatsoever. GenderDoc-M has made 9 unsuccessful attempts to call the police. After ceasing of all materials, the two men ordered to unblock the bus and let it go. The bus headed towards GenderDoc-M office, followed by a car with members of the crowd. Participants left the office in dispersed groups on alert of possible repeated attack by the crowd. Another crowd of approximately several hundred people surrounded GenderDoc-M office demanding that pride participants exit the office. Two police and one ambulance cars observed from distance the events. The office remained blocked for several hours. In parallel to the events described above, several hundred people of all ages, men and women gathered on the Great National Assembly Square, carrying banners saying “Family is the Union between Man and Woman”, “Homosexuality is a Sin”, “Immorality Ruins Society”, “Moldova ­ Christian Country”, and “Do Not Turn Sin into Virtue”. GenderDoc-M has no information whether these various groups had their manifestations authorised.



An angry group of 'thugs' highjack the bus.
photo courtesy GenderDoc-M/ILGA-Europe

All remaining activities, including a small meeting, sightseeing in Chisinau and visit of historic places in Moldova were cancelled due to lack of security. The new Moldovan Law on Assembly requires a simple notification of local authorities about a meeting. GenderDoc-M submitted to the City Hall on 21 April 2008 such a notification, respecting all legal requirements. On the eve of the march, the Mayor of Chisinau Dorin Chirtoaca issued a disposition informing the organizers that the march is banned by the City Hall. Such a disposition breaches the law, since only the court could ban a manifistation. Since the new Mayor, exponent of the Liberal Party and former staff of a human rights NGO in Moldova, took office, GenderDoc-M remains the only organisation whose public manifestations have been banned. Since May 2005 already eight public manifestations by GenderDoc-M were banned. Absence of action by police amounts to grave violations of the right to freedom of assembly and put in danger the personal security of all march participants. GenderDoc-M calls on Moldovan authorities to guarantee freedom of peaceful assembly and expression to everyone. We also call on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to fulfil their lawful responsibilities and ensure exercise of the right to freedom of assembly and safety of those taking part in public manifestations. GenderDoc-M calls on the European Union, Council of Europe, OSCE and human rights NGOs to raise these human rights violations at the highest level with Moldovan authorities, and to put pressure on Moldovan government to implement its own laws without discrimination and its international human rights commitments. Moldovan authorities must be held responsible for their behaviour.
© GenderDoc-M

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CZECH POLICE EXAMINING 'NEO-NAZI BIBLE' THE TURNER DIARIES

Police are currently investigating a new Czech translation of so-called “neo-Nazi bible” The Turner Diaries, a book said to have inspired the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and other acts of far-right violence. The book – which describes an Aryan revolution that leads to the extermination of the world’s non-white peoples - is banned in many European countries and Czech police must now decide whether it should be banned here too.

16/5/2008- The Turner Diaries depicts a violent revolution in America which brings down the U.S. federal government and ultimately leads to the extermination of all the world’s Jews and non-white peoples, leaving a global all-white population of fifty million. It all sounds very exciting, but apparently it’s very badly written and a rather tedious read. It was penned by the late American white supremacist William Luther Pierce, and published in 1978 under the pseudonym ‘Andrew Macdonald’. It was originally available only by mail order and at gun shows in the U.S., but is now freely available in the States, not just from white supremacist websites but also from online bookstores such as Amazon.com (and, evidently, Amazon.co.uk). However, The Turner Diaries is banned in most European countries – neighbouring Germany and Austria for example – and so Czech police are now examining whether this new Czech edition should be banned under the country’s race hate laws. This first Czech edition of the book was published by a company called Kontingent. A representative of the firm, Lukáš Jirotka, was quoted in Lidové Noviny newspaper admitting that Kontingent was established in April with the express purpose of publishing the Turner Diaries in Czech. But Mr Jirotka denies the firm wanted to promote neo-Nazi ideology, which is a crime in the Czech Republic. He says the publisher wanted to warn society of the dangers posed by neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, claiming that if everyone read the book there would be a great groundswell of outraged opposition to neo-Nazism. His true motives, however, might be more prosaic. The Czech edition had an initial print run of 5000 copies, and it could soon sell out. One big bookstore on Wenceslas Square is reporting sales of 15-20 copies a day, which is a substantial figure. We saw in the previous case – when a new Czech edition of Mein Kampf came out a few years – just how profitable these controversial books can be for the companies that test the limits of freedom of speech by publishing them.
© Radio Prague

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CZECH PRESIDENT VETOES ANTI-DISCRIMINATION BILL, CZECH GREENS WANT TO OVERRIDE

Czech President Vaclav Klaus today vetoed the anti-discrimination bill that he says is "unnecessary, counter-productive and of a poor quality, and its impact is very questionable," the Presidential Office has told CTK.

16/5/2008- The bill, required by the European Union, is to help ensure an equal access to education, work, health care, social advantages, and others. The bill will now return to the Chamber of Deputies. Klaus writes in a letter he sent to Miloslav Vlcek, Chamber of Deputies chairman, that the fact that the bill was proposed and approved by the European Commission as obligatory for all member countries does not justify its existence. Klaus wrote in his stand on the bill that European directives are political-legal instruments that express interest in reaching certain goals in the EU member countries. "They are binding only as regards the results, while the forms and methods of reaching the goals are up to the decision by individual member states," Klaus wrote. The anti-discrimination law aims to ensure an equal access to education, work, health care and social advantages, for instance, irrespective of age, race, nationality, sexual orientation, health handicap, sex, religion and world outlook. "The bill contains nothing that would be fundamentally new for Czech law," Klaus wrote. "This bill is in its essence rather an anti-discrimination manual that sums up the content of other laws and whose aim is mainly ideological, not legal. This is not what laws should be like. They should precisely set the rights and duties, not to spread instructions and knowledge," Klaus wrote.

Czech Greens want to override Klaus's veto of discrimination bill
The Greens chairman Martin Bursik and Dzamila Stehlikova (Greens), minister for human rights and minorities, said in their press release that Klaus's veto is an attack on the government policy and its pro-European orientation. The anti-discrimination law is required by the European Union. "The vetoing of the bill returns us a large step back within European integration and throws a shadow on our effort to cooperate within the EU," Bursik and Stehlikova write in their joint statement. They write that the Czech Republic faces EU sanctions over the absence of the law, and that Czech citizens have a lower standard of protection against discrimination than other EU citizens. The Czech Republic should have passed the bill before it entered the EU in 2004 and it is the sole of the 27 EU member states not to have it. Stehlikova told today that the Czech Republic had not been punished for the absence of the law only thanks to that the bill was already in parliament and was on its good path to approval. In the joint press release with Bursik, she said the law is a priority of the government and the promise to pass it is part of the government coalition agreement. The bill was passed by the votes of 111 out of 170 deputies present. Some rightist deputies, however, echo the opinion of Klaus, honorary chairman of the senior ruling Civic Democrats (ODS), that it is redundant if not right detrimental, and they say it is an evil forced on Czechs by the EU. The left says the anti-discrimination law is important, but that the government submitted a toothless bill that does not provide sufficient protection from discrimination. That is why a number of Social Democrat deputies did not support it.
© CTK

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WHITE POWER(Czech Rep, commentary)

Neo-Nazis fight for more legitimacy
By Eva Munková, freelance journalist and editor-in-chief of The New Presence magazine

14/5/2008- The Nazis came to power in 1933 with a platform opposing Germany’s supposed moral and racial decay. A year later, Adolf Hitler suspended the constitution, abolished the presidency and declared himself Führer. Their ideology run amok brought forth a monstrous administrative machine that murdered 6 million Jews, Roma, homosexuals, disabled people and anyone else they deemed “impure.” And now, they are back. The new, East European neo-Nazi is young, single and vicious. Along with the predictable bashing of minorities and anarchists, the neo-Nazi of today has a perhaps surprising penchant for the Internet, brand-name clothing, and white power music. Neo-Nazis are organized into secret, semi-autonomous “cells,” which work along the principles of “leaderless resistance.” Each cell supports its own common ideology. Their exact numbers are hard to estimate, but experts know the cells can organize quite quickly, be it for a march or a power grab. Today, every European country has a neo-Nazi movement. This is ironic, considering that less than 20 years ago, thanks to anti-Nazi laws, it looked as if Europe’s stick-in-the-mud neo-Nazi parties would soon die an anemic death.
But help came from another quarter.

Skinheads
It’s hard to say just when the cult of hefty, bald young men in baggy trousers, bomber jackets and combat boots ended up in the neo-Nazi camp, but today, the merger is homogeneous. In 1987, Ian Stuart Donaldson put the phenomenon to music. As lead singer of the band Skrewdriver, he founded a white power music brokerage called Blood and Honor (B&H), after the motto of the Hitler Youth. Its militant arm, Combat 18, was responsible for many violent attacks on immigrants, minorities and its left-wing opponents. White power concerts with the B&H logo have spread like a rash in Central Europe, disseminating neo-Nazi ideology and giving its adherents a place to “network,” along with the opportunity to raise money. These concerts bring in the bulk of funding from the neo-Nazi movement, with enough left over to line the organizers’ pockets. In addition, cheap, universal, and instantaneous interaction through the Internet has allowed Nazi ideology to span the globe. And it is virtually untraceable. By processing their communications through servers registered in the United States, North Korea or any other state not bound to divulge information about Internet users, neo-Nazis distance their propaganda from police monitoring (including Czech groups).

Leaderless resistance
The Czech Republic has about 1,500 “core” neo-Nazis and another 4,000 adherents to the cause, according to the Interior Ministry.
A report from the Czech counter-intelligence service (BIS) says one of the basic principles of those people is leaderless resistance, meaning that neo-Nazi organizations don’t use a hierarchical structure or traditional leadership. Individuals and small groups acting on their own initiative are typical, and autonomous groups communicate through their leaders and local activists. Leading Czech neo-Nazi group Národni odpor (National Resistance) is a prime example. Groups generally carry out activities on a local level and only attend national events a few times per year. According to the country’s foremost expert on right-wing extremism, Miroslav Mareš, the Czechs adopted their organization from the “Kameradschaften” model — a network of loosely joined cells. Mareš notes that such a network is able to mobilize quite quickly — for example to attend a demonstration or concert — or to launch itself into politics. According to Interior Ministry’s statistics, the number of such public events increased in 2007, as did the number of hostile verbal attacks against minorities.

Political success
Neo-Nazis are led by a sophisticated, soft-spoken and “reasonable” elite that has learned to dance nimbly through the minefields of the respective countries, which is not always easy, considering Europe’s strict anti-Nazi laws. Václav Bureš, a known organizer of neo-Nazi demonstrations, managed to join a Plzeň branch of the ODS (Civic Democrats, the ruling political party). Only when the media exposed his affiliations was he expelled from the party. Registered parties like the Worker’s Party and Právo a Spravedlnost (Law and Justice) have people from the neo-Nazi milieu on their tickets, says Major David Janda, head of Prague’s Anti Extremist Unit (OOZOK). The probability is high that party leaders know of their members’ affiliations. According to Mareš, the recent flurry of neo-Nazi marches is another sign that they are ready to start addressing voters. Nonetheless, Mareš says, the leaders of the Czech movement know they wouldn’t stand a chance right now in party politics. Instead, neo-Nazis are also starting to hitch their wagon to Nationalist movements through a new group calling itself Národní Konzervatismus (National Conservatism) (NK), which is based on the Italian concept of fascism from the 1930s. Though NK publicly eschews the neo-Nazis, the report notes that there are many personal links between the two, and that NK has profiled itself as a de facto bridge between the movements. Neo-Nazi elites are also trying to change their image, distancing themselves from skinhead excesses, and are urging members to behave with decorum in public. There have been fewer concerts and more peaceful marches. This does not mean that the neo-Nazis are getting nicer — a look at their Web sites proves their doctrines have not changed. They’re just getting smarter. Legal and peaceful marches, held under the baleful gaze of the police, who often have to protect them from irate left-wing extremists, feed the image of neo-Nazis as harmless victims — not perpetrators of violence.
Meanwhile, a bigger fight is going on at a higher level.

Law of assembly
With the help of astute lawyers, neo-Nazis are learning to use the law to their advantage — and the courts are supporting them. An overly lax law on public assembly appears to be their biggest target. Czech Law 84/1990 on the right to assembly was written March 27, 1990, in the afterglow of fallen communism, and no one has dared to touch it since. Officials have just three calendar days to stop a march after it is announced, according to the law, and officials say they don’t have a fighting chance to defend themselves from neo-Nazi marches. All over the country, cities have been trying to oppose the regulation. The first of many showdowns came in May 2007, in Brno, when police dispersed a neo-Nazi parade organized by Národní Odpor on the grounds that certain individuals had shouted racist slogans. Courts upheld the decision on grounds that an event can be stopped if illegal activities take place. On Nov. 10, 2007, the 69th anniversary of Kristallnacht, neo-Nazis were kept from marching through Prague’s Jewish Quarter after the Prague City court upheld the magistrate’s decision to stop the event on a technicality. When demonstrators came to Old Town anyway, their route was blocked by thousands of angry citizens, police and left-wing radicals. Clashes went on well into the night, and the police were praised. The biggest showdown to date happened Jan. 17 of this year, when the mayor of Plzeň, Pavel Rödl, unilaterally banned a march that had been approved by a lower authority a month earlier — and got his fingers smacked. The Plzeň District Court ruled that Rödl had violated the three-day limit and ordered him to allow Bureš to stage a “makeup” march. The Supreme Administrative Court upheld the verdict. Rödl, who could face criminal charges, has appealed the decision to the Constitutional Court, asking for a repeal of the three-calendar-day rule.

A solution
An obvious solution, say many, is to modify the national law of assembly to give municipal authorities at least a fighting chance to stop marches. Communities also need to learn to protect themselves by using existing laws, says Karel Sedláček, of ICEJ, an international Christian organization, which promotes active resistance against anti-Semitism. To this end, his group is putting together a “cookbook” for city officials to use to take action the moment a march is announced. On the whole, however, he feels the recent marches and the public outrage that they have caused are a step in the right direction. But others, like Mareš, say it’s the courts and not the law that needs to change. He also points out that even the law on assembly gives authorities the right to stop the event the moment something illegal happens, as they did in Brno in May 2007. As the situation now stands, it is up to the Constitutional Court to decide whether to strike the three-day rule from the law of assembly altogether, or at least to provide a clearer explanation of how the law is to be interpreted. If the Constitutional Court will not change the law, Rödl says he will appeal to the Parliament. Changing a single clause in a single law may complicate things for the neo-Nazis for awhile – but can it help us get rid of them? “The laws against anti-Semitism and racism are very strict here — more so than elsewhere in Europe, but there isn’t a will to define them,” Mareš says. “Nonetheless, people can’t give up because something didn’t turn out the way they had hoped. They need to keep getting involved. Civic resistance is a very strong weapon.”
© The Prague Post Online

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MINISTER: EU MAY CO-FINANCE PIG FARM REMOVAL FROM WW2 CAMP SITE(Czech Rep.)

13/5/2008- The European Union might contribute to the removal of the Czech pig farm from the site of a former wartime internment camp for Romanies in Lety, Czech Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Dzamila Stehlikova (Greens) told journalists Tuesday. Stehlikova said two of the solutions to be proposed to the Czech government reckoned with money from the EU. She said institutes not only from European countries, but also the United States have offered to contribute to the construction of a memorial to the victims of the Lety camp. Stehlikova did not elaborate on the offers and proposals. Alternative solutions to the problem are to be submitted by a working group comprising representatives of the South Bohemian region, the local self-rule bodies, ministries, the Committee for Compensation to the Victims of the Romany Holocaust and South Bohemian Romanies by the end of the year. The Committee for Compensation to the Victims of the Romany Holocaust proposed that a special fund be established for the pig farm's removal to which EU institutions and the Czech government would contribute. Committee head Cenek Ruzicka said he did not believe the government would nod to the establishment of the fund in near future. Ruzicka said not only money, but also political will to remove the farm has lacked. He recalled that opinion polls show that 90 percent of Czechs do not want Romanies as their neighbours. However, Senate deputy chairman Petr Pithart said in reaction he believed money was the problem, not a lack of political will.

The surviving relatives of the victims are sceptical about the farm's removal. Jan Hauer whose mother and two sisters were interned in the camp said it seems to him that the government would not earmark money for the removal. "I am disappointed at it very much," Hauer said. Ruzicka said the first step to take was to make an official financial estimate of the farm's removal or sale. In the past, it was speculated the farm could be sold for up to one billion crowns. Experts say this is a high price. The Lety interment camp was opened in August 1940, originally for those who could not prove how they earned their living. In 1942 it was transformed into an internment camp for Romanies. Over a thousand of Romanies were interned there until May 1943, 327 of whom died there and over 500 were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. According to estimates, some 90 percent of Czech Romanies did not survive the Holocaust.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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POLICE INVESTIGATE WEBSITE INSULTING FOREIGNERS(Czech Rep.)

12/5/2008- Czech police have showed interest in the Internet page cheteje (do you want them) insulting foreigners, whose authors say they are fighting against immigration of foreigners to the Czech Republic. The website's name is designed to parody a campaign ridiculing neo-Nazism that was carried out under the title "do you want them." Marcel Winter, chairman of the Czech-Vietnamese society, said today he intended to file a criminal complaint against the authors of the website that was promoted by the nationalist ultra-right National Party. The website features, for instance, pictures of people from Russia, Lebanon and Vietnam, describing their alleged illnesses and negative qualities accompanied by the question "Immigrants: do you want to have them at home?" The website insults the foreigners and provides space for xenophobic views about them. Czech police have started investigating the page. "The IT crime department has started to examine whether the content of the website corresponds to the Czech legal order. However, it is premature to say whether the law has been violated or not," criminal police spokeswoman Pavla Kopecka told CTK today. The organised crime police unit has also been informed about the webpage. Its spokesman Pavel Hantak said, however, that no official criminal proceedings had been started yet. "Laws should be observed in democracy and the freedom of speech should not be abused for the spread of xenophobia and racism. I will thus file a criminal complaint against the authors and operators of the website," Winter said in a statement today.

According to the National Party press department, the project is an answer to party chairwoman Petra Edelmannova's appeal that has come up with the slogan Stop immigration - start of repatriation designed to stop the influx of foreigners to the Czech Republic. It is another controversial project that has appeared on the National Party's website. Recently the party also published on its website Fitna, an anti-Ialamic documentary by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders. The film was published on the Internet in March and has provoked a wave of criticism in the Islamic world. According to Winter, the published appeals are a demonstration of racism and xenophobia and are expediently aimed against foreigners living in the Czech Republic and those who intend to come to the country. Winter pointed out that foreigners who come to the Czech Republic usually work at factories and companies in which more than 150,000 employees are lacking at present.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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PRAGUE CITY HALL BANS FOUR EXTREMIST MARCHES(Czech Rep.)

12/5/2008- The Prague City Hall has banned four marches of right-wing extremists convoked by the National Resistance neo-Nazi movement's followers for May 14, City Hall spokesman Jiri Wolf told CTK Friday. The extremists wanted to march from Prague-Letna to Badeni street where Israeli Embassy is seated under various pretexts. The City Hall banned another extremist march along the same route previously. "Though the announced purposes [of the marches] were different, they are actually aimed at incitement of hatred and intolerance towards citizens on the grounds of ethnicity, origin and religious conviction," Wolf said. Moreover, another meeting, organised by the Prague Jewish Community, is to be held in Badeni street simultaneously. The extremists announced they would stage marches against what they call "Jewish chauvinism," suppression of Palestinians' rights by Israel and in memory of the fallen, as well as against the arbitrary prohibition of meetings staged by opponents to the City Hall clerks. All banned marches were convoked by Petr Kalinovsky, who is considered a former spokesman for the National Resistance. Another organiser is allegedly Erik Sedlacek who is an active supporter of the neo-Nazio movement, according to the police. The Prague City Hall also banned a meeting planned by the extra-parliamentary ultra-right Republican Party of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia at Wenceslas Square in the city centre for October 28, 2008 as the nationalist National Party (NS) announced its event to be held at the same time and place previously.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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BANK HIT BY 'NEO-NAZI AD' SCANDAL(Russia)

13/5/2008- Bloggers are enraged by billboard advertisements for a bank in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg. They claim the ad has an encrypted message that glorifies Nazi ideology. Bank officials have called the scandal a plot by ‘some outcasts’ reports the Gazeta.ru news site. The controversial ad is part of the bank’s campaign timed to coincide with the Victory Day celebrations in Russia. It's offering a 14.88 per cent interest rate on deposits made by World War II veterans. The ‘encrypted neo-Nazi message’, according to bloggers, is in that very number. Both 14 and 88 hold special meaning for neo-Nazis: 14 is the number of words in a slogan authored by notorious white nationalist leader and ideologist David Lane, while 88 stands for the Nazi salute ‘Heil Hitler’ as ‘H’ is the eighth letter of the alphabet. The bank’s management reject all accusations and say the outrage stems from ‘pervert outcasts, roaming around in search for hidden symbols and made public by irresponsible people who spread such stories.' Advertising regulators say they have no proof or even suspicion that the ad was meant to have some hidden meaning.
© Russia Today

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SAKHAROV DIRECTOR FACES RELIGIOUS HATRED CHARGES(Russia)

12/5/2008- Prosecutors said they would charge the director of the Sakharov Museum with inciting religious hatred for running a 2007 art exhibit that contained paintings portraying Jesus Christ as Mickey Mouse. The director, Yury Samodurov, is to be charged Tuesday, according to a copy of the notification he received from prosecutors last week. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted. The exact nature of the charges remains unclear. "You must come … to be charged and questioned with regard to the criminal case surrounding the conducting of the 'Forbidden Art' exhibit," the letter said. Its signatory, investigator Yevgeny Korobkov, confirmed its authenticity when reached by telephone Thursday but refused to discuss the matter further, saying he was not authorized to do so. Samodurov, who has been convicted of similar charges before, said authorities are "bent on imprisoning me." "I am absolutely sure that is their aim," he said. "The principle of the exhibit was the new freedom of expression we thought we had." The "Forbidden Art" exhibit — a collection of paintings and other visual works that had been banned at various exhibits across Russia that year — angered Russian Orthodox leaders. The works, which were hidden behind a black wall pierced with peepholes, included paintings of Jesus Christ with the head of Mickey Mouse, fornicating soldiers and Lenin's image on a crucifix. Samodurov said authorities had failed in an attempt to close the Moscow museum when he was convicted and fined for a 2003 exhibit titled "Caution: Religion!" He said he feared that this time they would succeed.
© The Moscow Times

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FREE CARE FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS(Sweden)

15/5/2008- Migration Minister Tobias Billström hinted that he is open to offering healthcare to immigrants who find themselves in Sweden without proper residence permits. Earlier Billström had rejected the idea because he felt it would send the wrong signals. But now his opinion on the matter has shifted somewhat and he told TV4 that pregnant women and children lacking residence permits would be offered free healthcare. The suggestion entails providing free maternity care, care during childbirth, and health services to child. “You can’t punish children—born or unborn—for their parents’ decision to live here in hiding,” said Billström to TV4. Refugees in hiding and immigrants without documentation are currently unable to receive care without paying tens of thousands of kronor in healthcare costs. Earlier, the Liberal Party and Christian Democrats said that would like to have those in hiding and lacking permits receive healthcare under the same conditions as others.
© The Local

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ASYLUM SEEKERS FACE GREATER OPPOSITION(Sweden)

10/5/2008- Asylum seekers in Sweden face greater opposition from the public for the first time since 2004, a new SOM study by Gothenburg University has shown. 49 percent of Swedes, up from 46 percent in 2007, are now in favour of reducing the number of refugees accepted into the country, reported Sveriges Radio. Professor Marie Demker, who was responsible for the survey, was however unwilling to conclude that the results indicated an increase in xenophobia. The study indicates a polarization of opinion. At the same time as opposition to refugees is on the rise so also is the general level of understanding and acceptance of immigrants living in Sweden. The group that considers Sweden to have too many immigrants has become steadily smaller over the past 15 years. They remain a significant minority however, with 39 percent holding the view that there are too many foreigners in the country.
© The Local

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HIGH COURT TO RULE ON GAY MARRIAGE DISPUTE(Sweden)

10/5/2008- A homosexual couple has taken the Swedish tax authority (Skatteverket) to court for registering their marriage in Canada as a partnership. Lars Gårdfeldt and Lars Arnell, who are both priests in the Swedish church, allege discrimination. "The tax authorities can make an exception for a marriage where one party is under-age but not for homosexuals," said Lars Gårdfeldt to Svenska Dagbladet. Skatteverket confirms that it does make exceptions to Swedish law with regard to under-age couples legally married overseas. But only for marriages involving a man and woman. The Supreme Administrative Court decided on Friday to try the case and rule on whether the Gothenburg couple should be registered as married. Lars Gårdfeldt called the court's decision "historic" and hopes that the court's decision to take up the case will lead to them becoming Sweden's first officially married same-sex couple. The couple had previously been rejected by both the county administrative court and the court of appeal. According to current Swedish law same-sex couples can only register their relationship as a partnership. Due to differences of opinion among the parties within the Alliance government, a proposal to grant same-sex couples the right to register their marriage remains stalled in the Ministry of Justice, reports Svenska Dagbladet.
© The Local

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THE POLITICS OF FAITH(Opinion)

The Eastern Orthodox Church finds common ground in challenging ‘western’ policies.
By Daniel Jianu, editor of Romania News Watch and associate fellow at the European Institute of Law, Science, and Technology in Athens.

