NEWS - Archive January 2009

Headlines 30 January, 2009

Three academics who demanded to see the source material behind a controversial new report on religious and poltical extremism in the Malmö suburb of Rosengård have been told that the material no longer exists.

30/1/2009- Researchers Leif Stenberg, Anders Ackfeldt and Dan-Erik Andersson from the Centres for Middle East Studies and Human Rights Studies at Lund University, were told by the Swedish National Defence College (SNDC) that the source material had been destroyed. "That's bad enough. But what's worse is that the Rosengård district in Malmö has one again been the centrepoint of clichéd and poorly grounded assertions," the researchers write in an article published by newspaper Sydsvenskan. The authors of the report, Magnus Ranstorp and Josefine Dos Santos from the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College, describe how "ultra-radical" Islamists attached to basement mosques "preach isolation and act as thought controllers while also maintaining a strong culture of threats, in which women in particular are subjected to physical and psychological harassment." The 30-page report, entitled "Threat to Democracy and Values - A Snapshot from Malmö," is based on interviews with 30 people working in the city, including the police, secret service, social services and teachers. Lars Nicander, the investigative head of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies, confirmed on Friday that the source material had been destroyed. "We did it because it contained sensitive information about private individuals. Even if the names were removed it would be easy to identify them," Nicander said.

The researchers had promised their subjects that the interviews would be destroyed since some of them had previously been exposed to threats, Nicander said. He added that the report was not a scientific study but that the authors had used scientific methods. "The primary aim was to work with tested scientific methods to give a view of the situation, as requested by the government," he said. Nicander dismissed the Lund researchers' criticism of the report as a manifestation of "academic jealousy". "It's clearly not allowed to problematise this. They're not attacking the facts but they immediately interpret the report as an outbreak of Islamophobia. Riots erupted in Rosengård in December following protests over the closure of an Islamic cultural centre that housed a mosque, and spread to become a general expression of discontent among disadvantaged youths and political extremists who flocked to the area from other parts of the city.
The Local

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MOST OF WHAT RUSSIANS BELIEVE ABOUT MIGRANT WORKERS IS WRONG

30/1/2009- A growing number of Russians believe that migrant workers are guilty of "all the mortal sins" and should be shunned, fired, or even expelled from the country, according to an article in today's "Argumenty i fakty." But six of the things Russians believe about these Gastarbeiters, it continues, are myths without any foundation. Some of these myths, the article suggests, reflect longstanding popular attitudes toward anyone perceived as an outsider, but many, it continues, are the product of media accounts and political statements which appear designed to "distract attention from genuinely important issues" during the current crisis. The first myth, the investigative weekly says, is the widespread view that "they take our jobs." On the one hand, it says, most migrants do jobs that Russians do not want to do or fill jobs for which there are not enough Russians available, given the country's demographic problems. A 2006 survey finding that most migrants work with other migrants confirms this, the paper says. And on the other, the rising tide of unemployment in Russia is structural, hitting all workers in a particular part of the economy rather than hitting them selectively, despite suggestions that Russians are being dismissed because they get higher wages and calls for the massive firing of migrants.

Indeed, today, Federal Migration Service director Konstantin Romodanovsky said that his agency had no evidence that there had been disproportionate dismissals of either group, something that may calm migrant communities but that could anger some ethnic Russians. The second myth, "Argumenty i fakty" continues, is that "migrants are criminalizing Russia." Research by Emil Pain and other experts have shown that there is no basis for this assertion, despite the anecdotes offered by the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). The one place where it this phenomenon is taking place, however, is "in the media." The third myth about Gastarbeiters is that they "significantly reduce the rate of pay of local workers" because of their willingness to work for less. That this may be true in a few instances, the paper acknowledges, is possible, but it says that research over many years shows that immigration does not lead to a reduction of wages over time. What is true is that Russian workers sometimes want higher wages than the market will bear, and when immigrants are willing to work for less than that because even the lower Russian wages are higher than those in their homelands, Russians often misread their inability to get the higher wages as being the fault of the Gastarbeiters.

