NEWS - Archive March 2006

Headlines 31 March, 2006


On February 13, 2006, Ilan Halimi, a twenty-three-year-old French Jew, died soon after he was found near Paris, half-naked, stabbed, and burned with cigarettes and acid. Halimi was kidnapped and tortured because he was a Jew. Virulent antisemitism is still pervasive in France, fueled by extremist movements of the right and Islamist propaganda.

Report by Human Rights First 31 March 2006

On February 13, 2006 Ilan Halimi died soon after he was found half-naked, stabbed, and burned with cigarettes and acid. Halimi was a 23-year-old French Jew and his brutal murder was a grim reminder that virulent antisemitism is still pervasive in France. Halimi had been kidnapped and tortured for three weeks by a criminal gang seeking a ransom before he died. French Police later made arrests and confirmed the antisemitic nature of the crime: the gang had targeted Halimi as a Jew, because they believed that “all Jews
are rich.” They tormented and ultimately killed him because he was a Jew. The alleged perpetrators were identified as members of a gang in suburban Bagneux that included the French-born children of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, North Africa, Iran, and Portugal—as well as others of French origin. Police said that at least one of the suspects had extremist Islamist literature in their possession, but added that many were not Muslim. Extremist political movements of the right as well as Islamist propaganda are a source of antisemitism in France. Neo-Nazi and skinhead groups bring new recruits through antisemitic music, Internet sites, and political organization among young people and the unemployed. These racist groups are generally anti-black, anti-Muslim, and antiimmigrant, but make common cause on antisemitism with Islamist militants living in France. The Halimi case provides a dramatic reminder that antisemitism is still pervasive in large sectors of the population in France. French police identified the perpetrators of this crime as an ethnically and religiously diverse group. But all of them were from poor neighborhoods, part of the very large underclass in the periphery of France’s major cities, where citizens of immigrant origin are concentrated. On February 13, 2006, Ilan Halimi, a twenty-three-year-old French Jew, died soon after he was found near Paris, half-naked, stabbed, and burned with cigarettes and acid. Halimi was kidnapped and tortured because he was a Jew. Virulent antisemitism is still pervasive in France, fueled by extremist movements of the right and Islamist propaganda.

2 - Neither egalite nor fraternite
The Halimi case is part of a larger pattern of violent crimes against Jews in France. In the weeks after his body was found, several other antisemitic assaults were reported in the Paris suburbs. Three assaults were reported in one 24 hour period in suburban Sarcelle. On March 3, two men shouting antisemitic epithets near the Sarcelle synagogue assaulted Eliahou Brami, the 17-year-old son of a local rabbi, breaking his nose. In a separate incident there the same day, a young Jewish man, Yacob Boccara, was attacked and beaten by a group of five men. On March 4, a Jewish man wearing a kippa, who has asked for his name to be withheld, was subjected to antisemitic insults and assaulted in Sarcelles, his shoulder dislocated (four suspects in this case have since been arrested). Human Rights First has monitored and reported on antisemitic hate crimes in Europe since 2002. We chronicled the rise in antisemitism in France and in much of Europe after 2001, attacks which were a reaction, in part, to events in the Middle East. In our first report, Fire and Broken Glass we were highly critical of the French Government’s “policy of indifference.”

At that time, violent attacks including the burning of synagogues and assaults on Jewish schools, shops, and homes were rising dramatically. After initially refusing to address the problem the French Government eventually took a number of meaningful steps,
including enacting unprecedented hate crimes legislation, greatly enhancing official monitoring and reporting of hate crimes, demanding more concerted police action, introducing a series of new educational programs, and, through statements and actions
by French political leaders, giving antisemitic hate crimes a high public profile. *1 Together, these official actions have made a difference. Despite continuing high levels of antisemitic violence, there has been some progress. In January, 2006, French nongovernmental organizations that monitor antisemitism applauded government measures to combat hate crimes. They reported a decrease by half of antisemitic crimes between 2005 (with 504 cases) and the high levels of 2004 (974 cases). Statistics from the Jewish Community Protection Service confirmed official statistics produced by the Ministry of the Interior. Ministry of Interior statistics also reported a rise in successful prosecutions of antisemitic and racist hate crimes, from 303 in 2004 to 435 in 2005. And yet the problem remains, and in some ways it is growing worse. One very disturbing trend that we have observed in recent years is that the attacks on monuments and buildings that had made up the bulk of antisemitic incidents in the past, now appear to be morphing into violent assaults on people because they are Jewish—or thought to be Jewish. Thus in 2006 we are seeing a surge of violent hate crimes that target individuals—people like Ilan Halimi. And notwithstanding the French Government’s progress in monitoring antisemitic hate crimes, the Representative Council of French Jewish Communities (Conseil Representatif des Institutions Juives de France, CRIF), has recently stressed that the level of violence today is nearly ten times that of the late nineties.
*1 Human Rights First has documented these changes in two subsequent reports, Antisemitism in Europe: Challenging Official Indifference (2004) and Everyday Fears: A Survey of Violent Hate Crimes in Europe and North America (2005).