12/5/2008- The Eastern Orthodox Church is influencing international affairs again as it previously did during the NATO Kosovo campaign in 1999. Back then, the reactions of many Europeans reflected their cultural and religious backgrounds; many Greeks, Bulgarians, Romanians, Cypriots and Russians were against the bombing of their Orthodox brethren in Serbia. Since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February, the reactions have more or less followed the same pattern. Among the countries most opposed to this declaration and seemingly most reluctant to recognize Kosovo's independence were again Russia, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria. Under pressure from both Washington and Brussels to preserve stability in the region, Bulgaria's government did eventually recognize Kosovo's independence against many protests from the intellectual elite and large swathes of the general population. Though these countries have legitimate political and geo-strategic reasons justifying their reactions, there is no coincidence that they are all Eastern Orthodox Christian nations. Kosovo after all carries powerful mythic import as the cradle of Serbian Orthodox history, the place where Prince Lazar and his forces went down in defeat in 1389 against the encroaching Muslim Ottomans. The divide between Eastern and Western Christendom has deep historical undercurrents that have lately spotlighted the close relations between church and state in Orthodox countries, and how this relationship affects European affairs. The Eastern Orthodox Church, unlike predominantly Protestant and to some extent Roman Catholic countries, does not have a particularly deep tradition of secular relations with states where it is the majority religion. As Graham E. Fuller wrote in the January/February issue of Foreign Policy magazine, “The culture of the Orthodox Church differs sharply from the Western post-Enlightenment ethos, which emphasizes secularism, capitalism, and the primacy of the individual.”
Growing voice in the EU
Until recently, Greece has been the European Union’s main Orthodox country, but with the accession of Cyprus in 2004 and Romania and Bulgaria in 2007, there are now more than 40 million Orthodox Christians in the union. A trend causing concern for many EU countries and the United States is the increasing assertiveness of Russia in European affairs. Besides the more familiar political and economic issues focusing on energy, there is a religious-cultural element as well. Orthodoxy is an increasingly important religious power bloc that has started to flex its muscle. In Greece, the Orthodox Church is a powerful force driving and influencing many government decisions on domestic as well as foreign policy. The Greek government financially supports the Orthodox Church by paying for the salaries and religious training of clergy and financing the maintenance of church buildings. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2007 International Religious Freedom report, the Greek Orthodox Church exercises “significant social, political, and economic influence. … Some non-Orthodox citizens complained of being treated with suspicion or told that they were not truly Greek when they revealed their religious affiliation.” Religious and national identity are the two faces of the same coin in Greek society, a link that has strong historical claims going back to Ottoman times when religion was the most important mark of group identity, and that continues to underscore and strengthen the significance of Orthodoxy to the modern Greek identity. As the late Chief Prelate of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Christodoulos, said many times, “Greece means Orthodoxy.”

More alarming is the role the Church plays in stoking nationalistic – and at times anti-Western – flames in the general population, which in turn creates pressure on politicians to pander to jingoistic, nationalistic and anti-Muslim tendencies. In Greece, home to a sizable Muslim population, discrimination against the Muslims in the north of the country is longstanding and endemic and unfortunately, these days it seems to be extending to the ethnic Albanian, mostly Muslim population of Kosovo. In Romania and Bulgaria, where churches were sidelined during communism and where people could not attend religious services openly, the Orthodox Church is reclaiming its space in the civil and political affairs of the state. Public officials in Sofia, for example, have opposed construction of new mosques despite a growing Muslim community. In the last few years, Romania has experienced a rising tide of nationalism that blames Romania's problems on minorities, with special attention shown the Hungarian minority, which is almost entirely outside the Orthodox faith. As 87 percent of Romanians consider themselves Orthodox, the Romanian Orthodox Church exercises substantial influence among the public and the politicians. Religious leaders preside over most state occasions and make public appearances with prominent political figures. Religious messages often contain political promises and support for particular political positions. As a result, few Romanian politicians dare sponsor bills or advocate domestic or foreign policies that would displease the Orthodox Church.

A pulpit in the Kremlin?
In Russia, Orthodoxy has re-emerged as a powerful voice and a de-facto official religion exercising influence over political and economic policies of the state. The Russian Orthodox Church has slowly morphed over the last 20 years into a unifying force offering a new national identity for many Russians. In one recent poll, 71 percent of respondents described themselves as Russian Orthodox, up from 59 percent in 2003, although few Russians actually go to church regularly. This grassroots influence has made its presence felt in Russian foreign policy regarding Kosovo and Serbia, a policy that is also partially based on values of “Orthodox solidarity” stemming from an unspoken alliance between political and church leaders. As Clifford J. Levy of The New York Times wrote recently, “This close alliance between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church has become a defining characteristic of Putin’s tenure, a mutually reinforcing choreography that is usually described here as working ‘in symphony.’ ” In December, Patriarch Alexius II openly praised Vladimir Putin’s announcement of Dmitry Medvedev as his heir-apparent to the presidency. Putin and Medvedev made a joint appearance with the patriarch at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral during Easter services last month. These religious influences in Russia, Greece and the newly acceded EU countries are motivated to cooperate and play an increased role in European policies, with support for Serbia and the opposition to an independent Kosovo being two examples.

In contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, with its seat of power at the Vatican, the main current of Orthodoxy is represented by a collection of 15 independent churches with their own leaders. Nonetheless, they have found common ground in combating perceived runaway secularism in Europe and policies deemed detrimental to predominantly Orthodox countries. Concerns of faith also reflect suspicions of an imperialistic, domineering West that are particularly strong in countries like Russia and Serbia. The perception in these countries is that religion is one way to protect and preserve their own communities and cultures. Even in the EU countries, the Orthodox Church is challenged by the increasing societal and state acceptance of homosexuality, abortion and genetic research – trends that instill fear of a slow loss of legitimacy and influence with national political leaders. This combination of simmering religious insecurity among Orthodox believers in the EU; Orthodoxy’s growing confidence in the east; and strict dogmatic views on sensitive issues has the potential to develop into a greater challenge for both U.S. and EU policy in the region.
© Transitions Online

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Headlines 9 May, 2008

ISLAM IN EUROPE: POWER WARS SPELL DEAD-END FOR FRENCH MUSLIM COUNCIL

9/5/2008- Five years after it was set up by Nicolas Sarkozy, France's official Muslim council has hit a wall: hamstrung by infighting, critics accuse it of failing the country's five million Muslims while giving fundamentalists a stronghold in French public life. President Sarkozy created the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM) when he was interior minister to bring together the rival currents in French Islam and give an official voice to the country's second largest faith. Charged with hands-on duties -- organising the pilgrimage to Mecca, appointing prison chaplains -- it was also intended to discourage what Sarkozy called the "Islam of basements and garages", sever French Islam from foreign influences and keep tabs on Islamic fundamentalists by including them. But five years on, its track record is "zero", says Olivier Roy, a French specialist on Islam. "It's just not working," he said. "On the training of imams, nothing, on appointing chaplains, nothing. On contributing to public debates, nothing." "We've failed in our mission," admits Chems-eddine Hafiz, lawyer for the Great Mosque of Paris and a board member of the CFCM. "Our work has been crippled by conflict and rivalries between different camps."  Experts point the finger at interference by France's former colonies in north Africa, the original homeland of the overwhelming majority of French Muslims, that prevents the different communities from working together. "This is a conflict between Morocco and Algeria for the control of France's Muslims," Roy said.

In the latest run-in, the historic Paris mosque -- which was set up in 1926 with Algerian help -- announced it was pulling out of the council's national elections next month. Its rector Dalil Boubakeur, who has has served two terms as president of the CFCM, said the boycott was in protest at "unfair" rules in the vote, which involves some 1,500 mosques and prayer rooms nationwide. By allocating voting rights in relation to the size of mosques, the Paris mosque argues the system favours new out-of-town prayer rooms -- many of which are Moroccan-linked -- at the expense of its own network of small historic city centre mosques. Tensions between Algerians, the larger community with an estimated 3.5 million people in France, and Moroccans, numbered at one million, have hobbled the project from the start. But according to Abdelwahab Meddeb, a Tunisian-born poet and Islamic scholar, the council's troubles also reflect the wider battle gripping the Muslim world, "between traditional Islam, official or state brands of Islam, and Islam as a militant ideology -- i.e. Islamism." He believes the Paris mosque -- though it will not say it outright -- fears losing ground to the radical Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF), the third major force in the CFCM with 10 of the board's 43 seats. More than 100,000 people are expected this week near Paris for the annual congress of the UOIF, considered part of the global Muslim Brotherhood movement which seeks to introduce elements of Islamic law by political means. "The fact the UOIF is so present in the council gives it a very powerful and dangerous means of applying pressure," Meddeb argues. "It gave them an extraordinary amplifier."

Hafiz admits that "of course" the growing influence of radical Islam is a problem for the Paris mosque, which promotes a traditional, republican view of Islam, in sync with secular French values. "But there are some issues on which you need to be diplomatic," he said. For Meddeb, "the Paris mosque doesn't know where it stands, just like the whole of traditional Islam. They are are petrified, they don't dare confront Islamism." Intelligence reports suggest only a few dozen French mosques are under the influence of hardline radicals, but Meddeb says it is a "fact" that many more mosques are warming to the UOIF's tougher brand of Islam. Meddeb also believes the council is missing a key component: "secular" Muslims who believe in a clear separation between religion and politics and who are thought to make up the vast majority of France's Muslims. The French interior ministry this week repeated its "attachment to the longevity of the CFCM" and called on "all trends" to take part in next month's election, but several commentators suggested the CFCM was on the verge of collapse. "It wouldn't be a bad thing if it did," Meddeb said. "The whole structure is lop-sided, it was a rush job. I see no other solution but to start all over again."
© AFP

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FRANCE'S LE PEN FACES CHARGES FOR HOLOCAUST COMMENTS

Court is looking into racism comments made by far-right party leader which play down the Holocaust.

7/5/2008- French prosecutors launched a judicial investigation against far-right party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen for racism over comments he made appearing to play down the Jewish Holocaust, a court said. A court source said a preliminary inquiry had been launched over "racial and religious discrimination" by Le Pen for saying that the Nazis' killing of Jews in gas chambers was a mere "detail" of World War II. "I said that the gas chambers were a detail of the history of the Second World War. That seems to me quite clear," Le Pen said on a documentary aired last month, referring to a conviction in 1987 for similar comments, for which was heavily fined. In the new case, brought by a Jewish group and an anti-racism organisation, he now faces charges of "disputing a crime against humanity and incitement to racial hatred," the court source said Tuesday. Questioned on the programme about the wartime deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps, Le Pen said: "That's what you believe. I don't feel obliged to share that view." He later said he had asked the documentary makers not to air those comments.
© AFP

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MUSLIMS STAY AWAY, FITNA DEBATE CANCELLED(Netherlands)

9/5/2008- Anti-immigration MP Geert Wilders has cancelled the first of a series of debates on the ‘islamisation of the Netherlands’ because not enough Muslims have agreed to attend, news agency ANP reports on Friday. Wilders pledged discussions on the issue as a follow-up to his anti-Koran film Fitna, which links Islam with violence and terrorism. Of the 175 people who signed up for the debate in Waddinxveen on May 16, only a handful are Muslims, says ANP. ‘This is not enough for a constructive and open debate on the real dangers of the islamisation of the Netherlands and the failure of immigration and integration politics of the past decade,’ says Wilders’ PVV party in a statement. The party has nine seats in the 150-seat parliament. Six imams and a local politician turned down an invitation to appear at the debate because they were not allowed to contribute to the agenda and their call for an independent chairman was rejected, says ANP. Imam Yassin Elforkani told ANP that Wilders was not prepared to give Muslims any influence over the meeting in line with normal procedures. ‘Wilders wants to do everything himself. He does not want a balanced debate,’ said Elforkani.
© Dutch News

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GROUPS FALL VICTIMS TO OVEREMPHASIS ON ISLAM(Netherlands)

Too much focus on Moroccan problem youths and too little time spent on problems on other citizens, says Labour Party councillor.

7/5/2008- Today's De Telegraaf reports that Amsterdam Labour Party councillor Peggy Burke says that many groups (in the city) are the victims of the focus on Islam. She argues that the exaggerated focus on Moroccan problem youths means that the problems of many other citizens are being ignored. Burke says she is really annoyed that so much energy is put into fighting problems among Muslim youths. She is especially angry about the notion that their problems are linked to their faith. "I get really tired of talking about religion all the time. We are babbling too much. That's not what I went into politics for." As an example, Burke mentions a report from the city's housing department, which shows that the most urgent problems occur in the north, west and southeast of Amsterdam, but the focus is almost exclusively on Moroccan problem youths in western Amsterdam. The Labour councillor has called on her party to take off its blinkers and start focussing on problem youths in general instead of on Muslim youths. "Those boys in the west of the city don't cause problems because of their religion, but because of the situation they are in. Most of them are not all that religious anyway."
© Expatica News

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FENCE CUTTING OFF ROMA PEOPLE GETS BUILDING PERMIT(Czech Rep.)

7/5/2008- A fence designed to separate the Roma from the majority community in Havlíčkův Brod has received a go-ahead from the planning office. The town hall took care of that. There is a single obstacle to the construction. People from the housing condominium who complained about the Roma people refuse to pay half of the costs. The other half should be covered from municipal coffers. "We as the town have arranged the building permit and now the question is who will pay what. The people from the housing condominium refuse to pay half of the fence," said Čeněk Jůzl, deputy mayor of Havlíčkův Brod. It was the members of the condominium who came up with the idea of building a fence. The total costs remain unclear. According to previous estimates of the town hall, the fence may cost dozens of thousands of crowns. The fence built in Matiční ulice in Ústí nad Labem in 1999, made of concrete parts, was appraised by the local authority at CZK 210,000 a year later, before its dismantling. That fence also divided the Roma from the rest. The case ended up in the European Parliament.

Shame?
Ivan Veselý from the Romani association Dženo expects that if the construction of the fence takes place, the reactions will again be turbulent, although there has been no evidence of this to date. "The Czech Republic will discredit itself again," he said. According to deputy mayor Jůzl, the fence will help to calm the relations between the owners of the flats and the tenants of the neighbouring house, owned by the town. "The most problematic family has just moved out, but the conflicts continue," he said. The fence should split a yard shared by both houses, which is the scene of frequent disputes.

Old times
Members of the housing condominium complain about noise, about people damaging their house and parked cars. "We used to have garden pergolas, flower beds and benches. Just take a look. Shaved trees and a mess," says Jiří Morávek, a senior who, along with other people from the house, complains about the neighbours and calls for the fence. Ivan Veselý thinks the local people must look for a solution elsewhere. "The construction of the fence will not solve anything. The town hall should have helped the people find work and offer their children, whose behaviour the others complain about, alternative ways of spending time," says the Roma activist. He thinks that the local officials are trying to win political support by means of the fence. Džamila Stehlíková, minister without portfolio in charge of human rights, is also interested in the issue, but she has failed to talk the officials out of their plan.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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POLITICIAN UNDER FIRE FOR NAZI SALUTE(Sweden)

6/5/2008- A member of the governing board of the Liberal Party’s youth organization (LUF) has been reported to police for greeting two Social Democrats with a Nazi salute. According to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper, the incident took place last week when Gustav Lantz and Niklas Lundengård, two active Social Democrats, were on their way to watch Walpurgis Eve festivities get underway in Uppsala. “We saw Isak Bergdahl and a few friends come walking toward us from a short distance away, and as they came closer we heard him say ‘here come two sossar’,” Lantz told DN, repeating a Swedish slang term used to refer to members of the Social Democratic party. “He was behaving very aggressively and threateningly. Then he suddenly made a Nazi salute and screamed ‘Sieg Heil’. We were really surprised and upset. There were about 50 people there and it felt like he pinpointed us as Nazis in front of everyone.” After receiving no response to an email sent to LUF’s governing board, the two Social Democrats decided to report the matter to police. LUF’s head Frida Johansson Metso called Bergdahl’s actions inexcusable. Bergdahl has also expressed his regret over the incident, and is prepared to accept the consequences. “It was a total lack of judgment. I’d like to just forget the whole thing. It was just plain bad,” he said to Politikerbloggen, one of Sweden’s main political blogs.
© The Local

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ITALIAN RIGHTIST SPARKS OUTRAGE

6/5/2008- Gianfranco Fini, the president of the Italian Parliament, is facing a firestorm of controversy after saying that the May 1 burning of Israeli flags in Turin by far-left protesters was "much more serious" than the savage beating of a 29-year-old that same day in Verona by a neo-Nazi gang. The victim of the beating, Nicola Tommasoli, died late Monday after several days in a coma. Five young fans of the Verona soccer team have been arrested for the murder. Comparing two such crimes on a television talk show would be fraught with trouble for anyone, but perhaps for no one as much as Fini, 56, whose rise from leader of a small post-fascist party to public respectability has been one of the most stunning political transformations in postwar European history. To fulfill his big ambitions, Fini understood in the early 1990s that he had to distance himself from his past. Eventually, he came to believe that the shortest path from marginal Mussolini nostalgic to mainstream political power was unwavering support for the state of Israel. The decisive moment came when Fini traveled to Israel in November 2003, declaring his affection for the Jewish state and his "shame" for Italy's racial laws under fascism. The following year, Silvio Berlusconi made him foreign minister, where the longtime leader of the National Alliance party stood out amongst his European partners for his pro-Israel policy. With Berlusconi's return to power last month, and Fini's own protégé, Gianni Alemanno sweeping to victory in the race for Rome Mayor, Fini was sworn in last week at the helm of the Italian Parliament, hoping his extremist past was definitively behind him. But now, Fini is again on the spot over fascism, a victim of his own zeal to defend Israel. Fini's comments were quickly criticized by his center-left opponents. Former Social Affairs Minister Paolo Ferrero called them "incredible and unworthy of someone holding such an important institutional role." Having earlier criticized the flag burning in his city, Turin Mayor Sergio Chiamparino said Fini's "ranking of ignoble acts" was a serious mistake. "You end up justifying what cannot be justified."

Fini tried to explain himself by noting that he had prefaced his remarks by stating his "zero tolerance" for the neo-Nazi violence, but argued that the attack — which apparently began when the gang demanded Tommasoli's pack of cigarettes — was non-ideological in nature. He said the burning of Israeli flags, on the other hand, was evidence that "the radical left is a widespread political movement that gives life to political-religious prejudices." But Fini and his allies, who have succeeded over the past decade in getting many Italians to forgive their radical right pasts, may still not quite get it. During Alemanno's ultimately successful run for mayor, the candidate responded to questions about certain allies who still proudly tout their fascist origins by noting that they had "visited Israel before Fini." But having "Israel" stamped in your passport and publicly condemning anti-Semitism cannot alone remove lingering doubts about extremist tendencies. Mussolini's fascist ideology was all-encompassing, nationalistic and occasionally deadly — well before he adopted racial and anti-Semitic laws following Hitler's example. After his victory in Rome, Alemanno said all the right things about bringing the city together, but several of his supporters cheering him at the steps of city hall flashed the fascist Roman salute. He has made public safety his top issue in a city that statistics suggest is relatively safe, vowing to arm municipal police and close down makeshift encampments of Roma immigrants (more commonly referred to as gypsies). He has even indicated he wants fewer foreign movies at Rome's annual film festival. Ultimately, the issue that Europe's extreme right is focused on now is not Israel or Jews, but immigrants. During Berlusconi's last government, Fini was coauthor with rightist Northern League ally Umberto Bossi of a series of severe anti-immigration measures, including instant deportations and requirements that foreigners must have a fixed job to remain in the country. The next time fascist nostalgics or neo-Nazis attack a defenseless man on the street, there is a high probability it will be an immigrant. Such assaults in the past have indeed been aimed at immigrants. And that too is part of Mussolini's legacy.
© Time Magazine

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NEO-NAZI KILLING PUTS SPOTLIGHT ON ITALIAN MILITANTS

6/5/2008- The death on Monday of a man attacked by neo-Nazis threw the spotlight on political militancy in Italy, prompting the opposition to ask if a right-wing sweep at an April election had fed a climate of intolerance. The victim, 29-year-old Nicola Tommasoli, finally succumbed to his injuries and died on Monday after being beaten into coma on May 1 by a group of youths identified by police as neo-Nazi soccer hooligans. The beating, in the northern city of Verona, was condemned across the political spectrum ; police have so far ruled out any political motive for what appears to be an isolated act of violence. Still, Italy’s centre-left portrayed it as a sign a growing intolerance in a country where fears about crime — particularly by immigrants — contributed to their resounding defeat by the right in last month’s national and municipal elections. The incident has put right-wingers on the defensive over the suggestion that support by militants helped them to win the April elections, including the mayorship of Rome. "The responsibility lies with right-wing populists," said Paolo Ferrero, a leftist minister in the caretaker government expected to step down later this week. He accused the far right of creating "scapegoats" for Italy’s social problems that "brings in votes in a climate of insecurity, but also sows a long trail of hate". The defeated centre-left candidate for prime minister, Walter Veltroni, said : "We are faced with a neo-fascist-style aggression that cannot and should not be underestimated". In an informal poll by one television station, 51 percent of respondents said they feared the Verona attack could herald the start of a new wave of violent intolerance.

City of love?
The mayor of Verona, from the anti-immigrant Northern League which backed Silvio Berlusconi as premier, rejected any link between his party and Tommasoli’s assailants. "There are millions of people that voted for us. It could be that one of them is a criminal," Tosi, who is cracking down on illegal immigrants in Verona, a city made famous by Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet". But Tosi is not the only right-wing politician who had to distance himself from far-right elements. Rome’s new Mayor Gianni Alemanno urged supporters to avoid "excesses" after a small group gave him the right-armed Roman salute associated with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and chanted "Duce !" (leader), as Mussolini’s followers called him. Alemanno, whose National Alliance is the successor to the post-war neo-fascists but is trying to become a mainstream conservative party, complained that the left tried to depict him as a fascist and anti-Semite during the campaign. "We must condemn any form of ideological extremism regardless of where it comes from," said Alemanno as he visited monuments in Rome to Jewish victims of Nazi occupation, Italian wartime resistance heroes and Rome’s synagogue. "There are extremist fringes on the far right as well as the far left, but they are more an expression of urban marginalisation than actual politics." During the mayoral race, Alemanno came under attack for wearing a Celtic cross round his neck — a symbol of the far right in Italy comparable to the Nazi swastika.
© Reuters

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IRELAND'S IMMIGRANTS RETURN HOME AS SLUMP SHARPENS FEAR OF RACISM

With growing concerns over job losses and the credit crunch starting to bite, Ireland's migrant workers are feeling the strain - not just in their pockets, but in their relationship with the adopted homeland.

4/5/2008- Founded by immigrants from Dracula's homeland, Transylvania FC is one of the many casualties of Ireland's economic downturn. The Romanian football club that plays in Dublin, birthplace of the vampire's creator, Bram Stoker, has seen its squad severely depleted as migrant construction workers leave either for home or more lucrative projects such as London's Olympic village. Like the tens of thousands of other immigrant workers who flocked to Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy at the start of the 21st century, Marcello Rus sought a better life than the one he had in Romania. But Transylvania's coach has noticed over the past eight months that many of his compatriots are going home. Rus, whose side gained promotion last season into one of Ireland's top amateur soccer tournaments, the Leinster Senior League, has suffered from the slump. 'Even this time last year we had a squad of 22 Romanian players, but now we are down to 13. Sometimes we are lucky to have one substitute. Nine of the guys have left Ireland and some of the others remaining in the team don't have jobs here any more,' says the 29-year-old Dublin bus driver who came to Ireland six years ago. 'It's halted our progress in the league; the team will be lucky to get sixth place this year. And if the situation continues we will be lucky to have a team at all in the future.'

