NEWS - Archive September 2010

ROMA AND THE EU -3

Headlines 24 September, 2010

ROMA AND THE EU - 2

Headlines 17 September, 2010

ROMA AND THE EU

Headlines 10 September, 2010

EU CRACKDOWN ON ROMA

Headlines 3 September, 2010

FRENCH & OTHER EU COUNTRIES CRACKDOWN ON ROMA - 2

ROMA AND THE EU -3

SPAIN VOWS TO PROMOTE WELFARE FOR GYPSIES

1/10/2010- Spain will not follow the same practice of excluding and expelling gypsies as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government have done, said officials on Thursday. "We have worked hard with you all and we will continue to do so," said Spanish Health and Social Affairs Minister Trinidad Jimenez in Madrid Thursday at a campaign to promote education among gypsy children. "We want the gypsy population to integrate into jobs and into training. It is an ideal we all share and we are seeing the positive results," she said. Education Minister Angel Gabilondo, also present at the event, stressed the importance of education for gypsies. "Education means freedom. You are not truly free unless you are educated," he said. "It is a question of focusing on social policy on a local and regional level," said Belen Sanchez-Rubio, director of International Programs at the Funacion Secretariado Gitano, a non-profit organization supporting the development of the Roma community in Spain. "There is a political commitment here regardless of the party that is in power. We see a huge gap between the conditions of the Roma people and that of the rest of the population. And we see that something has to be done," she said. Spain has the second largest Roma community in Europe, with an estimated population of 970,000, or about 2 percent of the country's total population. The Spanish government spends almost 36 million euros (about 40 million US dollars) annually on efforts to bring them into the fold. In July, French President Sarkozy launched a tough campaign against the traveling Roma communities in the country and ordered to send illegal Roma migrants home after a violent unrest broke out in Saint-Aignan in central France where the traveling people caused material damage while protesting the death of a 22-year-old traveler shot during police chase.
© The Global Times

up  

ANTI -ROMA AD OURS, SWISS FAR RIGHT SAYS

1/10/2010- A far-right party that is part of Switzerland's ruling coalition said Friday it was behind an advertising campaign that likened Roma migrants and Italians to rats. An official with the Swiss People's Party (SVP) said it was behind posters showing three rats representing a Roma thief, an Italian worker and Italy's Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti nibbling at a piece of Swiss cheese. The SVP, the largest single political party in parliament, is part of Switzerland's ruling coalition government. About 60 posters went up in the southern canton of Tessin, which borders Italy, criticising the presence of 40,000 Italian workers and "foreign criminals", according to an accompanying website. The adverts first appeared on Monday, but for days nobody claimed responsibility, prompting speculation the campaign could be the work of a smaller political party or even a businessman seeking to promote Swiss cheese. "It's a campaign about the things the people in the canton are suffering from," Pierre Rusconi, the local leader of the party, told reporters. Rusconi said the party had remained silent during the controversy because "nobody would be interested in the adverts if the (party) had given its name".
© AFP

up  

THE ROOTS OF HATE (Hungary, blog)

By Michael J. Jordan, has written about Eastern Europe's post-communist transition since 1994. He was first based in Budapest, Hungary, and now lives in Bratislava, Slovakia.

1/10/2010- For ten years, Szabolc Szedlak toiled in a furniture store in Heves, Hungary, before deciding to chase the capitalist dream. He bought the store from his boss in 2005, but high taxes choked the life out of his business. It folded in June 2008. At the same time, his wife gave birth to their first child. With a second on the way, this spring he found a job as a maintenance man at a local kindergarten. Unable to afford their own place, the couple now lives with Szedlak’s parents. Szedlak has taken whatever work he can find, from painting houses to selling watermelons. Despite family and financial pressures, Szedlak still finds the time to volunteer. Politics has become his passion, and his bitter disenchantment led him to help form the Heves chapter of Jobbik, the most dynamic new far-right party in all of Europe. The anti-western, anti-minority Jobbik boasts a red-and-white-striped symbol— known as the ancient Hungarian “Arpad” coat of arms—that also resembles the emblem of the murderous Nazi-era Arrow Cross Party. This group, which briefly held power from 1944-45, was responsible for killing thousands of Hungarian Jews and Gypsies, and deported tens of thousands more. Jobbik maintains a militant arm, the Magyar Garda, or Hungarian Guard, which has marched through minority neighborhoods in black jackets and black boots sporting the Arpad insignia. In April, Jobbik capitalized on popular fury over the country’s faltering economy, winning 16.7 percent of the vote in national elections—the greatest performance so far for the ultra-right in any of the EU’s former communist states. “I was just trying to provide for my family and my baby,” Szedlak explains, tapping his cigarette ashes into an empty beer can. “But after she was born, I saw that sitting and yelling at my TV doesn’t do any good. I don’t want her to grow up in such a lousy world.”

Not Your Father’s Economy
To many Hungarians, and tens of millions of other Central and Eastern Europeans, this is no ordinary economic crisis. The whipsawing booms and busts of the free market are still novelties that enrage folks like Szedlak, who find themselves all but helpless in the face of a vicious economic downturn and joblessness. Nothing like it has occurred in these parts since the Great Depression, which led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi movement. It’s hardly surprising that Hungary now pulsates with its most powerful far-right sympathies since World War II. This dramatic shift to the right has seeped into a part of the world that, until two decades ago, saw the state wield total control over both society and economy. The roots of democracy have grown, but they haven’t burrowed so deep that they cannot be shaken. For 40 years, families like the Szedlaks were insulated from the economic cycles of the West. Though far from affluent, they were rarely wanting. Most families could even afford at least one modest holiday a year. Then the Wall came down. A corrupt brand of “Wild West” capitalism ran rampant through an authoritarian corner of the globe, one with little or no tradition of democracy or rule of law, and no experience with any economic infrastructure resembling a free market. As a result, the entire post-communist transition in Central and Eastern Europe has been one grand experiment, with Hungarians, Poles, Czechs,Slovaks, Romanians, Bulgarians and many others serving as guinea pigs.

Some have flourished, but many have not. Nearly everyone has been scarred in some way since their pre-democratic world was flipped upside-down. Last fall, a Pew survey of economic attitudes reflected upon the trauma and growing nostalgia among ex-communist states. Topping the list were the Hungarians. A whopping 72 percent said they are economically “worse off” today, never mind the dictatorship, censorship and police repression of the old order. “But Hungary’s malaise is not all about economics—most are frustrated with politics too,” Richard Wike, associate director of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, explained in his analysis of the results. This frustration has only accelerated the swing toward extremism. According to research by the Budapest-based think tank Political Capital, hard-right support in Hungary more than doubled, from 10 percent in 2003 to 21 percent in 2009. In Poland, however, support for right wing politics dropped by almost a third. Over that same period, anti-establishment anger in Hungary that “everything and everyone is bad” soared from 12 percent to 46 percent. Jobbik exploits the disillusion and thrives on it. The party’s 33-year-old president, Gabor Vona, leads its new faction in Parliament. His cabinet chief, Marton Gyöngyösi, told me what has made his party so popular: “More and more Hungarians realize the parties that emerged from the communist system were not representing the interests of Hungarians or Hungary, and made more compromises than they should have.” As the highest-ranking Jobbik member of the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Gyöngyösi pushes to reorient Hungarian foreign policy eastward, toward Russia and the Middle East. He’s called for the withdrawal of Hungarian troops from the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, though Hungary eagerly joined the NATO military alliance in 1999. “This establishment running Hungary is some kind of grand coalition, changing hands every four years, and they don’t like anyone else entering the system,” Gyöngyösi explains. “The majority of our supporters think even now it’s not too late to get off this path, to take our own fate into our hands, for what’s in the best interests of Hungary, not what’s best for the IMF, Brussels, Washington or the World Bank.”

A Beacon Extinguished
The 1990s seem so long ago, when Hungary—home of Liszt, Bartok and a disproportionate number of Nobel prize-winners for its population—was a beacon of newly democratic Eastern Europe, a darling of foreign investors, praised by the West for its economic, social and political reforms. After leading its neighbors into NATO in 1999, Hungary entered the European Union in 2004. As recently as the 2006 national elections, Jobbik and its politics of resentment could barely muster 2 percent of the vote. Four years later, everything has changed. Hungarian self confidence is rattled, especially when they see their neighbor nations leapfrogging them into the regional pecking order. For example, the Slovaks to the north, to whom Hungarians have long been condescending, have adopted the Euro and are prospering, buying homes in cheap Austrian and Hungarian villages and turning them into Slovak suburbs. An increasing number of Hungarians, stirred by hate speech, are fed up with what they see as a flood of broken promises, corruption and incompetence by their mainstream left and right. They see themselves betrayed by Brussels, the World Bank and the IMF. They even feel betrayed by capitalism and democracy. For these Hungarians, Jobbik alone stands untainted. The party rails against the establishment and has identified a host of scapegoats—anyone it deems harmful to Hungarian interests, ranging from multinational corporations and foreign investors (with an obsessive focus on Israeli businesses) to neighboring states that abuse their large ethnic-Hungarian minorities. (Slovakia, for example, passed a 2009 law preventing the Hungarian language from any government-underwritten actions, even between a doctor and patient.)

An equally maligned target is the despised minority group that has lived among Hungarians for centuries, the Roma, who stand accused of both bleeding the welfare system and of Cigánybunözés, or “Gypsy criminality.” Earlier this year, the Jobbik magazine Barricade published a drawing of a dark-skinned man on its cover, wearing a gold chain around his thick neck. Above him, a headline screamed Gypsy Criminality! Over! Another issue of the same magazine featured the statue of St. Gellert overlooking the scenic panorama of Budapest and the Danube. In this rendering, though, the saint held a Jewish menorah. The headline read, Wake Up, Budapest! Is This What You Want? Not surprisingly for a political party whose rally cry is Szebb jövot! (A Brighter Future!), it’s younger Hungarians who are heavily responsible for Jobbik’s recent success. In the April elections, exit polls showed nearly a quarter of all ballots were cast by voters aged 18 to 29. “It’s a replication of the 1930s,” says Hungarian economist Laszlo Csaba, of Central European University in Budapest. “When young people feel alien to this brave new world, that parliamentary democracy and market economy don’t care about them, why should they care about it? They revolt. They look for something outside the limits of the parliamentary system. Jobbik is a protest movement.”

Back to the Future
Even in the early days of post-communist transition, there was a degree of incongruity in Hungary’s melding with the West. While Hungary was rewarded for its integration—investment eased travel restrictions, and brought membership in western institutions—Hungarians were becoming increasingly disillusioned. Western promises of prosperity seemed a mere mirage. Society was being crudely divided into winners and losers. On one side were those profiting from old communist connections, cutting inside deals and soaring to unfathomable wealth. There were also young and talented graduates who spoke foreign languages, went to work for western multinationals, or proved enterprising enough to set out on their own. On the other side were legions of poorly paid state employees, doctors, teachers and civil servants, newly laid-off industrial workers, hand-to-mouth peasants and communist-era retirees stuck with humiliatingly low pensions. While the privileged few could enjoy new airconditioned mega-malls and take in the latest Hollywood blockbuster, most young Hungarians had grandparents suddenly forced to decide whether to buy medicine or to heat their apartment. Ordinary folks often spoke wistfully of communism—an era when they certainly had to keep their heads down and mouths shut, but always had just enough to get by, with a cradleto- grave welfare state that guaranteed their jobs and livelihood. And back then the neighbors were in the same boat with none of these capitalist nouveaux riche to rub their noses in newfound wealth and power.

Ubunga for Ubungans
The spunky Hungarian magazine Hetek (Weeks) is headquartered in a brightnew office park in a quiet, leafy suburbof Budapest. During this year’s electioncampaign, the newsweekly created quite abuzz with a cover featuring three snarlingknuckleheads—likenesses of Jobbik’s threemost powerful players: EU parliamentarianKrisztina Morvai, party president Vonaand vice president Zoltan Balczo. Abovethem floated a banner spoofing the Jobbikposter slogan, “Hungary for Hungarians,”which instead stated in gibberish: “Ubungafor Ubungans.” A blown-up version ofthe cover hangs on the office wall of Hetekreporter-photographer Laszlo Somorjai,suggesting where his sympathies lie. He’svisited the towns and villages of northeasternHungary and documented their plight.Their anger, he says, is not so black-andwhite. Somorjai traces the roots of today’svirulence well beyond the past two decades,even beyond the Great Depressionand Nazi movement. Indeed, he goes backas far as 1919 to the Versailles Conferencethat ended World War I, and the Treaty of Trianon signed a year later that formally broke up the Austro-Hungarian Empire.If there’s one topic that unites all Hungarians, it’s that Trianon was igazsagtalan (unjust). The accord singled out Hungary for perhaps the stiffest punishment of any nation on the losing side: two-thirds of Hungarian land, including five of its 10 largest cities, and one third of its people, were sawed off and handed to its neighbors, whose post-war leaders had spent the war in exile, carefully cultivating relationships with those who would ultimately draft the peace terms.

Even today, 90 years later, each of the seven nations that border Hungary is home to Hungarian minorities: the three largest being Romania, with 1.5 million ethnic Hungarians; Slovakia, with another halfmillion; and Serbia, with up to 400,000. The treaty’s retribution—the fragments of nations it created—laid the seeds of economic and social destruction. Barely a decade after Trianon, with the pain still fresh, Hitler offered Budapest a chance to recover the lands it had lost, repudiating the hated Trianon process and the rapacious reparations that accompanied it. His pitch came at a crucial moment. The Depression that began in the United States in 1929 spread rapidly across Central Europe, impoverishing much of the region. So Hungary made another fateful decision and joined the Nazi movement. Caught in the middle were Hungary’s Jews and Roma. Hungarian gendarmes, then later the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, would collaborate with the Nazis to cleanse some 600,000 Hungarian Jews, exterminating thousands of Roma as well. In 1945, in the final months of the war, the Soviets, invading from the East en route to Berlin, drove out the Germans and backed the takeover by Hungarian communists. For 40 years, the communists suppressed any talk of what had happened to the nation’s pursued and decimated minorities. Somorjai insists that this history is deeply relevant because so few Hungarians have confronted their past, leaving them largely ignorant of the dangers posed by extreme nationalism, or the potency of hate speech. At the same time, even today, most Hungarians say they know someone who has been the victim of a pick-pocketing, break-in, or mugging. In their telling, the perpetrator is always a Roma. And of course, Jobbik claims Jewish investors from Israel are destroying the nation’s economy, while Germany is the country’s largest investor. It can be tough to separate fact from hearsay, but many Hungarians still feel vulnerable, sensing that poorly paid, unmotivated police can’t protect them, while the government is either unable or unwilling. Enter Jobbik. “A small flame can cause a great firestorm,” says Somorjai. “I’d like to see things change in the Hungarian heart and mind, where everyone is treated the same. But people are so angry. Then some demagogue tells them he’ll solve all their problems.”

A New Breed of Demagogues
Demagoguery is nothing new here. In the early 1990s, Jozsef Antall, Hungary’s first post-communist, democratically elected prime minister, sparked fear among the nation’s neighbors when he proclaimed himself premier of “15 million Hungarians.” Since modern-day Hungary numbers just 10 million, Antall was clearly alluding to Hungarian minorities outside the borders. Later, Hungary prepared to enter NATO, which many Hungarians saw as joining the “winning side” of the Cold War, ensuring future security should the Russian appetite for expansion return. Yet the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party [miep], when not ranting about various Jewish conspiracies or waving flags of pre-Trianon “Greater Hungary,” clamored for Swissstyle neutrality—hardly a realistic goal, given the blood-soaked history of the region straddling the crossroads between

East and West.
But the miep was no fringe movement. By 1998 it was winning at least 5 percent of the vote and gaining seats in parliament. Among other moves to co-opt miep popularity, Viktor Orban, the new right-wing prime minister, floated the notion of dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians across borders. With inter-ethnic bloodletting in the former Yugoslavia still fresh in the mind of many Eastern Europeans, Hungary’s neighbors found Orban’s idea particularly provocative. During his four-year term, Orban also allowed members of his own party, Fidesz, to pander to miep’s farright voters with comments about “traitors,” “cosmopolitans” and “communist Jews.” With the lines of decency breached, hate speech proliferated in the media and on the floor of Parliament. When the Hungarian Socialist Party—heir to the old Communist Party—ousted Fidesz in 2002, the acrimony divided society more than ever. The with-us-or-against-us rhetoric intensified, in some cases turning families and friends against each other. And then Jobbik arrived on the scene. For the next eight years, having joined forces with miep in 2005-2006 as a “third way” in Hungarian politics, Jobbik bided its time, growing rapidly in strength. After elections this spring, Orban returned for a second stint as prime minister with an even stronger mandate than in 1998. One of his government’s very first moves—a blatant co-opting of one of Jobbik’s campaign pledges—was to offer ethnic Hungarians dual citizenship, wherever they might live. The measure promptly sparked a nasty tit-for-tat with Slovakia, as lawmakers there threatened to revoke the citizenship of anyone who claimed a Hungarian passport.

Throughout this period of left-right musical chairs, the economy—saddled by budget deficits, long-term debt, overspending and businesses hamstrung by red tape—sputtered to a halt. Even before the global credit crunch hit in 2008, unemployment was on the rise across Hungary. In 2005, one year after it entered the EU, unemployment was 6.1 percent. By 2008, it was 7.8 percent. Today, it stands at 11.8 percent despite a 2008 bail-out package from the IMF and EU of €20 billion. All these swirling influences—historical, economic, psychological—help explain today’s trauma and frustration throughout Hungary. Nevertheless, it took two incandescent moments to harden the attitudes of a broader swath of Hungarians. The first was marked by lies; the second, by murder. In 2002, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany—a communist youth boss who became one of Hungary’s first postcommunist oligarchs—returned to lead the Socialist Party [mszp]. Inheriting the machinery of the old Hungarian Socialist Worker’s Party, mszp had already steered the country from 1994 to 1998, enduring countless bumps and bruises. Gyurcsany was named prime minister in 2004, and the Socialists remained in power through the bitterly contested 2006 election, which turned on Hungary’s economic situation. During this campaign, Gyurcsany and his ministers painted an overly rosy picture of the economy. The stark reality emerged soon after the vote, when the mszp government was forced to launch a series of budget cuts and austerity measures demanded by the IMF and EU. “There was a choice for the Socialists to tell the truth, but they promised an easy, soft adjustment from the previous years, to make the country healthy and wealthy, and many people had bought that,” says Csaba, the Budapest economist. “Against that rhetoric, they started to put on the brakes, instead of giving it the gas, which then delivered stagnant growth. That created disenchantment on a social scale,” quickly leading to political bedlam.

Lies and Audio Tape
On September 17, 2006, the nation’s media aired an audio tape of Prime Minister Gyurcsany speaking to a room of supporters. He conceded that his Socialists won re-election by lying to voters “morning, evening, and night” about the nation’s economic health. The uproar was immediate and unprecedented. Thousands took to the streets of Budapest, and Orban branded the government “illegitimate.” Some extremists confronted riot police, who waded with little apparent restraint into the crowd, flailing with their truncheons. The images on television shocked many Hungarians. Szedlak says he jumped in a car and rushed to the city to participate, “because I felt I should be there.” Round-the-clock protests in front of Parliament went on for weeks, as Jobbik’s use of the red-and-white stripes emerged as an enduring banner under which the right would now march. For Jobbik, the public rage in 2006 was a godsend. Months earlier, the elections had suggested the party, which polled barely 2 percent, was little more than a blip on the nation’s political radar. Gyurcsany’s obscenity-laced mea culpa was a gift. Better still, Gyurcsany refused to quit, angering even moderate Hungarians who expected him to do the decent, democratic thing and fall on his sword. Gyurcsany, in fact, hung on until 2009, when he resigned after five years—post-communist Hungary’s longest-serving premier.

The Murder
On the evening of October 5, 2006, barely three weeks after release of the Gyurcsany tape, a young Hungarian biology teacher, driving through the northeast village of Olaszliszka, struck a Gypsy girl with his car. Though there was some dispute if she was actually hit, let alone injured, an enraged mob of local Roma beat him to death in front of his two daughters. His killing unleashed a geyser of anti-Roma vitriol. Jobbik rode this momentum into the summer of 2007, when in August, Vona unveiled the Magyar Garda at a public initiation ceremony. As president of both organizations, Vona told the crowd, “The Hungarian Guard has been set up in order to carry out the real change of regime and to rescue Hungarians.” The Guard, essentially a militia group not dissimilar from Hitler’s Freikorps before they embarked on the reign of terror that became their legacy, began marching through Roma neighborhoods, railing against the Cigánybunözés. Half a dozen Roma were murdered across the country, their killers roaming free, and the Guard has never been implicated in the deaths or indeed in any overt violence. Still, their marches through Roma neighborhoods were deeply intimidating, and the Roma threatened to create their own self-defense forces. Although the Guard was banned by a Budapest court in December 2008, it still makes public appearances. In June, when the worst flooding in years struck the northeast, guardsmen—conspicuous in their black caps and vests—were among those tossing sandbags, winning positive publicity. By mid-2009, many in the right leaning media were openly campaigning against Cigánybunözés—in effect laying collective blame for petty crimes committed by some Roma on the entire Roma community, an estimated 500,000 people, or 5 percent of the population. Jobbik leaders, seizing a wave they clearly needed to ride, criss-crossed the country, preaching directly to ordinary folks, accusing the establishment of tiptoeing around the Roma issue, pledging to crack down and restore order and discipline. And the strategy worked. In the June 2009 elections for Hungarian representatives to the European Parliament, Jobbik hauled in an astonishing 14.8 percent of the votes. Jobbik was now a serious player, not only at home, but across Europe. It quickly reached out to ultra-right parties in Italy, Britain, Belgium and Sweden. This past April, in the latest Hungarian parliamentary elections, Jobbik did even better. While Viktor Orban and his center-right Fidesz Party returned to power with 52.7 percent of the vote, Gabor Vona and his Jobbik party surged to 16.7 percent. In the previous parliament it had no seats; it now has 47. And in its bastion in the northeast, in towns like Heves, it has truly become a force to reckon with.

My, What Big Teeth….
Heves is just a 90-minute drive from Budapest, reachable by a highway that cuts across the puszta, the storied Hungarian plains. The road winds through tidy, pastel-colored villages where locals lounge roadside on wooden benches. Rickety bicycles are the main mode of transportation here. An old woman rides past with a hoe slung over her shoulder, while an old man follows with a fishing pole on his back. Heves, given its industrial and agriculture traditions, was once a stronghold for the communists, and more recently the socialists. Each pandered to Heves’s constituency: workers and farmers. Now they’ve swung to the right, and embraced Jobbik. The revolt in Heves is as dramatic and illuminating as anywhere in Hungary. In the April balloting, a remarkable 32 percent of voters threw their support to Jobbik’s candidate—well behind Fidesz’s 53 percent, but double the result of the third-place socialists. Heves is a sleepy but clean little town, spared much of the graffiti that mars big-city Budapest. Off to the right of its leafy downtown is the boxy, communist-era town hall. Adjacent is a pleasant park with historic monuments, and a gazebo for larger events. Across the street sits the turn-of-the-century Zeneiskola (music school) with classical columns. The local pub is dark and smoky. Several young, jobless men play cards with the older barmaid. It’s a weekday, midafternoon, and most of them sip the local beer, Borsodi. This wood-paneled kocsma is like thousands in Central Europe, though with uniquely Hungarian details. On one wall is a framed print of what they call the Honfoglalas—the Magyars settling the land 1,100 years ago. On another is a map of “Greater Hungary,” the 64 counties that comprised the Hungarian Kingdom until Trianon broke it all apart. Such images were rare in the 1990s, but thanks in part to Jobbik, they’re on bumper stickers, posters and t-shirts.

A young, bespectacled brunette with a scorpion tattoo on her left shoulder watches the card game. She’s a teacher, and has taught for 13 years in a local primary school that’s entirely Roma. Among Roma advocates, such schools are notorious in Hungary and elsewhere in Central Europe—young Romani children are typically shunted to special classes and described as mentally disabled. Many teachers burn out, says this woman, because of the “certain patterns of behavior that are sociologically coded into Romani children from an early age.” While she has “learned to cope,” frustrations multiply for those teachers who don’t manage to adjust. They earn barely $400 per month. “People are sick and tired of the same promises that life will get better,” she says, adding that Jobbik now “gives them some hope, some new promises that something can finally change.” The card-players are halflistening to her comments, but pipe up with their support for the fresh energy of Jobbik, its agenda of “national radicalism,” the youth-dominated leadership, and their promise of Szebb jövot! (a brighter future). They say they want jobs and to live a “normal” life. But somehow, the conversation keeps returning to their local Roma, clearly their greatest source of daily irritation. In provinces like this, poor Hungarians and Roma are chasing the same crumbs. Jobbik, at least, makes proud Hungarians feel they deserve better. Suddenly, a voice rises above the din. “Jobbik isn’t the solution,” says Gabor Pal. He’s wearing a tank-top, sporting a Che Guevara tattoo on his left shoulder. “They only give one-word answers, and slogans aren’t the answer. Jobbik has no concept for how to improve things. It’s easier to destroy the old than to build the new.” Pal speaks more like a sociologist than the unemployed truck driver he is. He says he often argues with these friends about Jobbik. Despite his own struggle for employment, he musters empathy for Roma. “Anyone with a sense of morals does not vote for Jobbik,” Pal says quietly, seated away from the card game. “Common sense tells you that pulling a machine gun on anyone is not a solution. It’s always easier to kick someone who’s weaker—and the Gypsies are weak—than it is to help someone. The Gypsies are the scapegoats for Jobbik. People are tired and frustrated from their work, their life, their own problems. They don’t want complex answers and hard truths. They want simple solutions, and that’s how Jobbik communicates, so people don’t have to dig deeply into these issues.”

A few blocks away, an ice cream parlor with a red awning provides some shade on a blazing hot day. There, an older man in dirty blue overalls licks a chocolate cone. My interpreter introduces me. The man is immediately suspicious. “Is he with the left-liberal media? Because I won’t speak with him.” I ask why he feels that way. The man, who tells me his name is Gabriel, opens up despite himself. “With every issue, from a little mouse, the leftist media makes an elephant,” he says. “Ninety percent of the Hungarian media is owned by them. If a white beats a Gypsy, all TV stations would cover it. If the opposite happens, the leftists cover it up.” I ask him what he does for a living. “Paraszt vagyok,” he says, smiling. “I’m a peasant.” For good measure, he adds in both German and English: “Bauer. Farmer.” He grows grains and cereals, just outside town. It takes very little coaxing to have him explain how Jobbik won him over. “It’s the only party that takes up the problem of Cigánybunözés,” he says. “They said they’d add 3,000 police to set up more security offices nationwide.” I ask what he thinks of my plan to visit the Roma neighborhood nearby. “I don’t recommend it,” he says. “You wouldn’t come out in one piece.”

Listening to the Roma
One of the very last streets off Heves’ main road is the Roma quarter, distinguished by the sudden change from pavement to a dirt track. It’s the only unpaved road around. If Hungarians are frustrated with their lot, they should speak with their Roma neighbors. The residents of the Roma quarter are eager to share their side of the story. With fields and farm animals behind them, a whiff of manure hangs over the neighborhood, home to some 2,000 people. Half the houses boast a relatively fresh coat of yellow, orange or blue paint, while others seem to be slowly crumbling. Crowding the middle of the rocky, rutted road, Roma men recall the old days of communism, when buses pulled onto the street collecting workers for factories, mines, or manual-labor, or for women to pick fruits and vegetables during harvest. Those opportunities evaporated when state-run industries collapsed in the early days of capitalism. Whatever menial jobs remain are generally handed out to Hungarians, not Roma, who are mostly low-skilled workers, and must scrape by on the bottom rungs of society’s ladder. Indeed, the Roma form the group most nostalgic for the communist era. Party imposed full employment meant all had jobs and a minimum standard of living. In the post-communist years, Roma were all too often the first ones fired, the last hired. In some of their communities, joblessness runs as high as 80 or 90 percent. Some resort to petty crimes, or worse. But these problems clearly cross all cultural and ethnic lines. Though discrimination does exist for the Roma, for the broader Hungarian population, too, there are simply none of the traditional jobs left. “When we go for a job, many look at us and say, ‘No work,’” says Laszlo Molnar, 36, a Roma who earns money by cutting grass in town. “We all feel this on our skin. Youngsters here want to work. Ask my 16-year-old son. He wants to build homes. His friend wants to be a carpenter.” Talk of Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard elicits heated reactions like, “They want to finish the job of Hitler” and “burn and kill people.” “I don’t know what they mean by ‘Gypsy criminality,’” says Jeno Hegedus, 60. “Perhaps stealing vegetables for something to cook and eat. But that’s because we don’t have any jobs or money.” Ferenc Konkoy adds, “We’re not afraid of the Guard, because the government and police are on our side. If the Guard came in here, they wouldn’t get out. Should we let them do what they want with us? We don’t have weapons, but we have lots of shovels.”

Heves and Beyond
After finishing his maintenance job at the kindergarten, Szedlak agrees to meet in the party’s new, still under construction office space. Bits of plaster and cigarette butts are strewn across the unfinished floor of what will be the main meeting room. In one corner sits a huge mound of clothes, food and cleaning detergent collected by Jobbik, which they will deliver to flood victims. Jobbik has 53 chapters in this county alone, and while Szedlak says the Heves chapter has just 18 active members, this room looks big enough to hold an audience of hundreds. The past four years of socialist rule, coupled with Gyurcsany’s lies, finally forced many Hungarians “to pay attention to what’s really going on,” Szedlak says. A kitschy plastic clock, cut in the shape of pre-Trianon Greater Hungary, hangs above the door of his office. Szedlak suggests that negotiations with his nation’s neighbors should result in peacefully redrawing the border and recovering these lands—an unrealistic, unimaginable scenario for the neighbors. When the 2006 demonstrations failed to oust the government, he says, “We realized we needed a more democratic tool—a party—to change things from within the parliament.” Even Szedlak is surprised to see how quickly Jobbik gained popularity. How much higher it climbs (or if it proves a flash in the pan) depends on three variables: an economic rebound; Orban’s ability to deliver on Fidesz’s promises; and Jobbik’s own performance in Parliament. The new government has already rattled world markets. In June, one Hungarian official warned that the nation’s leaders were working to avoid “the Greek road” to financial ruin. These remarks triggered a Hungarian currency crisis, and the official was swiftly rebuked for exaggerating. In July, Hungary broke off talks with the IMF, which may have bolstered Orban’s tough-guy stance among his voters and those further to the right, but sent another unsettling signal to the markets. In August, though, his government predicted the economy would expand by 0.6 percent of the next year, triple what the socialists had projected.

Meanwhile, analysts expect Orban to take a series of steps to undermine his muscular new rival on the right and lure Jobbik supporters into his camp. Since the elections, Jobbik leader Vona has already accused Orban of scheming to “eliminate” the party. Orban, in turn, is now pushing to classify the Magyar Garda as “deserters” who represent a direct challenge to the country’s formal defense forces. (He’s also taking legislative strides to cripple opposition parties that has centrists and liberals further worried about the erosion of Hungarian democracy.) While an economy on the mend would neutralize Jobbik’s appeal, analysts say the party must eventually show that its stands for something—not merely against everything. Jobbik’s supporters have come to the party battered, abused and angry. It’s as if a parent beats a child, but the child would never dare, or is unable, to strike back. Desperate for empowerment, the child turns to kick the dog. Support for Jobbik-style radicalism is more than vote-the-bums-out virulence. As the Hungarian economist Laszlo Csaba says, it’s “about breaking the necks of those governing.” Szedlak remains optimistic, as he and his colleagues build for the future. “All the people on the streets and in the pubs are talking about the same problems—and only Jobbik is talking about them, too,” he says, lighting another cigarette. “Hungarians don’t see other politicians carrying through with their words and deeds. Only Jobbik does what it says it’ll do.”

But how far can populism take a party?
The Budapest think tank Political Capital estimates the Hungarian thirst for radical-right extremism tops out at around 20 percent of society—just a few percentage points above Jobbik’s April election results. This is not dissimilar to radical-right politicians’ drawing power in other major European nations. Even France’s volatile right-wing leader Jean- Marie Le Pen managed to draw just 17.8 percent of the vote when he made it, astonishingly, into the final round of French presidential elections against Jacques Chirac in 2002, with Chirac pulling down 82.2 percent. Le Pen’s vote in the final round was little different from what he managed against 15 opponents in the first round. Fearing the consequences of a farright victory, however, socialists, communists and centrists of all stripes held their noses and bolted for the moderate-right Chirac in the final round. Hungary’s case may prove to be somewhat different, for many reasons that cut to the heart of what it means to be Hungarian—a small, landlocked, newly democratic nation at the crossroads of Europe. As political capital analyst Alex Kuli puts it, “How is Jobbik going to keep its anti-establishment zeal when it’s now in fact part of the establishment itself? When Fidesz begins those difficult, unpopular decisions that any government has to make, then that’s Jobbik’s chancen to go into action. The party still has room to grow.” If Jobbik’s popularity hits that ceiling and the economy improves, Hungarian democracy may indeed dodge a bullet. Only temporarily, though. An underlying trait of the Hungarians will remain unchanged: the tendency to blame everyone but themselves for whatever ails. Spasms of hatred will remain a cyclical phenomenon, rearing its ugly head during tougher times—and exploiting a Trianon wound that will never heal. Hungary certainly has legions of those who defend democracy and human rights. But illiberal forces seem increasingly to outnumber them. When the finger-pointing and scape-goating begins anew, too few are speaking out. As the Hungarian journalist Laszlo Somorjai says, “Everything is possible if I don’t act against evil.”
© The World Policy Institute - Blogs

up  

HUNGARY'S SUPREME COURT OKs ANTI-GYPSY AD

30/9/2010- Hungary's Supreme Court upheld Thursday a decision by the National Election Committee forcing state radio and television to run a far-right party's election advertisement that refers to "Gypsy criminals." The court said the broadcasters must give equal treatment to all political parties during an election campaign and that the broadcasters are not responsible for the ad's content. As in other European countries, Gypsies, or Roma, form a minority and face widespread discrimination. The media asked the court to block the ad by the far-right Jobbik party, saying it was offensive and did not comply with broadcast rules. In it, a young woman who is afraid to go out into the street asks: "Are Gypsy criminals allowed to do whatever they want?" as a hooded figure lurks. Jobbik's 30-second ad also points the finger at corrupt politicians, banks and multinational companies, saying they are "parasites" sucking on the country's blood. Nationwide municipal elections are being held Sunday and Jobbik said it would sue the state media for compensation for rejecting the ad, which they were supposed to have started running from a week ago.

Jobbik got 16.7 percent of the votes in April's parliamentary elections and are the second-largest opposition group in the legislature, close behind the Socialists, formerly the ruling party. The party has attracted voters primarily in Hungary's poorer countryside regions, especially in the northeast, where unemployment is sometimes more than double the national average of 11 percent and where tension between Roma and the majority population is most severe. During the current campaign, Jobbik proposed that Gypsies in the eastern city of Miskolc accused of being criminals be resettled in a guarded area with a 10 p.m. curfew and that Gypsy children be sent to boarding schools to ensure their education. Last year, police arrested several men suspected of carrying out a series of attacks on Gypsies in small villages in which six people, including a 5-year-old boy and his father, were killed. The case is expected to go to trial soon.
© The Associated Press

up  

STANDING UP FOR THE ROMA (Poland)

Andrzej Mirga, senior advisor on Roma and Sinti issues at the OSCE/ODIHR*, explains to WBJ.pl how the situation of the Roma in Poland has improved since the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) drafted a less than pretty picture of the situation in 2002

28/9/2010- Poland hosts but a small fraction of Europe’s 10-million strong Roma population, but this didn’t prevent a prominent human rights organization from criticizing the country’s (lack of an) integration strategy in the past. According to a European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) 2002 report, the proportionally small number of Roma in Poland was used by Polish authorities to downplay the problems they faced. These included overwhelming poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing conditions, segregation in education, exclusion from public places, as well as inadequate access to medical care and social welfare payments. “Romas in Poland are the target of racially motivated violence, police abuse, and systematic racial discrimination,” stated the report’s introduction.

Getting better
Today the situation has improved significantly for the estimated 15,000 – 50,000 Romas living in Poland, according to Andrzej Mirga. “If you compare with other countries, Poland is quite ahead,” he commented. “There is a real commitment and it is not only on paper,” he added, referring to the 10-year-long and zł.100 million- program put in place by the Polish government in 2004. The country also benefits from European Union funds (around €16 million between 2007 and 2013) to address Roma issues. One of the priorities of the Polish integration strategy is education, an enduring problem for all of Europe’s Roma population. Lack of education in turns leads to high unemployment and poverty, a cycle difficult but not impossible to break, according to Mr Mirga. The Polish government has taken serious action to close down “Romani classes” within the Polish education system, in which Roma children are segregated from other children and receive a sub-standard instruction. According to Mr Mirga, only two or three out of a previous 30 special classes remain in Poland.

One worrying trend however, is the over representation of Roma children in classes for children with learning difficulties. According to statistics provided by the voivodship’s school directorate, in Małopolska nearly 20 percent of Roma children are recognized as having learning difficulties. “The normal ratio in any society is around two to three percent,” explained Mr Mirga. “We asked the Ministry of Education to look into this.” Over representation of Roma children in special educational facilities is still common in Central and Eastern Europe, said Mr Mirga. “We have to counter this. It is very harmful to Roma, as it prevents them from receiving a normal education,” he added. And despite promising initiatives such as a scholarship program which helps around 50 Roma youths to access Polish universities annually, still, “too few Roma are educated,” in Mr Mirga’s opinion. Niches for jobs which have traditionally employed Roma (such as horse trading, goods selling and metal work), are becoming increasingly rare, and the Roma will not have to move in a new economic direction. Education will play an important part in enabling this shift, he explained.

Enduring prejudice
Reacting to enduring stereotypes which characterize Romas as nomads, Gypsies, beggars, thieves and so on, Mr Mirga stated that, “I am a Roma, I am educated and I have no problem with my identity. And I could say the same for my children.” Assessing Poles’ attitude towards Roma, Mr Mirga reported a slow by steady change. “Opinion polls are showing progress, and I think this trend will continue, but in general there is a shared negative attitude towards Roma in Poland,” he said. Nevertheless, he emphasized that very few racist incidents are reported, and he felt confident that Poland’s 70 Roma organizations would react if occurrences of racism were more frequent. “Now these organizations are I think more concerned about how the money from programs is spent, if it is used as best as possible to help the maximum number of people,” said Mr Mirga.

Legal protection and political representation of the Polish Roma minority at the government level constitutes another major improvement in the situation of Roma in Poland. Indeed, since the adoption of a new national minorities law in 2005, Roma in Poland are a recognized minority and protected accordingly. They also have two seats in the governmental commission on minorities (one of which has been occupied by Mr Mirga), as well as a Roma subcommittee which represents 20 Roma organizations across Poland. And while the Polish Roma community is too small, dispersed and diverse to establish a political party or set a unique strategy, “Roma in Poland [nonetheless] have a tool to discuss and challenge the government, and also to make early warnings if there are some problems,” said Mr Mirga. And so, Polish Roma organizations have recently raised their voices to join in the wave of criticism against the recent deportations of Roma by French authorities, sending letters to the Polish and French governments, as well as to the EU, pointing out that stigmatizing the whole Roma community is not the right solution to remedy poverty and exclusion.

* the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe)'s ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) is based in Warsaw, and is active in the fields of electoral observation, democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, as well as in helping to uphold the rule of law.
© The Warsaw Business Journal

up  

FRANCE FINGERPRINTS ROMA DEPORTEES TO PREVENT RETURN

1/10/2010- The French Immigration Ministry is to fingerprint Roma (Gypsies) who get financial aid after being deported. From Friday, biometric records will be created on Roma who receive up to 300 euros (£259; $409) after they leave France. Most of them are repatriated to Bulgaria and Romania. Authorities say some expelled Roma make return trips to France to benefit several times from the humanitarian aid they get for going home. In 2009 more than 15,200 return aid payments were made to immigrants, mostly Roma, who were expelled from France. The French government classes the majority as "volunteers", who are given a cash payment of 300 euros per adult or 150 euros for each child. The expulsion fund cost the French government 9m euros last year. There is suspicion in France that some of the Roma flown home to eastern Europe have used the cash handouts to come back under false identities. The French government hopes taking a biometric record of everyone who is expelled will cut back on fraud. The decision to fingerprint the Roma has led to concerns by human rights groups, who already accuse the French government of targeting a minority group. And France was warned by the European authorities this week that it will face disciplinary proceedings and possible court action if EU freedom of movement is not enshrined in French law by next month. Commission officials said the onus is on Paris to prove that it is not targeting Roma as an ethnic group. France believes it has law on its side. President Sarkozy said his country has every right to expel foreign Roma who are living in France without a job or any means to support themselves.
© BBC News

up  

GYPSY CIRCUS IS NEXT ON FRANCE'S EXPULSION LIST

After deporting many illegal Roma immigrants, Nicolas Sarkozy's government may force Europe's only Gypsy circus to close down

26/9/2010- With its mesmerising songs and startling acrobatics, the Cirque Romanès is one of the most unusual cultural highlights of Paris: the only Gypsy circus in Europe and the only show in the French capital whose artists retreat to their caravans after the curtain falls. For 18 years it has been attracting audiences to its exotic blend of poetry and performance. In June it was deemed good enough to represent France at the World Expo in Shanghai. But after a summer which has seen France crack down on its foreign Roma population and draw the ire of Brussels for the policy, the future of the circus and its loyal band of artists hangs in the balance. The authorities have refused to validate work permits for the five Romanian musicians whose instruments are crucial to the performances. The French employment inspectorate insists that the cancellation of the permits has no connection with the wider political climate, which has seen around 1,000 Roma return to their home countries in nearly two months and around 200 unauthorised Roma camps cleared by police. They say there are problems with the circus's functioning, accuse its owner of underpaying the musicians and question the use of child performers.

Such claims are dismissed as "pure invention" by Alexandre Romanès, the circus's charismatic founder. "They're making up all these reasons. It's complete fantasy," he said, as he sipped coffee outside his caravan on the outskirts of Paris. Responding to the authorities' chief criticism – that of low pay – he added: "They get four times the minimum wage, and they are fed and housed. When I contacted a lawyer and told her what they [the authorities] were trying to claim, she just burst out laughing." Romanès, a published poet and friend of the late writer Jean Genet, is unequivocal about what he believes to be the real reasons for the sudden move, taken for the first time in the circus's two decades of existence. For him, it is just another sign of France's growing hostility towards his people. "As this woman from Luxembourg [EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding] said, we thought Europe was protected from this kind of thing, but clearly it isn't. What I have noticed is that, instead of waging war on poverty, the French government is waging war on the poor," he said.

In order to try to revoke the authorities' "unjust" decision, 59-year-old Romanès and his wife, Délia, have started an online petition. Urging the authorities to let the circus "employ those Romanian and Bulgarian artists with whom they want to work", the appeal has more than 7,000 signatories. A "night of support" on 4 October will aim to rally the troops. One of the most vocal Romanès fans is Reinhard von Nagel, a world-famous harpsichord maker and esteemed Maître d'Art appointed by the French culture ministry. There was no doubt, he said, of the political nature of the refusal of permits. "In France, as in other countries, there are laws for and against things, but they are not always applied. If you want to attack someone, you find a law and you apply it. That is what the authorities are doing in the case of Alexandre and Délia," he said, criticising the "zealousness" of the authorities implementing the "hunting down of the Roma". "It is a policy which I have no hesitation in declaring to be fascist. It bothers me deeply," said Von Nagel, a German who has lived in Paris for decades. At a meeting last weekend with Frédéric Mitterrand, the culture minister, he brought the Cirque Romanès to the minister's attention. "I told him that if the Cirque Romanès is shut, I don't know if I can stay in France," he said.

President Sarkozy's policy of paid "voluntary returns" for all those foreign Roma found to be living on French soil without permission has been denounced as unfair and unworkable by human rights activists, foreign politicians and even members of the president's own right-wing UMP party, one of whom – like Reding – enraged the government by comparing the evacuations across France with Vichy-era roundups of French Jews and Gypsies. For the Romanès family, who dislike the term Roma and prefer to be proud Gypsies, the situation is telling. Even though they are both French citizens – Alexandre since birth – they feel they are being stigmatised by a crackdown which is supposedly only a question of legality. This was not helped by the leak this month of an interior ministry memo that singled out Roma camps as the target for this summer's expulsions. "Even we, Gypsy artists who are legal citizens, are being attacked," said Délia, 40, a Romanian-born singer who fled her native Transylvania during the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. "I found it extraordinary that they sent us to represent France at Shanghai and that, when we came back, they weren't letting our musicians work. It's mad, really bad. They want to get rid of us. They just don't want to have to see us. But we are human beings too, you know?"
© The Guardian

up  

FRANCE PLEASED BY HAVING AVOIDED CENSURE ON DISCRIMINATION

29/9/2010- The French government expressed satisfaction Wednesday at having escaped a European Union penal procedure for discrimination in its deportations of Roma. The commission decided Wednesday to take on France on only one of the two issues that had been judged as problematic, related to the procedural rights EU citizens enjoy when expelled by an EU state that is not their own. 'France is pleased not to have been accused of discrimination by the European Commission regarding its policy of Roma expulsions and is ready to provide more information to Brussels,' a spokesman for the foreign ministry said in a statement. He also said that France would 'analyse the Commission's new demands before deciding on possible follow-ups.' The statement went on to say that 'the essential question is that of a better integration of the Roma in the (EU) member states of which they are citizens.' It is time that Europe take action, as France has done for several years, particularly in its bilateral cooperation programs with Romania.'
© DPA

up  

EU COMMISSION BACKS DOWN IN ROMA ROW WITH FRANCE

29/9/2010- The EU commission on Wednesday (29 September) decided to go for the less controversial legal action against France for not having properly transposed EU law into national legislation, but refrained from suing Paris for discriminating against an ethnic group and simply asked for "more information". Deliberations on how to proceed against France lasted two and a half hours longer than expected, after a joint presentation by justice commissioner Viviane Reding and her colleagues in charge of home affairs and employment. The decision, presented in French by the commission's main spokeswoman, was "taken unanimously", with the delay allegedly due to the "busy agenda" of the meeting, as a package on economic governance was also adopted on Wednesday. But divergent views over the outcome of the meeting were already apparent minutes after it had finished, with Ms Reding telling France-24 tv network that the commission "decided to launch an infringement proceeding" against France for improper transposition of EU law on freedom of movement.

Meanwhile, a few floors below, journalists were told that the infringement procedure will start "as part of an October package" against several other countries and only if Paris does not come up with a calendar for transposition by 15 October. As to the more embarrassing and delicate legal case on discrimination after a leaked circular of the ministry of interior proved that French authorities were instructed to target Roma camps "with priority", the commission decided that there was not enough legal ground to sue Paris. In a fiery speech that angered Paris by comparing its policies to those of the Nazi regime, Ms Reding earlier this month announced that the commission will "have no choice" but to launch an infringement procedure against France for discrimination. The French government has since withdrawn the circular, which was in force for over one month, during which Romanian and Bulgarian citizens were evacuated from the camps and given 300 euros to fly home.

Speaking at a later briefing, EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso emphasised the "assurances" given by French authorities that no discrimination had taken place. "We have decided to send a letter to the French authorities today and there will a complete legal briefing. But I don't want to comment further on these very sensitive legal issues," he said. "We take decisions based on EU law, on what the justice directorate and the legal services have instructed us," he added. Mr Barroso also pointed to the "taskforce" on Roma issues within the commission. Led by Ms Reding along with home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and the top official for social affairs and employment, Laszlo Andor, the task force is going to look at what member states are doing with EU money destined for Roma projects.

EU officials are suggesting that Paris is still not off the hook on the non-discrimination front, as Ms Reding is keen on seeing how these "political reassurances" are transposed in practice. So far, "she has no legal case," one source told this website, "but the war is not over yet." Reacting promptly to what is a victory for Paris, France stressed that it is "not currently engaged" in any activities in breach of EU law on the freedom of movement, "especially when it comes to the deportation of EU citizens taken after the evacuation of illegal camps in August." In a statement, a spokesperson for the foreign minister promised that Paris will send all the necessary information required by Brussels.
© The EUobserver

up  

EU SHOULD END RETURN OF ROMA TO KOSOVO, SAYS AMNESTY

EU countries should end the forcible return of Roma and other minorities to Kosovo, Amnesty International has said.

28/9/2010- In a report published Tuesday, Amnesty gives details of how Roma (Gypsies) are returned to Kosovo, "often in the early hours of the morning with nothing but the clothes they are wearing". Once returned, they face the possibility of continuing discrimination and violence, it says. In the 1990s, many Roma left Kosovo as war engulfed the ex-Yugoslavia. Following Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008, the Kosovo authorities have come under increasing pressure from EU member states to accept returnees. Few receive any assistance when they return to Kosovo, which means that many face problems in obtaining access to education, healthcare, housing and social benefits, Amnesty says in a report entitled No Welcome Anywhere: Stop the Forcible Return of Roma to Kosovo. Very few Roma are able to find work, with unemployment levels reaching 97%, it says. Sian Jones, Amnesty International's expert on Kosovo, said EU countries risked violating international law by sending back people to places where they were at risk of persecution or violence. "The EU should instead continue to provide international protection for Roma and other minorities in Kosovo until they can return there safely," she said. "The Kosovo authorities must also ensure that Roma and other minorities can return voluntarily and reintegrate fully in society."

'Climate of violence'
Amnesty cites the case of 20-year-old Luli, who was forcibly returned from Germany in April 2010. He said he was woken up by the police at night and given 10 minutes to get dressed and gather his belongings. He does not speak Serbian or Albanian, and has only a basic grasp of Romanes. He is not able to communicate with his older brother, who was forcibly returned to Kosovo several years previously. Luli was two when he left Kosovo. He was given six months' assistance with the rent of a flat and 350 euros (£298) to buy what he needed. No-one offered him assistance to learn Serbian or Albanian, Amnesty says. "Despite recent measures introduced by the Kosovo government aiming to improve conditions for reception and reintegration of returnees, the authorities do not have the funding, capacity, resources or political will to ensure a sustainable return for them," Ms Jones said. "Until the Kosovo authorities are capable of ensuring the fundamental human rights of Roma and other minority communities, they will return to face a climate of violence and discrimination. "Until then, the international community is obliged to provide them with protection." The EU justice commissioner's office and the German interior ministry have been contacted for their reaction to the Amnesty report, but had not replied at the time of publication. The report comes as the treatment of Roma across Europe has come under the spotlight following the expulsion by France of at least 1,200 foreign Roma since July.
© BBC News

up  

EU STATES MUST UNITE VIEWS ON ROMA INTEGRATION, CONFERENCE CONCLUDES

30/9/2010- EU countries must unite their attitude to Romany integration, agreed representatives of 12 member countries of the international Romany initiative called "the Decade of Roma inclusion 2005-2015" at a conference in Prague yesterday. The Czech Republic, which has presided the initiative since July, pledged to improve education of Romany children. Czech Romany activist Karel Holomek said the plans for improving Romanies' status are good, but politicians are reluctant to implement them. "We consider emphasis on better education services to be of key importance," Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) said at the opening of the conference. He said that Romany children and youth must have access to better education and the labour market must offer job opportunities to all.

An invitation to the conference was also sent to Francois Zimeray, human rights ambassador of France, although the country is not in the 12-member association. He was invited because France deported about 8000 Romanies, mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, citing the need to ensure security and order in France. The deportation of the Romanies who stayed in France illegally and the removal of their camps aroused criticism by the European Union, the United Nations and the Vatican in the past weeks. Brussels announced on Wednesday that it will start taking legal steps against France over its failure to respect the European rules of free movement. It is not clear yet whether the process will start at all because the European Commission gave France until mid-October to bring its national legislation in harmony with the EU's demands or to promise to do so.

Zimeray called for a European solution to the Romany issue, in which France desires to take part in. He said France would not be a scapegoat because of its policy on Romanies. Zimeray said he did not expect such an outcry against France. He said he had visited Romany camps, both legal and illegal, and could see all the of France's efforts in ensuring decent living conditions for the Romanies, he said. Zimeray said it is sometimes difficult to allow the truth to surface when it is not in harmony with expectations. He said, however, he believes that the facts will prevail.

France staged a ministerial meeting on the deportation of Bulgarian and Romanian Romanies earlier this month. The Czech Republic and other countries, like Belgium, Bulgaria and Romania, were not invited. The Romanian Labour Ministry's state secretary , Valentine Mocanu, however, said the situation of Romanies has markedly improved over the past 20 years and that Romania is doing its utmost to ensure their inclusion. "A slight, very slight progress has been made here," Holomek described the situation of Czech Romanies. He told CTK that the fundamental problem is the lack of political will to deal substantially with the Romany issue, saying politicians would allegedly lose popularity with the many voters if they did so.

The Decade focuses mainly on an improvement of the Romanies' education, housing, health and employment. The Czech Republic set the inclusion of Romany pupils in regular schools, emphasis on the status and equal rights of Romany children and women and an improvement of the media image of Romanies as its priorities. Four more international conferences and one national seminar will be held during the Czech presidency. The initiative includes the Czech Republic, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Spain.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

ROMA FACE THE SAME PREJUDICES ACROSS EASTERN EUROPE

26/9/2010- The recent French expulsions of illegal Roma immigrants has drawn attention to an ethnic minority which has spread across many borders and faces the same problems and prejudices almost everywhere in Central and Eastern Europe. There are several million Roma, or Gypsies, in Eastern and Central Europe, but their exact number is elusive, as many remain unregistered or declare themselves differently to minimize prejudice. Unemployment and illiteracy rates among them are several times higher than that of the majority populations across the region, as few finish even elementary schooling. Many live in illegal shanty settlements without basic infrastructure or hygiene and limited or no access to health and social care.

Romanian President Tarian Basescu said last week that 1 million Roma had been 'integrated' into the nation's society, describing the rest, including those who illegally settled in France, as 'nomads.' It is estimated that there are up to 2 million Roma in Romania, almost four times as many as the official figure of 540,000. In Bulgaria, they are the third-largest ethnic group, behind Bulgarians and Turks. The 370,000 registered in the 2001 census made up 4.7 per cent of the population. It was Roma from Bulgaria and Romania, the latest additions to the European Union, who were repatriated this year by France amid much controversy. Those expelled said they had hoped to escape the utter poverty of their lives in their home countries. Tens of thousands of them live in favela-like settlements, in homes patched together out of mud, cardboard, tin and plastic.

In Slovakia, half of the 400,000-strong Roma population lives in quasi segregation, partly in slums akin to those in the Third World. In several communities, the majority population has moved to physically separate themselves from the Roma, even going so far as to build walls, such as in the eastern town of Presov. A similar situation exists in Hungary - most of the 600,000 Roma live in ghettos in the north and north-east and remain unintegrated, with just 1.2 per cent graduating from high school. Work is scarce and that available is mostly poorly paid. Life expectancy among Hungarian Roma is 15 years shorter than the national average. The Roma are also vulnerable to violent hate crimes. In Hungary, at least six were killed in a series of attacks, including shootings and petrol-bombing of the victims' homes, in 2008 and 2009. Four men were eventually held over the killings.

Roma have also faced discrimination and outright hostility in Slovenia, the most developed among the batch of countries which joined the EU in 2004. In October 2006, the Strojans, a Roma family, were driven from the village of Ambrus by angry residents. Their home, a house and several shacks, were torched and they spent several days hiding in the forest until the authorities relocated them to an empty army barracks. In Serbia, there are 110,000 registered Roma, but it is estimated that they are nearly eight times as numerous. In Belgrade there are at least three large squatter villages, contemptuously referred to as 'cardboard cities,' with hundreds of makeshift homes and tons of rubbish surrounding them. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Roma live there.

According to studies, 60 per cent of Roma children never complete the mandatory eight years of elementary school and a third of men and half of women are illiterate. Roma who have jobs often work for the communal services, as street cleaners or rubbish collectors. As elsewhere, they, and even their children, are vulnerable to hate attacks by extremists. In 1997, a Roma child, from a working family with a home in central Belgrade, was beaten to death by a gang of skinheads. A well- known Serbian actor, Dragan Maksimovic, was also fatally beaten in 2001 when a group of extremists mistook him for a Gypsy. Hate attacks on Roma have been reported in almost every country where they live, from Poland to Italy, the Ukraine to Ireland.
© DPA

up  

Headlines 24 September, 2010

FRANCE’S NATIONAL FRONT STEADILY GAINING STRENGTH, POLLS SHOW

24/9/2010- Tall, blonde and plain-spoken, 42-year-old Marine Le Pen has two ambitions: to succeed her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when he steps down as head of the extreme right National Front party in January, and to become the first French president who represents the far right. But even if her succession is still months away, and her ascension to the presidency unlikely, Ms. Le Pen and the National Front are already wielding disproportionate influence on French politics. Observers say that although the party is still far behind in the polls, the National Front’s touch is being felt in everything from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s attack on Roma and other immigrants this summer to a decision earlier this month by a small-town mayor to refuse a group of refugee children the right to go to school. The far right has always had some influence in France, but a possible surge in popularity for the National Front is causing extra concern, since it comes at the same time as other extreme right parties improve their standing in Europe. This week, voters in Sweden – the European bastion of social democracy – elected members of an anti-immigrant party to their parliament for the first time. Far-right anti-immigrant parties have also made huge gains in the Netherlands, Norway, Italy and Hungary in recent months.

In France, the latest polls show that the National Front has been steadily gaining popularity and its leader would place third in a crowded roster of candidates to become the next president. Brice Tenturier, who heads the IPSOS polling company, says part of the resurgence is due to a general sense of insecurity in France after the global economic crisis and the euro crisis this spring. But he says Ms. Le Pen is also largely responsible. Her father made it to the second round in the 2002 presidential elections, but then quickly lost support for his blatantly xenophobic message. Ms. Le Pen, a twice-divorced Catholic, still advocates the party’s core values of French nationalism, Euro-skepticism and hard-core law and order. But she has softened the party’s image and drawn people back by insisting she’s not against foreigners, just illegal immigration, and focusing more on social issues. “Marine Le Pen has managed to build up a lot of credibility as a more moderate politician than her father and established herself as a regular commentator,” says Thomas Klau, of the European Centre for Foreign Relations. “It’s very clear that that is causing a lot of concern for Nicolas Sarkozy.”

With his approval ratings at a career low, his government embroiled in a series of conflict-of-interest scandals, and both the National Front and Socialist parties gaining strength, Mr. Sarkozy decided this summer to appeal to far-right sympathizers by rebuilding his image as a law and order politician. The country heard Mr. Sarkozy’s Sports Minister calling the largely immigrant French national soccer team “mafiosos” who had never escaped the mentality of the suburbs, the Interior Minister calling for elected criminal-court judges who would impose harsher sentences, and Mr. Sarkozy ordering the expulsion of Roma who were in the country illegally and proposing a new law that would strip foreigners of their citizenship for committing serious crimes. Some human-rights activists believe Mr. Sarkozy’s new far-right stand has even trickled down to a more grassroots level. As an example, they cite the tiny Parisian suburb of Saint Gratien where the mayor refused to let a group of refugee children attend nursery school and banned their older siblings from school canteens and after-class programs. The mayor, a member of Mr. Sarkozy’s UMP party, said she could not see why local residents should “pay for these children” and cited a more “general problem surrounding asylum seekers.”

Manuel Alvarez, local president of the Federation of Public Schools Parents Association, said the mayor’s actions were illegal and amount to “manifest discrimination” inspired by Mr. Sarkozy’s move to the right. “All summer our President promoted anti-immigrant policies,” he said. “What’s sure is that when you hear Mr. Sarkozy talk that way, it’s going to encourage others in the same sense.” Mr. Tenturier, the pollster, says Mr. Sarkozy’s new position is a gamble, since he risks losing even more support from his traditional base on the centre right. But with the ascent of far-right movements across Europe and in the United States, he has decided it’s worth the risk. “The success of the far right in Sweden, of the Tea Party movement in the United States, all show there is apparently a deep popular discontent and a readiness to vote for parties who draw their success on the protest vote,” Mr. Klau said. “Sarkozy and his advisers surely have that in mind.”
© The Globe and Mail

up  

NO COMMENT OR POLICE TERROR AT SCHOOL? (Slovakia, blog)

By Jarmila Vaňová

24/9/2010- We received a letter at the editorial office today. For reasons which will be clear after reading it, I won’t mention the location or any names.

“On 20 September 2010 during the fifth teaching hour in a fourth grade class, one teacher threatened some pupils, telling them that if they didn’t obey her, then she’d call the police. And she did. One of the two policemen who came to the class was a good acquaintance. One of the policemen began to bang a stick on the desks and shouted: ‘Damn your Gypsy god, who’s playing the big shot?’ Both policemen then beat the Roma children around the head and banged their heads on the desks. So the police beat up 7 children. The children wet themselves in fear and ran back to the settlement. They cried and said they wouldn’t go to school anymore. They told their parents everything that had happened at school. The Roma mothers ran to the school to see the headmaster. She told them that she didn’t have any information about police being at the school, but then added that the police can come to school at any time if the children don’t obey. Later in the headmaster’s office the headmaster, in the presence of the police, accused one of the mothers of grabbing the teacher who had called the police by the throat and told her that she may have a big problem as a result because teachers are protected. But just 15 minutes before the headmaster had said that she knew nothing about it. The mothers emphatically reject this accusation from the headmaster. In the end the accused mother has a witness who says that she didn’t attack the teacher, but had only raised her voice to her. Who wouldn’t shout if someone had beaten her children? Later that day one of the mothers went to the local police with her husband and her son, to whom the incident had happened. They were received there by the same policemen who had been at the school. They denied everything, saying that they had not hit the children. They shouted at the mother, saying that it’s the parents’ fault because they don’t care properly for their children. The police even refused to make a report of the incident, and the parents and their son went home. The next day 5 of the 7 children didn’t come to school out of fear.” So much for the letter.

No comment.

The editorial office has contacted a human rights organization and will also itself look into this case.
© The Roma Press Agency

up  

ABBA SUES AFTER DANISH FAR-RIGHT PARTY USES MAMMA MIA

23/9/2010- As one of the best-selling pop groups in music history, the members of Abba are accustomed to hearing their songs played almost everywhere. However, the founders of the Swedish group took exception when their hit Mamma Mia was used as a rally song for the leader of a Danish far-Right party. Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus were so incensed that they launched a legal action and said the party could "bugger off". To add insult to injury, the youth wing of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party also changed the lyrics, without permission, to Mamma Pia when giving Pia Kjaersgaard, their female leader an adoring send-off at a party congress last weekend. The young Dansk Folkeparti (DF) activists sang to the Mamma Mia tune, a British number-one hit in 1976, new lyrics celebrating their leader's success in making their hard-line anti-immigrant politics mainstream. "Mamma Pia, you're on TV, DF will be promoted. Mamma Pia, you check it out, DF vision you have handled. All the hard arguments, as a miracle-maker," activists sang as the rally closed on Sunday. Andersson said: "Firstly, you cannot just rewrite songs as you like and secondly we want them to understand that we have absolutely no interest in supporting their party. "Abba never allows its music to be used in a political context. This is something that we have pointed out to the Danish People's Party."

Mrs Kjaersgaard's party is the third largest in the Folketinget Danish parliament and helps to support a minority conservative-liberal coalition government. The 63 year-old's views on immigration have been compared to those of Geert Wilders, the Dutch anti-Islamic politician and Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French National Front leader. In 2003, she lost a libel case in the Danish Supreme Court after suing a commentator who had characterized her politics as racist. Mrs Kjaersgaard intervened in recent Swedish elections to lend support to the far-Right Sweden Democrats, who went on to win seats in parliament for the first time. Abba's founders discovered the unauthorised use of their song when a Left-wing Danish activist wrote to them asking if they supported the far-Right party. They have instructed their record company, Universal, to pursue legal action against the party. Last year, Andersson donated more than pounds 90,000 to Sweden's radical Feminist Initiative party. Earlier this year, Dame Vera Lynn launched legal action after the British National Party used her The White Cliffs of Dover on an anti-immigration album without permission.
© The Telegraph

up  

MENTALLY ILL RUSSIAN CAGEFIGHTER ARRESTED IN NORWAY AFTER HOSPITAL BREAK-OUT (Russia/Norway)

22/9/2010- A former Russian mixed martial arts fighter was detained in Norway a month after he escaped from a mental ward in St. Petersburg, Norwegian media said. Vyacheslav Datsik, 33, was arrested when he applied for political asylum at the Police Immigration Unit in Oslo. The "bulky, muscular and redheaded Russian" also handed a loaded revolver to the officer, Aftenposten wrote. Datsik was also involved in political activities as a member of the neo-Nazi party, Slavic Union, which was banned in Russia this march but reportedly opened its office in Norway. The party posted an online video saying Datsik arrived to the country onboard an arms-trafficking vessel. The video also shows Datsik posing in front of an "Oslo SS" banner, with an axe and a gun in his hands. "I am not a nationalist. I'm a racist," Datsik was quoted as saying in the online edition of the Verdens Gang (VG) newspaper. He was detained for illegal possession of weapons and on suspicion of having possible links to organized crime, along with two other suspected neo-Nazis, reportedly from an ex-Soviet Baltic state. The case was handed over to Norway's organized crime department. "We have made a seizure of weapons which makes this case a high priority. The three are currently charged with violating the Firearms Act," VG quoted Oslo organized crime department officer Einar Aas as saying. Datsik, who was repeatedly disqualified for being too violent with his opponents in the ring, retired from mixed martial arts after losing six straight fights between December 2001 and February 2003. From 1996 to 2001, he faced numerous criminal charges for assault and battery, murder threats, arbitrary behavior and theft, but all the charges were dropped. Datsik was arrested in 2007 after a series of robberies in mobile phone stores. However, psychiatric examinations concluded that he was mentally ill and was exempted from being held responsible for the criminal charges. He was initially locked in a high security psychiatric clinic, but was transferred to a low security ward in mid-July. According to the hospital's chief doctor, he "tore a hole in a chain-link fence with his bare hands and fled" in September.
© RIA Novosti

up  

RUSSIAN JEWISH LEADER URGES TEXTBOOK PULLED

A Russian Jewish leader urged the head of Moscow State University to take steps to drop a history textbook considered by many to be anti-Semitic.

22/9/2010- Alexander Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, sent a letter Monday to Viktor Sadovnichy urging the Moscow State leader to act upon a history textbook written by university professors Alexander Vdovin and Alexander Barsenkov. Many experts have perceived the textbook, which deals with Russian history between 1917 and 2004, as extremist and anti-Semitic. It provides the percentage of Jews in former Soviet governments and similarly treats many historic events. “For example, [the authors] say that the deportation of the Crimea Tatars was caused by the necessity of clearing the territory for the Jewish republic, which is nonsense from a historical point of view,” sociologist Anatoly Golubovsky, a history graduate from Moscow State, told JTA. “The stance of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia is the same as of the public and of the expert community who called the textbook an example of extremist literature,” Boroda said in his letter, describing some of the authors’ descriptions as “sounding Nazi.” Boroda also asked Sadovnichy to hold an internal investigation into the textbook and to put an end to any anti-Semitic activities at the university. “We wouldn’t like to go as far as to a court trial,” Boroda said, “but the degree of heat of public discussion makes us think about this.”
© JTA News

up  

RUSSIANS MUST DEAL WITH CONTROVERSIAL ISSUE (opinion)

By Michael Lewis, BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

22/9/2010- While the question was being asked, Alexey Sorokin showed how uncomfortable he was with the subject. The president of the Russian Football Union, who went through a myraid of faces ranging from serious to humorous during previous queries, fidgeted with his shirt collar as his face took on a very serious expression. The question was about racism -- racism in Russian soccer. A recent incident grabbed international headlines when Lokomotiv Moscow fans showed a banner that featured a banana with the words, "Thanks West Brom." That banner was directed at West Bromwich Albion striker and former Lokomotiv forward Peter Odemwingie, who is black. Odemwingie, 29, was born to a Russian mother Uzbekistan and Nigerian father. Even if it was only one incident, the topic has been a sensitive issue in this country since Russia is bidding for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. Bad publicity or news about any controversial subject could undermine a nation's World Cup hopes by losing votes when the FIFA Executive Committee makes it decision on the hosts in Zurich, Switzerland on Dec. 2. While Africans and players of color from other countries perform in the Russian Premier League and First Division, there are not many black people living in the country.

"I do believe racism is an issue," Sorokin said, "not just in Russia. It does exist. "You have a million people and you have a million opinions and some have radical opinions. You cannot change that." Sorokin likened the problem to a disease. "It exists like Ebola," he told international journalists on Tuesday. "It's lethal, but you can't stop it. Is it a problem, like obesity and heart attacks, But it still exists." Sorokin said the incident "was manufactured by local people," but did not exactly say how the union would combat it. Neither did Vitaly Mutko, the Russian minister of sport, tourism and youth policy who essentially danced around the issue at a separate press briefing later in the day. He talked about the time Zenit, a leading Russian soccer team based in St. Petersburg, played Bologna. The Italian fans used flares. The next time Zenit played a game, its fans had flares of their own. "We are learning. We are traveling the same path you have traveled," he said while answering a questions from an Italian journalist. Mutko noted that the Russian leagues had players from many nationalities participating, citing that 53 percent of the players were foreigners. "If racism was a big deal in Russian football, we would not see those players playing," he said.
© Big Apple Soccer

up  

RUSSIA: PROTEST OVER GAY RIGHTS

21/9/2010- At least eight gay-rights activists were taken into police custody on Tuesday at a protest calling for the arrest of Moscow’s conservative mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov, left, a longtime opponent of gay rights. The rally was timed to observe the 74th birthday of Mr. Luzhkov, who is locked in an increasingly public struggle with the Kremlin over his job after 18 years as mayor of Russia’s economic powerhouse, a struggle that is testing President Dmitri A. Medvedev ahead of national elections in 2011 and 2012. The mayor has described homosexuality as satanic. There is little public support for gay rights in Russia, where the dominant church frowns on homosexuality.
© Reuters

up  

REVIEW CONFERENCE AHEAD OF OSCE SUMMIT TO BEGIN IN WARSAW WITH FOCUS ON HUMAN RIGHTS

22/9/2010- The first segment of a three-part Review Conference ahead of the OSCE Summit in Astana on 1-2 December will begin next week in Warsaw with a focus on human rights and democracy. The Warsaw part of the conference, which takes place from 30 September to 8 October, will look at the progress the 56 participating States have made in implementing their OSCE commitments regarding human rights and democracy, including in areas such as freedom of peaceful assembly and other fundamental freedoms, democratic elections, the rule of law, and tolerance and non-discrimination. It will also serve to identify ways to address cases of non-compliance. The conference results will contribute to discussions at the Summit later this year. Special sessions are scheduled to discuss freedom of the media, intolerance against migrants and trafficking in children. With several hundred participants from governments, civil society and international organizations, the Warsaw part of the Review Conference will be the largest regional human rights event to take place in Europe this year. Civil society groups have full access to working sessions and can discuss challenges with government representatives on an equal footing. On the margins of the meeting, close to 50 side events organized by governments, non-governmental organizations and OSCE institutions and field operations will highlight specific topics of concern and country situations.

Kazakhstan's Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Envoy of the OSCE Chairperson-in Office, Konstantin Zhigalov, will open the Review Conference. OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, and the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Petros Efthymiou, will also speak at the opening. The human rights segment will be introduced with reports by senior OSCE representatives, including Janez Lenarcic, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Knut Vollebaek, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, and Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media. Following the Warsaw segment, the review conference will continue in Vienna from 18 to 26 October and in Astana from 26 to 28 November. Journalists are invited to attend the opening session, which will begin at 10:00 on Thursday, 30 September, in Hotel Sofitel Victoria, ul. Krolewska, Warsaw, as well as all other parts of the meeting. Media accreditation will be done at the conference venue - journalists are requested to bring valid press IDs. The agenda, daily updates, interviews with participants and short summaries of events in English and Russian as well as other information will be available on the conference website
© The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

up  

AUSTRIA’S FAR RIGHT RIDING ANTI-ISLAMIC WAVE IN ELECTIONS

21/9/2010- Far-right parties are boosting their influence across Europe amid anti-Islamic agendas and calls for tougher immigration laws. Such rhetoric has helped elect the Sweden Democrats to parliament for the first time. Now the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party is fueling nationalism in its campaign, hoping for resurgence this weekend. The "Bye Bye Mosque" game was released by the Freedom Party as part of its bid for election into regional government in Styria – Austria's second largest province – and the game’s message has hit a raw nerve. The aim is simple: take aim and shoot down as many new mosques as you can, as they rise relentlessly above Austria's Alpine skyline. If you are not quick enough, the country is Islamized. “We are defending our rights, our traditions and our culture. We do not want to be dissolved into Islam, nor do we want there to be parallel Islamic societies in our country,” states Dr. Gerhard Kurzmann, a Freedom Party Candidate. Within 24 hours, the game received more than 200,000 web hits. Within a week it was banned. The computer game may have been just a small part of a political campaign, but the reaction has been nothing short of a firestorm of outrage.

There are around 500,000 Muslims in Austria. Together with the Green Party, their community leaders sued the Freedom Party. “Islam is a reality. If we want to build mosques, we will build them anyway. I have a vision in the future where every town and city in Austria has a mosque with a minaret that people can see from the outside,” Annas Shakfeh, President of Islamic Religious Community of Austria, shared his wish. The judicial authorities upheld the complaint and ruled that the game went beyond acceptable discussion, forcing the Freedom Party to remove it from their website. “The numbers who played the game show that Islam is a very important issue,” Dr. Kurzmann revealed. “Thanks to us it was talked about in the first place. But the judicial system is meddling in politics, and stopping a free discussion.” Many say the ban has had the reverse effect. There is not even a single minaret in Styria, and less than 2 per cent of the population is Muslim. The Freedom Party failed to get a single seat at the last election.

Now it is expected to triple its vote, putting a dent in the ruling coalition of two centrist parties. This would be for “a little bit of a change in the whole system,” according to one voter, and because “they can position themselves as the resistance of the true Austrian people, which is being suppressed by the status quo,” in the view of another. If the Freedom Party performs well, it will follow in the footsteps of recent successes by far-right parties in Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands. It appears that no longer can the centrist parties ignore the voices of those alarmed by Islam and immigration, or they risk being penalized at the ballot box. Professor Anton Pelinka from the Department of Political Science at the Central European University in Budapest said that, apart from the growing general xenophobia, the surge in migration from poor Islamic countries to richer countries of Northern and North-West Europe has caused the traditionally leftist political movements to drift towards nationalist sentiments. However, Pelinka said the current nationalist trend in European politics should not be over-dramatized since the fringe nationalist movements were getting little, if any, support during elections. “I think that the democracies are strong enough to live through such a period of challenges by fringe parties from the far right,” – Anton Pelinka said.
© TV Novosti

up  

HOME OFFICE TO DEFEND CHALLENGE TO MIGRANT CAP (uk)

24/9/2010- The Home Office has vowed to rigorously defend a High Court challenge by a campaign group against its decision to impose a cap on migrants. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) says the policy imposed in June is "disproportionate". But Immigration Minister, Damian Green, says he is committed to getting net migration back to 1990s levels. The current interim cap on skilled migrants from outside the EU will be followed by a permanent yearly cap. Mr Green says: "We will rigorously defend this challenge and are confident of success.