3 - Neither egalite nor fraternite
Antisemitism—Part of a Broader Pattern of Discrimination in France

Antisemitism in France is part of a broader pattern of discrimination that is triggered by racism and by class-based prejudice. Tensions run especially high in and around the public housing projects on the periphery of French cities, where members of ethnic and religious minorities are concentrated, including a large Muslim population. The intensity of these tensions became clear in late 2005 when young people rioted in cities throughout France, fueled by a series of grievances. The October 27 deaths by electrocution of 15-year-old Bouna Traore and 17-year-old Zyed Benna, as they hid from police, set off the protests. The killers of Ilan Halimi came from the same world of suburban housing projects that for weeks in late 2005 generated violent protests of discriminatory treatment. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy contributed to tensions before the disturbances while promoting urban anti-crime initiatives in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil, on October 25. Pelted with rocks and bottles from a hostile crowd of protesters, Sarkozy described violent residents of the housing projects as “scum” and “gangrene” and said the area should be “cleaned out with a power hose.” (President Jacques Chirac responded to outrage over the statements with a call for “respect” in the use of language). As the riots spread over the next two weeks, Sarkozy’s widely reported comments sustained resentment and fueled the flames. Ironically, the principle of equality in France has long been invoked to bar the production of government statistics and surveys that can prove discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or national origin. Traditionally French policy had been based on the notion that to distinguish between French citizens for this purpose would in itself be discriminatory. This does not mean that these distinctions are not made in practice by police and public officials, as we highlighted in our review of police reports on hate crimes in Everyday Fears. A principal grievance in the 2005 protests concerned policing based on ethnic profiling.

Although immigrants in the vast housing estates outside of most French cities face day to day discrimination, the ban on the compilation of disaggregated statistics on discrimination deprives them of a principal means employed to confirm and confront
discrimination in other countries. Even in the monitoring of hate crimes, French citizens of Sub-Saharan African origin, to identify just one group, are statistically invisible: annual reports by the Ministry of Interior on hate crimes provide no data on this population group. High levels of hate crimes against citizens of North African origin are, in contrast, registered, but under the category of assaults on “immigrants.” Statistics that could confirm discrimination in the criminal justice system, in housing, in education, or in employment are unavailable, on the grounds that the law makes all French citizens equal. Young people whose parents or grandparents originated in France’s former North African colonies claim that in practice they are systematically turned away by potential employers and randomly picked up by the police simply because they stand out from other French citizens, but there is no monitoring system with which to document this.

4 - Neither egalite nor fraternite
Often disparaged as “immigrants,” these French citizens of North African or Sub-Saharan African ancestry protest that they have neither the equal opportunity nor the respect guaranteed other compatriots by the state. Making these young people feel like second class citizens, while barring official monitoring of discriminatory treatment, in turn, creates fertile ground for the antisemitism promoted by Islamist and rightist organizations.

French authorities have reaffirmed their commitment to combat antisemitism, combining efforts to guarantee the security of the Jewish community with high-level political action and new educational programs.

Public support for the fight against antisemitism also appears to be growing, with new levels of cooperation between France’s nongovernmental antiracism organizations and Jewish organizations. A demonstration on February 26 to protest the murder of Ilan
Halimi, sponsored by the Representative Council of French Jewish Communities (Conseil Representatif des Institutions Juives de France, CRIF) and the antiracism bodies SOS-Racisme and LICRA (International League Against Racism), brought some 100,000 people into the Paris streets. Similar demonstrations were held in Bordeaux, Lille, Grenoble, Marseille, Nice, Orleans, Strasbourg, Toulouse, and other French towns and cities.

Government commitments to combat discrimination more broadly, made in response to the riots across much of France in late 2005, included passage of a new equal opportunity law and new proposals for education. But more needs to be done to combat this full spectrum of discrimination.

Firstly, French authorities should together send a clear, consistent message condemning all forms of hatred and discrimination without reservation and reasserting its commitment to combat antisemitic and racist violence. They should initiate a dialogue of respect with
all of the communities seeking security from discriminatory violence and equal opportunity. National leaders should promote a coming together of France’s diverse communities to confront racist violence and discrimination, a dialogue already catalyzed by the murder of Ilan Halimi.

