Headlines 29 September, 2006
EU FACES BIG ROMA QUESTION AFTER 2007 ENLARGEMENT(Belgium)
29/09/2006 - Romania and Bulgaria's membership of the EU will bring almost three million more Roma citizens into the bloc, but the ethnic population is still facing strong discrimination in the two Balkan countries. "The governmental approach to non-registered settlements of mainly Roma community has led to tensions. Forced evictions further increased those tensions," the commission stated in its EU progress report on Bulgaria this week. For Romania, Brussels noted that the country's authorities "do not yet demonstrate at all levels that a zero-tolerance policy on racism against Roma is applied." "There are still cases of institutional violence against and assaulting of Roma, such as police raids and evictions in Roma communities, without providing them with alternative accommodation," said the report.
Racism in the European Parliament
Meanwhile, an incident in the European Parliament on Thursday brought the issue closer to the heart of Europe when Bulgarian observer MEP Dimitar Stoyanov made slighting comments about Roma girls. Mr Stoyanov (23) was elected as the youngest MP in Bulgaria for the nationalist party Ataka and after months of serving as an "observer" in the EU legislature he is set to become an MEP next year. Reacting to a proposal to nominate Hungarian Roma centre-right MEP Livia Jaroka for a prize honouring her human rights activities, Mr Stoyanov commented "In my country there are tens of thousands gypsy girls way more beautiful than this honorable one." "In fact if you're in the right place on the right time you even can buy one (around 12-13 years old) to be your loving wife. The best of them are very expensive - up to 5 000 euros a piece, wow!" he wrote in an email sent out to all parliamentarians. His comments were condemned by the leader of the centre-right EPP group Hans-Gert Pottering who suggested the Bulgarian authorities should withdraw Mr Stoyanov from the parliament "as there is no place for him among European politicians." Mr Stoyanov later sent an apology to his colleagues, stating he did not want to offend Ms Jaroka but rather "point out that in Bulgaria gypsy girls are still sold like items by their parents."
Catching the political agenda
The incident is likely to give a boost to those MEPs saying it is the high time the bloc paid more political attention to problems of the EU's biggest ethnic minority group. With the Balkan newcomers, the Roma community in the EU will amount to around ten to twelve million people, with Romania bringing two million Roma citizens and Bulgaria around 700,000. "Even without Bulgaria and Romania in the EU, there are enough critical issues concerning the Roma community that we must tackle," says Hungarian Roma deputy Viktoria Mohacsi, from the liberal group. She points out that in several European countries with a bigger Roma minority, there are still cases of Roma children being sent to schools for the mentally disabled without a proper evaluation, as well as clear cases of racism on the part of local authorities and high unemployment. As was the case with central European states like Hungary, Slovakia or the Czech Republic before they joined the bloc in 2004, the poor situation of Roma in the two Black Sea countries has been closely monitored and highlighted by EU watchdogs as part of their pre-accession process. Ms Mohacsi and her socialist colleague Katalin Levai visited a Romanian town of Szaszregen earlier this month to hear evidence on the incident between Roma citizens and police which they claim was followed by a "collective punishment against the Roma community, with even women and children being attacked." "Romanian policemen were surprised to see two parliamentarians there coming personally to find out more about the case, but this is what we want to do more in the future - follow the cases of violence and blunt discrimination against Roma," noted Ms Levai.
Last year, some socialist MEPs suggested that the European Commission should consider appointing one special commissioner for Roma people as a concrete sign that it takes the issue seriously. The social affairs spokesperson told EUobserver that the proposal is unlikely to see the light of day - despite the fact that jobs have to be found by January for the two new commissioners from Bulgaria and Romania. The commission has however created a panel of ten experts "to promote inclusion of ethnic minorities in the EU," led by Rita Sussmuth, former president of the German parliament. Still, Ms Mohacsi believes the idea of a Roma commissioner "will and must always remain on the table and some of the human rights activists are lobbying for such a move."
ARE YOU BEING SERVED?(Finland)
29/09/2006 - Document Actions This September saw the publication of “Equality in Customer Service”, a set of guidelines for restaurants to help eliminate discriminatory practices in their business. The guidelines make clear what constitutes discrimination under Finnish law, who is responsible when discriminatory acts do take place, and what can be done to prevent such incidents. Outi Lepola, Project Manager at the Finnish League for Human Rights which collaborated with other organisations to produce the brochure, believes that the biggest challenges to overcoming discriminatory practices in customer service are lack of clear information and, sometimes, the prejudiced views of customer service staff. “Regardless of their negative attitudes, they would think again, I believe, if they were aware that discrimination is forbidden in the Finnish constitution, in the Penal Code and in the Non-Discrimination Act, and that the ban relates to business, not only public services.”