'Immense damage'
"The government has been clear; we will introduce our permanent annual limit on economic migrants from outside the EU from April 2011." But JCWI chief executive, Habib Rahman, says the cap is already causing "immense damage" to British business and is "harsh and disproportionate". "JCWI considers that the caps are a further attempt by the government to blame part of the financial difficulties the country finds itself in on migrants," he says. In June, Mr Green said it was important to strike the right balance so that the people Britain need were brought in but not at the rate seen over the past decade which had "given rise to so much tension". Some businesses fear the cap could stop them from filling vacancies at times of high demand, and other critics say it could have a detrimental effect on higher education, which is reliant on income from foreign students. The latest official immigration figures show that more than 500,000 people came to the UK in 2008. Almost half of those were returning British nationals or EU citizens. The legal challenge by the JCWI - a charity which defends the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants - is expected to be heard in October.
© BBC News

up  

22 MEN SOUGHT AFTER FAR-RIGHT PROTEST CLASHES (uk)

24/9/2010- Detectives investigating disorder which broke out during an English Defence League protest in Dudley have released CCTV images of men they want to identify. West Midlands Police said officers were continuing to investigate criminal damage and other offences committed during disturbances in the town centre on July 17. The CCTV stills, taken on the day of the EDL protest and a counter-demonstration, show 22 individuals whom detectives wish to trace. Homes in the Alexandra Street area of Dudley were attacked during the violence, which also saw damage caused to parked cars, restaurants and a Hindu temple. Detective Inspector Carl Southwick, who is leading the investigation, said: "We are appealing to members of the public to look closely at these images. "We are committed to identifying those responsible for the pockets of disorder and criminal damage that took place in Dudley town centre."
© The Press Association

up  

THE EPIDEMIC OF HATE CRIMES AGAINST THE VERY VULNERABLE REVEALS A CALLOUSNESS AT THE HEART OF SOCIETY (uk)

An impassioned plea from the father of a disabled girl after yet another attacker is given a lenient jail sentence.
By Ian Birrell

22/9/2010- David Askew was a kind and trusting man who just wanted to enjoy his life. He smiled a lot, put other people first and, according to his elderly mother, was a true gentleman who never saw bad in anyone. But for more than a decade, this sweet-natured character had to endure a daily gauntlet of hate as he went about his life in Hattersley, Greater Manchester. It was like bear-baiting, said one neighbour, as local teenagers screamed abuse, broke windows and harassed Mr Askew for his money and cigarettes. Eventually, one long day in March, it went too far and he collapsed and died, tormented to a lonely death. This week, one of those teenagers who drove him to his death was convicted on minor charges of harassment and sentenced to just 16 weeks in a young offenders' institution. The 19-year-old lived just doors away, and had even gone on television to brag about how he was Mr Askew's 'protector'. But it is too easy just to shiver with disgust at this unpleasant youth, then turn the page. For Mr Askew had learning difficulties. So he was different. He was weak. And now he is dead, the latest statistic in an epidemic of hate crime against the most vulnerable members of our society that should make us all pause for thought.

Every day, people with disabilities are attacked in their homes, spat on in the street and taunted in their towns. And every year, this torrent of abuse, bullying and torture ends with more and more names on the list of those who die in terrible circumstances simply because they are disabled. Last year, a horrified nation was engulfed in outrage after the death of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter after years of abuse from neighbours. Politicians, police chiefs and council officials all said 'never again', mouthing platitudes of concern once it emerged that she had complained to the authorities on 33 separate occasions. But little gets done to stop the tide of hatred and hostility. Was the outrage synthetic or are we just a callous country when it comes to those less fortunate than ourselves, a brutal society with no sense of shame?

This week, a new report offered evidence of 68 violent deaths of disabled people - nearly one-third of them in the first seven months of this year alone - and more than 500 other potential disability hate crimes over the past three years alone. Anne Novis, the report's author and a wheelchair user, has herself been attacked several times. In the most recent case she was shopping near her home in Greenwich, South-East London, when a man suddenly rammed his face in hers, screamed that she should have been killed at birth and started beating her. The details of many of the killings of disabled people in recent years are sickening. The issue was first raised two years ago in a pioneering report called Getting Away With Murder which highlighted how one disabled man was disembowelled and another murdered for a £5 bet. A woman was urinated on and filmed as she lay dying in a doorway, while a fourth victim was made to wear a dog-collar, treated like a slave for years then forced off a railway viaduct. And even as the Manchester teenager was sentenced on Monday for his role in Mr Askew's torment, a man was being charged just 30 miles away in Liverpool for the murder of Gary Skelly, a 53-year-old with learning difficulties who died from head injuries.

It is easy to blame a few vile yobs for these crimes. Too easy. Hate crime is merely the most extreme articulation of the prejudice that disabled people face each and every day. They are the ultimate manifestation of a society that holds no place in its heart for people with disabilities, born out of fear for those who are different and a perverted idea of superiority. One killer even said: 'I'm not going to jail for that muppet,' underlining his disdain for his victim. Are these attitudes surprising when a survey by the charity Scope found that a majority of Britons believe most people view those with disabilities as inferior? Given this horrific finding, it is hardly surprising that people with disabilities find it so much harder to get jobs, are more likely to live in poverty and will be paid less and bullied more if they do find work. Nor is it a shock to learn that nine out of ten people have never had a disabled person in their house for a social occasion and that four out of five people have never worked with someone who is disabled. Well, have you? The truth is that disabled people are the ignored minority, left behind in the battle against bigotry. Racism and homophobia are, quite rightly, unacceptable these days. But it still seems fine for Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, to make a bad taste joke about the Special Olympics on a popular talk show, for pop stars and Hollywood pin-ups to call each other 'retards' and for reality television shows like The X Factor to use people with learning difficulties as a prop to build their ratings.

When people with physical disabilities are figures of fun and mental incapacity is a term of abuse, is it any wonder that families turn away from my profoundly disabled daughter when she is out in the park? And if those with learning difficulties are mocked by celebrities and excluded from society, is it any wonder that some inadequates treat them with fear and hostility? The drip-drip of desensitisation ultimately demeans us all. These blinkered attitudes are reflected by the authorities when it comes to investigating hate crimes. The problem begins in school, where too many teachers tolerate the use of hateful words in the playground and fail to tackle attacks on disabled pupils. For example, I've come across a story of a child having their wheelchair tampered with and another, who was epileptic, pushed over deliberately by a group of students who hoped it would give their victim a seizure - which they found amusing. In neither case were complaints taken seriously. As for those who have been murdered, their abuse normally begins with the kind of petty anti-social behaviour that was so familiar to Mr Askew. But again and again, the police and local authorities fail to take seriously the minor offences that make life a daily misery for thousands of disabled people, and then the problem spirals out of control. Indeed, officialdom too regularly behaves like judges in rape trials from days gone by who blamed the victim.

So what happens all too often is that headteachers tell pupils to toughen up, the police frequently shrug off complaints as being a fact of life for those with disabilities, while local authorities often make the victims move home, not their assailants. The Home Office does not even bother publishing data on hate crimes against the disabled, unlike crimes against some other minorities. Although one helpline has reported a near-doubling in the number of calls from disabled victims in the past year, there have only been 576 prosecutions over the past two years, compared with 11,264 for racial and religious crimes over the past year alone. Tellingly, 31 per cent of those prosecuted for disability hate crimes were acquitted, compared with 13 per cent of those accused of other crimes. And what makes these hate crimes worse is that they are often so-called 'mate' crimes - carried out by supposed friends, neighbours or trusted carers, taking advantage of the victim's vulnerability. Again this week, a care home manager in Bristol was convicted of stealing nearly £70,000 from two pensioners with severe learning difficulties. The thief was not jailed, of course - the victims were only disabled people, after all.
© The Daily Mail

up  

POLISH GROUP BEGINS LEGAL ACTION AGAINST DAVID IRVING

Organization hopes to convict British Holocaust denier for “minimizing” the scale of Nazi atrocities.

24/9/2010- A Polish organization began legal action this week to convict British Holocaust denier David Irving for “minimizing” the scale of Nazi atrocities, as the revisionist historian begins his controversial tours of the Nazi death camps in the country. The Open Republic Association Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia lodged a complaint with the Institute of National Remembrance- Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (IPN) on Wednesday claiming Irving seeks to “minimize” the scale of Nazi crimes as well as deny the extermination program in his book Hitler’s War, which was recently published in Polish. The legal action comes as Irving, who was jailed in Austria in 2006 for Holocaust denial, embarks on a weeklong tour to concentration camps and the former site of the Warsaw Ghetto. “Let’s not wait for the moment when David Irving commits a new crime in Poland; the evidence indicates clearly that he has already committed this crime,” Open Republic said in its complaint to IPN, which prosecutes both Nazi and Communist era crimes against the Polish people. The group was set up in 1999 in response to the manifestations of xenophobic tendencies in Polish public life and the revival of anti-Semitism and racism, its remit states. Dariusz Gabrel, from Open Republic, described Irving as one of the “foremost Holocaust deniers” and called for his prosecution under Polish laws that prohibit the denial of Nazi crimes.

“Material evidence clearly shows that he has broken the law,” he said. “Poland, the country in which the Nazis committed their crimes against humanity, should be especially sensitive to Irving’s kind of crime.” Irving arrived in Poland on Tuesday to lead his much criticized tour of Nazi sites, which is expected to attract a number of far-right sympathizers from across Europe who will pay $2,650 each. Advertising material for the tour promises an experience far removed from the “tourist attractions of Auschwitz.” However, the museum at Auschwitz has banned Irving from giving a guided tour there. A spokesman for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum said Irving can visit as an individual but that he would be “closely monitored.” Last week, the convicted Holocaust denier claimed that Treblinka was a real death camp site, as opposed to Auschwitz, which he described as a “Disney- style tourist attraction.” Speaking to the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday he said, “I am baffled by the reaction I’ve had in Poland because they should be very grateful that I am here. “Here I am lecturing to the revisionists and setting the record straight. I am saying to them – those who believe that not a hair was harmed on the head of the Jewish community – that you couldn’t be more wrong.” He described people who branded him a Holocaust denier as “criminal, lying lunatics.” In 1996, Irving attempted to sue American historian Prof. Deborah Lipstadt for libel, after she called him a Holocaust denier in her book Denying the Holocaust. Three courts subsequently found in favor of Lipstadt concluding that Irving was a Holocaust denier, an anti- Semite and a racist.
© The Jerusalem Post

up  

FINNISH NEO-FASCIST AT MARTIAL ARTS SHOW IN POLAND

21/9/2010- Niko Puhakka, a neo-fascist from Finland was allowed to fight at a martial arts show in Lodz, central Poland and show off his Nazi tattoos. During bouts organized by KSW, the premiere mixed martial arts organization in Poland, Puhakka showed off his a naked chest with the neo-Nazi organization Blood&Honour tattooed on his chest. The fascist organization, which calls for violence against “the enemies of the race”, is illegal in Poland. “It’s a scandal that a neo-Nazi was allowed to participate in the show,” Marcin Kornak from “Never Again” association which fights against racism, xenophobia and intolerance told Polish Radio. “Niko Puhakka is known for his neo-fascist views and for exposing his tattoos showing Celtic crosses, a racist symbol of “white power”. Yet, nobody, not even Polsat TV, which broadcast the show, asked him to cover them up,” said Kornak, adding that until recently Puhakka was sponsored by a clothing company which produces clothes with Nazi symbols.
© The News - Poland

up  

FINLAND'S FAR-RIGHT SEES HOPE IN SWEDISH VOTE

20/9/2010- Finland's anti-immigrant True Finns party sees the rise of a far-right party in neighbouring Sweden as a sign it will also score gains in the next elections, a top party official told AFP Monday. "It appears that it will go just as badly for left-wing parties here," deputy party chairman and member of parliament Pentti Oinonen said. He said his party expects to double or triple the number of parliamentary seats in elections next April, aiming for at least 15 of the 200 seats. Like the far-right, anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats, Finland's True Finns are also campaigning for much tighter immigration policies, although the party rejects what they describe as overtly racist rhetoric in the Swedish party's campaign. Only 2.7 percent of Finland's 5.4 million inhabitants are foreign nationals and the country counts few naturalised foreigners compared to other Nordic countries. Nonetheless, Oinonen said he believed immigration would rise to become a top election topic. "We take in unreasonable numbers of immigrants, their benefits need to be cut, the family reunification policy is flawed, it's all gotten out of control," he said. Socio-economically, The True Finns Party is fairly centre-left, but some of its members have drawn fire for adopting xenophobic, anti-EU and anti-gay rhetoric, despite chairman Timo Soini's efforts to downplay his party's former extremist image. The True Finns' popular support has surged over the past few years, and with opinion polls in August handing it 10.7-percent voter support, it is running in fourth place.
© AFP

up  

ANGER FOLLOWS BRITISH HOLOCAUST DENIER HISTORIAN’S TOUR OF POLAND

Anti-racist groups protested British historian David Irving’s arrival in Poland yesterday, at the start of a tour he has organized for what he describes as “true history buffs”.

21/9/2010- The tour will take in the Treblinka death camp site, the area of the WW II Warsaw Ghetto and Hitler’s Bunker in north east Poland. It is not known precisely where Irving currently is but media reports suggest he is staying somewhere in the Krakow area in the south of the country. In a letter addressed to Poland’s National Institute of Remembrance (IPN) – a historical and legal body which investigates Nazi and communist-era crimes - a group calling itself Otwarta Rzeczpospolita (Open Republic) says it wants to launch a case in the courts against Irving, who they say has sought to minimise Holocaust crimes, particularly in his 1977 book Hitler’s War. "Let's not wait for the moment when Mr David Irving commits a new crime on in Poland,” says the letter from Open Republic. In 2006, Irving was imprisoned in Austria for Holocaust denial. Under a law passed in 1998, Irving potentially risks either a fine or up to three years imprisonment in Poland if charges were to be successfully brought against him. “Irving’s visit to places where Jews were murdered is a scandal,” editor of the Nigdy Więcej (Never Again) magazine Marcin Kornak told Polish Radio. Last week Nigdy Więcej demanded Irving not be let into the country.

“Auschwitz is a reconstruction”
Before coming to Poland, Irving told the Daily Mail (UK) that his tour party was for “real history buffs”, and that Polish authorities had turned the Auschwitz Nazi death camp site into a “Disney-style” tourist trap and a “money making machine”. This week, in an interview with the Polish version of Newsweek magazine, Irving claims he is distressed that Poland is making money from misery. “I [compared Auschwitz to Disneyland] because I resent the making of money from a concentration camp. I resent selling hot dogs in places where people suffered,” he said, referring to a hot dog stand which is outside the gates to the museum. He also said that the current Auschwitz museum site is a fake. “The [current] gas chambers were built by Poles after World War II. Germans blew up all the chambers, so what we see now in Auschwitz are not genuine but reconstructions.” When asked about the extent of the Holocaust and the numbers killed in Poland during WW II, Irving told the magazine: “If you want to know what happened to Polish Jews then go look in Israel.”

Bankrupt
Whereas once Irving lived in the ultra-posh Mayfair area of London and drove a Rolls Royce, he was declared bankrupt in 2002 after losing a libel trial against Penguin books and author Deborah Lipstadt, who accused him of persistently and deliberately misinterpreting and twisting historical evidence to minimise Hitler's culpability for the Holocaust. Irving, who finds it difficult to find a publisher for his books these days, has been reduced to making annual fund raising tours of the United States, where he is feted by white supremacists and the like. The tour of Poland, which he is charging 9,000 zloty (2,500 euros) a time, is another potential revenue stream for the cash-strapped Holocaust denier.
© The News - Poland

up  

'IT WON'T BE LONG BEFORE SWEDEN DEMOCRATS SHOW TRUE ANTI-SEMITIC NATURE'

Far-right, anti-immigrant party won an unprecedented number of seats in recent elections; local Jewish leader warns its pro-Israel stance is just an expression of anti-Islam policy.

21/9/2010- It will not be long before the true anti-Semitic nature of the far-right anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats (SD) party - which won an unprecedented number of seats in Sunday’s elections, is revealed - a leader of the local Jewish community there warned on Monday. “This is a neo-Nazi party… articulate, and talented…but very dangerous,” said Lena Posner, President of the Official Council of Jewish communities in Sweden, an umbrella organization of Jewish groups in the country. “We know where these people are coming from. They are Nazi sympathizers who, under their jackets, are still wearing their brown shirts.” Sunday’s elections showed Frederik Reinfeldt's Moderate-led alliance winning 173 seats in the 349-seat parliament and the Social Democrat led Left-Green coalition with 156 seats, which means there will probably be weeks of coalition talks before a new government, most likely a minority one, is formed.

But the big news in these elections - for a country which has long prided itself as being one of the most tolerant, liberal and progressive in Europe - was that SD won 20 seats, their first entry to the national parliament and a sure sign of changing times. The previously marginal party, which just a few years ago was considered nothing more than a motley collection of racists and fascists on the fringe of society, ran a campaign focused on the need to cut immigration and featured ominous ads showing burka-clad Muslim women shoving aside white Swedish pensioners in order to take away their benefits. The party’s leader, a clean-cut 31-year-old named Jimmie Åkesson, described Islam as Sweden’s biggest national security threat since the Second World War, and presented skewed statistics ostensibly to prove that immigrants were five times more likely than native Swedes to be convicted of rape.

Both of the bigger political blocs have ruled out working with the SD, which means it is highly unlikely Akesson will play any role as “kingmaker” or be part of any future government – but the party’s success is indicative of the growing resentment of immigration here, as elsewhere in Europe. One in seven residents in this once homogenous Scandinavian country are today immigrants. In Holland, the Party of Freedom of Geert Wilders has held the balance of power since an election in June, while in Hungary the Jobbik party - alleged to be both anti-Roma and anti-Semitic by its opponents - won parliamentary seats last spring. Austria, France and Britain have also seen varying degrees of increased popularity for their far-right anti-immigrant national parties.

The SD did not include any anti-Semitic messages in its platform. On the contrary, it has two Jewish members among its top ranks and has actually come out in support of Israel at times. However, according to Posner, the vast majority of the approximately 20,000-strong Jewish community is nonetheless “devastated” by the results. “Ninety-nine percent of the community are absolutely against everything this party is for. To be Jewish is to have values of humanism. We know what it means to have to flee and to survive and we strive to protect those who are persecuted,” she says. “But Sweden is now joining other Europeans in being xenophobic.” Posner claims that the SD’s pro-Israel stance emanates from nothing more than a way to further battle the Muslim community, and has nothing to do with an affinity with the Jews or the Jewish homeland per se. “They love Israel because that sort of rhetoric is in tune with their hatred for Muslims. That’s it,” she says. Posner points to two of the party’s platforms which, she argues, while calculated to be against Muslims, also show their “true colors,” as regards the Jewish community. The SD opposes male circumcision and would have it banned and also stand for the continuation of the 1940s ban on Schita in the country.

Sweden today is one of very few European countries to maintain a ban on ritual slaughter - necessitating the import of kosher or hallal meat from outside the country. The far-right party proposes not only to continue the ban, but also to ban importation of such meat. David Landes, editor of the daily English language Stockholm online paper The Local has written about anti-Semitism in Sweden in the past and says the situation is a little more complicated as regards the far right and the Jews. He agrees with Posner that SD, “without a doubt” has its roots in the Swedish neo-Nazi movement, but argues that there is little indication they will ever turn their sights on the Jews. “I do not equate this reformed Nazi party…with anti-Semitism per se,” he says. “It’s that Swedish brand of Nazism which is more about preserving the traditions and strength of the white Nordic race than about wanting to crack the skulls of Jews.”

And, while there have been an increasing number of anti-Semitic events in Sweden this past year – everything from desecration of a synagogue and a cemetery in the town of Malmo, to taunting of children with “Hitler” chants in Uppsala - Landes attributes these more to a growing anti-Israel sentiment, often coming from the Muslim community and the far left. In fact, of the 79 anti-Semitic incidents which were reported to the police in 2009- twice as many as the previous year - more than half were blamed on radical elements from among the country’s Muslim population as well as extreme members of the far left, not far right. Indeed, one member of the Jewish community - who did not want to be identified - said the reaction of the Jews to the SD was more nuanced than Posner would admit. The Jewish community in Sweden, he said, has long been a liberal one, and so there is indeed disgust with the SD’s xenophobia and precious few voted for them. But on the other hand, he admitted, there are Jews also concerned with the rising number of Muslims in the country and some of the more extremist views expressed by some of them, and are thus conflicted. “It’s a lose–lose situation” he said.
© Haaretz

up  

THOUSANDS PROTEST SWEDEN'S RISING FAR-RIGHT

20/9/2010- Thousands of people gathered in a central Stockholm square Monday evening to protest against a far-right party that has been voted into parliament, waving banners and shouting “No to racism!” “It is very important to show that the big majority of the Swedish population is against the right-wing extremists like the Sweden Democrats,” Per Branevig, 33, told AFP, adding that he had voted for the Social Democrats in Sunday’s election. “It has been a big shock for me that they got so many votes,” he said of the far-right party that secured 5.7% of the vote. At around 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) some 6,000 people, some waving banners stating “Yes to togetherness, No to racism” and “No racists in parliament,” gathered in Stockholm’s Sergels Torg, according to a police estimate. The peaceful gathering was spontaneously organized by a 17-year-old girl from the Stockholm suburb of Sollentuna, Felicia Margineanu, who was so disappointed by the election results she posted a protest call on her Facebook page, the Expressen daily reported.

Sweden’s ruling centre-right coalition won the most votes on Sunday but fell short of a majority, as the far right Sweden Democrats nearly doubled their result from the last election and entered parliament for the first time, landing it in a key position in the house. “We don’t like those racists in the Riksdag. Being here shows the government that we care, that we don’t want them [the Sweden Democrats] in parliament,” said 18-year-old Younes Sedik, wearing a black T-shirt with orange lettering stating "I’m a Muslim. Don’t panic!” Standing near banners pointing out that “9,043,222 Swedes did not vote for the Sweden Democrats yesterday,” and that “94.3% of the people are not racists,” 21-year-old Thomas Zebuehr said he was “really unhappy” the far-right passed the four-percent barrier for entering parliament. “I’m not sure what should be done, but something has to be done,” he told AFP. A spontaneous demonstration against the Sweden Democrats also gathered in Sweden’s second largest city Gothenburg Monday evening, with up to 1,000 people participating, the TT news agency reported. Another large demonstration is planned to be held in Stockholm on October 4.
© AFP

up  

SWEDEN'S RULING COALITION HEADS FOR MINORITY GOVERNMENT

Prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt becomes first non-socialist to win re-election since 1930s

20/9/2010- Sweden's ruling centre-right coalition beat the Social Democrat opposition in yesterday's election but failed to win an outright majority and the far-right Sweden Democrats won seats in parliament for the first time. Early results showed Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's four-party Alliance coalition winning 173 seats in the 349-seat parliament, just three short of a majority. The result makes Reinfeldt, the Moderate party leader, the first non-socialist to win re-election since the 1930s. The Social Democrat-led opposition bloc won 156 seats while the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats got 20 seats, entering parliament for the first time. Last night Reinfeldt declared victory and said he would remain in power and try to build a coalition with the Green party. "We have said that the biggest bloc should rule, and that is the Alliance," he told party workers at an election night party in central Stockholm. Sweden's Social Democrat-led opposition leader conceded defeat and said it was up to Reinfeldt to build a majority government. "The Alliance is in all probability the largest minority," Mona Sahlin told party supporters. "They are in the driver's seat when it comes to building a government. We lost." Reinfeldt's bid to hold on to power, built on small budget deficits, tax cuts and strong economic growth, is being closely watched by David Cameron. Both leaders have rebranded their parties and entered into partnerships with centrist liberals. However, Reinfeldt's majority was undermined by the far right, who have sought to harness anti-immigrant sentiment in a country where one in seven residents is foreign-born. The strong performance by the Sweden Democrats and the prospect of a hung parliament looked likely to trigger a fall in the krona against the euro and volatility on the Stockholm financial markets. The governing coalition and the centre-left opposition bloc have pledged not to join forces with the Sweden Democrats.

The rise of the far-right party, which has moved away from its skinhead roots under a youthful leadership and the slogan "Tradition and Security", reflects a wider anti-immigrant backlash across Europe, as recession and budget cuts take hold. In their campaign, the Sweden Democrats raised the spectre of creeping Islamicisation of society and promised to crack down on immigration. It would not be the first time that an anti-immigrant grouping has entered Sweden's parliament. A short-lived rightwing protest won nearly 7% of the vote in 1991. Reinfeldt's coalition ended the long Social Democratic hegemony four years ago on a pledge to lower taxes and to trim the country's generous welfare benefits. The economy is expected to grow by 4% this year and the budget deficit is on track to becoming the smallest in the EU. An unaccustomed second consecutive defeat is likely to lead to a shake-up of the Social Democrats. Under Sahlin, who was vying to become the country's first female prime minister, the party warned during the campaign that Sweden's long tradition of fairness and compassion was under threat from the government budget cuts.
© The Guardian

up  

‘NIGHTMARE’ RISE OF FAR-RIGHT SHOCKS NATION (Sweden)

20/9/2010- Jimmie Akesson does not fit the stereotype of a far-right leader. Aged just 31 and with gelled black hair and a boyish face, he looks more like a young business executive than the head of a party rooted in the neo-Nazi movement. It is a clean-cut image Mr Akesson has worked hard to promote since taking charge of the Sweden Democrats five years ago on a mission to transform the party from a fringe extremist group into a competitive electoral force. His goal was achieved in Sunday’s election, when the party almost doubled its share of the national vote from four years ago to 5.7 per cent and won its first seats in parliament. Even though the breakthrough had been widely predicted, there was a sense of shock in Sweden on Monday that a nation long associated with liberal values had joined the growing ranks of European countries with far-right parties in elected office. Worse still for liberals, Mr Akesson looked set to hold the balance of power between a minority government and left-leaning opposition. Aftonbladet, the best-selling tabloid newspaper, described it as a “nightmare scenario”, while mainstream politicians competed to distance themselves from the party.

Mr Akesson was quick to embrace the role of political underdog ostracised by an arrogant elite, lamenting the fact that none of the other leaders would speak to him despite the Sweden Democrats having secured more votes than two of the seven mainstream parties. He vowed to be a “responsible” rather than disruptive force in parliament. His model appears to be neighbouring Denmark and Norway, where hard-right parties have earned at least partial respectability. The Danish People’s party helps prop up a minority government and the Norwegian Progress party is the biggest opposition group in parliament. But whereas those parties were born out of populist, anti-tax movements, the Sweden Democrats has more explicit neo-Nazi roots. Mr Akesson has sought to distance himself from the party’s racist past. But he makes no apologies for an almost singular focus on the defence of “Swedishness” against multiculturalism, and particularly Islam. Muslim immigration, he says, is the greatest threat to Sweden since the second world war. It is a message that seems to resonate in places such as Landskrona, a gritty former shipbuilding town on Sweden’s west coast with a large immigrant community. Mr Akesson’s party won 15 per cent of the vote there.
© The Financial Times

up  

JIMMIE ĹKESSON, THE FACE OF SWEDEN'S FAR-RIGHT

19/9/2010- At 31, Jimmie Aakesson has already spent five years at the helm of the far-right Sweden Democrats and is credited with a populist makeover that brought them a 20-seat windfall in weekend polls. Out of nowhere his party has now become a power-broker after an inconclusive election which left the outgoing ruling centre-right Alliance scrambling for support in a hung parliament. Aakesson pledged his party would act responsibly, in his first public comments after its surprising showing. "We won't cause problems. We will take responsibility. That is my promise to the Swedish people," he told ecstatic supporters as near final results handed them 5.7 percent of the vote and their first seats in parliament. "I am overwhelmed and it is hard to collect my thoughts. Today, we have written political history," he said. Aakesson joined the Sweden Democrats at 15 and later helped to catapult the party from an obscure movement with a neo-Nazi past and virtually no voter support to a polished populist group. When Aakesson joined the Sweden Democrats in 1995, "there were still members who showed up at meetings dressed in Nazi uniforms," political scientist Sofia Nerbrand said recently. Aakesson, with his slight build, dark hair and glasses, has helped radically change Swedes' perception of the party.

He took over as leader in 2005 when the party had little popular support and the following year took nearly 3.0 percent in the general elections. Four years on, that support has nearly doubled, crucially passing the four-percent threshold for parliamentary representation. With 20 seats in the new parliament, it could potentially determine the political make-up of Sweden's government after neither mainstream bloc secured a majority. The Sweden Democrats emerged from the ultra-nationalist "Keep Sweden Swedish" movement, and Aakesson acknowledges it has counted neo-Nazis among its supporters. "That's the old Sweden Democrats. Today we are different and voters see that," he told AFP before the election. Born in 1979 in Soelvesborg, northern Sweden, Aakesson has held a seat on the local council since the age of 19. But he has never missed a chance to bring his party's main concerns to the fore, constantly evoking links between immigration and crime. "Not all immigrants are criminals, of course, but there's a connection," he told AFP. "We have a conservative point of view. Immigration and criminality policies are the most important and on that we differ from others," he said.

With his calm manner and choir-boy looks, Aakesson is the public face of his party, according to political scientist Anders Hellstroem. The broader leadership consists of a "Gang of Four" -- Aakesson, Richard Jomshof, Bjoern Soeder and Mattias Karlsson -- all "leading the ideological development of the Sweden Democrats from extremism to populism," Hellstroem told AFP. While the party is trying to distance itself from its extremist past, it is not afraid to be provocative, Hellstroem said. "One could say that they try to push the limits of what is legitimate speech, balancing on the fringe of the acceptable," he said. The Sweden Democrat's discourse has however until now been largely ignored by the mainstream media and political establishment. But all that is about to change, as Aakesson reminded his troops on Sunday. "We were exposed to censorship, we were exposed to a medieval boycott, they ... excluded us. We were denied advertising in many newspapers, we were in every possible way treated as something other than a political party," he charged. "But despite all that, we scored a fantastic result," he shouted, stressing that the win would allow the party to "grow even more."
© AFP

up  

INDONESIAN AMBASSADOR 'UNWISE' TO SAY PVV VOTERS MAY BE 'PSYCHOTIC' (Netherlands)

23/9/2010- PVV leader Geert Wilders has urged the Dutch foreign minister to summon Indonesia’s ambassador to the Netherlands because of his ‘scandalous statements’ about the anti-Islam party and its supporters. Ambassador Yunus Effendi Habibie says in an interview with Thursday’s Financieele Dagblad that the planned October visit by Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhynono would be ‘very much in doubt’ if the PVV is part of the next coalition government. ‘Of course the president will not come here if there is someone in the cabinet who says Islam is backward. I do not want my president to be seen as a clown’ the ambassador told the paper. The ambassador went on to say that the relationship between the Netherlands and its former colony would be hurt if Wilders joins the government. And, he suggested, the people who voted for Wilders could be ‘psychoticly fearfull’

Unwise
Foreign minister Maxime Verhagen told Nos tv that the ambassador’s words about PVV supporters were ‘unwise’. ‘I did not think it wise how he described the PVV voters,’Verhagen said. ‘An ambassador should not make comments about the electorate.’ Verhagen said he planned to make contact with the ambassador later on Thursday. Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world. Wilders has repeatedly called for a ban on immigration from Islamic countries.
© The Dutch News

up  

SWEDISH CENTRE-RIGHT WINS VOTE, LOSES MAJORITY

20/9/2010- Fredrik Reinfeldt became Sweden's first sitting centre-right prime minister to win re-election, but was deprived of a majority by the first-time entry into parliament of an anti-immigrant party. Analysts had said before Sunday's election that a hung parliament, with Reinfeldt's centre-right Alliance coalition having no overall majority, would unsettle investors and the Swedish crown weakened in early trading on Monday. "An uncertain parliamentary situation is always negative for a currency, but the market pretty quickly goes back to focusing on other things," Handelsbanken analyst Claes Mahlen said. "I don't think the view of Sweden will change dramatically." A preliminary count showed Reinfeldt's coalition winning 172 seats in the 349-member parliament and the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats 20 seats. The Social Democrat-led centre-left opposition was set to secure 157.

"If this outcome stands we will have a scenario that most Swedish voters wanted to avoid -- that is that we have a xenophobic party holding the balance of power," said Ulf Bjereld, a political scientist at Gothenburg University. Swedish newspapers said the election marked a dramatic shift for a nation known for its tolerance and liberal policies. "It is Monday morning and time for Swedes to find a new self-image," wrote daily Svenska Dagbladet. "A centre-right government without a majority, a wrecked Social Democracy and a party with roots in far-right extremism holding the balance of power." Daily Dagens Nyheter zeroed in on the political difficulties generated by the government falling short of a majority. "Tough situation awaits", ran a banner headline. The Swedish crown slid to about 9.2495 against the euro EURSEK= from 9.2246 at the close of the Swedish market on Friday. It dipped to 7.0761 per dollar SEK= from 7.0653.

Reinfeldt, who campaigned on a promise of more tax cuts and reforms to trim the welfare state, has said he was prepared to lead a minority government but repeated on Sunday he would first approach the opposition Green Party for support. "We have said that the biggest bloc should rule and that is the Alliance," he told supporters at an election night party, rejecting any cooperation with the far-right Sweden Democrats. But the reception from the Green Party was cool. "In the current situation we have continued red-green cooperation," said joint Green Party leader Maria Wetterstrand, referring to the alliance with the opposition Social Democrats. Reinfeldt benefited from one of Europe's strongest economic recoveries to become the first sitting centre-right prime minister to win re-election in a country that was ruled for much of the last century by the Social Democrats. In the election, voters were choosing between Reinfeldt's model of a leaner welfare state with more income tax cuts and privatisations, and an opposition platform that wanted the rich to pay more to fund schools, hospitals and care for the elderly. The Social Democrats had their worst election in almost 100 years, with voters apparently backing the welfare reforms and tax cuts pushed through by the Alliance of Reinfeldt's Moderate Party, the Liberals, Centre and Christian Democrats.

Far-right success
The big news of the night was the entry into parliament of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats. The rise in support for the far-right party has come after it moved away from its skinhead roots and mirrors increases in backing for similar parties elsewhere in Europe. The Sweden Democrats deny they are racist but both main blocs have ruled out working with them. "Today we have written political history together, I think that's fantastic," Sweden Democrat leaderJimmie Akesson told chanting supporters. Analysts say the party has found support among the unemployed, whose numbers have risen during the global economic crisis. It has a strong base in the south of Sweden, where the number of immigrants is higher than the national average. Umea University expert Svante Ersson said Sweden Democrat voters were often young men who felt ignored by society. "They don't necessarily have to be xenophobic -- it could be a way to make a statement against the establishment," said Ersson.

The Sweden Democrats have been inspired by the success of the People's Party in neighbouring Denmark that provides vital parliamentary support for the government there. The party wants to curtail immigration and criticises Muslims and Islam as un-Swedish. Immigrants account for 14 percent of Sweden's population, just above the 12.4 percent average for northern Europe, according to United Nations figures. Jan Haggstrom, chief economist at Handelsbanken, said that even a minority Reinfeldt government could manage well and he saw little chance that the centre-left opposition would link up with the Sweden Democrats on key parliamentary issues. "We have such strong public finances. It would take something really spectacular for people to start worrying ... and start selling Swedish government paper," he said. Sweden has been among the most welcoming of European Union countries to immigrants seeking asylum or refugee status, taking in people after the Balkan wars of the 1990s and becoming a favourite destination for Iraqis after the U.S. invasion.
© Reuters

up  

SWASTIKA CARVING ON FAR-RIGHT POLITICIAN WAS SELF-INFLICTED: POLICE (Sweden)

18/9/2010- A far-right Swedish politician is questioning the political timing of a police report that concludes an attack that left a swastika carved into his forehead was self-inflicted. “I find it very interesting that the police chose to give this certificate just before the election,” Swedish Democrat politician David von Arnold Antoni told Sydsvenskan. “There are certainly those who can benefit from it in the election.” As previously reported, Antoni claims he was savagely attacked by two masked men on the evening of Friday, September 10. After the men forced themselves into his apartment, one held Antoni down while the other carved a swastika into his forehead. Antoni said the men spoke Swedish accented in Arabic and called him “Svenne bastard” and “Swedish devil” during the attack, Sydsvenskan reports. Anti-racist and radical leftist graffiti was spray-painted onto Antoni’s home earlier that day.

After investigating the attack as a hate crime, police have concluded Antoni made the whole thing up and are contemplating charging him with filing a false report. “This is a bitch, not only that resources he cost, but what he has done can’t be more shameful,” an officer with high levels of transparency in the investigation told Sydsvenskan. Doctors who examined Antoni also have concluded his injuries are fake on a 9-out-of-10 scale. The certificate issued by the Office of Forensic in Lund, says, “Strong reasons concerning the location and appearance suggest that is self-inflicted injury.” Antoni remained steadfast on his claim he was attacked after hearing the forensics reports. The case is reminiscent of a scene from the movie "Inglorious Basterds" “The Right Doctor’s certificate is not truthful,” he told Aftonbladet. “I do not accept his assessment.” “What I said in my declaration is true. I was attacked by two men who carved a swastika in my forehead.”

The news comes as Sweden is set to vote in national elections. With neither of the two major coalitions able to break past a 50-percent majority in opinion polls, the Swedish Democrats are set to become kingmakers in the next parliament. Leader from both major coalitions have vowed to not work with the far-right nationalist group. The Swedish Democrats had seen an increase in support after news of the swastika-carving broke. It is not yet known how the police and forensics reports will affect their standing. Antoni, who is standing for the Swedish Democrats in local races in Malmo, has gone into hiding since the attack took place and has not been photographed. He refused to show his injuries to a reporter with Aftonbladet when asked.

If true, the case echoes that of Ashley Todd, a volunteer of the US Presidential campaign of Republican John McCain, who claimed she was assaulted and had the letter “B” carved into her face by an African-American supporter of Democrat Barack Obama. The attack was later proven to be self-inflicted by Todd, who may have been part of a discrediting campaign by the Internet group Anonymous.

UPDATE (2010.09.18): David Von Arnold Antoni has told The Right Perspective that the forensics report is wrong and politically motivated, seeing that it was issued the day before national elections in Sweden. He plans to issue a video of himself showing his injuries tomorrow.
© The Right Perspective

up  

ORTHODOX DUTCH MUSLIMS TEND TO BE OLD, UNEMPLOYED MEN

24/9/2010- Some 12% of Dutch Muslims of Moroccan origin consider themselves to be orthodox, as do one in 20 Muslims with Turkish roots, according to research by the University of Amsterdam, published on Friday. That means the Netherlands has some 36,000 orthodox Muslims, who prefer to avoid the opposite sex and are more likely to support religious-related violence, according to the report on the Parool website. ‘This is bad news for democracy,’ researcher Jean Tillie, who has worked on the project for 2.5 years, told the paper. Nevertheless, Tillie said he did not consider the presence of orthodox Muslims to be a threat because most are older, low-skilled men without jobs. ‘This is not the group which throws bombs,’ he said. ‘Until now that has been up to the young hot heads with lots of hormones.’ For example, while the more orthodox survey respondents said they backed a theocracy, they also have confidence in the Dutch government, he said. Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders is wrong to equate orthodox Muslims with radical ones, Tillie told the paper. ‘Wilders says the real Muslim is a Mohammed B[who murdered Theo van Gogh]. We say the real Muslim is an old, friendly man in a dress.’
© The Dutch News

up  

WILDERS ANGRY AT POLITICAL TINT TO QUEEN'S SPEECH (Netherland)

22/9/2010- Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam PVV, feels his party came under attack by references to the need for 'stable government' in the queen's speech, the Telegraaf reports on Wednesday. Wilders described the speech, in which the queen said stable government was necessary for economic recovery, as a 'total nothing'. And he accused prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who writes the speech for the monarch, of 'rabble rousing'. The PVV, Christian Democrats and VVD Liberals are currently in talks on forming a new minority government which will have PVV support in parliament. But if the talks succeed, the coalition will only have a majority of one. In addition, the PVV will have the right not to support policies it disagrees with. 'A minority or majority cabinet says nothing about stability,' Wilders said.

Unity
In her speech, the queen also referred to the need for unity. 'A harmonious society is built on respect, acceptance and courtesy,' she said. 'That requires give and take, tolerance and also adaptation. This is the responsibility of us all.' 'We have to get rid of this sort of political correctness,' Wilders said. 'We have to stop showing respect to people who are not tolerant of us and take a tough approach to delinquents.' The CDA and VVD leaders told the Telegraaf they did not feel they had been attacked in the speech.
© The Dutch News

up  

DISCRIMINATION CASE DROPPED AGAINST CARTOONIST (Netherlands)

21/9/2010- The public prosecution department announced on Tuesday it is dropping its case against a cartoonist arrested in 2008 on discrimination charges. The cartoonist, who operates under the pseudonym Gregorius Nekschot, published the controversial cartoons on his website. He was arrested in 2008 following a complaint made in 2005. Although the department considers the cartoons discriminate against Muslims and 'people with dark skins', it made the decision to drop the case because the cartoons have not appeared on the website since shortly after Nekschot's arrest. In addition, the cartoonist spent 24 hours in jail following his arrest, reports the Volkskrant. The fact that the complaint was made as far back as 2005 and there have been no further complaints also played a role, the paper says.
© The Dutch News

up  

VVD STALWART QUITS PARTY OVER ANTI-ISLAM LINK UP (Netherlands)

20/9/2010- A former defence minister for the right-wing Liberal party VVD has become the first prominent politician to quit over his party's decision to form a governing alliance with the anti-Islam PVV. Joris Verhoeve, who led the Liberal parliamentary party for a time and is a member of the Council of State, confirmed to the Volkskrant he had quit on Monday. He has now joined the Liberal democratic party D66, whose leader Alexander Pechtold has been a vociferous opponent of the PVV. Earlier this month, CDA MP and acting health minister AB Klink resigned from parliament because of his opposition to the PVV, but did not leave the party. The VVD, PVV and CDA are currently involved in talks on forming a new government.
© The Dutch News

up  

FAR-RIGHT PARTIES ON RISE ACROSS EUROPE

23/9/2010 Anti-immigrant, far-right and populist political parties have played an increasingly influential role in European politics since the global economic crisis. Here's a rundown:

AUSTRIA: The anti-immigrant Freedom Party, which won 17.5 per cent of the vote two years ago in national elections, is advocating a ban on Muslim minarets and face veils in current regional elections. Its leader is running for the post of Vienna mayor. More than 15 per cent of the population in Austria is foreign-born, according to the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development.

BRITAIN: Prime Minister David Cameron is fulfilling his campaign vow to restrict non-European Union immigration. A recent poll indicated two-thirds of Brits believe immigration, in a country where 11 per cent are foreign-born, makes the country a ``worse place to live.''

BULGARIA: The country's anti-Roma and anti-Muslim Attack party took 9.4 per cent of the vote in last year's election, making it the fourth-largest group of MPs in parliament.

DENMARK: The anti-Muslim Danish People's party won 25 seats in the 179-seat parliament with 14 per cent of the vote, and is currently polling at around 16 per cent. Denmark's foreign-born population is only 7.3 per cent.

FRANCE: Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right National Front, which saw its support collapse in the 2007 presidential vote, bounced back in spring regional elections. President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a country with 8.4 per cent of the population is foreign-born, is clearing illegal Roma camps and threatening to strip the French nationality of immigrant lawbreakers in an attempt to win that vote back.

GERMANY: A book critical of immigrants for failing to assimilate, by banker Thilo Sarrazin, resulted in a denunciation from Chancellor Angela Merkel and his resignation from the German central bank's board. But Sarrazin has won public backing in polls and the book sold a stunning 600,000 copies in a month. There is speculation now that a far-right party could break the five per cent threshold to win seats in parliament for the first time since the Nazi era.

HUNGARY: The anti-Roma, anti-Jewish Jobbik party, which uses symbols of Hungary's pro-Nazi party during the war, won 47 of the legislature's 386 seats this spring. The party, which is proposing ``protection'' camps for Roma, is seeking another breakthrough in municipal elections next month. Only four per cent of the population is foreign-born, but that group doesn't include the Roma, who are Hungarian nationals.

ITALY: There is speculation that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government could collapse, opening the door to potential gains for the increasingly popular, anti-immigrant Northern League party. The OECD has no figures for Italy's foreign-born population.

NETHERLANDS: Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, which advocates banning face veils and the Qur'an, finished third in the June election and is now a potential force in parliament. Eleven per cent of Dutch are foreign-born.

NORWAY: The anti-immigrant Progress Party took 23 per cent of the vote last year, its best performance, though it has toned down its anti-immigrant rhetoric. The foreign-born population is 10.3 per cent.
© Postmedia News

up  

THE RISE OF THE FAR-RIGHT: EUROPE'S WORRYING TREND (editorial, uk)

Telegraph View: European governments must develop a more sophisticated approach to immigration if they are to hold back the far-Right.

20/9/2010- The stridently anti-immigration platform of the Sweden Democrats secured the party 5.7 per cent of the vote – and 20 parliamentary seats – in Sunday's general election, enough to deny the governing Centre-Right coalition of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt a majority. While it might surprise some to see an extremist party prosper in this traditionally tolerant liberal democracy, it is actually part of a worrying new trend in European politics. Sweden has become the third EU member state since June to find itself without a governing majority after elections marked by the rise of far-Right, anti-immigration or separatist parties. The Netherlands and Belgium are in the same position. Far-Right parties are currently in government in Italy and also sit in the parliaments of Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia and Slovakia, as well as in the European Parliament.

The rise of extremist sentiment has been fuelled by immigration and has been exacerbated by the economic crisis; when unemployment rises, so does anti-immigrant sentiment. Underlying it is an increasingly ugly strand of Islamophobia. What is most worrying, however, is the inability or unwillingness of mainstream political parties across Europe to confront these issues. As we have seen in this country, the refusal of the political establishment over many years to conduct a mature debate on immigration has played into the hands of the British National Party. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy is taking pre-emptive action against a resurgent National Front, which performed strongly in March's regional elections, with his expulsion of illegal Roma immigrants. However, Europe's leaders need to develop a more sophisticated approach to the many challenges posed by economic migration if the extremists are not to continue to prosper.
© The Telegraph

up  

THE RISE OF THE FAR-RIGHT IN THE EAST (Germany)

Along with many other prejudices, eastern Germany has had to contend with a reputation for neo-Nazism. It's not entirely unjustified, but right-wing extremism in the East has roots in economic hardship.

21/9/2010- Right-wing violence was most dramatic in the first years of the newly unified Germany - and more and more often, they occurred in the former East Germany. For three consecutive nights in August 1992, several hundred neo-Nazis - watched by up to 2,000 locals - attacked an apartment block for asylum seekers in the north-eastern town of Rostock. With the police unprepared and initially outnumbered, the violence continued unchecked until it culminated in an arson attack. The Rostock riots quickly achieved international notoriety. Pictures of drunken, violent East Germans doing Hitler salutes were printed around the world. This was not the dawn of a new, hopeful country that had been celebrated less than two years before.

Authority vacuum
Neo-Nazi violence was not just a stain on the former East Germany. Over 100 of the 370 rioters arrested in Rostock had travelled from the former West, where there was a string of horrific attacks on Turkish immigrants in the early nineties. But Rostock cemented the reputation of post-Wall eastern Germany as a new haven for neo-Nazism, and that reputation stuck. What characterized the Rostock riots as specifically East German was the powerlessness of the authorities. For two or three years after the fall of the Wall, state institutions in the former German Democratic Republic were weakened by the period of transition. Police officers suddenly found themselves associated with a discredited regime. Dierk Borstel, a researcher into right-wing extremism at the University of Bielefeld, described the precarious circumstances in the early 1990s as linked to a lack of functioning insitutions. "The police force was destabilized and the church had little influence anyway," Borstel told Deutsche Welle. "The eastern German trade unions and the PDS, the successor party to the former ruling communist SED, had little authority, and the trade unions and industry associations coming in from the West were all very weak in the east."

Worst of many worlds
These semi-anarchic conditions were fertile ground for far-right activists in the former East Germany, and their cause was further helped by the disappointment and poverty that spread in the East after reunification. "The expectation of East Germans after reunification was: 'We're going to get the security of the East plus the freedoms of the West,'" Borstel says. "The result was that they lost the securities and couldn't afford the freedoms." Even though the skinhead neo-Nazi scene originated in western Europe, it already existed in East Germany before the fall of the Iron Curtain. It was often linked to certain football teams, and occasionally broke out in extreme violence, such as the attack of 30 skinheads on a concert in a church in central East Berlin in 1987. The far-right movement in the East capitalized on what many describe as the GDR's denial of its own Nazi history. Olaf Sundermeyer, author of "In the NPD," a book about the development of Germany's populist far-right National Democratic Party, believes the GDR's distanced attitude to Hitler's Germany helped feed the neo-Nazi movement. "Communist leaders in the GDR said, 'We are an anti-fascist state and we have no responsibility for history. There are no Nazis here.' Of course that wasn't true. There were former Nazis in both East and West Germany, but there was no denazification in East Germany - the Nazi history was not dealt with," he said.

Imbalance and injustice
East German society was never particularly multicultural, and the government's immigration policies showed a determination to keep the population monotone. Immigrant workers from other socialist countries like Mozambique were sent home if they got pregnant, or as soon as their allotted time ran out. The lack of a multicultural foundation is still reflected in eastern German society today. "Eastern Germany has a lot fewer immigrants - and it has long been acknowledged that where there are no immigrants and no Jews, there is more racism and anti-Semitism," Borstel said. Neo-Nazis were also able to win over some East Germans with familiar ideas. "National Socialism often starts out with the idea of socialism, and then that is combined with frustration, unemployment, lack of opportunity, and populations moving away." This is the opinion of a former neo-Nazi who wants to remain anonymous, working for Exit Deutschland, an organization that helps people leave the far-right scene. There is a widespread feeling that the West left the East behind economically. In the last 20 years, unemployment in the former East has been consistently twice as high as in the West, and the emigration of young eastern Germans remains a problem. Statistical evidence shows that German far-right parties tend to prosper in times of economic depression, and the NPD has aimed its electoral resources aggressively at the most neglected districts. The Exit Deutschland representative, who has counseled numerous former neo-Nazis, said that the frustration that comes from being left behind after watching friends leave your home town is a factor common to many of those who turn to right-wing extremism. "Those who stay, for whatever reason - because they can't find a job anywhere else, for example - feel an enormous frustration. That is fertile ground for far-right groups - and for extremist groups in general," he said.

Sympathy for the Left
This growing eastern German sympathy with the far-right chimed in with a study completed in 2003, which found that 16 percent of Germans had an extreme right-wing world-view - that is, they expressed chauvinistic, anti-Semitic, social-Darwinist or xenophobic opinions, and tended to trivialize the Nazi regime. In the East, this world-view was found in 23 percent of the population, compared to 14 percent in the West. This showed a marked change from the early 1990s, when a similar study found far-right-wing opinion more prevalent in the West. Statisticians have linked this switch to a decline in economic expectation. Whereas easterners were more optimistic about their economic prospects in the early 1990s, by the late 1990s, westerners had become more positive about the economy. Behind this turnaround lay a real sense of betrayal. In a study written in 2005, political scientist Richard Stoess wrote, "That the eastern German people overtook their western compatriots in sympathy for right-wing extremism lay in the fact that their initial trust in the western system of democracy and market economy had turned into particularly bitter disappointment."

Neo-Nazis for the new century
As state authority began to re-assert itself in the East, the far-right developed more subtle ways to organize. "The structures have become smaller," said Borstel. "They no longer rely on large parties like the NPD, but rather local cells, which are more difficult for the state to break up. They have become anchored in local communities in a way I thought would never happen." This assimilation was mirrored in the far-right political parties, which have spent the past decade making themselves electable in the East. Although the NPD have steadily lost ground in the former West, in the East they have gained a foothold in several state parliaments. "The Big Bang was the state election of 2004 in Saxony, where the NPD first gained representation in an eastern German state parliament," said Sundermeyer. "Since then it has very gradually established itself as a 'normal' party." The NPD was re-elected to the Saxony parliament in 2009, with 5.6 percent of the vote. The NPD's membership figures had risen from 4,000 in 1995 to 6,800 in 2009. The NPD has achieved this success by aiming its messages at young people, especially via the Internet, and appealing to sentiments shared by the far-left - anti-Americanism, anti-Israel, anti-globalization. It has worked to pick up the youth protest vote, targeting sub-cultures with an anti-system stance.
© The Deutsche Welle

up  

MERKEL ALLY WARNS THAT THREAT OF NEW FAR-RIGHT PARTY IS GENUINE (Germany)

An ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel says the emergence of a populist party to the right of the Christian Democrats is a real threat. While Merkel is less worried, she has similar ideas about quashing any such danger.

19/9/2010- An ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that her Christian Democrat CDU could face a challenge if a new party were to emerge on the right. In response to fears that the party could face a challenge on its right flank, Wolfgang Boehmer - who is CDU premier of the state of Saxony Anhalt - warned against complacency. "The danger that a populist right-wing party might emerge always exists," said Boehmer in the German daily newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt on Saturday. "even if at the moment we cannot recognize who could lead it. We must always be on our guard and undertake everything to avoid the founding of another party to the right of our own." When asked if the party was adhering sufficiently to its conservative roots, Boehmer said that constant vigilance was necessary. "We have to repeatedly pose the question of whether conservatives identify with the CDU," he said. As a mainstream party, said the premier, it was not possible for the CDU to move too far to the right. Instead, he said, the problems that were important to ordinary people should be clearly addressed. "That is the best immunization against far right extremist attitudes," said Boehmer.

Chancellor takes threat in stride
Playing down the threat, Merkel told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Saturday that she did not believe there was a real danger. The chancellor said that it was the responsibility of "democratic parties, to prevent the foundation of new parties on the extreme right as well as the left through our politics." While Merkel was not as concerned as Boehmer, her ideas about how to head off any potential threat was similar. The chancellor said practical solutions to genuine grievances and concerns were the answer. "We should do more than define what the grievances are, we have to solve the problems," said Merkel. "Then we will not need to worry about new parties on the fringe." Merkel added that she would endeavor to make sure the views of conservatives were represented within the party.

State of debate 'depressing'
Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said that he believed that the party needed to be more open to debate, saying that its present state was "depressing." "We must once again make the party a place for discussion and opinion-forming," he told the website of German news magazine Spiegel on Saturday. Suggestions that a party to the right of the CDU would attract popular support were made by party conservative Erika Steinbach, who is to stand down from her post on the party's national executive board. Steinbach, head of the German Federation of Expellees, announced her resignation from the board after making comments about Poland's part in the build up to World War II earlier this month. The politician, whose federation represents ethnic Germans who were forced to flee eastern Europe at the end of the war, was accused of historical revisionism and said she felt increasingly isolated on the party's right.
© The Deutsche Welle

up  

GIFT TO GERMANY’S FAR-RIGHT (editorial)

19/9/2010- Senior figures in central banks rarely hit the headlines but Thilo Sarrazin of the German central bank, the Bundesbank, has done just that. His recent book on German society has been attacked for xenophobia, racism, and serious factual errors. Senior politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, have condemned Mr. Sarrazin. He has apologised for writing passages on a “Jewish gene,” and faces expulsion from the Social Democratic Party. It is clear however that he has tapped into a vein of deep disquiet. Even many who reject the author’s attitudes and language feel that the German political class has neglected the real-life difficulties faced by a major European country of over 80 million people in accommodating and integrating a minority of about two million whose antecedents are largely in rural and strikingly different cultures elsewhere. One problem people cite is that of parallel societies, with whole neighbourhoods in some cities occupied almost exclusively by Turkish-Germans. Another concern is over Turkish-descended children who are victims of an earlier policy that did not encourage cultural integration. A third concern is about unemployment and welfare dependency among Turkish-Germans.

The furore, however, diverts attention from several important facts. Starting in 1961, Germany imported workers from the poorer parts of Turkey to meet the demand for labour in its rapidly expanding economy. Turkish workers were paid less than German workers. Housed in barracks, they were given translators at work so that they did not have to learn German. They paid German taxes and national insurance. They were as productive as homegrown workers but were regarded as temporary workers. Furthermore, Turkey’s decades of political instability gave the Gastarbeiter an incentive to stay away but German law did not give their children automatic citizenship by birth. Germany is one of several European countries that got away with such policies. The United Kingdom’s record is far from blemishless but it is better than the comparable record of most other European countries. It has never excluded its Commonwealth settlers from significant participation. Provided they meet specified conditions for U.K. residence, they are required to be on the electoral roll, even if they remain non-U.K. nationals. They have rights to trade union membership and the right to stand for elected office. The ignorance and bigotry of Mr. Sarrazin and his followers is a gift to Germany’s extreme Right and must be countered without vacillation by all democratic players across the political spectrum.
© The Hindu

up  

BAVARIA WINS DISPUTE WITH CZECH FIRM OVER HITLER'S BOOK (Germany/Czech Rep.)

20/9/2010- The Prague Municipal Court allowed a complaint by Bavaria and ordered KMa s.r.o. firm to withdraw from sale and liquidate all books by Adolf Hitler. The verdict is not yet valid. It can be appealed. Bavaria complained against KMa over the allegedly unauthorised publication of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Copyright on Hitler's work is held by the Bavarian Finance Ministry. Bavaria wanted KMa to withdraw and liquidate copies of Mein Kampf, excerpts and commentaries on it and a manuscript by Hitler edited by Gerhard L. Weinberg, all in Czech translations. Petra Schinnenburgova, Bavaria's defence lawyer, said Bavaria wants "the idea of Mein Kampf not to be on the market." Bavaria gained copyright on Hitler's work from the victorious powers shortly after World War Two. Its validity will expire 70 years after Hitler's death, or in 2015. The Bavarian Finance Ministry was entrusted with managing the copyright. The ministry has been stubbornly refusing to permit publication of the books even for scientific purposes. Hitler wrote Mein Kamp in 1924 in prison where he was sent after a failed Nazi courp d'etat in Munich in 1923.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

POLICE SAY EXTREMISM ON THE RISE (Czech Rep.)

Crimes, arrests are up but organized groups weakened in 2009

22/9/2010- Police say crimes committed with an extremist motive were up 22 percent in 2009 on the previous year, according to a report presented to the Chamber of Deputies Defense and Security Committee. The report tallied 265 extremist crimes in 2009, compared with 217 in 2008. The data also pointed to increased arrests and prosecutions of assailants, though only about one-third of those prosecuted were convicted. Deputy Interior Minister Zdeněk Salivar said the statistics are a sign that "the extremist scene is on the defensive." While some NGOs monitoring the trends agree that the influence of far-right groups is in decline, they say law enforcement comprises only part of the picture. "The neo-Nazi scene is currently in decline, almost in decay," says Jana Součková with the activist group Antifa. "Some of this comes from increased police involvement; however, we should not forget about internal disputes among individuals in the movement. This decline would probably have happened anyway." Součková says she also "has a problem with the terminology" used by the government, specifically the word extremism.

"When you speak about extremism and you mean racist and xenophobic views and activities, it is a problem of a whole society, not only few hundred racist thugs," she said. "The racist groundswell in society partly enables their activities by not actively opposing it. Police repression of these movements is only a short-term solution, and in some cases even counterproductive." In May, the Czech Helsinki Committee (Český helsinský výbor) released a report saying, among other things, that intolerance and xenophobia are on the rise. The police said 0.07 percent of all crimes committed in 2009 came with an extremist motive. Salivar singled out the banning of the right-wing Workers Party (DS) as among the biggest successes combating extremism last year. However, the party has reconstituted itself as the Workers Party of Social Justice (DSSS).

"The DSSS has its own intellectual and other limitations; they are unable to step out of their own shadow," Součková said. "We can more or less expect the party to stagnate even though they might gain some seats in the municipal elections. The party in its rhetoric began to compete with the established political parties and politicians, and so they lost their attraction." Součková says the DSSS is now fighting with other far-right groups including the National Resistance and the Autonomous Nationalists. Police Presidium President Oldřich Martinů said law enforcement successfully curbed the number of concerts hosted by extremist groups, which is a key source of their financing. Martinů says concerts tallied only 18 in 2009, half the number from the year before. According to the report, police investigated six cases of police ties to extremist crimes last year. One case resulted in punishment, two remain under investigation and three other cases saw officers cleared of any wrongdoing. A total of 24 police officers were involved in those cases, the report said. All applicants for security-sector related positions are given a background check and cross-referenced for extremist ties, Salivar told the Czech News Agency.
© the Czech News Agency

up  

CHILDREN SUPPORT EQUALITY FOR MINORITIES, STUDY SHOWS (Czech Rep.)

21/9/2010- Czech children support equality of ethnic minorities and are interested in the environment but they are not much involved in civic activities, according to the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS 2009) the results of which were released yesterday. Children aged about 14, from the eighth grades of primary schools and the third grades of eight-year grammar schools, from 38 countries took part in the study last year. Czech children ended up 18th in the assessment of civics knowledge, but compared to the 1999 study, their knowledge has worsened most of all monitored countries. "Czech pupils have proved above-average knowledge," said research coordinator Petr Soukup, adding that the average number of points was 500 and Czechs gained 510. "The pupils almost unambiguously supported equal rights and position in politics and equal pay for both genders. At the same time over a half of them agree that women's main priority should be the upbringing of children," said representatives of the Institute of Education Information (UIV) that carried out the survey in 144 Czech shools. It is not sure whether the children declare the stances because they really take them or because they consider them "politically correct," Soukup said. Czech children expressed high tolerance of ethnic minorities, immigrants and religion, too.

Like the adult majority population of the Czech Republic, most 14-year-old Czechs are not believers. On the other hand, Czech children are below the average in their interest in public life. They do not plan to get more involved in public activities and in politics in the future either. About 60 percent of them were willing to go to parliamentary elections and only 38 percent to EU elections, the study shows. Czech pupils' trust in elected institutions is relatively low - mainly their trust in political parties (28 percent trust them) and in parliament (33 percent). These figures are below average in international comparison. On the contrary, Czech children trust the military, police, school, courts and media, the report says. Most Czech pupils also say their teachers are able to help them and listen to them. Overall, Czech children achieved better results in the civics study than their coevals in Belgium, Norway and Slovenia. The research, in which over 4600 pupils and 1600 teachers took part in the Czech Republic, was funded from the European Social Fund and the state budget.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

GOOD TURN OUT FOR REYKJAVIK ANTI-RACISM RALLY (Iceland)

20/9/2010- Over a thousand people in Reykjavik took part in Saturday’s march in support of the father and son of Cuban origin who temporarily left Iceland a week ago due to racially motivated abuse. The marchers walked together from Hallgrimskirkja church to Ingolfstorg square, where Inan Alberto, the Cuban boy’s older brother, gave a speech and played several songs. Agust Mar Gardarsson, who sits on the Reykjavik welfare committee on behalf of the Best Party, was the event’s co-ordinator and spokesman. He told RUV he was speechless at how many people turned out for the march and took time out of their day to protest both violence and discrimination.

Man held over Reykjavik race attacks 
13/9/2010- One of the two people arrested yesterday over racist abuse that caused a father and son of Cuban origin to flee their home in Iceland, has been remand in custody until Friday by a Reykjavik court. The younger man, a teenager, was released by police; but the older man is in his 30s and is said to be well-known to police for violent acts in the past.
© Ice News

up  

RUSSIAN GAY ACTIVIST SAYS HE WAS SEIZED BY AGENTS

19/9/2010- A prominent Russian gay rights activist who vanished from a Moscow airport this week said Saturday he is back in the capital after being held for more than two days by men he believes were state security agents. The disappearance of Nikolai Alexeyev from Domodedovo Airport sparked concern in Western Europe, with the French Foreign Ministry publicly calling on Russia to respect his freedom of movement and a German parliamentarian saying that country's diplomats were working for his release. Alexeyev is widely known in the international gay rights movement for his repeated efforts to organize parades in Moscow. The city, whose mayor Yuri Luzhkov has publicly called homosexuals "satanic," routinely bans the gatherings, most of which are harshly dispersed by police within minutes. Alexeyev told The Associated Press by telephone that he was heading to board a Geneva-bound plane on Wednesday, but was stopped by airport officials after passing through passport and security control and told his baggage needed further inspection. He said he was taken to a small office and that the officials told a Swiss Airlines representative to offload Alexeyev's checked baggage.

Swiss spokeswoman Andrea Kreuzer said the company was informed Alexeyev hadn't properly passed security checks. The state news agency ITAR-Tass on Friday quoted a Domodedovo official as saying Alexeyev had been detained after refusing to remove his footwear at the security check. Thereafter, he said, he was spirited out of the airport by four men who were not in uniform and didn't identify themselves and was driven to a police station in the city of Kashira, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the airport. Once there, the men insulted him, using "all the slang words for homosexuals in the dictionary" and demanded he withdraw suits he had filed with the European Court of Human Rights protesting Moscow's banning of gay rights rallies. The men also confiscated his cellular telephone, he said. Russia's Interfax news agency on Friday reported that it had received text messages from Alexeyev's phone claiming he was seeking political asylum in Belarus and withdrawing the European court suits. Alexeyev said the texts were sent after his phone was seized.

The next night he was taken to Tula, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Moscow, and by this time "I really thought something bad was going to happen; it was really frightening," he said. But the men took him to the outskirts of the city around dawn on Saturday and released him, after which he made his way by bus to Moscow. Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, but anti-gay feelings remain strong. Moscow's bans on gay rallies and Luzhkov's comments have drawn wide criticism from abroad. Gay activists have announced plans to rally outside the mayor's office on Tuesday to protest his recent use of the word "fag," which a court subsequently ruled could not be deemed offensive. Luzhkov, who has been under increasingly strong pressure to resign in recent months, unexpectedly announced Saturday that he would take vacation next week in Austria and the state news agency RIA Novosti quoted a Kremlin source as saying "he needs time to think."
© The Associated Press

up  

AFRICAN MIGRANT BOAT INTERCEPTED OFF SPAIN

18/9/2010- Spanish coastguard vessels intercepted eight boats packed with 152 African migrants as they tried to enter Spain overnight, local officials said Friday. The maritime rescue service picked up 37 would be immigrants from sub-Saharan African late Thursday in a small boat spotted off the coast of Motril in southern Spain, the regional government of Granada said. All 37 were in good health, it added. A separate operation picked up another seven boats carrying 115 Algerian migrants off the coast of the southeastern region of Murcia, the regional government said. One man on board was taken to hospital due to health problems he developed while on the attempted crossing to Spain, it said in a statement. Spain is a key entry point for illegal immigration from Africa, but officials here fear many of the thousands of Africans who attempt the perilous journey by boat to Spanish soil die each year of thirst, hunger or exposure. They have no way however, of knowing the exact numbers. The mass arrivals of boats carrying migrants has become rarer in recent years thanks to repatriation agreements Madrid has signed with the African countries that are a major source of migrants. The country has also worked with other European nations to boost maritime surveillance.
© AFP

up  

ROMA AND THE EU - 2

ROMANIAN SENATORS BLOCK PUBLIC HOLIDAY OVER USE OF TERM 'ROMA'

22/92010- The Romanian Senate on Wednesday turned down legislation that would have created a national holiday commemorating the emancipation of the country's Roma in the mid-19th century and paved the way for Roma history to be taught in the country's schools. Parliamentarian Nicolae Paun, who heads the small Party of the Roma, had proposed declaring February 20 a memorial day to celebrate what had been the gradual liberation of Roma from their status as slaves serving churches, monasteries, aristocrats and princes. The final law freeing Roma from slavery had been passed on February 20, 1856 in the Romanian principality of Wallachia. The decree applied to the slaves of estate owners. Other categories of slaves had previously been freed bit by bit, starting with church and monastery slaves in the Moldavia principality in 1844. The upper house of parliament rejected the national holiday idea even though its Human Rights Commission had endorsed it.

Senator Puiu Hasotti, a member of the opposition National Liberal Party, justified the decision by saying he disliked that the term Roma had been used in the law's text instead of Gypsy. The term Gypsy - tigan in Romanian - is not pejorative, Hasotti argued, pointing to its use in artistic works such as Johann Strauss' operetta The Gypsy Baron. Hasotti went on to say that the term Roma had been incorrectly introduced during the tenure of president Ion Iliescu, contradicting 'historical tradition.' A people cannot decide on its own what it wants to be called by the rest of society, he argued. He also alleged that the Roma had not actually been enslaved by Romanians, but were brought as slaves to Romanian principalities by invading Tatars in the 13th century. Senator Radu Berceanu, of the governing Democratic Liberal Party, supported Hasotti's arguments. He said the word Roma, which was instituted as an official term by the European Parliament, is 'not scientifically substantiated.' Romania accepted the move to ease its accession to the European Union, Berceanu said. But the country shouldn't accept the expression even if it had led to 'sensibilities' on 'the European level' in the past, he argued. 'We cannot assume that Roma were freed from slavery because it wasn't the Roma, but Gypsies,' he said.
© DPA

up  

THE ROMA'S STRUGGLE TO FIND A HOME

23/9/2010- Another day, and another ram-shackle encampment where Roma once lived is gone. The scrap-wood shelters have been pushed to the ground. The tents, collapsed. The inhabitants, scattered. In Rome, the eviction of the Roma — a European minority sometimes referred to as Gypsies — is taking place with the full force of the law: military police, bulldozers, German shepherds. But, in contrast to the international firestorm over such evictions in France, Italy's have attracted little attention. Even as French President Nicolas Sarkozy tussled with the European Union over the repatriation of dozens of Roma to Romania (despite the name, Roma don't historically come from the country, although many live there), the mayor of Rome announced the demolition of his city's 200 illegal squatter camps, at a rate of three or four a week. This means another wave of expulsions for the Roma, who have faced similar efforts all over the country. Meanwhile, Italy's Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, took to the airwaves and declared the country's Roma problem — and many here see it as a problem — "practically resolved." He added, "The controversy around Sarkozy's decision made me smile a little. For us, it's a movie we've already seen." The Roma and their camps have been present in Italy since the Middle Ages. But a steep rise in their numbers after Romania's entry into the E.U. raised tensions in a country where bigotry runs deep: in Italian, to call somebody a Gypsy is to call him a thief and a liar. At its height, Italy's Roma population more than doubled to somewhere around 160,000, many of them living in unregistered squats without running water, electricity or sanitation. And they are not welcome. In 2008, after a teenage Roma girl was caught in a Naples apartment allegedly trying to steal a baby, a mob burned down the nearest camp. The government declared a state of emergency and announced it would fingerprint the country's Roma and expel those who were there illegally. Objections from the E.U. halted the fingerprinting, but the censure stopped there.

If Italy managed to avoid the opprobrium being heaped on France, it's not because it treats its Roma any better. The criticism leveled at France accuses Sarkozy's government of singling out a specific ethnicity. Italy's campaign came in a context of broad xenophobia: discrimination against the Roma is not much stronger than that against, say, Romanians in general (indeed, many Italians don't make a distinction between the two).  Italy's politicians insist they aren't performing mass expulsions, but simply enforcing the law, closing camps and arresting criminals. But to many Roma, it all amounts to much the same thing. Frequent evictions, widespread discrimination and the risk of vigilante violence create constant pressure to go. Rebecca Covaciu, a 14-year-old immigrant from Romania, spent two years on the move, enduring police raids, beatings by thugs and a close brush with a mob in Naples before finally settling with her family in an apartment in Milan. "My family has had a terrible time finding work," she says. "When they see that we're Roma, they tell us, 'We don't need anyone.' And then you walk out, and there's 'Help Wanted' on the door." In theory, evicted Roma are to be resettled, but so great is the mistrust that when Rome started destroying camps in September, the inhabitants — alerted by the arrival of journalists — dispersed before the police and social services could arrive. Evictions continue, even though a dozen new settlements the city has planned won't be completed for several months. Other municipalities are following suit. As a result, say activists, most of Italy's immigrant Roma have already left — to Spain, Switzerland, France and beyond. Indeed, as more countries follow Italy's and France's leads, the pattern of rousting risks being replicated on a European scale. Italy's politicians have seized on the current uproar to up the ante, proposing laws that would allow the country to expel and bar entry to E.U. citizens who breach the conditions of their stay — just in case the Roma pushed out of France head their way.
© Time Magazine

up  

HUNGARIAN STATE TV REJECTS POLITICAL AD FROM FAR-RIGHT PARTY FOR TALK ABOUT 'GYPSY CRIMINALS'

24/9/2010- Hungarian state television has rejected a political ad from a far-right party that talks about "Gypsy criminals." Hungary is holding municipal elections on Oct. 3. An advertisement by Jobbik, a parliamentary party criticized for its extreme nationalist and racist views, talks about the need to get rid of "parasites" such as corrupt politicians, multinational companies, banks and "Gypsy criminals." Hungarian Television said Friday it refused to run the ad because it did not comply with broadcast rules and was misleading and offensive. Jobbik president Gabor Vona said Hungarian state radio also banned the ad. He described the decisions as an "unprecedented" step against freedom of expression. Jobbik won 16.7 per cent of the votes in April's parliamentary elections.
© The Associated Press

up  

REGISTER ETHNIC ROMA, SAYS MAYOR (Netherlands)

23/9/2010- Dutch local authority areas where Roma families are most concentrated should register their ethnicity, Nieuwegein mayor Cor de Vos, says in Thursday's Volkskrant. De Vos, a Labour party supporter, is chairman of the Roma council's association, which unites the 10 councils where most of the Netherlands' Roma community is located. De Vos says of all immigrant groups, the Roma are most removed from Dutch society, making it difficult to help them because there are few hard facts.

Schools
For example, the education ministry wants definite figures when asked for cash to help get Roma children into school. 'But then they ask 'how many children are we talking about',' Vos said. Ethic registration is banned by law in the Netherlands but there are some exceptions if it is in the 'general interest'. One example of this is Rotterdam's register of problem youth with an Antillean background, the Volkskrant says. On Wednesday it emerged that the central town of Ede has a list of 2,000 Roma who 'do not stick to the rules'.

House
Meanwhile, tv programme EenVandaag is to take legal action against a Roma family in Utrecht, who threatened a camera crew making a report about their reportedly €1m home. The family has been under media siege after it emerged the council has housed them in a large house on the edge of the city after being evicted from city centre locations for troublemaking. The council says it put the families up in the property because they have three very young children and it has a duty of care. The house is scheduled to be redeveloped and the family is under council supervision, a spokesman told the Telegraaf.
© The Dutch News

up  

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT SIDES WITH ROMANIA ON ROMA, SNUBS GOVT

23/9/2010- Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, unlike Prime Minister Borisov, has expressed solidarity with Romania on the thorny issues of France's Roma expulsion and on the two nation's future Schengen Agreement accession. Parvanov welcomed in Sofia Thursday his Romanian counterpart Traian Basescu, indirectly making it clear that his position on the problematic topics differed from that of his political opponent, the Prime Minister. "As far as our upcoming accession to the Schengen Agreement is concerned, granted that we are meeting all requirements, we firmly oppose any attempts to make this process directly on indirectly conditional on the situation with the expelled Roma or the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism," Basescu told journalists in Sofia. While Romania is willing to accept certain remarks with respect to the application of all pre-accession measures, it does not agree that the mechanism installed to monitor the post-accession progress of Romania and Bulgaria must have a reflection on their Schengen entry, he said.

"I have informed President Parvanov about my position and the position of the Romanian government with respect to the Roma issue in France. We cannot accept the restrictions of the freedom of movement of our citizens. Directive 28 from 2004 guarantees the freedom of movement of all EU citizens. Romania backs the strategy for the integration of the Roma on the European level. We underscore that the problem with the nomadic Roma is not just our problem. But we should also do away with any hypocrisy. Our citizens of Roma origin must obey the laws of the country in which they are. They should abide by the customs of the nation where they set up their camps," Basescu said in Sofia while also pointed out the special strategic relations between France and Romania and the hope that any bilateral issues will be sorted out. "Our common position with President Basescu is that the Roma question must not be among the criteria for Schengen Entry. There is no way at all the topic about the integration of the minorities could be a matter of the Schengen requirements. And don't expect me to answer questions about Prime Minister Borisov," Parvanov declared in turn.

He reminded that the governments of Bulgaria and Romania are cooperating actively in order to meet all Schengen requirements. "Of course, every country should be assessed individually. But the decision for that is not made in Sofia or Bucharest but in Brussels. We should cooperate as we did during our accession negotiations," stated the Bulgarian President. In his words, the presidents and governments of the two nations do not need to come up with a joint statement on the Roma issue because they are going to work in the same direction anyway. He stressed his earlier statements that the matter refers to EU citizens, rather than citizens of Bulgaria and Romania. "Whoever broke the law, must be sanctioned. But the sanctions cannot be issued with respect to an entire ethnic group," he declared while saying that the idea for setting up a special ministry for the Roma made little sense because today's issues had to do with many different spheres. "I have shared my concern with President Basescu that this attack on the Roma issues adds new negative traits to the image of Bulgaria and Romania, and to the European society," he explained.