With a drop of close to 25 per cent in Ireland's once booming construction industry, fears are also rising that concerns over job losses, the credit crunch and the still high cost of living will produce an unprecedented wave of racism and xenophobia. The Polish community in Ireland, which is estimated at around 230,000, is experiencing the largest exodus of workers back either to their homeland or other parts of the EU in search of work. Last Wednesday afternoon the mood inside Zagloba, the first Polish bar in Ireland, was gloomy. Only a handful of Polish workers propped up the bar in Parnell Street, Dublin, arguably Ireland's most multi-ethnic thoroughfare with its rows of Polish food shops, Nigerian barbers, restaurants catering for Chinese migrants and Korean travel agents. Named after Poland's version of Robin Hood, Zagloba used to be a meeting place for immigrants trying to find work and accommodation on arrival in Dublin. 'About eight months ago the numbers in here started to thin out,' says the bar's owner, David Nolan. 'They started either going home, over to England for the Olympic projects, or to Norway. Now you get guys coming in here looking to borrow money off their Polish friends so they can afford to get a flight home, whereas in the past they were at the bar here cashing their pay cheques.'

A brief walk southwards from Zagloba is Ireland's tallest building, Liberty Hall, home of the country's trade union movement. On the twelfth floor a debate is going on between two Polish men who work for the Republic's largest trade union, Siptu. Kazik Anhalt and Barnaba Filip Dorda are arguing over whether racism is on the rise in the Republic. Anhalt has first-hand experience of anti-foreigner resentment; he bears the scars of a knife attack six years ago in south Dublin. In February two Polish men were killed in a screwdriver attack. The Garda (Irish police) said the deaths of Pawel Kalite and Marius Szwajkos were not race-related, or at least there was no evidence of a racial motive. 'How can they be sure there was no racist motivation?' asks Anhalt. 'Until that is proved beyond doubt you have to consider it. There are people among the indigenous population who resent foreigners being here. The attack on me in Clondalkin was racially motivated.' Dorda, who comes from a town near Krakow in southern Poland, interjects: 'But you can't say there is that much racism. The Irish in general have been very welcoming.' Both men, however, agree that in the workplace Poles and other foreign workers are not only the first to be made redundant but also suffer discrimination. 'We are perceived as cheap, disposable labour,' says Dorda. Anhalt, 37, who grew up in Gdansk, the birthplace of Solidarity, reveals that he is dealing with 10 cases connected to Irish employers banning the use of Polish at work. 'I have cases lodged with the Irish Equality Authority of workers being penalised or threatened with the sack simply because they were speaking Polish in the works canteen,' he says.

Ireland has experienced one of the fastest rates of immigration in history. In less than a decade its non-indigenous population has shot up from just under 1 per cent to 12 per cent. There are officially now half a million non-Irish living in a state of four and a half million. In response, the government has appointed a Minister for Integration, Conor Lenihan, to plan for the absorption of those immigrants who choose to stay, regardless of the gloomy economic forecasts. Lenihan, a former civil servant in the Inner London Education Authority in the 1980s, insists that, given their history both as a former colony and a net exporter of people around the world, the Irish are better inoculated against racism and xenophobia than other EU nations. But he warns that a further increase in illegal immigrants would upset the country's social balance. 'Unless you manage the flow of people, you do a disservice to the indigenous community. You undermine Irish public support for integration. By allowing illegality you radically reduce backing for immigration which Ireland needs. Ireland is still an underpopulated country. I think we have been fortunate to have our peace process coming at the same time as the immigration into the state. Those peace agreements were founded on toleration and respect for difference. So that has helped us cope with the immigration along with returning Irish people from abroad who lived in multi-ethnic societies and are "with the programme" already.

Lenihan's efforts have won praise from Dr Bryan Fanning, one of the leading authorities on race and immigration in Ireland. The University College Dublin academic points out that there is no Irish equivalent of the British National Party emerging poised to exploit indigenous fears about jobs going to foreigners rather than the local population. 'There is no real evidence of growing xenophobia in mainstream politics. Here the approaches of the mainstream parties to immigrants continue to be positive with, say, immigrant candidates identified by Fine Gael to contest the local elections next year,' says Fanning. 'This contrasts with the shift towards selective anti-immigrant populism in other European countries, for instance the 2008 immigration bill proposed by Labour in the UK, which presents immigrants as a drain on public services.' Ireland is also home to a number of anti-racist and pro-immigrant groups, including Sport Against Racism Ireland (Sari), which uses football and Gaelic sports to integrate foreign workers into Irish society. It helped teams, including Transylvania FC, to get off the ground. Yet even one of those who set it up and has worked successfully to gain government finance for migrant teams and build relations with the Garda and sporting organisations such as the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) believes there is a latent racist threat in Ireland. Mutale, the wife of Ken McCue, of Sari, comes from Zambia and has been the target of racial abuse in Dublin city centre. 'Last year Mutale was subjected to horrible abuse from a woman she was trying to help,' says McCue. 'Mutale spotted that the woman's purse was hanging out of her bag in Henry Street and she alerted her. Instead of a "thank you", the woman turned around and said to her "Mind your business, you black bitch, and fuck off to your own country".

Enjoying a latte outside the Jameson Distillery whiskey museum, McCue points out that this part of the Irish capital is the most ethnically diverse in the state. Forty per cent of the population of Dublin's north-west inner-city electoral district is non-Irish. 'We have very few racist problems here because we have built up a strong community network involving both the local Dubliners and the new people who chose to live here,' says McCue. 'But if Mutale tells me she is going into the centre of town or certain other parts of Dublin I always make her take a mobile phone with her, and I call her regularly to see if she is OK.' Back at Liberty Hall, Anhalt and Dorda's boss, the Siptu national organiser Noel Dowling, issue a warning about Ireland becoming complacent over racism. 'Never mind the downturn, the real danger could be if the economy starts to pick up again and all those construction and service jobs can't be filled by Poles and Romanians who have gone. Then who will fill them? Most of the immigrants have been white and Catholic; what happens when they are replaced by more people from Africa and Asia? That will be the real test of our tolerance.'
© The Observer

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CZECH ROMA INFLUX TO CANADA RAISES FEARS OF VISA RENEWAL

8/5/2008- Canadian immigration authorities again face a large influx of Czech Romany asylum seekers, which raises apprehensions of visas being reimposed after less than a year, Embassy, Canadian magazine for foreign affairs, has written.  Paul St Clair, head of the Romany community centre in Toronto, told the magazine that Czech Romanies are interested in the refugee status in Canada at present like after April 1996 when Canada lifted its visa requirements for Czechs for the first time. However, Canada reintroduced the visa duty in October 1997, citing an excessive number of immigrants. It abolished the visas again last November. According to St. Clair, the situation concerning the neo-Nazi and skinhead movements in the Czech Republic, which are hostile to Romanies, has worsened since the Czech EU entry in 2004 as the EU's pressure on the Czech Republic is lower than when the Czechs only sought accession. Most towns are full of skinheads. People, mainly Romanies, are attacked, everyone with a dark skin is attacked. They are big racists, St.Clair said, referring to the Czech Republic. He said that if the number of Romany refugees grew, Canada could reintroduce visas for Czechs, which would cast a bad light on it as a country that is reluctant to admit the persecuted. In late April, the spokesperson for the Canadian embassy in Prague said Canada is not considering reintroducing visas. Karen Shadd-Evelyn, spokeswoman for the Canadian Ministry for Immigration, told the magazine that the refugee issue is one of the criteria for Ottawa's decision making on whether the visas should be reimposed. Canada has been promised by the Czech Republic and Hungary, as well as other new EU states, that they will intensify their cooperation with Canada on issues related to immigration and enforcement of law, Shadd-Evelyn said. Jeff Sadadeo, director of the institute of European and Russian studies at the Carleton university in Ottawa, said that the reasons behind the immigration of Czech Romanies are serious obstacles they face at home, in areas such as access to education and job opportunities. At the same time, however, he said it will probably be difficult for the Czech refugees to prove that their request for asylum is substantiated. The Czech Republic is an open and democratic country, but with a high level of latent discrimination, Sahadeo said.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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NONPROFIT SEEKS TO HONOR SLAIN JOURNALIST(Czech Rep./Russia)

Plans to name street after Russian Anna Politkovskaya could upset city residents

7/5/2008- The web of intrigue surrounding the 2006 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya has yet to be unraveled. Yet if local human rights activists have their way, Prague may be the first city to inscribe her name on a street sign. Officials are considering an initiative to name a prominent city street after Politkovskaya, which was put forward recently by the nonprofit group People in Need. Some Russian residents in Prague have reservations about the idea, however. Politkovskaya was gunned down in her Moscow apartment building in October 2006 after reporting on Russian military practices in Chechnya. People in Need’s street-naming project is intended to draw attention to her case and to promote human rights and press freedom in Russia. Besides Prague, the group is pushing for similar street name changes in other parts of Europe and the United States. “We’re also communicating with officials in Paris and Washington, D.C., but we do not expect this to prevent Prague from being the first,” said Rostislav Valvoda, who coordinates People in Need’s East European human rights projects. Politkovskaya was also known for her critical approach to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration. At least 10 people have been charged in connection with the murder, including a high-ranking officer in the Russian federal security service (FSB). But the case remains largely unsolved. Former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko accused the Kremlin of orchestrating Politkovskaya’s assassination prior to his murder in November 2006. “It sounds like a cliché, but there aren’t many people like Politkovskaya in the world. More than anything, she was a brave woman,” said Prague Deputy Mayor Markéta Reedová. “The symbolic value of naming a street after her would be very positive for the city, especially since we would be the first.”

Not all share Reedová’s enthusiasm, however. Concerned that the street naming will irk members of the local Russian community, Andrej Fozikoš, editor-in-chief of the magazine Ruské slovo (The Russian Word), urges City Hall to be cautious before sanctioning such activities. “I’m sorry, but I have to say I’m not too fond of the idea,” Fozikoš said. “It’s premature, because [Politkovskaya’s] case is still unresolved. I am convinced that certain Russian circles will interpret it as a politically charged statement regarding this tragic event.”
For Valvoda, the purported political motive for Politkovskaya’s murder is in itself a cause for her commemoration. “It’s fairly straightforward,” he said. “Politkovskaya was killed because of what she wrote about Chechnya. Someone probably didn’t like that she was revealing the real face of the Russian Army’s activities in the region. We know the reason for her murder, so the controversy just isn’t there.” Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalová, told Lidové noviny April 25 that the name change will not impact Czech-Russian relations, “Russia itself has officially declared that it intends to shed light on Politkovskaya’s death,” Opletalová said.

Controversial streets
Ultimately, the success of the Politkovská street project depends on City Hall’s topographical committee, which would be responsible for choosing the street. Although People in Need wants a central location, it is more likely that the committee will select a newly built, prominent street on the city’s outskirts, according to historian Václav Ledvinka, the director of the Prague City Archive.
“If the topographical committee’s past policies are any indication, finding a location in the city center is practically hopeless,” he said. “It will clash with the opinions of residents, who generally want to avoid the administrative complications associated with an address change at all costs.” While admitting that changing the name of an existing street would require the approval of the affected residents, Reedová said it may be possible to rename “controversial” streets. “It could be a street that is named after an entity that no longer exists,” she said, such as U stadionu street in Prague 3, named after a defunct youth stadium. Another option, according to Reedová, is to rename a street that still bears the name of a communist-era figure, such as Koněvova street in Prague 3, which is named after Red Army General Ivan Konev.

Since 1989, Prague officials have renamed 280 streets, five embankments, 24 squares, five bridges and several metro stations that formerly bore the names of communist-era events, organizations and luminaries, including Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Czechoslovak President Klement Gottwald and executed journalist Julius Fučík. According to Ledvinka, the city’s approach to the renaming process had always been minimalistic. “In general, streets were renamed only in the most acute cases to avoid creating additional complications for the residents,” he said. Whatever its location, the Politkovská street effort underlines the Czech Republic’s reputation as a supporter of human rights, said Prague resident Alisher Sidikov, a Radio Free Europe broadcaster who runs a program on press freedom. Politkovskaya was an outstanding journalist,” he said. “She had nothing in common with the Czech Republic, but naming a street after her would support the [local] government’s perception as a defender of human rights and the freedom of speech.”
© The Prague Post Online

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WATCHDOGS ON LEASHES (Russia)

Many of those charged with overseeing the country’s institutions have become yet another tool of their political masters.
By Galina Stolyarova
 

8/5/2008- As I flipped through the pages of two recent human rights reports from St. Petersburg, I felt as if I were reading about two different cities. Violations of the right to life and other fundamental human rights have become routine here, argues the city’s Human Rights Council in an April survey. The document talks about army recruits beaten to death by senior conscripts, prison inmates tortured by guards, and anti-fascists and non-Slavs stabbed to death in the streets of St. Petersburg. “The state is unable to protect its people, and the level of the state’s helplessness is as alarming as the ever-increasing scale of the abuses; the right to life, the most important of people’s rights, is no longer guaranteed here,” the council concludes. But according to a new report by St. Petersburg’s ombudsman, Igor Mikhailov, most violations of people’s rights in the city are connected to something much different. “Most of the complaints concern residential housing,” Mikhailov said recently when he presented the report to the city’s lawmakers. “The rest deal with the negligence of the authorities in various situations and their inefficiency regarding pensions, welfare, migration control, and access to medicines.” St. Petersburg’s Legislative Assembly elected Mikhailov, a prominent member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party, to the post in July 2007.

In Russia, where administrations, parliaments, political parties, courts, and law enforcement have been incorporated into the vertical power system, one might have hoped that the regional ombudsman remained a last bastion of integrity. Even these hopes are vanishing. Mikhailov’s report skips over mention of violations of voters’ rights and abuse of electoral legislation; nor does the document highlight police violence against opposition protesters. These very issues, however, have recently raised concerns among politicians far beyond the borders of St. Petersburg and Russia. The ombudsman’s report is a good illustration of what is wrong with having this pro-Kremlin politician in the post. The problem is the man’s servility. In the whole of St. Petersburg, a city with 4.5 million residents, he is willing to protect the interests of only certain voters – the governor and members of his own party. Mikhailov’s political bias is painfully obvious in his report. Peaceful protest marches during the recent political season, which met brutal police repression and made international headlines, get a single mention in the Mikhailov report – when the author tells us he attended a discussion about the marches on the Ekho Moskvy radio station in St. Petersburg. The report also fails to mention the city authorities violating the right to gather in public, an especially painful issue for human rights groups and the political opposition over the last year.

Someone has to do it
What can civil society do when a government protégé becomes its ombudsman? Human rights groups in St. Petersburg offered a method of resistance that appears to work. When Mikhailov assumed the ombudsman’s post, a group of the city’s leading human rights organizations refused to cooperate with him and formed an informal council of ombudsmen with experts from the city’s non-governmental organizations and human rights groups. Over the past months the group has pursued politically charged cases, compiling its own reports to be distributed among interested media and Western parliaments and advocacy organizations. In other words, doing the ombudsman’s job. Because Mikhailov has the reputation of being a ruling-party stooge, many of those who see themselves as victims of the regime, like the participants of Dissenters’ Marches beaten by the police, have flocked to the council. Russia is internationally infamous for all kinds of human rights violations, from racially motivated murders and officials muzzling newspapers during political campaigns to hazing in its naval college and the sale of outdated milk. Yet most regions in the country do not even have an ombudsman. Each of Russia’s 83 subjects, or administrative regions, has the right to elect an ombudsman, yet less than half of the regions actually have such a post. Top-level authorities in many Russian regions have never been interested in having an independent-minded ombudsman, largely because the city administrations are themselves responsible for many human rights abuses.

The right person for the job must be someone who is unbiased and equally distanced from all structures, be they judicial bodies or the administration. St. Petersburg, like other Russian cities, has always had a strong pro-governor’s faction in the city parliament, and an independent person would never stand a chance of being elected. It is also important that an ombudsman be able to deal with, for instance, the head of the regional police, since the police are infamous for using violence against those they detain; the area's prosecutor general, since the judicial system is known to be tied to and serve the administration; and the head of the local prisons department of the Justice Ministry, as prisons are overcrowded and the conditions are horrendous. Human rights advocates often complain that candidates with a background outside the government stand little chance, whereas former state officials, civil servants, and law enforcement staff have proved more successful. Even though ombudsmen, unlike governors, are elected, and not appointed, the vote frequently turns into a farce as more regional parliaments are heavily dominated by United Russia. While some critics say that in modern Russia it is more honest to live without an ombudsman, a respected human rights advocate in the job, even a seemingly toothless enthusiast set against a corrupt machine can do much to help the people. For instance, Russia's ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, visited several Russian prison camps in March to investigate complaints of torture and violence that had been sent to him by the prisoners and local human rights advocates. Following his visit, Lukin wrote a report highlighting the violations and sent it to the government, the prosecutor's office and the president.

Even Mikhailov has done his duty at times. Once after receiving a letter from a mother who was being denied the right to regularly see her son in prison, and who complained about the poor conditions there, Mikhailov demanded changes from the prison’s directors. The same authorities who would typically ignore the pleas of private citizens are obliged to respond to the ombudsman. The police and prosecutors cannot afford to ignore or tell lies to such a person because the next day the ombudsman could publicly shame them. But to do that, of course, he must be credible. Yury Nesterov, a member of St. Petersburg’s independent human rights council and of the liberal Yabloko party, said none of the letters sent to the City Hall, the city prosecutor’s office, law enforcement, and other state authorities since the council began work in July has had a response. “Frankly speaking, the pattern is clear to us: the authorities are demonstrating that they couldn’t care less about what we do and what we say,” he said. “We have no illusions about the attitude of the authorities but, in the end, it’s the people, not the bureaucrats that we’re after. The council seeks to spread the word about human rights abuses – and what makes them possible – among the general public.” Perhaps the St. Petersburg human rights council is overdoing it by boycotting the ombudsman. A dialogue is always more constructive, even if it is hard work and seems a hopeless enterprise. However, the group has set a precedent with an efficient solution that could be adopted by many other regions facing similar problems. The most important thing is that the people have been given somewhere to turn when they are up against the repressive government machine. Let’s hope that more human rights councils will follow soon. There is only one way out of an authoritarian regime – a more active civil society.

Galina Stolyarova is a writer for The St. Petersburg Times, an English-language newspaper. Her "Russian Unorthodox" column appears here on alternate Thursdays.
© Transitions Online

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JEWISH CULTURE, AND ANTI-SEMITISM, ON THE RISE IN HUNGARY

8/5/2008- Ostensibly, a rock concert sparked it, reminding us that culture is not the exclusive province of liberals, certainly not here in Europe. A young woman (who knows whether she was just intending to make trouble) walked into a ticket office in the traditionally Jewish 13th District in this Hungarian capital several weeks ago and asked about Hungarica, an obscure extremist far-right band. The woman said the ticket agents called her a fascist and threw her out. The agents said that she spouted anti-Semitic abuse when told the office didn't handle that event. A little later somebody tossed a Molotov cocktail outside the office. Then a blogger, Tamas Polgar, with the screen name Tomcat, urged neo-Nazis to rally at the ticket office, and about 30 turned up on April 7 along with 300 counterdemonstrators. Tomcat called for a second rally, four days later, and about 1,000 more extremists were met that time, across police barricades, by 3,000 anti-fascists, including the beleaguered Hungarian prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, and the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

It's hard to know whether to feel disheartened by the large showing of neo-Nazis or encouraged by the larger opposition to it. It turns out that aside from the well-documented rise of the far right, Jewish culture has also been conspicuously on the rise here. That said, anti-Semitism can thrive even in the absence of a single Jew. History has proved that repeatedly. Hungarica served its purpose without having to play a single note. The other day Gyorgy Kerenyi, a producer at Hungarian Public Radio who founded a Gypsy-run station, remarked that today's counterculture among the students he meets at the university where he teaches often seems nationalistic and right-wing, tapping into an old European avant-garde tradition. Might this be because there's an absence of political engagement on the other side of the spectrum? I inquired first at Trafo, a city-financed theater and art gallery. The gallery recently organized a show by a Polish artist, Artur Zmijewski. (Zmijewski, among other things, made a video in which he touches up, or "refurbishes," to use his word, the tattoo of a Polish Auschwitz survivor, perhaps Jewish, perhaps not.) The theater presented a Dutch troupe, Hotel Modern, which staged a performance about the Holocaust. Both events were sensitive, in complex ways, to issues of anti-Semitism. But, as Gyorgy Szabo, Trafo's director, noted, the artists involved were foreigners, not Hungarians. "In the Hungarian arts community, we don't have a tradition of confrontation," he said. He obviously wasn't thinking of Hungarica. He then harked back to the Communist days: "In the former era there was a social treaty that said you can have your privacy as an artist if you don't touch on political issues."

Agoston Mraz, a young centrist-minded political analyst for the Hungarian research group Nezopont, put it a little differently: "There is a new Jewish pluralism, and Jewish culture is flourishing in Budapest. "And one result is that, while I myself don't think there is such a clear increase in anti-Semitism, there is now the opportunity to be more explicit about it." But this is only part of the story. Some months ago a French government bureaucrat named Jean-Pierre Frommer, hearing about efforts to protect the Jewish Ghetto district in Budapest, petitioned for signatures supporting the effort in an open letter to the news media in Hungary. He told a Hungarian literary journal that he was shocked when his gesture provoked anti-Semitic reactions, even though most Jews had long since left the neighborhood for the 13th District or elsewhere. "The fate of something that is important to all of us is at stake," Frommer told the journal, Elet es Irodalom. "What Hungarians should understand is that this is not just an issue for the Jews, but an issue for Budapest, for the country." He was referring to preservation of the neighborhood. Except that Hungarians lobbying to preserve the Ghetto district insist that anti-Semitism hasn't been a problem for their effort at all. To the contrary, they said the other day, the real trouble comes from developers, several of whom are Israelis, in cahoots with district politicians. It was coincidental, they maintained, that all the core members of their preservation group happen to be Jewish. One of them is Janos Ladanyi, a sociologist specializing in the Roma, or Gypsies. We met one morning at an outdoor café near the Buda Castle. He described two currents of Hungarian anti-Semitism, one cultural, the other political. Culturally speaking, "there is a general belief that anti-Semitism, or racism, is a denial of the right to be different," he said. "In Hungary it is all right today if you behave as a religious Jew. The Ghetto is fine for that reason. It's a distinct historical entity. But what is now being denied here is the notion that Jews, no matter how we behave, are the same as non-Jews. "The problem comes when we say we are like them."

Maybe. The other day, at the Orthodox Synagogue in the Ghetto district, an Art Nouveau masterpiece from 1912, Gabor Zoltan, an elfin 60-something guide who offered to show a visitor around, said that for the first time he could recall he was openly mocked on the street, not long ago, for wearing a yarmulke. A professor who often appears on television, and who has never made an issue of being Jewish, said that recently a driver stopped to let him cross the street, then rolled down his car window to announce that ordinarily he would run over a Jew but, recognizing the professor, decided against it. The professor preferred not to be identified. So did a middle-age Hungarian who has spent years investigating discrimination here. Lately he has been taken aback by his parents, whom he had never heard utter a word against Jews during the Communist years as he was growing up. Suddenly they've started to make little anti-Semitic remarks. Loyal Hungarians all, these unnerved people cautioned against overstating the problem, which, while pervading the culture, is nothing like discrimination against the Roma (as if that's any consolation). They suggested anti-Semitism may be no worse here than in other Eastern and Central European countries. Tibor Frank, a Hungarian historian, described the situation in the context of longstanding prejudices that link Jews with national debacles like the Bolshevik revolt of 1919 and the years of Communist rule, when many leaders were Jewish. Today those associations have passed on to the troubled Socialists. "The Jewish issue," he said, "is part of a larger reassessment of our history."
© International Herald Tribune

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DESPITE ANTI-SEMITISM, RUSSIA LURES BACK JEWS

5/5/2008- Tens of thousands of Jews who fled oppression in the former Soviet Union are returning to Russia to make the most of an economic boom, even though a new strain of anti-Semitism is emerging in their old homeland. Around one million Jews fled during the Soviet era and the post-communist chaos. Those returning now from Israel, the United States and Europe hope to use their new skills and old knowledge to do business. "Now there are services here, like in New York and Paris, but the lifestyle is more interesting than in either of them -- it's easy to understand why thousands are coming back," said Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Russian Jewish Congress. Hard statistics on Jews returning to Russia do not exist, said Satanovsky, but anecdotal evidence is there. He estimates 80,000-120,000 Russian Jews have returned, plus many more who originated in other Soviet republics. "If you look at industry or banking you'll find thousands of families who have come back," he said. The Israeli embassy in Moscow estimates around 90,000 of its citizens live in Russia. "New Russian corporations are now hunting for managers from all over the world who have western experience and a Russian background. These emigrants know the language, the lifestyle, so it's very easy for them to integrate," Satanovsky said. But the end of the Soviet Union also gave rise to a new phenomenon for Russia's Jews: skinheads and far-right groups who daub swastikas on walls and throw petrol bombs through synagogue windows.