Secondly, French authorities should take the steps required to provide essential tools for the fight against discrimination that are now unavailable. Adjustments should be made in policy and law to allow the monitoring and measurement of discrimination in France as it effects distinct sectors of the population, drawing on European and international norms of data protection and privacy for safeguards against the misuse of data.

On November 18, 2005, French Equal Opportunities Minister Azouz Begag broke ranks with French tradition by urging the government to reverse a ban on collecting data based on ethnicity or religion as a means to combat discrimination. Citing job discrimination as a key grievance expressed in protests, Begag called for action on the grounds that "We need to see France's true colors." As a step forward to that end, France should drop its counterproductive ban on such data collection.

5 - Neither egalite nor fraternite
Thirdly, France should take the international stage, promoting concerted action against antisemitism and racism through European institutions and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). France can play a crucial role by showing strong
support for a ministerial-level OSCE conference on racism and antisemitism in 2007, and preparatory regional or thematic meetings of experts. Such meetings can provide important opportunities for France to share the lessons learned in its work to combat antisemitism, acknowledge the challenges posed by the disturbances of October-November 2005, and bring new energy to Europe's flagging response to antisemitism and racist violence. Supporting a preparatory meeting of experts to review implementation of existing OSCE commitments to combat antisemitic and racist violence would be of particular importance.

The OSCE convened a first international conference on antisemitism in Vienna in 2003, with conferences following in 2004 and 2005 in Berlin, Brussels, and Cordoba, Spain. France has already made an important contribution by hosting an OSCE conference on racism and antisemitism on the Internet, in Paris in 2004. No high-level conference on racism and antisemitism was scheduled by the OSCE for 2006. A proposal by Romania to host a conference in 2007 is under consideration.
© Human Rights First


31/3/2006- A Bulgarian football team lost a UEFA cup match because of a “homosexual” referee, according to the Levski Sofia team president. Todor Batkov called Mike Riley a homosexual after he sent off one of his side’s strikers in an eventual loss to German club Schalke in the quarter finals of the European competition. Mr Batkov said: "This British homosexual broke the game." Mr Riley was blamed after sending off Levski player, Sedrik Bardon, which led to a surrender of their 1-0 lead to finish the game 3-1 down. The dismissal also shocked Bulgarian sport commentators and was seen as controversial by the head of the Bulgarian football union, Borisslav Mihaylov, he said: "The red card practically doomed the game."

Racial Chanting Heralds UEFA Fine for Levski
FC Levski Sofia faces a hefty fine from the UEFA headquarters after referee Michael Riley lodged a complaint on racial chanting. According to the British referee of Levski-Schalke on Thursday evening, guests' Gerald Asamoah was heavily insulted by the Bulgarian fans. Gerald Asamoah was the goalscorer to cement the victory of Schalke in the second half of the game. German heavyweight has taken a giant stride towards the last four of the UEFA Cup. Schalke 04 came from behind to beat 3-1 ten-man Levski in their quarter-final first-leg clash in Sofia. Goals from Gustavo Varela (48 minutes), Lincoln (69) and Gerald Asamoah (79) cancelled out a sixth-minute strike for Levski from former Bundesliga player Daniel Borimirov and put Mirko Slomka's side into the driving seat. Levski's management also plans to lodge a complaint against the "scandalous" referee, who mutilated "the blues" taking a man out during the first half of the dramatic clash. 
(c) Novinite Ltd.

© Pink News



31/3/2006- After a week long siege, Warsaw authorities today evacuated and closed "Le Madame", a cultural centre for civil society, and the party headquarters of Zieloni 2004 (the Polish Green party), which were situated in the same building. Commenting on the events in Warsaw, Monica Frassoni, co-president of the Greens/EFA group, Jean Lambert, vice-president of the Greens/EFA group and Magdalena Mosiewicz, co-chairwoman of the Polish Greens today said:

"We are shocked and dismayed by today's forced closure of the Warsaw Club "Le Madame" and the headquarters of the Polish Green party. The alleged reasons for the evacuation, that the City of Warsaw, which is the owner of the building, needs the venue for a commercial passage is a flimsy excuse. In fact, the club has been closed because the right-wing government in Poland wanted to shut down this meeting point for civil society where artists, political activists, homosexuals, feminists, and globalisation critics met - in short, all the people the current right-wing government detests. We also protest against the closure of the Green party headquarters, located in the same building.

This action was a further move by the right-wing government to suppress opposition and minorities, which began with the banning of the gay pride demonstration in Warsaw in June last year and led to the violent suppression of a civil society demonstration in Poznan in November 2005. All these actions are a clear violation of EU fundamental human rights.

We call upon the Warsaw authorities to immediately reopen the Club "Le Madame" and the Green party HQ at the same venue, to support civil society activities and to respect human rights according to European values. We welcome the support of actor John Malkovich, who came to the venue this morning to express his solidarity with the protesting people."