The fourth myth is that "migrants form ghettos, thereby increasing interethnic hostility and tension in the cities where they live." But that notion is a classical example of blaming the victim. Ghettos, at least in Russia, "are the result of the failure of the policy of integration and not the inevitable consequence" of that trend. The fifth myth is that migrant workers "'eat up' the budget intended for the social defense of the native population." But in Russia today, migrants don't have access to most government services, and when they are sick, for example, they must use more expensive commercial medical assistance or go without treatment. And the sixth myth is that "the money migrants send home represents the outflow of financial means which harms the economy of the Russian Federation." Migrants work hard, often in conditions little better than slavery, for the money they have and thus are fully entitled to send it to help their families, however much some Russians object to their doing so. Moreover, while the transfer payments they make may amount to 11-12 million U.S. dollars a year, that amount is only a small fraction of their contribution to Russia's GDP. Were they to disappear, the paper says, Russians would suffer at least as much as the migrants, an outcome Russian ought to reflect upon more often. But playing on the fears of Russians about migrant workers and exploiting these myths about them remain very much part of the Russian political scene. Indeed, today, the FMS announced that it would soon be using drone aircraft to track down illegal migrants who may be sneaking into Russia or living in shanty towns.
Window on Eurasia Blog

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RUSSIA'S LAWYERS UNDER ATTACK

Human rights advocates have long been targets in Russia. Now even corporate attorneys aren't safe.

30/1/2009- Scores of journalists and businessmen have suffered beatings, harassment, and even assassination in Russia's sometimes anarchic society. With the brazen daytime murder of human rights attorney Stanislav Markelov on Jan. 19, it became clear that members of the Russian bar are also targets in the murky vendettas that taint commerce and politics in Moscow and throughout the country. It is not just lawyers alleging human rights abuses who are vulnerable. Corporate lawyers, too, face increasing threats. "It is now impossible in Russia to defend a client who is in a politically motivated case or in a [commercial] case where the other side has a lot of money and is willing to play dirty," says Jamison R. Firestone, managing partner of Firestone Duncan, an American corporate law firm in Moscow. "At worst, you will end up in prison, in exile, or dead," he adds. Consider the fate of Sergei Magnitsky, a tax and accounting lawyer working for Firestone Duncan. Magnitsky was arrested in November and is in detention awaiting trial for tax fraud, relating to advice he gave in 2001 to Hermitage Capital Management, a British fund that was once the largest portfolio investor in Russia. Jamison Firestone argues that the case against Magnitsky is entirely fabricated and intended as a form of pressure on Magnitsky's client, Hermitage Capital, by hostile forces within the Russian state, possibly in collusion with corporate raiders. In recent years, according to Firestone, Hermitage has hired three law firms in Russia, none of which previously had any connection to each other. But in an apparently coordinated crackdown, lawyers at all three firms are now subject to criminal investigations. That followed several raids on the firms' offices by Russian police last year. The International Bar Assn., based in London, denounced the raids as "another sign of deterioration of the rule of law in Russia."

The crackdown comes just months after Hermitage's trustee, British bank HSBC (HBC), lodged a formal complaint with the Russian government. HSBC alleged a large-scale fraud involving members of the Russian Interior Ministry. The complicated case relates to three Hermitage subsidiaries in Russia that were improperly reregistered under new owners in 2007. The firms were then allegedly used to steal $230 million from the Russian treasury. Although the theft of the three companies has since been established in the Russian courts, the lawyers who filed the complaint have fled the country, fearing arrest, according to attorneys familiar with the situation. Among those who have left Russia is Eduard Khairetdinov, a lawyer hired in late 2007 to represent both Hermitage and HSBC. Khairetdinov fled late last year, after Russian police accused the British bank of issuing false powers of attorney to him. "It is of course entirely absurd and not based on any law," says Khairetdinov, who is in London. "But it was a way of signaling to the client through me: 'Don't complain. Don't use lawyers.' " The pressure on Hermitage Capital's lawyers is hardly an isolated case. It echoes the Russian government's long-running legal campaign against the oil company Yukos, which was broken up and renationalized between 2004 and 2007. Lawyers acting for the oil giant frequently complained of intimidation, including searches of their offices and confiscation of sensitive documents. Since then, Russian prosecutors have attempted to disbar 14 lawyers who represented Yukos. So far, these attempts have all been rebuffed by the Moscow City Bar Assn., an independent-minded, private organization.