A 2002 test of attitudes towards Roma and darker-skinned people in Helsinki bars and restaurants carried out by the Finnish League for Human Rights, resulted in an alarming 11 reported offences of racial discrimination despite its modest survey of approximately 20 restaurants. When compared to police records of 93 reports of discrimination in Finland in 2004, this suggests that many victims of discrimination never seek help. According to Lepola, representatives of restaurants who attended a press conference on the newly published guidelines “were positive and eager to get clear rules and good advice about what is considered discrimination and how they should ensure that it does not happen in their own restaurants.”
Still, significant progress will require both that businesses consistently fulfil their legal obligations, and that individuals are aware of and demand their lawful rights.
ZERO-UN-DIX, A CLEAR PROTEST AGAINST INTOLERANCE(Belgium)
27/09/2006 - Belgians, Tom Barman, singer in the band dEUS and movie director, and singer Arno are organising four free concerts on 1 October in protest against intolerance. A week before the municipal elections this project known as 0110 – pronounced "zéro-un-dix"— which is supported by a number of musicians, artists, writers and celebrities — aims to mobilise Belgians across the nation against the far-right. The gatherings, supported by Belgian newspaper Le Soir, will take place in Antwerp, Gent, Brussels and Charleroi. The events will include live music plus a number of other activities aimed at raising awareness and promoting tolerance. Visit the website www.0110.be for more information including a list of all participating bands.
© Expatica News
WRITER OF 'ANTI-ISLAM' ARTICLE GETS DEATH THREATS(France)
26/09/2006 - A French philosophy teacher was under police protection Thursday after receiving death threats over an article he wrote in a national newspaper that accused Islam of "exalting violence", school and police officials said. Robert Redeker has not attended classes at his secondary school near Toulouse in southern France since September 19, when his opinion column appeared in the right-wing daily Le Figaro. "He received written death threats in the form of emails. On the face of it they were pretty serious," said the lycée's headmaster Pierre Donnadieu. Police confirmed the threat but refused to comment on the protection Redeker is receiving. Under the heading "In the face of Islamist intimidation, what must the free world do?", Redeker described the Koran as a "book of extraordinary violence" and Islam as "a religion which ... exalts violence and hate". Likening Islam to Communism, he said that "violence and intimidation are the methods used by an expansionist ideology ... to impose its leaden cloak on the world".
© Expatica News
BULGARIAN OBSERVER RACISM SPARKS SCANDAL IN EP
28/09/2006 - A Bulgarian observer in the European Parliament, member of the largest nationalist party, sparked a scandal with his racist comments at a Hungarian MEP of Romany origin. Livia Jaroka, 32, the first Member of the European Parliament of Romany origin, has been nominated for the annual award of the Parliament Magazine. Dimitar Stoyanov, member of Ataka party, sent the humiliating comments via e-mail during an informal debate, arguing Jaroka is not fit for the award, reports say. He said that in his country there are hundreds of Roma girls, who are much more beautiful that the Hungarian. "In fact, if you are in the right place at the right time, you can buy one (12-13 year-old) to be your loving wife. The most beautiful are the most expensive - more than EUR 5, 000 per a piece!," the letter reportedly said. In conclusion the Bulgarian observer points out that the Hungarian has already been awarded this year as a recognition of her skills as young leader, although her age - 32 - "is above the one permitted for such organizations". Dimitar Stoyanov is the grandson of Radoy Ralin, famous Bulgarian dissident, poet and satirist, and stepson of the leader of Ataka nationalist party Volen Siderov.
© Sofia News Agency
BULGARIAN EP OBSERVER APOLOGIZES FOR SCANDALOUS RACIST REMARKS
Dimitar Stoyanov, the Bulgarian nationalist observer in the European Parliament, apologized for his racist comments at a Hungarian MEP of Romany origin, which sparked a scandal. Dimitar Stoyanov, the Bulgarian nationalist observer in the European Parliament, apologized for his racist comments at a Hungarian MEP of Romany origin, which sparked a scandal. The open letter has been sent to all members and observers of the European Parliament. Stoyanov, member of the nationalist Ataka party, sent the humiliating comments via e-mail during an informal debate, arguing Livia Jaroka, 32, the first Member of the European Parliament of Romany origin, is not fit for the annual award of the Parliament Magazine. Jaroka has been nominated for the award. He said, among other things, that in his country there are hundreds of Roma girls, who are much more beautiful that the Hungarian. "I don't consider myself to be a racist, " Stoyanov says in the letter, citing the Bulgarian Penal Code, according to which one is not prosecuted if he was provoked to insult. He insists that in his capacity of Bulgarian member of parliament and obsever in the European Parliament, he has the right to freely express his political ideas. "It is just that my approach to some social issues is different from that of the other MEPs and observers," he adds.