Unlike Bulgaria’s President Parvanov, Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov and, last week, Prime Minister Borisov have basically denied the existence of a “Roma issue” saying that the several dozens of Bulgarian citizens of Roma origin expelled from France have violated local legislation. He expressed his fears that the “artificial blowing out of proportion” of the Roma problems would jeopardize Bulgaria’s chances to join the Schengen Agreement in 2011, and made it clear that Bulgaria wanted to stay away from the row among France, Romania, and the European Commission on the Roma. “We are not a federation with Romania, and I don’t see why they have to view us together. Sarkozy promised me that Bulgaria will not viewed as an ingredient put in the “common pot.” Only a small fraction of the expelled Roma are Bulgarians, the majority are Romanians. Sarkozy said all citizens must abide by the laws, and everybody agreed with him � including the Romanian President and tthe Bulgarian Prime Minister,” Borisov said last week after the end of the EU Council meeting of the heads of state and government of the EU member states. Borisov made world headlines after the meeting by leaking information that there was a huge row between French President Sarkozy and EC President Barroso with respect to the Roma issue.

As part of its campaign to crack down on Roma squatter communities around the country, France has expelled over 1000 Romanian citizens and 41 Bulgarian citizens, who technically agreed to leave voluntarily after they were paid EUR 300. Bulgarian President Parvanov, a former chair of the Socialist Party, and Prime Minister Borisov, leader of the center-right GERB party, have been tangled in simmering conflicts over the past few months. Analysts point to them as the two main opposing political figures in any future elections in Bulgaria.
© Novinite

up  

ROMA ROW 'MUST NOT BLOCK SHENGEN ENTRY'

23/9/2010- France’s expulsions of Roma to Bulgaria and Romania should not block the countries' entry to the Schengen zone, the Bulgarian and Romanian presidents have agreed. The declaration by Traian Basescu and his Bulgarian counterpart, Georgi Parvanov, was made as the Romanian leader paid an official visit to Sofia on Thursday. The pair told a press conference the Roma dispute should not be considered in relation to the countries' accession to the group of European states within the zone, which allows citizens to allow travel without the need for passports. The Balkan countries are expected to join the zone next year if they meet the necessary requirements. “A part of our common position with President Basescu is that this question should not be among the criteria for Schengen Entry,” Purvanov said, adding that the two neighbouring countries would seek a common solution to the Roma row. “The integration of the minorities could not be in any way a matter of the Schengen requirements," he added. Basescu said the accession of both Balkan countries to the zone is one of their main priorities in the EU. “First, we want to join the Schengen zone in March 2011 ... after meeting all the necessary technical requirements for our accession,” he noted. Parvanov stressed that every country should be assessed individually, but the decision for that would be made in Brussels, not in Sofia or Bucharest. His position contrasts with this of the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. Last week Borisov said his country should stay out of the Roma debate and should also be assessed separately from Romania in its bid to join the Schengen zone. Sofia and Bucharest have pledged the construction of the second Danube Bridge between Vidin in Bulgaria and Calafat in Romania will be finished in the middle of next year. The deadline has been extended to 2012. The two presidents also discussed co-operation between the countries in the fields of economy, energy and trade.
© Balkan Insight

up  

FRENCH PRIME MINISTER: 'TAXPAYERS' MONEY SHOULD FIGHT GYPSIES'

22/9/2010- Billions of pounds of European taxpayers’ money should be spent fighting the “19th century-like plague” of gypsies, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said yesterday. He claimed child beggars, prostitutes and burglars in shanty towns on the edge of major cities recalled the European squalor of Dickensian times and needed an urgent solution. Speaking to politicians in Nice, he criticised as “hasty” those who condemned his crackdown on Roma people. Thousands of the immigrants have had their camps demolished by riot police and been deported from France in recent weeks. But Mr Fillon insisted that all had been treated with dignity and respect and given air tickets and cash to return home, mainly to Romania and Bulgaria. Mr Fillon asked: “Who wants Europe to plunge back into the worst plagues of the 19th century? “We need a European policy for the Roma situation. This policy should be based on the integration of the most vulnerable populations in their countries of origin, using part of the billions of euros given to these countries by the European budget.”
© The Daily Express

up  

NATIONALISTS WOULD OUTLAW DENIAL OF ‘GYPSY CRIMINALITY’ (Hungary)

Politically correct public discourse in Hungary has for decades prevented the solution of problems’

20/9/2010- The far-right party Jobbik has called for legislation that would make the denial of “inherent criminality” among the country’s Roma minority punishable by up to three years in jail, five for politicians and other public figures. The draft proposal for an amendment to the Criminal Code was submitted to parliament last Monday. One of its three sponsors, Jobbik politician János Volner, told reporters last Wednesday that the aim was to ensure there is “honest debate” about certain issues, “for example about the question of Gypsy criminality, as is currently taking place in France and Italy”.

‘Sociological relationship’
The proposed amendment to criminalise “the denial of facts that are common knowledge” does not mention Roma or Gypsies explicitly: “Whoever should in front of the wider public deny, cast doubt on, or paint as insignificant any sociological relationship that is relevant to criminal law and is common knowledge - especially with relation to public safety, a type of crime, or characteristic criminal groups - is guilty of a criminal offence and punishable by three years’ imprisonment.”
It is in the “justification” section of the document that the Roma are name-checked: “The so-called politically correct public discourse in Hungary has for decades prevented the solution of problems, which are well known among the public but not recognised at the state level, such as Gypsy criminality, and investigation and research into causes.”

Other anti-Roma initiatives
Jobbik won 17 per cent of the vote in April general elections, following a campaign with promises to stamp out “Gypsy crime” through initiatives such as setting up local gendarmeries. The party’s support was strongest in the poor rural northeast, where the proportion of Roma is in many places far higher than the national average of around seven per cent. Jobbik spokeswoman Dóra Duró acknowledged in an interview in March - which can still be read on Jobbik’s website - that one of the reasons the far-right party enjoyed little support in Budapest’s District XI was that there was “no significant Gypsy crime” in the area. Jobbik’s mayoral candidate for the eastern city of Miskolc, Márton Szegedi, called last month for ethnic Roma repeat offenders to be isolated in internment camps and stripped of their Hungarian citizenship. Local government elections will be held on 3 October.
© The Budapest Times

up  

SLOVAKIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES ROMA PEOPLE IN ICELAND

22/9/2010- President of Slovakia Ivan Gašparovič told Icelandic officials who brought up the issues of Roma children in Slovakia during his official visit to Iceland this week that Roma people, or gypsies, lack interest in education and the will to improve their situation in society. Slovakian media news agency TASR mentioned in its report of Gašparovič’s visit to Iceland and Amnesty International’s protest against human rights violations in Slovakia on Monday that Mayor of Reykjavík Jón Gnarr had participated in the protest, ruv.is reports. The news agency also reported that President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir and Speaker of Parliament Ásta Ragnheidur Jóhannesdóttir mentioned matters concerning Roma people in their meetings with Gašparovič. TASR quoted Gašparovič as saying that he had explained to Icelandic officials that all Slovakian governments have worked on solving the problems facing Roma people without finding a solution. The biggest hindrance is the Roma people’s indifference to improving their situation, he stated. According to a story on Icelandic national broadcaster RÚV, Roma children face injustice in Slovakia as they are often separated from students of other cultural heritage, although a plan aimed at preventing separation in schools is now underway. Chairman of Amnesty International in Iceland Davíd Thór Jónsson claimed Roma children are often classified as having learning disabilities because Slovakian isn’t necessarily their first language. Foreign Minister of Slovakia Mikuláš Dzurinda, who accompanied Gašparovič on his official visit to Iceland, told RÚV it isn’t true that Roma children are discriminated against in schools, pointing out that the situation is very complicated.

Click here to read more about Amnesty’s protest in Iceland.
© The Iceland Review

up  

HOUSING CAMPAIGNERS CALLS FOR UN RIGHTS ACTION ON FRANCE

20/9/2010- A lobby group on housing rights called Monday on the UN Human Rights Council to demand that France stop expelling Roma gypsies and to allow those already deported to return. "The council should urge France to halt all further forced evictions and deportations of Roma in France and to provide remedies to those already forcibly evicted and expelled, including the right to return and the right to adequate housing and land restitution," said Gotzon Onandia-Zarrabe, advocacy director of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. He pointed out that France has legal obligations to "respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing," and to do so without discrimination. "If Roma housing is indeed substandard, that fact demonstrates that France is unwilling or unable to meet its obligation to fulfil the right to adequate housing," said Onandia-Zarrabe. "In such a situation, carrying out forced evictions only exacerbates the problem and adds to the violations of international human rights law."  France's move to evict Roma gypsies has drawn some sharp international criticism but President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed last week at an EU summit to continue dismantling illegal gypsy and traveller camps in France.
© AFP

up  

MUNICIPALITY OF BULGARIA'S YAMBOL LEAVES ROMA HOMELESS

20/9/2010- The Roma, formerly living in the notorious apartment building 20 in the Bulgarian city of Yambol, have been left on the streets after the municipality refused to accommodate them in other municipal buildings. "The children who have not been provided with normal living conditions will have to be sent to children homes," the mayor of Yambol, Georgi Slavov, said Monday. The Roma, living in apartment building 20, were evicted last week, after local authorities declared an emergency situation in the area and a 10-year-old girl was brought to the Yambol hospital in critical condition. The girl was injured when some Roma, angered by the order, began tearing down the panel construction. Slavov has explained that he would not allow "the biggest violators" to use special preferences at the expense of families who have been waiting a long time for accommodation in municipal buildings. He has also stated that the Roma who have remained at the meadow near the apartment building 20 have been deliberately enticed to think that the municipality is obliged to compensate them. According to Slavov, they have been lied to by someone who has an interest to maintain the tension. He gave an example of about ten Roma families, who gave up in the last minute the opportunity to receive assistance by the municipality for their transportation to a certain destination, after they had previously required it. "The distribution of municipal housing will happen as before, following the law, and after categorizing and classifying of the needy families," Slavov said. The mayor also reminded that the municipality of Yambol has respected the right of free access of all the residents of the apartment building 20. If the choice by the minorities is to live at the meadow, then they will be violate the Child Protection Act because they will not be able to provide normal living conditions for their children, Slavov said. After the eviction of the residents of the dangerous apartment building 20, about 100 people built huts at the nearby meadow with materials at hand. The demolition of the notorious building began on September 18, after the residents were evicted and the area was protected with a temporary metal fence.
© Novinite

up  

BULGARIAN ROMA TO 'CONTINUE FRANCE PROTESTS'

20/9/2010- Protests in Bulgaria against France's expulsion of Roma are to continue as long as Paris refuses to end the policy, demonstration organisers have declared. The comments made by Stela Kostova, the director of the Roma Youth Organisation in the town of Sliven, came two days after about 200 people, mostly Roma, rallied outside the French embassy in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital. Kostova told Balkan Insight on Monday: “We will continue to protest peacefully and tell our supporters to stop buying French goods if France doesn’t stop returning Roma.” Paris has returned about 1,200 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania to date, paying €300 in cash to adults and €100 to children who voluntarily agree to be sent back to their home countries. Kostova, who was among the organisers of Saturday’s rally, stressed that Paris' actions against the Roma community were a violation of human rights. She said: “This policy is absolutely inhumane, that’s how the concentrations camps during World War II were started. “Most of the returned people have gone abroad just to look for a better life, as many other Bulgarians do.” Holding posters declaring; “Europe is with us”, “We want jobs, not a €300 bribe”, “We’re all Roma”, the protesters in Sofia had demanded the immediate suspension of France’s policy towards Roma, calling it discriminative and racist. They handed in a letter to French president Nicolas Sarkozy at the French embassy, which also demanded an apology from the French government. It also insisted on the equal treatment of Bulgarian Roma and the respect of their human and civil rights as European citizens. Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov said last week that his country should not get involved in the debate, as the debate raged between the EU and France at last week’s EU summit in Brussels.
© Balkan Insight

up  

ROMA MIGRANT WORKERS REVIVE BULGARIAN VILLAGE

20/9/2010- Contrary to the stereotypical view of the Roma community as beggars and criminals, many Bulgarian Roma have carved out a legitimate and successful life overseas - but the lure of home and family means they keep strong ties with their roots. At first sight Kardam, a small village in north-east Bulgaria, looks just like any another in the country but this initial impression hides a new reality. Unlike many Bulgarian country villages where the houses are slowly crumbling, in Kardam many homes are new, neatly painted and well-tended. Despite the current economic crisis, construction continues unabated and new homes are quickly replacing the old. Expensive cars crawl slowly through the village, winding their paths along ragged, pot-holed roads.

The reason for this atypical revival is simple. About half of the 960-strong Roma population of Kardam, a village of some 1,600 people, are working abroad. Sebaidin Osmanov, a 36-year-old Roma who has been working in Germany for nine years, is one of them. “The situation here was very bad. We were jobless and sometimes we couldn’t even afford to buy food or medicine if our child became sick,” he said, while helping on the construction site of his new house. Osmanov, who returned to Kardam to supervise the building of his new home, and his wife work legally as cleaners in Frankfurt and their two daughters attend school there. On average, each of them earns between €2,300 and €2,500 per month. In Bulgaria, assuming work can be found, the average salary is about €300.

Despite the widespread stereotype that Roma immigrants are involved in criminal activities abroad - a bias being underscored by the ongoing immigration row in France - the Roma community from this village are well-integrated in western-European countries. Moreover, they save and then invest their money in Bulgaria, supporting their families and relatives, buying property and building new houses. And the Roma from Kardam are not an isolated example. Rumyan Sechkov, the director of Creating Effective Grassroot Alternatives, a local non-governmental organisation, NGO, told Balkan Insight that there are many villages like Kardam where most of the Roma population has chosen to work abroad.

Ilona Tomova, a researcher at the Bulgarian Academy of Science, said one gender and generation study suggested 25,000 Roma left the country between 2005 and 2008. But she believes the number could be about 50,000, as the country's 2001 census puts the Roma population in Bulgaria at about 370,000 people, while local observers estimate the actual number could be as high as 850,000. She said: “Most Roma emigrants are well-integrated and usually work legally."They’re paid well and support their families back home.” Poverty, unemployment, discrimination and pervasive racism have forced many Roma to look for a better life abroad.

“The whole village is in Frankfurt, working legally and paying taxes and social security contributions,” Osmanov said, noting that emigration had been kind to the village. “In five-years' time our village will become nicer and more modern,” he added. In fact, so many Roma from the village work in Frankfurt that they have christened the German neighbourhood where many of them live as 'Kardam'. Alongside Germany, the most preferred destinations are Belgium and Italy for Roma Muslims and Sweden, Switzerland and Norway for the Kalderash community, another Roma group. The immigrants work in unskilled occupations, mainly as construction workers and cleaners. “Many Roma, like those from Kardam, have been working abroad for years,” said Deyan Kolev from Amalipe, a Roma rights organisation based in the Bulgarian town of Veliko Tarnovo. According to research he has conducted on Roma emigration to Western Europe, most work legally and have successfully settled down.

Miroslav Yanchev, the mayor of Kardam, is convinced that Roma emigration is good both for the people and the village. “I’m glad that they’re abroad because they wouldn’t be able to find any jobs here,” he noted. “They’re renovating their homes, tearing down the old ones and building new ones, investing their money back in Kardam,” Yanchev added. Most come back to Kardam at least once a year. “When they come back, usually in May and June, there are at least seven to eight weddings in the village,” Yanchev said. Valentin Grozdanov, a local businessman who runs a bakery and a supermarket, says that there is a noticeable difference when they return. “Business is 10 times better when the Roma who work abroad come back,” he said. Kolev says that living in a different culture and society has also influenced Roma’s attitudes and values towards work and education.

Maria Ivanova, a 23-year-old from the local Kalderash Roma community, is a typical example of that change. Her parents have been working in Norway for years. When she decided to pursue a high school diploma and later a university degree, something unusual for Roma girls who still marry at a young age, her grandparents strongly opposed the idea, but her parents stood behind her. Now she is finishing her last year in a local university, studying public administration. “Living and working in a new environment has changed attitudes in the Roma community. It used to be enough to just know how to read and to count, but now people have started to see the real value of education,” Ivanova said. Both Sechkov and Kolev agree that successful Roma emigrants could be a valuable asset for the country, if they come back. “Unlike ethnic Bulgarians who usually never come back, the Roma go to work abroad to earn enough money so that they can come back and live better lives here,” Sechkov noted. Kolev suggests the government should try to attract successful Roma emigrants back to the country. “Most of their income is invested back in Bulgaria, so I think the state should encourage these successful Roma to come back,” he said.
© Balkan Insight

up  

CSSD PROMISES TO TAKE DOWN ANTI-ROMA BILLBOARD (Czech Rep.)

19/9/2010- The alleged anti-Romany election billboard of the Czech Social Democrat (CSSD) branch will be withdrawn, CSSD acting head Sobotka said in a statement sent to CTK yesterday after talks with local politicians, but they said the billboard would only be changed. The billboard will be pasted up only, CSSD Most organisation chairman Lubomir Holy said. The CSSD leadership previously called on the organisation to remove the billboard with the text "Why should I regret that I belong to the ethnic majority in my home? One state, same rules for all" that were displayed in the streets of Most, a town with a numerous Romany population, in a campaign ahead of the October local elections. "On the basis of the Friday resolution of the CSSD political board, I agreed with Most CSSD election leader Karel Novotny and Usti regional CSSD branch chairman Petr Benda on the withdrawal of the controversial billboard from the CSSD campaign in Most," Sobotka said in a press release. He added that the billboard would be withdrawn next week. However, the local Social Democrats interpret the agreement differently. "We will not withdraw the billboard, we will maximally correct the text," Holy told CTK. He added that the new text would be released yesterday or on Monday. Then it will be submitted to the CSSD leadership for approval, he added. The Most Social Democrats allegedly plan to paste up the slogan only but not to remove the whole billboard. Benda does not agree with a complete withdrawal of the billboard either. It is up to the local organisation to decide, he said. "I believe that they will modify the slogan not to make a negative impression on some groups. However, the content of the message should remain the same," Benda told CTK.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

FRENCH EXPULSIONS ROW DOING NOTHING TO HELP THE ROMA

20/9/2010- Despite a highly pubicised row between Paris and Brussels, Roma adults and children continue to be deported from France, with human rights champions voicing concern about the missed opportunity to actually do something for the minority. "I note the new policies of France towards the Roma, including the dismantling of their settlements and collective deportations to their country of origin," Navi Pillay, the United Nation's human rights chief said on Sunday (19 September) in Geneva. "This can only exacerbate the stigmatization of Roma and the extreme poverty in which they live. I urge European states, including France, to adopt policies enabling Roma people to overcome their marginalization."

So-called "voluntary" repatriations from France continued last week, even as President Nicolas Sarkozy prominently escalated his row with the European Commission during a summit of EU leaders, denouncing as an "insult" one EU commissioner's having comparison of his policy to that of the Nazi regime which exterminated hundreds of thousand of Roma during World War II. His party colleagues continued to play hardball over the weekend, with one French senator saying he wished Luxembourg "didn't exist," in reference to the home country of EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, who last week threatened to take France to court and said she thought Europe would never again witness such "apalling" and "disgraceful" policies after the world war.

A similar comparison to Ms Reding's was made by Europe's human rights champion Thomas Hammerberg, from the Council of Europe. "Discrimination against Roma communities in Europe has a long and bitter history. The repression came to a climax in the 1930-40s when they were targeted by fascist regimes in both Romania and Italy. In areas controlled by the German Nazis several hundred thousand Roma were rounded up and brought to concentration camps or executed directly. This genocide was not even an issue at the Nuremberg trial and the little compensation to the survivors or to the victims' family members came late, if at all," he said in a statement last week. "Anti-Gypsyism has continued until this day and is now exploited by extremist groups in several European countries."

The escalating row between Paris and Brussels has divided member states, with Mr Sarkozy finding support among Europe's anti-immigration hardliners: Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Hungary's extreme-right Jobbik party. "I am with Sarkozy," Mr Berlusconi repeated during the week-end, after having voiced similar support during the EU summit in Brussels. Meanwhile, Roma camps continue to be dismantled in the proximity of Milan, with Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni pushing for EU rules allowing EU citizens to be sent back after three months if they do not have enough money to support themselves. Ten Romanian policemen are due to arrive in France on Monday on a mission to help their French colleagues in their Roma repatriation policy.

Romania, home to nearly 2 million Roma, and Bulgaria, with around 800,000, have the biggest Roma populations in the EU. Unlike Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, who can travel freely and come back to France after being deported, non-EU Roma from Kosovo face a tougher reality when deported from countries like Germany. Under a deal agreed in April between Berlin and Pristina, 14,000 refugees are to be returned to Kosovo - 10,000 of them Roma. In a bid to divert media attention from France, Mr Sarkozy last Thursday said that German chancellor Angela Merkel was also planning to clear Roma camps. Berlin later rejected the claim, saying its actions, which amount to repatriating some 2,500 Roma people a year, are not "mass deportations" but "gradual returns."
© The EUobserver

up  

IRELAND TURNS ON GYPSIES HOMELESS(opinion)

By Mary Catherine Brouder

20/9/2010- No matter where you go in Dublin’s city center, and many large cities, you’ll almost always find people sitting on the street begging for their keep. You’ll see young runaways, sullen addicts, and Roma people, often referred to as gypsies. Despite the fact that the Roma usually don’t exhibit addictions, have children with them, and maintain distinctly tidy appearances despite their meager means, it’s always the Roma people I hear my Irish friends and neighbors complaining about. As France officially began deporting hundreds of Roma families this week, I took part in more than a few interesting conversations about this blatantly discriminatory new policy. Several of my friends were, like me, horrified, but I was surprised to see how many people fiercely supported the measure. One friend launched into a tirade about the horrors of “the gypos.” When I pressed him to explain where his decidedly pejorative frame of mind about the Roma came from(perhaps personal experience?), he merely offered the usual, “they’re just rude, and so ignorant.” In order to justify his bigotry, he offered, “They hurt their children to help their chances of getting more money from begging.” Did he have any proof to support such a horrid accusation? None.

It seems to me, from a purely logistical standpoint, that it would require a much more parenting to raise a disabled child on the street, rather than a perfectly healthy one. And for that matter, wouldn’t it cost more in medical bills throughout a child’s life than his parent could ever hope to earn from begging for change? Even if that one didn’t make the most sense, he had another reason for his prejudice against them. “When you give them money, they pool it all together from all of their posts around the city and then when they get back to their camp, they divide it up.” Well to me, that just sounds like an example of business savvy and good sharing, and certainly does not constitute evidence of crookery and inherent dishonesty, as he would have me believe. As it so happens, I spent time with Roma people a few months ago while working on a documentary. My co-producer and I traveled around Hungary, to some of the most destitute and hopelessly impoverished slums I have ever seen. And yet I’ve never meet people as eager to open up their homes and hearts, as the Roma people in those neighborhoods. All of the families we visited gave us three kisses on the cheeks – a Hungarian custom – and offered us coffee and literally every single scrap of food that they had.

One older woman spoke about having barely enough money to buy loaves of bread for her family members. She then laughed at the absurdity of being able to afford meat to put on those loaves. It was an awkward silence, full of shame and sorrow, that followed. The Roma are not just poor people. They live in homes without proper heating, electricity, or sanitation. They live in conditions that no human should have to endure, and if they were anything but Europe’s scapegoat for all of its financial problems, they wouldn’t be allowed to. I spoke with Prof. Jack Greenberg, a civil rights attorney who spent time in South Africa during apartheid, and traveled through several Roma camps and neighborhoods. He said that the Roma living conditions were worse, by far, than any of what he saw in the South African shanty towns.

The lucky ones get out of the places where they’ve historically suffered from slavery, genocide, discrimination, and marginalization, to start anew in places like France, or Ireland. And when they get here, they fight for every dime they get. Yes, I have had a few unpleasant experiences with Roma people aggressively begging on the street, but at the end of the day, if I had to rely on the charity of other people to feed my children, I’d fight tooth and nail to get any money I could out of our ungenerous citizenry. A few days ago, I met had a chance meeting with a Hungarian living in Ireland. So I excitedly told him that I had traveled all around his country, documenting the plight of the Roma people. His facial expression turned from one of delight to disgust. “The Roma people?” he offered with a condescending snort. “Have you been to any of the jails?” Well, no. “They’re full of Roma people.”

Interesting. I spoke about how a legacy of poverty and endless discrimination and marginalization leads to hopelessness, and often, in turn, crime. He cut me off, “The police over there, they are afraid to arrest anybody because they’ll say, hey you’re just doing it because I’m Roma.” He finished this last bit with a satisfied imitation of someone playing the “poor me” card. I thought about it for a moment, and then I realized that didn’t make any sense. “Well,” I asked, “are the jails full of Roma people, or are the cops afraid to arrest them? It can’t be both.” He had no answer for this. He, like millions of others all around the world, had been fed a bunch of tripe about people that are different, and being inclined to dislike what it unfamiliar, he agreed to allow every reason he was given, to support his theory. Even if they were literally contradictory and illogical.

Discrimination is never logical. Nor is it permissible.
© Irish Central

up  

HISTORY TEACHES US THAT ANTI-ROMA RHETORIC IS PLAYING WITH FIRE (opinion)

By Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights Council of Europe

19/9/2010- Prejudices against the Roma are still widespread and continue to fuel discrimination and hate crimes. This is why it is particularly important that politicians and other opinion makers avoid any rhetoric which feed the stigmatisation of Roma communities. Repr­ession of the Roma in the past has been the product of racism and intolerance. We must learn from history and not repeat the terrible mistakes. Only a few thousand Roma in Germany survived the Holocaust and the concentration camps. They faced enormous difficulties when trying to build up their lives again, having lost so many of their family members and relatives, and having had their properties destroyed or confiscated. Many of them had their health ruined. When some of them tried to obtain compensation, their claims were rejected for years. For these survivors no justice came with the post-Hitler era. Significantly, the mass killing of the Roma people was not an issue at the Nürnberg trial. The genocide of the Roma – Samudaripe or Porrajmos – was hardly recognised in the public discourse. This passive denial of the grim facts could not have been surprising to the Roma themselves, as for generations they had been treated as a people without history. The violations they had suffered were quickly forgotten, if even recognised.

This history goes back several hundred years, in fact ever since the various Roma groups arrived in Europe following the long migration from India. The methods of repression have varied between enslavement, enforced assimilation, expulsion, internment and mass killings. The ‘reasons’ for these policies have, however, been similar. The Roma were seen as unreliable, dangerous, criminal, and undesirable. They were the outsiders who could easily be used as scapegoats when things went wrong and the locals did not want to take responsibility. In Wallachia and Moldavia (today’s Romania) the Roma lived in slavery and bondage for centuries up to 1855 when the last Roma slaves were finally emancipated. In Spain more than ten thousand Roma were rounded up in a well planned military-police action one day in 1749. The purpose according to a leading clergyman who advised the government was to ‘root out this bad race, which is hateful to God and pernicious to man’. The result was devastating to the Roma community – the deportations, detentions, forced labour and killings destroyed much of the original Roma culture. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the 18th century the rulers applied a policy of enforced assimilation. Roma children were taken from their parents and instructions went out that no Roma was allowed to marry another Roma. Furthermore, the Romani language was banned. This policy was brutally enforced. For instance, the use of the ‘Gypsy’ language was to be punishable by flogging.

Fascists in the 20th century turned also against the Roma. In Italy a circular went out in 1926 which ordered the expulsion of all foreign Roma in order to ‘cleanse the country of Gypsy caravans which needless to recall, constitute a risk to safety and public health by virtue of the characteristic Gypsy lifestyle’. The order made clear that the aim was to ‘strike at the heart of the Gypsy organism’. What followed in fascist Italy for the Roma was discrimination and persecution. Many were detained in special camps; others were sent to Germany or Austria and later exterminated. The fascist ‘Iron Guard’ regime in Romania started deportations in 1942. Like many Jews, about 3,000 Roma were brought across the river Dniester where they suffered hunger, disease and death. Only about half of them managed to survive the two years of extreme hardship before the policy changed. In France about 6,000 Roma were interned during the war, the majority of them in the occupied zone. Unlike other victims, the Roma were not systematically released upon the German retreat. The new French authorities saw internment as a means of forcing them to settle. In the Baltic States a large number of the Roma inhabitants were killed by the German invasion forces and their local supporters within the police. Only 5-10% of the Roma in Estonia survived. In Latvia about half of the Roma were shot while it is estimated that a vast majority of those in Lithuania were also killed.

In fact, all countries in Europe were affected by the racist ideas of the time. In the neutral Sweden the authorities had encouraged a sterilisation program already in the twenties which primarily targeted the Roma (and which continued up to the seventies). Also in Norway pressure was exerted on Roma to sterilise. The German Nazi regime defined the Roma (including the Sinti) as ‘racially inferior’ with an ‘asocial behaviour’ which was deemed hereditary. This, in fact, was a development of old and widespread prejudices in both Germany and Austria. The so-called Nürnberg race laws of 1935 deprived the Roma of their nationality and citizen’s rights. It was demanded that they should be interned into labour camps and sterilised by force. An earlier plan of Nazi racists to keep some of the ‘racially pure’ Roma in a sort of anthropological museum was forgotten, while some Roma, not least children, were singled out for Josef Mengele’s cruel medical experiments. A policy of forced sterilisation was implemented, often without anaesthesia. The systematic murder of Roma started in the summer 1941 when German troops attacked the Soviet Union. They were seen as spies (like many Jews) for the ‘Jewish Bolshevism’ and were shot by the German army and the SS in mass executions. Indeed, in all areas occupied by the Nazis there were executions of Roma people.

Figures are uncertain, but it is estimated that far more than hundred thousand were executed in those situations, including in the Balkans where the killings were supported by local fascists. The Ustascha militia in Croatia ran camps but also organised deportations and carried out mass executions. In December 1942, the Nazi regime decided that all Roma in the ‘German Reich’ should be deported to Auschwitz. There they had to wear a dark triangle and a Z was tattooed to their arm. Of all camp inmates they had the highest death rate: 19,300 lost their lives there. Of them 5,600 were gassed and 13,700 died from hunger, disease or following medical experiments. It is still not known how many Roma in total fell victim to the Nazi persecution. Not all Roma were registered as Roma and the records are incomplete. The fact that there was no reliable statistics about the number of Roma in these areas before the mass killings makes it even more difficult to estimate the actual number of casualties. Careful estimates are that the number was at least 250,000. Other credible studies indicate that more than 500,000 Roma lost their lives, perhaps many more. There has still not been any recognition in several countries that this minority has been repressed in the past and no official apology has been given. One good example to the contrary was the decision by the government Bucharest in 2003 to establish a commission on the Holocaust which later published an important report on the repression and killings in Romania during the fascist period.

Council of Europe has tried to fill the knowledge gap about this tragic history through making public a series of fact sheets which hopefully will be translated into national languages and used in schools all over Europe. Any serious reader would understand that it is not surprising that there is a lack of trust amongst many Roma towards the majority society and that some of them see the authorities as a threat. When told to register or to be fingerprinted they fear the worst. The fact sheets also illustrate that the Roma have not migrated for devious reasons or because travelling is “in their blood”. When it has been possible they have indeed settled but for long they have had to move between or within countries to avoid repression or simply because they were not allowed to stay. The other main reason was that the kind of employment or jobs which were open to them required their moving. I hope the present generation of active politicians would take lessons from this tragic history. Reviving age-old stereotypes about the Roma is to play with fire. For instance, distinction must be made between a few criminals and the overwhelming majority of the Roma population. Collective scapegoating must stop.
© New Europe

up  

RIGHTS GROUP TO PURSUE BELGIUM OVER ROMA TREATMENT

20/9/2010- The International Federation for Human Rights said Monday it will pursue Belgium over mistreatment of Roma in the Council of Europe, the continent's key rights referee. Belgium's French-speaking League of Human Rights said the complaint related to housing and transit sites for travellers. The complaint to the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe's economic and social rights committee would claim a violation of its European Social Charter, which covers 47 European states. "The Belgian state, to differing degrees in its three (federal) regions, is clearly violating the European Social Charter," the Belgian group's deputy head Veronique Van Der Plancke told Le Soir newspaper. She said the complaint would focus on "aspects linked to housing" and would raise questions about Belgian housing provision for the poor or homeless. The southern French-speaking region of Wallonia "is even more at fault than Flanders", the Dutch-speaking north, in terms of how it deals with Roma Gypsies and travellers, League of Human Rights spokesman David Morelli told AFP. Flanders offers about 30 sites enabling some 474 travellers' groups to set up camp, whereas only one transit site has been set up in Wallonia for dozens of groups, Van Der Plancke said. She said that local authority rules prohibiting vehicles to stay longer than 24 hours in any one site did not meet the "concrete" needs of travellers. Since 2004 four countries have been condemned by the Council of Europe over provision of facilities for Roma: Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and, last October, France. President Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered French police to dismantle Gypsy camps and expel foreign-born travellers, triggering a string of rows with EU officials and partners at last week's summit in Brussels.
© Expatica News

up  

SCOTLAND’S SHAME: AMNESTY HITS OUT AT ROMA RACISM

Human rights organisation Amnesty International yesterday condemned the racism that the travelling community suffers on a daily basis throughout Scotland.

19/9/2010- The condemnation comes as the “gypsy” community in mainland Europe battles increasing levels of discrimination and after EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding compared France’s expulsion of the Roma people to the Nazis’ deportation of the Jews. In Pitlochry yesterday travellers staged a cultural summit celebrating their traditions and calling for action by the Scottish Government to curb the racism they suffer north of the Border. Members of the travelling community told the Sunday Herald that Scottish society still refused to tolerate their lifestyle, amid continued attempts to force them into the mainstream. The community said there could be as many as 15,000 travellers in Scotland – including some Roma. The issue has been taken up by Amnesty International Scotland. Amnesty researched each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities’ performance on delivering basic services and wrote to the councils challenging their record and highlighting areas where there could be improvement. John Watson, programme director for Amnesty International Scotland, said: “One of our focal points during next year’s elections for the Scottish Parliament will be to ask the Scottish Government to publish an action plan to tackle discrimination.” Yesterday’s event at Moulin Kirk in Pitlochry was organised by Jess Smith, a storyteller and author who has written five books about Scotland’s travellers. Smith, who describes herself as a tinker, said the event was designed to raise the issue of prejudice and to celebrate the travelling community’s heritage. “We’ve never been accepted,” she said. “As a kid I was battered senseless simply because I was different. Our people have always been viewed as a thorn in the side of authority, and society does not accept us because we’re free spirits – like the white wolf. “We’re part of Scotland’s heritage but that’s under threat through attempts to filter us into mainstream society by making our lifestyle difficult to maintain.”

Shamus McPhee, a 39-year-old linguist who grew up in Bobbin Mill, Pitlochry, would agree. Bobbin Mill is the site of a controversial social experiment to assimilate gypsies into society. McPhee regards himself as part of a distinct ethnic group who speak a language called Cant, containing Sanskrit and Hindu words. His sister Roseanna, a Gaelic teacher, had recently visited Roma camps in Kosovo and said she found conditions there were similar to Bobbin Mill. Her brother recently began a petition urging the Scottish Government to apologise to his community for decades of discrimination. He contacted many lawyers in Scotland to represent them in a human rights case based on their childhoods spent “as part of a racial experiment”. “But no-one would take us,” he said. “We’ve now taken our complaint to Strasbourg and it has passed the first stage. Witnessing what is happening to the Roma in Europe is disturbing and I’ve noticed attitudes hardening recently here in the UK.”

The Bobbin Mill experiment
The Bobbin Mill Tinker Housing Experiment was set up in 1947 by the Department of Health, giving land to gypsies for 99 years. The site was to be maintained by Perth and Kinross Council, which was to charge rent. The Department of Health said huts should be built to the lowest possible tender (£825) and normal standards need not apply. The idea was to house people temporarily, get the children into school and their parents into council houses. More than 60 years on, however, the McPhee family is still living there without modern amenities.
© The Herald Scotland

up  

EUROPEAN ROMA RIGHTS GROUPS THREATEN TO TAKE FRANCE TO COURT

19/9/2010- Roma groups protested at France's expulsion policy and threatened to take Paris to the European court Saturday, as another top EU official took aim at President Nicolas Sarkozy. In Bulgaria, a dozen Roma organisations delivered a joint letter, addressed to Sarkozy, to the French embassy in Sofia. "The people you are throwing out have not committed any crime: if that was the case, they would have been arrested and charged," they wrote. Some 150 Roma chanted "Europe is with us" and carried banners saying, "Sarkozy is legalising racism," "Poor doesn't mean criminal, No to deportation" and "Liberty, equality, fraternity", referring to the French national motto. On Thursday, Sarkozy vowed to continue dismantling illegal Gypsy and traveller camps in France despite a barrage of criticism and reported clashes with European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso at a heated EU summit in Brussels. In Spain Saturday the local wing of Union Romani, an international Prague-based Roma rights organisation, vowed to take France to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg. "We express our sorrow and our deception because European leaders at the summit did not have the necessary courage to put the French president in his place," the group said in a statement. It condemned the French interior ministry's August 5 leaked memo -- which revealed that Roma were being targeted for expulsion -- as "a racist, anti-constitutional, anti-European, inhuman measure with clear Nazi connotations." The group said the ECJ's 27 judges "will decide a verdict which, we do not doubt, will make an example of and will condemn the French government."

The summit came two days after the EU's top justice official Viviane Reding, angered by the leaked memo which apppeared to contradict Paris's assurances, called the expulsions a "disgrace" and threatened legal action. "This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," she said, in turn arousing Sarkozy's ire. EU Social Affairs Commissioner Laszlo Andor hit out at the French leader again in an interview to be published Monday. "People are trying here cheaply and obviously to boost their popularity at the expense of a particularly vulnerable group," Andor told the Austrian weekly Profil. However he conceded Sarkozy's case that EU members in general had done too little for the minority group, and said the bloc will hold a conference in the Romanian capital Bucharest next month to discuss aid initiatives for Roma. The meeting aims to address the EU's existing "comprehensive support programme" for Roma and gypsies and encourage member states like Romania and Bulgaria to benefit from these subsidies, he said. Meanwhile, a French opinion poll found 71 percent of respondents believed that France's international image had been tarnished after the dismantling of Roma gypsy camps and expulsions to Romania and Bulgaria, on top of the French football team's exit from the World Cup in disgrace.
© AFP

up  

ROMA DEPORTATIONS 'UNIMAGINABLE' IN PORTUGAL

Former Portuguese president and UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations Jorge Sampaio “can’t imagine” that Portugal would ever follow policies such as France’s deportation of hundreds of gypsies, he told Lusa News Agency while on a visit to Moscow late last week.

18/9/2010- “I can’t imagine that my country would ever do something like that”, Mr. Sampaio said. “I don’t wish to comment on any nation’s internal policies”, Mr. Sampaio added, noting however that “expelling ethnic groups is never a solution to any crisis”. France deported around 1,000 gypsies to Bulgaria and Romania in the last few weeks. Mass deportations are “intolerable in democratic and pluralist societies such as those of Europe”, Jorge Sampaio said.
© The Portugal News

up  

Headlines 17 September, 2010

POLISH MIGRATION 'CHANGED IRISH WORKFORCE'

17/9/2010- Polish migration to Ireland has had a lasting impact on the Irish workforce and wider society according to new research published by Trinity College Dublin. The three-year research project, which traced the trajectories of a group of Polish nationals working in Ireland, found the standards required from Irish workers increased as a result of Polish migrants. The arrival of more than 300,000 Polish nationals to Ireland over the last few years has meant the demands for labour could be met easily according to TCD Professor James Wickham. As a result, Irish workers had to upgrade their skills, Prof Wickham said, adding: “There is now has a more skilled, more flexible labour force than there used to be”. Irish workers still have a long way to go in terms of competing with other European workers as the majority of Irish people only have one language, Prof Wickham said. Monolingualism is a “massive problem and really shows the failure of the Irish educational system. Polish people speak Polish and English, whereas most Irish people only speak English,” he said. “Everyone in Europe has English now, so it’s no advantage. Irish people are going to need another major language to compete with their European counterparts,” he added. The arrival of Polish migrants led to the emergence of new Polish communities across the country and a visible presence in many workplaces, according to the research, titled Migrant Careers and Aspirations. The most surprising thing about the research according to Professor Wickham was “the extent to which people’s experiences of Ireland was a positive one event though most migrants got paid less that the equivalent qualifed Irish person”. “They found the Irish workplace more informal, employers fairer and managers less authoritarian than in Poland,” he said.The research shows that migrants have been more affected by rising unemployment than Irish nationals, with migrants from the new EU member states particularly badly hit.
© The Irish Times

up  

NEW MONTENEGRIN LANGUAGE 'DISCRIMINATES AGAINST SERBS'

15/9/2010- The adoption of a new style of Montenegrin grammar has been criticised as a "classic form of discrimination" against Serbs in Montenegro, the country's Serbian National Council, SNS, opposition party has declared. Critics believe the changes to the language are politically motivated, aimed at forging a separate Montenegrin identity following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. They claim the recent official adoption of "Montenegrin Grammar" is designed to expel the Serb language and discriminate against the large Serbian minority and those who, until recently, claimed Serbian as their native language. "The council has already addressed the Constitutional Court of Montenegro ... [on] the constitutionality of the Law on Education and, if that institution makes a political instead of legal decision, we will address the court in Strasbourg and other relevant international organisations," SNS leader Momcilo Vuksanovic told the Serbian daily Politika. Over the border in Serbia, linguist Ivan Klein dubbed the Montenegrin language “an artificial creation and a political decision”.

One of the authors of the Grammar, Montenegrin linguist Adnan Cirgic, denied claims by the Serbian and Montenegrin opposition that archaic forms of words were being revived, saying the new grammar only included words that were still in use. He said: “The archaic forms that local ‘experts’ have quoted in the media haven’t been included. “This is just propaganda conducted to prevent the use of the new spellings.” The beginning of a new term in educational institutions in Montenegro have marked the begining of the new Montenengrin language being adopted. The government approved The Grammar of the Montenegrin Language as the country’s official grammatical code last month. The first edition of a book on it appeared in bookstores on September 4 and a lexicon of the Montenegrin language was published days later. According to a recent poll conducted in 2010, 41.6 per cent of respondents claim Serbian to be their native language and 38.2 per cent Montenegrin.
© Balkan Insight

up  

DID NEO-NAZI MURDERER REALLY ACT ALONE? 1980 OKTOBERFEST BOMBING (Germany)

Thirty years ago, a bomb killed 13 people and injured hundreds at Munich's Oktoberfest. New evidence has raised questions about whether the attack was really carried out by a right-wing extremist acting alone. Politicians and attorneys for the victims are seeking to reopen the case.

14/9/2010- Every year when Munich's famous Oktoberfest rolls around, Robert Höckmayr almost loses his mind. While the happy crowds are flocking to the beer festival, Höckmayr becomes so anxious that he breaks out in sweats and is plagued by nightmares. His wife says that he becomes extremely irritable during the event. On those nights, he sees himself as a young boy who was standing only one-and-a-half meters (about 5 feet) from a trashcan. He remembers a flash, a loud bang and silence. It was enough to destroy a life. On Sept. 26, 1980, Höckmayr was attending the Oktoberfest with his family: his father, his mother, his brothers Ignaz and Wilhelm, and his sisters Ilona and Elisabeth. Höckmayr no longer has any siblings. Two died in the bombing and the others died later in life. Höckmayr, who was a 12-year-old child at the time, saw things that no human being can ever fully process. "I was devoid of emotions after that," he says. Höckmayr, now 42, is a marked man. There is so much shrapnel in his body that it never fails to set off the metal detector at airports.

Reexamining the Case
For decades, investigators were convinced that they knew who had committed the horrific act: a maniac with ties to the far-right scene who acted alone. But now, 30 years after the bloodiest attack in German postwar history, the old case is being reexamined. Previously unknown documents describe the key witness to the attack as an active right-wing extremist and even raise the suspicion that he may have been an active informant for Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Was it really a coincidence that the eyewitness, whose name is Frank Lauterjung, was at the scene of the crime? Various inconsistencies have reignited interest among politicians and attorneys in the events of September 1980, and in the question of whether the person who planted the bomb may have had outside support. "I will not give up until the judicial inquiry is resumed," says Peter Danckert, who is a legal expert with the center-left Social Democrats. Werner Dietrich, an attorney representing victims, is gathering every possible piece of evidence that could breathe new life into the investigation. Green Party politician Hans-Christian Ströbele supports these efforts and is pursuing a possible Italian connection. Finally, Munich Mayor Christian Ude has always insisted that the case needed to be reopened. At its core, the case revolves around whether a crazy perpetrator who was acting alone triggered the inferno at the Oktoberfest, or whether an extremist right-wing group had in fact staged a terrorist attack against Germany on that September day. The bomb, deposited in a trashcan at the entrance to the Theresienwiese, the site of the festival, killed 13 people and injured 219, many of whom lost limbs in the explosion. The bomb detonated at 10:20 p.m., just as thousands of visitors were crowding toward the exit. The horrific images quickly circled the globe.

Unclear Motives
It is beyond dispute that Gundolf Köhler, a university student from the Swabian town of Donaueschingen, made the bomb, took it to Munich and deposited it at the scene of the crime. But even today, 30 years later, his motives remain unclear. Köhler was also killed in the attack, because the bomb went off too soon. Few people believe that he committed suicide, however. He was said to be technically adept and knowledgeable about explosives. But the student also had ties to Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann, a banned neo-Nazi terrorist organization, and had taken part in their exercises a number of times. Was the Munich bombing in fact a terrorist group's attempt to drive the country toward the right, just nine days before parliamentary elections? The key eyewitness remains a dubious figure. Frank Lauterjung was able to provide more details about the attack than anyone else. He survived the explosion, even though he was only a few meters away, because he had had a "bad feeling" and thrown himself to the ground before the bomb detonated. Investigators questioned Lauterjung at least five times in 1980. He died of heart failure two years later, when he was only 38. But when he was questioned, the State Office of Criminal Investigation in Munich ignored his most explosive statement. Lauterjung told investigators that he had noticed Köhler engaged in a heated conversation with two men in green parkas near the site of the bombing, about half an hour before the attack. Does this suggest that there were several perpetrators, or others who knew about the planned bombing? The two men were never found. They were not among the victims, nor did they contact the authorities as witnesses.

Part 2: Links to Far-Right Scene

What the investigators overlooked at the time was that Lauterjung was an avowed right-wing extremist. Previously unknown letters were discovered in southern Germany as part of a deceased person's estate. They reveal that in the mid-1960s Lauterjung had held senior positions with a right-wing extremist youth group, the Bund Heimattreuer Jugend (BHJ), where he served as "deputy national leader" and "regional commander."  The BHJ organized tent camps at the time and paid homage to ex-Nazi Hans-Ulrich Rudel. Members closed letters with the phrase "Heil Dir!" ("Hail you!"), a reference to the Nazi greeting "Heil Hitler." After Lauterjung, in a letter to a newspaper, had accused the far-right NPD party of "rehashed emotional nationalism," the BHJ expelled him. It also claimed that he had lied in his application for membership by stating that he was "single," even though he was actually divorced. A BHJ leader suspected early on that Lauterjung may have been a "provocateur" who had infiltrated the organization, and that he, like others of his ilk, were possibly working for Germany's domestic intelligence agency. This suspicion was reinforced by the fact that he would sometimes "disappear for four weeks at a time, as if he had been wiped off the face of the earth."

Looking for Sex
The star witness undoubtedly had a checkered past. Shortly after he was expelled from the BHJ, Lauterjung joined the Socialist German Student Union (SDS), first in Munich and then in Berlin. It seems ironic that this man, of all people, happened to be at the scene of the crime, standing not far away from Köhler, and had observed the student for several minutes before the bombing occurred. Had he been assigned to follow Köhler? Lauterjung claimed that, as a gay man, he had been looking for sex at a public toilet at the entrance to the Oktoberfest grounds that was known as a gay meeting place. Lauterjung also said that he had believed Köhler was doing the same thing, and described him as an unkempt "intellectual outsider type" in a red plaid jacket. According to Lauterjung's testimony, Köhler was carrying a heavy, cylindrical object in a white plastic bag and was tampering with it. He was also apparently carrying a small suitcase. The only problem is that the suitcase disappeared without a trace after the explosion, even though other witnesses said that they had seen it immediately after the attack, standing on the ground a few meters from the trashcan. The testimony of a female passerby revealed another curious aspect of the case. She said that she saw two young men standing next to Köhler's body. One of them, she said, was lashing out wildly and was shouting: "I didn't want it! It's not my fault! Just kill me!" The police were unable to clear up the incident, because the man was never questioned.

Not a Trace
The testimony of a woman from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia also led nowhere. She said that she had seen a car with five passengers near the entrance to the Oktoberfest a week before the bombing, just after it had opened. According to the woman, there was a large object wrapped in black material on the back seat. The woman even remembered the vehicle's license plate number: VS-DD 500. It was a Ford owned by Köhler's father. But Köhler's mother later told police that her son had been at home at the time. The investigators believed her, even though Köhler's parents were in fact away that weekend. Had the group attempted to stage the attack a week earlier? The experts with the Bavarian State Office of Criminal Investigation were not even able to analyze the detonation of the deadly explosive device, because the detonator and the control unit for the mortar shell which had been converted into a bomb were missing. Not even a trace of the detonating device was found among the thousands of pieces of debris at the site of the bombing. The investigators assumed that a faulty fuse had caused the bomb to detonate earlier than planned. But there is no evidence to support this assumption. In a 1984 novel, Wehrsportgruppe founder Karl-Heinz Hoffmann wrote that the Oktoberfest bomb was detonated by remote control. The LKA's explosives experts concede that this was certainly technically feasible in the 1980s. Hoffmann is now claiming in a video posted on YouTube that Köhler was in fact a victim, and that he was blown up by the backers of the attack so as to point the blame at his Wehrsportgruppe.

Destroyed Evidence
Were these backers from Italy? A few weeks before the Oktoberfest bombing, right-wing extremists killed 85 people in an attack in Bologna. After the Oktoberfest bombing, Munich papers received calls claiming responsibility for the attack from "the right-wingers in Bologna," who had supposedly placed the bomb in Munich. The attorney and Green Party member of parliament Hans-Christian Ströbele sees this as a promising lead. Although some of the Bologna bombers were convicted in Italy in 1995, German authorities have yet to gain access to their interrogation reports. Did they include clues about the Munich bombing? Nowadays, DNA matching could possibly be used to resolve the issue of possible backers. Cigarette butts, paper and bits of clothing found at the bombing site were kept for years. But, as Germany's federal prosecutor's office concedes, all the items collected by the "Theresienwiese Special Commission" were destroyed in 1997. Meanwhile, the Bavarian capital is gearing up for the biggest Oktoberfest of all time. It begins on Sept. 18 and runs until Oct. 4. Munich is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest this year, and the city is sparing no expense when it comes to security. Massive concrete bollards around the Theresienwiese are intended to prevent Islamist terrorists from detonating car bombs at the event. Hundreds of police officers will provide security. Sadly, drunken revelers have been known to relieve themselves at the site of a memorial to the victims of the 1980 bombing at the entrance to the Oktoberfest.

Regaining Dignity
Robert Höckmayr, whose siblings were killed in the bombing, will not be at the festival this year. He remains severely disabled today and is forced to haggle with officials over every cent of his disability payments. He feels abandoned by society, by the government and, most of all, by Bavaria. He never received any therapy, and to this day he is left on his own when it comes to his emotional and physical problems. A compensation fund for the victims of Sept. 26, 1980 is the least Höckmayr expects of those currently in power. "I would like to regain a piece of my human dignity," he says.
© The Spiegel

up  

FRENCH SENATE BACKS ISLAM VEILS BAN

15/9/2010- The French Senate has overwhelmingly backed a bill banning the wearing of the full Islamic veil in public. But the leaders of both parliamentary houses said they had asked a special council to first ensure the measure passes constitutional conditions amid concerns it tramples on religious freedoms. The Senate voted 246 to 1 in favour of the bill, which has already passed in the lower chamber, the National Assembly. It will need President Nicolas Sarkozy's signature. Legislative leaders said they wanted the Constitutional Council to examine it. "This law was the object of long and complex debates," the Senate president, Gerard Larcher, and National Assembly head Bernard Accoyer said in a joint statement explaining their move. They said that they want to be certain there is "no uncertainty" about it conforming to the constitution. The measure will impact upon less than 2,000 women. Many Muslims believe the legislation is one more blow to France's second religion, and risks raising the level of Islamophobia in a country where mosques, like synagogues, are sporadic targets of hate. However, the vast majority behind the measure say it will preserve the nation's singular values, including its secular foundation and a notion of fraternity that is contrary to those who hide their faces. France would be the first European country to pass such a law though others, notably neighbouring Belgium, are considering laws against face-covering veils. "Our duty concerning such fundamental principles of our society is to speak with one voice," said justice minister Michele Alliot-Marie, opening a debate ahead of the vote.
© The Press Association

up  

SKINHEADS CHARGED WITH HATE CRIMES IN ST. PETERSBURG (Russia)

17/9/2010- St. Petersburg officials have charged 25 young men belonging to an alleged skinhead group with hate crimes and attacks on people that resulted in two deaths, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports. The skinhead group, which is allegedly led by Andrei Linok, was charged with 12 attacks on non-Slavic people. Investigators said Linok -- who is among the 25 detainees -- created the group via the Internet in 2007. The group members are all Russian men between 17 and 23 years of age. Yevgeny Vyshenkov, the deputy chairman of the Russian-based Investigative Journalism Agency, told RFE/RL that citizens of Uzbekistan, Armenia, and also Russian citizens from the republics of Tuva and Karelia were among the group's victims. The group -- which conducted its attacks in the summer and fall of 2007 -- is also alleged to have attacked Asians and Africans. Many of the attacks were filmed by the group. Many of the attack videos were used by police to aid in the arrest of the suspects in November 2007. Vyshenkov said that neo-Nazis and skinheads in Russia recently stopped openly displaying symbols or wearing clothes that indicate their ties to extremist groups. "They are not wearing such signs as the swastika, leather jackets, or [certain] hats anymore," he said. "They now wear normal civilian clothes and it has become difficult to prevent their attacks and locate them [afterwards]." Investigators say Linok was recruiting people for his group to propagate ultranational and racist ideology. The trial is expected to begin soon, though no date was available.
© RFE/RL

up  

RUSSIAN FOOTBALL IS BLIGHTED BY SYSTEMATIC RACISM, SAYS FARE NETWORK

Russian domestic football is blighted by "systematic" racism that will take several years to root out if it is to host the 2018 World Cup, according to a leading European anti-racism campaign group.

14/9/2010- Russia's World Cup bid has been dented by recent incidents including the unveiling of a banner featuring a banana with the words "Thanks West Brom" aimed at West Bromwich Albion striker Peter Odemwingie by fans of his former club Lokomotiv Moscow. Russia 2018 chief executive Alexei Sorokin initially denied that the incident was racist, claiming that the phrase "to get a banana" meant to fail a test in Russian slang. "There was nothing racial in it," Sorokin said. Sorokin's view has been challenged however by the FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) Network, a coalition of football anti-racism campaigners that has run campaigns with Fifa and Uefa. Piara Powar, executive director of FARE, said the banner was clearly racist in intention, and indicated that the Russian game faced wider problems. "The context in which the banner was used was clearly racist in context, and to suggest otherwise is a nonsense," he told Telegraph Sport. "Russian domestic football has a problem with racism that is quite systematic and insidious, it is linked to the activities of far-right groups that emerged after the collapse of the eastern bloc and have used football as a vehicle. "Compared to the work that has been done in England, Russian football is on a different planet, and if it were to stage the World Cup in four years there is no chance racism would have been dealt with. "But if it were to win the right to host the 2018 tournament there would be time to address the problem and I'm sure that they would do so. "We are trying to get in touch with the Russian bid to start a dialogue about this."
© The Telegraph

up  

RUSSIA DENIES GEORGIAN CLAIMS OF ETHNIC CLEANSING

14/9/2010- Russia accused Georgia on Monday of manufacturing allegations of ethnic cleansing in Georgia's breakaway provinces after it failed to regain control of the areas in an abortive five-day war. Georgia has complained to the International Court of Justice of the murder of thousands of ethnic Georgians and alleged displacement of some 300,000 people in a two-decade campaign of discrimination by Russian authorities and separatist militias in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian, however, portrayed itself as a mediator and peacemaker, and said Georgia had never complained of ethnic discrimination until it lost the 2008 war. Two years ago, the U.N.'s highest court issued an emergency ruling ordering both countries to protect civilians from ethnic violence. But it delayed any action on Georgia's claim that Russia had systematically persecuted ethnic Georgians since the early 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union. On Monday, Russia argued that the court had no jurisdiction to hear Georgia's case. Georgia was to present its argument on the jurisdiction issue on Tuesday. No time has been set for the court to hear arguments on the case's merits. While the court's decisions are binding, it has no means of forcing compliance.

Georgia's complaint was based on alleged violations of a 1965 treaty banning all forms of racial discrimination. But Russia said Georgia had never raised claims of discrimination during normal diplomatic contacts until after its forces were crushed in the 2008 war in South Ossetia. "The application (to the court) was launched only when it became clear that Georgia's military operation had failed," said Kirill Gevorgian, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's legal department. The court, also known as the World Court that adjudicates disputes among U.N. member states, is a court of last resort, the Russian legal team argued. Lawyers said Georgia had not previously sought to resolve its claims through negotiations or through a commission established by the anti-discrimination treaty. "This is a dispute that Georgia never communicated to Russia until the very date of its application," said Roman Kolodkin, Russia's ambassador to the Netherlands. He said Georgia's appeal to the court was "a continuation of war by other means." After the war, Russia maintained a powerful force in the two breakaway provinces and recognized their claims of independence from Georgia, which remains a major source of tension between Russia and the United States.
© The Associated Press

up  

EXTRA POLICE PATROL NORTH MITROVICA AFTER CLASHES (Kosovo)

13/9/2010- Police patrols have been increased in the north Kosovo town of Mitrovica after seven people were injured amid clashes between Albanians and Kosovo Serbs following a basketball match. On Monday, extra officers were patrolling the main bridge dividing Kosovo Serbs in north Mitrovica from Albanians living in the south. Officials said the situation was “calm" after the clashes on Saturday evening which erupted after Serbia lost to Turkey in the semi-finals of the FIBA World Championships. Five Kosovo Serbs, a Kosovo Albanian and a member of the EULEX police were injured as guns were fired and petrol bombs and rocks hurled after a large group of Kosovo Albanians crossed the bridge to celebrate Turkey’s victory. Yves De Kermabon, the head of the EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, said that “acts of senseless hooliganism" had no place in a democratic society and needed to be condemned by all. “EULEX will not tolerate such unlawful behaviour and in conjunction with the Kosovo Police and KFOR, is ready to take whatever measures are required to ensure that any repetition of such events will be vigorously dealt with,” he said. Witnesses said the violence erupted after Kosovo Serbs who were watching the match in a cafe started throwing rocks at Kosovo Albanians.

EULEX forces and the Kosovo Police used tear gas and shock bombs to disperse the rival groups. EULEX officials said in a press release: "EULEX strongly condemns the perpetrators of the violent clashes...In an attempt to restore order, one EULEX police officer was wounded when shots were fired in the direction of the EULEX Formed [Special]Police Units and Molotov cocktails were also thrown. One Kosovo Police Officer was also slightly injured.” Goran Bogdanovic, the Serbian Minister for Kosovo and Metohija, said the riots were further proof that a dialogue between Serbs and Albanians was necessary and should be arranged as soon as possible. "We need to discuss all contentious issues and not wait to get into a situation where we have new victims and hostility," he said. Fatmir Sejdiu, Kosovo’s President, condemned the incident, saying such events damaged Kosovo’s image and only served those who were against peace, stability and the welfare of all people, regardless of ethnicity or belief.

"EULEX and KFOR have the full support of Kosovo’s people and institutions and we repeat our full dedication to continuing this excellent co-operation for the benefit of all in Kosovo,” a press release from his office stated. Sejdiu urged law enforcement officials to bring the guilty to justice. Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008 in a move rejected by Belgrade. The International Court of Justice, ICJ, said in an advisory opinion on July 22, that Kosovo's declaration did not breach international law, in a decision that was seen as a major victory for Pristina. On September 9, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which called for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. Following pressure from Brussels, Belgrade revised its original draft, which had called for condemnation of the declaration of independence.
© Balkan Insight

up  

MINORITY RULES (Sweden)

How Sweden's far-right rose from neo-Nazi skinheads to populist Muslim-baiters to the country's new kingmakers.

16/9/2010- If the spectrum of political stereotypes about Sweden ranges from IKEA-furnished socialist paradise to Stieg Larsson-style right-wing dystopia, the country's upcoming election on September 19 seems far more likely to confirm the latter than the former. The Sweden Democrats, a once-marginal populist party whose platform targets immigrants, is on the path to enter parliament for the first time -- and potentially to serve as kingmaker in post-election coalition negotiations. "Stieg would have been appalled but not surprised," says Anna-Lena Lodenius, a journalist who has monitored the Sweden Democrats since their formation in 1988 and once co-wrote a book with Larsson, the late author of the bestselling Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, on the extreme right in Sweden. In ditching their pariah status for parliamentary legitimacy, the Sweden Democrats will be joining their fellow far-right parties across Europe -- from Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands to France, Belgium, and Austria. Following in their footsteps, the Sweden Democrats have learned to broaden their appeal beyond their original core constituency of hardcore neo-Nazis and young skinheads.

Indeed, perhaps the only reason that Sweden has thus far managed to avoid hosting a prominent far-right faction on the national stage is that the Sweden Democrats delayed trading their jackboots and uniforms for more palatable political symbols, and as a result couldn't attract the minimum 4 percent of the vote needed to qualify for parliament. "In our neighboring countries, the parties of discontent began life as classic tax revolt movements," says Anders Sannerstedt, a political scientist at Lund University. "The Sweden Democrats by contrast have spent the last 15 years trying to shed their white power image." A direct descendent of Keep Sweden Swedish -- a rabidly anti-immigrant group founded in 1979 by the former members of several small, pro-Nazi parties -- the Sweden Democrats once seemed in no rush to earn their democratic credentials, satisfied instead to serve for years as a tribune for unabashed white-power anger. It's only in the last decade that the party has embraced the rhetoric of aggrieved populism aimed at Muslims. "Although their ideas are still basically the same -- they trace every problem back to immigration -- they have undoubtedly become more respectable," says Lodenius.

The strength of this appeal is most apparent in the towns and villages of the densely populated south, the party's main voter base. The Sweden Democrats have attracted voters -- mainly disaffected, working-class men -- by promoting their vision of a Sweden that combines social conservatism and ethnic homogeneity with the promise of a return to an undiluted, cradle-to-grave welfare state. "Social Democrats in particular have been migrating to the Sweden Democrats, but they're also winning over some conservative voters from the centre-right," says Lodenius. For a political system that prizes consensus, the arrival of the Sweden Democrats has rocked the natural order. Politicians and the press have spent years debating whether to treat them as an equal or an outcast. Consigned to an undefined hinterland, the party leveraged its martyr status to boost its anti-establishment appeal.

Now the Sweden Democrats are one of the major talking points in a Swedish election fraught with intrigue. The latest polls show the incumbent coalition -- a four-party center-right alliance -- holding a consistent lead over the three-party Red-Green opposition, with the Sweden Democrats holding at 7.5 percent -- enough to make the far-right, anti-Muslim group the third-largest party in the country. It's a remarkable rise for a party that was thrilled with its 2.9 percent showing at the last election in 2006. But if the center-left opposition makes even a mild surge before the election, it's possible that Sweden will be left with a hung parliament -- in which case the unaligned Sweden Democrats will be in a position to be the country's permanent swing vote. All the mainstream parties have vowed not to work with the far-right populists, but it's not clear, in the event of an electoral stalemate, how the country would manage to function without them. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt indicated over the weekend that he could envisage seeking the support of the Green Party in a bid to undercut the Sweden Democrats' influence, but it's unclear just how the country's center-right could broker such a deal with a leftist group.

Even if they are isolated in parliament, the Sweden Democrats will soon have a bigger soapbox from which to voice their antipathy toward Muslim immigrants. But the obsession with Islam is relatively new. In the 1990s, as the party was just beginning to engage with the democratic process, immigrant groups were routinely described as welfare freeloaders with criminal tendencies. "Religion really wasn't much of an issue, despite the fact that Sweden had already taken in a lot of Muslims from countries like Iran and the former Yugoslavia," says Lodenius. It was only after 9/11 that the party took to portraying large-scale immigration from the Middle East as financially reckless and culturally suicidal. In the run-up to this year's election, the party has doubled-down on its anti-Islamic messaging. Party leader Jimmie Åkesson earned notoriety last year when he described the spread of Islam in Sweden as "our greatest foreign threat since World War II." The party underscored its message with a campaign film showing a pensioner lady losing out to a gang of marauding burqa-clad mothers in a race for government benefits. One of the Sweden Democrats' top parliamentary candidates is 29-year-old Kent Ekeroth. A vocal critic of Islam, he has already risen to a top post in the party despite only having joined in 2006. "We want to make it more difficult for practising Muslims to live in Sweden because we want to make it more difficult for people to live in accordance with totalitarian ideologies," he says.

Sweden's government does not keep track of the religious affiliations of its nine million residents, but a recent U.S. State Department report estimates that there are up to half a million Muslims in the country, just over 100,000 of whom are registered with the Muslim Council of Sweden as practicing. Muslims may not statistically be an overwhelming proportion of the total population, but their presence is a symbolic affront to some Swedes nostalgic for simpler times. Sweden witnessed very little immigration in the first half of the last century, its homogeneity disrupted only by the arrival of World War II refugees from neighboring countries in Scandinavia and the Baltic states. Then, in the 1950s, Sweden began bringing in migrant workers from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia to fill in labor shortages. The Muslim population began expanding more rapidly in the early 1970s, when Sweden expanded its policy of taking in refugees from war-torn countries, leading to large-scale immigration in subsequent decades from Bosnia, Kosovo, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and Somalia. After 2003, for example, Sweden accepted more Iraqi refugees than any other European country -- 40 percent of the continent's total; by the end of 2009, the country of nine million was home to 117,000 people born in Iraq.

Kent Ekeroth wants Muslims to leave Sweden if they won't assimilate, offering to pay them money to help them on their way if necessary. In line with party policy -- and in deference to mainstream Swedish voters' sensibilities -- he frames his arguments in cultural rather than racial terms, claiming that Islamic societies represent a medieval outlook that makes Muslims unsuited to life in modern-day Sweden. Echoing his party leader, Ekeroth speaks of the purported ongoing Islamification of Sweden, a recurring trope among rightists who warn of a coming "Eurabia." "We import a lot of the crime we have in Sweden today, primarily through people from the Middle East and Africa, whose culture, values, and concepts of right and wrong are completely different," he says. Though Swedes generally reject this kind of cultural stereotyping, many would now readily concede that the country's multiculturalism experiment has not been friction-free. Immigrants are somewhat over-represented in crime statistics and segregation is rife in several cities, with new arrivals often moving into areas with nicknames like Little Baghdad and Little Mogadishu. Mayors have warned of municipal infrastructure stretched to the breaking point, while fire and ambulance services have come under attack in some immigrant-heavy suburbs because locals thought they were an intrusive show of authority. Many Swedes believe that their country has an immigration -- or at the least, an integration -- problem.

But Sweden's mainstream parties have preferred to avoid the subject directly for fear of being tainted by the accusation of populism -- allowing the Sweden Democrats to monopolize the issue with their rabble-rousing. "It's vital that the other parties are able to debate immigration and globalization, migration patterns and their effects on society, radical Islam, and so on," says Lodenius. "People have real fears here and politicians need to be able to explain how they intend to meet these challenges." Ignoring the abrasive new kids on the block isn't going to make them go away, and Lodenius argues that it is no longer feasible to starve the Sweden Democrats of publicity simply by dismissing them as shrill extremists. "The Sweden Democrats are not Nazis anymore and they currently represent quite a few voters. I expect them to make it in this time. Whatever happens, it's going to be a fascinating election." But Lodenius also concedes that negotiating with the Sweden Democrats will be a major adjustment for a country that for so long enjoyed a multicultural consensus. "Stieg Larsson and I agreed on a lot of things but he would have found it very difficult to accept the need to engage with them."
© Foreign Policy

up  

SWEDEN PM WARNS OF PERIL IN FAR-RIGHT VOTE

13/9/2010- Sweden’s prime minister has warned voters that economic stability would be threatened if they allow the far-right Sweden Democrats to enter parliament for the first time in next Sunday’s election. Fredrik Reinfeldt said it would be harder to govern Sweden if the party, best known for its hostile stance towards immigration, gains the 4 per cent support needed to win seats. Recent opinion polls have shown the party hovering just above the threshold. His comments were part of a last-minute push by Sweden’s mainstream parties to prevent the Sweden Democrats from making an electoral breakthrough in a country that has long prided itself on the absence of far-right parties in parliament. “If we put this party in parliament, you gamble with stability in the Swedish economy,” Mr Reinfeldt told reporters. “It comes with a very high price and high risk.” Opinion polls have consistently shown Mr Reinfeldt’s centre-right Alliance with a solid lead over the centre-left opposition but, if the outcome is close, the Sweden Democrats could end up as kingmakers. Mr Reinfeldt and the left-green opposition have vowed not to co-operate with the Sweden Democrats, in contrast to neighbouring Denmark, where the centre-right government receives support from the populist Danish People’s party.

Analysts warn there is a risk of a weak government and chaotic parliament if the far-right party ends up holding the balance of power. The rise of the Sweden Democrats reflects growing unease over the changing face of Swedish society after large-scale immigration from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere over recent decades. Success for the far-right would strike a blow against Sweden’s image as one of Europe’s more tolerant countries and highlight the challenge posed to mainstream parties across the continent by public unrest over immigration. Thomas Östros, financial spokesman for the opposition Social Democrats, blamed the popularity of the Sweden Democrats on rising social inequality under Mr Reinfeldt’s pro-market government. “If people feel less secure, they turn to parties such as these.” Mr Reinfeldt has said he would seek help from the opposition Green party to form a government if his four-party coalition fails to secure a clear-cut victory. A second term for Mr Reinfeldt would be a historic achievement for his Moderate party and its allies in a country traditionally dominated by the centre-left Social Democrats. The government’s chances have been helped by the strong recovery under way in the Swedish economy.
© The Financial Times

up  

SWEDISH PM CANDIDATES TO KEEP FAR-RIGHT AT BAY

Sweden's two main prime minister candidates agreed in a debate aired Sunday, a week before elections, that they would not work with the increasingly popular far-right Sweden Democrats.

13/9/2010- "We won't touch them (the Sweden Democrats) with pliers," Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt vowed on behalf of his four-party centre-right coalition during a long and heated debate broadcast live on Swedish public television. Mona Sahlin, who is vying for his job at the front of the so-called red-green opposition coalition made up of her Social Democrats, the Greens and the formerly communist Left Party, agreed. "The Sweden Democrats ... always make the immigrants the culprits, either for taking jobs or for not taking jobs. Such a party can only be met with a crystal clear message: that we will not touch them, not cooperate with them," she said. There comments came as a Novus Opinion tally of five different polls published Sunday by Swedish public radio handed 4.6 percent of voter intentions to the far-right anti-immigrant party, which would be enough to secure them a place in parliament for the first time. Observers have pointed out that if neither of the main political blocs, which been neck-and-neck in polls for months, manage to secure more than 50 percent of the vote on September 19, the Sweden Democrats could easily become the kingmaker in the parliament.

Reinfeldt's Moderate Party and its coalition members, the Liberal, Centre and Christian Democrat parties, have in recent polls taken a lead and in Sunday's tally scored 50 percent of voter intention, compared to 43.6 percent for the leftwing opposition. The prime minister has in recent weeks met criticism for saying he plans to hold onto his job if his coalition wins most votes, even if it means creating a minority government, with critics saying he then could be open to pressure from the far-right. On Sunday however, he stressed that if his bloc does not secure a majority, it will need to seek "a broader parliamentary solution," most likely looking to the Green Party for support. Sahlin meanwhile reiterated in Sunday's debate that she will not create a minority government which could be open to influence by the Sweden Democrats, insisting that "Sweden needs a majority government." She has in recent weeks said she may try to woo over the Centre and Liberal parties if the opposition wins most votes but not a clear majority, but both of those parties have said they would decline such an offer.
© AFP

up  

LEFT LEADER CONDEMNS ATTACK ON FAR-RIGHT (Sweden)

Left Party leader Lars Ohly has condemned an attack on a local politician representing the far-right Sweden Democrats in Malmö on Friday, while the party on Monday suspended a rally in Gothenburg due to a counter-demonstration.

13/9/2010- According to Malmö police two masked men forced their way into David von Arnold Antoni's apartment in Malmö on Friday night. "They cut a swastika in my forehead," Antoni said according to the local Sydsvenskan daily. Malmö police have confirmed only that the local Sweden Democrat politician was held down by one man while the other cut him. "We have decided to put a lid on the investigation," said Lars-Håkan Lindholm at Malmö police to news agency TT, confirming that the incident has been classified as aggravated assault, aggravated theft and illegal threats. Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson published an open letter on Monday, calling on national party leaders to condemn the attack and the Left Party's Lars Ohly duly obliged on Monday afternoon. "I can't describe the repulsion I feel for this. I oppose the Sweden Democrats' politics by all the democratic means I have at my disposal, but there is a clear line. Threats and violence must never occur and that is something that we in the Left Party are very clear on," he said. Elsewhere on Monday, the Sweden Democrats were obliged to postpone a rally on Kungsportsplatsen in Gothenburg when they were outnumbered by a crowd of counter-demonstrators. While the stand-off between police and counter-demonstrators from the Gothenburg network against racism passed off peacefully, the Sweden Democrats were forced to acquiesce. "We are doing this to show that there is resistance to their racism," Stefan Berg of the Socialist Justice Party (Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna - RS), told local daily Göteborgs-Posten. While there has been no analysis made of any incidents of harassment and violence during the 2010 election campaign, a study conducted after the EU parliamentary elections in 2009 showed that autonomous left groups such as the Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) or the Revolutionary Front stood behind the majority of any violence.
© The Local - Sweden

up  

GOVERNMENT SACKS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER KOCÁB (Czech Rep.)

15/9/2010- The Czech government dismissed human rights commissioner Michael Kocab as of Wednesday, Prime Minister Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) has told reporters. The centre-right cabinet of the ODS, TOP 09 and Public Affairs (VV) included the decision on Kocab into Wednesday's agenda of its regular meeting at the very last moment. Kocab, 56, former minister for human rights and minorities nominated by the Greens (SZ), has occupied since January 2009 being. Kocab announced his resignation after talks with Necas recently. However, he wanted to leave only after his successor is appointed. The government has not selected a new commissioner yet. "I expected the government to immediately appoint a new (human rights) commissioner if it dismissed me Wednesday," Kocab told CTK. "The prime minister assured me that he reckoned with a new commissioner," he added. Kocab said he expected problems in the human rights field and that his office's work would stagnate if his successor did not assume office soon. He noted that his former deputy Czeslav Walek would be his best successor. He also mentioned Oldrich Kuzilek, former deputy for the now-defunct Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA). Necas indicated that a new human right commissioner might be selected and even appointed next week, adding that he has several candidates. He also stressed that it is an administrative and not political post.