Press Service of the Greens/EFA Group
in the European Parliament
Helmut Weixler
Head of Press Office
© email source



Gay club is surrounded by the police. Gays, lesbians and their friends.
28/3/2006- Homofobic City Council and the atmosphere of a street war. But it's not Now York City, nor Stonewall Inn. It's Warsaw. The club's name is Le Madame. Since 26 hours I have been in the surrounded Warsawian club with other 200 people. Almost all Polish media transmit the situation from Kozla Street, in which Le Madame is situated. Since many hours we have been prepearing for a police action. This all happens due to homofobic City Council, in which PiS (Law and Justice - Lech Kaczynski's party) is in power. They have been trying for a year to close one of the most popular gay clubs in Warsaw. Le Madame - a home for alternative and off culture, gays, lesbians, feminists, pacifists, alterglobalistic. It's a place where many leftist political discusions took place. The club hated by Polish fascists.

We have plenty of food and water. Each ten minutes new people come from the city. There are women, kids and media but we still take into account that police may attack. Yesterday, such attack has been officialy proclaimed by the judicial egsecutor. We still receive support from many people, who are representing world of art, show businnes and media. On Monday, all leaders of Polish leftist parties visited us. We will not give up! Today, whole Poland looks at Le Madame. For tolerance, freedom and Our Place - we will fight.

£ukasz Pa³ucki
Coordinator of Cultural Events
Warsaw Gay Pride 2006
© email source



In the 1990s Polish anti-fascist activist Tomasz Wilkoszewski was sentenced to 15 years in prison for killing a neo-Nazi in self defence after he was attacked by the neo-nazi.

28/3/2006- Tomek Wilkoszewski was jailed in March 1996. He's been deprived of his freedom for more than ten years. According to the verdict of the local court he must spend five more years in prison.

What did he do to deserve such a sentence?
Tomek comes from a little village near Radomsko (a typical small town in central Poland). He was a good student and was finishing a technical highschool. He wanted to continue his studies afterwards. He was working to pay for his studies. He had never been convicted before and had never been in contact with the Police before that fateful day of March 1996. But he ran out of luck:

First, there was a nazi-skinhead group in Radomsko who was trying to rule the town. The assaults and the bullying were daily occurences that were overlooked by the Police and the local authorities. Most of the time "strangers" would be attacked, i.e. newcomers like Tomek who was driving to Radomsko each day. Someone who had been beaten by a band of these nazis went to the police and he was told: "If you weren't looking for fights, you wouldn't have been beaten. You should stay quiet." Tomek had been a victim of the attacks several times. Once, someone tried to pick out one of his eyes. What happend next was nothing more than the logical consequences of this situation: With no help to be found, the terrified youngsters tried to defend themselves. The death of a young man was no more than a part of this tragedy (after one of those fights, a nazi-skinhead died from loss of blood while waiting for an ambulance).

Second, Tomek was accused of the murder. As he had often been assaulted, he had a motive and, according to a few witnesses, he had a knife. This so-called crime instrument, which was used as evidence by the prosecution, has been subject to no examination or investigation that could unequivocallyconfirm the accusation. During the judical procedure there were a number of similar uncertainties, but that wasn't taken into account by the Judge who at that time bowed to the pressure of public opinion which was asking for the most severe penalties.

Third, the prosecution and the Judge wanted to demonstrate something. The fifteen year verdict and the lesser sentences given to the eight other defendants were outstandingly severe. The witnesses of this judicial process were outraged by the justification of the verdict which "should have an educational function for the convicted as well as for the entire underworld!"  No extenuating circumstance was recognized and Tomek received one of the highest penalties in Poland. But on the other hand, nazi-skinheads, or other criminals would get away with eight years verdict for murder with premeditation and were out of jail after four years. This is what this justice is about: high penalties for the nonconformists and the poor who can't afford a good lawyer and mild penalties for the Mafia and the thugs.

But Tomek had also a bit of luck. Anarchists Black Cross and other anti fascist groups got interested in his case. Polish TV transmitted a movie called "Riot", and the biggest Polish newspaper published a long article about the case. While being interviewed for a newspaper as well as in front of the cameras, the nazis would tell openly about their actions of cleaning the town of all kinds of strangers. These two documentaries were quite highly publicised across Poland, but were ignored by the court. In the prison he managed to finish his secondary school, he got a job and the prison authorities have a good opinion of him. After four years Tomek's supporters managed to have the appeal trial (kasacyjna) held. It happened on 27 September 2000, but it was dismissed by the Court for buerocratic reasons. He has now served almost 10 years of his sentence, which means he is now eligible for parole, and he has a hearing coming up to decide if he will be released early or not.