Then there's the case of Boris Kuznetsov, a Russian attorney who was granted political asylum in the U.S. last year. In 2007, Kuznetsov was convicted in Russia of endangering state secrets after presenting evidence in court that implicated Russia's security service, the FSB, in illegally tapping the telephone of one of his clients, a Russian senator. Even by Russia's standards, the recent murder of Markelov was astounding and shameless. The lawyer and Anastasia Baburova, a freelance reporter for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, were gunned down near the center of Moscow, just minutes after they left a press conference. The precise motive for the killings is still unknown, but it is apparently linked to Markelov's prominent work on behalf of human rights causes. Among his clients were Chechen victims of abuse by members of the Russian military. "What's especially disturbing in Russia is that the state investigators and prosecutors appear to have been quite superficial in such cases," says Martin Solc, co-chair of the Human Rights Institute at the International Bar Assn. Novaya Gazeta, which has had four of its reporters murdered since 2000, observed: "The perpetrators have no fear because they know that they will not be punished."
The Spiegel

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NO MORE OUTRAGE LEFT(Russia, comment)

Another activist and another journalist are murdered. But don’t look for widespread condemnation from the Russian public.
by Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations in Moscow.

26/1/2009-  The day after the murder of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, a Dutch correspondent phoned me to ask what the Russian public can do about it and how Russian journalists can influence the public so that it will not be indifferent. I replied that the problem is not about Russian journalists’ reluctance or inability to do their job properly. It is just that in the last few years of President/Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's rule, reporters have become too cautious in order to survive. They have learned to work in devious ways, trying to tell the truth and not to anger the authorities. They have no time to learn to become shrewd journalists and seek to achieve European standards in their profession. Markelov was shot dead on 19 January on a busy street in central Moscow some two kilometers from the Kremlin. Markelov, 35, had worked on many high-profile human rights cases, defending people who dared to clash with the authorities. At the time of his death, Markelov was involved in the case of Mikhail Beketov, editor of a small private newspaper from Khimki near Moscow, who had been severely beaten by unknown assailants. Markelov was returning from a news conference where he had told reporters how he planned to challenge what he called the illegal release of a Russian officer sentenced for the murder of Chechen girl Elza Kungayeva. He was preparing an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. That might have angered Colonel Yuri Budanov’s supporters, who might have killed him in revenge. Or his assassination could be linked to his work on behalf of Beketov, who had published many articles exposing corruption among local officials. Markelov was accompanied from the news conference to a subway station by a correspondent of the liberal Novaya gazeta. The Moscow-based biweekly is known for its criticism of the Russian authorities. Anastasia Baburova, a fifth-year journalism student at Moscow State University, was known for her stories about far-right nationalist groups. Witnesses said the gunman shot Markelov in the head, and after Baburova challenged him, he shot her. The reporter died a few hours later in hospital. People have been bringing flowers and candles to the crime scene. About 150 people gathered there on the day after the murder. About as many paid tribute to investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya on the second anniversary of her slaying. Not a big crowd. The attendees are mostly the same people – human rights defenders, liberal politicians, and journalists. Others do not speak out and watch indifferently these 150 performing an act reminiscent of a 1968 protest by a handful of Soviet dissidents at Red Square against the occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Diminishing returns
Why do Russians keep silent, doing nothing to defend their rights? Why don’t journalists demonstrate? Why do the protests by Soviet dissidents still inspire admiration, while Russian journalists' failure to act is a huge disappointment? The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations has been monitoring street protests by journalists in Russia and other CIS countries since 2000. The center’s members sought to understand whether this is an effective way to defend journalists' rights and encourage other people to do so. In 2006, it stopped gathering data because few demonstrations were taking place. The greatest amount of activity occurred in 2001, when Putin's new administration cracked down on the private NTV television network. The Kremlin had the upper hand in the battle, but that year saw more than 70 demonstrations in support of the beleaguered NTV team and against attacks on media freedom. Two rallies outside Moscow's television tower attracted between 10,000 and 12,000 participants each. Members of the Russian public kept protesting the authorities' assaults on free media for a year or two, occasionally staging rallies and signing petitions, but activity waned, and very few public demonstrations are staged any longer. Other post-Soviet countries have seen protests that had major repercussions and forced authorities to back down. For instance, a Wave of Freedom campaign by journalists forced a court in Lviv, Ukraine, to overturn a huge fine imposed on a local newspaper. Protests by Ukrainian journalists forced the authorities to conduct a thorough probe into the abduction and murder of Georgy Gongadze. Now that the political atmosphere has changed and attacks on the media are rare in Ukraine, journalists have an opportunity to bring their problems to the public’s attention.