In the 17 years since Soviet rule collapsed, attacks on Russia's Jewish population of around one million and their property have been increasing in both number and severity, say community leaders and human rights organizations. Last year, they included the vandalizing of a synagogue in the far eastern port of Vladivostok, the spray-painting of "Holocaust 2007" on a Jewish centre in Arctic Murmansk, upturned gravestones in the south and an assault on a visiting Canadian rabbi. "In Russia there exists 'bytovoi' anti-Semitism, literally meaning everyday or household, which is grassroots anti-Semitism, which is the main problem," Pinchas Goldschmidt, Moscow's chief rabbi and chairman of the European Conference of Rabbis, told Reuters. "This is attacks on synagogues, spontaneous attacks on cemeteries, etc ... In Russia, we fear the skinheads and neo-Nazis," said Goldschmidt, a native of Switzerland who moved to Russia in 1989. Anti-Semitism reared its head during Russian presidential election campaigns earlier this year, when dozens of websites and forums appeared saying candidates were Jewish. The most severe attacks were directed at president-elect Dmitry Medvedev, who was cast as having Jewish roots and therefore unfit to run the country. Sites used pejorative words to describe him, asked surfers to compare his face to well-known Jewish billionaires and said Medvedev would favor Israeli foreign policy in Russia's dealings with Iran and other Muslim states. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been explicit in his condemnation of anti-Semitism. On a 2005 visit to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz and Polish city Krakow, he said he was "ashamed" of anti-Semitism in his own country.

Xenophobia
Rights campaigners link the new anti-Semitism to the social turmoil that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. "This is a country where the social safety net disappeared overnight," said Mark Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), a U.S. group. "A lot of young people didn't see a future, and these (neo-Nazi) groups give them a sense of belonging and community in some ways and a structure," he said. SOVA, a Russian NGO that tracks racist crime, estimates there were 632 racially motivated attacks and 67 murders in Russia in 2007. Anti-Semitism is just one strand of that: most attacks are on dark-skinned immigrants, many of them Muslims, from ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia. "Race-hate violence is increasing in Russia. We have noticed that 50 percent of people in Russia have xenophobic tendencies, and if someone is a nationalist, he will naturally be an anti-Semite," said SOVA's director, Alexander Verkhovsky. While a law exists against inciting racism, it is rarely applied, say anti-racism groups. Most hate crimes are classified only as "hooliganism" by the authorities, say campaigners. "What the community would like to see is the full implementation and willingness of state authorities to go after these (skinhead) elements which are a danger," Rabbi Goldschmidt said. Russian Jews have experienced anti-Semitism for centuries. Empress Catherine the Great attempted to remove Russia's Jews to the Pale of Settlement, an area on the western fringes of the Russian empire. In 19th century pogroms Jews were killed, raped and robbed and their villages razed. Many fled westwards. Later, the Soviet leadership was suspicious of the Jewish community because of its links to a world Jewish movement that was based in the West. In the 1970s and 80s, there was a one million-strong exodus.

An unlikely return
Ari Rozichner moved to Israel from Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, with his parents as a boy in the early 1970s. "The main difference between my immigration wave and that of the 90s was conceptual," he says, adding that his parents had believed in a Jewish state, while a later generation left "because supermarket shelves were empty". "Israel has a nice climate -- it's better than winter in Moscow with the black snow," he said. After working in Israel, the United States and Japan, he has settled in Moscow as an associate vice president of sales with Gilat satellite networks. His clients include state agencies which want to bring the Internet to remote Siberian schools. "I have one foot here, one foot there. My family is in Israel, it's a different life for them, whereas Moscow is a huge megapolis, the distances are huge, to get by is not easy and life is very expensive," he said. But "there are more opportunities here, Israel is like a village," he said from his offices in a Moscow suburb. Apart from the economic transformation, Rozichner says there has been a dramatic change in the official attitude to Jews, who once had a letter 'J' marked in their internal Soviet passports. "In Russia now, I feel very comfortable as a Jew." Holocaust Day, January 27, was marked in Moscow schools for the first time this year. Kremlin-friendly Russian billionaire and Jewish European Congress President Moshe Kantor initiated the programme with the Moscow government. "We are already seeing concrete steps in the right direction," added Rabbi Goldschmidt.
© Reuters

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TOMISLAV NIKOLIC, FAR RIGHT LEADER IN SERBIA, FOLLOWS OWN PATH

3/5/2008- Tomislav Nikolic, leader of Serbia's far-right Radical Party, wants to be clear about one thing in particular: He is not the political reincarnation of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian strongman who masterminded the Balkan wars of the 1990s that left his country in ruins and 125,000 people dead. Not that he thinks Milosevic was all that bad. "Milosevic was not a criminal, but he made a lot of mistakes," said Nikolic, 56, a charismatic and towering man, with brooding eyes and a quick wit, who once oversaw cemeteries in an industrial town and still proudly calls himself "the Undertaker." His brand of Serbian humor may become more familiar to other Europeans this month if the Radical Party wins the parliamentary election on May 11, a vote precipitated by the fallout from Kosovo Albanians declaring the Serbian province independent. Polls now show the Radicals holding a narrow lead, and analysts predict they could be part of a coalition government. Nikolic has led his party since Vojislav Seselj, its fiery founder, turned himself over to the United Nations tribunal in The Hague in February 2003 to face war crimes charges. The problem with Milosevic, Nikolic says, is that he never finished what he started. "All the wars Milosevic started, he gave up," Nikolic said. "His biggest mistake is that he was not a person who would take things to the end. I have the popularity that Milosevic had, and my votes come from some of the same people. But we got crazy from his politics. I can't be called another Milosevic." Such assurances have done little to mollify growing alarm among leading Serbian liberals and Western leaders who fear that a victory by the Radical Party, which governed Yugoslavia in coalition with Milosevic in the late 1990s and backed his wars, could plunge Serbia into a new confrontation with the West and further economic isolation.

"In the 1990s, the West could point at Milosevic, the dictator, and blame him for making Serbia a pariah," said Dejan Anastasijevic, a prominent liberal commentator, who had two grenades thrown into his bedroom window last year after testifying against Serbian war-crime suspects in The Hague. "But if Nikolic wins, he will be democratically elected, and the West will think Serbs have a bad soul, so they deserve to fester and self-destruct." Senior American and European diplomats say privately that if the Radical Party comes to power, generous Western aid to Serbia would diminish, along with foreign investment. The United States gave Serbia $50 million in aid last year, while the EU has provided about $1.5 billion since 2000. Nikolic, whose office is dominated by heroic paintings of Serbian refugees and Orthodox saints, took great pains in an interview to portray himself as a man of the people with whom the West could do business. He did lash out at the United States and European Union countries for recognizing Kosovo, but he ruled out going to war. And he said that Western investors have nothing to fear from his election, even as he warned that unfair conditions imposed by Western powers were pushing Serbia to look east toward Russia, China and India. He declined to speak English, even though he clearly understands it well. "They say if we win there will be no more capital coming into Serbia, but why wouldn't there be?" Nikolic said. "Germany recognized Kosovo, but that does not stop us from cooperating with Germany." He said his administration would not talk to the European Union, "but we are open to all of its members, even those that recognize Kosovo."

Nikolic helped found the Radical Party, which is the largest in the Serbian Parliament, and since 2000 he has made four unsuccessful runs for the presidency. He first trained as a civil engineer but then dropped out of college after his father died. In 1999, he served as the Yugoslavian deputy prime minister, when his party formed a coalition with Milosevic's Socialists. In 2007, he was elected speaker of Parliament but was dismissed less than a week later following loud European protests. His friends say his favorite pastimes are listening to the Rolling Stones and brewing homemade Serbian brandy. Miroslav Latinovic, a Radical Party aide whose sister is married to Nikolic, said Nikolic was a survivor who had triumphed over adversity early in life. As a young man, he saw his brother and mother electrocuted in an accident when his brother's kite got caught in an electric cable and his mother tried to save him. "Experiencing hard conditions made me stronger," Nikolic acknowledged. "It is as if a father puts his son in the river and the boy starts swimming but the son knows he was thrown into the river. I'm totally independent in my life." Nikolic has become one of Serbia's most popular politicians by tapping into a deep-seated anger among voters over foreign backing of independent Kosovo, including threats of being excluded from the European Union if Belgrade resisted. "Asking Serbs to choose between the EU and Kosovo is like asking someone to choose between killing a daughter or a son," he said.

His potent cocktail of feel-good nationalism and socialism - including promises of fixed prices for bread and pensions for all - has resonated with the millions who scrape by on less than $500 a month and feel they have gained little since the revolt in 2000 that overthrew Milosevic. Analysts say Nikolic also has succeeded in attracting disenchanted moderates by railing against social injustice and corruption while distancing himself from Seselj, the former Radical leader, who once compared Bill Clinton to Hitler and said he would like to gouge out the eyes of Croats with a rusty spoon. Nikolic emphasized that he would, if elected, use diplomatic means to contest the "illegal" independence of Kosovo. "Why should someone make us gain through war what is already ours?" he said. He said that he supported his country's integration with Europe in principle but that the West's continuing support of an independent Kosovo was pushing Serbia to abandon those aspirations. Nikolic has fostered closer ties with Russia in recent months. In February, he visited Moscow, accompanied by Milosevic's brother, and met with Russia's new president, Dmitri Medvedev. He also praised the January deal in which Gazprom, the Russian state energy company, gained control of Serbia's national oil monopoly. Nikolic said Serbia should expand a free trade area with the Russian Federation that would encourage European countries and companies to use Serbia as a hub for trade between the European Union and Russia. "Europe will make a mistake if it excludes us," he said. "It will push us to the other side. I would like both sides. I would like both Russia and Europe to have links here."

Serbia's progress toward EU membership has stalled not just over Kosovo but also its failure to cooperate fully with The Hague tribunal, particularly in handing over the former Bosnian Serb army commander, General Ratko Mladic, and his wartime political leader, Radovan Karadzic. Both have been indicted on war-crimes charges over the bombardment of Sarajevo and the 1995 killing of nearly 8,000 Muslims in the United Nations haven of Srebrenica. Asked if he regarded the two men - who are often celebrated at Radical Party rallies - as heroes, he replied: "They are not criminals, for sure." Nikolic, whose party headquarters is plastered with posters of Seselj and the slogan "No to Hague Tyranny," said a Radical Party victory would make little difference in Serbia's cooperation with The Hague. "What is the difference between the current government saying it wants to cooperate and not cooperating, and us saying that we won't?" But while Serbian liberals portray Nikolic as a radical demagogue, some Western diplomats say he poses less of a threat to Western interests than does Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian prime minister, who helped lead the revolution that overthrew Milosevic but has now adopted nationalist rhetoric. "Kostunica is a 19th-century, anti-Western, romantic nationalist," said one senior Western diplomat, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the domestic politics of another country. "Mr. Nikolic is more pragmatic."
© International Herald Tribune

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FIRST TIME IN MOLDOVAN HISTORY LGBT COMMUNITY WILL HAVE LEGAL PUBLIC MANIFESTATION(Press release)

Sunday, 11 May 2008 within VII LGBT Pride in Moldova „Rainbow over the Dniester” LGBT community will go on pubic manifestation on the the cental squre of Chisinau. The aim of the action is to support adoption of anti-discrimination law in Moldova.

5/5/2008- During three previous consecutive years public authorities was banning public manifestations on various pretexts. This year after we applied to the City Hall to inform the authorities about planned public manifestation within the Pride we got the information, which gave us hope. The representative of the City Hall informed us that now according to the new law “About public manifestations” we have right to organize public manifestation in the format we indicated and for this we do not need permission of the authorities. As we were informed for holding this manifestation this year we only need to have with us the document saying that our application is registered at the City Hall. A couple of days in advance we have to call City Hall to confirm our event and to check if it does not coincide with any other events.

The public manifestation will be held under the slogan “All different – all equal” and it coincides with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of GenderDoc-M work in Moldova. The manifestation will take place on Sunday, 11 May from 11 till 12 a.m. the route of the manifestation is planned to start at the National Library and head to the Central Square of the City. We do hope that this year LGBT community will be able to benefit from the new law and nobody will ban it as previous years. The other events of this year Pride will start on 8 May with laying flower to the monument of the victims of repressions and will be closed on Sunday, 11 May with excursion to Moldovan historical places. Other important events are official Pride opening ceremony, where symbolical marriage ceremony and concert of Moldovan pop stars and pride closing ceremony with international contest «Miss Flawless Queen-2008». In the hotel “Flowers” the rainbow mess with participation of Diane Fisher (Canada) and Florin Buhuceanu (Romania) will take place. On 9 May will take place “Day against homophobia and xenophobia”. This day in the club «Star Track» for the first time will be showed documentary «SILENTIO» about LGBT discrimination in Moldova, and “Here’s looking at you, boy!” telling how gay movie started. Here also Art Evening with participation of Russian poetess Marina Chen will take place. At the end of the day the artificial cranes made by volunteers of the women’s program will fly to heaven. Later in Chekhov Theatre performance “Too married taxi driver” will take place.

At the international conference “10 years of struggle: experience, lesions learned and future perspectives for LGBT Movement in CIS countries” results achieved by GenderDoc-M during the first 10 years of work will be summarized. The discussion on consolidation of LGBT movement in CIS countries will take place within the conference. One of the important events will be Safer Sexual Behavior Promotion Party, which will take place at disco club “Cazanova”. Sexual education is one of the priorities of the work of our organization. Prides in Moldova – are cultural festivals of LGBT community. The aim of these events is to inform society about diversity and to increase visibility of LGBT community in our society. Prides get together big number of people not only form the LGBT community but also people who support LGBT movement (parents, friends etc) from Moldova and abroad. This year we have guests from Sweden, Canada, Russia, Romania, Belgium, Israel, Ukraine, Belorussia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Pride organizer: Information Centre “GenderDoc-M”.
Our supporters: Swedish Helsinki Committee, Swedish Agency on international development (SIDA), Lesbian and gay association COC Netherlands, and ILGA-Europe.
© GenderDoc-M

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WHO ARE THE REAL LESBIANS?(Greece)

Ever since Sappho wrote of her feelings for other women, the Greek island of Lesbos where she lived has had its own place in the dictionary. But now its modern residents have begun a campaign to reclaim the term for themselves. John Walsh reports

6/5/2008- When is a lesbian not a Lesbian? The answer's in the capital letter – it's when you are a woman who loves women, rather than an inhabitant of the Aegean paradise of Lesbos (or Lesvos in the modern spelling). For decades, foolish and unsophisticated tourists have giggled about the coincidence of the Greek island and the sexual orientation. Now it's become the crux of a legal dispute whose implications are global. It began when a gay rights group, calling themselves the Greek Gay and Lesbian Union (Olke) came to the ears of Dimitris Lambrou, a publisher of a small, serious magazine devoted to ancient-Greek religious issues, and an islander on Lesbos. He objected to the casual appropriation of his island's name, co-opted two local women, Maria Rodou and Kokkoni Kouvalaki, and filed a lawsuit on 10 April. Olke responded stoutly, claiming that the proposed injunction is a groundless violation of freedom of expression. Mr Lambrou and his friends seek to remove the word "lesbian" from the group's name. "It's not an aggressive act against gay women," he said. "Let them visit Lesbos and get married and whatever they like. We just want them to remove the word lesbian from their title." His emollient words hide an old-fashioned distaste for sexual unorthodoxy behind a simply territorial objection. "My sister can't say she's a Lesbian," he complained. "Our geographical designation has been usurped by certain ladies who have no connection whatsoever with Lesbos." Mr Lambrou's magazine, Davlos (Torch) has been campaigning against the nomenclatural confusion for years, ever since gay women from all over the globe made the island a place of pilgrimage: the island's pleasant town of Eressos is well-known as a world lesbian conference centre. It's there that Olke has argued that Greek lesbians should have a right to same-sex marriage: an uphill struggle in such a conservative country. But their deliberations have encountered opposition and scorn from nervous parents and church organisations. Mr Lambrou claims the islanders have for years suffered "psychological and moral rape" by having the place's name pinched by the sisterhood. He likes to point out that the sexual meaning of "lesbian" has been around only for a few decades, while he and his fellow-islanders "have been Lesbians for thousands of years". The Greek Gay and Lesbian Union denies it. "It's nonsense," said Evangelia Vlami, its spokesman. "The term has been in use to denote gay women for thousands of years."

This may be true, but the Oxford English Dictionary included the word with its modern usage only from the 1950s. Mr Lambrou is being stoutly British in his objections. The Greek legal system is taking the matter seriously, and the case will be heard in Athens on 10 June. But it raises all kind of questions: if the Olke organisation can be stopped from using the word with its familiar connotations, can the islanders stop other people – people in Greece, in mainland Europe, in America, in the world – using the word to mean anything except "descended from the inhabitants of Lesbos"? Can Lambrou fight the use of "lesbian" internationally and insist that – in its capitalised form – it can be used only by the 100,000 islanders and a further 250,000 expatriate Lesbians all over the globe? Can the name be branded, never to be used in the public prints except with an initial capital – like Sellotape, and Hoover and Biro, all of which have been the centre of course actions brought by sensitive manufacturers? In modern dictionaries (50 years after the OED led the way), the primary meaning of "lesbian" is "(of women) homosexual" while "(with cap) of the island of Lesbos" comes a poor second. How could the copyright be enforced worldwide? The reason why Lesbos is blessed, or cursed, with connotations of homosexuality is the presence on the island of one of the ancient world's great lyric writers: Sappho. She was born somewhere between 630 and 612 BC, married a rich merchant and had a daughter called Cleis. She seemed to have money to burn, and spent her time communing with the arts. She took to writing poetry – lyric poetry, created to be sung to lyre music – and revolutionised the tradition by writing about her own thoughts and feelings, rather than about what the gods and Muses might be thinking.

She was an innovator: among her ground-breaking work was her predilection for writing tender love poems to women – often of elegy and yearning for a departed lover: "Come back to me, Gongyla, here tonight," reads one fragment. "You, my rose, with your Lydian lyre/ There hovers forever around you delight:/ A beauty desired." Her poetic voice did not suggest a woman in the grip of a schoolgirl crush. These were heartfelt love poems of erotic adoration to the pupils sent to her to learn the arts of verse. When the girls left her febrile embrace, she went on writing to them and, when they got married, wrote their epithalamia, or wedding songs. It was rare to find women writing poetry at all in ancient Greece; rarer still to find one uttering sexually charged feelings for other women. But nobody seems to have condemned her, or even judged her odd or perverse, for her expressions of desire and loss. Plato thought so highly of her lyric gift that he spoke about her as one of the Muses. It seems a shame that, although her poetry ran to nine volumes, all we have left is a single poem and a lot of fragments. Many bits of papyrus containing pieces of her work were found in the Nile valley in the 19th century: they had been used to wrap mummies and coffins and stuff sacred animals, a rather pathetic fate for the oeuvre of such a proto-romantic. But one thing she handed down to posterity was her name – or at least the adjective that derives from it.

Type "Sapphic" into an internet search engine and you'll be knee-deep in hot-babe-action websites with names like Sapphic Traffic. Legitimate fields of Sapphic inquiry – such as the "Sapphic stanza", a four-line metre used by poets as far removed as Swinburne and Ginsberg – receive, by comparison, very little attention. Back at Lesbos, the indefatigable Mr Lambrou has been pointing out, as a clincher to his many anti-lesbian arguments, that Sappho wasn't actually gay anyway, since she got married and gave birth to a daughter. He also claims, more controversially, that new historical research suggests she killed herself because of unrequited love for a man. The whole semantic structure of the word "lesbian", therefore (he claims) is based on a misunderstanding. The Olke group responded with spirit. "This doesn't mean anything," said Evangelia Vlami. "Thousands of lesbians are in married situations with children, and the story of her suicide is not founded in fact." So the trial of lower-case lesbian vs upper-case Lesbian is going ahead. Now, an on-line magazine called The Register has put forward a solution. It suggests that Greek lesbians henceforth call themselves Sapphists, non-Greek gay women continue to call themselves (small l) lesbians – and islanders call themselves Mytilenians, after the name of its capital, Mytilene. It is, after all, the name used in common Greek parlance when talking about Lesbos. Whether this will cut any ice with the extremely literal-minded Mr Lambrouremains to be seen.
© Independent Digital

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MIGRANT WORKERS IN HISTORIC STRIKE(Greece)

It was a day when migrant workers said they had had enough.

8/5/2008- Employed in the strawberry fields of Nea Manolada, a village of 2,000 situated 270 km southwest of Athens, they went on strike Apr. 18 demanding better payment and living conditions. Their strike action, the most organised ever put up in Greece by economic migrants, was fired by an article by investigative journalist Dina Daskalopoulou in the daily Eleftheotipia. Daskalopoulou described the dire conditions of migrants in improvised camps set up by strawberry producers around Nea Manolada in the prefecture Ilia in Pellopenesus. The workers lack hygiene and health provisions, and work ten to 15 hours a day, the article pointed out. Until the day of the strike they received a daily wage of 22 euros, eight less than the minimum wage for the first seven hours, with 3.50 euros for every extra hour. From these wages the workers pay rent and protection money to the local mafia. Until recently they were expected also to buy their food and other commodities from specified shops, and so indirectly return a big portion of their income back to local people. The workers are mostly from Bulgaria, Romania, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Albania. Employers often withhold their papers from them. The migrant workers organised their protest with the support of local members of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) union Pan-Hellenic Front of Workers (PAME). The party workers joined migrant workers on the second day of their strike action Apr. 19. Few guessed what was to follow. Local people brutally attacked the union workers, injuring three, one of them seriously. "We were talking with the migrant workers when 60-70 people, most of them producers, together with Albanian bodyguards, attacked us," said Christos Giannaros from the municipal representation committee of KKE in Ilia, who was among the injured.

"They hit us with such force that it is a miracle we escaped, and this just because the migrants intervened and saved us. The police were present, and did nothing to protect us." Following that incident, producers invaded workers camps, hitting many and firing into the air. They asked workers to end their strike and return to the fields. The day after, Apr. 20, PAME members were attacked again when they attempted to protest in Nea Manolada about the earlier incident. Again, nobody was arrested. "What happened takes us straight back to the 19th century, with feudal lords dictating their own law of the land while women run with their babies in the fields," Giorgos Iliopoulos, president of the builders union in the region told IPS. "First it was the Roma who worked the fields, until irregular migrants replaced them. For 15 years local authorities knew about the situation but did nothing. This is proof of their compliance in keeping economic migrants marginal and easily exploitable." Local producers had earlier refused to grant wage increases, saying they could not afford to pay more. Iliopoulos says this is not true, since every worker gathers 35 to 40 boxes of strawberries in a single shift, and the producer sells each box for 15 euros. Following the incident municipal officials visited the village and made some nominal recommendations to improve the workers' conditions. Workers went back with a daily compensation of 28 euros. "This is a first small victory," Iliopoulos said. "Not only does it make it possible for the migrants to go back to work with their heads high, but it has helped them understand that only if we stick together can we struggle for our rights, in their case for things many of us consider given -- electricity, clean water, housing and a dignified wage."
© Inter Press Service News Agency

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STOP THE PRESSES(Slovakia, comment)

A new law gives Slovak politicians the upper hand over the print media they despise.
By Marian Lesko,  commentator for Sme, one of the papers that ran protests against the press law.

3/5/2008- Since his victory in the parliamentary elections in Slovakia two years ago, Prime Minister Robert Fico has not participated in a single debate with a political opponent, not even on one of the talk shows where a couple of politicians can usually be found on any weekend. Fico says that he does not debate political opponents because his only real opposition is the media. If Fico spent last weekend partying, he had good reason: On 25 April, President Ivan Gasparovic signed the law specially crafted by Fico’s government to leash the print media.

‘Completely Unacceptable’
Since taking office, the prime minister and other members of the government – a coalition of left-of-center and nationalist parties headed by his Smer Party – have consistently criticized, as one government press release put it, “the increasing number of false, biased and misleading statements that are published in several Slovak media outlets and are aimed against the current government of the Slovak Republic.” Fico typically attacks the press en masse, but seems to be particularly fond of leveling such charges at two of the biggest daily papers (Sme and Pravda) and TV Joj. Under his premiership various branches of the government have issued at least 20 press releases concerning allegedly false or misleading press reports. What unifies all these statements is the conviction that the media are instinctively biased against the Fico government.

UNESCO
Fico even labeled the attitude of the Slovak media toward the government as “the biggest problem of Slovak politics.” What has happened in past weeks is the culmination of his strategy to tackle his biggest problem by political means. Throughout the past year, Culture Minister Marek Madaric worked on drafting a new law on the print media to replace one in effect, with minor amendments, since 1966. All year, Madaric strove to give the impression that the new law was completely unrelated to the government’s exceptionally antagonistic attitude toward the printed press and all media. The new law was not meant to curb journalists but to extend the public’s right to information, he said. Madaric’s soothing words on the effect and message of the bill couldn’t have contrasted more sharply with those of the prime minister. “We shall insist on a strict press law because what some media outlets dare in regard to the government is completely unacceptable,” Fico said during one press conference. The bill the government proposed earlier this spring certainly conformed to this proclamation. Two provisions in particular evoked heated responses from numerous domestic critics (journalists, publishers and opposition politicians among them), international media watchdogs, and Miklos Haraszti, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on media freedom. One provision gave the Culture Ministry authority to penalize editors for publishing articles that promote certain kinds of hate – the bill specified 16 different kinds in all. The second established a sweeping “right of reply” by individuals to articles published in newspapers or magazines.