If you want to help him, pleas print out the petition, get as many signatures as you can, and send it before 10 April 2006 - preferably with air mail/priority

petition in PDF

Tomek would also love to get letters from people, to break the isolation of prison. He can understand some English, but finds it difficult to write, so don't necessarily expect a reply...

His address is as follows:
Tomek Wilkoszewski,
Zaklad Karny,
ul. Orzechowa 5,
98-200 Sieradz,
© Prisoner Solidarity



28/3/2006- Kosovar Taida Pasic left for school as normal in the Dutch town of Winterswijk on Tuesday, the deadline set by Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk for her to leave the country voluntarily or be deported. Earlier this month Verdonk confirmed her decision that Pasic, who entered the country on a tourist visa, cannot stay to finish secondary education over the next few two months. Pasic's family sought fled to the Netherlands when she was 12. The Immigration and Integration Service (IND) decided the family could not stay and they were given money to leave voluntarily. Taida returned to complete her schooling and hopes to attend university to study law. Immigration officials came to the school in Winterswijk at the beginning of the year and put her in handcuffs in front of her classmates. She was initially placed in a deportation centre but has been staying for some time with the family of a school friend. Pasic has taken the matter to court in a last effort to overturn Verdonk's ruling. No one seems sure what will happen on Tuesday. Harry Meulenkamp, father of the family Pasic is staying with, said he hoped she could continue to attend school despite the deadline. "We are concerned about this, but as long as the matter is before the court hopefully nothing will happen," he said. It is unclear when the judge will take a decision on whether she can stay. Ed de Graaf of 'De Driemark' school in Winterswijk said on Monday plans on how to cope with her deportation are also ready. The Education and Justice Ministries have agreed to allow Pasic to complete her final exams at the Dutch Embassy in Sarajevo.
© Expatica News



28/3/2006- The Roma Press Agency is preparing a series of four journalistic television programmes totaling 104 minutes in length for broadcast on Slovak Television's Channel Two. The magazines will premiere from 3 April to the end of June and each magazine will have a minimum of 5 repeat broadcasts. "I believe that the Decade of Roma Inclusion has become a kind of magic spell for the public and is often used in an utterly inexact and unsuitable context," says Kristína Magdolenová, co-author of the programmes and acting director of the RPA. "One reason is ignorance about this programme. The biggest tragedy is the fact that the Roma themselves know very little or practically nothing about Decade at all."

The RPA has prepared these magazine programmes specifically to present the biggest project aimed at the Roma community at the start of the 21st century to the Roma themselves. "The difference is whether we want to provide information about Decade to the majority population or to people from the Roma community. Our success will depend on the methods of presentation and the use of examples and arguments. That's why we approached these themes very carefully and as a result the reports speak about the present problems while at the same time attempt to show what Slovakia wants to achieve in the framework of Decade. We posit the question whether the goals are realistic and primarily discuss what the Roma must do themselves to achieve them. I think the top priority of the Decade programme should be to connect the Roma to this process and to connect them as active participants in solving individual problems, not as merely passive people who are at the receiving of a lot of mistaken decisions. It could be that the Roma need to know what is expected from them and what exactly their place is in society – today and in the future as well beyond the conclusion of Decade," Magdolenová said. The magazine is extraordinary in that it will be presented entirely in the language of the Roma in Slovakia. The series will consist of four parts. Each part will be 26 minutes in length and will inform about one of the specific themes which were designated as priority issues within the framework of the Decade programme (education, housing, health and employment). The initial broadcast of the individual magazine segments will be on 3 April, 24 April, 22 May and 12 June. The first segment, which premieres on 3 April, focuses on the problem of education. "We first of all tried to show to the Roma themselves what kind of changes are needed in the thinking of a large part of the community in relation to education and what such change brings to the Roma themselves, how it can improve their lives," is how Magdolenová characterized the work of the RPA. According to her it's possible to feel that in Roma communities where third sector organizations are working, where cooperation between local administration and the community takes place, or where strong Roma personalities work for their community, a certain transformation is taking place which promises positive development. "More and more it's easy to meet Roma moving to two different poles of an imaginary spectrum of attitudes – on one side educated or studious Roma and on the other side absolutely unmotivated Roma who refuse any opportunity to make improvements through education. It's such a paradox that before the year 1989 we had here more Roma educated in the scope of a kind of middle status – who had finished trade schools, often with graduation, or even a few people with a university education. Now we have primarily more university students but the core of middle school students is quickly dropping, which deepens the social differences in the community itself," explained Magdolenová.