Kocab got into dispute with Necas a couple of days ago. Necas announced that he had accepted Kocab's resignation on September 1. However, Kocab refused to confirm it. He called it misunderstanding, and said he would resign only after his successor was chosen. Kocab sent his letter of resignation to Necas last week eventually. Last week Kocab also met Roman Joch, Necas's adviser for foreign policy and humans rights, to get him acquainted with the office of the government human rights commissioner. Both Kocab and Joch agreed that Kuzilek might occupy the post after Kocab's departure. Joch previously mentioned Kocab's predecessor Jan Litomisky as another candidate. Nevertheless, Joch expressed doubts about the necessity of the office dealing with human rights and minorities as well as equal rights of men and women and social integration. Some 60 human rights and leftist activists demonstrated against the nomination of the controversial conservative Roman Joch, head of Civic Institute, outside the Government Office last week. Joch's supporters, on their part, call him "anti-Kocab."
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

CZECH SOCIALIST VICE-CHAIR FIRST DEFENDS XENOPHOBIC SLOGAN, THEN CALLS FOR IT TO GO

14/9/2010- Bohuslav Sobotka, the Vice-Chair of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) has been waffling in his response to the campaign being run by the local ČSSD organization in Most. Even though he has now asked Karel Novotný, leader of the Most branch of ČSSD, to stop using the slogan “Why should I regret being the majority nationality in my homeland? One state, one set of rules”, he previously defended the slogan in an interview for Czech daily MF Dnes. "Even though the slogan being used is not aggressively targeting anyone or attacking anyone explicitly, it has become the subject of a controversial interpretation during the first days of the campaign and is leading to polarizing, simplified conclusions,” Sobotka’s official statement today reads. “ČSSD’s politics are not and will never be based on dividing society along the lines of nationality or social standing. ČSSD has always defended and does defend the Social Democratic values of equal rights and equal opportunities, as well as a policy of integrating socially excluded groups of citizens. The party prefers this approach to simplified solutions based on dangerous populism, repression, and societal division. This is why I have asked the ČSSD leader in Most, Karel Novotný, to withdraw that slogan from the campaign.” However, in an interview with MF Dnes on the day prior to this statement, Sobotka said the following: “It’s a rather complex slogan. It can be interpreted in various ways and I do not see it as something that should dramatically displease anyone. I believe it is the same kind of slogan as those on the billboards of the other standard political parties.”

ČSSD regional chair Petr Benda has said he does not interfere with local campaigns and that they must have had a reason to use such a slogan. Czech MP Josef Tancoš (ČSSD) of the Ústí region, who is also the Vice-Chair of the party cell in Most, does not believe the slogan is discriminatory or offensive. "I want people to think more about that topic and not shut their eyes to it,” Tancoš says, pointing out that the ČSSD central election committee had monitored what kinds of problems were bothering people and produced an analysis of them. “That’s why we responded with that motto.” Karel Novotný has responded to Sobotka’s request that the billboards be removed from the campaign by saying the local ČSSD organization in Most will discuss it tomorrow. "I will take a vote on removing the billboards. We are a democratic party, so if the committee decides the posters should be removed, we will take them down within a few days,” he said. Tancoš would not give a direct answer on whether he will vote for taking the billboards down. "I will respond to developments in the local organization and decide on that basis,” he said. The campaign reported on by MF Dnes had previously been criticized by the ROMEA civic association and the director of the Agency for Social Inclusion, Martin Šimáček.
© Romea

up  

MFD: JOHN DOES NOT MIND FORMER EXTREMIST RUNNING FOR VV (Czech Rep.)

11/9/2010- Radek John, Czech interior minister and Public Affairs (VV) leader, does not mind a former active member of the ultra-right National Party (NS) running for the centrist VV in the October local polls, daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes Saturday, citing John. Ladislav Pasteka, 37, is the VV's number one candidate in Chodov, west Bohemia. The information about his controversial past was published by daily Pravo on Friday. The now defunct NS never hid its condemnation of ethnic minorities, immigrants and homosexuals. A couple of years ago, the NS's National Guard paramilitary unit, of which Pasteka was a member, installed patrols outside an elementary school in nearby Karlovy Vary to protect "white" children against their allegedly aggressive Romany peers. Pasteka unsuccessfully ran for the NS in the latest EU elections, Pravo and MfD write. Addressed by Pravo, Pasteka said the NS was no ultra-right or extremist party. He said he even did not have to soften any of his positions when joining the VV. "Let everybody try to compare the two parties' programmes. He would find out that they are almost identical. It is only necessary to watch the things without hatred," Pasteka told Pravo. John, in MfD, defends Pasteka as his party's leading candidate. "Describing the Chodov election leader as an extremist is nonsense. According to my information, Ladislav Pasteka is even preparing a meeting with representatives of the local Romany community," John told MfD. "We decided not to admit former Communists into our party. Mr Pasteka meets the criterion and he fulfils his duties as a VV member," Jana Sucha, chairwoman of the VV branch in the Karlovy Vary region, told MfD. John said he knows nothing about Pasteka having patrolled outside an elementary school in the past. "Only idiots never change their opinions. If this man has changed his opinion and if he understood that the NS is the right path for him to take, he can be given space in the VV, on condition he promotes the VV programme," John told MfD. The locals, nevertheless, describe Pasteka as a "full-fledged Nazi" known for his resolute anti-Romany stands, the paper writes. The centrist VV is a newcomer in the Czech lower house and a junior partner in the centre-right government that was established in July.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

CONSERVATIVES REFUSE TO CONFIRM ROLE OF LONDON OFFICIAL IN RACISM STORM (uk)

17/9/2010- The Conservative Party last night refused to confirm whether a senior official in London told a Welsh local party chairman he could be suspended if he did not endorse an Asian AM as a candidate. Yesterday, we revealed that David Fouweather, who chairs the South-East Wales Area Council of the party, had called for a full investigation into events that preceded the endorsement of Mohammad Asghar as a regional list candidate for South-East Wales in next May’s National Assembly elections. Mr Asghar defected from Plaid Cymru to the Conservatives last December. Some Tory members of the party had indicated that they did not wish him to stand for the party next year, but he was endorsed as a candidate last month at a tense meeting. In a letter to Catrin Edwards, who chairs the Conservative Party in Wales, Mr Fouweather wrote: “There were numerous telephone calls made to myself by a representative of the party chairman’s office in London. These calls made it quite clear to me that Mohammad Asghar had to be re-adopted at all costs because of the embarrassment that it would create for the party. “I was told that failure to re-adopt Mr Asghar could lead to my possible suspension from the party whilst an investigation was carried out to see if there were any racial motives for him not being adopted. This I found deeply offensive, resulting in a great deal of pressure being put upon me to deliver the desired outcome for the party hierarchy.” Mr Fouweather himself has declined to comment, beyond saying he was disappointed that his letter had been leaked and that he regarded the matter as an internal one for the party.

The Conservative Party would not comment on questions from the Western Mail which put to it that the party chairman’s chief of staff was at the centre of the storm. Tory sources have told us that the official who suggested to Mr Fouweather that he could be suspended from the party and investigated for racism was Richard Chalk, chief of staff for party chairman Baroness Warsi. Mr Chalk has had a long association with the party, is its former events manager and in 2005 managed Ken Clarke’s unsuccessful campaign to become party leader. Sources have also told us that Baroness Warsi made personal calls to a number of key party members with the aim of persuading them to endorse Mr Asghar.

Yesterday we put 10 questions to the Conservative Party:
Did Richard Chalk suggest to David Fouweather that he could face suspension from the party and an investigation for racism if Mohammad Asghar was not endorsed as a candidate for next year’s National Assembly for Wales election by the meeting of the South East Wales Area Council held on August 27? Did Baroness Warsi authorise Mr Chalk to speak to Mr Fouweather in such terms? Is such pressure regarded by the party as acceptable? Did Baroness Warsi herself make calls to members of the party in Wales in support of Mr Asghar’s bid for selection? If so, why did she consider it appropriate to do so? What discussions, if any, have Mr Chalk and/or Baroness Warsi had with David Cameron about this matter? Is it correct, as Mr Fouweather suggests in his letter to Catrin Edwards, that the party would have considered it an embarrassment if Mr Asghar had not been endorsed as a candidate? What attempts were made to influence Catrin Edwards and other members of the party’s Welsh Board to seek to ensure the endorsement of Mr Asghar? What assurances in connection with his selection as a Conservative candidate was Mr Asghar given before the public announcement of his defection from Plaid Cymru? If any such assurances were given to Mr Asghar, by whom in the party were they authorised?

A spokesman for Conservative Central Office in London would only say in response to the questions: “We are delighted that through a fair process two hard-working AMs are going to be put forward to the members for them to decide on their nomination.” Last night a spokesman for Welsh Labour said: “By refusing to answer any questions about this sorry mess, the Conservatives are once again demonstrating a complete disregard for Welsh voters. Allowing this public row to blaze on completely unchecked undermines the position of Mohammed Asghar, the unfortunate AM at the heart of the story.”
© Wales Online

up  

HOLOCAUST-DENIER IRVING TO HOLD NAZI DEATH CAMP TOUR (Poland/uk)

17/9/2010- Anti-racism campaigners have slammed the "gutless" Polish government for not taking further action against Holocaust-denier David Irving's planned tour of a Nazi death camp. Irving, who served a prison sentence for Holocaust denial in Austria in 2006, will hold a guided week-long tour from Tuesday in Warsaw and will include visits to Hitler's Wolf Lair headquarters in Poland. The brochure for the trip offers a tour of a "real death camp" and says: "Forget the phoney allures, mass-tourism and 'reconstructions' of modern-day Auschwitz - the erstwhile slave-labour camp turned into a tourist attraction, complete with hot-dog vendors and souvenir stands." A joint statement by anti-fascist organisation Searchlight and Polish group, the Never Again Association, said: "We call on all Polish anti-fascists to turn out and protest at every venue that Irving thinks he can visit unhindered to insult the memory of survivors and the resistance." Mark Gardner, of the Community Security Trust, said: "It is stomach-turning to think of the disgraced David Irving leading some sort of perverted tour group to sites of Jewish memory and tragedy such as Warsaw and Treblinka." Robert Szaniawski, spokesman for the Polish embassy, said: "The Embassy of the Republic of Poland strongly empathises with the Jewish community and understands the concern expressed by campaign groups and Holocaust survivors." He said the visit would be closely monitored.
© The Jewish Chronicle

up  

CAMPAIGNERS CALL FOR BAN ON DAVID IRVING TRIP TO NAZI DEATH CAMP (uk/Poland)

15/9/2010- Polish and British anti-racism groups on Wednesday urged their governments to ban a tour of a Nazi death camp and other Holocaust sites in Poland by controversial British historian David Irving. Marcin Kornak, head of the Warsaw-based Never Again Association, made the call in a joint statement with Britain's Searchlight anti-fascist group posted on his organisation's website. "We urge Polish and British authorities to have a firm reaction to and to not allow this shameful visit which offends the memory of the victims of the war and the Holocaust," he said. Irving, who was jailed in Austria in 2006 for denying the Holocaust, plans a September 21-29 guided tour of sites in Poland dating back to the World War II Nazi German occupation. It includes a visit to the former Treblinka death camp, where more than 800,000 people, mostly Jews, were murdered. A trip to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's "Wolf's Lair" headquarters at Ketrzyn in northeastern Poland and to the base of SS commander Heinrich Himmler were also on the itinerary. In a brochure published on his Focal Point Publications website, Irving calls the tour an "unforgettable journey" and a chance to see "real history".

Irving recently told Britain's Daily Mail newspaper that the trip -- which costs 2,650 dollars (2,000 euros) excluding flights -- was so popular he had to turn people away, and he was planning to repeat the journey every two years. Irving, the author of "Hitler's War", a book which attempts to minimize both Nazi atrocities and Hitler's responsibility for them, has rejected the label of "Holocaust denier". "There is no question that the Nazis killed millions of people in these camps. When people call me a Holocaust denier I get quite hot under the collar," he told the Daily Mail. But the historian was sentenced in 2006 by an Austrian court to three years in jail for denying the Holocaust and later released and deported to Britain after serving only one year. At the epicentre of Hitler's plan of genocide against European Jews during World War II, Poland has enacted strict laws against both Holocaust denial and the public propagation of anti-Semitism or fascism. In Poland, anyone found guilty of denying the Holocaust or publicly propagating anti-Semitism, fascism or other totalitarian ideologies faces a penalty of up to three years behind bars.
© AFP

up  

HOLOCAUST DENYING HISTORIAN IRVING SAYS AUSCHWITZ IS LIKE 'DISNEY'

11/9/2010- Holocaust-denying British historian David Irving accused Polish authorities on Saturday of turning Auschwitz into a "Disney-style" tourist site, as he defended his own trip to a Nazi death camp. Irving, who was jailed in Austria in 2006 for denying the Holocaust, told the Daily Mail newspaper that Poland had turned the camp at Auschwitz into a "money-making machine" complete with fake watchtowers. "I have been a historian for 40 years, I know a fake when I see it, when you look at old photographs of Auschwitz, those towers aren't on the photographs,' he told the paper, adding the camp had a "Disney" atmosphere. Irving spoke out after criticism over a week-long guided tour he is leading to Poland from September 21-29. It includes a trip to Hitler's headquarters at Ketrzyn (then Rastenburg), SS commander Heinrich Himmler's headquarters and the Treblinka death camp.

In the brochure published on his Focal Point Publications website, Irving said it was an "unforgettable journey" and a chance to see real history. "Forget the phoney allures, mass-tourism and 'reconstructions' of modern-day Auschwitz -- the erstwhile slave-labour camp turned into a tourist attraction, complete with hot-dog vendors and souvenir stands," he wrote. Irving told the Daily Mail that the trip -- which costs 2,650 dollars (2,000 euros) excluding flights -- was so popular he had to turn people away, and he was planning to repeat the journey every two years. He also rejected the label of "Holocaust denier". "There is no question that the Nazis killed millions of people in these camps. When people call me a Holocaust denier I get quite hot under the collar," he told the newspaper. The historian was sentenced in 2006 by an Austrian court to three years in jail for denying the Holocaust, but he was released and deported to Britain after serving only one year. The charges stemmed from two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989 where he said most of those who died at Nazi concentration camps were not executed, but instead succumbed to diseases like typhus.
© AFP

up  

ENGLISH DEFENCE LEAGUE MEMBERS ATTEND NEW YORK MOSQUE PROTEST (uk/usa)

At least seven EDL supporters take part in demonstration after far-right group's leader is reportedly turned away at airport

12/9/2010- Members of the far-right English Defence League protested in New York this weekend against plans for an Islamic cultural centre and mosque near Ground Zero. The group's leader, who goes by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, and at least seven other EDL supporters flew to the US to oppose the plans on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Robinson was refused entry at JFK airport, taken into custody and flown straight back to the UK, according to a report published on the anti-Islam Gates of Vienna website sourced to EDL activists travelling with him. The rest of the delegation joined far-right leaders including Geert Wilders, the Dutch leader of the Freedom party, at the demonstration in lower Manhattan. The contingent was pictured holding banners incorporating St George's cross, Israel's flag and the US stars and stripes, as well as the slogans "No Mosque at Ground Zero", "The more Islam, the less freedom", "No Sharia", and "No Surrender". They wore EDL T-shirts sporting the group's crusader shield logo.

Over the past 18 months in town centres across England the group has protested against the spread of Islamic institutions and in support of the armed forces. EDL demonstrators have been heard chanting racist slogans and have clashed with anti-fascist activists, and marches have been banned for fear of violence. The decision to send protesters to America reflects the organisation's self-proclaimed "new phase of international outreach and networking", which began in April when supporters attended a Berlin demonstration in support of Wilders. The Dutchman said yesterday that New Yorkers must defend themselves against "the powers of darkness, the forces of hatred". In June, the EDL sent delegates to speak at a "counter jihad" conference organised by the International Civil Liberties Alliance in Zurich, where they gave a presentation entitled The Anatomy of an EDL Demo.

Nick Lowles, of Searchlight, the anti-fascist monitoring organisation, said: "The EDL operates on two levels. There are the street activists such as the 120 that demonstrated in Oldham and 100 in London this weekend. But then there is the political agenda driven by a group of leaders whose ideas come from Christian fundamentalism. They are running a dual strategy and they see an international aspect to their goals where the uniting issue is anti-Islam." The EDL is planning to join a far-right demonstration in Amsterdam on 30 October under the banner of the European Freedom Initiative. Organisations from Austria, Germany, Italy and France are also due to attend.
© The Guardian

up  

SWASTIKAS PAINTED ON MOLDOVA SYNAGOGUE

Kishinev Jews stunned by anti-Semitic display; community demands more security for Yom Kippur

15/9/2010- Worshippers who arrived at the Great Synagogue in Kishinev Tuesday were stunned to discover swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs spray-painted on its walls. "This is an especially disturbing incident, as Moldova is not known as an anti-Semitic country," local Chief Rabbi Zalman Abelsky told Ynet. The incident stirred great interest in the local media, with numerous public figures expressing their shock over the anti-Semitic display. Israel's consul general in Moldova, Stav Nezhinsky, and other Jewish community leaders arrived at the synagogue Tuesday and agreed to invest the utmost effort to eliminate such incidents. "We wish to eliminate this phenomenon, which is the work of marginal organizations that refer to themselves as 'neo-Nazis," Rabby Abelsky said. He added that in his 20 years in Moldova he had not seen "a humiliating act like the one at the entrance to the synagogue." Meanwhile, one of the local Jewish community leaders, Simcha Weinberg, asked top police and government officials to act immediately in order to eliminate anti-Semitism. He urged authorities to undertake immense efforts in order to capture the perpetrators of the act and boost security at the Great Synagogue and other Jewish institutions ahead of the upcoming Yom Kippur prayers. This isn't the first time anti-Semitism rears its ugly head in Moldova. In Hanukkah last year, dozens of protestors led by an Orthodox minister used hammers and metal rods to shatter a Menorah placed in Kishinev over the holiday. The demonstrators chanted anti-Semitic slurs and said they "will not allow the Jews to rule Moldova," removing the Menorah and posting a cross in its place.
© Ynet News

up  

KYRGYZSTAN SYNAGOGUE ATTACKED ON ROSH HASHANAH

12/9/2010 - Unidentified attackers attempted to fire bomb the only synagogue in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan last week. The congregation, headed by Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rabbi Aryeh Reichman, is the only one in the entire country, in fact. No one was injured in the explosion, although the building was reportedly damaged, and the grounds outside were littered with bolts and nails from the makeshift bomb that was lobbed over the fence at the synagogue. Although a source in the Jewish community told the AFP news agency the attack occurred an hour before Rosh HaShanah services were scheduled to begin, Examiner.com reported the bombing took place while worshipers were actually praying inside the building. Kyrgyzstan, once a member of the Soviet Union, is currently home to some 2,000 Jews, most of who live in Bishkek.

The synagogue has been targeted before: in April, the same synagogue was fire bombed while rebels overthrew the government in a bloody uprising that left more than 80 people dead. The local Jewish school decided at the time to temporarily close its doors as a precaution. Media reports have said the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, linked with the international al-Qaeda terrorist organization, is active in the Muslim-majority nation. This year, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan ended with the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, the day before Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. Kyrgyzstan is bordered by China to the south, and hosts both Russian and American military bases. The base closest to Bishkek – Manas – is allegedly considered crucial in supplying U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
© Arutz Sheva

up  

POLL: ONE IN THREE SPANIARDS IS ANTI-SEMITIC

Survey released on the eve of Rosh Hashanah also finds one in nine Spaniards think that Israel should 'disappear '.

12/9/2010- A new poll by the Spanish government released on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in Madrid shows that one in three Spaniards is anti-Semitic, maintaining negative opinions about Jews. Another 46 percent had favorable views of Jews. One in nine Spaniards, the survey found, supports the statement that "Israel should disappear because it was established on Arab land." Another 77 percent disagree with the statement. The results of the study indicate that the major cause of the rise in anti-Semitic feelings is Israel's policy toward the Palestinians in the territories. The study follows poll results from 2008 and 2009 conducted by the Anti-Defamation League and the Pew Research Center showing that close to half of all Spaniards at the time held anti-Semitic views. The two polls designated Spain an anti-Semitic country after finding that more than 35 percent of its citizens held anti-Jewish views. Ironically, however, in the most recent poll, 34.6 percent of respondents expressed anti-Semitic views, thereby barely escaping the anti-Semitic label according to that criterion. At an event at which the new findings were released, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos said the poll showed Spanish society is not anti-Semitic or anti-Israel.

The new poll, in which about 1,000 Spanish residents were questioned by phone, was conducted by the Madrid-based Casa Sefarad-Israel (Spain-Israel House ), which is affiliated with the Spanish Foreign Ministry and promotes ties between Spain and Israel and world Jewry. The survey was conducted in April, before the Israel Navy's confrontation at the end of May with the Gaza-bound flotilla. Anti-Semitic sentiment exists in Spain despite the absence of a sizable Jewish community in the country since the Spanish Inquisition at the end of the 15th century. Some 40,000 Jews currently live in the county of 40 million. Senior Spanish government officials sought to soften the impact of the poll results, noting that 54 percent of respondents hold negative views toward Muslims. About 1.5 million Muslims live in Spain. Only Iran was viewed less favorably than Israel in the poll results. Moratinos and leaders of the Spanish Jewish community attributed the rise in anti-Semitic sentiment in Spain to the anti-Israel stance of most of the Spanish media. In contrast, however, 67 percent of respondents equally blamed Israel and the Palestinians for the conflict between them, and about 83 percent said Jews are entitled to live in peace and security in Israel once its borders are recognized by the international community.
© Haaretz

up  

BERLUSCONI JOKES ABOUT HITLER AT YOUTH RALLY (Italy)

Silvio Berlusconi urged to apologise after impromptu speech in which he also advises young Italians to marry into money

13/9/2010- Faced with a tottering economy and a crumbling coalition government, Silvio Berlusconi has chosen to woo a youth rally with jokes about Adolf Hitler and his own sexual prowess. Appearing relaxed, if a little pale, before a crowd of cheering supporters yesterday, the frequently outspoken and gaffe-prone Italian prime minister promised to see out the end of his term, despite losing his guaranteed majority after a split with an ally, Gianfranco Fini. Putting politics aside, he then launched into a series of anecdotes and apparent jokes that promptly drew accusations of anti-Semitism and even mental instability from opposition politicians. The former cruise ship entertainer told a joke in which Adolf Hitler is begged by his supporters to return to power after they discover he is still alive. After resisting, Hitler says: "I'll come back, but on one condition ... next time I'm going to be evil." Fabio Evangelisti, a member of parliament for the opposition Italy of Values party, demanded Berlusconi apologise to Israel and the Italian Jewish community. The party's leader, Antonio Di Pietro, said: "At this point the problem is not political or judicial, but psychiatric." Turning his attention to the economy, Berlusconi jokingly advised young Italians to marry into money, adding: "I have a daughter who is free to marry." Now separated from his wife following the scandal over his friendship with the teenage model Noemi Letizia, Berlusconi said he was also an eligible candidate for four reasons: "I am friendly, I have money, legend has it I know how to do 'it', and lastly because girls think: 'He's old and rich, he will die soon and I will inherit everything.'" The poor performance over the weekend of AC Milan, the football club he controls, was down to a leftwing referee disallowing goals, Berlusconi joked.

The impromptu speech followed a visit to Russia on Friday, where he surprised the audience at a conference on democracy with a fierce attack on Italian magistrates he claims are hounding him. He said of Vladimir Putin: "I have never had any doubts that he is anything less than democratically minded." Putin and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, Berlusconi added, were "a gift from God" to Russia. Last month, Berlusconi took time to defend Muammar Gaddafi after the Libyan leader told an invited audience of 200 women in Rome that Islam should be "Europe's religion". When the speech prompted outcry from the Vatican, Berlusconi dismissed Gaddafi's behaviour as merely "folkloric". Berlusconi, 73, has previously been criticised for calling Barack Obama "young, handsome and tanned", and last year for leaving Angela Merkel waiting to greet him at a conference while he made a call on his mobile phone. Despite the criticism today, Berlusconi claimed he was "a respected statesman who is praised at international summits for his background as a tycoon, his 16 years of political experience and the content of his proposals." He said he had learned from Margaret Thatcher not to waste time reading negative coverage of himself in newspapers. The former British prime minister, he said, had told him that her press secretary only showed her positive articles about her.

Reign of error: Berlusconi's gaffes in office
• April 2009: Shortly after an earthquake hit the city of L'Aquila, Berlusconi told the 17,000 Italians made homeless by the quake that, "they should see it like a weekend of camping"
• January 2009: Dismissed the idea that increasing the number of troops on Italian streets would help stop a surge in rape cases arguing that, "we would need as many soldiers as there are beautiful girls in Italy – which we will never manage"
• November 2008: At a news conference in Moscow with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, Berlusconi described Barack Obama as "young, handsome, and tanned"
• April 2008: Berlusconi caused outrage after saying "Zapatero [Spain's prime minister] has formed a government that is too pink, something that we cannot do in Italy because there is a prevalence of men in politics and it isn't easy to find women who are qualified ... He will have problems leading them"
• April 2006: On welcoming the then newly elected female MP Mara Carfagna to parliament he joked: "I am obliged to remind you of a rule in the Forza Italia group, the jus primae noctis" (a Latin reference to the medieval "law of the first night" which gave the lord of an estate the right to "deflower" new brides)
• June 2005: He claimed he had "brushed up" all his "playboy skills" to persuade Finland's president, Tarja Halonen, to agree to host the European Food Safety Authority in Italy
• July 2003: Berlusconi caused uproar at the European parliament after replying to a heckling German MEP with the comment, "Mr Schulz, I know there is in Italy a man producing a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I would like to suggest you for the role of leader. You'd be perfect"
© The Guardian

up  

OUTGOING CABINET TO SLASH SPENDING ON INTEGRATION COURSES (Netherlands)

15/9/2010- The caretaker cabinet is planning to slash spending on compulsory integration courses as part of its plans to raise €3.2bn, the Volkskrant reports on Wednesday, quoting political sources. The paper says the budget for citizenship courses and language tests for newcomers will be cut by 'several hundred million euros' by 2014. Integration courses currently cost some €500m a year, according to Nos tv. The plan will be officially made known at the presentation of the government's 2011 spending plans on September 21. Other planned savings include a €700m reduction in reserves for new policy, €600m on civil service salaries and cuts in childcare subsidies. The cabinet also plans to raise €200m from increasing taxes on tobacco. Because the cabinet is only acting in a caretaker capacity and 'balancing the books', there will be no new policy presented on budget day. MPs have already agreed not to hold the traditional two-day debate with the prime minister, saying it would be a waste of time.

Tests
If all goes according to plan, the new right-wing government will be in place in early October. Most new immigrants to the Netherlands, apart from those from EU and some other countries, have had to undergo a compulsory citizenship test since 2006. The right wing parties currently in talks on forming a new government also plan to cut spending on integration courses by transfering the cost to immigrant themselves.
© The Dutch News

up  

RIGHT-WING TALKS TO RESUME, BUT OTHER PARTY SUPPORT MAY BE NEEDED (Netherlands)

13/9/2010- Talks on forming a right-wing minority cabinet with support of the anti-Islam PVV can now restart, the queen's negotiator Herman Tjeenk Willink said on Monday afternoon. Tjeenk Willink has 'advised the queen to ask (Ivo) Opstelten to continue his research into speedy formation of a stable cabinet made up of the VVD and CDA... which can count on a fruitful alliance with parliament,' his spokesman said in a statement. The talks would have a 'reasonable' chance of success, he said. Nevertheless, Tjeenk Willink also recommended Opstelten look to other parties for support for certain policies. A new cabinet will have to rely on other parties to support some measures, in particular in terms of the European agenda, the statement said. The PVV has agreed to support the minority cabinet in making €18bn worth of spending cuts, but retains the right to vote against the government in some areas. Labour leader Job Cohen has already made it clear his party will not automatically help the coalition if it cannot rely on the support of the PVV. Opstelten has already conducted four weeks of talks between the PVV, CDA and CDA. The negotiations were halted a week ago when Wilders pulled out, citing a lack of trust in the CDA.
© The Dutch News

up  

SOME NEO-NAZI WEBPAGES HEROIZING SLOVAK SHOOTER

11/9/2010- The crimes of Ľubomír Harman, who shot seven people and then committed suicide last week in the Devínská Nová Ves quarter of Bratislava, seem to have prompted other emotions in the Czech Republic and Slovakia besides condemnation and horror. The shooter is starting to acquire fans, especially on neo-Nazi and nationalist internet forums. The weekly “Plus 7 dní” reports that while the motive for Harman’s shooting spree is unknown the authors of many articles on the web are claiming he wanted to settle scores with his allegedly problematic neighbors because police were unable to. The victims of the shooting were six members of a single family. Two of them were of Roma origin. In the aftermath of the tragedy, media speculated that the unemployed man’s motivation had been racism. The theory has also surfaced that the shooter committed the murders because of disputes with his neighbors. Police have reported that the family, who were neighbors of the man who murdered them, led a busy social life. Police have not reported any motive for the shooting and their representatives admit they may never succeed in discovering the murderer’s motivation. The seventh victim was a woman whom Harman evidently hit randomly while shooting up an adjacent housing unit.

"It is clear that when we put all these factors into the equation, we find the solution: The murderer wanted to rid his building of a problematic family. He has inscribed himself into the annals of history as a controversial figure, but for many of us he is a hero – what’s more, he died in battle with representatives of the system (the police), who bear their share of responsibility for the entire situation,” the authors of an article on one of the neo-Nazi web pages write. An article on the nationalist web forum Prop also pleads Harman’s case. "As can be seen from the emotional reactions of many people, they are sick of multiculturalism and it seems that if Ľubomír Harman had not shot others in addition to the main target, he would have been celebrated by many as a hero," a contribution on this web page reads. The weekly “Plus 7 dní” points out that many Facebook pages are lauding Harman’s behavior. As news server Romea.cz determined, one such Facebook group has been founded by someone under the name Jerry O'Thomas, whose profile includes photos of the logo of the Workers’ Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS). Other members of this Facebook group are being recruited from the promoters and even members of the DSSS. One member is Iveta Machová, who ran in fifth place on the DSSS ticket in the Moravian-Silesian region for the Czech lower house. Another member of the group is the “fragile” DSSS girl Lucie Šlégrová, who is also Vice Chair of the Workers’ Youth. After news server Romea.cz reported on the existence of this Facebook group on the afternoon of Thursday, 9 September 2010, its author removed it for a short while, but as of Saturday 11 September the group is again completely operational with more than 130 members.

“Plus 7 dní” reports many neo-Nazis are doing their best to learn where the shooter will be buried. The weekly points out that the place of his final rest might become a rallying point for neo-Nazi and racist groups. However, the media have reported that Harman will evidently be buried secretly. Harman, who was a member of sport shooting club, shot his victims with a machine gun. Possession of such a weapon in Slovakia is legal only if it has been modified to fire single rounds, but Slovak Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic said in an interview that preliminary information shows the machine gun shot multiple rounds. The Slovak Interior Ministry announced new restrictions on weapons possession rules after the massacre.
© Romea

up  

ROMA AND THE EU

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY VOWS TO SOLVE ROMA PROBLEM INTERNALLY

16/9/2010- The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry has stated that the problem with the Bulgarian citizens abroad is a social and not political problem and it shouldbe solved internally. "The most important thing is to find the strength to solve the problem internally," said the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, Vesela Cherneva, and added that the issues on the integration of the Bulgarian communities abroad was a question of national politics. In her words, Bulgaria will do its best to find funding for the integration of the minorities. She added that the EU has envisioned for this purpose EUR 15,5 B in the 2011 budget. Cherneva has pointed out that it was of "extreme importance" that the Roma issue was not considered a criteria for Bulgaria's entry in the Schengen zone. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson has also stated that Bulgaria had no proofs that the repatriated Roma from France have been treated on an ethnic basis. She also noted that there have not been received any complaints for violation of human rights. According to Cherneva, a few hundreds Bulgarian citizens are repatriated from EU countries every year because of administrative violations. "This is a process that has been going on for a few years and there is no huge difference in the number of people who come back," she said. The spokesperson has also explained that the people who have returned from France have not been a homogeneous group, but have declared that they had a different ethnic background. According to data from the Bulgarian border police, the number of people who have returned from France since the beginning of August is 41 and another group of 14 is expected to come back on Friday. Cherneva has announced that the number of repatriated people in 2009 was 145.
© Novinite

up  

PM INDIRECTLY BACKS FRENCH APPROACH TO FOREIGN ROMA (Czech Rep.)

16/9/2010- Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas indirectly backed France's approach to Roma coming from other EU countries, ahead of the EU summit Thursday. He said each EU country should require that its laws be observed. The EU, along with the other member countries, should not allow themselves to get involved in the problem that is France's internal political conflict to a certain extent, Necas said. "I'm convinced that even an EU member country, if a citizen of another EU country is staying there, has the right to require that he either work or study there or that he prove that he has means to provide for himself. The given member country has the right to require that its own laws be observed," Necas told journalists. Paris recently started expelling thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma who, after a three-month legal stay, remained in France without the means and permits required by law. France also argued pointing to the security aspects and the growing crime rate for which it said immigrants are partly to blame. France's approach has met with a wave of criticism from various institutions. Some reproach Paris for focusing on a single minority, while others criticise it for allegedly inadmissible approach to EU citizens. Bulgaria and Romania have been EU members since 2007.

Necas said the EU and other countries should not allow themselves to get involved in the problem. "The EU and the other countries should not allow themselves to get involved in what is actually a conflict that often amounts to a French pre-election political battle rather than anything else," Necas said. Later, during the summit, Necas issued a statement in which he said his words were not meant as support to France. He wrote he intentionally avoided doing anything like this. "I am convinced that an objective view of any outward observer is also complicated by that it is France's internal clash of opinions at the same time," he wrote. Therefore, other states or the European Union should not interfere in the dispute, Necas wrote. Ways of approaching the Romani minority is unexpectedly among the agenda the forthcoming summit is to discuss. "To us, two positions are crucial in connection with the Romani issue. In the Czech Republic we consider it a primarily social problem and a problem of education, not a problem of a minority that would be discriminated against. There is a big portion of work in the area of social work, securing a good education level and accessibility of jobs for Roma and so on, Necas said.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

RUSSIAN GYPSIES CONCERNED BY EXPULSION OF ROMA FROM FRANCE

16/9/2010- Leaders of Russia's Gypsy community say France's expulsions of Roma (Gypsies) violate European Union law and have vowed to support their compatriots. French President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a campaign against camps of illegal immigrants in the country. France pays for plane tickets to an individual's country of origin and offers those who leave the country voluntarily cash payments of about $420 per adult and $130 per child. However, an internal Interior Ministry document that came to light last week showed that gypsies were being targeted. It said 300 illegal camps have to be cleared within three months, "the priority, those of the Roma." Sarkozy maintains the expulsions are aimed at fighting crime and illegal immigration, but the leaked document has sparked criticism from Roma groups and human rights organizations across Europe and protests in French society. Officially, more than 180,000 Roma live in Russia, although unofficial figures put their number as high as 1 million. Roma organizations in Russia have expressed their outrage over the situation in France. "Not only me, but every representative of the Gypsy community considers this to be illegal," said Artur Gorbatov, president of the Gypsy Association of the Russian Southern Federal District. "This is a violation of human rights of those people, who reside on a territory of the country of France," he continued, adding that gypsies everywhere will defend the interests of their compatriots.

On Tuesday, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding strongly condemned as a "disgrace" the ongoing French campaign to deport Gypsies. "This is a situation I would have thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," she said. "I am not surprised that European Commissioner decided on a comparison with the times of the Second World War as this is the comparison that comes to mind," Russian Gypsy's rights activist Stephania Kulayeva said. "In any such situation we of course have associations with this terrible experience [of World War II], not only with Holocaust tragedy, which concerns the Roma people no less than the Jews," said Kulayeva, a program manager for St. Petersburg Memorial anti-discrimination center. Reding on Thursday expressed regret for making the comparison with World War II, but stood by her criticism of the policy and threatened to take France to the European Court of Justice. A leading Roma rights activist in Russia believes they should be recognized as indigenous Europeans. "I think, it's time to recognize the Roma as a European people," said Nadezhda Demeter, a doctor of historical science and first vice president of the Moscow-based International Romani Union. "They have lived in Europe for 800 years, and people who do not want to recognize Gypsies as native European residents should remember that if we use such a yardstick, then Hungarians cannot be recognized as Europeans," she said. Demeter said Roma need an effective system of legal protection and avenues for protest. "Otherwise, they will become easy prey for any politician like Sarkozy," she said. "I think, if this [deportation of Roma] continues, then, probably, other countries will do the same, as Finland, Italy and Spain are going to do." Sarkozy was forced to defend his position at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.
© RIA Novosti

up  

HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF: EXPULSION OF ROMA GYPSIES MUST BE OPPOSED (uk)

16/9/2010- The expulsion of Roma gypsies from France must be opposed, the head of Great Britain's human rights commission said today. Trevor Phillips described the act as an "egregious" breach of the spirit of human rights. Nearly 1,000 Roma have been expelled since last month, and EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has called on the European Commission to take legal action against France, labelling the actions a "disgrace". Mr Phillips said: "There is a point at which people who are invested with the responsibility for standing up for absolute values, which is what national human rights commissions do, need to say 'this cannot go on'." He said there had been similar trends in Holland, Italy, Germany and Sweden. "This is something that we will both monitor and be ready to take whatever action we can collectively to ensure this does not become the answer," the chief of the Equality and Human Rights Commission for England and Wales added. France is engaged in a high-profile campaign of deporting Romanian and Bulgarian Roma as part of a crackdown on illegal camps in the country. It comes after clashes in July between French Roma and police in the town of Saint Aignan. The Roma are a nomadic people whose ancestors are thought to have left north-west India at the beginning of the 11th century and scattered across Europe.
© 24 Dash

up  

FRANCE DEFIES EU CRITICISM ON GYPSY EXPULSIONS

16/9/2010- French President Nicolas Sarkozy upended a European Union summit to defend his own nation's honor, vowing Thursday to keep clearing out illegal immigrant camps despite accusations that France is being racist and unfairly targets Gypsies. The summit was supposed to be a forum for molding a unifying European foreign policy, but it turned into a drama of discord — with the outspoken Sarkozy usurping the podium to preach his policies and lash out at his critics. Sarkozy said comments by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding that linked the expulsions to the mass deportations of World War II were "disgusting." "I am head of the French state. I cannot let my nation be insulted," Sarkozy told reporters.

The wartime comparison stung many in France and other members of a bloc designed to overcome and prevent the kind of hostilities that divided Europe in the past. France deported some 76,000 Jews from France to Nazi concentration camps, and interned thousands of Gypsies in camps in France during the war. Sarkozy insisted France's expulsions of Gypsies, or Roma, are a matter of security and said France doesn't have to take lessons from anyone, as long as it respects human rights. He called more than 100 Roma camps dismantled in France in recent weeks havens of crime and undignified living conditions. "We will continue to dismantle the illegal camps, whoever is there," Sarkozy said. "Europe cannot close its eyes to illegal camps."

Participants at the summit lunch said emotions flared between Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso over the expulsions. Barroso did not want to comment on his exchange with Sarkozy, brushing off "useless rhetoric or unnecessary controversies." "Let's put this behind us, let's work now on substance," he said. Sarkozy downplayed the exchange. "If there is someone who keeps his calm, and abstains from excessive comments, it is surely me," said the French leader — who has a reputation for having a volatile temper. Britain, so often at loggerheads with France over all issues European, backed Sarkozy. "Members of the Commission have to chose their language carefully as well," said Cameron, a fellow member of the center-right. He added that "you should, of course have the right to remove people from your country if they are there illegally."

Reding's office has said she expressed regret over the wartime comparison, but maintained her threat to take France to court for targeting an ethnic group in the expulsions. "All heads of state and government said it was profoundly shocking that one would speak in this way, with historical references that were deeply hurtful to the entirety of our compatriots," Sarkozy said. "It is an insult, an injury, a humiliation and an outrage," Sarkozy said, the kind of comment rarely heard about any of the EU's top officials. The expulsions of more than 1,000 Roma from France in recent weeks, mainly to Romania, have also highlighted persistent divisions between richer, older EU members and poorer, newer ones. Romanian President Traian Basescu accused EU leaders of "hypocrisy" over the Roma expulsions to his country, and warned that those expelled from France may quickly return. "If we are not honestly recognizing this reality, we will not find solutions," he told reporters in Bucharest.

While Thursday's tensions centered on the Roma, the EU leaders talked little about them, a group that is among the continent's poorest, most mistreated minorities. "What political power do the Roma have in Europe?" Asked Florin Manole of the Center for Roma Studies at Bucharest University. "I doubt things will change, especially as we have an economic crisis." Beyond the Roma issue, the government leaders did find unity on some other issues. They agreed to temporarily waive World Trade Organization tariffs on key Pakistani imports to help boost the flood-devastated country's economy. The EU already has committed millions of euros in humanitarian aid to help Pakistan recover from the devastation. It also wanted to craft a long-term strategy to help the country get its economy back on track amid fears Islamic extremists could exploit the crisis to strengthen their hold on northwestern regions close to the border with Afghanistan.

The EU also agreed Thursday to a free trade pact with South Korea that will slash billions of dollars in industrial and agricultural duties, despite some countries' worries that the auto industry could be hurt by a flood of cheaper cars. The deal — the first such pact between the EU and an Asian trading partner — will be signed at an EU-South Korea summit on Oct. 6 and come into force on July 1, 2011, said Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere, whose country holds the union's rotating presidency. However, it first has to be approved by the EU and South Korean parliaments and European carmakers are still hoping lawmakers will ensure safeguards for their industry.
© The Associated Press

up  

WHILE FRANCE DEPORTS ROMA GYPSIES, SPAIN INTEGRATES THEM

16/9/2010- Antonio Moreno lives on what is reputedly Madrid's most dangerous street, where dealers openly offer any type of drug around the clock. He owns a four-bedroom house with a pool; he works out of his own photo and video studio - and he's a Gypsy, one of the 40,000 inhabitants of an illegal settlement on the outskirts of the Spanish capital. If they lived in just about any other European country, Moreno and his neighbors would be the source of tension and controversy: on Tuesday, the European Union called France's continued deportation of its Gypsies a "disgrace" and threatened disciplinary action against the country. Suddenly, all across Europe, a community that is used to living on the fringes is now in the spotlight - and in some cases, suffering heightened prejudice as a result. But Moreno isn't worried. Because when it comes to dealing with Gypsies - also known as Roma - Spain is different.

"[The deportations] will never happen here," says Moreno. "We are integrated. I'm first Spanish, then Gypsy, and I'm proud to be both." While many European countries see their Roma communities as problems to be tackled, Spain has embraced its Gypsies, giving them rights, celebrating their history and making them feel at home. "Of course there is racism, but it's better here than anywhere else I've seen," Moreno says, referring to his trips to Italy, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. "Spain has helped Gypsies a lot." Indeed, 35 years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, the lives of the Roma have improved dramatically. "We weren't even human before. We were animals," says Moreno of the time when authorities prevented Gypsies from working, studying or even gathering in groups bigger than four. Today the European Commission, E.U. member countries and the Roma themselves all agree that Spain has become the model for integrating Gypsies, with some citing it as a case of good practices. Now the governments of Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and even Romania - where many Roma come from - are looking to Spain for ideas to apply themselves.

Of the 10-12 million Roma living in Europe, Spain has the second biggest community, estimated at 970,000, or about 2% of the total population. And the country spends almost €36 million annually bringing them into the fold. In Spain, only 5% of gypsies live in makeshift camps, and about half of Roma are homeowners. Just about all Gypsies in Spain have access to health care, and while no recent figures exist, at least 75% are believed to have some sort of steady income.  Spain is also investing in an area that many experts believe is the key to keeping Roma out of poverty: education. Almost all Gypsy children start elementary school (although only about 30% compete it), and more than 85% of the country's Gypsies are literate. "Spain's use of European social funds is a good example for other member states," said E.U. Commission Vice President and Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding in an e-mail to TIME. "The Spanish government has shown that it is working on integrating the Roma population, and we've seen some positive results."

Spain's two-pronged integration approach has been instrumental in those results, pairing access to mainstream social services with targeted inclusion programs. For example, Roma can have access to public housing and financial aid on the condition that they send their children to schools and health care facilities. Then there's the Gypsy Secretariat Foundation Acceder program, which experts say is one of the best integration initiatives in Europe. The program takes young, unemployed Gypsies and teaches them technical skills and helps them earn the equivalent of a high school degree. At the end, they are placed in jobs through a series of agreements with private companies. The program has been such a success that Romania's National Agency for Roma is trying to implement its own version.  But can the rest of Europe replicate Spain's success? Much of the country's good work in integrating Roma is thanks to its specific history with the community. In order to guarantee stability in a country split along nationalist lines, the constitution written after Franco's death was inclusive of all ethnic groups and cultures, thus shielding Roma from institutional exclusion. And because Gypsies were the single most impoverished population in the 1980s, they attracted the most development efforts. Despite centuries of victimization, Gypsies have melded into Spanish mainstream culture - flamenco dancing and traditional Spanish dress are both borrowed from the community. "Spanish Gypsies also resisted integration efforts less than in other countries because they have been sedentary for centuries," says JosÉ Manuel Fresno, an adviser to the E.U. commission on Roma issues and head of the Spanish government's anti-racism commission.

Even if other E.U. countries followed in Spain's footsteps and learned to love their Roma, that would solve only half the problem. The best way to stop countries such as France and Italy from deporting Gypsies is to ensure that Gypsies are happy enough at home that they don't need to migrate to France or Italy in the first place. "Spain has done much more than other member states [to integrate Roma], but now we have to make sure that success transfers to new member states," says Ivan Ivanov, executive director of the Brussels-based European Roma Information Office. "Then Roma migrations might stop." Deportations are futile, he says: "The Gypsies will just come back in a few months. Policies need to be adopted now, or in five years the very same countries will complain of migrations from other countries." Antonio Moreno would agree. A Spanish Gypsy as far back as he can trace his roots, he can't imagine his family living anywhere else. And while he appreciates that his children get financial aid and that the state pays for his grandchildren to attend school, he believes that Gypsies have a responsibility to integrate. "Most Gypsies are good people and want to coexist with others," Moreno says. "There are some who exclude themselves, but not us. We're staying in Spain because this is our home."
© Time Magazine

up  

FRENCH ROMA ROW CLOUDS EU SUMMIT

16/9/2010- The controversy over France's expulsion of Roma migrants to Bulgaria and Romania is expected to be high on the agenda of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. The meeting on Thursday is being overshadowed by the Roma issue, despite original plans to focus on preventing new financial crises and debating the EU's approach to emerging powers such as India and China. Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov criticised the deportations on Wednesday, saying: "The expulsion of Bulgarian and Romanian Roma was not made in a good European spirit. "I don’t see a massive expulsion, as in this case, as being normal." He also criticised comments made by outgoing French Ambassador, Etienne de Poncins during a speech marking the end of his term in Bulgaria. Poncins said that Roma integration was one of the main challenges facing Bulgaria, but added that it was unclear how money aimed at minority integration had been spent. "A hectoring tone, especially coming from ambassadors, won’t solve the problem, but will instead create tension," Purvanov retorted. In Paris, President Nicolas Sarkozy and government officials expressed anger after EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding urged the European Commission to bring France to court over its Roma deportation policy, which she called a "disgrace". "This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," Reding said. Pierre Lellouche, French minister responsible for European affairs described Reding’s comments as a "gaffe". "This is not how you speak to a major power like France," he told local media. Sarkozy has suggested Luxemburg, Reding’s home country, should host the Roma and has vowed to comment further on the issue later on Thursday. Despite the growing EU criticism, Paris has continued to return Roma. Paris deported about 200 more Roma back to Romania on the same day as Reding was expressing her concerns about French policy. France has so far deported about 1200 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria, despite rising popular anger and accusations from human rights activists that Paris actions are discriminative and spark racism towards the community. Roma who have returned to date have done so voluntarily, with adults receiving €300 in cash and children €100.
© Balkan Insight

up  

FRENCH MINISTERS FUME AFTER REDING REBUKE OVER ROMA

15/9/2010- The two cabinet ministers at the heart of France's Roma (Gypsy) deportation policy have angrily rejected criticism from the EU justice commissioner. Pierre Lellouche, responsible for European affairs, accused Viviane Reding of making a "gaffe" by drawing parallels with Nazi-occupied Europe. Immigration Minister Eric Besson said France respected EU laws. France has removed at least 1,230 east European Roma since July, accusing them of settling illegally. The office of President Nicolas Sarkozy described Ms Reding's comments as "unacceptable" and called for a calm discussion rather than the stirring-up of a "sterile controversy". Ms Reding had urged the European Commission to take legal action against France over its deportations, describing them as a "disgrace". She deplored the fact that a leaked official memo had contradicted assurances given to her by France that the Roma were not being singled out. "This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," she said. In a BBC interview later, she also suggested the French government was carrying out the policy "for purely populist reasons and party political reasons". European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters on Wednesday that Ms Reding had his personal backing though "one or other of the expressions used may have given rise to misunderstanding". "Prohibition of discrimination based on ethnic origin is one of the EU's fundamental values," he added. Mr Sarkozy has said he will explain himself at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday, although the situation of the Roma is not on the agenda, the BBC's Oana Lungescu reports. But with Mr Barroso sitting at the table, along with the Romanian and Bulgarian leaders, the summit could see more angry exchanges over what to do with Europe's travelling people, she says.

'That's enough'
Speaking on French radio on Wednesday, Mr Lellouche appeared to take personal offence at the suggestion his government was acting like France's wartime Vichy regime, which rounded up thousands of Roma, some of whom were sent to Nazi death camps. "As a French minister, as a French citizen, as the son of somebody who fought in the Free French Forces, I cannot let Ms Reding say that the France of 2010, in dealing with the issue of the Roma, is the France of Vichy," he said. Roissy airport, Paris, was "not Beaune-La-Rolande or Drancy", he said, referring to wartime French internment camps. France has been deporting by air Romanian and Bulgarian Roma who agree to be repatriated in exchange for cash payments of about 330 euros ($423, £274) per adult and 100 euros per child. "A nest egg, an air ticket for the country of origin in the European Union is not the death trains, it's not the gas chambers," Mr Lellouche remarked. The minister suggested the justice commissioner had overstepped her brief. "The Commission cannot set itself up as a critic of states," he said. "That's enough, my patience is wearing thin. You don't address yourself like that to a great state such as France, which is the mother of human rights, which is a founding member of the European Union."

Directives 'breached'
Speaking in a separate radio interview, Immigration Minister Mr Besson said: "She [Ms Reding] wants to know whether France has respected EU law and its own legislation, and the answer is 'yes, France has respected that'." An editorial in the centre-right newspaper Le Figaro robustly defended the government and asked the European Commission to "stop acting as if the problems posed by immigration did not exist". President Sarkozy himself reportedly suggested at a luncheon with his political allies in Paris that Ms Reding's native Luxembourg could take in some Roma. "He said that... if the people of Luxembourg wanted to take them, there was no problem," Senator Bruno Sido was quoted as saying by AFP. Mr Sarkozy's reported remarks were later taken up by Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who described them as "spiteful". Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at the UK's Cambridge University, told the BBC she believed that France had not complied with the EU's citizens' rights directive in respect to Roma people who were EU citizens. France, she told BBC World Service, did not seem to be considering each case on its merits and did not seem to be taking into account the fundamental rights of the Roma. EU anti-discrimination directives would also have been breached if the Roma had been targeted as a distinct ethnic group, she added. Ms Reding's strong stance was welcomed by a federation of 22 Roma civic organisations in Romania. "For the first time, the EU is sending clearly and unequivocally a powerful message that the fundamental rights of Roma must be respected," it said.
© BBC News

up  

FRENCH GYPSIES RECALL FORGOTTEN WARTIME INTERNMENT

15/9/2010- It's a thistle-tangled field behind a hedge of blackberries, with little to catch the eye but three surreal staircases that rise out of the parched grass and lead to nowhere. Not much is left of the camp where thousands of French Gypsies were interned in this village in the Saumur wine region during World War II. Here, hungry children once crowded behind barbed wire, hoping Sunday strollers might toss them leftover food. Anyone caught trying to escape was locked in a filthy hole underground, a prison within a prison. As today's France expels a wave of Romanian gypsies seeking an escape from hardship back home, children of the camp's survivors have been drawing up plans for a memorial to the site's chilling past. They have been caught up in a battle against what they say is state-sponsored discrimination today against some of Europe's most marginalized, misunderstood minorities. This shameful episode of French history is little known and isn't in the school textbooks: Under the German Occupation, thousands of Gypsies, mostly citizens of France, were rounded up and put in 31 internment camps administered and guarded by their fellow Frenchmen.

Perhaps most shocking in this country that considers itself the cradle of human rights is that France kept some Gypsies locked up until 1946, after the end of the Nazi occupation. Hitler's troops were gone, Gen. Charles de Gaulle's provisional government was in charge, and the French had only themselves to blame. Montreuil-Bellay, the largest camp, was finally classified as a protected historic site in July, years after part of it was razed to build a traffic roundabout. Today only the underground prison is still intact, with a bird's nest and moss clinging to its stone ceiling. Cows graze among the ruins. Questions are growing about the future of the site. A lawmaker brought it up to parliament recently, urging its restoration or a monument to the site's history. French Gypsy activist Milo Delage is working on plans for a memorial that he envisions as "something simple. A place for reflection." He also believes the lessons of the past are crucial now, and says France today is experiencing "all the same ingredients" of the prewar years, including racism and discrimination.

Before President Nicolas Sarkozy went away on summer vacation in the Riviera, just weeks after Montreuil-Bellay won protected status, he called an unusual meeting: He wanted to discuss "behavior problems" within communities of Gypsies, those whose families have been in France for centuries and their distant cousins now arriving from Eastern Europe. France's traditional Gypsies refer to themselves as "tsiganes," and many say they are being unfairly lumped together with the recent arrivals from Eastern Europe referred to here as Roms, or Roma. Sarkozy's meeting was a response to riots that had broken out in central France in July after a policeman shot and killed a fleeing French Gypsy youth in circumstances still under investigation. Gypsies in the town of Saint-Aignan allegedly cut down trees, broke windows and burned cars. Sarkozy's meeting left many Gypsies feeling stigmatized, as if the government viewed them all as troublemakers. Then Sarkozy launched his widely criticized crackdown on the Roma, blaming them for rising crime and putting hundreds on planes home, mostly to Romania. He said their illegal camps were sources of "illicit trafficking, deeply disgraceful living conditions and the exploitation of children through begging, prostitution and delinquency."

Such a targeted crackdown by the French president on any other minority would have been unthinkable. Officially, the French government is blind to color, ethnicity and religion and does not keep tabs on minorities. "We're the outsiders within," said activist Delage, a furniture salesman who lives in a mobile home, moving from place to place like his ancestors did. He says Sarkozy's comments hit the community like "a blow with a club". Delage's grandparents, father and three uncles were held for 18 months at Montreuil-Bellay during World War II. The betrayal was perhaps sharpest for his grandfather: He was a decorated veteran who had fought for France in the previous world war, losing a leg in battle. In 1940, soon before the Nazi occupation, France's then-President Albert Lebrun ordered Gypsies to stop traveling, saying their itinerant lifestyle made them a spying risk. Later that year, the Germans ordered French Gypsies into local internment camps. The fate of French Gypsies was unusual — and by the horrific standards of the time, less devastating than elsewhere in Europe. Gypsies from other Nazi-occupied countries were sent en masse to death camps — according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, between 196,000 and 220,000 Gypsies were killed in the Holocaust.

France kept Gypsies in its own camps, the Nazis did not ask for them to be handed over, and only several hundred French Gypsies ended up in death camps. By contrast, about 75,000-76,000 Jews were deported from France, of whom only 2,500 survived. Marie-Christine Hubert, a historian who co-authored a book about the Gypsies' wartime fate, said the French rounded up 6,500 Gypsies and other wanderers for internment but were not "zealous" about tracking down the rest. The French internment camps were not death camps, but food was scarce, disease was rampant, and many died untimely deaths. The last Gypsies were released in late May 1946, even after Nazi collaborators were freed, Hubert says. For years, the camps were largely forgotten. Many Gypsies were afraid to discuss the ordeal, and because they had a mostly oral tradition, they didn't put their stories to paper. Many of those still alive are reluctant to discuss the war.

One exception is Raymond Gureme, interned outside Paris as a teenager. Today, he recalls his hunger and his escapes, dismissing any attempt to pass all blame off on the Germans. "I never saw a German there," Gureme told a conference this spring. France has had a difficult time coming to terms with its crimes under Vichy. It wasn't until 1995 that then-President Jacques Chirac made history by acknowledging that France bore responsibility for deporting Jews, breaking with the official position that Vichy was not the French state. Gypsy activists have promoted this year as one of remembrance about the internment. Awareness has grown, too, thanks to a recent documentary and a feature film addressing the Gypsies' wartime fate. France's veterans minister acknowledged this July that the Gypsies had been victims of "racist crimes by the French state." It was a long-awaited speech — so Gypsies felt even more betrayed when Sarkozy launched his Gypsy crackdown just days later. Officially, the French government refers to French Gypsies who still lead an itinerant lifestyle as "gens du voyage" — traveling people — a status that applies, in theory, to many people with no fixed address. Several hundred thousand people are believed to fall into the category.

"Gens du voyage" are required to have a special state-issued document requiring them to check in with authorities as often as every three months. Those who don't comply risk penalties of up to a year in prison. Gypsy groups are meeting with lawmakers Tuesday to air their grievances about the document, which many find humiliating and discriminatory. It was created in 1969 to replace an identity card for itinerant populations that was downright chilling, bearing information on the size of the holder's head, right ear and left foot. Even some steps in the right direction have been bungled. A law requires all towns larger than 5,000 people to set aside terrain for Gypsies' mobile homes. Many have ignored the order. In Montreuil-Bellay, retired schoolteacher Jacques Sigot has worked for three decades to get word out on what happened in this picturesque walled village surrounded by vineyards. He speaks bitterly about France's wartime attitude. With the Gypsies behind barbed wire, "people would say, 'they aren't stealing our chickens,'" Sigot said. 'People were happy, were satisfied the Gypsies were locked up."
© The Associated Press

up  

ROMA CONFERENCE DECRIES GOVERNMENT-LED DISCRIMINATION (Portugal)

11/9/2010- Over the centuries, racism in the Americas has targeted indigenous peoples, African slaves and their descendants, while in Europe, secular racism has long centred on its once-enslaved gypsies, as their recent persecution in France and Italy confirms. Anthropologist José Pereira Bastos, professor at the New University of Lisbon, made this charge at the conference Gypsies in the 21st Century, held in the Portuguese capital Sep. 8-10, drawing organisations from around the world that work to defend the rights of the peoples known as Romani, Roma, or Roms, among others, depending on the dialect. The participants in this annual meeting of the Gypsy Lore Society (GLS) underscored in a resolution that the anthropological society is alarmed by the anti-Roma rhetoric of authorities from France and Italy.

Bastos told IPS that they expressed "strong concern over the policy of expulsions, which could lead to serious consequences for community relations between Europe's majorities and the vulnerable Roma minority." The French government of Nicolas Sarkozy enacted a plan in August of forced removal and destruction of Roma encampments, with mass expulsions to Bulgaria, Romania and other countries. A similar offensive has been carried out by the government of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy since 2008 -- the difference being that the Italian leader did not make public his "security package" under which thousands of Roma have been expelled.

The Roma are a large minority group in Europe, with a population estimated at 10 to 16 million. But their numbers don't protect them from discrimination or seemingly cyclic waves of persecution. In sad irony, the latest incidents have come in the middle of the Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015), "an unprecedented commitment by European governments to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma." Last week's Lisbon meet drew representatives of Roma groups and rights organisations from most European countries, but also from as far away as Brazil and Japan.

Bastos noted that GLS does not usually engage in political matters but on this occasion could not keep silent about France and Italy's ethnic persecution of the Roma communities. GLS, "with 120 years in existence, is the oldest anthropological scientific society in the world, founded in 1888 in London, relocated to 1989 to the United States, this time condemned the measures adopted in France and Italy," he said. The professor pointed out that the Roma have been the slaves of Europe since the sultan of Ghazni (now Afghanistan) began to make incursions into northern India, capturing villages in that zone.

In the winter of 1019-1020, the sultan conquered the sacred city of Kannauj, "in that era one of the most ancient and learned cities in India, capturing thousands of people and selling them in Persia," explained the anthropologist and activist. The Persians in turn sold the slaves in what is today Eastern Europe. "It is known that 2,300 of them were placed in an area of the Orthodox Christian principalities of Transylvania and Moldavia, which today constitute two-thirds of Romania, where they were made slaves of the prince, of the convents and of the rural estates," explained the host of the GLS meeting. During the persecutions of Jews and Muslims in the 15th century, the "gypsy hunts" began, "because they were considered vagabonds and criminals."

"In Germany and Netherlands, they were exterminated using guns, and the hunters were paid per unit," said Bastos, summarising that "in Europe the goal of exterminating the gypsies has always been very clear." Anthropologist Daniela Rodrigues, member of the non-governmental organisation SOS Racism, told IPS that the expulsions of Roma from France and Italy is a "populist strategy" of those governments -- a bid to appeal to their extreme conservative bases. Rodrigues, who works to promote education for Roma children in Portugal, explained that one of her key efforts is "mediation with the families, to give them incentives to send their children to school."

"Low school attendance among gypsies also has to do with their perception of themselves, in which many think that going to school will make them lose their ethnic identity," she said. This phenomenon "is much stronger for girls than for boys. When a gypsy girl achieves an education, her own community begins to say that she is no longer a gypsy, and look upon her with some scorn," she added. Rodrigues stressed that there is discrimination against Roma people in Portugal as well, "especially by the police, who when they are checking merchant credentials at the street fairs, they target the Roma merchants." "But unlike France and Italy, in Portugal the operations to control undocumented foreigners is not focused on them," explained the expert.

In those two countries, "instead of conducting general immigrant controls of possible undocumented persons, what they do are operations against a specific ethnic minority, which follows a populist strategy," said Rodrigues. Another key difference is that Portugal "adopted a system of socially mixed neighbourhoods, constructed with the perspective that the Roma coexist with Africans, Brazilians and Portuguese, whether white or mixed race, and there is little discrimination there," she said. In a presentation to the conference, Santiago González Avión, director in the Spanish autonomous community of Galicia of the Gypsy Secretariat Foundation, pointed to the open wound that is the division amongst the Roma communities themselves.

"Fragmentation is strong between the Galician gypsies and the Castilian gypsies, and for the Roma that hold Spanish nationality. Also between them, and those with Portuguese nationality, there is strong segregation," said González. The conference document also denounces "the conditions of social precarity, in addition to economic poverty and social exclusion" of these groups. The board of the Foundation laments the fact that "the Roma of Eastern Europe have not established ties with the rest of the gypsy populations. As a result, there is weakness in articulating a gypsy movement when the time comes to vindicate our rights as citizens and demand inclusive policies."

"It is the general policies, of an inclusive nature, that have had greatest impact in improving the living conditions and recognition of rights of gypsy populations," he said. And only inclusive plans "guarantee what is known as the logic of access, but not the logic of roots: feeling the policies are one's own, and incorporating them into personal plans and group strategies," said González.
© IPS-Inter Press Service

up  

FRANCE DESERVES TO BE KICKED OUT OF THE EU FOR DEPORTING ROMA PEOPLE (opinion)

The EU justice minister's outrage should prompt action 
By Louise Doughty

16/9/2010- At last. Those are the only two words that seem appropriate now that EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding has finally come out with a direct attack on the French government's deportations of Roma people. At last she is "appalled"; at last she is threatening the Sarkozy regime with legal action. One wonders where she has been for the last 18 months as hundreds of men, women and children have been rounded up by French police, with no time to gather their possessions, publicly branded as criminals and sent back to Romania and Bulgaria. Let's just remind ourselves: these are EU citizens, being deported from one member state to another because of their ethnicity. Imagine the outcry if Sarkozy started deporting people who happened to be Jewish or black. Would it have taken 18 months for the EU to react? So now, while the French government remains unapologetic, we wait to see if the commissioner's outrage has any teeth. There is talk of a hefty fine. A fine? Why not just expel France from the EU? Turf the French out with as much ceremony as they are allowing the Roma families. A racist regime has no place in a civilised Europe. If Sarkozy needs no legal sanction in order to expel people from his borders then why should we allow him any due process before kicking him out of the union?

There are an estimated 10 million Roma in Europe, 86% of whom live below the poverty line, and they are our continent's fastest growing ethnic minority. Extreme as the French action is, it is only the most overt example of the widespread growth of anti-Roma measures being undertaken across Europe. In the UK, anti-Romany feeling is couched in complaints about "lifestyle", but politicians also know there are few votes to be lost by measures against Travellers. Eric Pickles, the communities and local government secretary, campaigned against a Traveller site in his own home borough of Brentwood long before he came to power in the coalition government. He is now in charge of changing the planning laws to make it more difficult for such groups to claim retrospective planning permission for homes on land they legally own, however long they have been there. Pickles has at least found it wise to couch his moves in measured terms. "Like the rest of the population, the majority of Travellers are law-abiding citizens, and they should have the same chance of having a safe place to live and bring up their children." Not so in other European countries. When Italian Roma camps were firebombed by local thugs in Italy in 2008, Umberto Bossi of the far-right Northern League, a minister in Silvio Berlusconi's government, declared: "The people do what the political class isn't able to do." It will be interesting to see how EU action against Sarkozy plays in France. Reports have claimed that 60% of voters are in favour of Sarkozy's stand, but humiliation before the courts in Brussels may prove a different matter. Despite its culturally protectionist attitude, France has always prided itself on being at the heart of Europe. Two years ago, Berlusconi was forced to back down on a plan to fingerprint and photograph Roma immigrants into Italy after widespread condemnation. He will no doubt be watching Brussels with interest now.

This is why the standoff between the justice commissioner and the French government is so important. If Sarkozy is allowed to get away with his deportations, other rightwing governments will understand that the persecution of the Roma is a vote-catching measure that costs them nothing. Reding must act hard and fast if her volte-face on this issue is to have any impact – and other European governments, including Britain's, must back her loud and clear.
© Comment is free - Guardian

up  

FRANCE'S ROMA POLICIES 'EXACERBATE' THEIR STIGMATISATION: UN

13/9/2010- France's policies on Roma gypsies only serves to exacerbate the stigmatisation of the minority traveller community, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Monday. Noting French policies such as the dismantling of the community's settlements, Navi Pillay said: "This can only exacerbate the stigmatisation of Roma and the extreme poverty in which they live." "I urge European States, including France, to adopt policies enabling Roma people to overcome their marginalisation."

French minister distances himself from note calling for Gypsy camps to be targeted 
13/9/2010- The government came under fire Monday over an alleged letter ordering regional officials to speed up a crackdown on illegal camps of Gypsies in France, where it is illegal to classify people by ethnicity. The immigration minister, Eric Besson, distanced himself from the reported Interior Ministry letter urging the officials to dismantle illegal camps of Gypsies, or Roma. He denied any knowledge of the letter. The episode exposed the strains in France, which insists it is blind to ethnicity, race, religion and colour, but says that it is rooting out crime wherever it occurs. French media has published a copy of the alleged Aug. 5 letter from Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux's chief of staff, Michel Bart, to regional officials calling on them to crack down on Gypsy camps. "The President set out precise goals on July 28 for the evacuation of illegal camps: 300 illegal camps or settlements should have been evacuated within three months, with those of Roma as a priority," he allegedly wrote in reference to a speech on fighting crime by President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has linked Roma to crime, calling their camps sources of prostitution and child exploitation. The Interior Ministry declined immediate comment on the letter's authenticity.

France's deportations of Gypsies — mainly to Romania — have drawn international condemnation from places like the Vatican, European Parliament and United Nations in recent weeks. Officials have dismantled over 100 illegal camps and expelled more than 1,000 Roma, mostly to Romania and Bulgaria. Besson, speaking at a previously planned news conference to detail his ministry's work in the last six months, said France "of course" will continue its policy of repatriating foreigners who don't hold proper residency papers. While he deferred questions on the letter to the Interior Ministry, Besson was clearly on the spot: On Thursday, his office issued a statement saying France "had taken no specific measure regarding the Roma." Roma face widespread discrimination in housing, jobs and education across Europe. As EU citizens, they have a right to travel to France, but must get papers to work or live there in the long term.
© The Associated Press

up  

GERMAN ROMA LEADERS CRITICIZE FRANCE'S SARKOZY

14/9/2010- Leaders of Germany's Roma and Sinti community criticized French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday, charging that he was encouraging far-right attitudes. They spoke out just after European Union commissioner Viviane Reding said she would have 'no choice but to recommend infringement procedures' against France over its deportation this year of 11,000 people, mostly Roma, to Romania and Bulgaria. Sarkozy's policies were 'weakening the rule of law and simultaneously making far-right attitudes acceptable in society,' warned the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma from its office in the southern city of Heidelberg. The council statement said the Sarkozy actions risked triggering right-wing violence. Sarkozy had 'deliberately and calculatedly' put the Roma under a stigma in a bid to woo rightist French voters. The statement added that it was a 'scandal' to use old-fashioned, racist prejudice to justify such policies. The row erupted after French daily Le Parisien published a note from the French interior ministry dated August 5 which ordered that 'within three months, 300 illegal camps are to be dismantled, predominantly those of the Roma.' Reding said she was never told about the note.
© DPA

up  

ITALY'S ROMA WONDER ABOUT 'LEGAL' CAMPS

12/9/2010- As the city of Rome dismantled illegal Roma settlements this past week, many Gypsies were wondering whether the Italian capital would finally make good on a promise to move them to "legal" camps. "A lasting, solid camp, with water and electricity? Of course we're for it! it's our dream," Cristina, a 24-year old who arrived in Italy eight years ago from Romania, told AFP. She lives in barracks wedged in between the pillars holding up a highway overpass about 10 kilometres (six miles) southwest of Rome. Like most other people living in the unauthorised encampments, she was reluctant to give her last name because of safety reasons. "They've been promising us these camps for years now, we have filled out dozens of forms and there's nothing to show for it. We've stopped waiting," she said. Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno has pledged to tear down all of the estimated 200 illegal camps on the city's outskirts and build three legal ones, overseen by local authorities, to add to the seven already in place in and around Rome. The new legal camps in Rome should be ready by the end of next year and should be able to host up to 6,000 nomads. Rome's municipality estimates there are currently more than 7,000 Roma nomads in and around the city, but non-governmental organisations place that number well above 10,000. Alemanno said he would accelerate the demolition and evacuation of illegal camps after a three-year-old Romanian died in a fire in a camp near Rome in late August.

The accident took place only a few days after France flew hundreds of Roma Gypsies out of the country in a crackdown that drew sharp criticism by human rights groups. The Red Cross, which visits illegal camps once a week to medicate nomads, welcomes the plan. "If the new camps are created, with better living conditions like water and electricity, we will be very happy," said Marco Squicciarini, the local Red Cross head. Not far from the first camp under the highway lies another settlement on an abandoned parking lot on top of a hill, home to about one hundred families. "We have been in Italy since we were very small. All of the children were born here. Of course it's our country!" said Falco, a Yugoslav man in his thirties who has been living in Italy for 20 years now. "A child that doesn't wash himself is not a child that can go to school. That's why it's so important to offer better living conditions. The integration of Roma begins with children," he said. For adults, who make a living begging or collecting and re-selling scrap metal, employment is the main problem. "We had a project in Rieti (a city northeast of Rome) to readapt some old buildings that would have allowed some Roma to move into a decent place and herd sheep and keep bees," said Squicciarini. The project could have attracted five million euros (6.3 million dollars) in European Union funding according to Squicciarini, but local governments would not support it. "There are solutions, but there's no political will to put them in place," he added.

Many Roma also fear that if they move into certain "legal" camps men and women will be separated and families broken up. "I won't go in a place without my husband. We can't be separated, with women and children on one side and husbands on the other. We prefer living like this. Poor, but together," said Felicia, who lives in a third, more organised camp with its own central square right in the middle of a wild bamboo field. But the 27-year-old mother hopes she will be able to move, at least for her children's future. "It's dirty here, we don't know how to read. We want our children to go to school, something we didn't do," she said. "We grew up here, but we don't want this ugly life for our children."
© AFP

up  

Headlines 10 September, 2010

PROTESTORS ARRESTED AT SWEDISH FAR-RIGHT MEETING

8/9/2010- Three people were arrested on Wednesday during a skirmish between supporters of the far-right Sweden Democrats party and demonstrators trying to disrupt a party rally, police said. The Sweden Democrats had just started their meet in the central town of Joenkoeping when opponents showed up in the town square with whistles and horns. "We had to arrest three people. Two of them were temporarily taken into custody because they disturbed (the rally) with whistles and horns," Niels Eriksson of the Joenkoeping police told AFP. The third person was arrested for throwing an object at one of the speakers, he said. According to local media, the object was a paper cup filled with water. Polls have showed the staunchly anti-immigration Sweden Democrats could for the first time obtain more than the 4.0 percent of votes required to enter parliament after the September 19 general elections in Sweden. Police were present at the rally. "It's unfortunate, but needed. We would be attacked by leftwing and immigrant groups if they weren't here," Kent Ekeroth, the party's international secretary, told local news website jnytt.se. "People don't seem to have respect for freedom of speech," he said.
© The Swedish Wire

up  

1ST SERBIAN GAY PRIDE MARCH IN YEARS PLANNED

7/9/2010- Organizers are planning Serbia's first gay pride march in nearly a decade next month — after the one last year was canceled amid threats of violence by extremists. Gays and lesbians often face harassment and pressure in predominantly conservative Serbia. Extremists broke up the Balkan nation's first gay pride march in 2001 and beat up several participants. No gay pride marches have been held since then. Marchers plan to parade past the Serbian government building on Oct. 10 under the slogan "Let's walk together." Police did not immediately respond to Tuesday's announcement. A similar event last year was canceled after police said they could not guarantee security from possible extremist attacks.
© The Associated Press

up  

FRENCH CLUB ACCUSED OF BANNING GAY PLAYER

8/9/2010- A gay soccer organization has asked the French federation to punish an amateur club that refused to grant one of its members a playing licence because he is gay. The Paris Foot Gay said Wednesday it asked the federation's national ethics council to impose sanctions on FC Chooz "to help the football world to realize that homophobia is as bad as racism and anti-Semitism." Yoann Lemaire played with Chooz for 14 years but the club refused to renew his licence this season to avoid "troubles" with his teammates after some of them made homophobic comments in front of TV cameras in 2009. French Junior Sports Minister Rama Yade has also called for action to be taken against the club in eastern France.
© The Associated Press

up  

SARKOZY'S FRANCE: JE T'AIME, MOI NON PLUS

The electorate’s romance with Nicolas Sarkozy is well and truly over—not least because the president no longer seems to know what he wants

9/9/2010- “The French people,” he announced on the day he was sworn in as president, “have demanded change.” Proclaiming “a new era in French politics”, the dynamic young leader swept into office, vowing to modernise the face of government and the country. Despite a promising start, however, the global economic shock, combined with divisions on the political right, took their toll. In the end, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing lost to the Socialists in 1981, after just one term in office. Over the past 30 years, Mr Giscard d’Estaing is the only French president not to have won re-election. Now, for the first time, the spectre of a one-term presidency has begun to hover menacingly over France’s current leader, Nicolas Sarkozy. His popularity has dropped to record lows. Some 55% of the French say they want the left to return to power at the next presidential election, in 2012. One poll suggests that, in a second-round run-off, Mr Sarkozy would be beaten by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a socialist who is now the IMF boss in Washington, by a crushing 59% to 41%. Even on the political right there is a groundswell of discontent. Dominique de Villepin, a former prime minister, has launched his own party to scoop up disillusioned Gaullist voters. Deputies mutter about losing their seats. Some of Mr Sarkozy’s own ministers have voiced unease at the way he spent the summer expelling Roma (gypsies). Bernard Kouchner, his foreign minister, who hails from the left, considered resigning. French magazines have begun to run cover stories such as “The 2012 Presidency: Has he Already Lost?”. Among Mr Sarkozy’s own supporters, from the fields and factories to the parquet-floored salons of Paris, disenchantment has set in. Fully 11.5m voters who backed him in 2007 failed to support his party at regional elections in March, according to Pascal Perrineau, a political scientist.