The OSCE media representative came to the conclusion that the government’s bill contained provisions that “seriously restrict editorial autonomy” because the right of reply of the Slovak kind “would grant politicians limitless access to publicity.” Even though this assessment came from an official with a mandate from the OSCE member states -- including Slovakia -- Madaric dismissed it as an attitude of merely one of the organization’s representatives, and not even the most important one. The government unanimously rejected Haraszti’s request that it retract and rewrite the bill. As the bill worked its way through parliament, coalition deputies did take into consideration some of the objections raised by the OSCE and other international organizations. They abandoned the paragraph, for instance, that gave the Culture Ministry authority to define and punish the promotion of hate in print. Nonetheless, Madaric, Fico and many coalition parliamentarians were staunch in their defense of what they perceived the main attribute of the bill: the right of reply.

Truth or Consequences
In most countries where such a provision is in effect, it concerns the right of reply to articles containing inaccurate or misleading statements of fact that harm the integrity, dignity or privacy of the individual concerned. The Slovak bill defines this right much more broadly: as a right to reply to any statement of fact that affects one’s integrity, dignity or privacy. From which it follows that the law gives concerned persons – not excluding public officials – the right to respond at the same length and prominence as the original article, even when the statements published in the article are true. The OSCE’s Haraszti pointed out to the government that such a “right” would hand politicians access to the press over the heads of editors. His warning that the Slovak bill, even after the modifications, did not respect the basic principle of editorial independence was rebuffed by the prime minister as the opinion of a “third-class official of the OSCE.” The coalition majority passed, and the president duly signed, the bill including the Slovak version of the right of reply. The new law will affect only the printed press. However, the government is liberal in its scorn for all media, and the last few weeks have seen it push through significant changes in public television. Back in January, the three coalition party leaders agreed on a slate of new members of Slovak Television’s governing body. After the meeting the prime minister publicly declared the coalition parties’ concern to have people on the body “who will represent our opinions.” When the governing body met a few days ago to elect the station’s new president, the winner received the votes of 10 out of the 15 members – the same 10 who had been nominated by this government. Media analysts fully expect the same thing to happen by summer at Slovak public radio.

The new press law will take effect in June. Whether it will or will not have the desired “regulatory” effect on the press will be determined by the extent to which editors and publishers resist the politically enforced right of reply and also by the first court verdicts in the lawsuits that are very likely to ensue. We may be about to see Slovak newspapers and magazines thrust back to the era of Vladimir Meciar’s premiership, when the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists ranked him 10th among the worst enemies of the press worldwide. Just as then, this year Slovak newspapers again published editions with front pages blank but for a statement of protest against the press law. The previous attempt by a Slovak leader – Meciar – to muzzle the press by political means contributed to his ouster from power in 1998. Running roughshod over parliamentary procedure, ignoring the claims of minorities, harnessing the media as a propaganda machine and allegedly using the secret services against his political opponents, Meciar blackened his country’s name in its first years of independence, but retained a sufficiently large power base to shepherd his party back into government under Fico. Now, a second such attempt has arrived. How long we will have to wait before we know whether it succeeds?
© Transitions Online

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AFTER PKK, DHKP-C, BELGIUM NOW BECOMES A HEAVEN TO NEO-NAZIS

Heavily criticized for being lax on combating terror, Belgium is now being attacked by its own press for doing nothing about neo-Nazi groups.

3/5/2008- Accused of being a “paradise” for neo-Nazis, Belgium claims it does not have the necessary legal instruments to combat the racist groups that have been flocking to the country after meeting resistance from the German and Dutch governments. Neo-Nazi groups such as two called Blood and Honor are increasingly heading to Belgium for their Hitler commemoration events as they usually do not face any problems from Belgian authorities. De Morgen, a Belgian left-wing daily, declared Belgium a safe haven for fascist groups in an article published on Friday. According to the daily a German investigative journalist who had been attending similar gatherings of German, English and Dutch skinheads and neo-Nazis in particular confirmed in the VRT program “Koppen” that the Belgian authorities had done nothing to stop these groups. According to Minister of Home Affairs Patrick Dewael (VLD), the government currently does not have the necessary judicial means to act. Despite Dewael’s claims, Federal Minister for Employment and Informatization Peter Vanvelthoven has introduced a bill to ban neo-Nazi groups, characterizing these groups as private militia. Two weeks ago Hitler commemorations were held in the Belgian cities of Bellegem and Overpelt. Home to one of the strongest racist parties in Europe, Vlaams Belang, Belgium was responsible for sending 25,000-40,000 Belgian Jews to concentration camps in World War II. Back in February, the Belgian government and banks agreed to pay Holocaust survivors, their family members and the Jewish community 110 million euros. Last year, former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt apologized for Belgian authorities’ involvement in the deportation of Jews to Nazi concentration camps. Despite the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C) as terror organizations on the European Union’s common terror list, both groups enjoy a certain degree of freedom in Belgium.
© Today's Zaman

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NEO-NAZI GROUP TO SUPPORT DSS-NS(Serbia)

8/5/2008- The leader of the neo-Nazi organization Nacionalni Stroj Goran Davidović has voiced his support for a coalition of the DSS-NS with the Radicals and Socialists. “[Prime Minister Vojislav] Koštunica and Velja [New Serbia leader Velimir Ilić] rightfully deserve to be called Serbian nationalists and therefore also my support at these elections,” Davidović says in a text entitled “The Battle for Vojvodina Begins” on his blog. He thinks that everybody should stand shoulder to shoulder "against minority extremists and Serbian degenerates". Davidović was sentenced to one year in jail at a trial against a group of members of the illegal neo-Nazi organization for stirring ethnic, racist and religious hatred after breaking up an anti-fascist tribune at Novi Sad’s Faculty of Philosophy.
© B92

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GERMANY BANS TWO NEO-NAZI GROUPS

7/5/2008- Germany has banned two right-wing extremist groups out of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday. The organizations are the Collegium Humanum, based in the city of Vlotho, and the Association for Rehabilitation of Persecuted Holocaust Challengers (VRBHV). The VRBHV is believed linked to the Collegium, which has been operating since the 1960s. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble described both groups as "collecting basins for organized Holocaust deniers." The announcement of the ban came as authorities searched close to 30 properties linked to neo-Nazis in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Hesse. Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for Constitutional Protection, has had the Collegium under surveillance for some time. The association is believed to be a contact point for neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers who dispute Nazi Germany's killing of more than six million Jews before and during World War II.
© DPA

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GERMAN SPORTS, MEDIA LAUNCH CAMPAIGN AGAINST NEO-NAZIS

6/5/2008- Soccer player Michael Ballack is one of the German celebrities lending his voice to a new campaign against neo-Nazism this week. One of its aims is to stop the far-right infiltrating sports' clubs. "I'm against Nazis because they don't appear to have learned anything from German history," explains the German captain and Chelsea midfielder in a 10-second soundbite on the Web site Netz-gegen-Nazis (Network Against Nazis). TV presenter Marietta Slomka and talk show host Maybrit Illner are among the other high-profile Germans featured online. The interactive Internet platform, launched by the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit on Monday, May 5, is at the heart of the project. It contains extensive information about the subject -- including up-to-date news reports about right-wing extremism --, a forum where users can seek advice and swap facts and links to advice centers and support groups. "We're aiming to create a nationwide forum where people who encounter far-right ideas in their day-to-day lives can give each other advice," said Giovanni di Lorenzo, the newspaper's editor-in-chief.

Together we are strong
The weekly newspaper has joined forces with a number of other partners to forge the anti-far-right alliance. The sporting organizations involved include the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), the German Soccer Federation (DFB) and the German Soccer League (DFL). Media partners include the German broadcaster ZDF and online portals, schuelerVZ, studiVZ and meinVZ. The involvement of the sporting bodies reflects rising concern about far-right parties using the cover of leisure activities to spread their ideas among young people, in particular. "Right-wing extremism poses a great threat to an association like the German Soccer Federation because of its clubs' grass-roots and volunteer-based structures," said the head of the DFB, Theo Zwanziger.

Not just football tactics, but lessons for life
He added that the point of the Network Against Nazis was to inform and to encourage civil courage. "As well as teaching the one-two and the bicycle kick, we have to communicate the message that it is worthwhile living in a democratic state," said Zwanziger. But it is not only the budding players who are being targeted; he also mentioned special training sessions for coaches. A number of high profile events will be taking place in games in both German football leagues on Tuesday, May 6, and Wednesday, to publicize the initiative. An ad featuring Ballack's soundbite will also be shown in all stadiums. The DFB has also announced that the national squad would also be helping to spread this message in upcoming games against Serbia and Belarus. It did not reveal any further details. Ingo Weiss, head of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, said that it was about turning the 27 million or so DOSB members into "vigilant lions" so that the horrors of the Nazi era could never be repeated. German Integration Minister Maria Boehmer welcomed the project. In a statement she said that media and sport carried a particular responsibility in the fight against right-wing extremism and xenophobia because of their ability to reach a wide audience.
© Deutsche Welle

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GERMANY TO CUT NEO-NAZI PARTY TAX BREAKS

3/5/2008- The government is drawing up plans to cut tax privileges currently granted to the neo-Nazi NPD party according to the Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. It reports that a draft of the 2009 tax reform includes a clause which would exclude groups considered hostile to the constitution from tax privileges granted to "charitable organisations." The previous centre-left coalition government tried to ban the NPD, arguing that it is not democratic enough to be considered a legal political party. The attempt ended in embarrassing failure for the government when a court discovered that many of the NPD leaders whose words and actions were material to the case for banning the party were secret service double agents. The draft clause reads, “Tax relief rests on the premise that the organisation does not include extremist thinking in its constitution, or in its actual management, and that it remains within the framework of constitutional order.” Charitable organisations are freed from corporation and trade taxation, and also profit from reduced value added tax conditions. Excluding the NPD from charitable status is expected to be much easier than banning it. Many argue that banning the group altogether would be dangerous, pushing it underground and perhaps making it even more attractive to those disaffected with the politics of the day.
© The German Local

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BERLIN PAYS TRIBUTE TO GAY-RIGHTS ACTIVIST PERSECUTED BY NAZIS(Germany)

7/5/2008- Berlin renamed a stretch of the Spree River in honor of a gay-rights activist persecuted by the Nazis in the 1930s as the city's biggest hospital opened an exhibition devoted to the sex researcher. A stretch of the Spree River in central Berlin was named after gay-rights activist and sexual researcher Magnus Hirschfeld in a dedication ceremony on Tuesday, May 6. On the same day 75 years ago, the Nazis plundered his offices and later burned hundreds of his books. Hirschfeld had founded the world's first institute dedicated to fighting discrimination against homosexuals. He went into exile in France and died there in 1935. The stretch of river bank named after Hirschfeld is near his former institute.

"A first step"
According to Germany's Lesbian and Gay Association (LSVD) and the Mitte district of Berlin, where "Magnus-Hirschfeld-Ufer" is located, a bronze monument to Hirschfeld will also be erected along the river. The Charite hospital also commemorated Hirschfeld with an exhibition which opened on Tuesday at its Medical Historical Museum. Called "Sex Burns," the exhibition focuses on Hirschfeld's work and his persecution by the Nazis. The tributes to Hirschfeld are "a clear acknowledgment for gays that persecution has taken place and that reparation is necessary," said the head of Germany's Lesbian and Gay Association, Alexander Zinn, said at the dedication ceremony. "That is a first step in the right direction," he said. The Nazis declared homosexuality an aberration.
© Deutsche Welle

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POLICE BID TO TACKLE ISLAMOPHOBIA(uk)

9/5/2008- Scotland's first Muslim Police Association is being created in an attempt to encourage more Muslims to join and stay in the force. Strathclyde Police hopes the group will also help tackle Islamophobia and improve understanding of Islam. Pc Amar Shakoor, who was Scotland's first Muslim officer, said negativity had recently been directed towards the Muslim community. He said the association hoped to put Islam in a more positive light. "We want to highlight some of the positive things Islam can provide to the communities and not just the police services," he said. According to Pc Shakoor, since the 9/11 World Trade Centre Attack, London tube bombings and Glasgow Airport attempted bombings, Muslims have faced suspicion and increasing scrutiny. He said links were now more important than ever and one of the best ways to do this was to recruit more Muslim officers. Strathclyde Police, which has more than 7,000 officers, has only about 31 Muslim officers among its ranks. Earlier this year, Chief Constable Steve House met Muslim officers in England who had started a similar group. It has been quite successful, not only within the Muslim community, but also in tackling institutional issues within their own police forces. But a big part of what the Muslim Police Association here in Scotland hopes to achieve is to encourage young Scottish Muslims, who might not otherwise consider a career with the police, to see it is a viable option - somewhere they can move up the ladder and become part of the establishment. Chief Constable House said: "The formation of the Muslim Police Association is a positive step. "These are officers who are positive about seeing the police force as a career and want to use their association to reach out to Muslims. "They are not saying 'don't join the police it's a bad career move', they are saying look, come and join, we're happy with our career choice, come and join." However, some young Scottish Muslims were not sold on the idea of becoming officers.

I met two young men at a chip shop in Pollokshields, a largely Muslim area of Glasgow. They said they would never join the police because their experiences with them had been largely negative. But they supported the idea of a Muslim Police Association, especially if it meant more Muslim officers patrolling the areas in which they live. One said: "For Muslims especially, police are not our best friends. If you get a few Muslim people patrolling the area it'd be a good thing, especially on Eid and stuff like that. "They think it's fights but really people are just celebrating. So a lot of stuff can be misinterpreted depending on who's patrolling the area." But getting more Muslim police officers in Muslim areas is easier said than done. There are only about 30,000 Muslims living in the Strathclyde region, making up just 1.5% of the population so the number of recruits per capita will always be small. But there is another issue at play. Chief Constable House says Muslim police officers are just that - police officers. And they do not want to be treated any differently or be forced to police only one community.
© BBC News

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POLICEMAN DEMOTED OVER RACISM(uk)

3/5/2008- A police sergeant has been demoted for bringing "disgrace" on his force after making racist and sexist comments while on duty. Colleagues from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) reported the 36-year-old officer, who has not been named, after being outraged by the comments he made during a conversation with them in June last year. Bosses stopped short of expelling the officer for his behaviour, opting to give him a chance to rebuild his reputation. He was reduced in rank to constable and moved from his beat in Wigan following an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and a GMP disciplinary hearing. Assistant Chief Constable Justine Curran, who chaired the hearing, said: "This officer used wholly inappropriate language which had both racist and sexist overtones. He failed to live up to the high standards we demand of everyone serving in the force. "He has been given a significant sanction and moved from the area he was previously policing. "He now has the opportunity to address his actions and prove to the community and his colleagues by his future conduct that he is worthy to be an officer within GMP. "He will have to work hard to rebuild both his reputation and make a contribution to the community." Naseem Malik, IPCC Commissioner for the North West, said the punishment was appropriate for such a serious breach of discipline. Ms Malik said: "The comments made by this officer were of a racist and sexist nature and were totally unacceptable. His actions have brought disgrace upon himself and GMP and it is entirely appropriate that he has been removed from a supervisory role."
© The Press Association

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NEW REPORT SAYS ISLAMOPHOBIA WARPS INTEGRATION EFFORTS

On 14 May, BME activists, educationalists and professionals working within Muslim communities and on integration issues from five European countries will meet to publicly discuss the findings of the Institute of Race Relations' pan-European research project into Integration, Islamophobia and civil rights in Europe.[introduction report]

8/5/2008- Liz Fekete, the report's author said: 'The clash in Europe is not between civilisations but between those (of whatever ethnic or religious persuasion) who accept or do not accept a civil rights framework for discussing integration.'

The report shows that across Europe:
* The debate on integration is shot through with Islamophobia;
* An assimilatory agenda is being advanced under the guise of integration;
* The positive contribution of young Muslims' greater engagement in civil society is not being regarded as part of the integration process;
* Muslims working to change institutions and traditions within their communities are hampered by the climate of Islamophobia;
* The framework for the reporting news is often based on 'scare scenarios', promoting fear of Muslims;
* Biased reporting teaches majority populations to think in terms of stereotypes and alienates young Muslims, some of whom are losing faith in society as a positive sense of identity is eroded.

The report from the IRR reveals that, contrary to public perception, the challenge to multiculturalism in Europe comes not from Muslim communities' unwillingness to integrate but from Islamophobia. A one-year study of six European countries (including the UK) carried out by IRR's researchers looks at the debate about integrating Muslims in Europe from the point of view of Europe's minority ethnic communities. It pinpoints the way that first economic restructuring over the past twenty years and then popular and institutionalised anti-Muslim racism over the past seven years have served to discriminate against and marginalise Muslims from many different communities within Europe. After consultations with representatives of over fifty organisations in Norway, Netherlands, Austria, Germany, France and the UK, involved with Muslim social, economic and political affairs, the IRR concludes that it is impossible to advance the integration of Muslims in Europe when the whole debate about integration and many of EU members states' new policy initiatives are shot through with Islamophobia. Young Muslims, in particular, are influenced locally by economies, which exclude them, nationally by debates, which demonise them, and internationally by foreign policies, which alienate them. Despite this, the research reveals that there are a multitude of new initiatives - from educational self-help schemes and anti-racist campaigns to voter registration and civil rights schemes - which involve more Muslims than ever before. But because they do not conform to government preconceptions, they are not regarded as evidence of a community's commitment to social integration.

Buy / check prices - Integration, Islamophobia and civil rights in Europe
© Institute of Race Relations

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USA MOURNS BLACK WOMAN WHO DEFIED RACIST DIVORCE ORDER

7/5/2008- On a hot July night almost exactly 50 years ago, Mildred Loving and her husband Richard were roused from their bed by the sheriff of the rural Virginia county where they lived and hauled off to jail. Their only crime was to be a black woman and a white man presumptuous enough to be married at a time when many southern US states banned mixed-race unions. They were convicted and told, if they did not divorce, they had to leave the state and not return for 25 years. It didn't work out that way: the Lovings took their case to the Supreme Court and, in 1967, added their names to the list of heroes of the civil rights movement as the court agreed to strike down the ban on interracial marriage, in Virginia and everywhere else. At the time, 17 of the 50 states had restrictions of one kind or another. In the intervening 41 years, the number of mixed marriages around the US has risen to an estimated 4.3 million. The legacy left by Mildred Loving – whose death at the age of 68 has just been announced – is not nearly as well known as that of Rosa Parks, the first woman to challenge segregation on the Alabama buses, or civil rights luminaries such as Martin Luther King. But, in a year when the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama, is himself the product of a mixed-race marriage, its significance is hard to overstate. Ms Loving never sought any kind of public advocacy role for herself, and led a quiet life in the small town of Milford, about 90 miles south of Washington. "It wasn't my doing," she said in a recent interview about the court case. "It was God's work."

Mildred Jeter – her maiden name – was just 11 when she met her future husband, who was six years her senior. When she was 18, in 1958, she became pregnant and the couple decided to drive to Washington to get married. At the time, she didn't realise it was illegal. "I think my husband knew," she once told the Associated Press. "I think he thought [if] we were married, they couldn't bother us." They were arrested shortly after they returned to their home town of Central Point, north of the Virginia state capital, Richmond. The rap sheet listed the chief charge as "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth". The judge, Leon Bazile, left no doubt about the prevailing opinion on their union. "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents," he said in his ruling. "And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows he did not intend for the races to mix." Segregation had been in place for more than 50 years, following a notorious Supreme Court ruling in 1898 deeming the races "separate but equal" – a formulation under which a slew of discriminatory laws was passed. The Lovings moved to Washington after their 1958 trial, with no intention of pursuing the case. When they were arrested again five years later on a visit to Mildred's mother, they took their case to Bobby Kennedy, then the Attorney General before it eventually went to the Supreme Court.
© Independent Digital

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VENUE AND DURATION OF 2009 UN ANTI-RACISM REVIEW CONFERENCE DECIDED ON 26 MAY

5/5/2008- A two-week meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the review conference on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance ended in Geneva on 2 May after agreeing to to postpone decisions on where to hold the review conference, although it is likely to be in one of the four UN centres of Geneva, Nairobi, New York or Vienna. A two-week meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the review conference on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance ended in Geneva on 2 May after agreeing to to postpone decisions on where to hold the review conference, although it is likely to be in one of the four UN centres of Geneva, Nairobi, New York or Vienna. The precise duration of the conference was also not decided, with some states wanting it to last for three days and others wanting five. There was general consensus that the conference would probably take place in June 2009. A special extension of the latest Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) session, on 26 May, will decide the outstanding issues.  The PrepCom – which is open to all UN member states – was holding its first substantive meeting in the run-up to the review conference and reached agreement on a number of fundamental issues including the process involved in drafting the review conference’s outcome document. An intergovernmental working group, that will hold its first session on 26-30 May, will begin negotiations on the content of the outcome document.

Decisions on the accreditation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for the review conference were also made. Hundreds of NGOs which already have consultative status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) are automatically entitled to take part in the process; as are over a thousand others which participated in the original 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, providing no government objects and the objection is not upheld by the PrepCom. NGOs that do not belong to either of these existing groups were subjected to an individual examination by the PrepCom. In all, the credentials of 47 NGOs, based in eight different countries, were discussed. Seven were accredited, one was excluded, one withdrew, 37 were provisionally accepted or else not finally rejected, and in one case a decision is still pending. Only one – an NGO from Bhutan that failed to provided additional information requested by the Bhutanese Government – was formally excluded from the remainder of the process because there were insufficient grounds to decide whether it had the required competence and if its activities were sufficiently relevant to the work of the PrepCom. The decision was adopted by consensus, without a vote. Four other NGOs were accredited without any objection or debate. These were the Community Security Trust, registered in the U.K; the Foundation Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (Switzerland); the Mouvement International pour les Reparations (France); and the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (Occupied Palestinian Territories). Another NGO, the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CCIJA), withdrew its application during the second week of the PrepCom after the Islamic Republic of Iran made several requests for additional information, some of which was provided. Although there was heated debate over this issue, a formal decision by the PrepCom on whether or not to accredit the CCIJA was in the end precluded by the group’s decision to withdraw. India requested additional information on 40 NGOs. Of these 33 failed to respond to a questionnaire, and the PrepCom decided that, although they would not be permitted to attend this session, they could still attend the next one and the final review conference, if they subsequently provide sufficient information to satisfy ECOSOC requirements. Additional information on two Congolese NGOs was requested, but not provided. However, the requesting country, the Republic of Congo, did not pursue the matter any further. One NGO, called India Peace Centre, was accredited after it supplied two sets of requested information. Of the remaining six Indian NGOs, three were accepted without the provision of further information, and three others that partially satisfied requests for further information were provisionally invited to take part in the PrepCom process, providing they subsequently provide the rest of the information required.

The purpose of the review conference, which was reaffirmed by the PrepCom, is to review progress and assess implementation – at national, regional and international levels – of the Declaration and Plan of Action adopted by the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The review process will, in addition, identify concrete measures and initiatives for combating and eliminating these phenomena. It will also assess the effectiveness of the existing follow-up systems and other relevant UN mechanisms, promote universal ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and identify and share good practices. The Preparatory Committee is expected to hold a second and final substantive session towards the end of the year, although not necessarily in October as originally envisaged. Four regional sessions will also be held, with the first scheduled to take place in Brasilia from 17-19 June 2008. The original World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 8 September 2001. The decision to hold a review conference some time in 2009 was laid down in a 2006 UN General Assembly Resolution.
© OHCHR

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Headlines 2 May, 2008

MHP TRANSFORMATION AND COMPLEXITY IN TURKISH FAR RIGHT (opinion)

by Cenap Çakmak

1/5/2008- Ever since the first free elections in which political parties were allowed to compete for governmental posts, the Turkish far right has for the most part been represented by conservative nationalist movements and the parties their adherents formed. The discourse of this fairly homogenous and linear movement mostly included a strong reference to the supremacy of Turkishness and the role of the Islamic identity as a supplemental element. An active and influential player in the Turkish political landscape for more than four decades, the movement occasionally made stunning achievements; it not only succeeded in mobilizing the youth, but also came to power as a coalition partner a few times. While it remained the sole representative of the far right for a long time, the movement was later joined by other actors who adopted an approach based on the rejection of integration efforts with the outer world, globalization, making alliances with foreign actors and promoting strong nationalistic views. Unlike conservative nationalists, the new actors of the far right clearly and meticulously exclude religion and religious values. Mostly for this reason they are dubbed "ulusalcýlar" in the Turkish press in reference to the word "ulus," which literally means "nation" but is mostly preferred by non-conservatives over "millet," the Arabic equivalent. To make a distinction between the two, English-based press refers to conservatives as nationalists and non-conservatives as ultranationalists. Because of the involvement of new players in the nationalist movement, conservative nationalists act quickly to distance themselves from strongly secular and non-religious nationalists -- some of whom falsely call themselves leftist. The conservative nationalist movement is transforming itself to embrace a peaceful and rational methods; it makes strong, yet rational, commitments to benefit from the Turkish public's already rising nationalist sentiments.