In the first part of the series dedicated to Decade, viewers will see the following news stories: Etela Matová's report from a preschool in the Lunik IX housing estate in Košice. She tries to find out the answer to the question why the largest Roma preschool in Slovakia doesn't have any assistant teachers when the experience with assistants in preschools so far has been so obviously successful. This experience is in sharp contrast to the government's declared attempts that all Roma children will gradually attend preschools and that this will fully secure them an easier transition into basic schools. "In an environment where there is such a strong language barrier, where 100 percent of the children are Roma, there is no excuse why there aren't any assitants. This is unacceptable,“ Matová stresses.
In another report we visit social rights academy in Košice where we will search for the answer to the question of whether it's possible to achieve the goals of Decade in terms of creating the conditions necessary for the perpetual education of the Roma. We found out that half the students in this academy are women between the ages of 15 and 50 years old. Etela Matová's report explains why they study, what kind of support they have at home and what an educated Roma woman means for the Roma community .
The public tends to assume that purely Roma schools must be places of chaos and disorder. This is certainly not the case in Jasov pri Košice. Although the local Roma community doesn't have a good name in the media, the number of registered Roma children in grammar school is growing and also changing positively the access of parents to the education of their children. What is behind this transformation? Jarmila Vaņová's report will address this question. If we want to have educated Roma children, we have to have educated teachers who will be capable of teaching them in their native language. The Pedagogical Faculty at Prešov University is currently realizing a project in which nearly 50 Roma are obtaining their first year of university education. In her report, Etela Matová speaks about why they study, what their ambitions are as well as why leading faculty are taking part in such a programme. Repeat broadcasts of the above-mentioned programme will be shown on 4 April at 2:10 a.m. and at 9:40 a.m., as well as 10 and 11 April at the time of the Roma national magazine So vakeres? on STV 2. The broadcasts can also be watched live on the web site STV.
© Dzeno Association



Ethnic-Hungarian minority leaders in Romania demonstrate their nationalist might but step back after the president mediates.
By Razvan Amariei, TOL’s correspondent in Bucharest.

27/3/2006- Instead of the self-proclamation of an autonomous territory, a recent rally by members of the ethnic-Hungarian Szekler minority in Romania led to a complex political mediation and, to their chagrin, the status quo. On 15 March, the small Transylvanian town of Odorheiu Secuiesc, known as Szekelyudvarhely in Hungarian, was invaded by domestic and foreign journalists. Many of them were expecting bloody clashes between ethnic-Hungarian and Romanian nationalists. But events took a more peaceful turn. The date is a national holiday in Hungary, commemorating the independence revolution of 1848. Since the demise of Romania’s communist regime in 1989, it is also celebrated by the 1.5 million ethnic Hungarians who live in Romania. In 1990, one of these ceremonies was the departure point for major interethnic clashes in the city of Targu Mures that lasted several days and left six dead and about 300 injured. After a decade-and-a-half interval of relative calm, this year’s celebrations threatened once again to raise ill will between the Romanian majority and the ethnic-Hungarian minority.

An autonomous minority
The recent tension started in December, when Jozsef Csapo, the head of the Szekler National Council (CNS), a Hungarian community organization, asked for a referendum to be organized on the issue of territorial autonomy for a region in central Romania. “We want to become autonomous, like the Albanians in Kosovo,” CNS Deputy Chairman Ferencz Csaba said in a reference to the troubled province that formally still belongs to Serbia and whose status is now the subject of international negotiations. Known as “Szekler Land,” the area would include Covasna county (with 74 percent ethnic Hungarians and 23 percent Romanians), Harghita county (85 and 14 percent), and about half of Mures county (53 percent Romanians and 39 percent ethnic Hungarians). The new territory would have about 750,000 inhabitants, 500,000 of them ethnic Hungarians, 220,000 ethnic Romanians, and 30,000 belonging to other ethnic communities, mostly Roma. According to the CNS, the region should have its own president and government, its own police force and education system. In February, Csaba announced the 15 March celebration would be used to declare the autonomy of Szekler Land. The leader of the nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM), Corneliu Vadim Tudor, immediately responded by calling a Romanian counter-rally in Odorheiu Secuiesc. “We will bring 100,000 Romanians there,” Tudor threatened. The autonomy call also prompted leaders from Toplita, a town with a 90 percent Romanian population in Harghita county, to announce they would proclaim their own autonomy or ask to be part of a neighboring county with a Romanian majority in the event of Szekler autonomy. Meanwhile, newspapers in Bucharest published stories about alleged paramilitary organizations trained in Hungary to fight for the autonomy of Szekler Land, like the Szekler Legion (Legio Siculis), which was the subject of an article in the daily Ziua. Three hundred kilometers north, in Targu Mures, the police confiscated an issue of the Hungarian periodical Europai Ido after it published the Szekler autonomy proclamation, for threatening national security. The police action was called “abusive and stupid” by Kelemen Hunor, a leader of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). The UDMR is the main organization of the ethnic-Hungarian minority and is a member of Romania’s ruling center-right coalition.