This autumn is crunch time for Mr Sarkozy. On September 7th 1.1m-2.7m people (depending on who you talk to) took to the streets for the biggest one-day strike in France for years. Teachers, train drivers, postmen, town-hall staff, utility workers and other mainly public-sector protesters are contesting his plan to raise France’s legal minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, as well as job cuts. Next to other European efforts, the pension plan appears modest. France faces a state pension-fund shortfall of €42 billion ($54 billion) by 2018 to fund some of the longest retirements in Europe (see chart 1). The new rules will close less than two-thirds of the gap; general spending will have to fill the rest. Current workers will still pay for those in retirement. Generous benefits remain untouched; civil servants get 75% of their final six-months’ salary. One government insider says that the retirement age should, in truth, go up to 65. The reform does, however, carry symbolic importance. It reverses a decades-old French tradition of progressively cutting the time people spend in work: François Mitterrand lowered the retirement age from 65 to 60 in 1983. And it is a crucial test of Mr Sarkozy’s ability to stand firm, court unpopularity in the name of the greater national interest and restore his credibility as a reformer. For, despite his dire poll numbers, Mr Sarkozy is not finished yet. This mercurial politician may find it difficult to summon the warmth or likeability to charm the French back to his side. But he may yet be able to impress them, if he can placate the one-time supporters who suspect that he has lost his audacious touch.

L’étranger
What broke the spell between the French and Mr Sarkozy? Grumpiness is natural at mid-term. Voters deserted the two previous presidents, Jacques Chirac and Mitterrand, at a comparable point; yet each went on to win a second term. Mr Sarkozy has had to deal with a global recession, which has crushed growth and battered the country’s morale. Jean-Paul Delevoye, the state mediator (or ombudsman), said earlier this year that the French were “psychologically exhausted”. Two recent bestsellers include “Mélancolie française”, a historical reflection on French decline, and “Le Quai d’Ouistreham”, an account of life in poverty in a northern French town. Yet there is more to the disenchantment than this. When observers ask, “Why have the French fallen out of love with Mr Sarkozy?”, the answer is that they never truly fell in love with him in the first place. The French did not warm to Mr Sarkozy as a person. In polls voters judge him “determined” and “courageous”, but never “reassuring” nor “close to the French”. They knew they were electing an atypical, outsiderish leader, not an affable father figure: they had had enough of that under the torpid Mr Chirac. With no countryside roots, nor taste for wine, nor diploma from any elite French college, and a weakness for bling to boot, Mr Sarkozy was quite unlike any of his predecessors. His mother’s father was a Jew from Thessalonica; his father immigrated from Hungary, and once told him that “With a name like yours …you will never get anywhere in France.” Rather, French voters saw past his strange tics and foibles to his hyper-kinetic, can-do style, and his unstuffy willingness to tell it straight and get the job done. This was a man of verbs, not abstract nouns like la gloire or la grandeur. He told the French bluntly that they could not afford their high-tax, high-security, low-growth, low-employment model indefinitely, and promised a “rupture” with the complacency of the past. Enough of the French knew, deep down, that something was not working, and judged him best placed to fix it. The simplest reason for disappointment, therefore, is that Mr Sarkozy has failed to bring about what he promised: more jobs, more growth and better earnings.

To which the simplest explanation is: the recession. Mr Sarkozy handled the financial crisis well, thwarting consumer panic at home, steering crisis talks in Europe and swiftly concocting a stimulus plan. The doubts, however, concern whether he has done enough to help lift the French economy on to a faster-growth, higher-employment path once the global economy recovers. The French government spends 56% of GDP, more than any other euro-zone country, yet France has above-average unemployment (10%) and its GDP has grown at below the annual European average over the past ten years. The factors that cushioned the French economy from severe recession—high public spending, a strong state, low reliance on exports—now seem to be crimping growth again (see chart 2). Christine Lagarde, the finance minister, has cut the 2011 forecast for GDP growth from 2.5% to 2%. Mr Sarkozy can point to a good deal of useful reform on his watch. He has loosened labour laws, encouraged overtime work, cut red tape for entrepreneurs and lowered taxes. He has kept increases in the minimum wage to inflation, and tried to limit union power and disruption during strikes. He has boosted competition in telecoms and retail, as well as spending on research and development, and trimmed the public payroll. Ms Lagarde says that she has done “80%” of the reforms recommended by the Attali Commission’s report on improving French competitiveness.

One of Mr Sarkozy’s better reforms has been a shake-up of France’s mediocre, centrally run universities, with their crowded amphitheatres, drab campuses and libraries that close at weekends. The system churns out far too many psychology or sociology graduates, who find their degrees useless in the job market. Law or medicine aside, top school-leavers study madly for a place at the elite grandes écoles instead. Today, however, 51 universities out of 82 have accepted Mr Sarkozy’s offer of autonomy, enabling them to recruit their own lecturers, fix their salaries and seek private finance. They have raised nearly €60m, and have begun to lure French researchers back from abroad. Valérie Pécresse, the higher-education minister, has shocked the universities’ egalitarian civil-service culture by forcing them to compete for money to refurbish their campuses. Of the six originally picked (Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lyon, Montpellier, Strasbourg and Toulouse), none was in Paris, to the capital’s outrage. The reform is imperfect: there is still no selective entry for undergraduates. So all those with the school-leaving baccalauréat can sign up for wherever they wish; and over two-fifths of undergraduates drop out. There are no tuition fees. But by injecting ideas like competition, independence and private finance, Mr Sarkozy has begun a mini-revolution.

The rest of the picture is far less inspiring. Many other reforms launched in the whirlwind first year do not go as far as promised. Mr Sarkozy put an end to special pension rules, which had allowed some railwaymen to retire at 55, but at a cost of agreeing to more generous rules governing beneficiaries’ final pensions. The reform, according to Pierre Cahuc and André Zylberberg, two labour economists, brought no financial savings. Mr Sarkozy loosened labour laws, but he never took the 35-hour maximum working week off the statute book. The two-tier labour market debars outsiders, notably the young, and sets up perverse incentives. High costs and protection—the labour code runs to 2,600 pages—deter employers from creating permanent jobs. For employees earning above the minimum wage firms pay 45% in payroll taxes, next to 13% in Britain. Redundancy rules dictate generous tax-free packages, which can be combined with unemployment benefit at up to 75% of salary. Managers say this encourages long-serving employees to try to get fired.

A disappointing menu
Along the way, Mr Sarkozy has made some poor choices. He abandoned good ideas (the deregulation of taxis and pharmacies), while wasting political capital on bad ones (his plan to abolish investigating magistrates). Other decisions have been daft. One was cutting VAT in restaurants to 5.5%, which involved a fierce battle with the European Commission and costs the tax-payer €2.4 billion a year. Restaurants were required in return to drop prices on just seven items on their menu—and only half have done even that. Diners scanning the pricey plats du jour feel ripped off. Up to a point, Mr Sarkozy had to give ground in order to get things moving. France has a long tradition of theatrical street protest, which tempers even the most reformist politician. In 1995, when Alain Juppé was Mr Chirac’s prime minister, he was forced to back down on pension reform after weeks of strikes. Politically, Mr Sarkozy also needed to take a tough line on curbing financial excess. The French felt, not unreasonably, that their jobs and savings were being put at risk through no fault of their own, while bankers pocketed vast bonuses as their bank profits collapsed. But Mr Sarkozy, a live wire, warmed so fast to his new theme, bashing hedge funds and blaming tax havens, that it has become hard to make out what part is gesture politics and what part genuine conviction. The man who urged the French to reconcile themselves to globalisation later declared that “laissez-faire capitalism is finished”. The man who implored the French to stop knocking wealth creation then vowed to stop French carmakers building vehicles in low-cost countries for the French market.

His own voters have been left thoroughly confused. Does he want to modernise the French social model, or reinforce it? Does he want to make France more competitive, or limit competition? Does he want to roll back an over-heavy state, or return to Colbertist interventionism? These questions are no easier to answer now that Mr Sarkozy has belatedly agreed to an austerity plan to curb the government’s deficit, from 8% this year to 6% next. The champion of the worker is now wielding the axe, cutting jobs in teaching, hospitals and the police force. “Half of what he has done has been clever,” concludes Jacques Delpla, an economist who once worked for Mr Sarkozy, “and half either badly done, or not done at all.” It is a measure of impoverished ambitions that, according to presidential aides, there are no more big plans on the table after pension reform. “Next year,” says one, “we will improve or polish existing reforms, not begin anything new.”

The perils of perpetual motion
To watch Mr Sarkozy up close is to observe a machine in perpetual motion. He strides into rooms and taps his feet when bored. He zig-zags the country four times a week, dropping in on hospitals, factories or farms. Yasmina Reza, a playwright, wrote of this restlessness as a desire somehow to “combat the slippage of time”. Mr Sarkozy is a man in a hurry. Yet, after three years in office, voters have begun to feel dizzy. The style used to dazzle; now it often dismays. The frenetic, action-man manner is more than just appearance. It is also about the exercise of power, and the nature of French presidential office. Traditionally, the president ran only foreign and defence policy. Mr Sarkozy, by contrast, has stuck his finger into everything, from the number of taxis on Paris streets to the petulant behaviour of the French national football team. All top decisions are made by a close team of advisers at the Elysée presidential offices. Ministers are kept on a tight leash. Accruing so many powers carries risks. One is that Mr Sarkozy cannot resort to that familiar French ploy of blaming his prime minister, François Fillon, when things go wrong. Indeed, Mr Fillon enjoys far better poll numbers than his boss. Another is that it has given Mr Sarkozy exaggerated ideas about what he can do which, when exposed, breed disillusion. He promised, for instance, not to let Arcelor-Mittal, a steelmaker, close part of a factory in eastern France, only for it to shut down anyway, with the loss of 575 jobs at the site. His failure to delegate has also created a clannish atmosphere at the Elysée, in which advisers hesitate to tell Mr Sarkozy, who has a fearsome temper, when he is wrong. “It’s very difficult to talk to him as an equal,” comments one old friend. This has led to some staggering errors of judgment. Mr Sarkozy failed last year to grasp how nepotistic it seemed when his son, Jean Sarkozy, an undergraduate, tried to run for the presidency of the body overseeing the Parisian business district of La Défense. One junior minister is still in place despite admitting to having use of two official lodgings. Another spent €116,500 of tax-payer’s money hiring a private jet to take him to an aid conference in the Caribbean (he has since resigned). Yet another charged €12,000 of Cuban cigars to expenses (he also quit).

Most egregiously, Eric Woerth, the pensions minister, remains in office despite a conflict of interest linked to the Bettencourt affair. This is an ongoing dynastic court case centred on Liliane Bettencourt, the billionaire heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics empire, which touches alleged illegal financing of Mr Sarkozy’s UMP party and alleged tax evasion. Mr Woerth was previously budget minister, and led a clamp-down on tax evasion at a time when his wife, Florence, worked as Mrs Bettencourt’s wealth manager (she has now resigned). He was also UMP treasurer while the Bettencourt family was a donor. Mr and Mrs Woerth deny doing anything wrong. But the affair smells rotten. With such a faltering touch, Mr Sarkozy seems particularly prone to extreme measures to boost his standing. This summer he blew a relatively small problem concerning illegal Roma into a national drama by stepping up expulsions, closing illegal camps and sounding a xenophobic note. He is also changing the law to strip nationality from naturalised citizens who deliberately endanger the life of a police officer. Both moves—which polls suggest meet with voter approval—look like gimmicks to woo the far right, and a decoy to distract public attention from his mixed record on crime and the banlieues. For, despite promises of a Marshall plan, a toxic mix of high unemployment, drug-running and resentment festers on the heavily immigrant estates that ring French towns. Nicolas Baverez, a political commentator, sums up Mr Sarkozy’s problem in terms of “transgression”. The French did want a leader who would shake things up, he argues, but he went too far in the wrong places, touching sacred elements of the presidency: dignity in office, a respect for parliament and judicial independence, the separation of private and public life. The clubbish links between the Elysée, certain business and media bosses, even the judiciary, are troubling. In a country where public life has traditionally stopped at the bedroom door, many French people are dismayed to hear the president’s advisers comment publicly on the state of his marriage to Carla Bruni. Nobody wants a return to the hypocrisy of the past. But something of the solemnity of office has been damaged.

Towards 2012
In time, some of the movement that Mr Sarkozy has set in place should nudge France out of its comfort zone. It could be, for instance, that a small group of universities will offer students a real alternative to the grandes écoles. For all his faults, Mr Sarkozy has done more than Mr Chirac ever attempted. And the tempestuous French do not make it easy. Fully 93% of French respondents say they think their fellow countrymen moan a lot. Yet France is not the same place that Mr Juppé ran. Many voters realise that they cannot defy the laws of demography and economics for ever. Although 70% of them said this week that they supported the strikers, 53% also agreed that the rise in the retirement age was “acceptable”. Those who do not enjoy the protection of public-sector jobs no longer feel so inclined to back the cause of those who do. Mr Sarkozy has been in politics for over 30 years, and knows its recent history intimately. Back in 1976 President Giscard d’ Estaing’s prime minister resigned unexpectedly, and founded his own party. That ambitious man was Mr Chirac, the party became the one Mr Sarkozy inherited, and the move split the right and wrecked Mr Giscard d’Estaing’s chances of re-election. To avoid a similar fate, Mr Sarkozy knows that he needs to restore his credibility and his grip. He may not gain many friends by holding firm on pension reform. But he will lose the ones he has if he fails.
© The Economist

up  

FANS SLAMMED AS FRESH RACISM ROW THREATENS RUSSIAN WORLD CUP BID

7/9/2010- Russian Football Union President Sergei Fursenko has slammed the country’s football fans after they became embroiled in another racism row, threatening to undermine the country’s World Cup bid. Russian fans were accused of chanting fascist slogans at Friday’s European Championship qualifier in Andorra, the second time in days that the country’s supporters have been dogged by such allegations. The incident follows the highly publicised photographs showing Lokomotiv Moscow fans celebrating the sale of Russian-born Nigeria striker Osaze Odemwingie to West Bromwich Albion last month with a banner featuring a banana. Speaking to Russia’s Sport Express newspaper, Fursenko described the comments as lying “outside of civilized relations.” He also promised strong action against Russian supporters who allegedly chanted fascist slogans and pelted players with apples from a nearby field during last week’s match in Andorra. Asked about the incident following the match, Fursenko initially tried to blame “outside forces”, according to the Moscow News website. But speaking on his return to Russia, Fursenko said that the matter was under investigation.

“Such behavior is incompatible with football,” he said. “At first, I confess, I did not even believe that our fans can do such things. I can only condemn them and believe that such people have no place in the stadium.” Fursenko’s strong line will be welcomed by FIFA after the Odemwingie row was compounded when Russian bid leader Alexei Sorokin appeared to equivocate when condemning Lokomotiv fans. Sorokin said that while there was no place for racism in Russian football, he claimed that the phrase "to get a banana" is slang for "to fail a test". His comments were widely reported in the British press, and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) said that they planned to write to FIFA complaining about Odemwingie’s treatment. Fursenko denied that the promised complaint from the NFF had materialized and said that the matter was not discussed when Nigerian FIFA ex-co member Amos Adamu met Russian officials last week. “I took a member of the executive committee of FIFA from Nigeria here in this office,” he said. “He did not make any complaints, we did had a very positive meeting. This I can say for sure, but on the merits that the press writes, I can not judge.”

Fursenko said that Russia would meet its obligations in hosting a World Cup by signing what he termed FIFA’s “code of honour”. He added that the comments “lie outside of civilized relations” but insisted that “in each country there is uncultured and poorly educated people.” Russian football is facing further problems, with a series of match-fixing allegations surfacing over the past week in the country’s press. According to local media the leader of minority LDPR party has called on the government to look into several suspicious Russian Premier League games played last month. This includes a match between Amkar v Rostov, described by Sport Express’s Slava Malamud as “two circus troupes” conducting a “prearranged result in front of the watching nation, having long decided what was to happen." INSIDER understands that one British-based betting exchange received up to 200 times the amount staked on that match as they normally do for a Russian Premier League game, while Russian bookmakers also suspended betting on its outcome.

Asked why such attention had recently been placed on the longstanding challenges facing Russian football, Fursenko refused to be drawn on dark hints in the Russian media of a “fifth column” working against the country’s World Cup bid. But he added: ”FIFA can be assured that we will not stay indifferent to the negative processes and will do everything we can to [ensure] Russian football has become cleaner, better and stronger.” Asked how he ranked Russia’s bid against their main rivals in England, Fursenko replied that it was “unprecedented” in terms of its investment ambitions. “Our proposal is unprecedented in terms of investment in world football,” he said. “A large number of new stadiums, training centers, transportation infrastructure - all that is necessary for the FIFA tournament this level in Russia. “Of course, England is a good country, and it can now hold championship without any changes. “But if we are talking about the main slogan of the FIFA investment in world football, the Russian proposal is the best."
© World Football Insider

up  

NUMBER OF EXTREMIST ACTS RISES IN 2009 (Czech Rep.)

8/9/2010- The police registered 265 crimes with an extremist motive in the 10.5 million Czech Republic last year, which was 0.07 percent of all crimes and 48 more than in 2008, according to a document the Chamber of Deputies defence and security committee discussed yesterday. The police cleared up 186 crimes last year, or 60 more than in 2008. A total of 293 people were prosecuted, which was about 100 more than in 2008, and courts convicted 103 people of racially motivated crimes. Deputy Interior Minister Zdenek Salivar said "the extremist scene is on the defensive" now. He said that is why rightist extremists have moderated their rhetoric. The militant wing is now trying to change the neo-Nazi label and focuses on environmental themes. Salivar said the abolition of the Workers' Party (DS) last year was a step of European importance. The party, however, practically continues its acitivities under a new name, the Workers' Party of Social Justice (DSSS). The number of neo-Nazi concerts roughly halved to 18 last year, and only one sole was held after last June's raid on rightist extremists, the report says. The concerts have been moved abroad, mainly to Poland and Slovakia, Police President Oldrich Martinu said. He said the concerts were a significant source of money for the extremist groups. The police inspection also checked six cases on suspicion of police involvement in criminal activity with an extremist subtext last year. The suspicion was not proved in three of them, another two continue to be checked and one case ended in a disciplinary punishment. A total of 24 police members were involved in the cases, the report said. It said the military police investigated ten cases, involving 12 soldiers. Salivar said everyone who seeks a job with security corps is checked for extremism now.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

PARENTS TO RECEIVE WELFARE ONLY IF CHILDREN ATTEND SCHOOL(Czech Rep.

6/9/2010- The Czech state wants to take away a part of welfare benefits from parents whose children do not attend school in order to improve education among Romanies. The new programme was presented by education and labour ministers, Josef Dobes (Public Affairs, VV) and Jaromir Drabek (TOP 09), in several places of the Usti region where a strong Romany community has been living. "Those who want support from the state must act responsibly," Drabek said. He said there is no need for big changes in laws because under the present legislation a number of welfare benefits may not be granted unless children regularly attend school. The ministers hope that higher education would help young Romanies find better jobs. Dobes said better education is the only way out of the current situation of Czech Romanies who suffer from high unemployment. He said many Romany children are placed into special schools for children with disabilities at the age of seven only because their command of Czech is not good enough. A child attending a special school has a markedly lower chance of being accepted to a secondary school. The new rules are to be introduced along with other measures that are to prevent welfare benefits from being misused, such as stricter checks and punishments of unregistered and untaxed incomes by the unemployed and a set number of hours of community work done by a person to be authorised to get unemployment benefits. Drabek admitted that it would be good to provide positive motivation for Romanies as well but he said the state did not have money to fund such a programme at present.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

FRANCE TO STRIP NATIONALITY FOR KILLING POLICE: SARKOZY

6/9/2010- President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday he wants to strip French nationality from immigrants if they kill or try to kill police or public officials, as part of a controversial law and order drive. Defying both an international outcry over his targeting of foreigners and claims he is pandering to far-right voters, Sarkozy expressed determination to push ahead with a tough crackdown on foreign-born criminals. But he dropped a threat to strip foreign-born Frenchmen of their citizenship if they are convicted of polygamy. Instead, rules will be tightened to prevent them claiming welfare benefits for multiple wives. The statement from the president's office said the government would draft a law "as soon as possible" and hoped to have it in force by the end of the year.

It would allow judges "to withdraw French nationality, within 10 years of the granting of French nationality, to those who deliberately endanger the life of a person invested with public authority, particularly a police officer." The government will also seek legislation "to facilitate the deportation of foreigners in irregular situations including, in some circumstances, citizens of the European Union." This new rule would kick in when immigrants "threaten public order, have no durable means of supporting themselves or abuse the right of free movement." The statement did not explicitly target any single minority, but it comes after Sarkozy ordered police to round-up hundreds of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma Gypsies and expel them back to their homelands.

Tens of thousands protested in cities across France on Saturday against the targeting of Roma and smaller demonstrations also took place in other European capitals. French ministers insist that the round-up is legal under existing European and French legislation, but it attracted criticism from United Nations and EU rights experts as an apparent collective punishment. Immigration Minister Eric Besson denied France is engaged in "collective expulsions", saying Roma were leaving voluntarily in return for payments, and insisted France was respecting EU laws on freedom of movement. He told reporters that changing the rules for acquiring or revoking nationality "requires extremely deep examination" and may have to be referred to France's highest legal body, the State Council. "There is going to be a person or a commission named very soon to study ways in which we might apply what the president of the republic has said," he added.

Sarkozy announced the broad themes of the crackdown in a speech last month in the wake of riots in the eastern city of Grenoble, but until now the extent of the new laws had not been made clear. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux had suggested the crimes leading to a loss of nationality for recent French citizens ought to include polygamy and female circumcision. But the presidential statement said merely that rules would be tightened to allow fraud prosecutions where multiple claims were made for partners. And late Monday Hortefeux insisted there was not a "cigarette paper's width of difference" between himself and the president and the other ministers concerned in the issue. "We have the same objective and we have found the means to achieve it," he said.
© AFP

up  

FRENCH BID TO BAN VEILS WORRIES ALLIES, TOURISTS

4/9/2010- Protests in Pakistan, al-Qaida warnings, skittish Muslim tourists: France's plan to do away with burqa-style veils is already reverberating far beyond its borders. A bill to outlaw face veils, aimed at upholding French republican values, is expected to win Senate approval this month. If it passes this key hurdle, French diplomats will face a tough task ensuring the ban doesn't alienate governments, deter devout foreign shoppers loaded with cash, or provoke Islamist terrorists. It's a complex challenge for a country that works relentlessly to preserve its global diplomatic influence, its cherished secular ideals, and its status as the world's top tourist destination. Ensuring gender equality, woman's dignity and security are the official reasons France wants to outlaw Islamic veils, most often worn as "niqabs" that hide all but the eyes. Authorities insist the global ban — which would include visiting foreigners — is not anti-Muslim. But that message has failed to convince some governments, be they Western or France's traditional Arab allies, or trickle down to moneyed travelers who swarm Paris' so-called Golden Triangle, a high-priced shopping district centered around the Champs-Elysees. That some other European countries like Belgium are considering similar legislation — and Muslim countries like Syria and Egypt have instituted their own limited bans on face veils — may help bolster the French argument, but not win the debate. "When you're a tourist, you want to go to places you feel you are welcome," said Dalal Saif of Oman, a sultanate bordering Saudi Arabia, during a three-week summer visit to France. Saif, whose work is tied to the oil industry, spent hours one day with his family selecting perfumes and cosmetics by the bagful at a Champs-Elysees store. "If they feel unwelcome, France will lose this kind of revenue," he said, adding that such a measure "infringes on (France's) image as custodians, protectors of liberties."

The number of visitors to Paris from the oil-rich Middle East was up nearly 30 percent in the first half of 2010 compared to last year, according to the Paris Tourism and Congress Office. "I can see that many families will actually change destinations because of this," said Saif, standing by his young daughter, black-robed but bare-faced sister, and wife wearing a chartreuse head scarf. Many Muslim tourists who wear face veils at home shed them for European vacations, instead donning stylish, often brightly colored headscarves, sometimes paired with big sunglasses. But that choice doesn't erase a sense that France is offending followers of Islam with its proposed veil ban. "My family is asking me 'why do you want to go there? They don't like us.'" said Maryam Saeed, a 40-year-old mother of four who works in school administration in Dubai. "They are taking it religiously, like it shows that in France they don't like Muslims or we're not welcome here," said Saeed, covered in a black abaya cloaking her head but not her face, as she emerged from a shopping spree at the Paris department store Galeries Lafayette. So far, foreign governments are either silent over the proposed veil ban, divided or unfavorable, said Joseph Maila, who heads a year-old division at the French Foreign Ministry devoted to religious issues. Some of France's closest allies, Britain and the United States, both with large Muslim populations, are among those who publicly disagree with Paris. On the veil, "the world isn't black and white," said Maila, "it's gray." Moderate Muslim leaders in France and elsewhere agree that Islam does not require women to cover their faces, but many are uncomfortable with banning the veil. Scores of religious leaders have denounced the measure, and are struggling with what to advise the faithful.

Sheik Aedh al-Garni, a popular cleric in Saudi Arabia, responding to a query from a Saudi woman in France, said in a July pronouncement that facing an official ban on the veil, "it is better for the Muslim woman to reveal her face" to avoid "harassment or harm." Saudi Arabia adheres to a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam with women required to veil themselves in public, so the advice by al-Garni, who is widely read, was notable. But there have been dissenting voices like that of Mohammed al-Nujemi, a Saudi professor at the Institute of Judicial and Islamic Studies: He told women to stay home. Traveling needlessly to a non-Muslim country "is not permissible according to the Shariah," or Islamic law, he told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV network. The Saudi government, which has defense and business ties with French companies, is among "silent states" that prefer to say nothing about France's veil bill for diplomatic reasons, said Maila, the Foreign Ministry official. Opposition is strongest in Pakistan, where there have been demonstrations against the measure. A defense of the French position by Ambassador Daniel Jouanneau was published in nine papers this summer, Maila said. In Jordan, where full veils are rare, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group, said Muslim women should continue to visit France "especially if they have business to attend to." But the group's spokesman Jamil Abu-Bakr said: "The French move will cause chaos and we condemn it." European countries that impose a ban on the face-covering veil "will harm their interests, friendships and historically cordial neighborly relations with several Muslim nations." Beyond such tensions, possible constitutional challenges await an eventual law. But the French are not about to budge. The nation's concept of integration, in which ethnic or religious differences are subsumed by Frenchness, is the ultimate argument for making the face visible.

A 2004 law banned head scarves and other "ostentatious" religious symbols in public schools. With Western Europe's largest Muslim population, some 5 million, France also wants an Islam tailored to the West. "To understand the ban on hiding the face, it must be placed in the French tradition ... To hide behind the veil is to barricade oneself against society," said Maila. President Nicolas Sarkozy officially opened the debate in June 2009 when he told parliament that veils that hide the face "are not welcome" in France. That same month President Obama, addressing the world's Muslims in a speech in Cairo, defended Muslim women's right to dress as they like. U.S. disapproval of the veil measure was voiced again after France's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly passed the bill July 13. Sarkozy would still need to sign the veil bill if it passes the Senate. For Britain, any clothing ban would be a "rather un-British thing to do," Immigration Minister Damian Green has said. Raphael Liogier, a sociology professor who runs the Observatory of the Religious in Aix-en-Provence, fears that France will isolate itself with the measure and, worse, become a "justifiable target" in the eyes of Islamist extremists. "It's an opportunity for them." The No. 2 of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, said the drive by France and other European nations to ban the veil amounted to discrimination against Muslim women. "Every single woman who defends her veil is a holy warrior ... in the face of the secular Western crusade," he said in an audio message released July 28.
© The Associated Press

up  

GERMAN UNIVERSITY BANS 'NEO-NAZI' CLOTHING

10/9/2010- A university in northeast Germany on Friday banned students and professors from wearing clothing associated with neo-Nazis. The university of Greifswald, on the Baltic sea, published the new rule as the new academic year began. The rule bans "the wearing of anything conveying distinct connotations of racism, anti-foreigner sentiments, glorification of violence, or contrary to the constitution or despising others," a university spokesman said. The ban came after a right-wing professor last term wore clothing of the Thor Steinar brand, a favourite of far-right extremists due to its logos resembling Nazi emblems. Nazi emblems, as well as the Hitler salute, are banned in public in Germany. Wearing Thor Steinar clothes is already banned in Germany's federal parliament, in several regional legislatures, as well as the football stadium of the Hansa Rostock team, also located in the country's northeast.
© Expatica News

up  

CONTROVERSIAL CENTRAL BANKER QUITS AND OPENS NEW CAN OF WORMS (Germany)

Thilo Sarrazin, a member of Germany's central bank, has stepped down. He now presents a problem for his political party, the Social Democrats, after claiming in a new book that Muslims are undermining German society.

10/9/2010- Controversial German central bank board member, Thilo Sarrazin, has resigned from his post in the wake of mounting pressure over comments he made which were interpreted by many as being xenophobic. Sarrazin asked German President Christian Wulff to relieve him of his duties, according to a statement by the Bundesbank on Thursday evening. His resignation from the bank has saved the president from having to make the difficult decision of whether to remove him from the post. Legal opinion is divided over whether a dismissal would stand up in court.

The scandal is far from over
The next chapter in the Sarrazin saga, however, is just beginning with demands from his political party, the center-left Social Democrats, to throw him out of the organization. Sarrazin has been a card-carrying SPD member for decades and once served as finance minister for the city-state of Berlin under an SPD government. The SPD has begun proceedings to expel him, but Sarrazin has said he aims "to go to his grave" as a member of the party. Polls show that the SPD has been hurt by the debate over whether to eject him. Surveys also indicate that Sarrazin's opinions on Muslim integration enjoy considerable sympathy among the general public as well as SPD members. SPD party leaders have been inundated with messages of support for the banker. At a reading of his new book on Thursday in Potsdam, many of the 700-strong audience gave him a standing ovation, reports said.

Mounting controversy
Sarrazin sparked the controversy several months ago with his theories about race and the impact of immigration, particularly by Muslims, in Germany. A series of comments published to coincide with the publication of his book "Deutschland schafft sich ab," ("Germany is doing away with itself") had raised the debate to a new level in the past two weeks. In his book, Sarrazin claims that Muslims are undermining German society by failing to integrate, having too many children and underachieving in school. Sarrazin also caused concern with comments that all Jews shared a gene that made them different from other people. Earlier in the year, Sarrazin also courted controversy by claiming that immigration from Muslim countries was making Germany "more stupid."
© The Deutsche Welle

up  

GERMAN POLICE RAID COUNTRY'S LARGEST NEO-NAZI ORGANIZATION

German police raided the country's largest neo-Nazi group, which is suspected of disseminating propaganda to neo-Nazis in prison, where they are prone to abandoning their beliefs and the movement.

7/9/2010- Police across Germany raided the offices and apartments of known members of the Hilfsorganisation fuer nationale und politische Gefangene und deren Angehoerige (HNG), the country's largest and most influential neo-Nazi organization, on Tuesday morning. The raids took place in the five states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg, North-Rhine Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Berlin They were organized by the Interior Ministry as part of an ongoing examination of the legality of HNG and similar right-wing organizations. According to a statement issued by interior ministry official Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, the group's official objective is to support incarcerated neo-Nazi members and their families, in an effort to "strengthen and overcome the ideological struggles in the fragmented neo-Nazi scene." "We suspect that the actions of the HNG do not conform to our constitution and that they threaten the cohesion of society," Fritsche added. "Today's searches will show if these suspicions are confirmed."

Help for prisoners - to 'hold onto convictions'
The Interior Ministry suspects that the HNG is not only concerned with supporting neo-Nazi prisoners, but rather with preventing them from abandoning their ideologies while incarcerated. A German government report dating back to 2001 said the group was involved in of a number of non-constitutional activities, most notably the dissemination of Nazi propaganda and the use of Nazi and other far-right extremist symbols. Some 600 people belong to the HNG network, which has been in existence for over three decades, the Interior Ministry said. At present, the group supports between 100 and 200 prisoners in Germany. Members visit convicts and provide them with far-right extremist literature, among other things. Not every neo-Nazi who lands in prison in Germany, however, is chosen by the HNG to receive the group's support. Only notorious far-right extremists - or those who committed a widely-recognized crime - make the list, which is published in the group's monthly magazine.

'Crucial period of reflection'
The HNG strives to "make martyrs" out of prominent incarcerated neo-Nazis, according to Bernd Wagner, who heads EXIT-Deutschland, a group which lends support to neo-Nazis looking to abandon their beliefs. "When prominent members get sent to prison for committing violent acts, the [HNG] portrays them as martyrs for the greater far-right cause," Wagner told Deutsche Welle. "This is for two reasons: First, it keeps the prisoners believing and fighting against the system. Second, it spreads interest in the scene in the free world outside of prison. This is crucial for the right wing scene, because it is losing momentum." Indeed, the number of far-right radicals in Germany is dropping. The country's internal security agency published a report in 2009 saying that some 5,000 people belonged to the far-right scene, which showed a decrease of several hundred compared to 2008 and previous years. Wagner's group, EXIT-Deutschland, is in direct competition with the HNG. He says prison is a crucial time for many neo-Nazis to "reflect on their actions and their criminality." "As a group, we are there to help neo-Nazis who want to change their ways. We deal with many prisoners, which makes us a threat for the purposes of the HNG. They want to keep their members, naturally, and we are there just to give these people the assurance that it is possible to live a different life."
© The Deutsche Welle

up  

NEO-NAZI RALLY PROVOKES OUTCRY IN DORTMUND (Germany)

At least 160 people were arrested or held by police in Dortmund on Saturday as up to 15,000 people tried to block a neo-Nazi rally in the city to mark the anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

5/9/2010- The Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe granted an application for the neo-Nazi demonstration on Saturday morning after the court in Gelsenkirchen refused permission on Friday and the organisers appealed. Police had banned a proposed march after they arrested a 19-year-old man in the Aachen area, fearing he had been building an explosive device. The far right extremist, who is said to have connections to Dortmund, was found to have ammunition in his flat. After the Constitutional Court allowed the march to take place, the police restricted it to a car park. Around 1,000 neo-Nazis turned up to the rally, which drew around 15 times as many people in largely peaceful opposition. Police had their hands full with around 500 of the far-right group who, on arriving in Dortmund, raced off the train and started marching towards the city centre rather than to the car park where the rally was being held. Fighting broke out as the police stopped them and redirected them to the car park, where around 460 others were waiting. Further violence broke out as the police broke up a sit-down blockade of around 1,000 anti-fascist demonstrators. One police officer was seriously hurt during the day and at least 160 people – mostly counterdemonstrators – were either arrested or taken into preventative custody.
© The Local - Germany

up  

AMSTERDAM SCRAPS INTEGRATION TESTS FOR SOME LONG-TERM RESIDENTS (Netherlands)

10/9/2010- Amsterdam city council is to stop making obviously well-integrated foreigners who have lived in the capital for years take a compulsory integration course and language test, the Parool reports on Friday. Dozens of fully-integrated, long-term residents have been summoned to take the tests over the past few years, and it is an insult to some of them, given their position in society, the paper quotes a city official as saying. Among those who have been told they have to take a course on Dutch customs and society are a teacher at the national ballet school who is married to a Dutchman and has lived here for 36 years. And an American man who has lived in Amsterdam for 20 years and writes speeches for Dutch firms was also ordered to take the test because he did not know what huursubsidie - housing benefit – is. Most non-EU citizens are required by law to take the course and test, no matter how long they have lived here. Amsterdam is now to focus its efforts on new arrivals.
© The Dutch News

up  

DUTCH NEO-NAZI DONATES SPERM 'FOR WHITES ONLY'

A Dutch neo-Nazi has offered to donate his sperm to four fertility clinics in the Netherlands in an effort to promote what he calls "a strong white race". Patrick de Bruin attached the condition that his sperm should only be used for white couples' infertility treatment.

6/9/2010- An investigation by public broadcaster VARA and the Kafka research group revealed that two clinics, Saint Gertrude in the town of Elsendorp and Rijnstate Hospital in Arnhem, agreed to his conditions. Mr De Bruin was turned away by the Amsterdam Medical Centre and the Utrecht Medical Centre. Meanwhile, the Arnhem hospital decided to destroy the sperm donated by the ideologically motivated donor. The incident prompted calls from fertility doctors for stricter guidelines. Mr De Bruin wrote on an extreme-right web forum that he was donating his "Aryan seed" in order to compensate for the high birth rate among Muslims. He wants as many blond blue-eyed children to be born as possible, he wrote on the Stormfront site.

Lebensborn
The neo-Nazi made an explicit reference to the "Lebensborn" project of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s. This scheme aimed at populating Germany and the countries occupied by the Nazis with "racially pure" white people. The programme involved propaganda, preferential treatment of "biologically fit" Aryan parents and members of the SS elite corps. Some 8,000 children were reported to have been born in so-called Lebensborn child care homes.
© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

up  

LABOUR READY TO LAUNCH OFFENSIVE AGAINST 'WILDERS CABINET' (Netherlands)

10/9/2010- The Labour party (PvdA) has accepted it will be in opposition and is planning a major offensive against the expected right-wing government, the Telegraaf reports on Friday, quoting an internal party document. According to the secret plan, entitled 'opposition strategy', Labour is to go all out on countering what it calls the 'Wilders cabinet'. The right-wing Liberals, Christian Democrats and anti-Islam PVV expect to resume their coalition negotiations next week.

Tensions
'It will be up to us to expose the tensions within this coalition and cause the cabinet problems,' the Telegraaf quotes the document as saying. The right-wing cabinet will have just 76 of the 150 seats in parliament and a number of CDA MPs are opposed to any alliance with Geert Wilders' PVV.

Voters
The document, which was discussed by MPs at a secret meeting last week, also outlines how the PvdA will mobilise voters against the right-wing cabinet. 'The right-wing policy of destruction will lead to a lot of opposition in society at large,' the document says. 'We will not be in opposition in The Hague alone, but in a close alliance with social movements, environmentalists, the elderly and youth organisations. We will actively look for those alliances.'
© The Dutch News

up  

THIRD COALITION FAILURE WILL HURT NEXT PRIME MINISTER, SAYS QUEEN'S REP (Netherlands)

8/9/2010- A third failure in efforts to form a new government will hurt the the new prime minister, the queen's new negotiator Herman Tjeenk Willink warned on Tuesday. 'There would be no point in letting efforts to form a new government fail for the third time,' Tjeenk Willink said. 'That would damage the credibility of the next prime minister.' So far, two efforts to form a new government in the Netherlands have flopped.

New attempt
On Tuesday, queen Beatrix charged Tjeenk Willink with assessing the current situation in 'as short a space of time as possible'. Once he has spoken to all party leaders, the queen will be able to appoint a new negotiator and decide what task to give him, Tjeenk Willink, the deputy president of the Council of State advisory body, said. And as part of that, Tjeenk Willink said he wanted to be absolutely sure that the next attempt to form a cabinet has a 'reasonable chance of success'.

Right wing
On Tuesday the leaders of the Christian Democrats, VVD Liberals and anti-Islam PVV said they wanted to resume their negotiations, which were halted on Friday when PVV leader Geert Wilders dropped out. Before that, VVD leader Mark Rutte had let it be known he wanted to write a solo coalition agreement which other parties could then sign up to.

Cuts
Tjeerk Willink was involved as negotiator earlier in the cabinet talks when he recommended the formation of a 'purple plus' cabinet involving the VVD, Labour, GroenLinks and D66. Those talks flopped amid divisions over spending cuts. According to the NRC, reforming redundancy law and cutting unemployment benefit remain sticking points in the right-wing cabinet plans. Sources told the paper the PVV is opposed to reforming the labour laws. At the same time, the CDA and VVD are opposed to boosting spending on care of the elderly.
© The Dutch News

up  

'RELIEF' AS WILDERS-BACKED DUTCH COALITION FAILS

4/9/2010- Leftist Dutch political parties on Saturday expressed "relief" at the failure of negotiations to form a rightist coalition government backed by controversial anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders. The talks to form a so-called minority coalition between the pro-business VVD, which narrowly won June 9 national elections, and the Christian Democratic Action (CDA) broke down on Friday. Job Cohen, leader of the labour PvdA that came second in June polls said the rightist government would have been unstable and would have "split the country." Femke Halsema, leader of the green GroenLinks party now hoping to be part of a broad left coalition with the VVD and PvdA, reacted with "huge relief." If they had succeeded, Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV), while not a part of the government, would have been expected to provide the majority required to pass decisions through parliament in return for a voice in policy formation. The VVD and CDA have a combined 52 seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament, and Wilders 24. Wilders calls Islam fascist and wants to stop Muslim immigration and the building of new mosques. The Socialist Party's Emile Roemer added that it was "a blessing" that the country was spared "a government that tolerates discrimination." According to the Nederlands Dagblad Christian daily, the country had escaped having "an unstable minority cabinet on a leash held by Geert Wilders." Wilders said Friday he had withdrawn from negotiations after senior CDA members expressed concerns publicly about cooperation with his party. Rutte and Verhagen both regretted the collapse of talks. Ivo Opstelten, an official appointed by Queen Beatrix to examine the rightist minority government option, presented his final report to the monarch on Saturday. "I have come to the conclusion that the speedy creation of a stable cabinet of the VVD and CDA that can count on fruitful cooperation with parliament with backing from the PVV, is not possible," he said in the report. The royal communication service said Queen Beatrix would meet her political advisors and the leaders of all political parties represented in parliament on Monday and Tuesday next week to discuss the latest events.
© AFP

up  

DISCRIMINATION AGAINST SAME-SEX COUPLES (European Union/UK)

A British MEP accused some of her former colleagues in the EFD group as "fascistic", during a debate on discrimination against same-sex couples.

8/9/2010- Non-attached MEP Nikki Sinclaire said she was glad to have left the group, following comments by Italian MEP Oreste Rossi who said that "traditional" marriage was the only form that should be recognised. Mr Rossi accused the Commission of "imposing" recognition of same-sex marriages on member states. The debate was being held in response to a question by a cross-party group of MEPs on mutual recognition of same-sex couples in marriage or civil partnerships. Concerns were raised that same-sex couples face discrimination when working, studying and travelling in the EU, since the spouse is not legally recognised as a family member by many member states. Opening the debate, Dutch left-wing MEP Cornelis de Jong used the example of not being able to access rights on pensions if he and his partner were to move to a country such as Poland.

Currently five EU member states recognised same-sex marriages, with 11 - including the UK - recognising civil partnerships. A further 11 EU member states do not recognise any form of same-sex union. Dutch liberal MEP Sophia in't Veld, said there should be mutual recognition for marriage just as there was for "jam, wine and beer". Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said that the EU directive on the freedom of movement did not discriminate between mixed-sex and same-sex couples. She said the problem was not EU law itself, but its interpretation by certain member states.

Watch video clip of the debate
© Democracy live - BBC

up  

CHELSEA FANS QUESTION CLUB'S STANCE OVER ANTI-SEMITISM (uk)

• Club say they 'won't hesitate to ban' • Fans group: 'In reality Chelsea do nothing'

9/9/2010- Chelsea's willingness to tackle anti-semitism has been called into question by a group of fans who were left dissatisfied by the club's handling of two separate incidents. The group has been moved to complain about instances of a "significant minority" of Chelsea fans chanting "Yiddo, Yiddo," at the Israel international Yossi Benayoun during the game at Wigan. Chelsea responded by saying they had spoken to police and officials but that it would be "unlikely" they would identify those involved. This followed another complaint from the same group of fans who provided evidence about a man using racially motivated terms to insult Avram Grant, Portsmouth's Israeli manager, at the FA Cup final last season. The group gave seat numbers to the club, and Chelsea officials followed up the complaint with an interview. The man was warned as to his future conduct but not suspended. "A number of people have been banned from Stamford Bridge in the past and we won't hesitate to ban others given sufficient evidence," Chelsea told Digger. " Digger is unable to confirm that, since the club has not provided details. One of the group said: "Whatever they purport to do, in reality Chelsea do nothing."

Storrie backs Chainrai
Peter Storrie can see no lawful impediment to Balram Chainrai's takeover of Portsmouth. The Football League's board meets today to discuss whether to hand over the insolvent club's share in its competition to PFC Realisations, the company Chainrai is said to control. The Football League has not contacted Storrie to ask for his opinion on Chainrai's past involvement at the club. But he served as chief executive of Pompey throughout Chainrai's prior control so Digger wondered what Storrie might have told the Football League had it been in touch. "I can't see any reason for him not to take over," said Storrie. What about his historical links with the Gaydamaks; did they give him control of the club? "That was all dealt with by Balu [Chainrai] and Ali Al Faraj and Fuglers," he said. "I had no involvement: it was all done through Fuglers' client account. The financial people knew more than me. Balu was only ever a lender. It was only when he didn't get his terms between him and Al Faraj that he implemented the clause that allowed him to take control." Since leaving the club as chief executive in March Storrie has worked as a consultant for Portsmouth, whose cash-flow requirements in administration have been met by Chainrai.

Newcastle challenge
Newcastle United have invited Vitaly Mutko to substantiate his hinted allegations about his experiences at St James' Park. When asked about the recent racism storm involving Lokomotiv Moscow fans and Peter Odemwingie, the leader of Russia's 2018 World Cup bid said he had attended a Newcastle game and "in terms of morality if you take a pencil you can write down some of the things you find there." The club responded yesterday by telling Digger: "Newcastle have a long history of players from a range of backgrounds and currently have a black manager who has been embraced by the fans and the city. However, we are never complacent and if Mr Mutko, in his role as sports minister and chairman of the Russian bid, can provide details of his experience which he feels fell below the high standards we pride ourselves on, we would fully investigate the matter. We look forward to hearing from him."
© The Guardian

up  

WROUGHTON SCHOOL 'FAILED TO SPOT RACISM' BEFORE ATTACK (uk)

A school where a boy was attacked with a hammer failed to recognise a series of racist incidents prior to the assault, a serious case review has found.

8/9/2010- Henry Webster, then 15, suffered three skull fractures in the attack by a group of Asian youths in 2007. His mother Liz Webster said the review showed the school was at fault. Mr Webster, now 18, was punched, kicked and hit with a claw hammer at Ridgeway School, in Wroughton, near Swindon. Mrs Webster said: "This review has confirmed our belief that the Ridgeway School was responsible for the horrific, devastating assault on our son which has left him with permanent injuries.
"The criticism of the local authority is tantamount to a whitewash as it is so minimal and limited."

'Racist behaviour'
Before the attack, Mr Webster had agreed to fight a boy "one on one" due to peer pressure and to stop harassment he thought he and his friends were experiencing. He has returned to part-time education, but still suffers from short-term memory loss. The report summary, published by the Swindon Local Safeguarding Children Board, said: "The school, although it knew in advance, did not prepare for the arrival of a significant number of British Asian students in 2005."  The review, which made 32 recommendations for action, also found there were some incidents between white and British Asian pupils which were not recognised as racist by the school. The summary said there was some success in addressing the racist behaviour of some white pupils, but the approach was not extended throughout the school. It said: "The school, by trying to deal with these incidents themselves, missed the opportunity to gain a better understanding of what was actually going on through external intervention. "Other agencies did not challenge robustly the school's approach or its procedures." Mrs Webster claimed the school's race relations policy "was not worth the paper it was written on". She said: "There was no cohesive approach to dealing with matters of race.

'Dreadful attack'
"Whilst Henry has been the primary victim, we are and always have been of the firm belief that this school also let down the young Asian pupils who were eventually prosecuted for this attack. "They have been criminalised and demonised - had their integration been properly handled we are certain this attack would not have happened." Thirteen people, including teenagers, were convicted over the assault on the tennis courts at the school in 2008 and given custodial sentences. Mr Webster's family launched civil proceedings against the school, which affected the completion of the serious case review. They lost a battle for compensation at the High Court in February. Ofsted has rated the school as outstanding since the attack. A spokesman from Ridgeway School, in Wroughton, said: "We could not have foreseen or prevented the dreadful attack on Henry Webster. "We are sorry that the family feel that they were not supported adequately following the attack. He said the school had noted the report's recommendations and looked to improve its practice.
© BBC News

up  

CHINESE ARE 'SUBSPECIES' CLAIMS MORRISSEY (uk)

Morrissey, the sharp tongued former frontman of the Smiths, has once again courted controversy by describing the Chinese as a "subspecies".

4/9/2010- The singer, who has been accused of racism in the past, made the comment in relation to what he describes as their poor treatment of animals. Famously a Vegan, the singer who once penned the song Meat Is Murder, said: "Did you see the thing on the news about their treatment of animals and animal welfare? Absolutely horrific. "You can't help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies." Morrissey, 51, made the comments during an interview with the poet Simon Armitage in the Guardian Weekend magazine. It is not the first time he has made controversial remarks about other races. In 2007 he told the NME, "The gates of England are flooded. The country's been thrown away." When asked if the star, who was living in Rome at the time, would return to England, he replied that Britain is "a terribly negative place". "Also, with the issue of immigration, it's very difficult, because although I don't have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England, the more the British identity disappears," he added. "England is a memory now. The change in England is so rapid compared to the change in any other country. "If you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won't hear an English accent. You'll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent." He once performed on stage draped in a Union Jack and his songs have included lyrics such as "Life is hard enough when you belong here" and "England for the English". For his part Morrissey has always denied any racist tendencies. After the NME article, he issued a statement along with a writ. "I abhor racism and oppression or cruelty of any kind and will not let this pass without being absolutely clear and emphatic with regard to what my position is," he said. "Racism is beyond common sense and I believe it has no place in our society." He also once donated money to an anti-racism concert.
© The Telegraph

up  

AUSTRIA FAR-RIGHT SAYS ANTI-MOSQUE WEB GAME BANNED

Austrian authorities have banned a far-right online game where players eliminate animated mosques and Muslims, the political party behind the game said on Friday.

4/9/2010- The "Bye Bye Mosque" game, which has had over 200,000 visitors since it was launched on Monday, has drawn sharp criticism from Austria's Social Democrats and Green Party, as well as the Islamic and Roman Catholic communities. Set up by the provincial branch of the far-right Freedom Party ahead of an election in Styria later this month, the game encouraged players to collect points by putting a target over mosques and minarets emerging from the countryside and clicking a "Stop" sign. They also had the chance to eliminate a bearded muezzin calling Muslims to prayer. "Due to the political pressure from our opponents this game has been banned by Austrian justice authorities," a statement on the party's website said. The local prosecutors' office, which was not immediately available for comment, said earlier this week it was investigating the Freedom Party for incitement over the game. The party has said it wanted to start a debate about mosque-building. The Austrian dispute is symptomatic of a wider trend in the United States and in Europe where Islam is becoming a more prominent political issue. Geert Wilder's anti-Islam party doubled its seats in the Dutch parliament in June elections and Swiss voters backed a ban on building minarets in a referendum last November. The debate in Austria reignited last month after the head of its Islamic community said it would be normal to see a mosque with a visible minaret in each of the country's nine provinces. There are four such buildings in Austria and none of them is in Styria, where 1.6 percent of the population is Muslim according to the Austria Press Agency. There are around half a million Muslims in Austria, a predominantly Catholic country of 8 million people ruled by a centrist coalition. At a national level, the Freedom Party has been calling for a special vote on banning mosques with minarets and Islamic face veils before another provincial election in Vienna. With its catchy slogans and youthful leader, the anti-immigrant party enjoys strong support especially from young people in Austria, winning 17.5 percent of the vote at a national level in 2008.
© Reuters

up  

JOB DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS BY MUSLIMS ON THE RISE (usa)

Complaints to the EEOC have more than doubled in the past five years. Does it signal increased Islamophobia?

8/9/2010- Allegations of employment discrimination by Muslim-Americans are on the rise, with the number of annual complaints more than doubling since 2004, according to data compiled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2009, the EEOC, which enforces federal employment discrimination laws, received 1,490 complaints from Muslims, the fifth straight year that the number of complaints rose. The trend could reflect a rise in Islamophobia in the workplace or an increased willingness on the part of Muslims to report discrimination -- or both. "I am not the least bit surprised," Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee told Salon. "There has been an increase in employment discrimination complaints. The data just reaffirms what we see. Employment discrimination is a priority issue, and the sad reality is that not all cases of employment discrimination are reported The increase in complaints is particularly jarring when you consider that, after spiking in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, employment discrimination claims by Muslims actually declined significantly. In 2000, the last full year before 9/11, the EEOC received 557 allegations involving Muslims, a number that soared to 1,463 in 2002, the first full year after 9/11. Complaints then declined significantly, plummeting to just 697 in 2004 -- only to begin rising again in 2005.

The 2009 total is the highest yet. That same trend is evident in the number of employees who have lodged formal charges of anti-Muslim discrimination against their employers -- a step that requires employees to sign an official statement and that compels the EEOC to launch an investigation and, if necessary, to take legal action. There were 803 such cases in 2009, up from 504 in 2004 -- and higher than the 720 recorded in 2002. There is no data available for the number of investigations conducted by the EEOC that resulted in charges being filed against employers, or in settlements. Recently, though, the EEOC did take legal action against meatpacking plants in Colorado and Nebraska, alleging that, among other indignities, Muslim workers had blood and meat parts thrown at them. An EEOC spokesman, James Ryan, wouldn't speculate about why the number of complaints is rising. "It's often difficult to explain why certain types of discrimination go up and down during certain times or circumstances. Sometimes the probable cause is apparent; at other times it's an educated guess," he said. "For example, when the economy gets tight, certain types of discrimination tend to rise. The bottom line is that employment discrimination is unlawful, and the EEOC will continue to combat it, whatever the reasons for it might be."
© Salon

up  

INTERFAITH COALITION TO ASSIST AMERICAN MUSLIM COMMUNITIES FACING OPPOSITION IN BUILDING MOSQUES

7/9/2010- Concerned with a disturbing rise in discrimination against Muslims trying to legally build or expand their houses of worship -- mosques-- across the United States, interfaith and religious leaders have formed a coalition to assist those Muslim communities confronting opposition. The Interfaith Coalition on Mosques (ICOM), comprised of individuals and organizations from different faith traditions – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – will provide support and stand with Muslims when their rights are being violated. "We believe the best way to uphold America's democratic values is to ensure that Muslims can exercise the same religious freedom enjoyed by everyone in America. They deserve nothing less than to have a place of worship like everyone else," ICOM said in its Statement of Purpose. "While we are extremely concerned about discrimination against mosque building in America, we will also recognize that local governments have legitimate concerns regarding zoning planning issues within the framework of current federal, state and local laws." From Florida to California, ugly rhetoric has replaced civil dialogue at local government planning meetings and community debates over proposals by Muslims citizens to exercise the rights guaranteed to everyone in America. "The level of hostility, fear mongering and hate speech is unacceptable and un-American," the coalition stated. Working under the sponsorship of the Anti-Defamation League, which initiated the concept, ICOM will carefully monitor incidents of mosque discrimination around the country, gather facts and analyze the information, and speak out when appropriate to help Muslim communities who are encountering prejudice. "We will not take political sides. We will not make decisions based on ideology," the coalition said in its statement.

Charter members of the group, which is still in formation, are:
· Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Chair of Islamic Studies, American University
· Dr. Saud Anwar, founder and co-chair of American Muslim Peace Initiative (AMPI)
· Rabbi Elliott Cosgrove, Senior Rabbi, Park Avenue Synagogue
· Abraham H. Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League
· Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance
· Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, founder of Center for Leadership and Learning (CLAL), former chairman, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
· Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, Executive Vice President, Auburn Theological Seminary
· Bishop Paul Peter Jesup, American Representative for the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalus Church
· Dr. Richard Land, President, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention
· Msgr. Guy A. Massie, Vicar for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs, Monsignor, Diocese of Brooklyn
· Dr. Eboo Patel, founder and director, Interfaith Youth Core; member of Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
· Father Robert Robbins, Director, Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Archdiocese of New York

Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, Director of Interfaith Affairs for ADL, will coordinate the coalition's operations. He will receive complaints about mosque discrimination from ICOM members, ADL's regional offices, the media, and other credible sources. ADL experts will investigate each complaint and produce a report that will be shared with ICOM members. The coalition, which will operate by consensus, will discuss appropriate action to be taken.
© The Anti-Defamation League

up  

EU CRACKDOWN ON ROMA

'WE ARE NOT ETHNIC GARBAGE,' SAYS MACEDONIAN ROMA MINISTER

10/9/2010- "We are not Gypsies, we are Roma," and "Hitler is back" read the banners held by more than a hundred Macedonian Roma protesting on Monday in front of the European Commission representation and the French embassy in Skopje. They demanded that the European Union stop the expulsion of Roma from France, and the resignation of French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Protesters were received by the French Ambassador in Skopje Jean-Claude Schlumberger who defended his country by saying that people returned voluntarily and with financial assistance. This did not convince the protesters. "We ask for an end to the collective punishment of Roma people and to their stigmatization," said Azrijan Memedov from Roma Veritas, a non-governmental organisation. "What is of most serious concern is that this may bring a general sense of xenophobia and racism, which may bear racial or ethnic-based violence. This is already the case in several countries such as Hungary or Slovakia," explained Alexandra Bojadzieva from the Initiative for Social Change.

As sign of support for the demonstration, the main Macedonian daily, Dnevnik, replaced its editorial with an open letter written by Nezdet Mustafa, president of the United Party for Emancipation of the Roma and minister in the Macedonian government, addressed to Mr Sarkozy. "All European citizens have the same rights. No one can be expelled because he is Roma. This sends a message that Roma are ethnic garbage and the smell of racism in Europe," wrote Mr Mustafa. The Roma in Macedonia are not happy with their position in society, yet they consider it to be better than in other South East European countries. Ashmet Elezovski, secretary of the European Roma Forum based in Strasbourg, and activist in the Macedonian NGO National Roma Centrum, said the Roma have fought for their rights since the country's independence in 1991. They have participated actively in politics and are proportionally represented in political life. Their language is an optional part of the curriculum of elementary schools.

Officially, of Macedonia's two million inhabitants, 54,000 are of Roma origin. They have five political parties, one minister in the government, one deputy minister and one deputy in the parliament. Since 2004, Macedonia has a Roma strategy, which was discussed and adopted by parliament and is considered an important political document for helping to improve the minority's situation. Yet, Mr Elezovski complained that the Roma problem is treated only as a social issue. "As long as this is the case, the situation cannot get better. The Roma problem is political," he pointed out, underlining that many Roma are jobless and poor. Unofficial figures suggest there are more than 130,000 Roma living in Macedonia, said Mr Elezovski, who said they often declare themselves as Egyptians, Albanians or Turks, probably hoping to improve their social status. "We can't blame them for that," he added. Nevertheless, Mr Elezovski expressed satisfaction with the growing number of properly educated Roma in the last four years, which now stands at 30 percent of the Roma population. "There are more Roma students and more and more pupils in elementary schools as well," he said.

But the situation has deteriorated with the growth of economic problems in Macedonia. "As prices of food go up, the living standard is going down and this is our biggest concern," the activist complained. He explains that for any schoolchild, parents have to pay 3000 denars (€50) to buy basic school materials themselves. "This is impossible when they earn or get from social assistance only 1500 to 4000 denars per month," Mr Elezovski said. The following testimony, given to the Macedonian daily Nova Makedonija, is a good example of the Roma's distressing social situation. "I would like to participate in a TV show "Moment of Truth" to earn some money and build a room or two to live. I will confess there with how many women I have slept. I'll tell the truth and they will give me the money, but I don't know how to get there," Sebastijan was quoted as saying. He lives in the first and so far the only Roma municipality in the world, the Skopje suburb Suto Orizari. The letter, however, didn't help him.

The state releases money to improve the lot of the Roma, but funds are scarce and unevenly distributed. In the framework of the "Roma Decade", money was earmarked for seminars and NGO training. Still, ministries do not use the budget for this purpose and fail to implement the planned projects. Therefore, precious little assistance effectively reaches Roma homes. Mr Elezovski is convinced this will lead to more and more Roma emigrating to the rest of Europe.
© WAZ - EUobserver

up  

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT DEMANDS FRANCE IMMEDIATELY STOP ROMA EXPULSIONS

9/9/2010- The European Parliament on Thursday (9 September) called for the immediate "suspen[sion of] all expulsions of Roma" by France and all other EU states engaged in the practice, and urged policymakers to avoid "inflammatory rhetoric". The news came as Paris and Bucharest continued to trade barbs over who is to blame for the failure to integrate the minority. The resolution, warning against "lending credibility to racist statements and the actions of extreme right-wing groups," was backed by the left, liberals and Greens and opposed by the right of the house in a 337 to 245 vote, with 51 abstentions. The parliament "rejects any statements which link minorities and immigration with criminality and create discriminatory stereotypes," a reference to the speech made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in July in which he linked an increase in crime to immigration and began a clampdown on Roma. Some 900 Roma have subsequently been flown back to Romania and Bulgaria, most of them as part of a so-called voluntary repatriation scheme in which French authorities pay €300 per adult and €100 per child to return.

Fingerprinting Roma, however, as announced by French police, is "illegal and violates the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights," MEPs said. French authorities have said they would fingerprint those people who received money in order to make sure they don't get the aid a second time, if they come back to France. The EU legislature also deems as illegal the "automatic expulsion" of poor people. According to EU law on free movement of persons, "the lack of economic means can in no circumstances justify the automatic expulsion of EU citizens." Restrictions on freedom of movement can be imposed "solely on the basis of personal conduct, and not of general considerations of prevention or ethnic or national origin." Mr Sarkozy on Monday suggested that EU citizens be automatically expelled if they have no reasonable economic means of subsistence, an idea already floated by Italy's far-right interior minister, Roberto Maroni.

Italian authorities in recent days have stepped up the dismantling of Roma camps, resorting to the same methods used two year ago, when they ordered a massive crack-down on the minority. The EU legislature also regretted the "late and limited response" by the European Commission as it took Brussels almost a month to formulate a reaction to the events in France. Euro-deputies also said there was no connection between the Roma situation and the accepting Romania and Bulgaria to the bloc's border-free "Schengen area", a move planned for next year. This follows French attempts to link the two issues. France's EU affairs minister, Pierre Lellouche, during a visit to Bucharest on Thursday together with the French immigration minister, called on Romanian authorities to draw up an emergency plan to integrate its populous Roma community. "The truth is the Roma are not integrated in Romania," he said in the Romanian capital.

Officially, there are 535,000 Roma registered in Romania, but some estimates put the numbers at around 2 million. A further 10 million are scattered throughout the rest of eastern and central Europe, living mainly in ghettos, shanty towns and caravans. Romanian President Traian Basescu, however, put the blame on the French and said their actions were in breach of EU law. "The French government is acting outside the norms of a European state," Mr Basescu said in an interview aired on Wednesday on public television. The trip of the two French ministers was going to be "useless", he said, "if they are coming here to lecture us." On the other hand, Mr Basescu acknowledged that it was not solely the responsibility of the French state, but also of the Romanian one and the Roma themselves. "Nobody stops them from sending their children to school instead of begging," he said. But keeping Roma in one place is "against their nomadic culture" and Mr Basescu saw no political solution to that. "Instead of fooling them with €300, maybe we could find a formula to help them buy caravans," he added.

Centre-right support for France
Meanwhile, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) to which Mr Sarkozy's own party is affiliated, deplored the final text after having failed to take out criticism aimed directly at Paris and Brussels. "Pointing fingers at France and the European Commission as the left side of the European Parliament has done in a resolution adopted today, does not, unfortunately, address the real challenges of improving the living conditions, education, healthcare and other basic needs of the Roma people who are EU citizens", said Simon Busuttil, a Maltese centre-right MEP who had tabled an alternative version of the resolution, which was voted down in the plenary. The EPP said it will set up an internal "working group" chaired by centre-right MEP Livia Jaroka from Hungary, the only Roma deputy in the EU legislature. "It is my clear ambition to start working immediately and to put forward specific policy recommendations with my colleagues in order to promote the institutional establishment of an EU level strategy for the economic and social inclusion of Roma," Ms Jaroka said in a statement.
© The EUobserver

up  

PARIS SUMMIT OMITS ROMA ISSUE, FRANCE INSISTS 'THERE'S NO EXPULSION'

7/9/2010- The much expected immigration summit of several EU countries and Canada in Paris has made no mention of the recent campaign of the French government to crack down on Roma immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania. The Roma issue, including the deportation of Roma squatters to their home countries, which caused much uproar around Europe and brought much international criticism for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was not mentioned once during the discussions of Monday's immigration summit in Paris, and was not included in the concluding document of the meeting, reported the correspondent of the Bulgarian channel bTV. At a news conference after the summit, however, French Immigration Minister Eric Besson practically denied the existence of a "Roma deportation". "France remains faithful to the principles of humanity," Besson is quoted as saying while also pointing out that France approached with much caution every single case of Roma migrants making sure that its authorities abide by EU law and local law. Besson will be making a visit to the Romanian capital Bucharest on September 9 and 10, 2010, where the Roma issue will be discussed.

When asked about Bulgaria's position with respect to the expulsion of the Roma people, the French immigration minister declared that France had no issues with the Bulgarian state, and that the Bulgarian authorities had made it clear they did not have problems with the actions of the French government. While denying the claims that the French state has initiated a mass deportation of Roma, Besson did say that there is an acceleration of the rate at which Roma migrants leave France. However, he emphasized the fact that they depart voluntarily, in exchange for allowances. The immigration summit in Paris included participants of 6 EU nations (France, Germany, Italy, UK, Greece, and Belgium, which holds the rotating EU Presidency) and Canada. The fact that the European Commission was not invited to it generated much criticism. As it was originally expected to discuss in detail the Roma expulsion, critics had stated Bulgaria and Romania had to be present as well.

During Monday's summit, the governments of the seven nations agreed to adopt faster procedures for dealing with illegal immigrants whose immigration or refugee status requests have been turned down. The press conference was attended by Besson, as well as by Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, Canada's Interior Minister Jason Kennedy, and senior government officials from Greece, the UK, Germany and Belgium. Maroni pointed out the need for unified EU efforts to crack down on the influx of illegal immigrants from North Africa and Turkey. Canada's representative said the meeting was very useful because the illegal immigration threatened his country's immigration system. He pointed out that in 2009 Canada ranked third globally in asylum requests after the USA and France. At the meantime, a rally before the French Embassy in Romania's capital Bucharest proteting the Roma expulsion by France and designed to coincide with the Paris summit brought together only 50 people - about as many as the reporters covering it.

Bulgarian critics of France's Roma expulsion policies had been skeptical about the outcome of the immigration summit in Paris. Bulgaria has welcomed so far 26 Roma deported from France, but was not invited to the forum. Bulgaria's government has been keeping a low profile over France's Roma crackdown, apparently fearing that tension with Paris might put at risk its Schengen accession. The country hopes to join the EU's border-free zone by the end of 2011 as scheduled and the official line is that recent expulsions of mostly Romanian and Bulgarian Roma from France is irrelevant to that process. The local media however, where the deportation made front-page news, have accused the government of shying away from an open confrontation with France, for fear this could jeopardize its Schengen accession, touted as one of the main priorities of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. The harshest criticism of the expulsion of Roma from France came in an article in the Sega newspaper, which called it "the biggest mass deportation after the Second World War."

Most commentators condemned the action of France and said the measures have shown that more developed nations such as France are not in a position to cope with the Roma problem. Instead of looking for a pan-European solution, the summit in Paris will contribute to the complete ghettoization of the Bulgarian Roma, media fears. The Bulgarian press has also targeted its critical comments at the European Commission, blaming it for hypocrisy and double standards over its muted involvement in the affair. France has repatriated around 600 mostly Romanian Roma since announcing plans in late July to demolish hundreds of illegal Roma camps as part of a crackdown on crime. Flight reservations indicate France wants to move back at least 41 Bulgarian Roma in August and September. Vessela Tscherneva, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, said a maximum 50 people were expected to return.

As French Immigration Minister Besson made it clear after the Paris Summit on Monday, the French government time and again demonstrated it is reluctant to style its actions as "deportation", saying that Roma people are leaving the country by mutual agreement and for a compensation (EUR 300 per adult, EUR 100 per child), and also retain the right to return whenever they might wish. Roma from Romania and Bulgaria are allowed free passage into France if they are European Union citizens. After that, however, they must find work, start studies, or find some other way of becoming established in France or risk deportation. At the beginning of August, France began a high-profile campaign of dismantling large numbers of illegal Roma camps in a move announced by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The mass expulsions have drawn criticism from the international community, the Vatican and the UN. During the past week, European Commission also criticized France saying it did not put enough emphasis on individual circumstances. Sarkozy also faces opposition from his own cabinet with Prime Minister Francois Fillon hinting he disliked the crude links being made between foreigners and crime, while Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he considered resigning over the issue. The deportations saw 1 000 Roma returned to Romania and Bulgaria last month while 11 000 were expelled from France last year, according to BBC. France insists the deportations are not contradicting EU laws, including the free movement of people. Under EU rules, the State can expel people who have been in the country for at least three months without a job and/or are deemed to be a threat to public security.
© Novinite

up  

CoE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER SAYS ANTI-ROMA RHETORIC COMPARABLE TO NAZIS’

9/9/2010- AFP reports that Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg has compared the current “anti-Roma political rhetoric” to the kinds of statements used in the past by Nazis and Fascists. French diplomats have indicated they will be demanding an explanation from Hammarberg. Hammarberg made the remarks through Twitter and posted a link on his internet profile to a 3 Sat television program which includes just such a critique of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi. The 3Sat network broadcasts to German-speaking countries. Pierre Lellouche, State Secretary for European Affairs at the French Foreign Ministry, responded by declaring he would be demanding an “official explanation” from Hammarberg. “I am surprised and shocked by his statements on Twitter in which he uses very serious expressions – Nazis, Fascists – seemingly in the context of the Republic of France,” Lellouche said. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has recently expressed the opinion that the French measures might be perceived as smacking of racism. At the EP on Tuesday, France became the target of sharp criticism by many MEPs during a debate on Roma policy in the European Union. Paris, which according to some MEPs has violated EU law, rejected the criticism immediately. In addition to France, the European Commission also became the target of this wave of displeasure. Some legislators said the Commission has been simply inactive on the matter. Today MEPs will vote on a resolution on this topic. AFP reports the EP’s largest political group wants to push through a document calling on France and other EU Member States to immediately halt all deportations of Roma. Since the start of this year France has returned more than 8 300 Roma who had no residence permits to their home states. Sweden recently sent 50 Roma back to Eastern Europe, and Denmark expelled 23 Roma from Eastern Europe in July. Belgium has forced 700 Roma to leave Flanders and seek refuge in Wallonia.

Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
© CTK

up  

ROMA FACE STRUGGLE ON RETURN TO ROMANIA

"We are not terrorists," says Letitia Mark, head of a Roma (Gypsy) women's non-governmental organisation in the city of Timisoara.

7/9/2010- "We are not common criminals. We are just ordinary people, trying to lead a decent life." The deportations from France have stung the Roma of western Romania into action. While most focus on finding new survival strategies for their families, some have also organised a demonstration in Timisoara, and there has been an attempt to improve communication between scattered communities and an array of Roma and civil rights groups. "I worked with metal - iron, copper, aluminium," says Andras Bobo, 31, from the village of Toagyer in the far west of Romania, close to the Serbian border. Until three weeks ago, he lived in one of an estimated 14 Roma encampments in the southern French city of Marseille. But then the police arrived, saying that the camp was going to be closed down and that if they did not leave straight away, they would be ejected by force and sent back to Romania. Many Roma say the camp clearances have been the result of a new repatriation policy by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government. The authorities maintain that they cleared the Roma camps because people were living in unsanitary conditions and they had become a breeding ground for criminal behaviour. They say the Roma are returning to their homeland voluntarily. "Sarkozy is a catastrophe," says Mr Bobo. His brother, Ion, explains: "Until now, relations with the French police were good. "They visited us, asked if everything was OK, and told us we could stay provided we didn't break the law."

Sleeping rough
The Romanian Minister of Regional Development, Vasile Blaga, has said that none of several hundred deported Roma had a criminal record in France. The Bobo brothers and 11 others from their village came back to Romania by car and bus before they could be deported. The line between expulsion and voluntary return is blurred. Each was told to sign a paper, but they have no idea what was written on it. No translation was provided, and their French is rudimentary. Some cannot even read or write. The Romanians travel with laminated plastic ID cards from their own country, so there is no danger of a stamp in a passport, forbidding their return. Under special EU rules for Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the Union in 2007, their citizens have the right to stay in another member country for up to three months without residence papers or work. The Roma come and go all the time. Andras Bobo has lived in Marseilles for six years - with several visits home. While much of the media focus so far has been on the payment by the French authorities of 300 euros (£250; $386) for each adult and 100 euros per child who returns voluntarily, the Roma I spoke to preferred to travel back alone, without payment. They give several reasons - the stigma of expulsion, their fear of flying, but above all their desire to return to France as soon as possible. Many left one or two family members behind in Marseille, looking after their possessions, preparing the ground for their return. They have either taken shelter in one of the remaining camps or are sleeping rough. According to the charity, Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), nine of the 14 camps in Marseille have now been destroyed.

'Misery'
Just down the road from Toagyer, the small town of Banloc is just a shadow of its former glory. The castle which once defended the region from Ottoman armies is an overgrown ruin. Money for its reconstruction ran out, after the outside walls were refaced. A group of Roma are cutting firewood by a medieval wall. A single donkey struggles to pull the load, balanced precariously on a cart. In one street on the edge of the town, those Roma who just arrived back are too angry to talk. "Did you bring us food? Or work? Have you come here to help or to gloat on our misery?" asks one teenager. A man is introduced as the husband of Lena Constantin, who died of a heart attack a fortnight ago after being told her family was being deported from France. The family has big debts. He is too sad to speak. The local orthodox priest, we were told, asked for 1,000 euros (£840; $1,287) to give Mrs Constantin a proper funeral service. Despite the apparent poverty, the whole village scraped together enough money. "French people are so kind," says another woman, who begged for four years in Marseille, until she was deported last month. She had two favourite places, outside the post office, and a large bakery. "People were fond of me. Some always gave me something," she says. The woman is the only person I speak to who is hesitating about returning. She says she is afraid of the police now and is worried about her own fragile health.
© BBC News

up  

FRANCE NOT OFF THE HOOK ON ROMA, BRUSSELS SAYS

7/9/2010- Faced with an avalanche of criticism from MEPs, EU fundamental rights commissioner Viviane Reding said she would not hesitate to challenge France in court if there is "solid proof" that it violated EU law when deporting Roma to Romania and Bulgaria. "Our legal services continue to analyse what are the facts on the ground. We can't just go there and declare war on a member state," Ms Reding defended herself in front of furious MEPs who deemed her initial speech "scandalous" for not saying clearly if France was in breach of EU law or not. "You can be assured that if there is legal evidence on France or any other country [breaking EU law] normally I win this in front of the court." The commission's experts were still examining if all the roughly 900 Roma deported from France in August had received notice one month, if the measure was proportionate and if each case was evaluated individually - all criteria required by EU law. Ms Reding insisted that the EU's protection of fundamental rights is just as strong as its protection of the internal market.

"Europe is not just a common market, it is a community of values and fundamental rights. The European Commission condemns inflammatory rhetoric not only in France, but in many other states," she said, in reference to the linkage made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy between immigration and an increase in crime. Paris also received a letter from Ms Reding on Tuesday in which she criticises the fact that France did not completely transpose into national law the 2004 EU directive on the freedom of movement. A special "task force" on the Roma issue will be set up within the EU commission to monitor the way member states are using community funds in order to better integrate this populous minority into their society. The evaluation will also look at the effectiveness of those programmes, she said. Out of the 27 member states, 12 - Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Spain, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia - have support programmes in place targeting Roma, for a total budget of €17.5 billion.