MHP and commitment to democratic values
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has remained the sole representative of the far right in Turkey for a long time, is being paid attention to because of its recent political moves. The party is careful to ensure that it is not considered a natural ally of the strong nationalist front committed to the idea of opposing Turkey's European Union membership bid. While the alliance of ultranationalists, which includes a variety of actors with different ideological and political backgrounds, has relied on a strategy to undermine the administration led by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the MHP has made some surprising moves to ensure that this administration enjoys a greater sphere in governing the country. Despite strong statements used by the MHP leadership during the election campaign to politically surpass the AK Party, the MHP has adopted a more lenient and constructive approach after gaining seats in Parliament in the July 22 elections. First, it indirectly contributed to Parliament's electing Abdullah Gül as president when it decided to be present in the plenary session. This move was risky and equally controversial given that in the event of their absence at the meeting, it would have been impossible to complete the election process. Second, the MHP also supported the government's attempt to lift a long-standing headscarf ban through a constitutional amendment. While some appreciated this line of policy held by the MHP leadership, ultranationalist circles who called their supporters to vote for the MHP in the July 22 elections in an attempt to alleviate the influence of the AK Party in the political landscape expressed their disappointment and unease with the party's new approach. Some influential columnists even stated that they were feeling as if they had been betrayed by the MHP.

It should also be noted that the MHP has relied on this sort of constructive approach in regard to its relations with the Democratic Society Party (DTP), the political representative of the Kurdish ethno-nationalist movement in Parliament. Despite the clear distinction between the political views held by both parties, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli made symbolic -- yet influential -- gestures to demonstrate that he is open to dialogue with even his party's most ardent opponents. His somewhat warm dialogue with DTP deputies in parliamentary sessions is actually highly significant given that the prime minister has repeatedly made it clear that he would not shake hands with DTP deputies unless they describe the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization. More importantly, the party administration took a decisive step when it dissolved the local management of an organization belonging to the party in Antalya following a clear provocation attempt by an alleged party supporter at Akdeniz University in Antalya who indiscriminately fired bullets on the university campus. Despite the fact that there was no clear evidence proving the involvement of the local party organization in the incident, the central party administration took such a strong decision to demonstrate that its base is and should be disconnected from violence and the elevation of tension. This new policy represents an open shift from the hard-line approach of the past and the adoption of an alternate stance based on moderation and a sense of responsibility.

Is the MHP changing?
From one standpoint, the MHP is certainly changing. The above examples prove that it has the ability and the will to realign with even its ideological opponents in crucial matters which closely concern national interests and public order. It acts responsibly by remaining distant to extremist movements like ultranationalists despite the appeal to form an alliance with the ulusalcýlar because of their strong emphasis on nationalism. Instead of acting in line with the policy agenda promoted by ultranationalists, the MHP seems to have considered the options to establish cooperation with "non-nationalists." in its broadest sense in an attempt to contribute to the resolution of the country's most controversial issues. This visible transformation notwithstanding, the MHP still remains committed to its core values and ideological roots. It has recently made it clear that it will remain opposed to any attempts to amend the controversial Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). But it should be noted that this opposition does not contradict with its new stance simply because its discourse on this matter is not in breach of core democratic principles. In other words, it consistently takes action to promote democratic values while not wavering in its ideological positions vis-à-vis some controversial issues. Last but not least, it is not possible to speculate on whether this strategy will pay off; initial observations reveal that some of the traditional supporters of the party are already disgruntled with the new approach. In addition, there is no guarantee that strong attachment to a rhetoric of democracy and popular choice will make the party more successful in the upcoming elections. But in any case, there is a visible and concrete outcome of the strategy: that the MHP may not be considered part of the ultranationalist alliance. In other words, the party leadership has successfully presented itself as distinct from this movement.
© Today's Zaman

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THE RISE OF NEO-FASCISM IN EUROPE NO LIGHT MATTER(Turkey, opinion)

There is a lot of talk in Europe about how 'Turkey should reckon with its past and draw the necessary lessons'.
By Semih ÝDÝZ

2/5/2008- There is also a lot of focus in Europe presently on where Turkey is headed politically. Both questions are valid. But looking at the rise of neo-fascism, in a continent where such things should have long been buried in the past, one cannot help but ask the same questions about Europe as well. Have Europeans really reckoned with their past and drawn the necessary lessons? Evidence is mounting to suggest that they have not. Just look at Gianni Alemanno, the newly elected mayor of Rome, who is also a 'darling' of Italy's new Prime Minister, the reelected and theatrical not to mention 'testosterone-driven' Silvio Berlusconi.

Alemanno the neo-fascist
Alemanno is a firebrand neo-fascist and he is proud of it. Not surprisingly his election was celebrated by hundreds of supporters raising their arms in the fascist salute and chanting "Duce! Duce! As for Prime Minister Berlusconi who appears to be consciously mimicking Mussolini at times he declared after Alemanno's election that they were "the new Falange," in a reference to the Spanish fascist party founded in the 1930s. Then there is Umberto Bossi, the leader of the anti-immigration Northern League, who is himself a fascist and with whom Berlusconi is due to form a government. To understand what Bossi is made of it is enough to note his remarks earlier this week. Indicating that immigrants had to be hunted out, he said, according to press reports, "We have no fear of taking things to the piazzas. We have 300,000 martyrs ready to come down from the mountains. Our rifles are always smoking."

But is all this limited to Italy? Not by a long shot. Take Holland, for example, where a nutcase politician, who has enough members in parliament to create havoc, is constantly trying to incite ethnic and religious conflict. The reference is of course to Geert Wilders, whose latest hate-film on Islam 'Fitna' uses all the techniques employed by the Nazi propaganda machine in the 1940 film 'The Eternal Jew' (Der ewige Jude). Wilders is popular in Holland today, no matter what some may say, and even enjoys the protection of the law as seen in the result of the case brought against him by the Dutch Islamic Federation. The judge ruled that Mr. Wilders is "not guilty of spreading hate, although his statements about Islam are provocative." The judge (who clearly has a different conception of 'spreading hate' than most sensible people) also ruled that members of parliament 'have to be able to express their opinions strongly.'
One can assume on the basis of this logic that there was nothing wrong with Hitler's ranting and ravings as long as he stayed away from the gas chambers. Not only does the problem not end with Wilders: He has provided the inspiration for another neo-fascist, namely former Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, the head of the newly formed 'Proud of the Netherlands' (Trots op Nederland) party, which is also rabidly anti-immigration. 'The Iron Lady', for her adoring followers, Verdonk, has said her party's central aim is "to protect and revitalize the Dutch national character", which she considers threatened by immigrant 'mostly Muslim minorities'. Who knows if she comes to power she might even introduce a law to protect 'Dutchness'. Neither is her coming to power a far-fetched idea since, as Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond has revealed, her party would be the second biggest in parliament if elections were held today.

If space allowed one could go on about the rise of right wing and neo-Nazi sentiment in France where the fascist Le Pen's political decline was basically due to the rise of 'sugar coated' fascism in that country whose current ruling right wing party is increasingly showing that it will do all it can to keep 'Muslim Turkey out of Europe'. One could also mention Denmark, where the Danish People's Party (DF) and a right wing paper like Jyllands-Posten can promote neo-fascism and incite ethnic and religious hatred under the guise of upholding the 'freedom of speech'. We have not made any mention of Germany or Austria, or a host of other European countries where neo-fascism is increasingly finding fertile ground. These include Romania, whose fascist 'Greater Romania Party' is probably in a bit of a quandary since the first people Italian fascist want to expel are Romanians, to be followed later by Muslims. The bottom line for Europe seems to be that if the desire is to keep 'Muslim Turkey'out of the EU, and expel the Muslims that live there already, then it will by necessity have to turn to fascism, and use propaganda techniques used just over half a century ago against the Jews to incite the public. From a Turkish perspective this is the only way to go forth for a Europe that wants to remain 'pure' since no right-minded Turk would want to ever join such a Europe, let alone live in a Europe tainted once again by fascism, the greatest scourge known to humanity to date.

Turkey as a safe haven?
If Turkey can maintain its path to further modernization and democratization, then it can conceivably even become a haven one day for a new group of liberal minded humanist refugees from the old continent, as was the case prior to World War II when it was among the 'progressive' countries, while Europe was getting ready to implode. Far-fetched? Perhaps, but who would have thought that Rome would once again have mayor giving the fascist salute, and that Italy would have people at its the helm who are proud to be the new 'Falange', and who are not afraid of 'taking to the piazzas with their smoking guns' Belittle the subject as Europeans may try, the rise of neo-fascism in Europe is no light matter and if I were a liberal minded humanistic European, I certainly would be worried.
© Turkish Daily News

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APRIL 2008 HATE CRIMES: MONTHLY RESULTS(Russia)

30/4/2008- There were at least 24 racist and Neo-Nazi assaults in April 2008, leaving 6 people dead and at least 38 injured. These numbers do not include the victims of the mass scuffle in the Tver Region, which occurred on April 5, because we are unsure of the nationalistic motivation of the participants. Apart from Moscow, the attacks took place in Vladivostok, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, St. Petersburg, Penza, Ryazan, and Stavropol. Overall, since the beginning of the year there were 211 reported victims of hate crimes, 53 of which died. In comparison, during the same period of last year there were 236 recorded incidents resulting in 17 deaths. While on the surface it appears that the reduced number of attacks coincided with an increased brutality, we can certainly attest that the increased cruelty of the attacks has resulted in lack of publicity and reporting of the less violent incidents. The country was particularly alarmed in the wake of Hitler's birthday (April 20). Moscow police significantly increased security amid fears of assaults by extremist Neo-Nazis, many students were cautioned about the possibility of attacks. However, several fatal incidents, assaults, and less serious attacks still occurred on that day. Three Russian cities (St. Petersburg, Stavropol, Ryazan) reported about Neo Nazi attacks, which resulted in 2 deaths and 5 injuries. Unconfirmed reports say that the students of the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia were also attacked. This University in Moscow has become a traditional victim of skinhead violence. Two acts of vandalism were recorded in Moscow and the Moscow Region: a Neo-Nazi graffiti appeared by the memorial plaque dedicated to the members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, while the World War II machinery in Khimki was covered with swastikas. The St. Petersburg police thwarted two attempts to hang Neo-Nazi banners. On the same day, the Holocaust Center's website was hacked by the Neo-Nazi activists, who replaced the homepage with swastika images.
© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

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THE NEO-NAZI GROUPS THREATEN STATE AND PUBLIC OFFICIALS(Russia)

30/4/2008- In March 2008, radical right websites started to circulate a list of Chief Justices, including their home addresses and personal information. The list later expanded to include personal data on high-ranking procuracy officials, MIA (MVD) employees, as well as public figures and scientists who work on the problem of xenophobia in Russia. The list already includes about 50 names. A number of radical right websites posted the web-link to the list, accompanied by direct threats of violence and even murder. In the past years, the high-profile people who work to resist the rise of radical nationalism in Russia continued to experience threats of violence and physical reprisals. The well-known cases included the murder of an ethnologist Nikolai Girenko, the assaults on hate-crime experts in Saint Petersburg, the murder of a judge and a series of attempts on the lives of the court and procuracy employees in Dolgoprudny, Moscow Region. The ultra-right radicals are suspected of committing these crimes, and several radical organizations have claimed responsibility for the attacks. Many poorly hidden threats of violence against court officials and law enforcers were voiced at the Moscow radical rally on April 19, 2008. Since we believe that such threats pose real danger to the people included in this list, as well as their families, the SOVA Center requested the General Prosecutor's Office to conduct an investigation of the matter. The Prosecutor's Office accepted SOVA's application on April 21, 2008. On April 24, 2008, Tatyana Chernyshova, the interim head of the department of media relations of the General Prosecutor's Office, announced that an investigation had begun already. "The investigation is ongoing, as we received a similar appeal, based on the same list, via the internet reception room of the General Prosecutor's official web-site," explained Ms. Chernyshova.
© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

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OSCE MEDIA FREEDOM REP. ASKS RUSSIAN LEGISLATORS: HALT MOVE TO ALLOW CLOSURE MEDIA FOR DEFAMATION

30/4/2008- Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, has appealed to the heads of both houses of Russia's Parliament to stop the adoption of an amendment to a media law which would allow the Government to warn and then close media outlets for alleged libel. In a letter sent yesterday to the chairmen of the State Duma (lower house) and the Federation Council (upper house), as well as to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Haraszti pointed out that the legislative initiative, which adds libel to the list of grounds for closure of media outlets, is unacceptable from the point of view of international press freedom standards. "If passed into law, this change would further diminish independent reporting on publicly important issues. Recent similar amendments, like the ones in the so-called 'extremism' package, have already had such a restricting effect," said Haraszti. The draft, accepted on its first reading by the State Duma, amends Article 4 of the Federal Law on the Mass Media. It adds "distribution of knowingly false information insulting the honour and dignity of other persons or denigrating their reputation" to the list of activities representing a "misuse of media freedom". This new offence, just as the others listed in Article 4, would serve as grounds for closure by the Government of media outlets under Article 16. "Instead of decriminalizing defamation and libel and letting them be handled by the civil courts, the planned change goes further, and allows the Government to select media outlets for closure. This would be a clearly oppressive measure, open for arbitrary political misuse," said Haraszti.
© OSCE

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CoE SLAMS SERBIA FOR 'DISCRIMINATION, RACISM, ANTI-SEMITISM'

29/4/2008- There is a climate of hostility towards ethnic minorities in Serbia, according to a Council of Europe (CoE) report. The document, published by CoE’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, states that Serbia has taken a number of measures, such as the signing of a convention for abolishing all forms of racial discrimination, adopting the new Constitution and criminal laws and the appointment of a new ombudsman, but that "much more must be done". Several regulations of the Constitution are criticized, such as the one found in Article 1 which states that Serbia is a state of the Serb people and all other citizens that live within its borders, which according to the commission, “indirectly draws differences between Serbs and other citizens". The report adds that the Law on Churches and Religious Communities “helps create a negative climate for the so-called untraditional religious communities, such as Jehovah’s witnesses and certain Evangelical groups.” “Several Serbian Orthodox Church dignitaries, which play an important role in the social and political life of the country, have had a part in fostering hostility towards these groups, which they refer to as 'cults', accusing their followers of being 'Satanists',” according to the report. The commission recommended that the Serbian government secure that all students take a course in civil society, which is currently an elective along with Bible study. The commission also stated that human rights education must be a staple of the school program on all levels, and that teachers should be trained appropriately, "in addition to police officers and judicial officials in a more widespread social context".

The report criticizes “racial discrimination towards Romas and other minorities,” such as "the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina and the Albanian minority Serbia, especially in Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveđa, where this minorities suffers discrimination in the fields such as access to education and state administration, especially the police and the judiciary.” The report states that Serbian police and courts react ineffectively to racist attacks and "vandalism of religious monuments and cemeteries", including that against the Jewish sites. The report notes the existence of anti-Semitism which is seen through "undisturbed distribution and sale of anti-Semitic books and other publications". The climate of hostility towards religious minorities is especially produced by certain media and politicians, the report stated. “The development of democracy has also increased the number of tabloids, which often negatively report about ethnic and religious minorities,” the CoE commission stated. The document concludes that Serbia still does not have an independent body for considering complaints against the media and recommends that the Serbian government secures these necessary legal regulations against hate speech, and implement the laws against journalists who violate the regulations.
© B92

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FAR RIGHT DISRUPTS COUNCIL MEETING; SHOUTS OF JEW AND TRAITOR GREET DEMSZKY(Hungary)

28/4/2008- Supporters of the extreme nationalist party Jobbik disrupted a meeting of Budapest City Council last Thursday in an attempt to prevent the removal of an illegally erected statue of the Turul bird in District XII. The protest was announced on extremist websites, but the police were ready. The protestors – mostly on the wrong side of 50 – were searched on their way in to the council chamber and relieved of the eggs and other missiles they had been advised to bring. When Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky began to talk about the Turul statue – which is slated for removal – he was heckled and jeered. The sitting descended into farce as middle-aged men draped in flags and an old lady clutching a handbag knitted in red and white stripes shouted words like “traitor” and “Jew”. The red-and-white Árpád flag has come to be associated with far-right politics in Hungary, although it pre-dates the modern tricolour.

War memorial
Zoltán Pokorni, the deputy chairman of the centre-right opposition Fidesz party, inherited the Turul problem when he became mayor of District XII in 2006. His predecessor, György Mitnyan (also Fidesz), had the statue put up in 2005 at a cost of HUF 30 million (EUR 118,617). It immediately became a focus of controversy when liberal SZDSZ councillors said that Turul was not an appropriate symbol for the commemoration of Hungary’s war dead, which was the intended purpose of the statue. Some people associate the medieval symbol of the Turul bird – like the Árpád flag – with the Second World War era Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross party. At the beginning of March, Budapest Municipal Court ruled that the statue must be pulled down within 30 days as it was erected without planning permission. On the morning of the council session the local Fidesz mayor had requested that the Turul issue be moved to the top of the agenda to thwart the demonstrators. His request was turned down, prompting some to accuse the councillors and Demszky of provoking the subsequent disturbance. During the interruption, Pokorni called on the Jobbik hecklers to be quiet, but was ignored.

Flock of Turul statues
In fact, there are numerous Turul statues around the country. The Turul bird on a hill at Tatabánya visible from the motorway on the way into Budapest is reputed to be the largest bird statue in the world, with a wingspan of 15 metres. There is also a sizeable Turul in Budapest’s Castle District. There has been no suggestion of removing either of these ancient Hungarian symbols.
© The Budapest Times

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BULGARIA'S DOBRICH RECOGNIZES ARMENIAN GENOCIDE

29/4/2008- The Municipal Council of the northeast Bulgarian city of Dobrich adopted Tuesday a declaration recognizing the genocide over the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1922. Twenty-five of the total of 32 municipal counselors voted in favor of the declaration, one voted against, and five abstained, the Bulgarian private Darik Radio. Before the voting, the regional leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms Denis Noman suggested that the issue be removed from the agenda because it was a matter of interstate relations, not of local government. The motion of the Municipal Council was approved by Armenian community in Dobrich whose representatives were present during the voting. They did not fail to point out that Bulgaria was the first country to offer asylum to the Armenian families, who were chased away by the Ottoman authorities. Over 40 000 presently live in Bulgaria but only about 200 live in the city of Dobrich. With Tuesday's declaration Dobrich becomes the tenth Bulgarian municipality, which has recognized the Armenian genocide, including the cities of Burgas, Ruse, and Silistra. On April 24, the international Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, the Sofia City Council honored the memory of the genocide victims. A similar declaration was read there but the Council failed to vote on it as it was taken off the agenda with the motive that the issue was not within its competence.
© Sofia News Agency

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BBC ‘CENSORED CHRISTIAN PARTY BROADCAST’

29/4/2008- The BBC is facing a High Court challenge over its decision to censor a party political broadcast in the run-up to Thursday’s local elections. A Christian party has begun legal action after the corporation insisted on changes to a short film in which the party voiced opposition to the building of Europe’s biggest mosque next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. Tablighi Jamaat, the Islamic missionary group behind the £75 million Abbey Mills mosque, opposes inter-faith dialogue and preaches that non-Muslims are an evil and corrupting influence. One of its British advocates has said that it aims to rescue Muslims from the culture and civilisation of Jews and Christians by creating “such hatred for their ways as human beings have for urine and excreta”. The Christian Choice election broadcast would have described Tablighi Jamaat as “a separatist Islamic group” before welcoming that some “moderate Muslims” were opposed to the mosque complex. Alan Craig, the party’s candidate in the London mayoral election, also on Thursday, said that he was forced to change the wording at the insistence of lawyers at the BBC and ITV, which will also feature in the court action. The BBC refused to accept “separatist” — the corporation asked for “controversial” instead — and barred the use of “moderate Muslims” because the phrase implied that Tablighi Jamaat was less than moderate. ITV went a step farther, demanding that the adjective “controversial” be used merely to describe the planned mosque and not the group itself. Mr Craig, a councillor in Newham, East London, the site of the proposed development, said that his party reluctantly agreed to a watered-down version that was acceptable to the BBC and ITV. The amended five-minute film was aired in the London area on Wednesday last week, but papers will be lodged in the High Court today to seek a judicial review of the broadcasters’ actions. If the action succeeds, Mr Craig hopes that the televison companies will be forced to screen his original film before voters go to the polls. “This was a politically correct attempt to close down reasoned discussion and debate. It’s a matter of freedom of speech and democracy,” he said. “People rub along fairly well together in the East End of London, all different communities, faiths, colours and nationalities, but Tablighi Jamaat have been antagonistic separatists since they were founded.” 

Tablighi Jamaat was founded in India in 1926. It is closely linked to the ultra-conservative Deobandi school of thought, which gave birth to the Taleban in Afghanistan and is becoming increasingly powerful in Britain.  Its leaders claim millions of adherents worldwide and insist that the secretive Sunni group — which has traditionally shunned all publicity — is peaceful and apolitical. A spokesman for the Abbey Mills project said last night that Tablighi Jamaat was an open organisation that preached neither separatism nor extremism. International intelligence agencies, however, say that the revivalist movement has acted, in some instances, as a gateway to terrorism. Adherents have been linked to atrocities, including the 7/7 suicide attack on London. More than 2,500 Muslims have signed a petition against the project and its opponents include Irfan alAlawi, the international director of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, and Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, who co-founded the Muslim Parliament of Britain. Taj Hargey, chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, said that the proposed mosque would become “the headquarters for radical . . . sectarianism in the UK”. He accused Tablighi Jamaat of preaching “a virulent, intolerant version of Islam”. Neither the BBC nor ITV would discuss its specific concerns. Faisal Iqbal, 25, a member of Tablighi Jamaat who is also an IT consultant and part of the Abbey Mills project team, said last night that it was wrong to suggest that the movement had a separatist agenda. “When comments by some Tablighi Jamaat supporters are read out of context they may seem to be separatist, but what we’re trying to discuss is distancing ourselves from beliefs which move us away from belief in God and which take us into things we consider to be a sin,” he said. “Stopping all interaction with people who are non-Muslims has never been a doctrine of Islam. Our religion says we must treat our neighbours with the highest regard, regardless of their religion.”
© The Times Online

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BNP MAN HELD AFTER HANDGUN CLAIM(uk)

28/4/2008- A former detective who is standing for the British National Party in this week’s local elections has been arrested on suspicion of brandishing a gun. Simon Goodricke, 45, was arrested by armed police at his home in Darton, Barnsley, after a local newspaper photographer saw him with what appeared to be a handgun at his front door. Chief Superintendent Andy Brooke, of Barnsley police, said: “A man was detained and his house was searched. He is presently on bail.” Mr Goodricke, who is contesting a ward in Barnsley, had previously been dismissed from West Midlands Police. He was later jailed for 18 months for perverting the course of justice and defrauding a pensioner of £1,000. He was found guilty at Birmingham Crown Court in 1998 after tipping off two businessmen who were attempting to swindle £100 million from Colombian drug barons. Mr Goodricke declined to comment but Ian Sutton, the local BNP organiser, insisted yesterday that the offences were in the past and that Mr Goodricke had paid his debt to society.
© The Times Online

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A PORT WITHOUT SHELTER: CLANDESTINE MIGRANTS STUCK IN 'JUNGLE' BY CALAIS(France)

28/4/2008- It is midnight, and eight hooded figures slip around the side of a freight truck at a gas station on the outskirts of this northern French port. They wait in the orange half-light while one tries the locked truck door. It doesn't give, and seconds later the figures vanish among the dozens of semi-trailers at this, the last truck stop before England. Most weeknights, a smuggler leads clandestine migrants across the maze of motorways that encircle Calais to parking lots like this, where drivers sleep before catching a ferry to Dover, 33 kilometers, or 21 miles, away. Truckers like Juan Antonio Santiago of Spain, sipping coffee at a gas station at 1 a.m., face hefty fines or even jail if stowaways are found hidden inside their vehicles, or clinging to the ledge behind the axle. "It's a fear we all have," he said. "But the greatest risk is taken by the migrants, because of the danger of falling off." According to a gas station cashier working the night shift, the smugglers act very fast. "When the driver pulls in to fill up his tank and comes in to pay - that's when they cut the seals on the door very quickly and get inside, and one of them stays outside to put them back in place." Such scrambles are the smugglers' livelihood: If the stowaways manage to slip through port controls, and those that British immigration operates on French soil, and make it across the English Channel, the smugglers will collect the €300 to €700, or $500 to $1,100, that the migrants have already paid into a blocked account, migrants said. The smugglers blend in with the hundreds of Afghans, Kurds and Eritreans huddled in makeshift camps around Calais and other northern French ports facing England, even if they sleep in hotels and have an air of confidence with their more expensive clothes. Often, they are compatriots of the migrants, said a volunteer who works with migrants and insisted on anonymity. The passage is rough: Britain says that it thwarted 18,000 illicit attempts to get to England last year. Truck drivers often take matters into their own hands, beating stowaways for damaging their loads.