The peasemaker
Bucharest officials decided to take action before it was too late. A few days before the scheduled events, community leaders were called to Cotroceni Palace by President Traian Basescu. The result of these talks was tangible and immediate: Both sides toned down their rhetoric, and the ethnic-Hungarian leaders decided to replace their proclamation with a manifesto that simply expressed their wish for autonomy at some future stage. “This is the first president who wants to get objective information about the Hungarians in Romania,” said Jeno Szasz, the mayor of Odorheiu Secuiesc and chairman of the Hungarian Civic Union, the political wing of the CNS. The president of the Hungarian National Council of Transylvania, Laszlo Tokes, a man equally known for his role in starting the Romanian revolution of December 1989 as for his radical views regarding ethnic-Hungarians' rights, also toned down his rhetoric. As for the PRM, it called off the counter-rally. “I appreciated Basescu’s reaction. I came to like him again,” Tudor told reporters. The 15 March ceremonies indeed turned out to be peaceful and without incident, though some Romanians may have been bothered by the abundance of Hungarian flags and some of the speeches made. But most statements were decidedly moderate. “We are convinced that Romania’s accession to the EU will create the conditions for the founding of the Szekler Land,” said CNS leader Csapo in a statement that seemed to suggest that the idea of a unilateral proclamation of autonomy had been buried for the time being. As if to underline this fact, Basescu made an unprecedented move by visiting Odorheiu Secuiesc the day after the ceremonies.

Mixed reactions
Despite the lack of sensational news coming out of Odorheiu Secuiesc, the events gave the media, analysts, and politicians an opportunity to take a closer look at the issue of interethnic relations in Romania. A commentator in the daily Gandul described the events surrounding the 15 March celebration as the result of a political confrontation in the ethnic-Hungarian community between moderates (the UDMR) and radicals (the CNS). Indeed, this is not the first time that such splits have become apparent. Historian Andrea Varga believes that most of the tensions were provoked by the media. “If there is no problem, there is always a newspaper or two to generate one,” she wrote on A key actor in the drama was Basescu. “He managed to defuse a potentially dangerous situation without giving the impression that there was a dangerous situation,” respected analyst Ion Cristoiu said during a talk show. Others think Basescu might have had a different aim, that of “showing the UDMR that it is not the only discussion partner on Hungarian community issues,” Ioana Lupea wrote in the daily Evenimentul Zilei. A headline in another Romanian newspaper more pointedly read: “Basescu is beating the UDMR with the radicals’ hand.”

Yesterday and today
The Szeklers were one of the three leading nations of medieval Transylvania, along with Hungarians and Germans. Romanians, while the most numerous even back then, were mostly serfs and had few rights. By origin, the Szeklers were a Turkish population, brought in around 1200 to guard the Hungarian kingdom’s eastern borders, then along the Carpathian mountains. Over the centuries, they increasingly spoke Hungarian; today their names are wholly Hungarian. The term Szekler is today simply used as another name for the Hungarians of eastern Transylvania. In1918, Transylvania merged with Romania. After World War II, according to the wishes of the Soviet Union, an area approximately identical with the planned Szekler Land became autonomous based on the ethnicity of its inhabitants. But as the Romanian regime moved away from the Soviet line, introducing administrative changes under Nicolae Ceausescu in 1965, the region lost its autonomy. According to a 2002 census, Romania has 1.4 million ethnic Hungarians, making up 6.6 percent of the population. They are the largest ethnic minority, followed by Roma (535,250), Ukrainians (61,091), and Germans (60,080). Only a few hundred people officially declared themselves Szeklers. The overwhelming majority of the ethnic Hungarians live in western and central Romania, in the regions of Transylvania, Crisana, Maramures, and Banat. The Romanian constitution protects state-run minority-language education, including, where numbers warrant, high schools and colleges. Certain minorities have the right to receive public services in their native language, they can use their mother tongue in court, and there are minority-language public and private cultural institutions, newspapers, and radio and TV stations. But the constitution also states that Romania is a “national, unitary, and indivisible state.” So while secessionist movements can legally realize autonomy, it could become reality only after a complicated process of constitutional amendments.
© Transitions Online



German President Horst Köhler's praise for a Turkish school girl's work in an anti-Semitism project this week may be of little comfort if the city of Berlin carries out a plan to deport her parents in April.