Ms Reding also requested a "jumbo council" meeting of interior, justice and social affairs ministers on the Roma issue - an exercise which should then occur on an annual basis in order to keep this item on the political agenda "not only in the month of August." "Member states don't take their responsibilities to change the situation on the ground for the Roma people," she said. For instance, a meeting in Cordoba organised by the Spanish EU presidency earlier this year only saw two Spanish ministers, a French secretary of state and Finnish minister attending, she noted. The softer tone in Ms Reding's initial speech, which praised the French authorities for exchanging a lot of information and "giving reassurances" that they did not violate EU law comes one day after a meeting between commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. A spokesman for Mr Barroso confirmed that the Roma issue came up and said that the two leaders agreed that "there was no interest for both parties to create a controversy out of this issue."

In his "State of the European Union" speech earlier on Tuesday, Mr Barroso made only an implicit reference to the Roma issue, without singling out France. "Everyone in Europe must respect the law, and the governments must respect human rights, including those of minorities. Racism and xenophobia have no place in Europe, " he said. When pressed by MEPs to give a clearer answer on whether he endorses Mr Sarkozy's policy on Roma, Mr Barroso pointed deputies to the debate with commissioner Reding, scheduled three hours later.
© The EUobserver

up  

BARROSO MAKES VEILED CRITICISM OF FRENCH ANTI-GYPSY CAMPAIGN

European commission president urges leaders to steer clear of racism and xenophobia, but doesn't name France

7/9/2010- The EU executive today backed away from a confrontation with France over President Nicolas Sarkozy's anti-Gypsy campaign, widely viewed as breaking European law and human rights rules. In his first annual "state of the union" address, billed as a major keynote speech to rank alongside that of the US president, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission, delivered veiled criticism for the first time of the French government's deportation of hundreds of Roma families in recent weeks. He told the European parliament in Strasbourg that the rights of the EU's biggest ethnic minority – the 12 million-strong Roma community – had to be protected and warned European leaders to steer clear of the racism and discrimination of the past. But Barroso failed to mention France explicitly and at a meeting with Sarkozy in Paris yesterday evening, according to officials in Brussels, he agreed to avoid turning the expulsion of thousands of Roma or Gypsies from France into "a controversy".

Liberals, Greens and social democratic MEPs last night accused the commission of a whitewash, while Sarkozy's parliamentary allies in the centre-right European People's party nervously sought to defeat a parliamentary resolution denouncing French government "racism". The commission is the guardian of the EU treaties and has to rule on whether any of the 27 governments in the union are breaking European law. Viviane Reding, the commissioner for justice and fundamental rights who has held several rounds of talks with the French authorities and has raised questions about the treatment of the Roma, stunned MEPs by praising Paris and ducking the key issue of whether the Sarkozy government was flouting the law. She told the parliament in Strasbourg that the commission was taking "a clear but balanced position on the matter" and that she had received "very positive" signals from the French government. She was repeatedly heckled during her speech.

"It is so important that French [immigration] minister Eric Besson assured us publicly that the French authorities would treat all citizens in the same way and that there was no targeted action against the Roma or any other group and that the French authorities would do their best to act scrupulously in line with EU law. I see this insurance given by Minister Besson as a very positive development," she said. Her remarks appeared to relate to the future conduct of the French authorities and not to the measures they have taken since July when Sarkozy announced his crackdown on Gypsy immigrants – EU citizens – from Romania and Bulgaria.

Since July the French have demolished scores of Gypsy encampments and expelled nearly 1,000 Roma, attracting strong criticism from the Vatican, the United Nations, human rights groups and leading opposition figures in France. The Sarkozy policy has also split his own cabinet but has been cheered by the extreme right across Europe. "The commission has let the French off the hook. It has failed to do its job and it is setting a precedent for other countries," said Claude Moraes, a Labour MEP on the parliament's civil liberties committee. "France's actions are illegal – pure and simple. It is a sad indictment of this commission that it has failed to stand up for the rule of law in the face of a large EU member state. President Sarkozy must be made accountable for this racist policy. The European commission should be using all the tools available to bring France into line with EU law."

Last week, Reding and two other European commissioners raised strong doubts about the French government's conduct but delayed any conclusive verdict on the Sarkozy policy. She had been expected to go much further yesterday. Barroso has been repeatedly charged with failing to stand up to the big EU member states when it matters. The decision to back down over the Roma row reinforced those views. "It is common knowledge that France is contravening EU law. The European commission must stop sitting on its hands. It must publish its initial analysis," said Hélène Fautre, a French Green MEP. The commissioners raised doubts about the French conduct in an internal document last week which it refuses to publish.

In his speech, Barroso said EU "governments must respect human rights, including those of minorities. Racism and xenophobia have no place in Europe. On such sensitive issues, when a problem arises, we must all act with responsibility. I make a strong appeal not to reawaken the ghosts of Europe's past." The half-hour speech, outlining his priorities for the year ahead but containing scant new initiatives, was preceded by a farcical failed attempt to prevent MEPs playing truant in Strasbourg and guarantee a full house. Parliamentary leaders abandoned a scheme to fine MEPs who did not show up after being accused of Stalinism and infantilism. Tonight social democrats, liberals, and Greens are trying to agree on a common formula that could command a wafer-thin majority while denouncing the French. The resolution goes to a vote on Thursday. While the resolution has only verbal force, it would represent an unusual blow to French prestige, with the European parliament sitting in Strasbourg in France condemning its host government.

Pierre Lellouche, the French Europe minister, said he found "the statements by members of the European parliament about France's policy on the Roma totally excessive and unfair". In mid-July a 22-year-old Rom or Gypsy was shot dead by police in central France, sparking a riot and the ransacking of a police station by a crowd of around 50. President Nicolas Sarkozy promptly announced a crackdown, targeting the Roma population from the Balkans, estimated at around 15,000. Some 300 "illegal" Gypsy encampments were to be demolished, any Roma from Bulgaria or Romania with criminal records in France were to be expelled, and others – the majority – were to be encouraged to leave "voluntarily" by signing statements in return for a flight to their native countries and 300 euros for adults and 100 euros for children. More than 900 have been deported since Sarkozy's announcement on July 28, bringing the total this year to more than 8,000.

Other countries are encouraged. The mayor of Rome has announced plans to demolish scores of Gypsy camps. The Italian government supports a hard line. Sweden and Denmark have been quietly deporting Roma who are EU citizens. Germany is in the process of expelling 12,000 Roma from Kosovo, most whom arrived as refugees from the Kosovo war in 1999 or who were since born in Germany.
© The Guardian

up  

FRANCE URGED TO STOP DEPORTATIONS OF ROMA

The European Union has called into question the legality of France’s expulsion of Roma migrants.

6/9/2010- In August France expelled 1,000 Roma from illegal camps around the country. It brings the total this year to nearly 9,000. President Nicolas Sarkozy blames the Roma for a rise in crime. But critics accuse him of using the issue to boost his flagging popularity before elections in 2012. The EU has asked France to show that its crackdown on crime is not limited to the Roma alone. The legality of the expulsions centres on the conditions under which the Roma are being sent back rather than the fact that they are being returned. EU Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding said:
It is clear that those who break the law need to face the consequences. It is equally clear that nobody should face expulsion just for being Roma.”

As EU citizens, the Roma are free to live in any EU state for up to three months but can only stay longer if they have a job and contribute to the social security programme. France claims that the returns are voluntary and has offered 300 euros to Roma who agree to leave. But the EU says such payments do not waive the bloc’s rules on the free movement of citizens, non-discrimination and the rights of those belonging to minorities. The Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Centre, Robert Kushen says Roma are being coerced to accept the French offer. In an interview with IJT he asks:
Is this French action that singles out a group of people on the basis of ethnicity consistent with European ideals or European law? I don’t think so.”
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has told France to avoid “collective repatriations” and work towards “lasting solutions.”
© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

up  

FRENCH GYPSIES AFFECTED BY ROMA CRACKDOWN

French Gypsies find themselves in an unexpected stand-off with authorities prohibiting caravans to settle as the expulsion of Roma groups continune.

6/9/2010- France's crackdown on travelling minorities has not only targeted Roma from Eastern Europe, but also French Gypsies, who feel they have been unfairly linked to foreign-born nomads. As media coverage focus on the expulsion of Roma back to Romania, hundreds of French-born Gypsy families find themselves in a stand-off with authorities in the southwestern city of Bordeaux. President Nicolas Sarkozy's government has vowed to dismantle all illegal camps, not just those inhabited by foreign-born minorities, and 250 caravans arrived in Bordeaux only to find riot police waiting for them. Traditionally, the travellers would set up camp on sports fields, but -- having been kicked out of another illegal site further south -- when they rolled up they found 150 police and a two-foot deep ditch barring access. "This space is for sports," said Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppe, a powerful former prime minister and member of Sarkozy's ruling UMP. "There are people that use it for sports, playing tennis and jogging, and it's not set up to receive 250 caravans." After initially protesting by blocking a major bridge across the Garonne River, and briefly skirmishing with police protecting the fields, the Gypsies went to court to demand access -- and were turned down. The city sought compromise by offering two asphalt sites; a two hectare plot in an industrial zone -- which the Gypsies rejected as too polluted -- and a convention centre car park -- which they say is too hot in summer. The resulting stand-off has led to the caravans being forced onto some strips of grass along an access road to the conference centre. "Juppe has been straight with us, but let him come spend a weekend on asphalt in the heat," suggested James Dubois, president of the Gypsies' association "La Vie du Voyage" (LVDV).

The travellers had appeared confident of victory before the hearing, and took news of their defeat with a mixture of shock and anger. "Normally we get an emergency court hearing, the decision comes two hours later, and we're in," said Dubois. "It's disappointing. It's not logical, but this is Bordeaux. Juppe is not a little country mayor." LVDV vice president Franck Couchevelou shook his head."We tried everything," he said, gesturing to the riot police. "We'll have to capitulate. We don't want violence. We have children here." "If it continues like this, we will all be in Paris on the Champs Elysees with our caravans in September," said Couchevelou. "We have to organise." According to a police official a brief melee broke out during the night when male travellers visited the two-hectare lot and tried to stop city workers from cleaning up the site. There appears to be little support for Gypsies from Bordeaux's citizens. It is common in the region to see travellers illegally occupying community sports fields, and until recently there has been little recourse for the towns. Juppe's tough talk on illegal encampments came after Sarkozy vowed to clear 300 illegal Roma camps within 90 days and to repatriate foreign Roma. The policy has attracted fierce criticism from international human rights groups, the French opposition and even the Vatican, but the French Gypsies say they do not want to be dragged into a political row. "We don't care about the politics of the left or the right," insisted Dubois. "All we want is a place to park our caravans so we can work." The men complained they had already lost several days of work. The 140 families work as craftsmen and traders in local markets, selling products like mattresses and pots and pans. A spokesman for the convoy felt the French Gypsies were being confused with foreign-born Roma. "There is an amalgamation at the national level. It's getting worse," said Jean Avrillas. "We are not Roma and we have no contact with them," said Dubois. "We are clean. We are normal people. We are French."
© Expatica News

up  

THE SURVIVAL OF ROMA TRADITIONS: NO RESPONSE FROM INDIA (opinion)

6/9/2010- I wonder if Indira Gandhi would have protested France’s ongoing expulsion of the Roma. That it is worth protesting is not in doubt, and condemnation has come from home and abroad. By deporting the Roma, or Gypsies as people once called them, the French are violating European rights to free movement and basic human rights by stigmatising a particular community. The rationales given, of criminal habits and non-native status, simply repeat arguments used over the centuries in anti-Roma campaigns, which reached a peak in the Nazi attempt to exterminate them in death camps. Comparisons with Nazis should never be made lightly and France is, of course, hardly similar. Yet the fact is that no civilised country would think of expelling Jews and homosexuals, not least because of the memory of what the Nazis did. But the French government feels it can do it to the Roma. The current Indian government seems to have no Roma policy, but Mrs.Gandhi was a supporter. “I feel kinship with the Roma people,” she declared at the second International Romani Festival in Chandigarh in 1983, and praised the way the Roma had preserved their culture, despite the efforts of time and human agency to wipe it out. It was, she said, “an example of nationalism within internationalism, beyond prejudice...” and she concluded in both Romani and Hindi: “Upre Roma! Roma Zindabad! Sastipe!” If a rather more local nationalism had not ended her life soon after the speech, perhaps India would be leading the protests now.

The reason for Mrs. Gandhi’s involvement was, of course, the Indian origin of the Roma. This has been disputed by those who claim it as an orientalist fancy, and it is possible that the Roma label is too easily applied to many migrant communities. But with any community that speaks some variant of the Romani language, the link with India is startlingly obvious. Despite centuries of wandering from India across Western Asia and towards Europe a core of the language has remained recognizably linked to Western Indian dialects. Isabel Fonseca, in Bury Me Standing, her haunting book on the Roma, gives an example in the lines from which she gets her title. “Bury me standing,” a Roma activist tells her poetically, “because all my life I have been on my knees.” What he actually says in Romani is: “Prohasar man opre pirende – sa muru djiben semas opre chengende.” The words at the centre, “sa muru djiben/all my life”, could come from Gujarat or Rajasthan today. Wherever they travelled, the Roma had to learn the local tongue, so naturally much in the language has changed. Linguists claim they can even trace the path taken over the centuries through word traces left behind: little Arabic, more Persian, lots of Armenian. But like djiben, or manush for man, many of the words for their bodies or close possessions are Indian, and so too are many food words. Sheep is bokro, meat is mas, salmon is bauromatchi (big fish), cabbage is shok (shaak), to drink is peeve and water is pani. The word for bee is pishom, which may not seem Indian, but honey is pishomgudlo, the sweet of bees and gudlo/gur is a link again. This connection has been made repeatedly over the years. Perhaps the first was Istvan Vali, a Hungarian who, in 1753, met three Indians at the University of Leiden and took down lists of words from them, which he later found the Roma he knew back at home could recognise. In her book Fonseca meets Saip Jusuf, a Roma living in Macedonia who was part of the 1983 conference, and still maintains shrines to Ganesha and Mrs.Gandhi. Jusuf had learned of the Indian connection from an uncle who a Turkish soldier in the First World War, and had been imprisoned in India, where he realised he could understand words that his jailers were speaking.

The main force behind that conference, and the reason it was in Chandigarh, was W.R.Rishi, an Indian diplomat. Born into a poor Brahmin family in Punjab, Rishi had managed to move from a minor civil service job to the new Foreign Ministry in 1945 thanks to his willingness to learn Russian. This gave him extensive exposure to the Soviet bloc, where he encountered the Roma and had that wake-up moment when he heard their words. His interest became an obsession. He got in touch with Roma activists, who must have been suspicious about this non-Roma diplomat, but who realised his sincerity, and perhaps also value as a link to influential support. Rishi used Indian diplomatic lobbying with the Yugoslav government to get them to recognise the Roma as an official minority. He founded the Indian Institute of Romany Studies at his home in Chandigarh and edited a periodic international journal called Roma. (I don’t know if either is still extant. Rishi died in 2002, and his son is supposed to have carried on his work, but the only number listed online for the Institute no longer works). At some point Rishi must have told Mrs.Gandhi about the Roma, and she seems to have been captivated by their story. There was no political advantage in championing the Roma, but she went to both their conferences in 1976 and 1983. At the latter event, the Times of India’s reporter noted, in rather clichéd terms that “she almost got into the gypsy carefree mode. Her cheerfulness and pleasantness of manner was infectious.”

No other Indian politician had her interest in the Roma, which is why the French expulsions haven’t got any particular Indian response. Perhaps the Roma are also not keen to push the connection. There is a sobering picture in Fonseca’s book of four Roma killed by a pipe bomb in Austria in 1995. The bomb went off when the men were trying to remove a sign that said “Gypsies Go Back To India.” Fonseca comments that the Roma have been in that part of Austria for more than 300 years. Why have the Roma always faced such hostility? The distrust of the transient by the settled, the constant temptation to blame outsiders for all ills, fear of foreignness (even positive reports of the Roma always emphasise their exotic nature) and simple racism. The fact that the Roma were not allowed to ply many jobs has always forced them to marginal means of survival, and that reflexively brings the charge of thievery. We don’t need to look far to see the roots of such prejudice since this is exactly how we respond to our own marginal tribes in India, the ones branded by the British as “Criminal Tribes’. An early hypothesis about the Roma links them directly to such tribes fleeing such prejudice in India, but tragically never quite shaking it off.

This is disputed by some Roma scholars, who indignantly refuse such demeaning origins, and some have drawn up elaborate hypotheses about exiled kshatriya warriors, which would suggest that caste obsessions never leave Indians wherever they are. Such theories apart, it’s true that along with language, the other striking link with India is the elaborate system of hierarchies of purity and ritual cleanliness that govern traditional Roma life. Again this is seen most vividly with food. For example, women cannot cook, or touch anything, when they are menstruating. Even among the Roma there are divisions, which is why they all carry knives, so that they can eat food with their own implements wherever they are. Fonseca writes: “In conservative Romany culture (called Romipen or Romanipen), liquids are poured into the mouth through a container held away from the lips... Anne Sutherland describes a meal with some Rom-American friends in an Illinois diner, during which they prefer to eat with their hands rather than risk the diner’s forks and knives.” In Albania Fonseca notes that her Roma helper never comes inside the homes where she meets regular Albanians. She realises that this is not just fear or prejudice, but also his own issue: Albanian hospitality requires the hosts to give the guests food, but he could not eat it without risking pollution. (Actual Roma food tends to reflect the food of the countries they are in, simply because their marginal status means they have to take whatever food they can get. The Indian food connection comes in their attitudes towards food in general, rather than the food itself).

Such habits, which are so strongly reminiscent of many Indian communities, are what have helped preserve Roma culture through their rootless travels, yet it also fixes their otherness, their refusal to integrate with the societies they are in. None of this does justifies the prejudices the Roma face, but occasionally one can understand the exasperation of the authorities. Roma women are given inferior status, their children go uneducated, they refuse vaccinations, they dispense community justice through thuggish sounding tribunals that sounds like Jat khaps – again, the insistent Indianness comes through. For a modern European government, dealing with the Roma clearly poses as much of a problem as many persistent community habits do for Indian central and state governments. But there, as here, the only possible answer is engagement and education, and not expulsion as the French are doing. It may seem like the simple solution, yet it is morally destructive and demeaning, and ineffective too, since the Roma will survive it and return unchanged, as they have done at similar times and with similar persecutions over the centuries.
© The Economic Times

up  

ITALY RESUMES ANTI-ROMA ACTION IN TEETH OF EP VOTE

8/9/2010- Italian police on Tuesday (7 September) resumed the dismantling of Roma camps near Milan and Rome and transferred some of the inhabitants to temporary housing, with the mayor of the Italian capital pledging to accelerate the demolitions. Milan police tore down barracks and tents housing some 250 Roma, who "left without creating any problems," a police spokesman told AFP. Social services in the northern Italian city offered temporary housing to the displaced, but only two dozen women and children accepted the offer. The city's right-wing mayor Riccardo De Corato said the crackdown, which has seen 315 settlements levelled since 2007, has allowed him to "contain the influx of Roma whose status is illegal." Currently there are some 1,200 Roma in Milan, compared to 10,000 three years ago, he noted. Similar actions were carried out on the outskirts of Rome on Tuesday, with police saying demolitions will continue throughout the week.

Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno on Monday said police would tear down some 200 settlements at the rate of three or four each week and transfer inhabitants to 10 official camps overseen by local authorities. He spoke after meeting French immigration minister Eric Besson in Paris, just as France is trying to shake off EU and international criticism for deporting Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria. Mr Alemanno said he would accelerate the action against illegal camps after a three-year-old Romanian died in a fire in a camp near Rome in August. He added that Rome could host a maximum of 6,000 nomads in about 10 "legal" camps, compared to the 7,100 currently living in the city. He did not specify what would happen to the rest. Meanwhile, in Strasbourg, euro-deputies on Wednesday are voting on a resolution condemning the politicisation of the Roma issue by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who linked a rise in crime to the existence of the irregular settlements.

Speaking in plenary on Tuesday, Livia Jaroka, the only Roma MEP in the EU legislature, stressed the right of freedom of movement of citizens, while acknowledging it is "not unconditional." "We the European Roma refuse the political misuse and interpretation of our issues," she said. A European solution, instead of political ping-pong between capitals, is the only way to solve the problem of the some 12 million Roma living on the continent, she added. Her own party colleagues - Ms Jaroka is a member of the centre-right European People's Party from Hungary - tried to make political capital on her intervention however, by saying their group is the only one containing a Roma MEP. The EPP is in a delicate position because Mr Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are both part of its political family. The group - which is the largest in the parliament - has tabled its own text on the Roma issue in which Mr Sarkozy's actions are not criticised. The centre-left and Green groups, however, are pushing for stronger wording.
© The EUobserver

up  

ROME PREPARES TO DEMOLISH 200 ILLEGAL GYPSY CAMPS (Italy)

Aid workers fear thousands of Roma will be left homeless

5/9/2010- Plans by Rome city officials to demolish up to 200 illegal Gypsy camps this week have raised fears by aid workers that thousands of Roma, including women and small children, will be forced on to the streets. In the wake of France's controversial repatriation of Romanian Gypsies last month, Italian police backed by bulldozers will raze rudimentary camps in Rome built beneath flyovers and in wasteland, often by Romanian migrants. Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, has cited the recent death of a Romanian child during a fire in one of the camps as an incentive for their demolition. "These are the terrible risks and dramas of the illegal camps that have existed in Rome for too long," he said. Sveva Belviso, Alemanno's social policy assessor, said fewer than 1,000 people people were due to be evicted. "We will offer assistance to the young, old and sick," she said. But the Red Cross warned that many more faced sleeping rough and losing their possessions. "The number is in fact likely to be over 1,000 and with the city's financial straits and overflowing accommodation I wonder where they will put up and feed these people," said Mario Squicciarini. "What is worse is that when the bulldozers go in they often do not give you time to get your possessions out." Puscia, 30, a Romanian mother who has lived at an illegal camp on Via Magliano Vecchia for two years, said she would lose her job as a school cook if her home was knocked down. "Including my two kids, there are 100 children at this camp who go to school, so people here are really anxious," she said. "If they demolish the camp I would be ashamed to live like a rat and would probably go back to Romania," she added.

Rome is launching its crackdown as it prepares 12 new and refurbished official camps on the outskirts of the city which officials claim will host 6,000 of the 7,000 Gypsies now living in Rome. About 2,500 of those are of Bosnian origin, 2,000 Romanian and only around 500 Italian, said Belviso. "Twenty per cent of the adults have records for crimes like drug dealing, possession of arms, rape and armed robbery and we are pushing for their expulsion," she said. Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni has said he is also pushing the EU for permission to expel any law-abiding EU citizens, including Gypsies, who do not have work or accommodation and who are claiming benefit. He has backed France's crackdown on Gypsies, stating that Nicolas Sarkozy was "doing nothing more than copying Italy". Alemanno, a former neo-fascist, has said voluntary repatriation for Gypsies had been tried "and has not solved the problem." Gypsies leaving France were now settling in camps in Rome, he said last week.
© The Guardian

up  

SOME 100 PEOPLE PARTICIPATE IN ROMA RIGHTS DEMONSTRATION OUTSIDE FRENCH EMBASSY IN BRUSSELS (Belgium)

4/9/2010- Some 100 people are participating in the Roma rights demonstration outside the French embassy in Brussels held by the international human rights organization European Network against Racism. The organization has announced more protests in European cities, Bulgarian National Radio reports. No incidents have been registered at the silent protest. The participants are holding banners reading “No connection between emigration and crime,” “Liberty, Fraternity and Equality for Everyone,” “No to Expulsion, Yes to Integration.” The organizers say the demonstration is a protest against the French government’s anti-Roma and xenophobic policy and cite the day off as the reason for the small number of participants. They believe a growing number of people will join the campaign and expect support from European politicians. The protest is attended also by officials with the Party of European Socialists, which will table a special resolution in the EP, criticizing the French authorities’ moves. The European socialists have accused the EC of failing to take a sufficiently clear and active position on the Roma expulsion from France, thus creating conditions for the discrimination of the Roma emigrants there to persist. The French embassy has not reacted to the protest.
© FOCUS News Agency

up  

FRENCH DOCTORS' GROUP DENOUNCES ROMA POLICY

4/9/2010- A French aid organisation has accused the government of 'declaring war' on Roma migrants saying the destruction of illegal camps was forcing many in the minority to sleep rough. 'This summer, there has been a veritable declaration of war which has manifested itself in the systematic destruction of the places in which they live,' said Dr Philippe Rodier of Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World). Dr Rodier was speaking ahead of a demonstration against the crackdown in the southern city of Marseille. According to the organisation, nine of the 14 main Roma camps in the city have been destroyed, with hundreds of people forced to live in the streets. 'Our teams have heard that things are very hard for (Roma) families, who have been gravely insulted,' said Dr Rodier. French authorities have linked the Roma to crime and expelled nearly 1,000 to Romania and Bulgaria since announcing a high-profile crackdown in July, sparking international criticism. More than 8,000 have been deported since the beginning of the year, with 9,875 expelled throughout last year. Elsewhere, unions have launched a week of protests with a Paris rally that could provide an early measure of resistance to pension reforms on which President Nicolas Sarkozy has staked his political reputation. Unions and human rights groups gathered to protest against security measures, including the repatriation of the Roma. Critics see that action as part of a drive by Sarkozy to revive his popularity before 2012 elections and divert attention from painful pension reforms and spending cuts. Mr Sarkozy faces a bigger test on Tuesday when workers hold a nationwide strike and protests over the pension reforms he says are essential to cut the country's budgetary deficit. He said yesterday that he was determined to stand by the reforms, which among other things will raise the retirement age to 62 from 60. Unions say everything from schools and public transport to telecommunications will be disrupted. The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, begins debating the pension reforms that day.
© RTE News

up  

PROTESTS AGAINST ROMA EXPULSIONS HELD IN FRANCE

Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Paris and 130 other French towns to protest at the government's policy of deporting Roma people.

4/9/2010- Trade unionists, students, anarchists, illegal immigrants and others turned out in the capital to the sound of whistles and drums. There has been strong international criticism of the deportations. However, opinion polls suggest that at least 65% of French people back the government policy. About 1,000 Roma (Gypsies) returned to Romania and Bulgaria last month, while official figures record that 11,000 Roma were expelled from France last year. The League of Human Rights, which called for the demonstrations, said it wanted to counteract government "xenophobia" and what it described as the systematic abuse of Roma in France. The government's policy on the Roma is not a new one but the debate is building and becoming increasingly divisive, the BBC's Christian Fraser reports from Paris. He says Saturday's demonstrations show there are people in France hugely concerned at what is being done in their name but the opinion polls suggest the protesters are also a minority. President Nicolas Sarkozy says his government's actions fully comply with EU law on migration and human rights, even though there has been a concerted effort to link illegal Roma camps with rising crime, says our correspondent.

'Pushed away'
Addressing the demonstration in Paris, actress Jane Birkin said it was up to the French public to stand up for the rights of the Roma people. "We are pushing away people that have a history of being pushed away," she said. "We have to defend them because they don't have enough of a voice. We have more of a voice than them. We have to be supportive." One of the protesters in Paris, Visier Flarent, accused the government of "trying to throw out people from France just because they are living out of the street". He told the BBC that the government was trying to "divide French people" because of the country's economic difficulties. In the southern city of Toulouse, the local president of the League of Human Rights, Pascal Nakache, said the French government had gone too far. "There are a large number of people beyond the usual militant base that have been profoundly shocked who want to demonstrate their exasperation and their refusal of this incendiary and xenophobic policy," he said. The rallies are being backed by the opposition Socialist Party and the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), France's second largest trade union confederation. Demonstrators also gathered in front of the French consulate in Barcelona, Spain, to condemn President Sarkozy, and a protest was held in front of the French embassy in the Belgian capital, Brussels. Roma solidarity rallies were also held as far away as the Serbian capital Belgrade and Hungarian capital Budapest.

'Respecting the law'
France began a high-profile campaign of clearing large numbers of illegal Roma camps last month, as part of a security crackdown announced by Mr Sarkozy. The move was announced after a number of incidents of violence targeting the police. In mid-July, riots erupted in Grenoble after police shot an alleged armed robber during a shootout. The next day, dozens of French Roma attacked a police station in the small Loire Valley town of Saint Aignan, after police shot dead a French Roma man who had allegedly not stopped at a police checkpoint. The mass expulsions have drawn criticism from the Vatican and the UN, and President Sarkozy has also faced dissent from within his own cabinet. Prime Minister Francois Fillon hinted that he disliked the crude links being made between foreigners and crime, while Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he considered resigning over the issue. Earlier this week, the European Commission criticised France over its expulsions of Roma, saying it did not put enough emphasis on the individual circumstances of those facing expulsion. Under EU rules, the state can expel people who have been in the country for at least three months without a job or are a social burden. They can also be expelled within three months of their arrival if they are deemed to be a threat to public security.
© BBC News

up  

IN FRANCE, AN EVANGELICAL GYPSY GROUP SHAKES UP THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE

In France, a movement from within the Gypsy community could temper what have been bad relations with European governments amid a hot immigration debate.

3/9/2010- Even as French police deported hundreds of Gypsies to Romania in late August, a devout set of 26,000 Gypsy Evangelicals gathered in the heart of France for song, testimony, and scripture. France’s high-profile deportations have put one of Europe’s oldest and most vulnerable groups in a rare spotlight. They may also be a miscalculation for President Nicolas Sarkozy. Though debate in Europe about immigration is heating up, reaction in France to this policy has been withering: The Roman Catholic church, the Socialist Party, and even many in Sarkozy’s center-right party are publicly angered at a policy that appears to single out an ethnic minority as undesirable, in order to score political points.

The stereotype of the Gypsy doesn't work here
The Gypsy Evangelicals in Chaumont, France counter any stereotype. They park some 6,000 white trailers in neat rows on the grassy runway of a World War I air base. It is a “city” brought from “the north, the south, the east, and the west,” as signs replete with biblical language affirm, anchored by a tent that holds 6,000 and atop of which flutter the flags of France, Belgium, the US, the EU, Germany, and the UK. The gathering joins these Evangelicals, whose numbers and faith have swelled to some 145,000 of the 425,000 Gypsies in France. Their tight organization, work and family ethic, regard for civil law, and stress on education has made them the “go-to” Gypsy group for French authorities, and a point of pride in a larger Gypsy community that has long suffered a stigma of criminality, drugs, and brawls. Beyond that, they help stabilize and keep a vanishing Gypsy identity intact, analysts say, as economic and legal pressures in post-industrial Europe are atomizing a nomadic life. For example, they developed a model for negotiating lands to settle on. Many Gypsies, facing local bureaucracy, occupy land, then negotiate. But, “the Bible tells us to be wise and respect the authorities,” says Aladin Blivet, treasurer of this “Life and Light” gathering. “We call ahead, we do paperwork, we send a delegation, we do the organizing.” Michel Lambert, a Gypsy organizer who runs a Gypsy postal service in a Paris suburb says, “the Protestants are a good example for us.” He continues, “they have shown how things can work.” “These Gypsies created an organization with spokesmen.... They speak with [the] authorities, something new in France,” says Marie Bidet, a former Interior Ministry employee whose doctoral thesis is on Gypsy-state relations. “They are serious, respectable; they vote, they don’t want to burn cars, they want everyone living in peace. That’s opposite from the traditional image … it can be underlined that they succeed in their approach.”

There's a difference between French Gypsies and Roma
French Gypsies are known here as “travelers,” whereas Gypsies targeted for deportation come mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, and are known as “Roma.” Gypsy leaders and others critical of the policy, say the crackdowns on Roma tend to amalgamate them into a single negative public image. Last year France quietly deported more than 7,000 Gypsies. But this summer’s roundup of more than 8,000 were part of a get-tough-on-crime media campaign by the French government. At the Chaumont gathering, deportation talk takes second fiddle to faith-talk. It is rare in secular France to hear open discussion of spiritual belief. But Gypsies are frank about why they gather: “Our faith unites us. What God has put in our heart – that’s why we are here. We are here to share experiences,” says Tino, a small tank of a man who wears a suit and open pink shirt as he tends a barbecue. His comments were repeated often. Most believers speak in rich detail about being “touched” – how they went from a “bad” life of unbelief or woe into a new life they attribute to an active Holy Spirit. They quote the Bible avidly, and speak of healings or “cures” they have seen. A few “churches on wheels” in the 1960s have grown to some 240 fixed churches today. “I have four uncles, and each is pastor of our church for two months,” said a volunteer. “We are on the road the rest of the time.” “Most Gypsies have a hard life, stealing, family problems. The Gospel has changed the mentality of many Gypsies,” says Rene Zanellato, a prominent prayer leader here who speaks six languages and led Gypsy missions in Russia. “The idea of 26,000 Gypsies coming together in peace and order used to be a dream. There was fighting and drugs … it was inconceivable to get together without problems.” Much of “Light and Life” centers on family. The “caravans” sport satellite TV and computers. Gypsy women still cook stews of hens or hedgehogs, a Gypsy delicacy. “But we also like McDonald’s,” says a smiling matron. Indeed, the evangelical caravans regularly accept among them nonbelievers, Gypsies who are ambiguous about their belief, but travel along because they feel safe and there are programs to educate not only kids, but adults, according to Ms. Bidet.

'We are more French than Sarkozy'
French Gypsy leaders in Chaumont are “disappointed” in Sarkozy’s policy, implemented by interior minister Brice Hortefeux. In July, Mr. Sarkozy cracked down on some 128 foreign camps – home to 15,000 Gypsies from Romania and Bulgaria – after a riot spurred by the shooting of a young French Gypsy, not a foreign born Roma. Prayer leaders insist Sarkozy knows the difference. He's has visited their meetings, they say, but is playing politics. “We are more French than Sarkozy,” says one, pointing to the president’s Hungarian heritage. A new European Union report says the wholesale shutdowns of the makeshift camps violates EU law. French officials argued strenuously at EU Commission meetings in Brussels recently that France is not out of compliance with EU law, and is not targeting an ethnic minority. Roma have been part of a serious increase in crime in Paris and elsewhere in France, they say.

Darkening atmosphere about immigrants in Europe
Still, the deportations come amid a darkening atmosphere in Europe about immigrants and minorities in general. This week a former Slovak soldier and nationalist shot and killed seven Gypsies who lived in his apartment building in a rampage that shocked that nation. Current debates and politics extend to Muslims, Islam, Arabs, and Africans as well who are changing the complexion of traditional Europe. As a matter of faith, Gypsies traditionally identify with the main religion in the country they inhabit. Those in Turkey are Muslims. In India they are Hindu; Russia, Orthodox; France, Catholic. But after the war, a young pastor from a fisherman’s family in Breton, Clément Le Cossec, healed “through Christ” the ill mother of a Gypsy who came to his church and a young Gypsy whose case was described as incurable. By 1952, Le Cossec was pushed by Gypsies to train them. He separated from the French Assemblies of God when a Gypsy-focused mission was frowned on. “He explained that Gypsies had a special need, were poor but had faith, but this wasn’t understood,” his son, Paul Le Cossec, told the Monitor. “So he started his own mission.” Le Cossec went on the road, living with Gypsies, learning their customs, language, and “way of life.” He felt, he said in a 1996 interview shortly before his death, that Gypsies had a “childlike” faith, and that a full and unmitigated concept of the biblical Christ would transcend the collective image many Gypsies held of themselves: “Not for a minute was it a question of lecturing them with morals, telling them they should not drink, lie, steal, or soothsay anymore. I knew that by receiving the message of Christ, everything would change in their lives,” he said. By the mid-1990s, some 6,000 Gypsy pastors were working in Europe – part of an overall spread of this form of evangelicalism to a world Gypsy community that claims 2 million in 44 countries. The French town of Gien is home to a Gypsy Bible college. Marc Bordigoni, a Provence University anthropologist and author of “The Gypsies,” says Le Cossec’s approach paradoxically enabled Gypsies to keep their identity through a faith, Christianity, that asserts what he calls a universal character. “The strength of Gypsy Protestantism lies in the fact that Le Cossec initiated, because he had to, an organization from within the community. Their faith is led by their own people.”
© The Christian Science Monitor

up  

Headlines 3 September, 2010

EU OFFICIAL APOLOGISES AFTER BLAMING JEWS FOR BLOCKING PEACE TALKS

EU trade commissioner accused of antisemitism after saying Jewish intransigence dooms Middle East talks in Washington

3/9/2010- A top European official was accused of antisemitism tonight after declaring that there was little point in engaging in rational argument with Jews and suggesting that the latest Middle East peace talks were doomed because of the power of the Jewish lobby in Washington. Karel De Gucht, the European commissioner for trade, and a former Belgian foreign minister, sparked outrage after voicing his scepticism about the prospects for the negotiations which opened in the US this week. He told a Belgian radio station that most Jews always believed they were right, and questioned the point of talking to them about the Middle East. De Gucht, who negotiates for Europe on trade with the rest of the world, and is one of the most powerful officials in Brussels, was forced today to issue a statement declaring that the views he expressed were personal. "Don't underestimate the opinion … of the average Jew outside Israel," he told the radio station. "There is indeed a belief – it's difficult to describe it otherwise – among most Jews that they are right. And a belief is something that's difficult to counter with rational arguments. And it's not so much whether these are religious Jews or not. Lay Jews also share the same belief that they are right. So it is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East."

Explaining why he thought the peace talks were probably doomed, he added: "Do not underestimate the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill. That is the best organised lobby, you shouldn't underestimate the grip it has on American politics – no matter whether it's Republicans or Democrats." Jewish leaders were incandescent. "This is part of a dangerous trend of incitement against Jews and Israel in Europe that needs to be stamped out immediately," said Moshe Kantor, the head of the European Jewish Congress. "What sort of environment allows such remarks to be made openly by a senior politician? Once again we hear outrageous antisemitism from a senior European official. The libel of Jewish power is apparently acceptable at the highest levels of the EU." Officials in Brussels stressed the remarks did not represent EU views or policies. De Gucht was forced to issue a statement clarifying his remarks. "I gave an interview … I gave my personal point of view," he said. "I regret that the comments that I made have been interpreted in a sense that I did not intend. "I did not mean in any possible way to cause offence or stigmatise the Jewish community. I want to make clear that antisemitism has no place in today's world."

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, today attacked the "doomed" Middle East peace talks and urged Palestinians to continue armed resistance to Israel. Ahmadinejad used the annual al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day rally in Tehran to scorn the Obama administration's efforts in launching the first Arab-Israeli negotiations in nearly two years. "The people of Palestine and the people of the region will not allow them to sell even an inch of Palestinian soil to the enemy," he said. Iran supports Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip and opposes talks involving Mahmoud Abbas, the western-backed PLO leader who is based in the West Bank.
© The Guardian

up  

KILLING SPREE IN SLOVAKIA TAPS INTO A TROUBLED VEIN

2/9/2010- As Slovakia held a day of mourning Thursday to honor the victims of Monday’s violent rampage in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, a picture began to emerge of the killer, an unemployed loner who the police said had participated in shooting contests and may have harbored resentment against his Roma victims. The killing spree, in which six members of a Roma family were killed — including a 12-year-old boy — has shaken Slovakia, a small and predominantly Catholic country. It also has spurred a national debate about the assimilation of the country’s 380,000-strong Roma community, who typically live on the margins of society, stigmatized by poor levels of education, alcoholism and an image of lawlessness. A debate over xenophobia against the Roma, also known as Gypsies, has been raging in recent months across Europe, most recently in France, where the government deported Roma living illegally in the country. But the issue is particularly sensitive in Slovakia, a young country that was part of the former Czechoslovakia and is still grappling with how to integrate its ethnic minorities while forging its national identity. Tensions with the Roma have been on the rise. Last year a town in eastern Slovakia built a concrete wall to separate a Roma camp from the rest of the town after the Roma were caught stealing fruit and vegetables from neighbors’ gardens. Anti-Roma demonstrations have been held repeatedly since late last summer, when two Roma gouged out the eye of a man during a robbery in the east.

In March 2009 in Kosice, in eastern Slovakia, police detained six Roma boys who were suspected of having robbed an elderly lady. The police forced the boys to undress, slap and kiss each other, while taking videos of them on their mobile phones. After a video of the incident was released by SME, a leading Slovak daily, nine policemen were fired. The boys later admitted they had stolen a purse. While the police and government authorities have been at pains not to attribute any racial motive to the Monday killing, Slovak analysts said the incident had nevertheless tapped into the country’s neuroses about its Roma minority. “To me, the reaction of the society has been worse than the killings themselves,” said Stanislav Daniel, a Slovak of Roma origin who is a researcher at the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest. “Rather than focusing on the killer, the message has been: the shooting was bad but these Roma people he killed were bad, too.”

Police said the killer, 48-year-old Lubomir Harman, who shot himself after being cornered by the police, lived in the same building as his Roma victims. Single and living alone, he had been jobless since August 2008, and had legally acquired six weapons. He was a member of a club of reservist soldiers and had completed two years basic military service between 1981 and 1983, but he was not a professional soldier. Neighbors and police said Mr. Harman, who used a machine gun and two pistols to attack his victims, may have been angered by the loud noise emulating from the victims’ apartment in the working class neighborhood of Devinska Nova Ves. Police Chief Jaroslav Spisiak said this week the Roma family that was killed led a “rich social life” in which they hosted a steady stream of visitors. Other neighbors were less charitable, accusing the family of everything from disturbing the peace to dealing drugs, and noted that the victims and the killer had a history of disagreements. But in a video interview posted on a Slovak news website, Aktualne, one neighbor named Silvie, who declined to give her last name, said that the Roma family were “poor, but decent” and that Mr. Harman, laconic and unpleasant, had clearly lost control. “Every month I would lend them some money or give them some old bread,” she said. “Within a few days, as soon as they received their pension, I got my money back.”

Lukas Fila, the deputy editor of SME, a leading Slovak newspaper, lamented that some Slovaks were using the killings to vent their frustrations with their Roma neighbors, and inadvertently siding with the killer. “No one approves of what happened,” he said. “But people who don’t like the Roma are saying, ‘I can understand how he did this.”’ On a discussion forum on www.cas.sk, a Slovak news site, some contributors this week said that the killer had been provoked, while others blamed the state for ignoring what they said was Roma crime. Some challenged the government’s decision to make Thursday a national day of mourning, saying it wasn’t justified since the victims were predominantly Roma. “Try to live next to a Roma family for a month and you will see for yourselves,” said a contributor who called himself Keenu. “Luckily, not everyone owns a machine gun.” The killings have also prompted a national discussion about gun control. The Slovak minister of the interior, Daniel Lipsic, said this week he planned to introduce legislation that would ban the use of machine guns for sporting purposes. He also said that the conditions for holding guns would be made stricter and that psychological tests for owners would have to be repeated every five years.
© The New York Times

up  

ANOTHER WALL SEPARATES ROMA FROM NON-ROMA IN EASTERN SLOVAKIA

30/8/2010- The wall that now separates the mainly Roma inhabitants of a settlement next to the village of Ostrovany, near Šarišské Michaľany in eastern Slovakia, has evoked intense debate since it was built last year. But some are now suggesting that it could serve as a model for other parts of Slovakia, where similar walls may be erected to serve the same purpose: to separate the Roma from the non-Roma population. Michalovce in eastern Slovakia is now joining the ranks of the segregated after an extra 25 metres was added to an existing half-kilometre-long wall. Locals people in the suburb of Vychod collected €3,000 to finance construction of the wall extension, which prevents residents of the neighbouring Angy Mlyn settlement, where approximately 1,800 Roma live, from making a short-cut through their properties when they want to walk to the centre of the town, the Sme daily reported. Municipal officials said the wall would be good for sporting activities and would also serve as a barrier against noise. The local authority has even suggested that it will protect Roma residents from traffic, according to the Sme daily.

“It seems to me like the Berlin Wall for us,” said Robert Ridaj, one of the residents of the Roma settlement, adding that the difference is that he does not expect this wall to be taken down. Sme quoted inhabitants as saying that the wall was not directed against Roma but against people who were throwing trash around and urinating under their balconies. Prime Minister Iveta Radičová said that the wall would not solve anything. Slovakia’s ombudsman Pavel Kandráč has said he will examine the construction of the Michalovce wall. Based on media reports he has already asked the local authority in Michalovce to supply a written statement and all relevant documentation about the construction of the wall near Angy Mlyn. Kandráč will also look into complaints by inhabitants of the Roma settlement who now claim that due to its construction their access to public facilities has been restricted based on their ethnic origin, SITA newswire reported. In fact, the land on which the wall was built was rented to local home owners for the purpose of landscaping and aesthetic fencing, Michalovce Municipal Authority spokeswoman Iveta Palečková told SITA.

Construction of the controversial wall began at the end of last year. The almost three- metre-high concrete barrier stretches from Kyjevská Street to Leningradská Street. The city argued that it was built for sporting purposes. This is not, however, the first wall of its kind to have been built in Slovakia. The wall next to the village of Ostrovany, near Šarišské Michaľany in eastern Slovakia, has become a symbol of the problems between the Roma minority and the non-Roma majority in Slovakia. Just as in Michalovce, Ostrovany locals claim that their wall is the only way to prevent raids on their fruit and vegetable gardens from those living in the Roma settlement. The local Roma say they feel as if the wall has turned their settlement into a zoo. Last year Štefan Šarközi from the Institute of Roma Public Policy criticised the Ostrovany wall, which he said puts all the residents of the settlement into one category: thieves. He spoke sarcastically about the wall in comments for The Slovak Spectator: “Is the wall sufficient to prevent to Roma from stealing? Is it long enough so that they cannot come around it, is it high enough?” According to Šarközi, building the wall was an easy solution, but it is not clear where it leaves the people on both sides, or what might happen next. He noted that any wall that separates people of different races, origins, languages or religions is in fact an edifice to the failures of society itself.
© The Slovak Spectator

up  

CZECH HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER REJECTS GOVERNMENT’S CLAIM HE HAS RESIGNED

1/9/2010- Today cabinet spokesperson Martin Kupka informed the Czech Press Agency that Czech PM Petr Nečas (ODS) had accepted the resignation of Czech Human Rights Commissioner Michael Kocáb, who would be leaving office on 15 September. Kocáb was first nominated to the post of Human Rights and Minorities Minister in January 2009 by the Green Party. Kocáb has now rejected reports of his resignation, saying they must be based on a misunderstanding which he must now clear up with Nečas. The chair of the coalition government of the ODS. TOP 09 and Public Affairs (Věcí veřejných – VV) parties met with Kocáb this afternoon. "Right at the start of today’s meeting Mr Michael Kocáb offered to resign from his post as Human Rights Commissioner as of 15 September. I have decided to accept his resignation," Kupka quoted Nečas as saying. Kocáb would not confirm this information about his resignation today, which he believes is probably based on a misunderstanding. "We did really meet about this today, but those results are probably due to a misunderstanding. Each of us has interpreted the outcome of the meeting differently,” Kocáb told the Czech Press Agency, saying he wants to speak with Nečas again in order to clarify the conclusion of the meeting with him.

"The Premier asked me to resign. I was completely dumbfounded because I had not expected such a request. He gave me two deadlines – either by September 15th or by the 30th, and told me to think it over,” news server iDNES.cz quotes Kocáb as saying.  Nečas is said to have thanked Kocáb for all his good work protecting human rights in the Czech Republic during his time as Commissioner and as minister. The media have been speculating that Kocáb would be removed ever since the elections, which brought a center-right coalition government forward to lead the state. The imminent departure of Kocáb from government office was also indicated by the Czech PM’s recent decision to choose the director of the Civic Institute, Roman Joch, as his advisor on minority issues. Joch has been criticized by some human rights defenders who consider his concept of human rights to be unfortunate. Protests were even held against his joining the Office of the Government at the end of August. At the demonstration, several of Joch’s previous statements were reviewed, such as his remarks exalting Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Joch’s proponents have even called him the “anti-Kocáb”.

Kocáb (56) became Human Rights and Minorities Minister of the Czech Republic in January 2009, when the Greens nominated him. He remained in office even after the fall of the Topolánek government and the appointment of the interim administration of Jan Fischer in May 2009. This past March the Greens called on him to resign, but he has continued to work for the government as the Czech Human Rights Commissioner.

translated by Gwendolyn Albert
© CTK

up  

POLAND: ANTI-ROMA MOB ATTACK LEGITIMISED

In July 2010, an angry crowd launched a terrifying attack on a Roma family in Limanowa, southern Poland. But why were no arrests made? And how come no one has condemned the violence?

2/9/2010- In October 1990, a crowd set fire to thirty-six Roma homes in the Romanian town of Mihail Kogalniceanu. No one was arrested and the town's mayor, Mr Ionesco, stated that 'I would like to emphasise that this was not directed against the Gypsies. We have no problems with their race. We only have problems with the criminals.' Similarly, when twenty-two Roma homes were set on fire in Bolintin Deal, also in south-east Romania, a spokesperson for the mayor's office announced that the houses had been set on fire simply to 'chase away criminals' as no one had problems with the 400 'assimilated Roma' living in the town.[1]

There are troubling similarities between the 'punitive' pogroms which took place in Romania in the 1990s and recent events in Limanowa, a small town in southern Poland. On the night of 23/24 July 2010, an angry crowd armed with stones and, according to some accounts, petrol bombs gathered outside the appartment of a Roma family and attempted to drag out the Daga (Donga) family.[2] The attack on the family was only prevented by the swift actions of the police. Estimates vary as to how many town residents were involved. Some media reports indicate forty, others one hundred. Riot police had to be brought in from Cracow to disperse the crowd.

In the days that followed, it became apparent that the police did not intend to bring any prosecutions against any of the residents involved. A popular local information website has been at pains to describe the Daga family as a danger to the community.[3] And, following from this, media reports have featured a strong sub-text that suggests that a potentially fatal attack on a Roma family does not constitute a crime in Poland. Not one person was arrested, although some thirty people were asked to produce their identity papers and later questioned. On the other hand, the authorities considered taking repressive measures against the Daga family whose past behaviour was variously described, by both journalists and spokespersons for the local authority, as pathologically inclined. The mob violence, on the other hand, was portrayed as an understandable and justifiable event, engendered by the despair of the locals, terrorised by their neighbours whose delinquency drove them to extremities. A journalist from the regional newspaper Gazeta Krakowska summed up the popular consensus by describing the attack as an 'act of despair'.[4]

The local authority, amidst threats from local residents of further violence,[5] have decided that the only way to prevent further attempts at mob justice is to evict the family from their accommodation and resettle them in a 'container'[6] on 'some solitary spot'. The express intention is to prevent the Dagas from having any neighbours.[7] According to a number of reports, the local authorities may well abandon this plan in the face of criticism from the Daga family and Roman Kwiatkowski, President of the Society of Roma in Poland (Stowarzyszenie Romów w Polsce).[8] But should one believe these reports? It seems that it is only technical problems that have temporarily halted the mayor's attempts to evict the family with the aid of a private security company. First, the container which a company had offered to sell to the authorities does not conform to state regulations and secondly, it is difficult to find a place for the container, mainly because 'no one wants to have the Dagas for neighbours'.

Establishing narratives that legitimise vigilantism
How did it come about that the criminal actions of town residents came to be rewarded by the punishment of the victims who are to be evicted from their home and socially quarantined from their neighbours? In order to understand this, it is necessary to unpick the various explanations put forward by the local community via the media. It is clear that the family had in the past been involved in a number of disputes with their neighbours, during some of which threats and violence had been used. Town residents made a series of allegations against the family to news reporters which taken together combined to make a convincing narrative of a family prone to social delinquency and unacceptable behaviour. However, a closer reading of the community's complaints reveal a number of narratives, some of which conflict and others of which could have been open to other readings by journalists if they had been prepared to take as their starting point the simple fact that nothing, absolutely nothing could ever justify what could almost be described as an attempted lynching.[9] It seems that the media were totally blind to the fact that a crowd of locals wishing to settle accounts with a family by physically attacking them proved a much greater danger to the latter than the family itself to the local community.

One of the first stories to emerge was the claim that a member of the family had insulted a pregnant woman who was frightened of the family's dog and that the dog 'jumped' on the woman. (Some reports go further and suggest that the dog was deliberately set on the woman). But an article published on the local website www.limanowa.in (26 July) suggested that the incident which seemingly so outraged the local community, had not been reported to the police. In fact the internet story clearly indicates that on 26 July the Limanowa district governor asked the woman to lodge a criminal complaint against the family. Other press stories also disintegrate under scrutiny. A local resident is quoted that he witnessed one family member insulting a policeman with a 'shower of vulgar abuse'. But the policeman only 'patted him on the shoulder and asked him to go home'. 'I can't understand why police officers tolerate these humiliations,' the local resident said. But is it really credible that Polish police officers would put up with such 'humiliations' and that in the face of police passivity only the town residents could stand up for the routinely degraded guardians of the law?

Another media narrative is also shot through with inconsistencies. The claim was frequently made in the media that other Roma condemned the Daga family and this claim was then used to support the argument that the attack was not racially motivated, as, in the words of Limanowa mayor, Marek Czeczótka, 'Limanowa has no problems with Roma' because, unlike the 'overly demanding' and 'combative' Daga family, 'many of them behave as they should'.[10] To prove this argument the statement of one Roma resident, Dorota Wieczorek, who says that the Dagas had threatened to kill her family, is cited.[11] However, if the Daga family were ostracised by the entire local Roma community, why did one witness to the violence remark that 'the Romas are likely to drive to Koszary[12] in order to bring reinforcements'[13] and other witnesses express the fear that 'Roma yobs' may arrive in order to defend the family?[14] It is impossible to know whether the reported Roma consensus against the Daga family is true or whether it has simply emerged as a convenient fiction vital to the town residents' self-righteous narrative. One story that cannot be contested is the fact that Roman Guzik had in the past been attacked by members of the Daga family with a rubbish-bin and an axe.[15] It cannot be contested because, as Mr Guzik readily admits, the family members who committed this attack were subsequently prosecuted. Yet this does actually contradict another of the town residents' narratives - the one that dwelled on the police's passivity and the failure of the criminal justice system to render justice against the family's past alleged wrongdoings.

Sidelining anti-Roma sentiment
Would the justification of mob violence against a family be imaginable if such accusations were made against a non-Roma family? Almost all those who have publicly addressed the events in Limanowa, have spoken very indulgently about the local community where the attack was launched and very severely against the Daga family. Father Stanislaw Opocki, responsible for the pastoral care of the Polish Roma, appears to argue that the only successful outcome to the vigilante actions would be a successful prosecution against the family. 'I feel for the inhabitants whose peace is being disturbed,' he remarked, adding that 'The prosecuting organs should deal with this case. Even poverty does not justify troublemaking and sowing dissension.'[16] Elzbieta Mirga-Wójtowicz, a Roma and the Malopolska province governor's Plenipotentiary for National and Ethnic Minorities, attempts to be even-handed, stating that 'probably both sides of this conflict are to blame,' but adding that it may be true to say that the family is 'in some sense [...] pathological'[17] But Ms Mirga-Wójtowicz goes further than most in her attempt to contextualise the family's alleged past behaviour within the facts of their extremely difficult living conditions. She points out that the twelve members of the family live in a flat of just 36 square metres. It should be emphasised that social workers who had visited the family had expressed the opinion that their biggest problem was their inadequate living conditions.[18]

Even when it comes to the reporting of the mob attack, one gets the impression that no one dares to express any compassion for the Dagas. A journalist from the private TV station TVN 24 devotes much attention to the fact that a burning bottle was allegedly thrown out of a window by a member of the family when the crowd had gathered under its apartment building.[19] The TVN 24 report gives the impression that the actions of the crowd were harmless in comparison with the act of a 'besieged' family in throwing a burning bottle.

Establishing the racist context
With very few exceptions,[20] those who have publicly commented on the events at Limanova have argued that the attack has no ethnic or racial background. But is it really possible that such a chain of events would have happened if the Dagas had not been Roma? Are such collective 'punitive actions'[21] undertaken against non-Roma 'pathological' families? In the 1990s, Romanians also rejected out of hand the idea that anti-Roma pogroms were ethnically or racially motivated. When one reads Polish media reports on the events in Limanowa, one is left with the impression that, because the attacked family is seen as prone to delinquency, anti- Roma sentiment is automatically ruled out as a motive for the mob violence. Commentators do not remember, or do not want to remember, that in the past, racist lynchings, like the ones in the US South, or indeed the pogroms in Romania, were often carried out against those members of minority communities who were viewed as 'causing problems' or engaged in criminal behaviour. In the US South, victims were accused of having committed inadmissible violations against the white community. The fact that a lynching or other mob violence was meant as 'punishment' for (real or imagined) violations of social norms does not make it any less racist.

The events in Limanowa should be interpreted in the light of the knowledge about the very frequent and deeply ingrained hostility towards the Roma in Polish society. According to the results of a recent opinion poll conducted by the Polish Public Opinion Research Centre (CBOS), 47 per cent of Poles said that they dislike the Roma.[22] Negative stereotypes against Roma are also strong, as demonstrated by an earlier CBOS opinion poll. Some 42 per cent of Poles held the view that the Roma possessed inherent criminal tendencies and 75 per cent agreed with the statement 'the problems of the Roma would disappear if they began to work'.[23] In the light of such data, the popular consensus that the attack in Limanowa had no ethnic motive needs to be revisited. Let us ask once again: why do such incidents never happen to non-Roma families in Poland?

Footnotes:




[1] Donald L.Horowitz, in The Deadly Ethnic Riot (University of California Press, 2003) argues that in those Romanian villages where anti-Roma violence took place in the years 1990-1997, it was frequently the case that only the homes of those considered 'troublemakers' were set on fire. See also István Haller, 'Lynching is not a crime: mob violence against Roma in post-Ceausescu Romania', 7 July 2004.






[2] The media gives two versions of the family name, both pronounced in the same way. Daga is probably the correct version.






[3] See www.limanowa.in, in particular, 'Tylko eksmisja moze zapobiec tragedii', 26 July 2010.






[4] Bozena Wojtas, 'Limanowa: konfliktowi Romowie zostana przesiedleni', Gazeta Krakowska, 26 July 2010.






[5] 'Po próbie samosadu przenosza romska rodzine', 27 July 2010.






[6] So-called containers (kontenery socjalne) are widely used as low-standard social housing in Poland.






[7] 'A few locations are being considered. No particulars were disclosed. All the local authorities agree, however, that it must be a solitary spot', 'Eksmisja przesadzona, czas rozliczyc postawe policji!', 27 July 2010.






[8] 'Limanowa: Romowie nie chca kontenera', 30 July 2010.






[9] According to the entry by Alexander W Pisciotta, in the Encyclopaedia of Race and Crime (eds Helen Taylor Greene and Shaun L Gabiddon, Sage, 2009), lynching 'involves mob violence that is done under the guise of vigilante justice ... lynch mobs did not always kill their victims'.






[10] 'Tylko eksmisja moze zapobiec tragedii', 26 July 2010.






[11] B. Wojtas, P. Odorczuk, 'Limanowa: spór grozil linczem. Udalo sie znalezc kompromis', 27 July 2010.






[12] Koszary is a small village in the Limanowa district, with a significant number of Roma among its inhabitants.






[13] 'Konflikt sie odrodzil: zamieszki na ulicy Witosa w Limanowej', 23 July 2010.






[14] 'Eksmisja przesadzona, czas rozliczyc postawe policji!', 27 July 2010.






[15] The video accompanying the article Po próbie samosadu przenosza romska rodzine', 27 July 2010.






[16] 'Chuliganstwa i warcholstwa nic nie usprawiedliwia', 26 July 2010.






[17] 'W Limanowej to nie jest konflikt etniczny', an interview with Elzbieta Mirga-Wójtowicz, Gazeta Wyborcza Kraków, 26 July 2010.






[18] See B. Wojtas, P. Odorczuk, 'Limanowa: spór grozil linczem. Udalo sie znalezc kompromis', 27 July 2010.






[19] The video accompanying the article, 'Po próbie samosadu przenosza romska rodzine', 27 July 2010.






[20] The Society of Roma in Poland, as well as another well-known Polish NGO, Open Republic - Association against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia, are among the exceptions. See the Declaration of the Council of Management of the Society of Roma in Poland on the conflict in Limanowa, 26 July 2010. The Open Republic Association has republished on its website a newspaper article about the violence and stated that the events in Limanowa 'caused it anxiety' and that 'in such circumstances it is easy to awake sleeping spectres and to provoke the hatred and aggression of the crowd', 3 August 2010.






[21] The words 'punitive action' come from the article 'Tylko eksmisja moze zapobiec tragedii', 26 July 2010.






[22] Stosunek Polaków do innych narodów, (pdf file 372kb), January 2010.






[23] Postawy wobec Romów w Polsce, Czechach, na Wegrzech i Slowacji, (pdf file 140kb), June 2008.

© The Institute of Race Relations
up  

INTEGRATION ISSUES TO DOMINATE, SAYS UDE (Austria)

2/9/2010- Christian Ude, the Social Democratic (SPD) mayor of the German city of Munich, has singled out integration as the topic set to dominate political debate in cities like Vienna. Ude said today (Thurs): "The subject of integration is becoming more important. But it seems to me Munich is handling it a bit better than Vienna." Speaking to Austrian newspaper Kurier, Ude praised the Vienna Social Democrats (SPÖ) for disassociating themselves from xenophobic tendencies in previous election campaigns. The mayor of Munich however also stressed that some politicians had seemed to be "helpless" in TV debates with late right-winger Jörg Haider. Asked whether he would recommend the Vienna SPÖ to approach the Greens or the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) for coalition talks if it loses its absolute majority in the 10 October election, Ude said: "I hope the Vienna SPÖ manages to retain its majority. Vienna always did best with that constellation."

Recent polls have shown that the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) has the potential to garner up to 22 per cent of the overall vote in the Vienna ballot. The party headed by Heinz-Christian Strache in Vienna and on the federal level came in third by bagging 14.8 per cent in 2005. Analysts are at odds whether the SPÖ will hold its majority in seats won thanks to 49.1 per cent of the overall vote. SPÖ Mayor Michael Häupl reportedly prioritises coalition talks with the ÖVP – who won 18.8 per cent five years ago – over meeting with the Greens, who bagged 14.6 per cent. Rumour has it that Häupl may retire halfway through the upcoming term. He became mayor of the capital in 1994. SPÖ Vice Mayor Michael Ludwig and SPÖ city councillor Christian Oxonitsch are seen as potential successors.

The election campaign has been dominated by debate about the FPÖ’s controversial slogan calling for "more courage for our Viennese blood". The party has also claimed it has been protecting "free women" while the SPÖ – branded an "Islamist party" by Strache – would back Muslim men who want to force their wives to wear headscarves and burkas. Häupl ruled out any kind of cooperation with the FPÖ. "I won’t discuss topics of the future with Strache because he has nothing to contribute," he stressed.

The mayor – who has, according to some political columnists, more influence within his party than SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann – has angered FPÖ supporters by branding Strache a "loser" and a "stupid person". Some SPÖ officials were not delighted to hear about those remarks, fearing insulting statements would only boost the FPÖ’s campaign. Strache hit back by accusing Häupl’s SPÖ of acting arrogantly and not considering people’s wishes and worries. The FPÖ has focused on integration issues and "criminal foreigners". Some analysts have claimed the opposition party might be unable to improve substantially due to its failure to include ideas about other important topics in its campaign portfolio.
© The Austrian Times

up  

'WE'D RATHER HAVE SARRAZIN THAN A MUEZZIN' AUSTRIAN ANTI-MUSLIM VIDEO GAME

Austrian police are investigating a video game released by the right-wing Freedom Party, the former political home of the late Jörg Haider, that invites players to stop the construction of minarets and mosques. But the politician behind the campaign answers his critics with: "We'd rather have Sarrazin than a muezzin."

2/9/2010- The immigration debate in Germany may have fallen to a new low with the publication of Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin's assertions about the supposed shortcomings of Muslim immigrants and his claim that Jews share a specific gene, but the tone here is generally still less shrill than in neighboring Austria. There, members of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), once the political home of the late right-wing populist politician Jörg Haider, sparked outrage this week in the form of an anti-Muslim video game released as part of a political campaign in the state of Styria, where parliamentary elections will take place at the end of September. In the game, players must try to halt the erection of minarets and mosques using a "stop" sign. If a player fails to stop the construction, then bearded muezzins issue calls to prayer against an Alpine backdrop.

'Styria Is Full of Minarets and Mosques'
At the end of the "Bye Bye Mosque" game, which has been online since Monday, players are told: "Styria is full of minarets and mosques. So vote for Dr. Gerhard Kurzmann and the Freedom Party on September 26 so that this doesn't happen." Members of the Green Party in the state filed a legal complaint over the game. But Kurzmann remained unmoved, saying that the game was intended to raise awareness among youth in the state about the supposed problem of minarets and mosques. At a press conference on Wednesday, Kurzmann described the controversy as a "tempest in a teapot" and, riffing off the debate in Germany, said: "We'd rather have Sarrazin than a muezzin."  On Thursday, the public prosecutor in the city of Graz, the state capital, issued a statement saying that it had opened an investigation into the game after receiving the Green Party complaint. Sedition or disparagement of religious teachings is a crime in Austria that can be punished with up to two years of imprisonment. The president of an organization representing Muslims in Austria, Anas Shakfeh, also filed a legal complaint on Wednesday. "This is unparalleled animosity towards a religion and foreigners," he said, according to the Die Presse newspaper. The bishop of the Catholic diocese in Styria also criticized the game, saying it violated respect between religions and that it represented a danger to understanding between different faiths in society. The game itself is actually recycled from a 2009 campaign for a referendum to ban minarets in Switzerland. So far, at least, no Ground Zero version of the game has been released.
© The Spiegel

up  

GEERT WILDERS PULLS OUT OF COALITION TALKS, NO CONFIDENCE IN CDA (Netherlands)

3/9/2010- Geert Wilders has pulled out of talks on forming a right-wing coalition with the VVD Liberals and Christian Democrats, saying his party had no confidence that all CDA MPs would back the PVV. Three of the 21 CDA MPs have come out against an alliance with the PVV, but had agreed to wait until a coalition agreement had been drawn up before deciding whether or not to vote in favour. After announcing his decision to pull out of the talks, Wilders said: 'I really regret it. It is not our fault.'

Election
The PVV emerged as the biggest gainer after the June 9 general election, taking 15% of the vote and 24 seats. The VVD was the biggest party with 31 while Labour had 30. Support for the CDA, which had been the biggest party, almost halved to just 21. The VVD, CDA and PVV had been in talks on forming a right wing cabinet for four weeks. The VVD and CDA were hoping to form a minority government which would have PVV support in terms of economic policy. According to Nos tv, Wilders had tried to make sure the three CDA dissident MPs gave a written promise that they would support the new government when the coalition accord was finalised and presented to a party congress.

Impossible
But CDA leader Maxime Verhagen said this was an impossible demand. 'Those guarantees cannot be given,' Verhagen said. VVD leader Mark Rutte said he wanted to continue discussions with the CDA. Right wing supporters would have loved what had already been agreed in terms of economic policy, he told reporters. Cabinet negotiator Ivo Opstelten will now draw up a report on the past month's events for queen Beatrix. Rutte has said he is willing to write a solo coalition accord and look for support for it from other parties.
© The Dutch News

up  

A CABINET FORMATION DOMINATED BY FEAR (Netherlands, opinion)

Fear has permeated the cabinet formation talks and it’s centred on what may happen when the next election comes around, writes Klaas Broekhuizen in the Financieele Dagblad.

3/9/2010- Ah, those wonderful 1960s... every 50 something will sometimes pine for the days of transistor radios on the beach with pirate station Veronica playing the Beatles, the Stones and the Doors. These were the years when taboos disappeared and denominational dividing lines faded. They paved the way for the Labour party’s success in the seventies. To counteract this emerging social democratic might, three religious parties joined forces and became the CDA. Labour has since lost its socialist plumage and churches stand all but empty. The days when people were told by politicians and priests alike who to vote for have long since passed. Now it’s the voters who tell politicians what they can and cannot do.

Clinging on
Without a clear, guiding ideology Labour and CDA can’t do more than cling on to power. What they fear most is defecting voters and their only answers to this is a bevy of populist measures which capture the public mood. And that mood is constantly monitored. The parties that benefit from this ideological impasse are SP and PVV. They know what they stand for, whether it’s the socialist ideal or islamophobia and although neither of these can be backed up by hard scientific evidence a large part of the electorate are attracted to them all the same. CDA politicians now say that Geert Wilders is very good at projecting images – as opposed to using arguments – and that perhaps they can learn from him. The truth is that the Christian Democrats were passed masters at it for centuries but that they have simply forgotten how to do it.

Fear
The formation talks are dominated by fear and it’s centred on the next elections. It made VVD leader Mark Rutte plump for a right wing cabinet straightaway: best to keep a powerful political rival close by. And if, come the next elections, an image can be projected that Wilders has been equally responsible for everything that may or may not have happened, he need not fear that the VVD’s right wing electorate will abandon the party. The left wing wouldn’t have to worry either with CDA as the main scapegoat. After a mainly left wing cabinet, however, Rutte could face serious voter defection to both PVV and CDA. Verhagen is thinking along the same lines. A government with Labour and VVD is safer in the long run. Even a political hot potato like mortgage tax relief could be tackled as it would make the VVD – the Christian Democrat’s great rivals on this issue – equally responsible for a decision on this point. The marginal parties have nothing to fear. They know what they are all about and so do the voters. A bit like Labour and CDA fifty years ago.
© The Dutch News

up  

CDA CRISIS OVER FOR NOW, COALITION TALKS WITH PVV TO CONTINUE (Netherlands)

2/9/2010- After two days of crisis, all 21 Christian Democrat MPs have agreed to press on with talks on forming a new coalition government with the right wing Liberals and Geert Wilders' anti-Islam PVV. On Tuesday and Wednesday party officials were locked in crisis talks with MPs after opposition to an alliance with Wilders mounted. 'I am very glad that all 21 of us could reach this [decision] in unity,' acting party leader Maxime Verhagen told reporters after two days of upheaval within the CDA.

Negotiations
Ank Bijleveld will take over the job of second lead in the negotiations from Ab Klink, who has made it clear he does not personally back an alliance with the PVV. Klink and two other anti-PVV MPs, Kathleen Ferrier and Ad Koppejan, will outline their objections to the alliance at a CDA congress after the coalition accord has been finalised. The crisis within the CDA came to a head on Wednesday evening with the publication of a letter from Klink in which he outlines his objections to the PVV and says talks with the party are a no go for him personally.

Open mind
He told reporters in the early hours of Thursday morning he would keep an open mind. 'At the end [of the negotiations] we will judge if the objections have been removed,' he was quoted as saying by Nos tv. The VVD and CDA plan to form a minority government which will be supported by the PVV in terms of economic policy. In return, Wilders wants tough new agreements on immigration and integration and has made it clear he will continue to speak his mind about Islam.
© The Dutch News

up  

RIGHT WING COALITION PLANS ARE BEYOND REPAIR (Netherlands, opinion)

In the flurry of activity following the June general election, the Christian Democrats were an appropriate model of modesty, writes Robin Pascoe.

1/9/2010- The CDA was hammered in June, seeing its support almost half to just 21 MPs, prompting both the party leader and chairman to resign. And acting leader Maxime Verhagen was quick to say that the party needed time to lick its wounds and come to terms with its defeat. And that meant it would take a back seat in subsequent coalition negotiations, he said. Although combination of VVD Liberals, anti-Islam PVV and CDA was the first obvious coalition choice, Verhagen was adamant. The CDA did not merit a place in a new government.

Three months
Nearly three months on and the CDA is tearing itself apart after Verhagen decided it was okay after all to join talks on forming an alliance with Geert Wilders' PVV. To get round objections to the PVV's stance on Islam, the three parties agreed to 'respect' each others' positions. But that was not good enough for a vociferous body of former ministers and other elder statesman who have been snapping at Verhagen's heels telling him to pull out.

Discipline
They've given newspaper and tv interviews and signed petitions, betraying a remarkable lack of party discipline and causing acting chairman Henk Bleker to urge them to shut up. But now it seems even Verhagen's own number two at the negotiating table Ab Klink wants to call a halt. And, insiders say, a small number of MPs are also threatening to leave the party if the talks continue - which would mean any VVD CDA PVV coalition would not have a majority in parliament anyway and making the entire exercise a waste of time.

Damage
Even if the ongoing crisis talks within the CDA end up with a consensus that the talks should continue, the damage has already been done. Support for an alliance with Wilders has been shown to be extremely fragile, which is hardly conducive to stable government. Several MPs have serious doubts and could step outside the party at any moment. Former prime ministers such as Ruud Lubbers will continue to gather newspaper headlines with their opposition. Wilders has made it quite clear that he will continue to speak his mind about Islam - whatever the CDA thinks about it. And that means the CDA's 'acceptance' of Wilders and his role in government will be called into question every time he makes a statement.
© The Dutch News

up  

AN ALLIANCE WITH WILDERS IS A NO GO, SAYS CDA NUMBER TWO AB KLINK (Netherlands)

1/9/2010- The cabinet negotiations between the CDA, VVD and PVV were in tatters on Wednesday night following the publication of a letter from CDA negotiator Ab Klink saying he cannot be involved in a coalition with Geert Wilders. A 'political alliance with the PVV is an impassable road,' Klink says in a letter to party leader Maxime Verhagen, published by Nos tv. 'That is really the definite conclusion for me personally,' Klink says in the letter which has been published on the Nos website.

Crisis talks
On Tuesday, the CDA began crisis talks about the prospective government alliance with Geert Wilders' anti-Islam PVV. Those talks continued on an individual basis with the party's 21 MPs, including Klink, on Wednesday. In the letter, Klink writes that Wilders was planning to distance himself from the coalition partners when a new government agreement was presented to the press. 'He states he will come with a completely different story than the VVD and CDA at the presentation of the accord,' Klink wrote. 'He suggested colleagues would look the other way at that moment and predicted the leaders of the coalition partners would blush.'

Support
'No one should expect a unifying vision,' Klink wrote. And in return for his support for €18bn worth of government spending cuts, Wilders will demand much tougher immigration and integration rules, Klink says. Wilders has already made it clear he will continue to speak his mind about Islam despite his party's prospective role in propping up a minority government. Party leader Maxime Verhagen has declined to comment on the letter. 'I don't give up easily,' Nos tv quoted him as saying.
© The Dutch News

up  

GEERT WILDERS: VICTIM OF HIS OWN BELIEFS (Netherlands)

Try to imagine what it's like to be Geert Wilders and you’ll feel sympathy for him, says Dutch political science Professor Meindert Fennema in his book Geert Wilders – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, published on Tuesday. “His involuntary isolation from the outside world – due to strict security measures – and the indifference shown by his colleagues about this have only reinforced his distrust in the political elite."

1/9/2010- Mr Wilders, who is the outspoken leader of the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands, has been the enfant terrible of Dutch politics for a couple of years now. He regularly peppers his speeches with strong statements about Islam, immigration or Europe, often railing against generally accepted political ethics. Mr Fennema was curious to see where this vehemence came from. His describes his findings in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

High price
According to Mr Fennema, Geert Wilders has been heavily influenced by a strong belief that everyone should have the right to say whatever he or she wants. “But this also means he antagonises people and that he needs eight security men buzzing around him constantly. It’s a high price he has to pay. It has made him harder," Mr Fennema says. “But at the same time, it gives you a feeling of empathy for him. He’s the victim of his strong belief to exercise his right to say what he wants."

Fairytale
The book’s title refers to classic fairytales and legends like Merlin and Harry Potter. A sorcerer’s apprentice who is trained by his master, but who hasn’t completed that training yet. According to Mr Fennema, Mr Wilders’ master is Frits Bolkestein, former leader of the conservative VVD party, who asked Mr Wilders to join his team in 1990. “Mr Bolkestein never really cared too much about what the political circles in The Hague dictated”, Mr Fennema says. “He preferred to vent his political ideas outside parliament which appealed to Mr Wilders. His interest in Mr Bolkestein was fuelled by the fact that they both felt they operated on the right wing of the VVD. Mr Bolkestein’s firm point of view on Islam was fully embraced by Mr Wilders."