Five years ago, the Red Cross camp of Sangatte, derided by Britain as a magnet for illegal immigration, was razed. This did little to deter those who follow the migration routes from Asia or the Horn of Africa in hope of a better future in Britain, drawn by the English language, the lack of national identity cards and the possibility of illegal work. Sangatte opened in 1998 to deal with an influx of Kosovars. In the first year after it closed, in December 2002, there were 120 to 150 migrants in Calais at any one time, "and there were never any people from Africa," said Jean-Pierre Boutoille, a priest involved in local migrant issues for 10 years. "Now we have 400 migrants at any one time in Calais. Every week some leave and others come." Boutoille, spokesman for the charity umbrella group C'Sur, estimates that about 80,000 people - both refugees and economic migrants - from 112 nations have passed through the Calais region since Sangatte's closure by Nicolas Sarkozy, interior minister at the time. "The closure of Sangatte was a good thing because it was a sign of the political will of Nicolas Sarkozy to denounce the indignity of the center, and to tackle the problem of clandestine immigration," said Geoffroy Didier, a member of the cabinet of France's new immigration minister, adding that conditions there had been "unworthy of the French Republic." Today's migrants, mostly men in their 20s and many minors, have paid too much and come too far to turn back at Calais, despite their precarious existence. They live in a forest of thorns known locally as "The Jungle," or in a derelict sawmill behind the Calais train station, or beside the Tioxide chemical plant, or, until the police burned down their shelters 18 months ago, in the forest of Garennes. Kurds, Afghans and Eritreans wait for a chance to leave, undeterred by the riot police or what migrants and volunteers say are regular assaults with tear gas.

On a visit in early April, this reporter witnessed the police bringing Afghans out of "The Jungle," saw Eritreans at a police station, and felt the acrid sting of tear gas during a visit to the sawmill. According to Nazanine Nozarian of the International Organization of Migration in Calais, which offers €2,000 to volunteers for repatriation, only 75 migrants agreed to go home last year. Calais, at the entrance to the tunnel under the English Channel, is not alone in dealing with migrants. On the western edge of the borderless Schengen zone, France is linked to Britain by nine ferry ports between Brittany and Belgium. Migrants seek shelter in makeshift camps near all of them, said Jean-Pierre Masclet, director of the local branch of Emmaüs, a nationwide foundation for the homeless. With city, provincial and national government in France declining involvement, locals have stepped in. Under the gaze of 80 to 100 CRS riot police rotated through Calais every three weeks, according to Boutoille, they have fed hundreds of Afghans, Iraqis, Kurds, Iranians, Eritreans and Somalis every day for the past five years. Bakers donate unsold pastries; high-school students serve Middle Eastern dishes prepared by women from the Maghreb; retirees drive 110 kilometers from Arras to peel 150 kilograms of potatoes every weekend. Médecins du Monde runs a clinic; a Catholic charity provides showers; a disused church has been transformed into a giant wardrobe. "It shouldn't be up to charities to look after them," said Nan Suel, a worker at Secours Catholique, folding towels while migrants peeled off layers of clothing to shower on premises pungent with sneakers and steam. "Regionally we close our eyes; France closes its eyes; internationally people close their eyes - it's only the CRS who react, with tear gas."

Near Dunkirk one recent Saturday, Damien Popieul, 26, delivered firewood to Kurds and Afghans camping in the dunes at a beach called Loon Plage. The migrants unloaded swiftly, hauling the wood to shelters made of plastic sheeting and packing crates. Last time, said Hardi, a 16-year-old Iraqi Kurd who hopes to study computing in England, the CRS followed, confiscating the lot. "After that there was snow all day," he said. "They knew the snow was coming." In a country where housing and transporting undocumented migrants is a crime, punished by fines of about €7,000, the region's 300 active volunteers say they tread a fine line. Negotiations with the police have established "calm zones" round a portacabin and under the Calais lighthouse where meals are distributed; in December, the charities succeeded in opening a hall for migrants to sleep in when temperatures plunged below zero. But they cannot stop the police from raiding or burning shelters, or driving migrants to the border police station for questioning before freeing them, sometimes without shoes. "We are here for two reasons: for Vigipirate, and to deal with clandestine immigration," said one CRS officer, standing over an Afghan, shivering in wet socks, whom he had picked up in a dawn raid on "The Jungle" on a recent Sunday. Vigipirate is the security alert system France uses for terrorist threats. Migrants wonder: If they are not wanted in France, why won't the French open the border and let them through? "They shoot us like Palestinians, but what have we done?" said Noh, a 23-year-old Eritrean in the yard of the sawmill, broken glass underfoot and tear gas in the air after the third police raid that day. "They should stop controlling in the port and let people go," said an Afghan at Loon Plage.

A request for a meeting with the head of the border police for this article was turned down, while Calais's new, conservative mayor, Natacha Bouchart, and subprefects in Calais and Dunkirk, all declined interviews. In the meantime, an uneasy truce prevails. Migrants are usually issued an expulsion order, but often cannot be deported because of cost, lack of readmission agreements with their countries, or because they face persecution there. Yet some are taking no chances. Standing round a fire in the sawmill as melt from a late spring snow dripped through the roof, one 22-year-old fleeing open-ended military service in Eritrea drew a glowing metal rod from the embers, and slowly seared his fingerprints off. "It doesn't hurt," he said, displaying hands yellow with scar tissue. Others, also hoping to dodge the European fingerprint database, use razorblades. Mariam Rachil, in her office at Secours Catholique, dismisses British press criticism that the charities' recent proposal to open a day center for migrants amounted to a second Sangatte that would encourage more clandestine arrivals. "Look at La Ceuta and Melilla - there are no charities there and migrants are still coming," she said, referring to the Spanish enclaves in northern Morocco where Africans try to enter Europe. "You want to know how to resolve the problem of Calais?" she added. "Take away the port."
© International Herald Tribune

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GAY MARRIAGE COSTS HIM CITIZENSHIP(France/Netherlands)

2/5/2008- Frenchman Frederic Minvielle has been a productive, happy resident of the Netherlands for the past six years, and even married a Dutch national in 2003. But his placid existence took on Kafkaesque twist earlier this year, when French authorities informed Minvielle that his expatriate idyll had cost him his French citizenship. The main reason, according to Minvielle and his supporters: because his spouse was another man. The Netherlands recognizes official gay unions, but France does not. That, in essence, is what led to the revocation of Minvielle's French citizenship, though the bilateral Franco-Dutch immigration accords pertaining to the case are complex. The trouble began when Minvielle adopted his Dutch husband's citizenship in 2006 — a right extended to foreign spouses of officially wed couples in the Netherlands, whether gay or heterosexual. Indeed, Minvielle says the main motivation for his naturalization was to show gratitude to a Dutch society that makes no distinction between gay and heterosexual marriages. Although the Franco-Dutch immigration treaty pertaining to his situation generally forces nationals from one country to surrender their original citizenship when naturalized in the other, there is a key exception that allows dual citizenship accorded through marriage. Minvielle figured that would work for him.

"France does not recognize marriage between people of the same sex as the Netherlands does, and therefore considers Mr. Minvielle an unwed man living with another man," explains Minvielle's French lawyer, Caroline Mecary. Because of that, she says, France has applied the bilateral accord the way it would to any single French national adopting Dutch nationality: by revoking French citizenship. "It marks French exportation of marriage laws discriminatory to same-sex couples to its citizens abroad," Mecary continues. "In this case, that means applying French laws to a citizen with the result of stripping him of that very citizenship. That has proven to be a staggering loss to Mr. Minvielle." Minvielle was not available to respond to TIME's requests to discuss his case, but he has told French media he feels humiliated and repudiated by his native country. In addition to feeling cast off by his motherland, he says, Minvielle has also said being shorn of the liberties and legal rights attendant to French citizenship has left him feeling like he's been treated as a criminal. Ironically, it was his effort to exercise his rights and duties as a citizen that led to Minvielle's troubles. Following his visit to the French embassy in Amsterdam in late 2006 to register for France's then approaching presidential elections, consular officials forwarded Minvielle's dossier to justice authorities for examination. When the review ruled that he had surrendered his French citizenship according to terms of the bilateral accord — and in light of France's refusal to recognize gay marriage — Minvielle was ordered to surrender his passport and French papers last December.

Despite the summons, Minvielle has held on to his French documents, and is fighting to have his citizenship restored. There may be hope of that happening. Mecary says she has been told by French and European authorities that France has applied to revise the terms of its bilateral accords with the Netherlands to take into account social and legal changes that have taken place in both countries since its last update in 1996. Though Mecary says she's still awaiting official confirmation of that move, she notes it would only be the first hurdle. "When it comes to decisions of citizenship, especially revocations based on legal grounds, the state is entirely free to do as it chooses," she warns. Still, Mecary hopes France will do right by native son Minvielle, if for no other reason than to avoid more bad publicity over gay rights. Last January, Mecary notes, the European Court of Justice overturned French court rulings barring a single lesbian from adopting a child, judging French regulations blocking the adoption to be discriminatory. Meanwhile, France's history of social enlightenment and pride as the birthplace of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been overshadowed as nations like Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands have passed progressive laws on gay rights while the French have lagged behind. Given that, critics argue the real solution to resolving Minvielle's case isn't tinkering with bilateral treaties, but modernizing marriage laws in France.
© Time Magazine

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SOME 500 NEO-NAZIS RALLY IN PRAGUE ON MAY DAY (Czech Rep.)

1/5/2008- Some 500 right-wing extremists met at a demonstration convoked by the extra-parliamentary nationalist Workers' Party at a square near Prague centre Thursday afternoon from where they set out for a march in the streets. The National Resistance Movement, that is labelled a neo-Nazi organisation, called on its adherents to take part in the event. Some of the participants wore hoods, others carried black banners and paper shields with the Workers' Party emblem. Several dozens policemen, some on horseback, monitor the event. Members of the police special anti-conflict team operate among the demonstrators. Representatives of the Prague City Hall are also on the spot, prepared to dissolve the march if its participants violated law. No incidents have occurred so far. Workers' Party head Tomas Vandas was one of the speakers at the meeting. He sharply criticised the current liberal regime, the centre-right government and its reforms which he called "daylight robbery of working people." He also asked the participants to support the Workers' Party in the autumn regional elections. Representatives of other Czech as well as foreign extremist movements also gave speeches at the rally, including representatives of the Slovak Community and the German Free Nationalists. Apart from capitalism and liberalism, they criticised Zionism which, they said, influenced the ruling regime in the Czech Republic and in Germany. The Young Social Democrats met at the same place, outside the church on Jiri z Podebrady square in Prague 3, this morning at the event dubbed "More toys for deprived nationalists." They said they wanted to show right-wing extremists that it would be better "to play with something less ugly than baseball bats." They left piles of toys on the square that extremists removed before their rally.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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POLL: CZECHS INCREASINGLY TOLERANT TOWARD FOREIGNERS

29/4/2008- Czechs become more and more tolerant of foreigners staying in the country and nearly nine out of 10 Czechs said they believe foreigners should be allowed long-term stays in the Czech Republic, according to the latest CVVM agency's poll released Tuesday. Some 8 percent said foreigners should not be allowed to stay in the country for a long time. Two-fifths said anybody who wanted to permanently stay in the country should have the opportunity. The acceptance of long-term and permanent residence of foreigners in the country among Czechs markedly increased after the fall of the Czechoslovak communist regime in 1989 and also after the Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004. However, four-fifths said long-term stays of foreigners should be limited by certain conditions. Slightly more than a half of the respondents said foreigners should not be allowed to permanently settle in the country. Over three-fourths believe that the Czech Republic should accept refugees. Only 6 percent said all refugees should receive asylum. As many as 95 percent of Czechs said foreigners should conform to Czech customs. However, 58 percent believe members of other nationalities who recently arrived in the country are a problem in the Czech Republic in general. But only 26 percent said foreigners were a problem in their neighbourhood. Some 68 percent supported the employment of foreigners, but most Czechs said it should be limited in areas with high unemployment. The poll was conducted in early March on 1028 respondents over 15.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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ADMINISTRATION COURT SUSPENDS ROMA PARTY(Czech Rep.)

28/4/2008- The Czech Supreme Administrative Court (NSS) Monday suspended the activities of the extra-parliamentary Romany Democratic Social Party, upon the government's proposal, over shortcomings in its annual financial reports, the court has informed on its notice board. The Romany Democratic Social Party, established in 2005, has not attracted much voter support. It has been only minimally involved in public affairs lately. According to its statement from 2005, the party with activist and businessman Miroslav Tancos at its helm wanted to focus primarily on the solution to housing problems of Romany families, Romany unemployment and the protection of Romanies against racially motivated attacks. The Romany party did not run in the previous general election in June 2006 and it expressed support for the now opposition Social Democrats (CSSD). Under the law, a party whose activities are suspended has one year to remove the reasons for the court verdict. If it fails, the government will submit a proposal that the party be dissolved. In February, the Supreme Administrative Court suspended tzhe activities of the extra-parliamentary ultra-right Republicans of Miroslav Sladek for not having submitted financial reports.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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POLL: 29% OF CZECHS DO NOT WANT GAYS AS NEIGHBOURS

30/4/2008- Over one-fourth of inhabitants of the Czech Republic do not want homosexuals as neighbours and one-fifth do not want to live next to smokers, according to a poll conducted on March 3-10 by the CVVM polling centre and released to CTK Wednesday. Drug-addicts are still the least popular neighbours as nine in ten Czechs (89 percent) do not wish them as neighbours. Most respondents are also against drunkards (83 percent) and people with criminal past (77 percent) being their neighbours. Compared to a CVVM poll conducted five years ago, Czechs are now considerably more tolerant towards homosexuals. In 2003, 42 percent of the respondents did not want homosexuals as neighbours, while now it is 29 percent. In 2003, 83 percent of the respondents did not want to live next to alcoholics, and 78 percent close to former criminals. Moreover, 59 percent of Czechs prefer not living close to mentally ill people. Neighbours of a different skin colour are considered undesirable for 26 percent people. Twenty-one percent refuse to live next to smokers. In addition, 12 percent of inhabitants do not want to live next to the rich, followed by people with another religious conviction who are rejected by 8 percent, the poor (7 percent) and physically handicapped (5 percent). Four percent of people do not like the young, the elderly and people with different political views as neighbours. The share of respondents convinced that Czechs are tolerant towards the above mentioned groups is higher than of those thinking that Czechs are not tolerant. Most respondents are of the view that the Czech society is tolerant mainly towards young people and those with another religious conviction, according to a poll conducted on 1028 people over 15.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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FIRST GAY CANDIDATE RUNS FOR SENATE(Czech Rep.)

Hromada hopes bid will further acceptance of homosexuals

30/4/2008- Well-known gay and lesbian rights activist Jiøí Hromada has become the first openly homosexual candidate to run for the Senate in the Czech Republic. Nominated by the Green Party April 19, Hromada’s name will be on the ballot in the upcoming fall elections. Following reports of his nomination, news servers such as Novinky and Aktuálnì.cz had to shut down online discussions because they were full of homophobic and vulgar comments. The right-wing extremist National Party immediately issued a press statement branding Hromada a “homosexual deviant.” Despite years of hard work by many gay and lesbian activists, it seemed from such reactions that homophobic feelings are still a part of the national culture, and Hromada’s candidacy in the upcoming election could serve as a test of the public’s tolerance and open-mindedness. Hromada’s official career as a gay rights activist ended in late 2006, when he retired as chairman of the Gay Initiative, a group that had spearheaded the movement for registered partnerships for 17 years. At the same time, the organization folded, feeling its mission had been largely completed. “Our goal from the start in 1990 was not to be needed,” Hromada said, echoing statements he’d made at the time. “We had achieved what we set out to do and now it was time for the younger generation to take over and fight for their own needs.” During its existence, the Gay Initiative helped to raise support for gay rights among the general public from 10 percent in 1990 to 70 percent in 2006, when the law allowing registered partnerships was passed despite President President Václav Klaus’ veto.

Following that success, Hromada wanted to return to his life as an actor and enjoy his achievements. Instead, in 2007 he was asked by the newly formed Human Rights and Minorities Ministry to share his experience and help minorities in a consultant capacity — a request he accepted. Now, more than a year later, the Greens have asked him to run for the Senate, making him the first official gay candidate. There are many examples of gay and lesbian politicians in Europe, Hromada says, pointing out that the current mayors of Berlin and Paris are openly among them. Homosexual communities have long been accepted in Western Europe, where society tends not to discriminate based on sexual orientation, either socially or legally. By allowing same-sex unions in 2006, the Czech Republic made an important step toward equality on a legislative level, but in the everyday life of the general public, gays and lesbians have yet to achieve total acceptance. Hromada wants to change this. “One of the reasons I accepted the nomination was to prove to others that sexual orientation is not important and that people should judge others by their capabilities,” he said.
He knows from personal experience how hard it can be for a minority to find a sympathetic voice in Parliament, so he wants to concentrate on listening to minority issues and hastening their passage through the legislative process if he manages to win the election. First, however, he will have to test the progressiveness of the society that he helped to form, and find out if it’s as tolerant as he hopes. Comments from extremist political parties suggest that all is not well.

“To mix homosexual deviants into politics is the worst thing that can happen,” said Michal Ševèík, spokesman for the National Party. “Next we’ll see pedophiles and zoophiles claiming their place in society.” Hromada lightly dismisses such comments. “Uninformed stupidity cannot be weeded out,” he said, pointing out that, despite such sentiments, “There is no rise in homophobic feelings. That illusion is caused by the tabloidization of the press, which gives unwarranted coverage to extremists.” He also added his belief that the loudest opponents are usually latent homosexuals who are afraid to admit the truth. “They are the most aggressive toward our community, because they envy our freedom.” To illustrate his case, he says there already are several gay politicians who are afraid to come out of the closet. “During our effort to pass the partnership bill we met two types of political gays,” he said. “Some would secretly admit their orientation and quietly support us, while others became our staunchest opponents and tried to stop the bill at all costs.”

Faith in the common voter
Despite the hateful comments toward gays that have appeared in online discussions and in formal press statements, Hromada does not think voters will have a problem with his sexuality. He’s found that the voters he’s met in person have been generally supportive of his decision and prefer to concentrate on his professional qualities and ask questions as they would of any other candidate. He adds that the best place to test public opinion is in a village pub. “Despite their machismo and traditional upbringing, the men respect me and admire the courage that it took to come out,” he said. “At the same time they call their local closet gay a ‘faggot,’ poke fun at him and despise him for lying to himself and everyone around.” Hromada says telling the truth is much more important for voters than sexual orientation, especially in a political environment that has become notorious for its level of corruption. Consequently, he sees his openness as an asset and refuses to accept the possibility that his sexuality could be liability.
However, when considering some of the reactions to his nomination one question springs to mind: Will other candidates use his sexual orientation against him? In 1999, libelous posters appeared about another Senate candidate, Václav Fišer, calling attention to his alleged homosexuality (a claim Fišer denied). Hromada dismisses such past events, instead viewing his nomination as an opportunity for further understanding between society and its minorities. “If I win, it will be a pleasant realization that society has fully accepted gays,” he said, adding that, even if he doesn’t, “it will be another step toward complete equality.”
© The Prague Post Online

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INTERIOR MINISTRY PREPARES MIGRATION LIMITING PROGRAMMES(Czech Rep.)

27/4/2008- Interior Minister Ivan Langer will submit to the government on Monday a plan to launch projects that would curb possible illegal migration from Mongolia and Iraq to the Czech Republic. The projects are part of the Interior Ministry's policy aimed to cooperate with the countries from which the biggest numbers of illegal migrants come and to curb their influx right in their homelands. The ministry also wants to cooperate with the countries concerned on legal migration, particularly of the workforce. The ministry plans this year to launch a pilot project aimed at consultancy and support for the legal migration of the Mongolian workforce, to train migration management in Iraq, to support the Data Analysis and Forensic Examination Centre (DAFEC) and a project of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on juveniles without accompaniment. The Interior Ministry also wants to reduce the abuse of migrants coming to work in the Czech Republic by providing them with truthful and undistorted information on the situation on the Czech labour market. A similar practice has already been introduced in Moldova, Armenia and Ukraine where the state builds information offices aimed to discourage some potential migrants from their journeys to the Czech Republic.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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CRIES OF 'DUCE! DUCE!' SALUTE ROME'S NEW MAYOR(Italy)

29/4/2008- Italy's new parliament met for the first time today with applause for Rome's mayor-elect, Gianni Alemanno, a day after followers celebrated his triumph with straight-arm salutes and fascist-era chants. Alemanno, a former neo-fascist youth leader, took 54% of the vote in a run-off on Sunday and Monday, crushing his rival, Francesco Rutelli, a deputy prime minister in the last, centre-left government. Silvio Berlusconi, who won a general election earlier this month, welcomed the latest evidence of Italy's leap to the right by declaring: "We are the new Falange". Although he took care to wrap his remark in a classical context, his choice of words appeared to be a nod and a wink to his most extreme supporters. The original Falange — the word means "phalanx" — was the Spanish fascist party, founded in the 1930s, which supplied Francisco Franco's dictatorship with its ideological underpinning. The prime minister-elect's closest ally, Umberto Bossi, the Northern League leader, kept up the intimidating rhetoric, arriving for the first session of Italy's parliament warning of violence if the centre-left did not go along with his plans for federalism. "I don't know what the left wants [but] we are ready," he told reporters. "If they want conflicts, I have 300,000 men always on hand." On Monday night, the area around Rome's city hall rang to chants of "Duce! Duce!", the term adopted by Italy's dictator, Benito Mussolini, equivalent to the German "Führer". Supporters of the new mayor gave the fascist Roman straight-arm salutes. Alemanno, however, has promised to be the mayor of all Romans. He yesterday sent telegrams to both the Pope and the Chief Rabbi. Rome's Jewish community was shaken by the prospect of a mayor with Alemanno's record. During the campaign, there was a protest aimed at him in the city's old Jewish ghetto, where many of the city's Jews still live.
© The Guardian

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ROME VOTES FOR RIGHT-WING MAYOR(Italy)

28/4/2008- A right-wing candidate has won Rome's mayoral poll, taking control of the Italian capital from the left for the first time in 15 years. Gianni Alemanno won 53.6% of the vote, with his centre-left rival Francesco Rutelli trailing at 46.3%. Mr Alemanno had been criticised for his neo-fascist roots during his campaign, which stressed tackling violent crime. His win is another triumph for newly-elected centre-right PM Silvio Berlusconi who won April's elections. The BBC's Christian Fraser in Rome says the city has long been seen as a citadel of the centre left. "This long battle has ended with our victory," Mr Alemanno, aged 50, was quoted as saying by the AFP as his lead became evident. "This wasn't a victory for a party but for the whole of Rome," he said. "The result shows I received broad support and I will take that into account when governing the city." Mr Alemanno campaigned on the ticket of a tough approach on crime, after a series of attacks blamed on immigrants. He promised to put more police on the streets of the city and to expel thousands of Roma travellers living in illegal settlements around the city. The conservative wears a Celtic cross, the symbol of the far right, around his neck. He is a former youth leader of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, the MSI, and is married to Isabella Rauti, the daughter of Pino Rauti, a leading figure on the far right. Mr Alemanno's victory might also be the final slap in the face for the outgoing centre-left government which collapsed in spectacular style earlier this year, our correspondent says. Mr Alemanno's rival in the contest was outgoing Deputy PM Francesco Rutelli. He must carry part of the blame for the failures of Romano Prodi's government - and accordingly has just been punished, our correspondent says.
© BBC News

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ITALIAN FAR RIGHT SET TO CONQUER ROME

26/4/2008- Sixty-five years after the fall of Mussolini, the fascists are back at the gates of Rome. Leading the charge is Gianni Alemanno, a firebrand leader of Italy's neo-fascists, whose promise to get tough with illegal immigrants is threatening to knock the left out of city hall when Rome votes in the second round of the mayoral election this weekend. The fact there is even going to be a run-off vote is a major embarrassment to the left. Last time around, its candidate Walter Veltroni won outright, capturing nearly two-thirds of the votes. But this year, the centre-left candidate Francesco Rutelli, who ran Rome between 1993 and 2001, won just 46 per cent with Mr Alemanno on 40 per cent and forcing a second round. Rome has been a citadel of the centre-left for the past 15 years and, under Mr Rutelli and Mr Veltroni, the city has prospered, seeing a 10 per cent rise in tourists per year, work on new subway lines, a film festival and an auditorium complex that sells more tickets than any other in the world. But while Rome's left-leaning chatteratti have few complaints, outside the city's gilded centre the problems have been piling up. Feeble policing and laissez-faire policies on the city's outskirts have resulted in urban degradation and the mushrooming of shanty towns of illegal immigrants. Crime levels remain low but the mugging murder of a housewife by a gypsy last year sparked a backlash against immigrants, particularly aimed at Romanians and gypsies. As mayor at the time, Mr Veltroni tried to defuse the panic by demanding an emergency law to expel immigrants from within the EU without legal process. The law was passed by the national government, led by Romano Prodi but with so many caveats that it has not done the job intended.