25/3/2006- Having spent most of her 17 years in Germany, Hayriye Aydin may have to watch her parents being deported to Turkey next month. And that despite receiving nationwide recognition this week for her participation in an integration project. "It's horrible, first you're honored, then you're deported," she said. "What are they thinking, tearing a family apart that's lived here for 17 years, and can speak German? It's incomprehensible that we’re being deported at all."

Exception made for three family members
For the time being, an exception made by Berlin's Interior Senator Ehrhart Körting will allow Hayriye and two of her sisters to remain in Germany, while her parents and four younger siblings are deported. "I made an exception for the three older sisters to remain here, at least until they have completed their final school exams," he said. "If they complete their exams successfully, and can live independently in Germany, then they can certainly stay here in the future. For the parents and other family members, I didn't feel I could justify making an exception." A group of Hayriye's teachers and friends' parents guaranteed to pay the girls' expenses and started a petition to allow the entire family to remain in Germany. In 1989, when the Aydin family first arrived in Germany, they were denied asylum seeker status and procured false documents to stay in the country for 17 years. Feyyaz Aydin, Hayriye's father, said he resorted to lying to German officials because he feared being sent back to Turkey.

Family "embodies concept of integration"
The committee on petitions at the state parliament in Berlin, is investigating whether or not the Aydins could be allowed to stay in Germany. Gerd Fitkau, one of the members of the German parliament looking into the case, said he doesn't feel anyone in the family should be deported. "The Aydins really embody the concept of integration," he said. "There are 11 children, including Hayriye, who despite being a Muslim, campaigned in a Berlin initiative against anti-Semitism. The children are all active in school, as class representatives, and pupil-teacher mediators." German President Horst Köhler has promised to personally look into the Aydin case, although he stressed that he couldn't make any promises. Köhler also said he would investigate difficulties with the right of residence for families who have lived as illegal long-term refugees in Germany.
© Deutsche Welle



25/3/2005- Eunice Barber, the French former world athletics champion, broke down in tears yesterday when she asserted that she had been the victim of police brutality and racist abuse when she was arrested outside Paris. Barber, who has won gold medals for France in the heptathlon and the long jump, said that she was left distraught and injured after being stopped by police officers for driving down a street that had been blocked off. “They put me in the black maria (police van). There, two women stepped on my hands and on my head. They told me, ‘Do you believe you could behave like this in Africa?’ ” At a news conference in Paris, she continued: “They told me, ‘You are lucky that there are people looking; otherwise, we would have done much worse. When you get out of here you’ll need crutches ’.  “My mouth bled. I can no longer use my arm. I have to see a doctor because my two hands are numb,” Barber, who was wearing a neck brace, said. Her comments are likely to fuel simmering anger among ethnic minorities in France over what they see as widespread racism in the police.  The anger exploded into riots in city suburbs last autumn and is threatening to do so again amid student protests over labour-law reforms. The latest alleged incident took place near the Stade de France in one of the suburbs that was the focus of ethnic riots last year. The 31-year-old athlete, who was born in Sierra Leone and acquired French nationality in 1999, has a made a formal complaint to the police and may also sue the officers who arrested her a week ago. Officials said, however, that Barber had assaulted the officers and bitten two of them after refusing to stop when flagged down near the national stadium. Her mother and nephew were travelling with her. She was detained in police custody overnight but released without charge. French judicial sources said that she may be summoned for questioning at a later date.

The French sports daily L’Équipe published photographs yesterday that appeared to support Barber’s claim to have been the victim and not the aggressor. Taken by a passer-by, they showed five officers kneeling on her as she lay on the street. She said: “I took a left turn while the officer indicated for me to turn right. But I didn’t understand what he was wanting from me. He then banged on my car. I scrolled down the window and he slapped my face. I got out of the car and more officers showed up. “One twisted my hand and another one pulled my hair. They then threw me on the ground. My hands and my arms are the tools of my trade. I told myself I was never going to be able to throw the shot or the javelin again. I was desperate and I bit a police officer. “I’m trying to understand what happened,” she said. “Mentally, I’m bewildered. I feel as affected psychologically as physically.” She denounced some French police officers as racists, adding that they were “full of hate because they work in rather rough neighbourhoods”. Her comments were supported by another French champion athlete, the sprinter Christine Arron. “The real problem is that it’s clear that a large proportion of police officers are racist,” Arron said.

Protest may turn to riot
Police fear that riots could flare again in the suburbs of Paris after violence invaded peaceful student protests against a law that would make it easier to sack young workers. “There were hoodlums from certain troubled neighbourhoods and who are the same as the rioters of November,” Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister, said yesterday, after youths and masked men with baseball bats battled riot police and even turned on student protesters on Thursday. Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist Mayor of Paris, called the situation “explosive”. About ninety police officers and thirty-three demonstrators were injured in city centre violence on Thursday.
© The Times Online


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