High flying
The master gave his apprentice many opportunities to develop into a well-known and high-flying conservative MP. But they couldn’t control everything. Mr Bolkestein left The Hague in 1998 for a top job at the EU, leaving an unhappy Mr Wilders behind, as he found the new VVD leader Hans Dijkstal too lenient in his views on Islam and immigration. “Then came 9/11 and the rise and subsequent murder of far-right Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn," Mr Fennema says. “It made Mr Wilders angry but he felt his voice wasn’t heard in the VVD. He had become adrift."

Turning the tide?
But it was too late to turn the tide, Mr Fennema says. The apprentice threw away his modesty and embraced much stricter policies than Mr Bolkestein, who witnessed his apprentice’s rise as an independent MP whose new Freedom Party became an important force in Dutch politics. “I blame the threats on his life and the subsequent security measures," says Mr Fennema when asked what made Mr Wilders the man he is today. “There are very few politicians who are really aware of what that means to someone. Mr Wilders thinks his colleagues don’t show enough solidarity which has isolated him even further. It shaped his hatred for the political elite."

'No threat'
At Tuesday’s book presentation, Mr Bolkestein said Mr Wilders does not pose any threat to Dutch society. “He has said all kinds of things, but he’s never done any harm," Mr Bolkestein said. “The threats aimed at him and his security are a much bigger threat."

Blessing in disguise
Mr Fennema admits he is not the definitive biographer of Mr Wilders. “I play but a small role. I am the narrator, not the fly on the wall. Mr Wilders didn’t want to cooperate on this book, which has been a blessing in disguise in some way. The book is a personal story on how I see Mr Wilders. I’m not the one to give any moral judgements. That’s up to the reader." Although Mr Fennema has his doubts about the former apprentice (“His opinions divide Dutch society strongly”) he is certain that Mr Wilders is not a temporary phenomenon. “The issues he raises will dominate Dutch politics in the next decades. You might wonder how long Mr Wilders himself will remain a strong force in Dutch politics, but the problems he addresses are here to stay."
© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

up  

CDA CHAIRMAN URGES MEMBERS TO QUIETEN DOWN ABOUT PVV ALLIANCE (Netherlands)

30/8/2010- Christian Democrat chairman Henk Bleker has urged senior party members to stop going public with their criticism of the party's prospective alliance with Geert Wilders' anti-Islam PVV. A string of elder statement have urged the CDA to pull out of talks on forming a new government with the PVV and the VVD Liberals. 'Our former ministers and prime ministers can express their concerns but I am not happy with the way they are doing it,' Bleker told a radio programme. 'They are writing letters and looking for publicity while the party office door is wide open for debate and contact,' Bleker said. He called on CDA members to let the party return to order over the next few weeks. 'Let us not damage our party any more,' he said.

VVD
Meanwhile, elder VVD statesman Frans Weisglas has called on other party members to make their opposition to an alliance with the anti-Islam PVV known, news agency ANP reports on Monday. Weisglas, a former chairman of the lower house of parliament, has always opposed a link up with Geert Wilders' party. He says he is surprised by the lack of public opposition from other VVD members because he knows many think like he does. 'On the basis of Liberal principles alone we should have nothing to do with a party which stigmatises groups of people,' Weisglas said. 'I urge VVD members to make their feelings known to [party leader Mark] Rutte. Let your criticism be heard.'
© The Dutch News

up  

RUSSIA WORLD CUP BID CHIEF DEFENDS RACISM TRACK RECORD

The head of Russia's 2018 World Cup bid has defended the country's track record in dealing with racism in football.

2/9/2010- Alexei Sorokin denies Russian football has a problem with racist fans, despite recent controversy in a league game. Lokomotiv Moscow fans celebrated Peter Odemwingie's sale in the transfer window with a banner showing a banana and the message: "Thanks West Brom". Lokomotiv escaped sanction, but Sorokin told BBC Sport: "The RFU doesn't accept any demonstrations of racism." The Russian Football Union's (RFU) disciplinary body held a board meeting on 25 August, but opted not to fine Lokomotiv and Sorokin, who is also the Russian Football Union's director general, insisted that the banana banner was not "racist". "I know that this banner applied to a certain player and to the manner of how he played in his last matches," said Sorokin. Apparently fans were not happy with the fact that he plays better for Nigeria and worse for the club. That's why they have shown their satisfaction after he left. And there is nothing racial in it. "If there would be another player - from Russia, Denmark, Norway or Japan, for example - the reaction could be the same. In Russia 'to get a banana' means 'to fail a test somewhere'. "Welliton and Vagner Love have obtained some fans' choice awards and they are really popular among people," added Sorokin referring to the Spartak Moscow strike and CSKA Moscow forward. "So what's the problem? "About five years ago one Russian international was booed as well and received the same banners. This is a free expression of the will but there are all kinds of measures for those who misbehave.

"The Russian football union doesn't absolutely accept any demonstrations of racism and roughly restrains them with all available methods." However Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy director of the Russian SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis, which monitors extremism in Russia, suggested the RFU had its head in the sand over the issue of racism. "If everybody sees racism in this banner, including the player, it's absurd to refuse," said Kozhevnikova. "The phrase 'to get a banana' existed in the time of the Soviet Union and has almost disappeared from the slang. The RFU simply doesn't want to recognize that banner as a racism. "According to officials, recognition of the problem will make Russia's chances to host the World Cup uncertain. That's a typical logic of officials but it's senseless to refuse the problem. "Officials don't understand that recognition of the problem is a step to it's resolution." Like England, who are bidding to stage the 2018 World Cup, Russia have just been visited by a Fifa inspection team. According to Sorokin, the Russian Football Union and Fifa did not mention the subject of racism during the world governing body's visit. "No, we didn't discuss it," said Sorokin. "I don't understand why did everybody decide that there is such a burning question for us? There is no such problem in itself."

After the BBC interviewed Sorokin, Odemwingie spoke in depth about the banana banner claiming that a minority of fans had been involved but alleged that black players are regularly subjected to insults in the Russian league and that the authorities did not act. "Coloured players feel the open racism there and I recall a game against CSKA Moscow when their fans started the sick noises - I wouldn't have any of it and gave it back to them," said Odemwingie. "This was widely publicised because photographers had shots of my protest but still nothing was done to curb it. "Sadly, it's a picture of a minority group in Russia - it really makes you feel sick but that is what it is." Lokomotiv might not have been fined over the Odemwingie banner, but in the past other Russian clubs have been punished. In 2007 Spartak Moscow were fined about £13,000 when some of its fans held up a banner "Monkey go home" at a game after Welliton joined the club. And two years ago Uefa fined Zenit St Petersburg £38,000 after Marseille players were targeted by some of the Russian club's fans. "Our disciplinary committee fined Zenit for racist conduct by their fans, the use of pyrotechnics and the display of a political banner during their match against Marseille," said a Uefa statement in 2008. Fifa's executive committee will decide who will host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022 at a meeting in Zurich on 2 December.

Russia's rivals to host the tournaments are England, the United States, and joint bids from Belgium and the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar are applying for the 2022 finals only. After the Fifa inspection visit the world governing body told Russia it must begin building their stadiums and infrastructure immediately if they are to host the finals in 2018 or 2022.
© BBC News

up  

REPORT: 100 RUSSIAN SKINHEADS ATTACK CONCERTGOERS

30/8/2010- Scores of bare-chested skinheads attacked a crowd of about 3,000 people at a rock concert in central Russia on Sunday, beating them with clubs, media reports said. Dozens of people were left bloodied and dazed in the attack, television and news agencies reported, and state news channel Rossiya-24 said a 14-year-old girl was killed at the concert in Miass, 900 miles (1,400 kilometers) east of Moscow. Fourteen ambulances were called to the scene, the channel said, citing witness accounts. The motive for the attack was not known, and authorities couldn't be reached for comment. The ITAR-Tass agency said local police had refused comment. Many of Russia's top rock acts were attending the "Tornado" rock festival, the agency said.

Russia has an ingrained neo-Nazi skinhead movement. Attacks on dark-skinned foreigners in Moscow and St. Petersburg have been relatively common in recent years. The January 2009 murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasiya Baburova prompted a Kremlin crackdown on ultranationalists, who were blamed for the killings. In April, a Moscow court banned the far-right Slavic Union, whose Russian acronym SS intentionally mimicked that used by the Nazis' infamous paramilitary. The group was declared extremist and shut down. Then the group's leader, Dmitry Demushkin, told The Associated Press it tried to promote its far-right agenda legally and warned that the ban would enrage and embolden Russia's most radical ultranationalists.

Russia's ultranationalist movement is so deeply embedded in the country's culture that militant groups have sprouted up around Russia to fight it. Anti-racist groups regularly spearhead attacks on ultranationalists, sparking revenge assaults in an intensifying clash of ideologies. Neo-Nazi and other ultranationalist groups mushroomed in Russia after the 1991 Soviet collapse. The influx of immigrant workers and two wars with Chechen separatists triggered xenophobia and a surge in hate crimes. Racially motivated attacks, often targeting people from Caucasus and Central Asia, peaked in 2008, when 110 were killed and 487 wounded, an independent watchdog, Sova, said. The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights estimated that some 70,000 neo-Nazis were active in Russia — compared with a just few thousand in the early 1990s.
© The Associated Press

up  

LEADING ARTICLE: A SOUR WHIFF OF HOMOPHOBIA (uk, the Independent)

3/9/2010- There is a rather unpleasant message carried between the lines of the Foreign Secretary's extraordinary public statement denying he had had an "improper relationship" with a male aide, or indeed "with any man". It is the idea that scandal still attaches to the fact that a politician may be gay. It was there in the case of the resignation of the Liberal Democrat Treasury minister David Laws. It is the subtext to some of the dislike about Labour's éminence grise, Lord Mandelson. There is no evidence to suggest that Mr Hague's pained statement should be taken at anything other than face value. But it nonetheless suggests something significant about the undercurrents within British political culture. Of course those who have raised questions about Mr Hague's behaviour insist his sexuality is not what concerns them. They are questioning, they say, his judgement about how others would perceive his decisions to share a bedroom with his aide on the election campaign trail, as if sharing a room was an admission of a sexual relationship. They are questioning the wisdom of promoting that 25-year-old aide from constituency work to being a £30,000-a-year special adviser at the Foreign Office, ignoring the fact that such advisers are often not employed for international expertise but for their intuitions on how foreign policy decisions might play in the meaner world of domestic politics. They are even questioning his judgement in not ignoring the internet allegations and being stung into issuing a public denial – an announcement which has, inevitably, gained far wider publicity than did the original blog gossip.

In all this it is hard not to detect the sour whiff of homophobia. That is what persuaded Mr Hague to include in his statement the unnecessary details of his wife's repeated miscarriages, as if the distressed politician felt the need to prove that he is heterosexual. Mr Hague's grubby critics rhetorically assert that their accusations would have been as pertinent had Mr Hague's young protégé been a women rather than a man. They imply the hoary old non sequitur that a man who will betray his wife will betray his country. Yet Mr Laws betrayed no one in his sexual relationship. He broke the rules about the disclosure of expenses, of course, and that is why he had to resign. But his motive was not financial gain so much as a desire to hide his homosexuality from his Catholic mother. At the root of so many of these scandals is fear of the stigma that still attaches in many parts of society to being gay. And there is something very troubling about that.
© The Independent

up  

MANY MIGRANT WORKERS IN UK ARE MODERN-DAY SLAVES, SAY INVESTIGATORS (uk)

Channel 4's Dispatches says thousands of workers endure sexual, physical and psychological abuse from employers

30/8/2010- Thousands of foreign domestic workers are living as slaves in Britain, being abused sexually, physically and psychologically by employers, according to an investigation to be screened tonight. More than 15,000 migrant workers come to Britain every year to earn money to send back to their families. But according to a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation, many endure conditions that campaigners say amount to modern-day slavery. Kalayaan, a charity based in west London that helps and advises migrant domestic workers, registers around 350 new workers each year. About 20% report being physically abused or assaulted, including being burnt with irons, threatened with knives, and having boiling water thrown at them. "Two-thirds of the domestic workers we see report being psychologically abused," said Jenny Moss, a community advocate for the charity. "That means they've been threatened and humiliated, shouted at constantly and called dog, donkey, stupid, illiterate."
A similar proportion say they were not allowed out alone and have never had a day off. Nearly three-quarters say they were paid less than £50 a week.

"The first thing to understand when we're talking about slavery is that we're not using a metaphor," said Aidan McQuade from Anti-Slavery International. "Many of the instances of domestic servitude we find in this country are forced labour – a classification that includes retention of passports and wages, threat of denunciation and restriction of movement and isolation." Lobby groups and charities say that a large proportion of domestic workers are paid less than £50 a week for working 20-hour days. Others have their wages withheld completely. In some cases, the workers are young people who were trafficked over to the UK as children and forced to endure years of violence and forced labour. The programme also investigates claims that foreign diplomats are among the worst offenders. Their workers, unlike those brought in on a domestic worker visa, cannot change their employer and face being homeless or being deported if they escape. The Dispatches study says it is also extremely difficult to prosecute diplomats for treating their workers as slaves.

Accurate figures are hard to establish because the abuse happens behind closed doors. But campaigners say that every year, hundreds of domestic workers run away from employees they claim have mistreated them. Marissa Begonia left three young children in the Philippines when she came to Britain as a domestic worker 16 years ago. Now the head of Justice 4 Domestic Workers, a new campaigning organisation run by and for migrant workers, Begonia says most of their clients are forced to work abroad, without ever seeing their families, because of extreme poverty in their home countries. "It's a matter of life and death," said Begonia. "You have two choices only: you watch your children die slowly, starving, or you leave them and come to the UK to work to make sure your children survive." The Metropolitan police specialised crime unit specifically targets forced labour, including domestic workers. "We've now got 10 cases of domestic servitude we are investigating," said detective chief superintendent Richard Martin, who heads the unit. "Some victims are being chained to the kitchen sink, working seven days a week, 20 hours a day, for little or no pay. We have had cases of workers being forced to eat scraps off the table, so some of them are not even fed properly, and are assaulted and abused. We've had cases where women have been raped."

Children are also being bought to the UK to work in conditions of slavery. Christina was trafficked from Nigeria to London when she was just 12 years old. She says the woman in charge of her was of Nigerian origin, but worked as a British civil servant first with the Home Office and then Customs and Excise. "I got beaten up all the time but I had no choice: I had nowhere to go," said Christina, who worked for the woman for five years, until she escaped in 2005. "She hit me with a frying pan and with a belt, so many, many times. It was horrible. I wanted to die."

From abuse to justice
Patience is a domestic worker from west Africa, whose former boss was a London solicitor. She says that for almost three years she worked 120 hours a week for little money. "I was treated like a slave, not allowed to go out, to make friends … she'd pinch me, slap me. I didn't have anyone to talk to." A neighbour helped Patience escape, but then, she says, the police did not believe her. She finally won her case at an employment tribunal and took action against the police, who reopened the investigation. The solicitor was convicted of assault.
© The Guardian

up  

THE FAR-RIGHT AS AN ANTI-LIBERAL PENDULUM IN BRITAIN

30/8/2010- On Saturday, August 28, a demonstration, organized by a far-right group named English Defense League (EDL) in a northern English town of Bradford resulted in intense clashes with the police and with a counter-demonstration led by anti-racist groups and the local Asian diaspora, mainly of Pakistani origin. The two groups, divided by a strong police force, threw bottles and stones at each other and at the police. As a result, 13 members of the far-right EDL were detained by the police. The main accusation against them was that the EDL was granted a right to hold a ‘static’ protest, but not a public march. It is doubtful whether a demonstration of some 700 supporters of a rather marginal political group could be worth of mentioning. Bur actually, the event in Bradford raises a lot of questions, which the dominant British (as well as European, as a whole) establishment would like to avoid.

First, the choice of Bradford, a townlet in Northern England with a population of little more than 200,000 people was not accidental. The fact is that this small town has a huge Asian, namely Pakistani, i.e. Muslim diaspora. And therefore it has for a long time been a target for far-right demonstrations under the slogans of ‘defending the British identity’. A similar demonstration occurred last year, and riots of 2001 virtually tore the town apart. This time, fearing a repetition of 2001, about 10,000 local residents signed a petition demanding a ban on the planned far-right demonstration under anti-Muslim slogans. The local authorities banned the march, but the ban did not prevent the EDL supporters from coming in bus-loads to Bradford for participating in the action.

Second question arises if we connect the demonstration in Bradford with the last year’s elections to the European Parliament. It is worth mentioning that in June 2009, for the first time ever, two candidates from the far-right British National Party (BNP) become European MPs. And that was far from being a single accident in the all-European trend of nationalist and isolationist movements gaining momentum. In fact, the wave has swept over all of Europe, with a wide spectrum of anti-immigrant, nationalistic and xenophobic elements showing much better results in comparison with the previous years and arriving at mainstream politics from what previously seemed just a marginal political outskirt.

Now, the nationalist parties that have asserted themselves as a part of mainstream may say as much as they will that they do not have anything to do with the events in Bradford. Well, maybe legally they don’t – the EDL is quite new phenomenon in British politics, and at the moment there is no solid ground to state that it is organizationally linked with the BNP. But if we look at the public statements made by BNP leaders in 2009, we could see a clear cross-reference between the slogans of the Bradford demonstration and the BNP program mottos. As BNP leader Nick Griffin said a year ago, "this (Britain. – B.V.) is a Christian country and Islam is not welcome, because Islam and Christianity, Islam and democracy, Islam and women's rights do not mix.” Is there ground to wonder why the demonstration in Bradford was held under anti-Islamic slogans?

So, the spiritual and ideological roots of the far-right demonstration in Bradford seem to be very clear. But there still remains a question whether the anti-immigrant trend is a one-way traffic. Remember that the strict measures against public demonstration of Muslim identity (like wearing head-scarves in public places) in France have led to a number of clashes initiated by French Muslims, but actually drove the French far-right to oblivion. At the same time, the more liberal stance of other European, as well as North American government which allow immigrants not only to settle in the country, but also to continue abiding their national and religious laws, often in a violation of European (i.e. Christian) rules and values, has resulted in a steep rise of far-right sentiments and has brought to the frontline of mainstream politics a number of far-right parties which were virtually unknown some ten years ago (Austria, the Netherlands are just among most striking examples).
As for Britain, it has always been rather skeptical of the all-European integration. But, at the same time, has followed the general liberal guidelines in its immigration policies. Isn’t it the time to gather stones scattered away in the previous years?
© The Moscow Times

up  

FOOTBALL HOOLIGANS TO LAUNCH 'EUROPEAN DEFENCE LEAGUE' IN AMSTERDAM

31/8/2010- The English Defence League (EDL), the anti-Muslim 'street army' composed largely of football hooligans that burst onto the front pages of British newspapers in the last year as a result of its often violent protests, is to hold a rally in Amsterdam in October, EUobserver has learnt. The EDL is to demonstrate in support of Geert Wilders, the Dutch anti-immigrant firebrand, with a recently launched French Defence League and Dutch Defence League, modelled on the English group, to join them along with other anti-Islamic militants from across Europe. Formed in 2009, the EDL has held over a dozen often rowdy marches and demonstrations in cities across Britain over the last year. Protests that attracted only a couple hundred militants at the end of last year are now bringing thousands out. On Saturday (28 August) a rally in Bradford, West Yorkshire, home to the second-largest community of south Asians in the UK, turned ugly when members clashed with police and pelted anti-racist activists with bricks, bottles and smoke bombs. Thirteen were arrested, according to media reports.

Anti-racist watchdogs call the EDL one of the most worrying developments on the far-right scene in the UK since the 1970s and the days of the National Front, an openly white supremacist and neo-Nazi political party. The group now appears to be meeting with some success in exporting its novel brand of nativism to the continent, a combination of anti-Muslim vitriol, agressive street marches and attempts to rope in football hooligan gangs by holding rallies around the same time as matches. Graeme Atkinson, European editor of Searchlight magazine, a UK anti-fascist journal, says that the group is "tapping into a widespread and growing Islamophobia in society," in a way that other far-right groups, weighed down with explicitly fascist iconography and discourse, have not been able to. He warns against panic regarding the new group, but says authorities should not be blind to the growth of such moevements, describing the new formation as "an utterly socially divisive, politically toxic ideology."

New kind of far-right outfit
Distinct from the traditional far right, the EDL, which originally grew out of the "football casual" subculture, claims to be multi-ethnic, to target "jihadism" rather than Muslims, and employs a rhetoric more in keeping with the fringes of neo-conservative anti-Islamism than the nostalgia for Nazism of other far-right formations. The group's mission statement declares that anyone is welcome, so long as they are "integrated:" "We are non-racist/fascist and anyone is welcome if they want to live under English values and fully integrate into our way of life." "English Defence League members recognise that this threat is one that must be stopped at all costs. Our Christian, Jewish, Sikh, and Hindu friends all have tales to tell with regard to Islamic Imperialism," the group's "Exposing the myths" page reads. One of its leaders is Guramit Singh, a Sikh born in Britain, and it says it is, like Mr Wilders, strongly pro-Israel and maintains both Jewish and LGBT "divisions" while backing a ban on the building of mosques and seeking the burqa to be outlawed.

Its LGBT wing was set up after the Dutchman visited the UK in March when he had been invited to show his short anti-Islam film, Fitna, in the House of Lords. At a demonstration in Bolton in March, a man held up a pink triangle alongside anti-Islam placards and banners. Its LGBT division has 107 members at the time of writing. In what would normally be anathema to traditional, antisemitic far-right outfits, the group has taken to brandishing the Israeli flag at rallies and, according to the Jewish Chronicle, its Jewish division had signed up hundreds of members on its Facebook page until the page was recently deleted, though Jewish leaders in the UK actively discourage young people from joining, with the Board of Deputies of British Jews describing the organisation as "built on a foundation of Islamophobia and hatred which we reject entirely."

Links to BNP, Swedish Democrats
As with other formations in Europe that far-right monitoring organisations describe as "far-right-lite," notably Mr Wilders, Denmark's People's Party and the late Pim Fortuyn, some in the EDL try to distance themselves from, in the words of the group's website, the "Adolf-worhipping neanderthals." But these same monitors say that while the EDL is not an outright "fascist" or neo-Nazi formation, links with the traditional far right remain, with many leaders being ex-members of the British National Party. Its leader, Tommy Robinson, is an ex-BNP activist. One of the organisation's main strategists is 45-year-old IT consultant Alan Lake, who has advised the far-right Swedish Democrats on tactics.

Meanwhile, at every demonstration but two in the last year, dozens have been arrested. The group's marches regularly involve anti-Muslim sloganeering and frequently descend into violence. At a rally in Dudley in July, a Hindu Temple was attacked as well as a number of shops, restaurants, cars and homes. Figures for the size of the organisation and its supporters are hard to pin down and no figures have emerged for the new continental franchises. The group claims it has "thousands" of supporters and has spawned a Scottish Defence League and a Welsh Defence League, both of which have held rallies in their respective countries, as well as an Ulster Defence League. Police meanwhile reckoned that 1,500 to 2,000 EDL demonstrators marched in Newcastle upon Tyne in May this year, one of its bigger rallies.

Ground Zero 'Mosque'
The EDL has received endorsements from Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, two of the main agitators behind the right-wing movement opposed to a Muslim community centre being built two blocks away from the site of Al Qaeda's attacks on New York in 2001, the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. Geert Wilders, for his part, is scheduled to speak at a protest in Manhattan on 11 September this year by Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) against the building of the community centre. Although Mr Wilders is not thought to have direct links with the EDL, SIOA is an affiliate organisation of Stop Islamisation of Europe (SIOE), which has marched alongside the English hooligan movement. SIOE itself was founded in 2007 by Anders Gravers, previously the leader of a tiny Danish party called Stop the Islamisation of Denmark (Stop Islamiseringen af Danmark), in reaction to the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoon controversy. On 11 September 2007, the SIOE staged a demonstration in Brussels.

Other affiliate organisations have been created in 10 European countries including Denmark, Russia, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden and the United States of America. Mr Gravers is reportedly on friendly terms with Mr Wilders, is his "friend" on Facebook and will be speaking alongside him at the anti-Mosque rally in New York. The demonstration in Amsterdam is due to take place on 30 October, according to the EDL website. Mr Wilders heads to court at the end of next month on charges of inciting racism. The case begins 5 October, with a verdict expected 2 November. Joining them there will be members of the recently formed Dutch Defence League' and French Defence League, both modelled on the EDL. The latter draws its members from the ranks of far-right supporters of the Paris Saint Germain football club, known in France for long harbouring a far-right element among the club's supporters, although elsewhere on the continent, according to EDL spokesman Steve Simmons, not all the defence-league-linked groups have their origins in football hooliganism.

Paris Saint Germain supporters
The French Defence League, which employs both an anglophone version of its name and "Ligue Francaise de Defense," founded in May and more latterly takes the name Ligue 732, after a group of Paris Saint Germain supporters, that, according the outfit, "tries to unify all French Casuals, Ultras and French Fans to fight against Radical Islam." The 732 figure references the year that the French king Charles the Hammer, the grandfather of Charlemagne, won a victory at the Battle of Tours halting Islamic expansion in western Europe. Mr Simmons told EUobserver that militants from the "anti-Jihad movement" in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and "other European states" will join them in Amsterdam for the launch of what is termed the "European Defence League" or, alternately, the much cuddlier "European Friendship Initiative."

"I would also like to take this opportunity to announce a new demonstration that is to take the English Defence League global," Tommy Robinson, the pseudonym of the group's leader, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, a former member of the BNP, wrote on the EDL website in a missive in July. "You may be aware that the great man Geert Wilders is in court for race hate charges," he continued. "The EDL has been in contact with our European brothers and sisters and we have decided that on Saturday, 30 October the European Defence League will be demonstrating in Amsterdam in support of Geert. We hope that all of you will be able to join us for this, what promises to be a landmark demonstration for the future of the defence leagues." "We feel that freedom of speech is being eroded and a lot of appeasing of radical muslims and Islam in general. Geert has the courage to take this on and we want to support him," the group's spokesman, Steve Simmons, told EUobserver.

Counter-Jihad conferences
In June this year, the EDL sent two representatives to Counter-Jihad 2010 - a conference in Zurich held by the International Civil Liberties Alliance, which does not focus on civil liberties at all but is instead an anti-Muslim movement. It was the fourth such pan-European conference in as many years. The Zurich conference may have been where the idea for a European Defence League originated. According to an EDL report back from the meeting, which attracted "counter-Jihad" activists from Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, the UK and the US, the conference "built on the important work that had already been done as well as doing the groundwork for new initiatives and the inclusion of new organisations and activists in the work of the global counter jihad."

Mr Simmons for his part in a slight detour from the announcement of Mr Robinson, told EUobserver that the Amsterdam rally will see the launch of the "European Friendship Initiative," and that a "European Defence League" will be just part of this broader alliance of "Defence-League"-branded movements. He said that talks are ongoing with in particular German, Dutch, Belgian and French groups ahead of the Amsterdam demonstration. Already, in April this year, the EDL took part in a small pro-Wilders rally of 100 people in Berlin outside the Dutch embassy, organised by the Burger Bewegung Pax Europa (Pax Europa Citizens' Movement). He also explained why the EDL and allied groups are heading to the Netherlands: "We feel that freedom of speech is being eroded and there is a lot of appeasing of radical muslims and Islam in general. Geert has the courage to take this on and we want to support him."

He downplayed the group's rowdy reputation: "We want to turn it into a sort of celebration rather than a protest, with food, drink and entertainment." He claimed that off-duty serving UK, Dutch and German soldiers which had joined "Armed Forces Unite," (which grew out of "Armed Forces Defence League," a Facebook group for EDL-supporting soldiers and sailors) have offered to help Dutch police to steward the event. The city of Amsterdam government for its part is aware of the plans for a demonstration and is tracking developments, but will not discuss details of preparations due to "security considerations." In Bradford over the weekend, in what was a massive police operation, some 1,600 officers from 13 forces took part.
© The EUobserver

up  

BRADFORD RIGHT-WING DEMO: FULL LIST OF CHARGES (uk)

30/8/2010- Two men were charged with offences today after Saturday's controversial city centre demonstration in Bradford by far-right group the English Defence League. A total of 14 men were detained on suspicion of a range of offences during and after the protest, which was attended by fewer than 1,000 EDL supporters. West Yorkshire Police said two men have been charged and eight others have been released on bail pending further inquiries. One man has been released without charge and three have been given fixed penalty notices. A 37-year-old Bradford man was charged with possessing an offensive weapon and bailed to appear in court on September 8. A 23-year-old Walsall man was charged with a public order offence and bailed to appear in court on December 6. During the demonstration, bottles, cans, stones and three smoke bombs were thrown at opponents gathered nearby. Nearly 100 supporters of the far-right group climbed over a temporary 8ft barricade - aimed at keeping them inside the city's Urban Gardens - to get on to neighbouring waste ground from where they threw missiles at police. As the skirmishes were breaking out, nearly 300 people gathered for an alternative event hosted by Unite Against Fascism/We Are Bradford about half a mile away at Crown Court Plaza. In the days before the rally, Bradford community leaders called for calm, fearing demonstrations could provoke a violent reaction to rival the 2001 Bradford riots. Initially the EDL intended to march in Bradford with a planned protest by Unite Against Fascism on the same day. A high-profile campaign was started to stop the EDL march and Home Secretary Theresa May eventually authorised a ban on any public processions over the August Bank Holiday weekend.

West Yorkshire Police said the 14 people arrested were dealt with in the following ways:
# A 37-year-old Bradford man was arrested for possessing an offensive weapon. He has been charged with the offence and bailed to appear at Bradford Magistrates Court on September 8;
# A 32-year-old Bradford man was arrested for assaulting a police officer. He has been interviewed and released without being charged;
# A 23-year-old Walsall man was arrested and charged with an offence under Section 4a of the Public Order Act. He has been bailed to appear at Leeds Magistrates' Court on December 6;
# A 24-year-old Bradford man was arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. He has been bailed pending further inquiries;
# A 42-year-old Wolverhampton man was arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. He was released after the event and issued with a fixed penalty notice for disorder;
# Two men aged 22 and 20 along with two youths aged 16 and 15, all from Bradford, were arrested on suspicion of wounding after an incident in which a stone hit a man on the head causing a slight injury. All four have been released on bail pending further inquiries;
# A 24-year-old Wakefield man was arrested under Section 4a of the Public Order Act and has been given police bail pending further inquiries;
# A 23-year-old man from Birmingham was arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. He was released after the event and was issued with a fixed penalty notice for disorder;
# A 24-year-old man from Halifax was arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. He was released after the event and was issued with a penalty notice for disorder;
# An 18-year-old man from Bradford was arrested on suspicion of violent disorder following alleged missile throwing. He has been released on bail pending further inquiries;
# A 24-year-old Bradford man was arrested in relation to two alleged assaults and also criminal damage after a missile was thrown at a coach on the M62. He has been bailed pending further inquiries.
© The Yorkshire Post

up  

N.Y. ANTI-MOSQUE LEADER DEFENDS GROUP THAT CLASHED WITH BRITISH POLICE (usa)

She says nothing wrong with goals of right-wing, anti-Muslim activists.

30/8/2010- A leader in the movement protesting plans to build an Islamic cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan is defending the actions of a right-wing, anti-Muslim group that was involved in violent clashes with British riot police over the weekend. Pamela Geller is a conservative blogger, activist, and a principal organizer of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), which seeks to block construction of the proposed center. The group is sponsoring a protest rally at the site on the 2010 anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a week from Saturday. In a posting on her Atlas Shrugs blog, Geller expresses sympathy for the goals and actions of the English Defense League (EDL), a far-right group implicated in violent clashes with police during an anti-Islamic demonstration last Saturday in the northern English city of Bradford. "The stated goal of the EDL is to oppose militant Islam and the sharia," Geller writes. "What's wrong with that? Everything to the PC, leftist slaves in the media and the government." In an e-mail to Declassified, Geller affirmed her support for the EDL and defended the group's actions in Bradford, which, with its nearby sister city of Leeds, has a substantial Muslim population, many of Pakistani extraction.

Geller wrote: "The media has been defamatory and libelous towards any and all counter jihad activists, including the EDL, which far from being neo-Nazi and racist, is pro-Israel and has Sikh and other non-white members and spokesmen. The EDL's own explanation of what happened in Bradford is here. As you can see from that statement, a group of Islamic supremacists and Communists actually began the violence by throwing rocks at EDL members. White supremacists at the demonstration did not represent the EDL, and EDL members actually removed them from the demonstration." British media reports—including accounts from outlets known for their conservative political slants—and official police statements on the Bradford clashes do not offer much support for, and in some cases contradict, the account offered by the EDL. In an official chronology of last Saturday's events posted on the Web site of the West Yorkshire Police, the first reference to violence is a 2:30 p.m. entry that says: "Missiles have been thrown in the area around the Bradford Urban Gardens, however, this has been contained and the police are utilising their resources to manage the current situation."

Bradford Urban Gardens is the location at which U.K. authorities had allowed the EDL to stage its rally; a left-wing counterdemonstration was booked a half mile away. (The EDL had wanted to conduct a march through the city, but authorities denied permission.) A report from The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper known for its conservative sympathies, says violence broke out "as chanting EDL supporters began throwing missiles towards Asian youngsters and anti-fascist activists who had been taunting them with shouts of 'Nazi scum off our streets.' " The Telegraph said that as EDL protesters got off buses that had taken them to the site, they shouted slogans at locals, including "Allah-Pedophile," "We want our country back," and "We love the floods"—a reference, the paper said, to flooding that's now devastating much of Pakistan. The Daily Maill, a newspaper perhaps even more conservative thanThe Telegraph, also reported on the violence. The paper's Web site carries photos of what it says are EDL protesters, with one caption reading, "Crossing the line: EDL supporters in hats, hoods and balaclavas hurl missiles at police in Bradford today."

By her own account, Geller's support of the EDL and other anti-Muslim groups in the U.K. has put her at odds with what are considered mainstream groups representing Britain's Jewish community. In an interview with the conservative FrontPage Magazine Web site, Geller claims that rabbis and prominent Jewish groups in Britain had urged Jews to boycott a demonstration that a group called Stop the Islamization of Europe (SIOE) organized last December to protest plans to build a mosque in the North London neighborhood of Harrow. According to Geller, the Community Security Trust, which keeps watch on extremist and anti-Semitic activities in the U.K., much like the Anti-Defamation League does in the U.S., urged Jews not to support the SIOE protest, as did unnamed rabbis who said the protest's "only purpose" was "to spread hatred and fear." Geller accused U.K. Jewish groups like the CST of "aiding and abetting Islamic jihad and Islamic anti-Semitism." A person familiar with the views of British Jewish leaders, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said mainstream Jewish groups regarded the English Defense League as "politicized football hooligans."

In an e-mail to Declassified, Geller acknowledged that some epithets that The Telegraph attributed to EDL protesters in Bradford were "in bad taste, although in saying that I am not accepting the accuracy of The Telegraph account, and also understand that words said in anger are not always words the speakers would endorse in moments of reflection." In a move apparently designed to avoid such embarrassments at her group's upcoming 9/11 event, she said, "We have already published several notices warning that inflammatory signs will be removed." Geller said the EDL itself acknowledged that there may have been neo-Nazi thugs among its ranks: "The left and real neo-Nazis frequently attempt to infiltrate EDL rallies in order to discredit the EDL. This is amply documented. Both have an interest in seeing the EDL fail: the left so that there will be no serious resistance to its agenda, and the neo-Nazis so that there exists no respectable alternative to them in opposing the British elite, and also because the neo-Nazis have generally aligned with the Islamic jihad that the EDL resists." She added that while she would not assert that the EDL "can do no wrong, I just refuse to accept accounts of EDL misdeeds from sources that have been proven in the past to have lied about EDL activities."
© Newsweek

up  

FAR-RIGHT PROTESTERS CLASH WITH POLICE IN UK

28/8/2010- A right-wing group that opposes what it calls the spread of Islam in Britain clashed with riot police in northern England on Saturday, throwing bottles, rocks and a smoke bomb at authorities. The demonstration by the English Defense League occurred in Bradford, a city with one of the country's largest Pakistani and Muslim communities. The clashes began as the police kept about 700 English Defense League protesters apart from a leftist group that had called a counter-demonstration nearby. One English Defense League protester was taken away with a leg injury and five people were arrested, police said. Bradford saw some of the U.K.'s worst riots in 2001, when racial tension between whites and South Asian immigrants resulted in looting, arson, and attacks on immigrant-owned businesses. More than 180 people were charged with rioting in that incident. The city had braced for similar unrest Saturday because the English Defense League had predicted that thousands of its supporters would descend on the city. But riot police, some riding horses, outnumbered the activists, penning them in with barricades to keep them away from the counter-demonstration by United Against Fascism. The two opposing groups had clashed during similar rallies last year in northern English cities such as Leeds and Manchester. The English Defense League, which insists it is a peaceful organization, opposes what it calls the spread of Islam, Sharia law and Islamic extremism in England. Its opponents say the group is racist and stages violent protests.
© The Associated Press

up  

TEN-POINT PLAN FOR COMBATING HATE CRIME

Human Rights First calls on all governments to implement the following Ten-Point Plan for combating violent hate crimes:

1. Acknowledge and condemn violent hate crimes whenever they occur. Senior government leaders should send immediate, strong, public, and consistent messages that violent crimes which appear to be motivated by prejudice and intolerance will be investigated thoroughly and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

2. Enact laws that expressly address hate crimes. Recognizing the particular harm caused by violent hate crimes, governments should enact laws that establish specific offenses or provide enhanced penalties for violent crimes committed because of the victim's race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, mental and physical disabilities, or other similar status.

3. Strengthen enforcement and prosecute offenders. Governments should ensure that those responsible for hate crimes are held accountable under the law, that the enforcement of hate crime laws is a priority for the criminal justice system, and that the record of their enforcement is well documented and publicized.

4. Provide adequate instructions and resources to law enforcement bodies. Governments should ensure that police and investigators-as the first responders in cases of violent crime-are specifically instructed and have the necessary procedures, resources and training to identify, investigate and register bias motives before the courts, and that prosecutors have been trained to bring evidence of bias motivations and apply the legal measures required to prosecute hate crimes.

5. Undertake parliamentary, inter-agency or other special inquiries into the problem of hate crimes. Such public, official inquiries should encourage public debate, investigate ways to better respond to hate crimes, and seek creative ways to address the roots of intolerance and discrimination through education and other means.

6. Monitor and report on hate crimes. Governments should maintain official systems of monitoring and public reporting to provide accurate data for informed policy decisions to combat violent hate crimes. Such systems should include anonymous and disaggregated information on bias motivations and/or victim groups, and should monitor incidents and offenses, as well as prosecutions. Governments should consider establishing third party complaint procedures to encourage greater reporting of hate crimes and conducting periodic hate crime victimization surveys to monitor underreporting by victims and underrecording by police.

7. Create and strengthen antidiscrimination bodies. Official antidiscrimination and human rights bodies should have the authority to address hate crimes through monitoring, reporting, and assistance to victims.

8. Reach out to community groups. Governments should conduct outreach and education efforts to communities and civil society groups to reduce fear and assist victims, advance police-community relations, encourage improved reporting of hate crimes to the police and improve the quality of data collection by law enforcement bodies.

9. Speak out against official intolerance and bigotry. Freedom of speech allows considerable latitude for offensive and hateful speech, but public figures should be held to a higher standard. Members of parliament and local government leaders should be held politically accountable for bigoted words that encourage discrimination and violence and create a climate of fear for minorities.

10. Encourage international cooperation on hate crimes. Governments should support and strengthen the mandates of intergovernmental organizations that are addressing discrimination-like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, and the Fundamental Rights Agency-including by encouraging such organizations to raise the capacity of and train police, prosecutors, and judges, as well as other official bodies and civil society groups to combat violent hate crimes. Governments should also provide a detailed accounting on the incidence and nature of hate crimes to these bodies in accordance with relevant commitments.
© Human Rights First

up  

BROADCASTER AGREES TO AIR NEW FAR-RIGHT PARTY AD (Sweden)

TV4, the Swedish television broadcaster which last week refused to air a campaign advert for the far-right Sweden Democrats, has agreed to send a reworked version.

2/9/2010- The commercial network said in a statement it "decided Wednesday to broadcast the new campaign ad that the Sweden Democrats have sent in ... after deciding last week not to show an earlier version." The initial version, which appears on the party's website, shows a race in the dark between an elderly woman and women in burqas pushing prams with a slogan promising to safeguard pension funding at the expense of immigration. In the new advert, which TV4 has agreed to air, the whole race sequence is blacked out and covered with the words: "censured by TV4." "We stopped the last film because it breached both (our) guidelines ... and our constitutional freedom of speech law banning incitement to hatred," TV4 Group's communications chief Gunnar Gidefeldt explained in the statement. "This new film, in our opinion, does not do that," he added, insisting it posed no problem to air an advert accusing the broadcaster itself of censorship. "It is up to SD (Sweden Democrats) to choose what message they want to give with their film. If they choose to accuse us of something that is incorrect, we can definitely take that," he said. The Sweden Democrats, which according to recent polls could enter parliament for the first time after upcoming September 19 elections, complained of censorship last week after TV4 refused to air its initial advert and said Monday that private radio station SBS had also backed out of a deal to broadcast a radio version. On Wednesday, however, the party said it was pleased the revised version of the film would be aired. "We have done our best to remove all the elements in the film that TV4, with a huge amount of imagination, felt was politically offensive," Sweden Democrats spokesman Erik Almqvist said in a statement. "We are sorry that political censorship occurs in Sweden, but we now look forward to seeing our new advert on TV4 from September 6th-17th," he added. According to a survey published Sunday, the Sweden Democrats were polling at 4.6 percent of the vote, enough to enter parliament. If they manage to pass the 4.0-percent threshold for the first time, political analysts believe the party could be in a powerful position with the two main blocs on course to split the vote.
© The Local - Sweden

up  

SWEDEN'S FAR-RIGHT FURIOUS: 'DEMOCRACY IN DANGER'

Swedish media refused to air anti-immigration ad campaign.

30/8/2010- The small far-right Sweden Democrats party said Monday a second media outlet had refused to air its anti-immigration ad campaign, insisting it was being censored and Swedish democracy was in danger. "That media representatives in this way would take on the role as censors and filter the message voters receive before the election is nothing less than a threat to democracy," Sweden Democrat chief Jimmie Åkesson said in a statement. The party, which according to recent polls could enter parliament for the first time after upcoming September 19 elections, complained last week that private broadcaster TV4 had refused to air its advert and said Monday private radio station SBS had also backed out of a deal to broadcast a radio version. The television advert shows a race between an elderly woman and several women in burqas pushing prams with a slogan promising to safeguard pension funding at the expense of immigration. The radio version meanwhile featured the same ad's slogan, a female voice telling voters that "on September 19, you can choose between hitting the breaks on immigration instead of hitting the breaks on pensions. Vote for the Sweden Democrats."

SBS did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but on Friday TV4 told AFP it had decided not to broadcast the advert because it considered it breached Swedish laws prohibiting messages containing hate grounded on race and religion. "In this case it is against religion," TV4 communications director Gunnar Gidefeldt said. Sweden Democrat spokesman Erik Almquist rejected the idea that the ad campaign was illegal, and said the party was working on a new advert with a similar theme that it expected TV4 to broadcast. "It would be ridiculous if they were to say the new film was illegal, so we expect it to go through," he told AFP. According to a survey published Sunday, the Sweden Democrats were polling at 4.6 percent of the vote, enough to enter parliament. If they manage to pass the 4.0-percent threshold for the first time, political analysts believe the party could be in a powerful position with the two main blocs on course to split the vote.
© The Swedish Wire

up  

SWEDEN DEMOCRATS ASK LEGAL OFFICIAL TO RULE ON AD

The far-right Sweden Democrats have submitted their own election film for review by one of the country's top legal officials after TV4 refused to broadcast the advert on grounds that it promoted religious hatred.

28/8/2010- The party, which could win its first ever parliamentary seats in next month's general election, disputes TV4's interpretation of the advert and wants the Chancellor of Justice to rule on whether the film represents a form of hate speech. The half-minute advert shows a race in which an elderly woman with a walker is chased by a group of burqa-clad women pushing prams with a slogan promising to safeguard pension funding at the expense of immigration. The party wanted to pay the channel 1.5 million kronor ($201,240) to run the ad. As an alarm-like sound plays in the background, a voiceover says, "All politics are about priorities - now you have a choice." The clip promotes the Sweden Democrats' demand that, like other parties, pensioners' taxes be cut to the same levels of wage earners. However, they claim their plans would be funded by reducing immigration.

On its website, the party claimed that the film would be shown on TV4, TV4 Fakta and TV4 Sport from September 6th to 17th, but the network changed its mind after viewing the advert. "We decided not to broadcast it," Gunnar Gidefeldt, communications director for TV4, told AFP. Swedish law on freedom of expression prohibits messages that contain hate grounded on race and religion, said Gidefeldt. "In this case, it is against religion," he said. According to party press secretary Erik Almqvist, the ad does not violate Swedish law. The party has screened the clip for lawyers, who said that it does not break the law against inciting racial hatred. "The conflict we see as a result of mass immigration is not related to the person's origin, but rather a conflict of values, as far as we can see," said Almqvist in reference to the burqa-clad women in the video. TV4 CEO Jan Scherman disagreed.

"The film is contrary to the democracy clause in the Radio and Television Act and also against democracy clauses which the Sweden Democrats, among others, have adopted for the equality of all people, regardless of whether it is the European Convention or the UN Charter," he said. "The film is also against the constitution act on freedom of speech that prohibits hate speech," Scherman added. Per Hultmangård, a lawyer at the Swedish Media Publishers' Association (Tidningsutvgivarna), came to a different conclusion. He does not see how the video would violate the law. "I cannot see how this would be hate speech," he told news agency TT. "This is an election ad. The scope is wide for what one can say. They simply play on people's fears. Legally, it is within the allowable framework." However, Scherman stood by his position and referred to an EU directive that is the basis for the wording of the Broadcasting and Television Act. "The directive prohibits incitement of hatred according to race, sex or religion, which supports my decision," he said.

"It is quite clear to me as the editor responsible that those who watch the clip, together with the text, images and sound, very clearly see a group portrayed as intimidating and aggressive. The group is very easily identifiable, belonging to a religion, dressed in a certain way and attacking another group," he added. According to Scherman, that group is the Muslims. "There are probably lawyers and press experts who disagree on this," he said. "It is for TV4 and I to make an independent decision based on our knowledge, experience and perception of the law. It is not possible, even if one gets advice and opinions, to refer to them when making a editorial decision. It must be based on the conclusion that we and I have come to."

The Sweden Democrats could play kingmaker in the election on September 19th, which is up for grabs between the two coalitions. According to a survey from last Friday, just a month ahead of voting, the party was polling at 3.6 percent of the vote, just shy of the minimum of 4 percent that is required to enter Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag. If they can reach this threshold for the first time, political analysts believe the party could be in a powerful position with the two main blocs on course to split the vote.
© The Local - Sweden

up  

SEARCHING FOR GERMANY'S RIGHT-WING POPULISTS

Right-wing populist parties are everywhere in Europe. But in Germany, home to controversial Islamophobe Thilo Sarrazin, the right side of the political spectrum is decidedly vacant. Why?

3/9/2010- The ideas are crudely formulated: Muslim immigrants have contributed nothing to German prosperity; the high fertility rates among the country's Muslim community have resulted in the reduction of Germany's collective IQ; Muslim immigrants would prefer to be on welfare than to work; Jews share a specific gene. Such are the claims promulgated this week and last by Thilo Sarrazin, a member of the board at the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, and a former finance minister with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Berlin city-state government. The outrage was immediate. Politicians of all stripes, from center-right Chancellor Angela Merkel on down, have condemned Sarrazin and the SPD has begun an effort to banish him from the party. Even the central bank has decided to hand him a pink slip. The debate, however, has revealed a gaping void. While there have been several voices who have lent their support to Sarrazin, a political movement espousing his brand of right-wing populism is virtually non-existent in Germany. Aside from a few fringe figures from the right-wing extremist NPD party and a collective nodding of heads from the Islamophobic activists at pro-Cologne, the right side of the country's political landscape would appear to be sparsely populated. In contrast to virtually all of its neighbors -- particularly Belgium, Holland, Denmark and France -- there is no political home in Germany for people like Sarrazin.

'Swarm the Manure'
"Theoretically, there is room for a political party to the right of the (center-right) Christian Democrats," Gero Neugebauer, a professor of political science at Berlin's Free University, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But right-wing populists in Germany tend to be like mayflies. They swarm to the manure, eat their fill, and the next day they are gone."  The fleeting nature of right-wing populism in Germany is almost unique in continental Europe. Belgium has the Vlaams Belang party, the Netherlands has Geert Wilders and France's far right has periodically found significant success at the polls under Jean-Marie Le Pen. In Switzerland, voters supported a populist movement to ban the construction of minarets. Austria's right wing has a long history of political success under now deceased Freedom Party leader Jörg Haider and many eastern European countries, led by Hungary, have an active right wing. Indeed, in much of Europe, Sarrazin's views, if not necessarily part of the political mainstream, would hardly elicit more than a shrug from most given the political platforms they enjoy. Still, the almost unanimous opprobrium German political parties have heaped on Sarrazin is misleading. Recent studies suggest that the lack of a robust, right-wing populist party in Germany is more of a political anomaly than an indication of tolerance in the country. According to a study by the University of Bielefeld published last December, fully 46 percent of Germans agree that there are "too many Muslims" in the country. Only 16.6 percent of German respondents agreed with the statement "the Muslim culture fits well into Germany," a result that was the lowest among the eight countries that were surveyed, including the Netherlands, France and Hungary. A survey in July, conducted by the polling institution Emnid for the newsweekly Focus, found that 20 percent of Germans would consider voting for a party to the right of Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Extreme Skepticism of Immigration
One reason for the lack of a political home for such views is perhaps obvious: World War II. "The rejection of racism and fascism is part of the founding myth of modern Germany," Ulrich Kober, head of the integration and education department at the Bertelsmann Stiftung think tank, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It is a major part of our education: Schoolchildren groan at how often they have to hear about the Holocaust." But there are several other hurdles facing right-wing populist parties as well. For one, Germany's mainstream political parties, particularly Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), have long been extremely skeptical of immigration. For decades, the phrase "Germany is not an immigrant country" seemed to be a kind of unofficial party slogan and the CDU is adamantly opposed to Turkish membership in the European Union. The result has been that many of those who might otherwise have been tempted by a right-wing populist party have found a home in the CDU. While Sarrazin's particular brand of ethnic hyperbole is both articulate and vociferous, many of the fears he plays on have long found a place in CDU discourse. In 2000, for example, then senior party member Friedrich Merz kicked off an immigration debate by calling for newcomers to adhere to a German Leitkultur, or leading culture, a term that many felt denigrated other cultures. That same year, Jürgen Rüttgers, then a candidate for governor in North Rhine-Westphalia, coined the term "Kinder statt Inder" -- children instead of Indians -- in protest against a center-left plan to ease immigration rules for IT experts from India and elsewhere. In 2007, Roland Koch -- then running for re-election as the governor of Hesse -- kicked off yet another immigration debate by making the alleged overabundance of "criminal young foreigners" a key element of his stump speech. Additional examples abound.

Political Warfare
"Most right-wing populists have long since found a home in the CDU," says Neugebauer. "Right-wing populism tends to choose only one or two issues from the far right, but not the whole package. But they can only make headway by choosing issues that the CDU doesn't already cover. Finding those issues has been difficult." Germany's weak right wing would disagree, of course. The groups Pro-NRW and Pro-Cologne -- the latter being a regional version of the former in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia -- have generated a modest amount of attention in recent years by waging political warfare against Muslims, mosques and minarets. "The grotesque thing is that the CDU (under Merkel) has undergone a massive migration to the left," Markus Wiener, spokesman for Pro-NRW, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "The CDU has become a centrist social democratic party. The right side of the political spectrum is completely vacant. Fifteen to 20 percent of Germans don't have a political home." Much of the Islamophobic rhetoric used by pro-NRW has been borrowed from right-wing populist parties in Holland, Belgium, France and Switzerland. Indeed, the group has sought to develop a cross-border alliance of such parties in Western Europe.

'No Island of Sanity'
But the fact that Pro-NRW has had only limited success at the polls reflects another hurdle facing right-wing populists in Germany. Whereas immigration in countries like Denmark and Holland were fully liberalized for a time, resulting in the backlash one sees today, German immigration has always been strictly controlled, says Kober. Furthermore, the murder of the Muslim-critical filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamist extremist in the Netherlands in 2004 and the international scandal in 2006 caused by the Muhammad caricatures published in a Danish newspaper galvanized conservatives in those two societies. Germany, though, has dodged such divisive events and has likewise not been hit by Islamist terror. "German immigration policy has been cautiously modernized in a way that has brought the population along with it," Kober says. Nevertheless, Kober emphasizes, there is nothing to prevent the development of a populist right wing in Germany in the future. Indeed, though Sarrazin has ruled out starting a political party himself, the debate he has triggered could ultimately serve to push more people to the right. "We aren't that different from our neighbors," Kober says. "The xenophobic and anti-Muslim potential is there. I certainly wouldn't bet my life on Germany being an island of sanity."
© The Spiegel

up  

BUNDESBANK SACKS 'RACIST' BOARD MEMBER (Germany)

3/9/2010- Germany's central bank agreed to dismiss a controversial board member yesterday amid a growing public outcry over his vitriolic criticism of Muslims and Jews in a new bestselling book that has been widely condemned as racist. The Bundesbank's board said it had reached a unanimous decision to fire Social Democrat Thilo Sarrazin, 65, a former Berlin city government finance minister. Under German law, the step must be approved by the country's federal president, Christian Wulff. Mr Sarrazin's dismissal appeared almost certain as the Bundesbank's statement came just hours after Mr Wulff had urged the bank to act, warning that the increasingly heated discussion about his remarks threatened to "damage Germany internationally". Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the move, saying she had "great respect" for the decision. She had previously expressed her dismay over Mr Sarrazin's racial theories and condemned them as "completely unacceptable".

Mr Sarrazin, the son of a doctor and a Prussian aristocrat, outraged Germany's Jewish community by saying in an interview that "all Jews share a certain gene". The general secretary of the Central Council of Jews suggested afterwards that he should apply for a job as spokesman for race issues in the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party. However, most of Mr Sarrazin's criticisms have been directed against Muslims living in Germany. In a book published on Monday entitled Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab (Germany is digging its own grave), he claims that Muslim immigrants will soon outnumber indigenous Germans because of their higher birth rates, and that they are disproportionately involved in crime and dependent on the welfare state. "I don't want the country of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be largely Muslim or want Turkish or Arabic to be widely spoken," he argues in his book. "I don't want women wearing headscarves or the daily rhythm set by the call of the muezzin."

Yesterday, four days after its publication, Mr Sarrazin's book was topping Amazon Germany's bestseller list. His race theories have been published widely in the mass circulation Bild newspaper and featured as a debating topic on German television talkshows. "With no other religion is there such a fluid connection between violence, dictatorship and terrorism as there is with Islam," Mr Sarrazin also claims. Germany's Muslim community has predictably condemned his remarks. However, some commentators have given his remarks a guarded welcome and implied that he has broken the politically correct taboos concerning race and integration that have held sway in Germany since World War II.

"A clever man has got on the wrong track here with his desire to provoke and with his theories about the rapid decline of the German people," remarked the liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. "But he has addressed a problem that will remain long after the waves of outrage have subsided: the enormous integration deficit of the Muslim minority in Germany." Mr Sarrazin said earlier this week that he would like to die a Social Democrat. However, this poses a problem for his centre-left party which attracts immigrant voters. Leading Social Democrats have been deliberating over calls for his expulsion. Sigmar Gabriel, the party leader, yesterday said Mr Sarrazin could remain a member if he renounced some of his ideas.
© The Independent

up  

SARRAZIN'S REMARKS 'UNACCEPTABLE,' SAYS GERMAN CHANCELLOR

3/9/2010- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin's controversial remarks about Turks, Arabs and Muslims were unacceptable, daily Hürriyet reported Friday. "Many Turks live in Germany, and I think most of them have adapted really well," Merkel told Hürriyet in an interview. Merkel said it was not possible to accept Sarrazin's claims that Turkish, Arab and African immigrants were making Germany "more stupid." In his latest book, "Germany Does Itself In," Sarrazin also claims that Muslim immigration and a high birth rate among Turkish immigrants will harm the country's long-term economic potential. Bundesbank on Thursday voted to seek Sarrazin's dismissal, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported. "It is the paramount duty of the German state to actively incorporate immigrants into our society," Merkel said. "We would like to present all the possibilities of an open country to our immigrant citizens. These people should receive their share from social, economic and cultural life. But we also expect them to actively ask for this and show effort."  Merkel called Sarrazin's remark that immigrants were making Germany "more stupid" a "ridiculous" claim. "Problems should be openly expressed, but positive improvements should not be neglected," she said. "There are many examples in Germany that show successful adaptation is taking place."  "There are many Turks living in Germany," Merkel said. "Most of them are third- and fourth-generation immigrants. I think they have adapted very well. ... I state this clearly: What we mean by adaptation is not forced assimilation and denying of one's cultural roots. When Turks have worries and problems, I am their chancellor, too."
© The Hurriyet Daily News

up  

BUNDESBANK LOOKS TO REMOVE CONTROVERSIAL BOARD MEMBER(Germany)

The German central bank has formally asked German President Christian Wulff to remove controversial executive board member Thilo Sarrazin from the bank leadership following his disparaging comments about Muslim immigrants and his claim that all Jews share a specific gene.

2/9/2010- Germany's Central Bank doesn't want him either. Just days after the Social Democrats announced that they would pursue an effort to throw Thilo Sarrazin, a former finance minister for the party in the government of the city-state of Berlin, out of the party, the Bundesbank announced on Thursday that it has sent a formal request to German President Christian Wulff to remove Sarrazin from his position on the bank's board. "The executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank today took a unanimous decision to submit to the federal president an application for the dismissal of Dr. Thilo Sarrazin from the executive board," reads a brief statement on the bank's website. The move comes just a day after Wulff had pressured the Central Bank to take action against Sarrazin. "I believe that there is much the executive board of the Bundesbank can do to ensure that the debate doesn't harm Germany -- particularly internationally."

Preferring Welfare over Work
The debate in question is that over Sarrazin's new book, published on Monday, in which he claims that Muslim immigrants to Germany have harmed the country's prosperity more than they have helped it. Furthermore, he wrote that Muslim immigrants would prefer to be on welfare than to work and that, due to what he claims to be higher fertility rates among Muslim immigrants, their rising share of the population is resulting in a reduction of Germany's collective IQ. In a separate interview, Sarrazin also said that Jews share a specific gene. Sarrazin was named to the Bundesbank board in May of 2009 following a seven-year stint as the man in charge of finances for the city-state of Berlin. During his time in the Berlin government, Sarrazin repeatedly raised hackles for his provocative comments, mostly with respect to German welfare recipients. He also made headlines for calling civil servants "pale and foul smelling" and students "assholes." More recently, however, he has shifted his attention to immigrants -- with a particular emphasis on Muslims. In an interview with the culture magazine Lettre International last autumn, he said that Muslim immigrants are incapable of integrating into German society and that they "constantly produce little girls in headscarves." he also said that "a large number of Arabs and Turks in (Berlin) ... have no productive function other than in the fruit and vegetable trade."

'The Public's Trust'
Following the fury generated by those comments, the Bundesbank punished Sarrazin by taking important responsibilities away from him. An SPD effort to throw him out of the party due to that interview failed this spring. All Bundesbank executive board members are required to sign a code of conduct agreement which requires that they "at all times behave in a way that maintains and furthers the reputation of, and the public's trust in, the Bundesbank." Positions on the board are filled by way of political appointment. All appointments are approved by the German president. In the 50-year history of the Bundesbank, however, nobody has ever been fired from a position on the bank's executive board. Indeed, the legal framework for such a firing is far from established, and even government lawyers are unclear as to how Sarrazin's removal might proceed. German President Wulff has not indicated when he will reach a decision. A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that "the chancellor has great respect for the independent decision of the Bundesbank's executive board."

Thilo Sarrazin's Urge to Provoke
A Jewish gene, foul-smelling civil servants and immigrants producing little girls in headscarves: German Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin has never been afraid to provoke. SPIEGEL ONLINE has assembled some of his most outrageous statements.
© The Spiegel

up  

GERMANY’S FURIOUS DEBATE ON IMMIGRATION

1/9/2010- Immigration has long been a peculiarly sensitive subject to debate in Germany, tangled as it is with memories of the abuse of national identity and the persecution of Jews, gypsies and other minorities during the Nazi times. Normally, however, it does not involve the mighty Bundesbank, an institution that is committed to steering clear of emotional controversies. Thilo Sarrazin has put paid to that. As a board member of the German central bank, the controversial former Social Democrat finance minister of the city of Berlin has tipped the country into a furious debate on immigration and the integration of immigrants – especially Muslims – into society. His new book – “Deutschland schafft sich ab”, which translates roughly as “Germany’s getting rid of itself” – is an undisguised attack on the perils of excessive immigration. Its attack on the failure of Muslim migrants to integrate into German society has become the principal topic of political debate in Berlin. It has also sorely embarrassed the Bundesbank and the Social Democratic party. His critics claim that far from launching a necessary debate on immigration, he has stifled it by encouraging a stand-off between popular prejudice and political correctness. Mr Sarrazin’s core argument is that the indigenous German population is in terminal demographic decline. It is threatened by an “underclass” of Islamic immigrants that is growing faster, while refusing to integrate into German society, he says.

Many commentators agree that Germany needs a more open debate on immigration and integration. But they condemn Mr Sarrazin for undermining reasoned argument, especially when he went on to suggest in interviews that “all Jews share a certain gene”. “The political correctness of one side prevents sober consideration of the problem,” said Reiner Klingholz, director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, in an article for Spiegel magazine. The other side “confuses half-truths with prejudices” to produce such a negative image of immigrants that any reasonable policy became impossible. Yet the debate in Germany has changed over the past two decades, since a wave of asylum-seekers in the early 1990s, fleeing civil war in the Balkans and the collapse of the Soviet Union, caused a backlash against further immigration. At that time, the official line of the federal government was that “Germany is not a land of immigration” – in contrast to countries such as Britain and France, with former empires and a tradition of migration from their colonies. It was a question of semantics. Hundreds of thousands of migrants who came to work for the postwar German economic miracle in the 1960s from Turkey and southern Europe were called “guest workers”, on the confident if spurious assumption that they would go home when their contracts finished. Not recognised as immigrants, they could not claim citizenship. German nationality law was based exclusively on blood, not place of birth. Only in 1999 were second generation immigrants finally given a limited right to choose German citizenship (they have to decide before the age of 23) if they were born in the country.

Today Jörg Dräger, executive board member of the Bertelsmann Foundation, believes the debate has matured and the idea of immigration – at least of skilled workers – is increasingly accepted. Government statistics suggest some 16m people are of “migrant origin” in Germany (in a population of 80m). A Bertelsmann survey last year found that two-thirds of migrants felt at home in Germany, and identified with the country. Yet the idea of a “managed immigration” policy is still controversial. A survey by the Allensbach polling institute last month suggested that only 26 per cent of voters would favour immigration as a partial solution to the skill shortage in the German labour market. An attempt by the pro-business Free Democrats to encourage skilled migrants by introducing a “points system” in the coalition agreement foundered on objections from conservative Christian Democrats. They believe that employers want cheap labour, and should do more to train domestic workers. The reality is that the past two years have seen net immigration reversed into a net outflow. But few politicians seem to know or care. It is a statistic that does not fit with the popular perception.
© The Financial Times

up  

DECISION ON DIVISIVE GERMAN BANKER POSTPONED

1/9/2010- Germany's central bank has not yet decided what measures it could take following comments by a board member that stereotyped Muslims and Jews, which it said violated its code of conduct, a spokesman said Wednesday. The discussions surrounding Thilo Sarrazin were brought up at a regular board meeting Wednesday, but no result was expected before Thursday, the spokesman said. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with bank policy. The central bank on Monday already distanced itself from Sarrazin, saying his remarks were harmful and violated the Bundesbank's code.

Sarrazin maintains Muslim immigrants in Europe are unwilling or incapable of integrating into western societies and has cited studies he says prove that "all Jews share a certain gene." The issues are the basis of his book that caused an uproar even before its Monday release. Sarrazin's comments sparked outrage from lawmakers and community leaders, and many agreed with Chancellor Angela Merkel saying he should be removed from the bank's board. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Wednesday told journalists Sarrazin's remarks were "irresponsible nonsense" that violated his duty to show political restraint as a Bundesbank board member.

Sarrazin insists his comments were taken out of context and his remarks are covered by freedom of speech. Although Merkel's government condemned his comments, it cannot force his departure due to the Bundesbank's independence. To remove him from its six-member board, the Bundesbank would have to ask German President Christian Wulff to order it. A survey for broadcaster N24 published Wednesday showed that a slight majority of 51 percent of 1,000 Germans polled thinks Sarrazin should not be fired, while 32 percent want him removed from the bank's board. The poll carried out by survey institute Emnid on Tuesday had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent, N24 said.

This is not the first time Sarrazin has provoked controversy. He was forced to resign part of his duties at the central bank last year, following remarks about Berlin's Arab and Turkish populations. In his new book, the 65-year-old maintains that immigrants have taken from Germany's welfare system without contributing enough to the country. Sarrazin's party, Germany's left-leaning Social Democrats, launched proceedings Monday that could force him from the party. Lamakers from the far-right NPD party in Saxony's state parliament, meanwhile, held a banner saying "Everybody knows it: Sarrazin is right" during a visit by the German president to the legislature on Wednesday.
© The Associated Press

up  

GERMANY MUST TAKE A CLOSE LOOK AT RACISM IN THE COUNTRY (opinion)

Comments by German central banker Thilo Sarrazin show how urgently Germany needs a debate about racism in the country, according to Hendrik Cremer of the German Institute for Human Rights.

31/8/2010- "Germany is doing away with itself: How we are putting our country on the line" is the title of Thilo Sarrazin's new book, due to appear in the bookstores next week. Sarrazin is a board member of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank - a prominent public position. Excerpts ahead of publication show that Thilo Sarrazin continues to do what he has been doing for a while now: in public announcements, he has assumed the task of splitting German society along the pattern of "we" and "the others." Within the group of "the others," he identifies sub-groups like "Turks," "Arabs" or "Muslim migrants;" in a generalized and derogatory manner, he assigns members of theses groups negative characteristics. Sarrazin rejects accusations of a racist structure of thinking, and resorts to a stylistic device that is not unusual among people propagating such ideas. He laments the constrictions of political correctness, while conducting verbal racist attacks. 

In Germany, the term racism is often equated with the human rights crimes committed by the Nazis. Racism is often mentioned only in connection with politically organised rightwing extremism. In court cases, the use of the term "xenophobia" has led to prosecutors or judges also speaking of "xenophobic" motives when judging a violent attack. But the use of such language will lead to a victim of physical violence feel even more ostracized. The example shows that in Germany, a country of immigration, not enough thought is given to racism and its current manifestation. The narrow comprehension of racism in Germany, by no means sufficiently discussed, has other consequences, too. People do not give appropriate attention to everyday racism below the threshold of violence and structural discrimination, for instance in the educational sector or on the job market.

Of course, stereotyping, ostracism and discrimination in democratic societies can not be equated with the systematic, monstrous crimes of the Nazi era. Comprehending racism as limited to rightwing extremism, however, blanks out the state of scientific research as well as the international and European debate on the issue. Here, the comprehension of racism is already more far-reaching. Over the past few years, several international organisations have criticized the narrow German understanding of racism. In 2008, the United Nation's Committee on Racism advised Germany to adopt a wider definition for the term racism as well as for the country's basic approach to fighting racism. In 2009, the European Council's Commission on Racism came to the same conclusion, as did a report this year by the UN special rapporteur on racism.

But Germany has started to move in the right direction. In its October 2008 "Action plan against racism," the German government acknowledged that there are racist sentiments and stereotypes beyond rightwing extremism, and that fighting racism is not limited to fighting rightwing extremism, but must take into account all of society. Racism does not depend on ideas based on theories of ancestry and heredity, even though racial theories are still today propagated along such biological lines. Increasingly, and not only in Germany, racist argumentation relies on ascribing people to different "cultures," "nations," "ethnicities" or religions. One characteristic is this is the construction of supposedly homogeneous groups whose individual members are credited with certain traits. That does not necessarily entail cultural degradation. Constructing groups subdivided into "we" and the "others" with the sole purpose of setting oneself off from the "others" ("They are different, we don't want them here") can also lead to serious social exclusion.

As a signatory of the UN Anti-Racism Convention, Germany has taken on duties that bind the public authority. IIt has also agreed to fight racism in politics and in public life. This is due to the recognition that a one-time commitment to human rights is not sufficient; rather, the commitment must be filled with life, exercised and defended. To what extent discrimination and racism develop in a society depends on the convictions and attitudes of its individual members. Politics, the state and its institutions play an important role: they set the standards. That includes politicians or other state representatives pointing out and countering racism in the public arena. Anything else would thwart integration policies in Germany, which are meanwhile regarded as necessary and right.

So we should welcome the fact that of all people, Chancellor Merkel has branded Sarrazin's remarks as simple and stupid blanket judgements that are highly offensive. But one's reaction should not be limited to a rejection of Sarrazin's assumptions. It should be the starting point for a broad discussion about the understanding of racism in Germany.
© The Deutsche Welle

up  

GERMANY IS BECOMING ISLAMOPHOBIC: THE SARRAZIN DEBATE (opinion)

By Erich Follath

31/8/2010- Thilo Sarrazin's comments about Muslims have triggered outrage in Germany and abroad, but have met with willing listeners among the general public. His rhetoric is slowly bringing about change in Germany, transforming it from a tolerant society into one dominated by fear and Islamophobia. The Pied Piper of Hamelin knew how to fight the plague. He knew catchy, seductive tunes and was successful against the scourge with his unconventional methods. But because society paid him no tribute and refused to pay him the wages he had been promised for his service, he decided to take a radical step and lure away the children of Hamelin. In doing so, he destroyed the very community he had once set out to save.

It is unclear when and why Dr. Thilo Sarrazin, 65, the child of a doctor and a Prussian landowner's daughter, who supposedly did a decent job during his time as finance minister for the city-state of Berlin and who had unusual ideas, became a seducer. Did he see himself as a future chancellor, and was he bitterly waiting in the wings to be nominated by his Social Democratic Party (SPD)? Would he have preferred to become the CEO of Deutsche Bank instead of "merely" a member of the executive board of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank? Does he relish the role of agent provocateur and popular guest on German talk shows? And is he truly worried about the absurd concern that Germany is "doing away with itself" -- as the title of his new book claims -- by tolerating too many foreign influences in its society?

Opinions may differ among those who seek to interpret Sarrazin's behavior. The important thing is that he is someone who has gone from being a tough-talking, audacious politician and anarchic prankster (see quote gallery) to a racist anti-Muslim who makes up nonsense about the genetic basis of intelligence and the "German-Jewish origins of intelligence research." Those ideas have prompted him to voice his concerns over Germany's "cultural identity" and "national character," and to blame Muslim immigrants and their supposed non-culture for all the problems of integration -- ignoring the fact that both the immigrants and the host country have a responsibility. "We," he says, referring to German society as a whole, are unavoidably becoming less intelligent because Muslims, who Sarrazin characterizes as being unwilling to integrate, alien and cognitively challenged, are producing the most children in Germany. Sarrazin magnanimously allows that there are, of course, exceptions in the Islamic world, perhaps a few intelligent Turks here and there. But his views essentially eliminate the need to even address the issue of a controlled immigration policy, of which Sarrazin himself has been such a vehement proponent in the past. Sarrazin, in one of his typical turns of phrase, said that Muslims ought to "disappear." From that point of view, integration is unimaginable, possible only through death -- which is naturally also one way to solve the problem.

Selective Statistics
The respected Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper called Sarrazin's book an "anti-Muslim dossier based on genetics." Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with irritation. Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, suggested that the author consider joining the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). The interior minister of the city-state of Berlin, Ehrhart Körting, a member of the SPD, expects the book to trigger legal action over hate speech. "Thilo is currently drifting away," he says. "He always had a fondness for statistics. But in the integration debate he uses only those statistics that fit in with his image of the enemy." Christian Gaebler, who is head of the SPD in the Berlin neighborhood of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, where Sarrazin is registered, said: "Enough is enough. Should Mr. Sarrazin not go willingly, we are initiating proceedings to throw him out of the party. We will carefully analyze his book and discuss the issue at our next state executive board meeting on Sept. 6." Sarrazin's rhetoric has even triggered outrage abroad. In France, the daily newspaper Le Monde called him a "racist provocateur." But the widespread rebuke among politicians and in the media (his fellow bankers have remained eloquently silent on the controversy) is only one side of the coin. Sarrazin's theories, in the form of excerpts from his book and quotes published in SPIEGEL, the tabloid newspaper Bild and the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, have also found willing listeners within a highly anxious population. In fact, they almost have majority appeal.

Socially Acceptable
The Turkish-German writer and sociologist Necla Kelek made a speech at the presentation of Sarrazin's book on Monday in which she defended his ideas. Kelek is a fan of Sarrazin and has won several awards in Germany, bestowed by people who -- like her -- see all the problems of the world as being caused by Islam. The book was already at the top of the German Amazon's list of bestsellers when it was published. Every threat to eject Sarrazin from his party or his position at the Bundesbank only enhances his notoriety. But if nothing happens, he can feel all the more validated. If Sarrazin were a lone wolf, an agitator in a desert with no supporters, he could be dismissed as a freakish phenomenon. But with his seductive flute-playing, the man now has a host of acolytes, including women of Muslim descent who ostentatiously refuse to wear a headscarf and other copycats. Shrill rhetoric is in vogue, and hysterical Islam-bashing is in full swing. Sarrazin and his fellow cynics became socially acceptable long ago.

Their efforts are having an effect, and are bringing about changes in Germany. The changes aren't sufficiently dramatic to jeopardize democracy right away, but are gradual, like a slow-acting poison. From a cosmopolitan country characterized by religious freedom, Germany is slowly becoming a state that is dominated by exaggerated fears and that exhibits the beginnings of an Islamophobic society. Of course, these fears are not completely unfounded. Conditions in areas like Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood give rise to very real, justified concerns. There are schoolrooms where three-quarters of the students are from immigrant families, students whose German is barely good enough to get by. There are Arab and Albanian family clans that control crime syndicates and receive welfare benefits. There are phenomena like forced marriages and honor killings. In some mosques, imams are encouraging the faithful to engage in Islamist terror. All of this exists, and yet it has nothing to do with ordinary Islam and the day-to-day lives of well over 90 percent of Germany's Muslims. And yet these are precisely the kinds of things that fuel cheap attempts to create stereotypes of Muslims as the enemy.

Part 2: Parallels with 19th-Century Anti-Semitism

"In no other religion is the transition to violence and terrorism so fluid," Sarrazin writes. Former FAZ correspondent and bestselling author Udo Ulfkotte, another prophet of doom, expresses similar concerns when he warns: "A tsunami of Islamization is sweeping across our continent." Dutch writer and columnist Leon de Winter, who is much celebrated in Germany and a frequent contributor to SPIEGEL, claims to have recognized "the face of the enemy" in the outlandish religion and is generally disparaging of Muslims, writing: "Since the 1960s, we have been deceiving ourselves that all cultures are equal." The journalist and writer Ralph Giordano, a moral authority in Germany, is sharply critical of new mosque construction and sweepingly characterizes Islam as a totalitarian religion. And aren't those who tolerate totalitarianism nothing but appeasers? And haven't we seen this once before?