Mr Alemanno has been riding a surge of support based on his promise to get tough with illegal immigrants – and in particular to expel 20,000 gypsies and other immigrants living in Rome who have broken the law. The widely reported rape last week of a student from Lesotho on the city's outskirts, for which a Romanian immigrant has been arrested, has only inflamed the campaigning. Should Mr Alemanno win, it would be a tremendous feather in the cap of his ally, the newly elected Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The billionaire businessman defeated Mr Veltroni in the general election earlier this month and seizing the Eternal City from the left would make that victory sweeter. Yesterday, as Italy marked its day of liberation from fascism and Nazism, both Mr Alemanno and Mr Rutelli invoked the heroic struggle of the nation against the Nazi enemy. Yet Mr Alemanno has received support in his campaign from Francesco Storace, a former neo-fascist colleague who has remained true to his hardline roots. Last week Riccardo Pacifici, the newly elected president of Rome's Jewish community, publicly appealed to Mr Alemanno not to align himself with Mr Storace's party, La Destra (The Right), "which has listed fascism among its values". Mr Storace responded belligerently to the Jewish leader's charges. "The Jewish community must ask our pardon for the shameful campaign they have conducted against us," he retorted. "I am not anti-Semitic and this is an offence which can only be washed away by an apology." Yesterday, Rome's Jews were taking it in their stride. "Rutelli's a thief and Alemanno's a cuckold," said one resident. "They're both as bad as each other."

Who is Gianni Alemanno?
It is the CV of a classic extremist: joined a neo-Fascist party as a youth; arrested for beating up a young leftist; arrested again for throwing a Molotov cocktail; eight months in jail on remand; acquitted on both charges; arrested for attacking police during a visit by President Bush Snr. Then abruptly in 1994 Gianni Alemanno and the rest of his party went straight, abjuring Mussolini, renouncing Fascism, and trying to rebrand the National Alliance as an ordinary European conservative party. Now Mr Alemanno is walking a tightrope: trying to persuade middle-of-the-road Romans he means no harm, while baring his xenophobic teeth to the neo-Fascist faithful. Complicating the picture is the fact he has been a practising Zen Buddhist for 15 years – and his meditation teacher is a card-carrying Communist. Which is why his calls for "inter-religious dialogue" may not be as empty as they sound.
© The Belfast Telegraph

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IMMIGRANT ISSUE KEY IN ITALY'S ELECTIONS

26/4/2008- A crackdown on crime and tighter immigration controls have emerged as key issues in runoff elections this weekend after two women were recently raped in Milan and Rome, with immigrants accused of the crimes. Candidates are squaring off in 5 Italian provinces and 43 municipalities, but the spotlight is on the mayoral race in Rome, where the conservative candidate, Gianni Alemanno, is in a neck-and-neck race against the center-left candidate, Francesco Rutelli, who served two terms as mayor here from 1993 to 2001. The rapes last week of an American woman in Milan and a Lesotho woman in Rome, in which immigrants are accused, stunned Italians and abruptly shifted the focus of the mayoral campaign in the capital to Italy's increasingly uncomfortable relationship with its growing immigrant population. The unease was underscored by the unexpected success of the anti-immigrant Northern League party in national elections 10 days ago. The Northern League doubled its support nationally, capturing 8.2 percent of the vote, and hit peaks of more than 25 percent in regions like the Veneto. The Northern League took advantage of concern about crime and unregulated immigration, said Marzio Barbagli, a sociology professor at the University of Bologna. "More than any other party," Barbagli said, the Northern League understood "public fears and acted on them."

Roberto Maroni, a top Northern League official, is widely expected to become minister of the interior, a post he held during Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's first short-lived administration in 1994. News reports in the past week quoted Maroni as saying that citizen safety would be a priority of the incoming government, including "a tougher line on illegal immigration," which he linked to violent crime. In Rome, both candidates for the runoff, being held Sunday and Monday, have pledged that they would put security at the top of their agendas. Interior Ministry statistics released last Monday indicated that crime in Italy has grown less than 5 percent in two years, and even more slowly in Rome. The most significant rise was in house break-ins and muggings. About 35 percent of all crimes were committed by foreigners, according to the Interior Ministry, with the list topped by immigrants from Romania, who have grown in number since it joined the European Union last year. According to statistics from the first eight months of last year, the most recent available, about 16 percent of all foreigners charged with crimes were Romanian, a figure that rose to 75 percent in Rome. "There is a problem of crime in Italy, certainly, but above all because foreigners live in precarious situations when they first come," said Franco Pittau, coordinator of the annual immigration statistics report commissioned by Caritas/Migrantes, the social service arm of the Roman Catholic Church. The situation might be different, he suggested, if Italy implemented programs to assist new arrivals. Maroni has said that the new Berlusconi government will consider taking steps against Romanians.

On Thursday evening, Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu of Romania telephoned Berlusconi to discuss the "recent spate of violence" involving Romanians in Italy, the Romanian government said Friday. The two leaders concurred that "the public perception of these facts must not harm Romanian citizens or bilateral relations" and agreed to meet as soon as Berlusconi takes office, the statement said. Marcella Lucidi, the outgoing Italian undersecretary of the interior, who was responsible for immigration, said that if the entrance of Romania into the EU has created difficulties, "we should reflect on this at a European level," including the countries of the former Eastern bloc. "Italy can't act alone," Lucidi said. Still, when Giovanna Reggiani, a 47-year-old woman, died in Rome last November after being raped and beaten by a Romanian immigrant who lived in a Roma campsite, the prime minister at the time, Romano Prodi, appeased a horrified nation by passing an emergency decree allowing the police to deport EU citizens judged to be a threat to public security. Illegal Roma campsites in the capital were also rousted. Concern about crime has led to the establishment of citizen's defense committees, at first mostly in towns controlled by the Northern League, but increasingly in cities governed by the left. Center-left mayors have also started talking tough, demanding greater powers to combat crime. "Citizens' fears should be taken seriously, but politics has the responsibility not to fuel fear," Lucidi said. "The real risk of a society that lives by fear is to divide people and that leads to ostracism and discrimination."
© International Herald Tribune

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GERMAN SENTENCED TO 10 MONTHS FOR HITLER GREETING, ONE-MAN RIGHT-WING CIRCUS ACT

One of Germany's most visible far-right extremists has been sentenced to 10 months in jail for greeting a Jewish interviewer with "Heil Hitler." A judge called Horst Mahler "utterly incorrigible" after he denied the Holocaust, again, in open court.

29/4/2008- A regional court in Erding, outside of Munich, found that Horst Mahler had broken the law when he greeted journalist Michel Friedman with the words, "Heil Hitler, Herr Friedman." Friedman, who had previously served as the vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, met Mahler in an airport hotel in October 2007 to speak with him for the German edition of Vanity Fair. A month later the magazine ran the conversation uncut, with a pre-emptive apology: "We're publishing this interview because we believe it to be an unparalleled exposé of German right-wing ideology -- even if (Mahler) says things that are illegal in Germany: (He) denies the Holocaust and uses a Hitler greeting." Mahler began the interview with, "Heil Hitler, Herr Friedman." Friedman later filed a police report. Mahler defended himself during the trial, denied the Holocaust again in open court on Monday and was ordered out of the room by the judge -- who called him "utterly incorrigible." Nazi symbols, praise of Hitler and denial of the Holocaust are "anti-constitutional" in Germany and therefore against the law. But breaking these laws is nothing new for Mahler. When he started a jail sentence for a similar crime in 2006, he gave a stiff-armed salute just outside the gate. He had just finished that sentence last August when he met Friedman in October.

A Trapeze-Swing to the Right
Both men have high profiles. Friedman is a 52-year-old TV personality who stepped down as vice president of the Central Council of Jews in 2003 after a scandal involding drugs and prostitutes. His parents were saved from Auschwitz by German businessman Oskar Schindler. Mahler is a 72-year-old lawyer with who has a long history of offending German sensibilities. During the 1970s he co-founded the far-left Red Army Faction, as a communist radical opposed to West Germany's so-called "Fascist state." He spent 14 years in jail for his involvement in various RAF-related crimes. Later he swung to the far right, and for a while, after 2000, served as a lawyer for the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). Charges against Mahler include sedition, using gestures of an anti-constitutional organization and criminal insult. Holocaust denial in Germany falls under the crime of sedition, or Volksverhetzung, because it's regarded as an incitement against Jews as an ethnic group. During the interview he said, among other things: "Hitler was the liberator of the German people. He is demonized as the liberator of Satan." His statements roused criticism nationwide, and a lawsuit was lodged against Vanity Fair last November by a Holocaust survivor for providing Mahler with a platform for his extremist views.
© Spiegel Online

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CONTROVERSIAL RIGHTIST TAPPED FOR EDUCATION MINISTRY IN GERMAN STATE

The governor of the eastern German state of Thuringia has come under fire for nominating a politician who was an editor at a publication that has been widely criticized over its right-wing leanings. Critics say he may be making overtures to the far right by nominating Peter Krause to become the state's minister of education and culture.

25/4/2008- The governor of Thuringia in eastern Germany is pretty much free to do whatever he wants. Dieter Althaus of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) runs his state with an absolute majority. He can also be certain of the support his the party: After all, he sits at its helm.

If someone goes against the Althaus system, they simply have to go, as seen in the recent case of former Interior Minister Karl Heinz Gasser. But when Althaus then tried to reshuffle five other ministers after throwing Gasser out, he ran up against a problem: His candidate to run the eastern German state's Education Ministry was seen as a mistake -- even before Althaus uttered his pick. His name is Peter Krause, and he's the head of the CDU in the city of Weimar. Krause is a quiet, cultured man with a doctorate in philosophy. But politically he's poorly regarded. In 1998 he worked as an editor for a right-wing weekly Junge Freiheit, or "Young Freedom" -- for two-and-a-half months according to his version of events, for half a year according to the paper's editors. After that he worked as a freelance writer for the newspaper, and for another called the Ostpreussenblatt, or "East Prussian Paper." Krause was born in 1964 and was already fighting the system in the days of East Germany. In 1998 he was fired from a Weimar paper called the Thuringer Tageblatt for political reasons. After studying history and German he came to Junge Freiheit. "I wanted to write for a kind of Die Zeit (a highly regarded center-left German weekly), but one coming from the right that would fundamentally open up the crusted-over discourse in Germany," he told a local newspaper in the state in 2004. He had just moved into the state parliament as a CDU member, and before that had worked for Vera Lengsfeld, a Christian Democratic politician in parliament with a history of opposing the former East German government.

Ambitious but Naive
Krause was apparently not only ambitious, he was also naive: "I wasn't familiar with Junge Freiheit as being on the extreme right," he continued in the 2004 interview. Technically, he is correct. After the paper successfully sued at Germany's highest court in Karlsruhe to have its name removed from reports compiled by the German government's domestic intelligence agency on right-wing radicalism in the country, the media can no longer use the labels "extreme right" or "right-wing radical" to describe the paper. Instead, it's now considered the main organ of the so-called "New Right" and it articulates a political stance somewhere between democratic conservatism and the far right. A number of politicians and public figures have been sharply criticized for giving interviews to the paper. So was it just a youthful indiscretion, as the CDU politician claims? That doesn't appear to be the case. On Thursday Krause discussed his background as an editor at Junge Freiheit in an interview with the local Thüringische Landeszeitung newspaper. "The accusation often comes from people who have no idea what they're talking about," he said. "Junge Freiheit has developed in such a way that it's become a recognized medium in the press landscape." Then he struck a tenor as high-minded as it was democratic: "I have a strong belief in freedom: the press, the right to gather, etc." Politicians with the state's opposition parties are suspicious of Krause. Bodo Ramelow, the top candidate for the Left Party in upcoming state elections, argues that Krause "has placed no clear boundaries between ultra-conservativism and neofascism." In the opinion of Jochen Staschewski, the leader of the Social Democratic party in Thuringia, Krause is still a man who falls into the "gray zone of the extreme right."

Carsten Schneider, a member of parliament from Thuringen's largest city, Erfurt, and a senior member of the state's center-left Social Democratic Party, argues: "If Mr. Krause is unable to clearly define his statements, then I think he is unsuited to be the minister responsible for the state's students and teachers." If he doesn't, Schneider suggests, then the person who chose him -- Governor Althaus himself -- should rescind the nomination. Krause clearly wants the first option as little as Althaus is capable of carrying out the second option. The senior ranks of the CDU in Thuringia are so depleted there are few alternatives to Krause. Indeed, opposition politicians are not unjustified when they refer to Krause's nomination as a "last resort."

Krause's Past Known
Or perhaps Althaus doesn't want anything else. "Of course Krause's history at Junge Freiheit is known within the party group," a CDU member of parliament told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "And he's never distanced himself from it." In an interview with the Thüringer Allgemeine newspaper, however, Althaus tried to throw some water on the fire. "Peter Krause publicly distanced himself from all of this in 2004," he said. When asked about Krause's recent comments justifying his work for Junge Freiheit, Althaus remarked: "I don't know anything about that statement." That has helped to foster the distrust of Thuringia's Jewish community. "That could be Althaus ingratiating himself to the right," said Wolfgang Nossen, head of the Thuringia Jewish Association. The far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) is gearing up for 2009 state elections in Thuringia. Nossen said it was "regrettable that Althaus had been unable to find a more suitable candidate." After all, the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs that Krause would lead is also responsible for relations between the state government and its religious communities. But sensitivity is hardly the autocratic politician's forté -- and Althaus is a politician with an autocratic style. This is seen not only in his recommendation for the minister of education and culture, but also in his choice of Marion Walsmann to be the state's justice minister. As a member of the East German CDU party in the Volkskammer (or "People's Chamber," the country's rubber-stamp parliament), she was a part of the communist regime from 1986 right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
© Spiegel Online

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ANTI-RACIST ANGER AT CANCELLED CONCERT(Sweden)

26/4/2008- An anti-racist group in Karlstad has reacted angrily to a decision by the council to cancel a planned concert. A Sweden Democrats (SD) meeting planned for the same weekend is given as the reason. The campaign, Värmland against racism, links a network of organisations and individuals working actively against racism and right-wing extremism in the county in western Sweden. The concert was scheduled to take place in the city on May 3rd. Karlstad council has now decided to cancel the concert due to the threat of violence in connection with the far-right Sweden Democrats national congress that is scheduled for the same weekend, reports local media. "The date was set a long time ago. The council has lent us the premises and given financial support for the event. On Wednesday we were suddenly informed that all undertakings had been withdrawn and that we have to cancel the concert," said Mikael Larsson of Värmland against racism. "Representatives for the council referred to a threat picture, but could not be more specific," Larsson added. The council's decision has not however been taken in consultation with the police. "We have nothing to do with this. It is a one-sided decision from the council," said Tomas Olsson of Karlstad police to local newspaper Värmlands Folkblad. Olsson is in charge of police operations in connection with the Sweden Democrats national congress that was booked in at the Hotel Gustaf Fröding in Karlstad only a month ago. Mikael Larsson doubts whether the Sweden Democrats would have been likely to case trouble at their concert and is critical that the council has allowed the Sweden Democrats to set the agenda for the weekend. A press release from Karlstad council on Friday confirms that the concert has been cancelled but refers only to insufficient licences and makes no mention of the threat picture.
© The Local

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ISLAMOPHOBIA ACCUSATIONS SPARK DEBATE ON CANADA PRESS FREEDOM

28/4/2008- A complaint by Canadian Muslims against a leading local news magazine has sparked a national debate on the limits of press freedoms in this country often cited as a beacon of multiculturalism. "Protest while you still can," shouted this week's edition of Maclean's, a publication similar to US magazines Time or Newsweek, saying in an editorial that human rights boards are undermining free speech in Canada. The controversy dates back to October 2006, when Maclean's ran an article excerpted from noted author and journalist Mark Steyn's book "America Alone," entitled "Why the Future Belongs to Islam." A self-described agitator, Steyn argued that demographics and Muslims' global ambitions ensured Islam's eventual world domination and that Europe was "too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia." For four Toronto law students, Maclean's had crossed the line by proposing that "Muslims are part of a global conspiracy to take over Western society and impose an oppressive form of Islamic law," Khurrum Awan, one of the students, told AFP. "We did some research and realized that Maclean's had published 19 articles with such a tone," he said, adding that his group asked for but was denied the opportunity to publish a response when they met with the magazine's editors. Maclean's, which is defending itself against accusations at a human rights tribunal that its articles incited hate, said the students' demands for a 5,000-word rebuttal and to direct the magazine cover art were unacceptable. "This is a complete fabrication," said Awan, insisting the editor-in-chief told them he would rather see the magazine go out of business than publish a response, or, according to the magazine, hand over editorial reigns. The students, backed by the Canadian Islamic Congress, lodged a complaint with the federal human rights commission and two of its provincial counterparts in Ontario and British Columbia. The federal and British Columbia tribunals are still mulling over the case.

The Ontario panel declined to hear it, yet offered a stern rebuke of Maclean's on April 9 which prompted indignation from the magazine. In a statement, the Ontario Human Rights Commission said the contents of press articles were beyond its purview, but added it "has serious concerns about the content of a number of articles concerning Muslims" published by Maclean's and other media outlets which were "identified as contributing to Islamophobia and promoting societal intolerance towards Muslims." Supported by several media outlets, Maclean's said it was "deeply troubling" that a public official would castigate the press without offering it an opportunity to defend itself at a hearing. The magazine also called for "an unambiguous reaffirmation of the right to freedom of expression, and assurance that reasonable limits on free speech are in fact reasonable." The complainants said they were "delighted" by the Ontario commission's outcry. "The tribunal said clearly that Maclean's articles were racist," explained Mohammed Boudjenane, head of the Canadian Arab Federation. "I believe this will start a debate on the freedom of the press versus limiting speech that incites hate." Alan Borovoy, a lawyer for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, however, said human rights commissions should limit their decisions to acts, and not "restrict the free expression of opinion." For Julius Grey, an advocate for minority rights, "all restrictions on freedom of expression are appalling" and he said the students in this case "chose the wrong target." "But they're right to complain about Islamophobia," he told AFP, noting that "since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, Muslims are not treated the same as everybody else."
© AFP

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SISTERS LOSE INHERITANCE TAX APPEAL(Europe)

29/4/2008- Two elderly sisters fighting for the same rights as married and gay couples have lost a last-ditch legal appeal for equal treatment. In a 15-2 vote, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that Joyce and Sybil Burden, who have lived together all their lives, do not face unfair discrimination under UK inheritance tax rules. Joyce, 90, and 82-year-old Sybil, have been fighting for decades to avoid crippling inheritance tax on their home in Marlborough, Wiltshire, when one of them dies. They claimed UK inheritance tax laws breached their human rights by exempting married and gay couples from paying inheritance tax, while targeting cohabiting siblings. But the Grand Chamber of the human rights court upheld an earlier human rights ruling that national governments were entitled to some discretion when deciding taxation arrangements. The decision, a major blow to the sisters, means that when one of them dies the other will have to sell their four-bedroom property to pay the 40 per cent inheritance tax on its value above £300,000.

If they had won their case, UK inheritance tax law would have had to change, to place cohabiting couples on an equal footing with married couples and "civil partnerships" in being exempt from inheritance tax. The sisters have been fighting the battle for decades - writing to the Chancellor of the day before every Budget since 1976, pleading for recognition under the tax rules as a cohabiting couple. And when the UK Civil Partnership Act of 2004 first recognised gay and lesbian couples for inheritance tax purposes, the sisters turned to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming the Act violated Human Rights Convention articles outlawing discrimination and guaranteeing the "protection of property". In 2006 the Burdens lost the case by a 4-3 majority of the panel of seven human rights judges - although three members of the court described their inheritance tax plight as "awful" and "particularly striking". But the appeal hearing, before a larger 17-member panel of human rights judges, produced a more decisive 15-2 majority against the sisters today. The ruling marks the end of the road for the sisters' legal bid. After losing the first human rights case in 2006, Joyce Burden commented: "If we were lesbians we would have all the rights in the world. But we are sisters, and it seems we have no rights at all."
© Independent Digital

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'RACISM TO BLAME' FOR ABORIGINAL HEALTH PROBLEMS(Australia)

22/4/2008- The Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTAR) group says racism is directly to blame for many health problems in the Aboriginal community. The group has launched a national campaign called "Racism makes me sick" to highlight the issue. ANTAR's national director Gary Highland says heart disease, mental illness, premature births and other illnesses in the Indigenous population can be directly attributed to the negative impact of racism on a person's health. He says the life-expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous will not improve unless some positive changes occur in attitudes.
© ABC Australia

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NO AGREEMENT ON U.N. RACISM FOLLOW-UP CONFERENCE

2/5/2008- Diplomats failed to agree on Friday on a follow-up meeting to an acrimonious 2001 conference on racism after two weeks of difficult negotiations between Western and Islamic countries. The meeting was unable to decide on the venue or duration of a conference to chart progress in the fight against racism since the landmark conference in Durban seven years ago. But it did agree on a process for accrediting Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to the conference, which is likely to take place in June 2009. "They have postponed making a decision on the venue and duration of the (Durban) Review Conference," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said. Diplomats would meet again in Geneva on May 26 to try to agree on a venue, he said. The 2001 conference was marked by wrangling about Middle Eastern and African demands for reparations for slavery and attempts by Islamic countries to brand Israel as racist. Geneva, Vienna and New York are under consideration as hosts, according to diplomats. Africa and specifically South Africa backed away from hosting the follow-up event, they added. Canada said earlier this year that it would not take part in the Durban follow-up forum because it was likely to descend into "regrettable anti-Semitism". The United States, Israel's main ally, is also under pressure from American Jewish groups to stay away, diplomats said. The European Union (EU) took part in the Geneva preparatory session and has signalled it will decide later this year whether to attend the follow-up conference, diplomats said. "We've been rather worried about the orientation of this process. There are a certain number of red lines for us," an EU diplomat said. "We think that staying involved in the best way to avoid slippage."

The 2001 conference was marred when Israel and the United States walked out in protest over draft conference texts branding Israel as a racist and apartheid state -- language that was later dropped. More than 10,000 people from 160 countries took part in the Durban meeting which agreed a blueprint for combating racism and xenophobia. The Geneva preparatory talks were marked by Iran objecting to an application by the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy for accreditation to the 2009 meeting, diplomats said. The Canadian group has officially withdrawn its application.
© Reuters

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CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS SEEK DURBAN REVIEW THAT REJECTS HATRED(Press release)

28/4/2008- 94 leading civil society organizations this morning declared that ‘the UN and its human rights fora must not serve as a vehicle for any form of racism, including anti-Semitism’. In a ‘Statement of Core Principles for WCAR Follow-Up’ delivered to the Preparatory Committee of the Durban Review Conference today, NGOs who advocate on a broad range of human rights issues, including anti- racism, non-discrimination, minority rights, religious freedom, women’s rights and other related issues in approximately a hundred Member States joined in a pledge ‘to reject hatred and incitement in all its forms, including antisemitism, to learn from the shortcomings of the 2001 WCAR, and to work together in a spirit of mutual respect.’ The statement, organized by the Magenta Foundation and the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, laments a ‘vacuum of moral leadership’ at the 2001 Durban conference and mobilizes an international civil society voice proactively to take responsibility to adhere to human rights language and standards, to conduct themselves with civility and to seek a constructive focus on whether governments have taken the steps they committed themselves to take six years ago in the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. Signatories hope to ensure that the Durban Review is not held hostage to those who would politicize it again, but is allowed to focus on holding states accountable for their failure to implement policies to address racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

According to Ronald Eissens, General Director of the Magenta Foundation:
’In 2001 the NGOs promoting an agenda of hatred were able to dominate the arena and overshadow vital racism issues in a manner that discredited the NGO process and fomented a hateful, intimidating atmosphere throughout the Durban conference. We come from many perspectives, many regions, but we are united today in our desire to focus the Durban Review Conference on the racial discrimination and related intolerance that continues to plague so many member states and to ensure that the failings 2001 will not be repeated.’

Felice D. Gaer, Director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights added: ‘These groups are demonstrating the kind of leadership we are seeing too little of on the part of Member States. They have come together around a common vision of the key flaws of the 2001 conference. They are leading by example in pledging to reject .this behaviour in the civil society arena early in the process while remaining committed to the original goals and intent of the Durban process. This is a powerful example we urge Member States to follow.’
© Magenta Foundation

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