© Sofia News Agency
SOCIALISTS INSIST ON HALTING SMER'S MEMBERSHIP(Slovakia)
28/09/2006 - THE PARTY of European Socialists (PES) will insist that the membership of Slovakia’s governmental Smer party be suspended at its October 12 congress, according to Jan Marinus Wiersma, a Dutch MEP and a backer of the proposal to cast Smer out. "Smer is still connected with the [far-right] Slovak National Party [in a coalition government], and we therefore insist that they be suspended," Wiersma said. Smer is unlikely to give up its coalition cooperation with the Slovak National Party (SNS) to prevent banishment from the PES. Smer MP Boris Zala said that the European socialists should not comment on the internal affairs of the Smer party, and that even if the PES suspends Smer's membership, it will not have any practical impact, the Sme daily wrote.
© The Slovak Spectator
EXTREMIST TOROCZKAI DETAINED BY POLICE(Slovakia)
25/09/2006 - THE CHAIRMAN of the extremist Hungarian group 64 Regions, László Toroczkai, was detained by the Slovak police in front of the Interior Ministry in Bratislava on September 16. Toroczkai was trying to acquaint journalists with his movement's objections to recent "nationalist incidents" in Slovakia. "Since Toroczkai didn't respect the decision of Bratislava Old Town's Mayor Peter Čiernik to forbid the group to hold a public gathering, the police proceeded according to the law and escorted Toroczkai to a police station," Bratislava police spokesperson Dáša Kollárová told the TASR news agency. "I cancelled the 10 buses of demonstrators, and I only have a banner here that was supposed to be at the front of our procession," Toroczkai affirmed. "I'm alone here, this is not a demonstration." According to the police and the Old Town mayor, however, as the organiser of a banned demonstration, Toroczkai had a status different from that of an ordinary tourist.
© The Slovak Spectator
YABLOKO YOUTH WING URGES ACTION AFTER LATEST RACE-HATE KILLING(Russia)
25/09/2006 - The St. Petersburg youth wing of Russian political party Yabloko called on the city's law enforcement agencies Monday to take action to prevent attacks on foreign students after the killing of Indian student. Late Sunday evening Nitesh Kumar Singh, a student at the St. Petersburg Mechnikov Medical Academy, was fatally stabbed by four unidentified assailants in the latest of a series of attacks targeting non-whites. Yabloko's St. Petersburg Youth Union said, "There has been another murder of a foreign student in St. Petersburg. This didn't happen in an outer region or a dark courtyard, but in the city center, opposite the student hostel where he was staying." The city has seen several alleged neo-Nazi attacks and killings in the last 12 months, which also included the beating of a Chinese student, and the stabbing of a nine-year-old girl of mixed Russian-African origin in early 2006. The union's statement said attacks on foreign students were occurring in St. Petersburg "with frightening regularity... It is noteworthy that in April of this year, in almost the same place, an attack was carried out on another Indian student, but then his course-mates were able to save him. Since then, no measures have been implemented to guard this student hostel." "We consider this situation to be abnormal. We demand that the authorities and law-enforcement agencies of St. Petersburg take measures to end attacks on foreign students and to organize constant patrols in places where they live and study," the statement said.
Other violent attacks on non-white foreigners in St. Petersburg in recent months included an attack on a man from Mali, who was stabbed to death in February, the murder of a student from Cameroon last December and of a Congolese student in September. Routine attacks by skinheads and youth gangs on foreigners and people with non-Slavic features have also been reported in other Russian cities. A recent string of attacks on foreign students has cast a shadow over Voronezh, which is located about 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Moscow and has traditionally been a popular destination with foreign undergraduates interested in studying in Russia. Later in October of the same year, an Albanian national studying at Voronezh University told police he was beaten up near his dormitory and had his mobile phone and ID card stolen. In January, two men from Sudan were allegedly assaulted at one of the city's bus stops, but reportedly sustained no serious injuries. The attacks prompted Russia's Education and Science Ministry to pledge a review of its list of colleges and universities recommended to foreign students.
© RIA Novosti
RUSSIAN, EUROPEAN YOUNG APPEAL FOR EASY TRANSBOUNDARY CONTACTS
24/09/2006 - ST. PETERSBURG, September 24 (Itar-Tass) - A forum entitled “All Different – All Equal” ended in St. Petersburg on Sunday with a final resolution, which will be sent to European governments. The young demand Europe without division lines and a chance for communication across the Council of Europe territory. Many delegates raised the question of tolerance and added a clause “of support to projects opposing any forms of discrimination and intolerance” to the resolution. Russian Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko told the delegates that everyone must be responsible for one’s decisions. A number of Russian cities have added fundamentals of the Orthodox culture to the school curriculum, Fursenko said. “The decision may seem correct, but it may also be provocative and cause an opposition by representatives of our religions. This country is populated by people of many religions, and we must treat everyone with respect,” he said. Young people from 42 countries became good friends by the third day of the congress despite different languages and colors of their skin. Concerts held at the end of each day of the forum contributed to the rapprochement.