Potential for Violence
There is no question that there are Muslims in Germany who sympathize with Islamist ideas (which doesn't necessarily mean that they are prepared to use violence). A report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, includes 36,270 Muslims in this group, a number that has increased slightly in recent years -- by about 9 percent since 2007. It is also undeniable that suicide bombers worldwide frequently invoke Islam -- a deplorable but not an isolated phenomenon. Every monotheistic religion, through its claim to exclusivity, contains the potential for violence. But no one condemns Christianity as a whole when Northern Irish breakaway factions commit murder in the name of God. We don't blame all Catholics when some of them kill abortion doctors while invoking their faith. And we don't take all of Judaism to task when a Jewish terrorist named Baruch Goldstein slaughters dozens of Muslims during prayers in Hebron while invoking Yahweh. But we do condemn Islam, whose holy book contains about as many passages glorifying violence as the Old Testament (which, unlike the Koran, does mention stoning as a punishment).  Of course, the widespread mistrust of Muslims, which has only grown in recent years, has a lot to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. It is everything but a purely German phenomenon.

'Growing Hostility' in US
In the United States, traditionally a country of immigrants, where Muslims are much better integrated into society than in Germany, the planned construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque room near Ground Zero in New York has triggered a heated controversy. Comments by hate-mongers from Fox News and leading Republicans prompted Time magazine to conclude, in a cover story in its latest issue titled "Is America Islamophobic?" that there are signs of "growing hostility" toward Muslims. The new government in the Netherlands will be forced to tolerate the right-wing populist politician Geert Wilders, who has even proposed banning the Koran. In Italy, Denmark and Austria, populist right-wing parties are scoring political points with their crude anti-Islamic slogans. In Switzerland, a country with a very small Muslim population, they even managed to win a referendum to ban minarets. And in France the banlieues, low-income areas on the outskirts of major cities, are in flames because the French government can offer no solution to the lack of prospects for most Muslim youth. In Germany, which has had at least some success in integrating foreigners, the mood against Muslims is now just as hysterical. A man like Sarrazin is applauded for behaving like a toned-down version of Wilders. But why?

Popular Scapegoat
The widespread support for Sarrazin also shows that there is potential in Germany for a party to the right of the pro-business Free Democratic Party and the conservative Christian Democrats. If Sarrazin were to establish such a party after possibly leaving the SPD, he could be expected to capture at least 10 percent of the vote. Passive, unimaginative politicians, major parties with no real integration policies and, most of all, the quarreling Islamic associations, have contributed to the possibility that the seed of Islamophobia in Germany could germinate and begin to grow when fertilized by people like Sarrazin. The concept of Muslims as the enemy is becoming more targeted, with Islam being held accountable for many social problems, like unemployment, the supposed inundation of foreigners and deficits in education. A religion has become a scapegoat -- and a focal point for intolerance and hate.

Popular Internet sites like the German blog Politically Incorrect don't even begin to take the trouble to draw the necessary distinctions. Some of the postings on the site are indicative of this tendency to paint with a very broad brush, postings like: "Islam is a voluntary mental illness," "It is pointless to grapple with this inferior culture," and "There is only one word to describe Islam: barbaric." The anonymity of the Internet enables a boundless, blind hatred to cross the last thresholds of inhibition. Worshippers of the Prophet Mohammed are variously described as "goat fuckers" or "veiled sluts." "Dirty Muslim!" and "God-damned camel driver" are among the most popular derogatory expressions among young people today. The Prophet Mohammed has more than an image problem. According to an Emnid poll, a majority now finds him almost as distasteful as Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect who authorized Jesus's crucifixion. Some 52 percent of Germans would be opposed to one of their children marrying a Muslim or would only accept it with very strong reservations, while 46 percent would be against one of their children marrying a Buddhist and 30 percent a Jew.

'Unbelievable Hatred'
Professor Wolfgang Benz, the long-standing director of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at the Technical University of Berlin and the co-founder of the Dachau Review with which he established research into concentration camps, now sees parallels between anti-Semitic agitators and extreme "Islam critics." "Populists in the West are responding to the image of the West as the enemy, propagated by demagogues within the Islamic world, with their own image of Islam as the enemy." They use similar tools, exploiting distorted images and hysteria. "The act of equating German citizens who are Muslims with fanatical terrorists is deliberate and is framed as an appeal to popular sentiment." Benz sees the phobia against other cultures or minorities as a defense mechanism. An image of the enemy is constructed by means of generalization and the reduction of factual information to hearsay. A classic example is the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," an anti-Semitic pamphlet written in the late 19th century, which supposedly furnished evidence of a Jewish global conspiracy. Although every detail of the text was debunked as incorrect, Russian czars and, most of all, the Nazis used it to incite the people against Jews. The text is still available today in Islamic countries that agitate against Israel. "Anyone who is -- rightfully -- indignant over the narrow-mindedness of anti-Semites must also take a critical view of the portrayal of Islam as the enemy," Benz wrote in January. Benz has now come under sharp attack for this reasoning. He is the target of verbal abuse and even threats. "I am confronted with an unbelievable hatred," says Benz, even though he has absolutely no intention of trivializing anti-Semitism. But in today's Germany, it appears that few people are interested in taking a differentiated view.

Never Seen Again
Germany is changing. And although it is not yet a consistently Islamophobic society, a Sarrazin republic, it is certainly on its way to becoming one. The Pied Piper of Hamelin was never seen again after his disappearance. It would, with all due respect, be an appealing thought to not hear anything from Thilo Sarrazin for a long time. However, the Pied Piper did not return the children he had abducted. Only two escaped, one blind and the other deaf. Neither of them was able to help the other children -- and so all were lost.
© The Spiegel

up  

BUNDESBANK FACES CONTROVERSY (Germany)

Board Member's Ethnic Slurs in Book and Interviews Spur Calls for His Ouster

31/8/2010- The Bundesbank distanced itself from a board member accused of racism as it scrambled to contain the damage from a growing furor that officials fear could hurt the German central bank's international reputation. Statements by Thilo Sarrazin, a Bundesbank board member with a history of stirring controversy, have "damaged the image of the Bundesbank," the central bank said in a statement issued after an emergency board meeting Monday. "The Bundesbank is an institution that has no space for discrimination," it added. In a new book and in numerous interviews, Mr. Sarrazin, a veteran politician and longtime member of the left-leaning Social Democrats, warned that Germany's low birth rate threatened to make Germans "foreigners in their own country." He has also argued that the nature of Islamic culture has prevented Muslims from becoming more integrated into German society. The outcry over his statements intensified over the weekend after Mr. Sarrazin said in a newspaper interview that "all Jews share a certain gene." Though he was making a broader point about ethnic identity—that people of different ethnic groups have different genetic makeups—many Germans found that his linkage of Judaism and biology echoed the racial theories posited by the Nazis.

The Bundesbank statement, which some observers see as a first step toward pursuing Mr. Sarrazin's ouster, followed a chorus of calls by German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, urging the Bundesbank to take decisive action against the central banker. The Bundesbank board is expected to confront Mr. Sarrazin directly over his actions at a meeting this week. At a news conference Monday to present his new book—"Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab," or "Germany Abolishes Itself"—Mr. Sarrazin said he had done nothing to violate his Bundesbank duties and intended to keep his position. He rejected the notion that his views were discriminatory, saying that critics of his book haven't read it. The fury over Mr. Sarrazin's remarks has left the Bundesbank, a symbol of Germany's postwar revival and one of its most respected institutions, in a difficult position. No board member has ever been expelled and the Bundesbank's board doesn't even have the power to remove a member on its own. Under the Bundesbank's charter, the board can make a recommendation to the German president that a member be fired for "fundamental and sweeping misconduct." What constitutes such a breach and whether Mr. Sarrazin's comments and his writings meet that threshold is unclear, however. The board is expected to make that determination later this week after its meeting with Mr. Sarrazin.

The growing controversy is particularly awkward for Bundesbank President Axel Weber. Mr. Weber is a leading candidate to become the European Central Bank's next leader when Jean-Claude Trichet, the ECB's current president, retires next year. A spokesman for Mr. Weber said the Bundesbank chief didn't have any comment beyond the Bundesbank's statement. Mr. Sarrazin said in an interview last fall that immigrants serve "no productive function beyond fruit and vegetable sales" and referred to female Muslim children as "little headscarf girls." Following that, Mr. Weber persuaded the Bundesbank board to take away some of Mr. Sarrazin's responsibilities. At the time, Mr. Sarrazin issued a public apology in which he said that the strong public reaction to the interview "made him aware" of the "sensitivity" associated with his public position at the Bundesbank, even when he spoke his personal opinion. Mr. Sarrazin, 65 years old, rose through the ranks of the German finance ministry beginning in 1975. As a member of the Social Democratic Party, he served as a deputy state finance minister in the 1990s and as senator for financial affairs, a cabinet-rank position, in the Berlin state government from 2002-09. Many of his party colleagues have responded with dismay to his recent comments. The SPD said on Monday that it had initiated proceedings to expel Mr. Sarrazin, a member of the party for about 40 years.
© The Wall Street Journal

up  

TURKISH LEADER CALLS ON BERLIN TO SACK CENTRAL BANK OFFICIAL OVER RACISM (Germany)

A leader of Germany's Turkish community has urged Chancellor Angela Merkel to fire the Bundesbank's controversial board member Thilo Sarrazin over comments that Muslims are undermining German society.

28/8/2010- Chairman of Germany's Turkish Federation, Kenan Kolat, called for central bank board member Thilo Sarrazin to be removed from his post after fresh comments criticizing Muslims in Germany.  "I am calling upon the government to begin a procedure to remove Thilo Sarrazin from the board of the central bank," Kolat told the German daily newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau on Saturday, August 28. In his book "Deutschland schafft sich ab" ("Germany does away with itself"), Sarrazin claims that members of Germany's Muslim community pose a danger to German society. Sarrazin, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Berlin's former finance chief, was reported in June as saying that members of the Turkish and Arab community were making Germany "more stupid." With his book, Kolat said, Sarrazin had overstepped a boundary. "It is the climax of a new intellectual racism and it damages Germany's reputation abroad," Kolat said.

High birth-rates
In a serialization of the forthcoming book in the German popular daily newspaper Bild, Sarrazin said that Germany's Muslim community had profited from social welfare payments far more than they contributed, and that higher birth-rates among immigrants could lead to the Muslim population overtaking the "indigenous" one in terms of numbers. Merkel's chief spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Wednesday that many people would find the remarks "offensive" and "defamatory," adding that the chancellor was concerned. Members of the SPD have distanced themselves from Sarrazin's comments, while Germany's Green and Left parties have called for his removal from the central bank's board. A Bundesbank spokesman said that Sarrazin's latest remarks were personal opinions, unconnected with his role on the board.

Blanket generalizations
Lower Saxony's minister of social affairs, Ayguel Oezkan, Germany's first-ever female Muslim minister, accused Sarrazin of doing damage to the Muslim community with blanket generalizations. "There are a vast number of hard-working immigrants," she told the weekly German newspaper Bild am Sonntag ahead of its publication on Sunday. "They deserve respect, not malice." "All of those who are involved in society, those who encourage their children, who learn German, who work and pay taxes and those who, as entrepreneurs, provide jobs – all of them deserve respect." In June, 65-year-old Sarrazin was reported as saying that Germany was "becoming on average more stupid" because immigrants were poorly educated.

'Distorted image, half-truths'
Maria Boehmer, the government's commissioner for integration, accused Sarrazin of giving "a distorted image of integration in Germany" that did not bear up to academic scrutiny. "In his comments, he states only half truths," she told Bild am Sonntag. "It is indisputable that, in education, there are currently a lot of immigrants with a lot of catching up to do. It does not take Sarrazin's comments to establish that." In a lengthy interview with weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Sarrazin defended himself against the charge he was encouraging racism. "I am not a racist," he told the newspaper. "The book addresses cultural divisions, not ethnic ones." Last year, Sarrazin caused a storm by claiming that most of Berlin's Arab and Turkish immigrants had no useful function "apart from fruit and vegetable trading." As a result, the central bank stripped Sarrazin of some of his duties.
© The Deutsche Welle

up  

ADL'S ABE FOXMAN DENOUNCES ANTI-MOSQUE RALLY AS 'UN-AMERICAN'

Adam Serwer of the American Prospect is guest blogging on The Plum Line this week.

1/9/2010- Earlier this week, the Sept. 11 victims' families group "Where to Turn" sent out a letter expressing opposition to a planned Sept. 11, 2010 protest of the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero. "Such activities... disrespect the memories of our loved ones on this sacred day at this sacred site," read the letter, which was signed by the group's founder, Dennis McKeon, and posted on Politico. Today, I spoke with Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman, who said he agreed with "Where to Turn" that the rally shouldn't take place. Among those slated to appear is Dutch MP Geert Wilders, whom the ADL has previously criticized for anti-Muslim bigotry. Foxman called the planned rally, and the recent incidents of anti-Muslim bigotry across the country, "un-American."

On the rally:
I would agree with [Where to Turn], this is not a place for political demonstrations, for advocacy, especially on 9/11. This is a place for memory, for families to be together, to memorialize their loved ones, [to have] a moment of reflection and introspection. For people with political agendas to use the place and the moment for their own interests and their own platforms is desecrating the memory and very sad. Especially if some of the families of the victims are asking, their view should be taken seriously and respected.

Foxman had some harsh words regarding the presence of Wilders, as well as for conservative blogger Pamela Geller and her group Stop Islamization of America, which is organizing the protest:
[Wilders] is a bigot, he's an anti-Muslim bigot, and one of the demonstrations being called for is being headed by someone who has an anti-Muslim agenda, often under the guise of fighting 'radical Islam.' The group vilifies Islamic faith and is engaged in [claiming] there's a conspiracy to destroy American values, which is nonsense. The organizer in fact has stated that part of her agenda is to help garner support for Wilders, who is a bigot, who has a long record of anti-Muslim bigotry.

Foxman also said he was concerned about other instances of anti-Muslim incidents around the country:
The debate surrounding the Ground Zero mosque has surfaced, first, a campaign which is in many places directed against building mosques, and it also has focused attention on the anti-Muslim bigotry that exists in this country. It's not new. It has been there. Part of the landscape, unfortunately, of America is that we're not immune to bigotry, to racism, to anti-Semitism. And part of what's out there is a bigotry to immigrants. Jews experienced it, Irish experienced it. Part of our history is there was opposition to building Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues. Now there's opposition to build mosques, and there is, in our landscape, bigotry. Some of it is beneath the surface, and some of it in moments of crisis explodes. That's what we're seeing now. There seems to be a legitimacy that it's okay now to speak out and act out against Islam, and that's why this rally, on this very tragic day for Americans, but most tragic for those who lost their families, to use it and abuse it as a platform for bigotry, is not only tragic, it's un-American.

Foxman and the ADL came under criticism both from this blog and mine, for their position that the Cordoba Initiative should move the project from its current location, several blocks from Ground Zero, out of sensitivity to the families of the Sept. 11 victims. But the ADL has been the only high-profile opponent of the project so far that I've been able to find to also publicly acknowledge and condemn recent anti-Muslim incidents elsewhere. According to SOIA's website, the rally is also supposed to feature John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and conservative activist Andrew Breitbart.
© The Plum Line - Washington Post

up  

FRENCH & OTHER EU COUNTRIES CRACKDOWN ON ROMA - 2

FRENCH ROMA POLICY FINDS SUPPORT AMONG THE FAR RIGHT

3/9/2010- France's policy of expelling Roma to Romania and Bulgaria has attracted a storm of criticism at home and abroad from human rights groups and churches but has found support among some far-right politicians. Philip Claeys, one of two MEPs from the far-right Flemish party Vlaams Belang, said he wants to defend "French policy concerning Roma." "The dismantling of illegal camps, the struggle against petty crime, criminality and prostitution, and the expulsion of foreigners with no legal earnings are perfectly legitimate in a democratic constitutional state," said the Belgian euro-deputy in a statement Thursday (2 September). Getting rid of the Roma camps puts an end to "public order disturbance," he continued. France's own far-right National Front also agrees with the deportations. Its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen described the situation as "a problem caused by the European Union opening the borders between European countries." The statements come in response to France's intention to destroy 300 Roma camps and send their occupants back to Romania and Bulgaria. Meanwhile, the Irish Times reports that Hungary's far-right Jobbik party, which has three seats in the European Parliament and came third (with 17%) in the country's June elections, has unveiled an initiative calling for "anti-social" Roma in Hungary to be placed in special camps. Jobbik leader Gabor Vona called for the compulsory education of Roma children in boarding schools while Jobbik MEP Csanad Szegedi said "public order zones" for gypsies deemed to be anti-social should be set up. "We would force these families out of their dwellings. Then, yes, we would transport these families to public order protection camps," Mr Szegedi said. "At these camps, there would be a chance to return to civilised society. Those who abandon crime, make sure their children attend school and participate in public works programmes, they can re-integrate," he added. Jobbik hopes to make big gains in October's local elections.

The situation of the Roma - the EU's largest ethnic minority - has been the subject of intense debate since France began its expulsions some four weeks ago. It is part of a general security clampdown announced at the end of the July by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who for the first time also explicitly linked immigration and crime. Beyond the far right, the expulsions policy has also found some sympathy among the eurosceptic right. British MEP Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party says that while what Mr Sarkozy is doing appears to "be a bit distasteful" his actions go to the "heart" of the relationship between member states and the EU. "We accept that these people are badly discriminated in their own country, but from 2014 there will be no possibility for Sarkozy to send them home, because they will have total rights of movement, all the transitional arrangements will have ended," he said in a debate on Thursday hosted by EUobserver. Paris' policy, which has seen almost 1,000 Roma returned and over 100 camps emptied, has been strongly criticised by human rights NGOs, a UN panel, the Catholic Church, and politicians across the spectrum in France for targetting a single ethnic group. After weeks of silence, the European Commission on Thursday let it be known that it had doubts about the legality of the policy under EU freedom of movement rules.
© The EUobserver

up  

EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE: ROMA ARE NO 'POLITICAL FOOTBALL'

3/9/2010- The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), consultative body of the European Union, has warned against turning Europe's Roma population into "a political football". During a debate on September 2, which came in reaction to French government action to deport people of Roma origin residing illegally in France, the EESC called for concrete, constructive and responsible action by EU member states. "It is regrettable that this issue, which has serious implications for human beings and for citizenship issues, has become a political football and has been exploited for short-term political advantage. This approach creates tensions and encourages the general public to support discrimination and social exclusion," said EESC President Mario Sepi during the debate. "The European Commission sat down with the French Government to discuss the issue right after the summer break; this shows the importance of the matter," Sepi added, referring to a meeting on August 31 in Brussels. The Committee stressed that in trying to find concrete solutions to the problem of poor, uneducated and unemployed Roma communities, the EU member states must cooperate on hammering out a consistent approach to the issue throughout the EU. A comprehensive, Europe-wide solution has to be based on European directives on free movement of Europeans, on the prohibition of ethnicity-based discrimination and on equal employment opportunities. This point was earlier emphasized by Viviane Reding, European Commission Vice-President and EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship in her response to the French government action. The EESC debate also referred to the Treaty of Lisbon's clauses on the protection of fundamental rights. The new legal instrument includes further measures specifically forbidding discrimination of national minorities and protecting cultural diversity within the bloc.
© Novinite

up  

EU PRESSES FRANCE ON ROMA DEPORTATIONS

The European Commission has criticised France over its expulsions of Roma (Gypsies) and has requested more information about the crackdown.

2/9/2010- An interim report by the commission - the EU's executive arm - says the French policy does not put enough emphasis on the individual circumstances of Roma facing expulsion. France has expelled nearly 1,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria from illegal camps since July. The crackdown is highly controversial. Freedom of movement and non-discrimination are enshrined in EU rules, so France's interpretation of EU law is under scrutiny. The BBC's Christian Fraser in Paris says that under EU rules, the state can expel people who have been in the country for at least three months without a job or are a social burden. But they can be expelled within three months of their arrival if they are deemed to be a threat to public security.

Call for Roma integration
Last week, French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche told the BBC that expulsions were checked on a case-by-case basis. The interim report, signed by three EU commissioners, says the commission wants France to explain "whether and to what extent the safeguards required... have been applied" as far as the Roma are concerned. The commission says that before expulsion a person's age, health and time spent in France all need to be considered. The French government said it was "scrupulously respecting European law" and helping deported Roma reintegrate. It also said most of the repatriations were voluntary. France pays those who agree to leave 300 euros (£249), plus 100 euros for each of their children, Reuters news agency reports. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said 300 illegal Roma camps are to be removed. On 25 August EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding voiced concern about the French expulsions. "It is clear that those who break the law need to face the consequences. It is equally clear that nobody should face expulsion just for being Roma," she said. "There is a broad consensus in Europe that what is needed now are concrete and forward-looking measures to improve the social integration of Roma. "We need, in particular, to tackle the root causes leading Roma to abandon their homes and move across borders."
© BBC News

up  

GYPSIES AFRAID OVER VIOLENT 'GANG ATTACKS' (uk)

Reports of violent gang attacks are spreading fear in some of Britain's traveller communities.

3/9/2010- They include claims of groups of around 20 Polish and Irish men, all armed, attacking travellers, as well as stories of children being abducted and held hostage in return for money and jewellery. While filming a group of Roma gypsies for a documentary, BBC Two's Revealed Extra I had rare access to young people living in the communities. I witnessed panic after hearing terrifying accounts of attacks on travellers and gypsies. Megan, a Roma gypsy from near Cambridge, said she knew some of the alleged victims. "The stories have been passed around. We've heard about it, and some relations we know, it's happened to them. It's really bad." Megan and her family have now moved from the site they've lived on for the last two years because of the fear of being attacked. She explained: "Apparently there are a couple of gangs going round targeting traveller families and taking all their possessions. "I've never known it to happen in my lifetime, it's very shocking." Another traveller, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she'd heard of two separate cases of children being sexually assaulted - one of them supposedly in Luton.

Facebook 'warnings'
The community has been informing each other about the attacks through social networking sites. The creator of a Facebook group set up to warn travellers said she knew a family who were badly beaten after handing over money and jewellery. "I know for a fact it was done just over four weeks ago," she wrote. "The robbers even made their 14-year-old grandson watch as they beat his grandparents." Pea, 19, lives on a site near Bedford. He questions just how much of what he's heard is true, but says he does believe the attacks are happening. "I've heard there are a lot of bad people going around taking things they shouldn't, doing things they shouldn't." The police are warning travellers to be vigilant, but say so far they've received no evidence to support any of the claims, and nobody has come forward to report any crimes. The Gypsy Council said it was aware of the rumours, but hadn't heard of anything first-hand. It wants travellers who have been attacked to come forward. However, Pea told Revealed Extra that contacting the authorities wasn't the done thing in their communities. "It's going to be over pretty soon," he said. "They're going to walk into the wrong camp. I think they're going to sort it out their own way... whatever that is I don't know."
© BBC News

up  

SARKOZY IS RIGHT ABOUT THE ROMA (uk, opinion)

Should French tax-payers have to pay for schools and services and training to yank their families up to minimally acceptable French living standards?
By Mary Dejevsky

3/9/2010- Not long after taking office, the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, found himself in trouble for saying that Britain was "not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken, 13th-century country". Afghans saw his comment as evidence that colonial and racist views about their country persisted. So did many British liberals. It is not a view Dr Fox has repeated. But he was not wrong, at least not nearly as wrong as his critics made him out to be; at worst he was a few centuries off. His mistake was to imply the existence of stages of development, which is tricky territory to negotiate in polite Western society these days – even though, paradoxically,"less developed" is now preferred as a definition to "third world". You must never imply that a country is "backward", or, if you do, even hint that backward might be inferior to advanced. At least in Afghanistan, it is we who are the incomers (outsiders, invaders, occupiers, choose your term) and we can leave the country to its own devices. The times for French-style "civilising missions" are gone. But the uncomfortable cohabitation of divergent cultures and living standards may only just be beginning – much closer to home. Take France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy has got into as much trouble as Liam Fox, did – much more, in fact, as his "mistake" passed from word to deed.

Towards the end of the French summer holiday, President Sarkozy gave instructions that the Roma camps and shanty towns that had mushroomed on the edge of French cities and suburbs should be broken up and their inhabitants rounded up and deported. The condemnation has resounded around Europe. His motives have been called into question: was he not, perhaps, indulging in base demagogy to divert attention from his own unpopularity? Had he not ridden roughshod over the law – after all, the Roma are citizens of the European Union, with the right to move around freely? The Vatican has weighed in, and the UN, in the shape of its Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which called on France do more to integrate Roma families, educate their children and settle them in decent housing. Which, of course, is admirably idealistic, and absolutely right, but not much use if you are a French citizen, who has lived in France all your life, paid your taxes and woken up to find a third-world – let's use the word – encampment at the bottom of your garden, which expands every day. What are the authorities supposed to do? These are not travellers who buy a farmland plot and move on to it on a bank holiday weekend in breach of planning regulations; this is an incursion of an entirely different order.

When Italy faced a similar problem a couple of years ago, the government stood by and turned a blind eye to some pretty nasty vigilantism. In France, it has not come to that, perhaps because Mr Sarkozy acted. In condemning him, however, you need to have an alternative to offer, and it is pretty hard to find one. There are whole families living without sanitation, without utilities, working in the black economy if at all, whose life in France is nonetheless more pleasant and profitable than it probably was, or ever would be, where they came from. There is no reason for them to return. As it is, though, they are parasites on a state of civilisation, material and cultural, they have done nothing to build and could not reproduce for themselves. That is the bald, and politically incorrect, truth. Deportation could well produce an eternally revolving population as deportees try to make their way back. But should French tax-payers have to pay for schools and services and training to yank Roma families up to minimally acceptable French living standards? Should France be expected to facilitate the sort of integration that Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and other countries have shirked? And if not, can, or should, the Roma be exempt from the freedom of movement that applies across the European Union, even though it is already practically impossible to enforce? It is disingenuous to insist that such contrasting living standards and expectations existing side by side are easily manageable and that the newcomers can be smoothly accommodated, if at all, without huge outlays of money and goodwill. Nor is the challenge represented by the Roma unique.

A year or so ago, a German report concluded that, contrary to forecasts, second- and third-generation Turkish Germans were marrying in Turkey, prompting a whole new, and unanticipated, wave of what we used to call primary immigration, which was serving as a brake on integration. Something similar applies with sections of the Pakistani and Bengali communities in Britain, which have reproduced their own village systems in parts of British towns, and seek their spouses from "home". The notion that integration is a simple matter of generation has not been proved. Britain and France and Germany all sought labour, preferably cheap labour, abroad, and they got that. But by recruiting from rural areas in less developed countries, we effectively transplanted whole villages and imported microcosms of the backwardness we had overcome. With new brides, bridegrooms and the dependents they may legally bring from their home country, the UK now has a home-grown problem of corrupt voting, forced marriage, kidnapping, "honour" killing, and disability – as a recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme showed – caused by first-cousin marriages. TB, the disease of Victorian slums which was once almost eradicated, is back, and treatment is taking money and manpower that rich countries might expect to spend on other things.

In one way this is the classic post-colonial conundrum, and maybe our post-colonial generations should not grudge the money; after all, we took from those countries in our day. But the juxtapositions that are coming about as a result of whole groups of people crossing borders, threatens to produce a clash of civilisations, not of religion, but of living standards, right on our very own doorstep.
© The Independent

up  

HUNGARY’S FAR-RIGHT WANTS TO ROUND UP ROMA IN CAMPS

1/9/2010- Hungary’s leading far-right party said on Wednesday that Roma who are considered a threat to public safety should be forced from their dwellings and placed in highly-controlled camps, some of them for life. The Jobbik party capitalized on deep-seated popular resentment toward Hungary’s large Roma minority to get into parliament for the first time in April elections. It recently launched its campaign for municipal elections due on October 3. “We would force these families out of their dwellings, yes,” Csanad Szegedi, the party’s vice chairman and European Parliament representative, told Reuters. “Then, yes, we would transport these families to public order protection camps.” “At these camps, there would be a chance to return to civilized society. Those who abandon crime, make sure their children attend school, and participate in public works programmes, they can reintegrate,” he said. “No doubt there will be people who show no improvement. They can spend the rest of their lives in these camps.”

Jobbik is particularly strong in the northeast of Hungary, where most of the country’s 700,000 Roma live, many in squalid conditions. Unemployment among Roma is extremely high and petty crime is rampant. Jobbik Chairman Gabor Vona said that attempts to integrate the Roma community had failed and that segregation was the best tool to teach them to coexist with the majority, national news agency MTI reported. Szegedi rejected the idea that the public order protection camps, where inmates would need permission to leave the premises and a 10 p.m. curfew would be enforced, resembled ghettos. “These are not ghettos, they are camps to protect public order,” he said. “I don’t believe this should be a problem as we would execute these plans in accordance with all laws.” The plight of the Roma, Europe’s largest ethnic minority, has gained attention since French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a crackdown one month ago on Roma camps in France. Last week France was rebuked by a United Nations human right body for singling out the Roma and repatriating hundreds of them on flights to eastern Europe, chiefly Romania and Bulgaria.

The legality of the French government’s efforts to deport Roma migrants was also called into question Wednesday when a report from the European Commission contended that French law lacked the minimum safeguards required by the European Union to protect deportees. The document from the European Union’s executive body, which was obtained by the International Herald Tribune, declined to endorse the French government’s actions, which have led to thousands of deportations. The report said that among the conditions necessary for expulsions to be legal was that each case had to be considered individually. France was warned against any measure that singled out an ethnic group or amounted to a collective expulsion of Roma, also known as Gypsies. Though the commission’s analysis was careful not to make a broad judgment on the deportations, it suggested that the French actions might not be in line with European Union’s laws. France could face legal action if it failed to satisfy the commission that it is obeying European law.

The French authorities deported 283 Roma last week, bringing the total number deported this year to 8,313, compared with 7,875 sent home in all of 2009. Some left voluntarily after receiving cash payments. French officials declined to comment on the report, which was prepared for European commissioners but has not been made public.
© Reuters

up  

WHY SARKOZY WENT TO WAR ON THE ROMA (France)

The President's crackdown was meant to strengthen his grip on power, but could split his government instead
By John Lichfield

2/9/2010- The scene is a piece of wasteland on the edge of Saint Etienne in central France. A scrap of land, wedged between a cemetery and a rubbish dump, is home to 100 people, 40 of them children. A band of Roma, immigrants of ambiguous legality from Romania, has lived here since May in a jumble of cars, vans and makeshift shelters. The town council has provided a row of chemical toilets, two water taps and one rubbish skip – five star luxury compared to some of the Roma camps now scattered across France (but also across Belgium, Germany and Italy). At dawn, the police arrive. They have documents signed by the local prefect. The camp is illegal. It must be cleared. No one protests very much. None of the Roma speaks more than a few words of French in any case. Some – not all – of the Roma are arrested. They are European Union citizens guaranteed the right of "freedom of movement" within the EU (with certain ill-defined limits). They abruptly face a choice between forced expulsion from France for "threatening public order" and "voluntary" repatriation to Romania with a €300 (£248) grant.

How were the Roma "threatening public order"? According to the French state, to occupy a scrap of wasteland that no one wants is a threat to public order. (Some French courts disagree). Marie-Pierre Manevy, a local activist for the support group Reséau Solidarité Roms, points out that several requests had been made for a legal Roma campsite in Saint Etienne, but that all were ignored. "They weren't bothering anyone," she said. "The only reason to clear the camp was to obey President Sarkozy's orders... In truth, no one cares much what happens to the Roma. People don't care about them either way." The scene has been repeated scores of times across France in the last month as President Nicolas Sarkozy (himself the son of an eastern European immigrant) wages his unlikely war against one of Europe's most destitute, mysterious and problematic peoples.

In truth, the anti-Roma campaign has been going on for much, much longer (and not just in France). What is new is that, in the last month, Roma-bashing has been turned into a public spectacle on President Sarkozy's explicit orders. Just short of 1,000 Roma have been expelled from France in the month of August. According to the official figures, 11,000 Roma were also expelled from France last year – in other words almost as many, month by month – without anyone much noticing (or, as Ms Manevy says, caring). The campaign against the Roma was abruptly declared a state priority by Mr Sarkozy in late July. Dismantling Roma camps and expelling their inhabitants suddenly became the subject of proud and apocalyptic comments by Brice Hortefeux, the interior minister (Mr Sarkozy's protégé and a childhood friend). One month later, President Sarkozy's anti-Roma campaign has been denounced by Catholic bishops in France, criticised (vaguely) by the Pope, questioned by the European Commission and condemned by two former centre-right French prime ministers. All have been disturbed, not so much by the campaign itself, as by the systematic stigmatisation of an ethnic group by official government policy and pronouncement.

Worryingly for President Sarkozy, signs of disquiet are increasingly apparent within the senior ranks of his own government. In the last few days, Mr Sarkozy's own prime minister, François Fillon, has hinted that he disapproves of the crude links between foreigners and crime that are being made in his government's name. Mr Fillon is therefore unlikely to be prime minister for very long but he probably knew that before he spoke. Senior ministers recruited from the left and centre, including the foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner and defence minister, Hervé Morin, have also expressed reservations about the xenophobic tone of the government's pronouncements in the last few days. President Sarkozy shows no signs, yet, of being willing to back down. The government plans to pass new legislation to make it easier to expel Roma. This could put Paris on a collision course with the European Commission, which has already summoned two French ministers to Brussels this week to explain themselves. As EU citizens, the Roma have a right travel to France but not to settle for more than three months. It is often impossible to know when they first came to France. Aware of the rules, they move across EU borders as the deadline approaches.

Under EU law, Roma (and any other EU nationals) can also be expelled as a "threat to public order". This is the preferred solution of Mr Hortefeux and Mr Sarkozy. In the last week, a court in Lille has twice rejected the government's contention that an illegal Roma camp is, in itself, a threat to public order. The French government therefore plans to change national law to create new grounds for expulsions, including "repeated theft or aggressive begging". On Monday, Mr Hortefeux said that minor criminal offences by "Romanian citizens" had increased by 259 per cent in the Paris area in the last 18 months. There are 12,000,000 Roma in eastern Europe, scattered across the frontiers of Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary. Their origins are disputed but they are believed to be the descendants of pre-medieval wanderers from northern India. They live, for the most part, as third-class citizens in shanty towns of deep squalor. Their old gypsy wandering culture was forbidden in the Communist era. Even now, only a handful have tried to test their new "wandering" rights under EU law by travelling to western Europe.

There are, nonetheless, said to be 25,000 Romanian and Bulgarian Roma in Belgium alone, and an estimated 15,000 in France. They are hardly a serious threat but they are, to many people, a highly visible nuisance. Many of the Roma beg, sometimes aggressively. A few steal. All EU countries expel Roma when they can. Only President Sarkozy's France has decided to turn the persecution of the Roma into a political pageant. Why? In a speech in Grenoble in July, the President went out of his way to make several dubious connections between crime (which is, overall, declining in France) and foreigners. Illegal Roma camps would no longer be tolerated, he said. At the same time, French nationality would be stripped from people of "foreign origin" who made life-threatening attacks on the police. The apparent occasion for the President's anti-Roma rhetoric was a rural riot in central France after a young gypsy had been shot dead by a gendarme. The unrest, which lasted for two days, involved travelling families of Romany origin. None were Roma immigrants from eastern Europe. All had been French for countless generations.

Various explanations have been given for the President's sudden interest in the problem. Opposition politicians suggested he was trying to change the subject of national conversation after a July dominated by allegations that his presidential campaign in 2007 was illegally financed. Elysée officials said it was part of a longer-term strategy to prioritise security and immigration in the 2012 election before they could be exploited by a resurgent far-right. President Sarkozy will take some satisfaction from the opinion polls. They suggest that over 60 per cent of voters approve of the forced dismantlement of illegal Roma encampments. He will also be delighted that the campaign has caused embarrassment to a centre-left opposition which he loves to portray as elitist and out of touch on immigration and law and order issues.

The Socialist Party leader, Martine Aubry, accused Mr Sarkozy at the weekend of bringing "shame" on France. The government then revealed that, as mayor of Lille, she had pressed earlier this summer for the removal of two illegal Roma camps in her own area. All the same, a policy cynically intended to strengthen Mr Sarkozy's weakening hold on power now threatens to split his own centre-right movement. His party's annual conference was dominated this week by arguments between supporters of the Sarko hard-line and those who share the distaste of the Prime Minister, Mr Fillon. A radical cabinet reshuffle is expected within months. The "Roma" issue threatens to become the litmus test of who will be asked – or willing – to serve in a new, more aggressively right-wing government for the last 20 months of Mr Sarkozy's presidency.

France's Roma in numbers...
15,000 Estimated number of Roma living in France
1,000 Number of Roma expelled from France in August.
300 Amount, in euros, offered to Roma as a grant for their "voluntary repatriation" to Romania.
60 per cent Proportion of French voters who back Sarkozy's tactics.
© The Independent

up  

NO PLACE FOR THIS SCAPEGOATING (France, leading article The Independent)

2/9/2010- By the letter of the European law, Nicolas Sarkozy has the right to expel immigrant Roma from France and break up their settlements. Although the two countries where the majority of Roma have long been settled, Romania and Bulgaria, are now members of the EU, until 2014 their citizens are only allowed to stay in other EU states for a maximum of three months, unless they have jobs there. So M. Sarkozy – whose ministers met European Union officials this week to defend their actions – can claim that he is merely upholding the law. And, technically, there are other justifications he can summon for his initiative, which has seen more than 600 Roma put on flights to Eastern Europe since July, and more than 8,000 expelled so far in the course of the year. It is an "offensive sécuritaire", because the Roma pose a security threat; it is an "action humanitaire", a "voluntary repatriation" of individuals whom the French government is generously presenting with gifts of a few hundred euros to start afresh. And it is a blow against human trafficking.

Nobody should be fooled by this rhetoric. In hard times, when politicians feel the lash of people's anger, there is nothing more satisfactory than a good scapegoat. And the Roma have always been the ideal scapegoat, being not only visually distinctive but also poor and atomised. To an increasingly intolerant element within France, and many others in Western Europe, gypsies are an insult to the settled way of life, and certain ideas about property, education and work. They are, in other words, the perfect victims, and M. Sarkozy would not be the crafty politician he is if he did not see in them an excellent opportunity to steal a march on Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front. There is evidence that his campaign is already paying dividends in the opinion polls.

The risk now, after objections were raised when the expulsions started at the end of July, is that the matter is forgotten about. But that must not be allowed to happen. Hitler did not target gypsies because they were a security threat but because in the Nazi scheme they were labelled as genetically inferior. The rationale was different, but the impulse was the same, and so were the victims. Wrapped into our belief in progress is the idea that we learn from history, and that collectively we have the wisdom to avoid repeating the more terrible mistakes of the recent past. M. Sarkozy's Roma purge is a reminder that we ignore that lesson at our peril.
© The Independent

up  

SECURITY MOVES TEST FRANCE'S RULING PARTY

President Nicolas Sarkozy's summer law and order offensive is placing the French government under severe internal strain.

2/9/2010- Several ministers have openly voiced their unease about the expulsions of Roma (Gypsies) and other tough new measures. Announced after two disturbing outbreaks of anti-police violence in July, the security blitz has led to the closure of more than 100 illegal Roma encampments, with around 1,000 people sent back by plane to Romania and Bulgaria. At the same time, the government is preparing a law that could see recent immigrants to France stripped of their citizenship if they commit serious crimes such as shooting a policeman. From the political left, human rights groups, the Catholic Church and the United Nations have come varying expressions of concern and denunciation. Now it is clear that the clampdown has also created tensions within Mr Sarkozy's own administration, exposing deep differences between security hawks and doves.

Exceptional measures?
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner - a former Socialist who made his name at the international charity Medecins Sans Frontieres - admitted this week that he was "shocked" by the focus on people of foreign origin. He said he had thought about resigning over the Roma expulsions, but in the end decided against it. As for the citizenship-stripping measure, he hoped it would be reserved only for the most exceptional circumstances. "I hope. I hope. I hope," he said. Further criticism came from the Defence Minister Herve Morin, head of the small New Centre party, who in a speech attacked "the policy of hate, of fear, of the scapegoat" and said any programme based purely on police repression was doomed to fail. And on Tuesday, the Towns Minister Fadela Amara - herself of Algerian origin and an avowed left-winger - said she could "never agree" to a policy that placed foreign-born French citizens in a special judicial category. She also said she was "very clearly against the expulsions" of Roma. Coupled with doubts expressed by heavyweights inside the ruling UMP party, such as former prime ministers Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Alain Juppe, the comments reveal a government that is far from unanimous over the course that the president has taken. They also suggest that many senior figures privately share the opposition's view that Nicolas Sarkozy has exploited the law-and-order problem in order to get through a particularly rough time in his presidency.

Temporary fallout
The president's enemies evidently hope that the episode is doing him severe damage. Indeed, at the Socialists' end-of-summer congress last week, the security controversy gave the party a welcome (and rare) opportunity to put up a united front. However, presidential insiders apaprently make a different calculation. For them, any negative fallout is likely to be limited and temporary in nature. They note that in opinion polls a majority of the public supports Roma expulsions and the closure of unauthorised camps. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux and Immigration Minister Eric Besson make the point that complaints about Roma have come as much from left-wing municipalities as right-wing ones. And they also say that the government's actions are merely the application of regulations agreed across the EU, which impose temporary restrictions on the rights of Romanians and Bulgarians to settle in other countries.

Breathing space
President Sarkozy's belief that he knows more about what the man or woman in the street thinks than does the Paris intellectual left is probably correct. People are more concerned about law and order than the opposition claims, and some of the left's wilder accusations - comparing the moves to those of the wartime collaborationist Vichy regime - actually serve Mr Sarkozy's purpose, because they are so overblown. To that extent, the security crackdown may indeed provide something of a political breathing-space for the president - for all the chorus of disapproval relayed in the media. However, as the doubters in government instinctively recognise, the president also needs to step carefully. Just because his tactic may prove to be effective that does not mean it cannot also be seen as highly cynical. Many people who do not necessarily disagree with tough policing also suspect Mr Sarkozy of pressing the law-and-order button as a last resort, when all else seems to be going wrong. There are scores of other concerns in France at the moment: the economy, jobs, pensions, the future of farming, the Bettencourt financial scandal. With only 18 months now before the 2012 elections, it is not just on law and order that the voters will be passing judgment.
© BBC News

up  

GYPSIES CLEARED OUT FROM OUTSKIRTS OF ROME FOLLOWING CRACKDOWN ORDER BY RIGHT-WING MAYOR (Italy)

2/9/2010- taly has become the latest country to begin a clear out of illegal Roma Gypsy campsites - just days after France began a similar controversial policy. Twenty Roma travellers who had set up homes in camper vans and caravans were moved on from their site after being offered a paid for one way trip back to Romania. The clear out took place at an illegal camp on the outskirts of Rome, which was then bulldozed by city council staff after mayor Gianni Alemanno announced the crackdown. Speaking on Italian TV right-wing mayor Alemanno said that illegal camps would be dismantled, with Roma travellers being given money to help pay for them to leave the country and return to Romania. He said the sites were a health hazard and added that he already had reports of Roma travellers arriving across the border from France, after premier Nicolas Sarkozy began his country’s clampdown. Mayor Alemanno, a former Fascist, said: 'The camps will begin to be closed down this week and checks carried out. We are talking about numerous camps that are very small, often with only five to ten residents, and which are frequently in extremely dangerous locations.

'We need to help children and women, but it is equally clear that people who have arrived in Rome must be able to support and house themselves adequately, otherwise they have to leave. 'We cannot allow these illegal camps to exist. Whoever comes to Rome must have somewhere defined to live or they must be on a legitimate site. We need to be able to control our territory. 'In order to rapidly achieve this objective we have created a special task force of 200 people who will deal with this situation. Twenty people cleared from one site have accepted a financial offer from the council to help pay for their return to Romania. 'We have already had reports of a rise in the number of French registered cars parked at these sites.' TV footage of the clear out at the camp at Quartaccio on the edge of Rome, showed a bulldozer knocking down a precarious looking shelter made out of wood and cardboard. The area was covered in rotting rubbish and packs of wild dogs could also be seen scavenging for food while children played nearby as parents looked on at the destruction. However not all appeared to have taken up the offer from Rome council with one Roma gypsy interviewed saying: 'I’m not going to Romania. I’ll just set up camp somewhere else.

'It’s worse in Romania - why would I go back? 'Lots of others ran away as soon as the council teams turned up and they will do the same as me.' Italians view Roma Gypsies as responsible for soaring crime rates and mayor Alemmano’s 'Operation Nomad' as he has called it has been warmly welcomed. Local resident Valeria Franco said:”It’s about time something was done about the Roma Gypsies. 'The whole area was just a mess and the stench in the summer was stomach turning.' Mayor Alemanno is due to travel to Paris next week where he will meet immigration minister Eric Besson to further discuss the issue and Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni will also be present. Earlier this year, mayor Alemanno authorised the demolition of Rome’s largest gypsy camp, the Casilino 900, which had 600 residents and had existed for 40 years. Last summer the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, visited the Casilino camp and expressed 'serious concerns' about Italy’s policies towards its gypsy minority, whom he said faced 'a persistent climate of intolerance'.

There have been several cases of camps being deliberately targeted by vigilante groups armed with firebombs and several sites have been attacked with makeshift homes burnt. There are an estimated 150,000 Gypsies in Italy, nearly half of whom were born in the country and have Italian citizenship and between 12,000 and 15,000 Roma live in Rome. Later mayor Alemanno stressed that only those Roma travellers found living illegally in camps would be deported. He said: 'This is not expulsions on ethnic basis, this is expulsion of those found to be in Italy illegally and living on these illegal camps. 'We need to have a common strategy across Europe and we need to make sure that all travellers are treated equally.'
© The Daily Mail

up  

ITALY: MAYOR MOVES TO DEMOLISH ROMA GYPSY CAMPS

1/9/2010- Illegal Roma Gypsy camps which have sprung up in the Italian capital will be razed to the ground starting next week, Rome's conservative mayor Gianni Alemanno said on Wednesday. "The camps will begin to be closed down this week and checks carried out. We are talking about numerous camps that are very small, often with only five to ten residents, and which are frequently in extremely dangerous locations," Alemanno told state television Rai1. "We need to help children and women, but it is equally clear that people who have arrived in Rome must be able to support and house themselves adequately, otherwise they have to leave," Alemanno, a former neo-Fascist, said. Authorities in neighbouring France dismantled 128 camps and - controversially - deported 977 Roma Gypsies to Romanian and Bulgaria in August on security grounds, according to the government. "The state must be able to keep its territory under control," said Alemanno, adding that France's policy of Roma deportations was "unconvincing and weak". "A European strategy is needed to control the rate of immigration," he said.

Earlier this year, Alemanno demolished Rome's largest gypsy camp, the Casilino 900, which had 600 residents. The sprawling camp had existed for 40 years and was inhabited by people from the former Yugoslavia, as well as Italian gypsies. The destruction of the Casilino 900 was part of Rome city council's so-called 'Nomad Plan' to demolish around 100 illegal, insanitary and unsafe camps around the capital and relocate 6,000 Roma, commonly referred to as Gypsies, to 13 new or expanded locations on the outskirts of the Italian capital. The 'Nomad Plan' has drawn criticism from rights groups including Amnesty International, who in a report said the plan would leave at least 1,000 people homeless, and would uproot Gypsies from their homes and communities. Amnesty and other non-governmental organisations fear Rome's 'Nomad Plan' will be used as a blueprint for similar demolitions of Roma Gypsy camps in other Italian regions.

After a visit to the Casilino 900 camp Italian camps last year, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, expressed "serious concerns" about Italy's policies towards its Gypsy minority, whom he said faced "a persistent climate of intolerance."  There are an estimated 150,000 Gypsies in Italy, nearly half of whom were born in the country and have Italian citizenship. Between 12,000 and 15,000 Roma live in Rome, according to Amnesty International. Tens of thousands of Roma Gypsies have entered Italy in the past few years since Slovakia and Romania joined the EU, and are being blamed by many Italians for much of the recent rise in crime rates.
© Adnkronos

up  

FRENCH COURT BLOCKS DEPORTATION OF ROMA

1/9/2010- A French court has blocked the deportation of seven Roma people, also known as gypsies, in a blow to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to dismantle illegal camps. The administrative tribunal in Lille canceled the deportation orders yesterday, saying the cases didn’t meet the legal standard of posing “a real, immediate, and sufficiently grave threat,’’ according to a statement. Sarkozy ordered camp demolitions and expulsions after itinerant workers went on a rampage in central France following the death of a man during an identity check. Although the rioters were French citizens, most of the dismantled camps are inhabited by gypsies who hold Romanian or Bulgarian citizenship. French authorities dismantled 128 camps and deported 977 people to Romanian and Bulgaria in August, the government said Monday. Meanwhile, France yesterday defended its deportation of foreigners, including hundreds of Roma, and demanded that the Romanian government spend more of the money it gets from the European Union on integrating minority groups at home. After talks with the European Commission, two French ministers said that the controversial policy is in line with French and European law, rejecting claims of discrimination. At a press conference in Brussels, the French minister for Europe, Pierre Lellouche, criticized the Romanian government, which, he said, spends only 0.4 percent of the $5 billion it receives annually in subsidies from the European Union on integrating its Roma minority. Lellouche called on the Romanian government to outline a plan for better integration, focusing on education, housing, health, and training. The French government argued that the Roma were not targeted specifically as a group.
© The Boston Globe

up  

ROMANIA URGES EUROPEAN UNITY ON ROMA

1/9/2010- Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc has called for “solidarity at the European level ... to better help the social inclusion of Roma people". Boc, speaking at a meeting of Romanian diplomats on Wednesday, also said his government had launched a strategy for Roma, including those of Romanian origin, which form a part of global measures aimed at dealing with the problem. Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi said that Romania and France should “tone down” its rhetoric over Roma and work together to improve their conditions following Paris' move to expel people living in illegal camps. France is planning to deport 700 Roma from Romania, despite rising popular anger and accusations that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is feeding racism and creating violence. The Roma involved to date have agreed to return, with adults receiving €300 in cash and children €100 to go back to Romania. A total of 8,313 Romanian and Bulgarian Roma have been expelled so far this year, up from 7,875 on 2009.
© Balkan Insight

up  

ROMA NGOS CALL FOR BOYCOT OF FRENCH PRODUCTS (Romania)

31/8/2010- A federation of Romanian Roma civic organisations has called for a boycott of French products and services to protest against Paris' move to expel people living in illegal camps. The Roma Civic Alliance, a federation of 21 NGOs involved in protecting the rights of Roma people, also called for a protest in front of French embassy in Bucharest on September 6. France is planning to deport 700 Roma from Romania by the end of the month, despite rising popular anger and accusations that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is feeding racism and creating violence. The Roma involved to date have agreed to return, with adults receiving €300 in cash and children €100 to go back to Romania. France and Romania last week vowed to take united action to stop Roma from travelling to France illegally and to help them to integrate in both countries. Early this month Romanian authorities said they would not abandon their citizens abroad and would co-operate with France on its plans to tackle illegal immigration. But rights groups across Europe have attacked France's decision, saying it violated human rights and the Roma are often treated like a sub-class of immigrants and targeted by police. According to official statistics, there are 535,000 Roma people in Romania, but Roma NGOs say the actual number is about 2 million.
© Balkan Insight

up  

HAS THE CURRENT ANTI-ROMA CLIMATE IN EUROPE TRIGGERED A 'LICENSE TO KILL' ? (press release ENAR)

31/8/2010- The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) is deeply concerned by the recent shooting of 6 members of a Roma family and another woman in Bratislava, Slovakia on 30 August. A gunman shot dead six members of a Roma family and another woman in a block of flats in the Slovak capital before killing himself. This murder reflects the emergence of a climate of negative stereotyping directed against Roma minorities across Europe. ENAR is extremely worried that recent discriminatory measures and statements targeting the Roma population and stigmatising this ethnic group in a number of countries, including France, Italy, Denmark and Sweden, have led to a climate of impunity for those who want to target this population. ENAR strongly condemns this violent act and calls on the Slovak government to undertake a rigorous investigation and to treat this attack as a suspect hate crime. If it is found to be a hate crime, it should be prosecuted as such. ENAR urges EU member states to refrain from making statements which collectively cast the Roma in a negative light, thus stigmatising an entire ethnic minority and inflaming public opinion against them. The EU and its member states should instead focus on developing a comprehensive EU Roma strategy, ensuring that the Roma are protected from discrimination and have equal access to education, employment, healthcare and housing.
© EUropean Network Against Racism

up  

ROMA PERSECUTION IN FRANCE TAKES EUROPE 70 YEARS BACK (press release, UNITED)

28/8/2010- Over recent weeks, France has pushed forward with implementing a policy that targets Roma and travellers, both migrants and citizens, consisting of shutting down Roma and travellers' camps and deporting migrants. The policy targets both those Roma migrants from Romania and Bulgaria residing in France, estimated at around 15,000 people, and also the French Roma and traveller community, estimated at around 350,000 people. According to official statements, France plans to disband 300 camps over the next three months, several of which have already been broken up. Last year France sent 'home' around 10,000 Roma people (several EU states followed this example), and during the last week it has deported around 700 Roma people to Bulgaria and Romania. Roma are offered 300 EUR per adult and 100 EUR per child if they voluntarily leave France.

The main concern is the 'reason' provided for undertaking the measures, which has been mentioned by Sarkozy and in a number of official statements; namely the alleged criminality of Roma and travellers (theft, prostitution, trafficking, etc), which allows the French government to justify these policies in the name of 'protecting' its citizens. All relevant international organisations, including EU, UN, Council of Europe and Amnesty International among others unanimously condemn these statements and the resulting policies as prejudice and discrimination. Such inflammatory statements provoke racist sentiments towards Roma and travellers among the mainstream population and can potentially lead to racially based violence and discrimination (which we have witnessed in other countries during the last 5 years: the fingerprinting and deportations of Roma in Italy, murders in Hungary, etc).

Moreover, the measures alone violate the rights of targeted groups: forced evictions from camps violate rights on housing, deportations violate freedom of movement, protection by law, equality before the law and a number of other internationally recognised rights, culminating with this racially based discrimination. On top of that, virtually all experts agree that these measures are neither solving the problem nor addressing its roots, often found in the poverty and substandard living conditions which made those the targeted communities move (from Bulgaria and Romania or within France) in the first place.

The current practices of marking and collectively targeting Roma throughout Europe, and particularly in France, is being compared by many to the Nazi persecution of Roma and other groups some 70 years ago. 'Les rafles', meaning roundups, is a historically loaded term that has been used by those within Sarkozy's party itself to criticise the current crackdown, which is threatening to grow far worse. Therefore, UNITED the pan-European network against nationalism, racism, rascism and in support of migrants and refugees calls upon France and other EU countries to stop such ill treatment towards Roma, and instead work on their integration with the support of the EU.

For more information:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/roma
http://euyouthspeak.org/roma/?m=201008
http://www.france24.com/en/search/sinequa_search/roma
http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Against-Romaphobia-Gypsism/121704284526822

On 6 September a select group of EU Interior Ministers will attend a summit in Paris on the broad topic of immigration and Roma, it is significant that representatives from both Romania and Bulgaria were not invited. Therefore we forward a call for protest, to take place on the same date outside French Embassies across Europe and initiated by Roma Civic Alliance of Romania Roma. For further details, please see link below.
http://www.unitedagainstracism.org/attachments/ProtestFrenchEmbassies.pdf 
© UNITED for Intercultural Action

up  

THRASHING FRANCE OR BULGARIA ON ROMA? (editorial)

30/8/2010- Pickpockets and thieves, dirty, lazy, uneducated people, who have tons of kids and sponge off social assistance. This is how the average Bulgarian perceives the Gypsy people, despite the inroads the politically correct term “Roma” has made in people's everyday speech. The ongoing deportation of hundreds of them from France has triggered similar accusations of stereotyping behaviour against the French and Europeans in general. The stereotype is hard to fight for many reasons both in Bulgaria and France. The question is where does the responsibility for these people lie? Paris feels very far away when you stand on the derelict, garbage-strewn streets of Bulgaria's Roma ghettos. They are home to most of the country's 375,000 Roma - although unofficial data estimates their true numbers come closer to 750,000, out of a population of 7.8 million. Here you can see skinny men rooting through piles of rubbish alongside pigs, fat women in flowing skirts cradling babies and clan chiefs - who struck it rich after the collapse of Communism - driving gleaming cars. Interestingly, most of the ramshackle houses in the ghettos, made of poorly "cemented" bricks of clay and straw, sport a TV satellite dish, perched on the roofs like an extraterrestrial eye.

Replace the ramshackle houses for caravans and you will get the colorful picture that one can see now close to Paris. Fears that this might happen have been plaguing Europe for quite some time. Even though it had already admitted several poor, former Communist countries with Roma populations before opening its doors to Bulgaria, the poverty in the Balkan country's larger Roma ghettos was a bitter pill to swallow. Now the ghettos have become part of the European diversity and Europeans see for real the nightmare scenarios in which huge numbers of Bulgarian Roma head to the West to plunder the generous welfare systems there. Europeans have long been accused of hypocrisy in their attitude towards the Roma and in some cases rightfully so. A few years ago members of the European Parliament quickly came to the rescue of an illegal Roma ghetto in Sofia when it faced demolition for the suffocating stench of animals and excrement. Yet nobody expected tolerance from the English family whose newly acquired house in a Bulgarian village was invaded by Roma squatters while they were out of the country.

The Roma crackdown in France showed that Western Europe has its own agendas, but why should it be blamed for this? Besides, its stance appears to be not that hypocritical when one takes into account its own experience with the integration and non-integration of ethnic minorities. Bulgarian NGO workers say that if prejudice, poverty and illiteracy are the problem, providing a level playing field and equality is the solution. An Open Society Foundation report entitled "The Costs of Non- Inclusion" reveals that Roma integration does not require massive funding and its positive effects would exceed 20 or even 30 times the cost of expenditure. Unlike France however the authorities in Bulgaria, generally not held in high esteem, have little power over the larger Roma ghettos, where clan chiefs are left to rule. The ghettos are rife with extortion, human trafficking, baby selling and other menaces. The Roma ghettos are one of Bulgaria’s gravest problems, but it can not be packed, exported or sent via the post for pan-European structures to solve it. The major responsibility for its solution lies with the country’s state authorities, whose steps so far have been chaotic and without a consistent policy. What they should do is replace the long list of conferences and studies on Roma life with hands-on activities designed to improve it.
© Novinite

up  

EUROPE'S OMINOUS MOVES AGAINST THE ROMA (opinion)

Instead of discrimination and expulsion, gypsies need help overcoming poverty and low education
By George Soros

30/8/2010- The Roma have been persecuted across Europe for centuries. Now Roma (often called Gypsies, a term they dislike) face a form of discrimination unseen in Europe since World War II: group evictions and expulsions from several European democracies of men, women and children on the grounds that they pose a threat to public order. This month, France began to carry out plans to expel all non-French Roma, implicating them as a group in criminal activity, without any legal process to determine whether individuals have committed any crime or pose a threat. These French actions follow Italy's "security package" of 2008, which described so-called "nomads" as a threat to national security and imposed emergency legislation leading to expulsions of non-Italian Roma. Stopping criminal activity is a legitimate government concern. But the expulsion of EU citizens on the basis of ethnicity as a proxy for criminal activity is a violation of EU directives on racial discrimination and the right to move freely from one EU member-state to another.

Indeed, it is a firmly established legal principle that crime should be addressed by a determination of individual guilt before a court of law. Moreover, convicted criminals are not routinely deported if they are citizens of another EU member state. Instead, European law requires an individual determination that deportation is necessary and proportionate to the crime committed, as well as consideration of other circumstances (such as the strength of the individual's ties to the community). Of course, European societies should not tolerate criminality and anti-social behavior. But no ethnic group monopolizes such pathologies, and all people should be equal before the law. Since World War II, Europeans have found it unacceptable to subject any group to collective punishment or mass expulsion on the basis of ethnicity, so, in casting aside fundamental rights in the name of security, rounding up Roma sets a worrying precedent. By contrast, the French government is right to call for measures to improve employment and development opportunities for Roma in their countries of origin (primarily Bulgaria and Romania in this case), which would reduce the incentives and pressure for them to move to other countries. In response to France's position, the Swedish government also called for concerted EU action to foster Roma inclusion.

Roma want to and can integrate if they are given the opportunity, as my foundation's programs have shown. Most Roma share the aspirations of the majority populations: a home with adequate services, a decent education for their children, jobs that enable them to provide for their families, and to interact with the majority in their society. It is because they face appalling discrimination and deprivation at home that they continue to migrate across Europe. The EU must recognize that the pan-European nature of this problem demands a comprehensive and effective strategy for Roma inclusion. Primary responsibility for safeguarding the rights and well-being of all citizens lies with EU member states. Policies and programs to promote inclusion in employment, education, health care and housing must be implemented at the local and national levels. But the EU has a vital role to motivate, coordinate, financially assist and monitor such efforts through an EU-level plan.

In 2009, the EU endorsed the principle of "explicit but not exclusive targeting" for Roma, and the European Commission allowed structural funds to be used to cover housing interventions in favor of marginalized communities, with a particular focus on Roma. This is a welcome step and "explicit but not exclusive targeting" should be extended to education, health care, and employment. Most importantly, the rules guiding how structural funds are spent should be changed to allow their use for health and education from early childhood, rather than only for job training. Structural poverty in Roma communities is intimately linked to poor education and unemployment. The Commission's Europe 2020 initiative sets specific targets for raising school completion rates and employment levels for all EU citizens. In both of these areas, Roma fall so far behind their fellow citizens that targeted measures to close the gap should be an integral part of the Europe 2020 plan.

The greatest divide between the Roma and majority populations is not one of culture or lifestyle — as is so often portrayed by the media — but poverty and inequality. The divide is physical, not just mental. Segregated schooling is a barrier to integration and produces prejudice and failure. Segregated housing has led to huge shantytowns and settlements lacking sanitation and other basic conditions essential to a life with dignity. The plight of so many millions of Roma in the 21st century makes a mockery of European values and stains Europe's conscience. The plight of the Roma is not just a short-term security problem that can be addressed by draconian measures to move people forcibly from one member state to another. Not only does this undermine European values and legal principles, but it fails to address the root causes of the problem.

As Europe's largest ethnic minority, Roma inside the EU comprise the youngest and fastest-growing demographic segment of the population. By 2020, for example, young Roma will make up one-third of the new entrants to the workforce in Hungary. Europe cannot afford another lost generation. This is a matter of human rights and basic values, and it is vital to peace and cohesion in societies across Europe.
© Project Syndicate

up  

HEAD OF OSCE HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICE WARNS AGAINST STIGMATIZING ROMA AND TRAVELLERS

30/8/2010- Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw, said today he shared concerns about recent developments in France affecting Roma migrants and Travellers, and warned that such actions risked fueling intolerance and discrimination. He said he was troubled by the approach of French authorities to the matter of the legal status of Roma migrants in the aftermath of riots by some French Travellers. The riots followed the fatal shooting by police of a member of their community. "Recent developments in France come against the background of continuing and growing intolerance toward Roma in a number of countries, as well as insufficient efforts by many OSCE participating States to create conditions for the sustainable integration of Roma individuals and communities," said Lenarcic.

He stressed that "implicating the Roma and Travellers collectively in criminal activities based on individual cases could only contribute to stigmatizing these communities". He added that official statements by the French authorities on the policy of evicting Roma from illegal settlements and offering them financial incentives to return to their country of origin raised questions as to whether individual migrants' rights to due process are being respected. Lenarcic emphasized that public officials needed to be especially sensitive to the risk that statements about Roma could further encourage anti-Roma public discourse and prejudice, which could fuel intolerance, discrimination and even acts of violence against members of these communities. As an OSCE participating State, France has undertaken commitments, outlined in the OSCE Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area, to implement concrete measures to eradicate discrimination against Roma and Sinti, and ensure that they are able to play a full and equal part in the societies in which they live.
© The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

up  

FRENCH FM MULLED QUITTING OVER ROMA MOVE (France)

30/8/2010- French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner admitted on Monday that he had considered resigning over President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to deport thousands of Roma Gypsies. Kouchner, a former Socialist and renowned humanitarian who was recruited into Sarkozy's right-wing government in 2007, said he had a "heavy heart" but had decided to remain in government to fight his corner. "I'm not happy with what has happened. I've been working with the Roma for 25 years. I'm not happy about this polemic," he told RTL radio. "What can I do to help the situation? Resign? I've thought about it. He said he had decided to remain in office and to push for more to be done to find a solution to the problem of the Roma, adding: "It's important to keep going. To go would be to desert my post, to accept what's happening."

Earlier this month Sarkozy touched off a storm of international criticism by announcing that police were to raid and dismantle 300 unauthorised Gypsy encampments across France following a public order incident. While French-born Gypsies and travellers are to be moved on, Eastern European Roma who can not demonstrate they have sufficient means to integrate into mainstream French society are to be flown back to Romania and Bulgaria. Those who agree to go voluntarily are given small cash grants, those who do not are expelled by judicial order. Kouchner was one of the founders of the global medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), who made his name helping refugees, in particular the Vietnamese "boat people". As the United Nations' chief representative in Kosovo between 1999 and 2001, he tried to shield the former Yugoslav province's Roma and Ashkali Gypsy minorities from ethnic violence.

Now, his own French government is itself the target of United Nations criticism, over a policy which a UN anti-racism panel warned could amount to an illegal collective deportation of a minority group. Sarkozy's government fiercely denies the charge, insisting that the expulsions are carried out in line with European Union residency laws and France's international treaty obligations.
© AFP

up  

GRANDFATHER BECOMES THE FACE OF FRENCH RACISM ROW

29/8/2010- When Rene Galinier pulled the trigger on his old hunting rifle, he said he was acting to defend his home. Two young eastern European women had broken into his house while he was taking a siesta, and when the startled 73-year-old woke up, he shot and wounded them both. Since Mr Galinier fired at the intruders, reverberations have been felt far beyond the four walls of his modest bungalow in a village in south-west France. The case of "Papy" Galinier has become a cause celebre thanks to the bitter debate caused by President Nicolas Sarkozy's recent crackdown on the Roma community in France, which has seen itinerant camps demolished and hundreds of Roma returned to eastern Europe. On one side stand those who have condemned the expulsions as redolent of Nazi Germany - on the other are those who say Mr Sarkozy has not gone far enough. In the middle of the political maelstrom sits Mr Galinier who is in a local prison cell, charged with attempted manslaughter and denied bail pending trial. "He was a good man, who had been pushed too far," said 85-year-old Edouard Martin, a retired policeman and fellow resident of Mr Galinier's village, Nissan-lez-Enserunes. "People here are scared of the foreigners. I sleep with a revolver by my bed. If someone comes into my house, then I am going to kill them before they kill me."

Mr Sarkozy started to shut hundreds of illegal Roma camps in response to clashes between police and traveller communities last month. With more expulsions planned, and criticism mounting at home and abroad, he hopes to bolster support for his stance next week by convening a summit of interior ministers from countries facing similar immigration debates. Western European governments are split on the matter. While Italy is considering similar action, Britain will be sending a senior official to the meeting rather than the Home Secretary, Theresa May, for fear of being seen to endorse Mr Sarkozy's policies. On Friday, a United Nations human rights body rebuked France and urged the government to aim for integration of Roma rather than deportation. Nissan-lez-Enserunes, where four generations of the Galinier family live, provides a vivid snapshot of why it has become such a charged issue in France. Not far from Montpellier, it is a picture-postcard image of southern French living, with elegant stone houses set among narrow winding streets filled with flowers. Mr Galinier has lived in the area all his life, raising two children, working for the council, then retiring to spend time with his wife and grandchildren and tend his garden. He had been targeted by criminals twice before. In 2002, thieves attempted to break in and in February this year goldfish were stolen from his garden pond.

Among villagers, the finger of blame for local petty crime often points - rightly or wrongly - to a patch of wasteland several miles outside the village where a group of Roma recently made camp next to a motorway. The families and their wild-haired children live in ramshackle caravans among piles of rubbish. On the afternoon of August 5, two women in their early 20s broke into Mr Galinier's home. The unarmed pair, who speak no French and have not given police their names, were both shot at from just a few yards away. One was hit in the groin, the other in the chest. Both are in hospital awaiting identification and questioning. Mr Galinier's story, with strong echoes of the British case of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, has resonated throughout the village and beyond. A committee has been set up to fight for his cause, and slogans have been painted on the road to Nissan-lez-Enserunes proclaiming: "We're right behind you, Rene." A local petition has more than 8,000 signatures, with 10,000 from as far afield as the US joining the campaign on Facebook and internet forums. The internet forums have attracted the attention of more extreme elements of French society, with queues of people denouncing the Roma community for every crime under the Mediterranean sun.

Mr Galinier has caught the eye of the extreme Right with some of his comments. After being arrested, he said: "I was in danger I was scared. I was threatened by this dirty race. I've become racist." "He's not a philosopher," admitted his lawyer, Josy-Jean Bousquet, acknowledging the unfortunate comments. "But I reject that he's racist. He was angry and upset." The Front National, an extreme-Right party, seized the opportunity provided by Mr Galinier. Its vice-president, Marine Le Pen, whose father, Jean-Marie founded the organisation, described his arrest and detention as "totally abusive", given the "insupportable immunity of these notorious delinquents". The village has had a total of 17 break-ins since the beginning of the year and a falling crime rate. Yet villagers still speak of a "crime wave" and lay the blame squarely on the caravan doorstep of the travellers. Roma rights organisations claim that "stigmatisation" will not solve the underlying problems of lack of integration and facilities. Maxime Andreu, of the regional Support Committee for the Roma, said: "We should be looking at why they are having to leave their countries - what is being done with all the EU funds to help them there?"

For the Roma travellers on the waste ground outside Nissan-lez-Enserunes, their new home remains better than the one they left behind. Picking her way among broken bottles, discarded sofas and heaps of rubbish, Mikaela Josephine, 19, is only interested in avoiding being sent back to Romania. "It's wrong, what Mr Sarkozy is doing," the mother of two said. "But I don't want to go back there. It is more racist than France."
© The Sunday Telegraph

up  

PM CRITICISES SELECTION OF EU STATES TO DEBATE IMMIGRATION (Czech Rep.)

30/8/2010- Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas Monday sharply protested against a number of EU countries, including the Czech Republic, not being invited to the ministerial meeting in Paris that is to discuss the transfer of Bulgarian and Romanian Romanies from France. The meeting is due next Monday when Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is scheduled to pay an official visit to Paris. Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) said the selection of participants in the meeting is "a display of contempt and arrogance" that does not correspond to good cooperation among EU countries. The participants are not to include Romania and Bulgaria, with whom the problems with immigration are largely connected. Originally, the organisers even did not invite Belgium, the current EU-presiding state. The Czechs have not been invited either. On the other hand, those invited include Canada, which reintroduced visa requirements for Czechs last year over an excessive number of Czech Romani asylum seekers. "Staging a meeting without the countries in which the problem certainly has its roots is a bizarre, wrong idea," Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) said last week.

In an interview with Czech daily Lidové noviny he criticised French President Nicolas Sarkozy for "racist views" on the expulsion of Roma. Later, however, he softened his criticism. On Sunday, Necas said he considered Schwarzenberg's statements rash. Monday he dismissed being in dispute with Schwarzenberg over their position on the transfer of Roma. He said people can be of different views on the issue. Necas said he does not see any racist subtext in the expulsion of Romanian Roma from France. He said it is the right of each EU country to want everyone on its soil to observe its legislation. The disputes over the expulsion and the observance of Roma' rights in France must be assessed by international organisations, Necas said. "Sarkozy's expelling Romanian citizens goes against the spirit and rules of the EU. To put it mildly, when inspecting the case one cannot but voice the suspicion that racist motivation plays a role, too," Lidove noviny cited Schwarzenberg on Saturday. According to Czech Television, he later softened his position. He said he had not accused Sarkozy of racism but only said Sarkozy's steps outwardly look as if they were racist. It stems from the Czech cabinet's agenda that Schwarzenberg is to pay an official visit to France on Sunday, September 5, and Monday, September 6.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

PM: EXPULSION OF ROMA FROM FRANCE NOT RACIST (Czech Rep.)

29/8/2010- Romanies' expulsion from France has no racist connotations, Prime Minister Petr Necas told public broadcaster Czech Radio (CR) Saturday, adding that statements by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg were rash. "French President Nicolas Sarkozy's expelling Romani citizens goes against the spirit and rules of the EU. To put it mildly, when inspecting the case one cannot but voice the suspicion that racist motivation plays a role, too," Schwarzenberg told the paper Lidové noviny (LN) on Saturday. The public broadcaster Czech Television (CT) said later Schwarzenberg had somewhat moderated his words. "I said there was the outward impression that this may be racism. I did not accuse him of racism," Schwarzenberg told CT. Since the beginning of the year, France has repatriated over 8300 Romanies to Romania. "Labelling the affair automatically racist seems to me rather cheap. But I do not want to assume any categoric stand on Schwarzenberg's statement," Necas said. Necas said he would discuss the affair with Schwarzenberg and ask him whether his statements were corroborated by any evidence. "I do not have the evidence and I think that in the case of Romanian Romanies, their way of life is really unacceptable in France," Necas said.

The expulsion has provoked stormy reactions. Concern has been voiced by the European Commission and the Council of Europe. Eighteen United Nations independent experts have called on the French government to integrate the biggest ethnic minority in the EU. The repatriation has been condemned by European socialists and the Vatican as well. The Roma who agree to leave France receive 300 euros and another 100 euros for every child from the French authorities. On Thursday alone, some 300 of them left Paris and Lyons. France is preparing the programme of a summit of European powers on Roma to be held in Paris on September 6. However, neither Romania nor Bulgaria whose citizens are to be discussed nor the Czech Republic have received the invitation. "Staging a meeting without the countries in which the problem certainly has its roots is a bizarre, wrong idea," Schwarzenberg said. Besides, the Czech Republic is presiding the inter-governmental Decade of Romani Integration associating south and central European countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. Its presidency will only expire next year, LN writes.

It is an irony that EU newcomers will deal with the issue at the end of September, it adds. On the other hand, the powers will inspect the same issue behind the closed door in a few days' time, LN writes. "In Paris, there should be no talks 'about them without them'," Czech human rights commissioner Michael Kocáb said, adding that this is reminiscent of the 1938 Munich agreement. The summit was also condemned by Roman Joch, Prime Minister Petr Nečas's human rights advisor. "As Europeans who insist on tearing down barriers within Europe, we can consider this something inconsistent with the ideals of European unity," Joch told LN.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

up  

SUSPICION OF 'RACIST' THINKING ON ROMA EXPULSIONS (Czech Rep.)

28/8/2010- The Czech Republic's foreign minister on Saturday condemned France's expulsion of Roma Gypsies and said he could not avoid the suspicion that 'racist' thinking played a part in the policy. "The way in which the President (Nicolas Sarkozy of France) is expelling Romanian citizens is contrary to the spirit of European Union rules," said Karel Schwarzenberg, writing in the Prague daily Lidove Noviny. "One cannot avoid the suspicion that racist viewpoints are playing a role in this," he said. The minister also criticised the way in which the debate on the issue was being held "without the new countries" of the EU, including the Czech Republic. "To have a debate without the countries where this problem most probably has its roots is a bizarre and erroneous idea," he said. In the latest deportations, France on Thursday sent nearly 300 Roma back to Romania. France's crackdown has sparked international criticism in recent weeks. The European Union is also examining the legality of the move and the Vatican has also spoken out against it. French ministers will travel to Brussels on Tuesday to discuss the situation with the European Commission, a commission spokesman said. Thursday's expulsions brought the total number of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma deported so far this year to 8,313, up from 7,875 expelled throughout last year. Earlier this month, Sarkozy announced that French authorities would dismantle some 300 unauthorised encampments used by both French Gypsies and members of the Roma minority born in Eastern Europe. Those foreign-born Gypsies found to be living on French soil without means to support themselves would be expelled back to Romania and Bulgaria, with those going voluntarily receiving small cash grants.
© AFP

up  

RSS feed
Suggestions and comments please to info@icare.to