In other former Soviet republics, the situation is very different. No protests have been taking place in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, demonstrations are seldom seen in Kazakhstan and Armenia, and media freedom occasionally features on political groups' agendas in Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. Protest numbers depend on the degree of openness in a society – the freer a society the more opportunities people have to use the language of protest in communication with the authorities. By all appearances, people's indifference takes its root in the Soviet totalitarian system that once used to scare the public into silence. It may be also linked to the incomplete reforms launched by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. A product of Lenin's socialism, he did not realize that a decree by the Communist Party secretary general alone could not give people freedom. They must fight for it. Putin sought to revive Soviet propaganda traditions in the first year of his rule in 2000. The crackdown on NTV, the country's only independent TV network, was part of the plan. The Kremlin currently exercises ideological control over all six of Russia's national TV broadcasters. The public would not accept Boris Yeltsin's relative liberalism, but it embraced Putin's effort to restore the old system of autocracy, propaganda, and confrontation with the West. The authors of think pieces about the Kremlin's policies and Putin-style democracy usually focus on political figures and fail to examine the public mentality. These journalists are reluctant to fully participate in civic life. They do not have the opportunity. They do not demand it.
Transitions Online

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PARTIES VAGUE ON FIGHTING RACISM(Finland)

29/1/2009- A recent survey conducted by the Ombudsman for Minorities reveals that Finland’s political parties are committed to fighting racism, but as yet have no concrete policies for doing so. The issue of immigration was a topic of much debate in the municipal election last autumn, and at times led to heated exchanges. Following the election, Ombudsman for Minorities, Johanna Suurpää, requested that all parliamentary parties report on their activities to fight discrimination. All political parties currently represented in the Finnish parliament have signed the Charter of European Parties for a Non-Racist Society, and all but one produced the report. While all of the parties assured in their reports that they are committed to fighting racism, the wording of the Charter was generally not known in detail. Altogether the answers were not specific, nor were they grounded on the Charter. “The answers overall were positive, but lacked concreteness. All parties were committed to fighting discrimination on a general level,” Suurpää told HT. She is reluctant to discuss individual parties. While some parties had policy papers on specific issues such as the Roma question or immigration policy, few detailed concrete, proactive anti-racist programmes.

Candidates were usually requested to familiarise themselves with the party agenda, which contain various commitments to oppose discrimination. This, according to Suurpää, is not enough. “Many new municipal officials were elected, and the parties have an obligation clearly stated in the Charter to educate their personnel on discrimination issues,” she said. One reason for the survey was to remind parties of the Charter, especially as the issue is becoming more and more topical. As Finland becomes home to an increasing number of immigrants, Finnish society is undergoing a profound transformation. This calls for an open discussion on Finland’s immigration policy. The aim is by no means to stifle critical discussion. Suurpää closely followed the debate on immigration during the election last autumn, especially on the internet. She saw a lot of variety in the online exchanges, even some extreme incidents. However, these were individual cases and no signatory party of the Charter for a Non-Racist Society was consistently marked by such infractions in their overall campaign. On the other hand, evidence of an expressly anti-racist agenda was also rare. Suurpää calls for more concrete actions against discrimination, more efficient training on and more attention to following up on the obligations set by the Charter. Parties should also pay more attention to minority representation at various levels. Suurpää says her office is offering an open invitation to parties: “We are seeking co-operation in our efforts to educate party officers and elected officials.”
The Helsinki Times

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26/1/2009- The Freedom Party (FPÖ) is preparing 18 legal complaints against various parties in response to accusations of right-wing radicalism made against some of its staffers. FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache said today (Mon) some of the complaints would target Green party members. Strache said: "They conducted a targeted defamation campaign, a hate campaign with false lists and data." Strache was referring to accusations that two of Third President of Parliament Martin Graf’s staffers had bought neo-Nazi materials on a controversial German website. The staffers had reportedly bought T-shirts with such slogans as "Comradeship is more than a word, The left stinks and South Tyrol remains German." Strache said: "Had the staffers done anything smacking of Nazi-ism, the consequences would have been different. But that was not the case." Strache claimed some Socialist Youth T-shirts had the slogan "Rebellion – Things can be different." He asked: "Where is Social Democrat (SPÖ) President of Parliament Barbara Prammer in this case?" The FPÖ leader also claimed a Green municipal councillor in Burgenland had contacted the German website but declined to provide his or her name. The FPÖ’s complaint initiative comes at a time when it appeared the radicalism affair had come to an end.

ÖVP Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger thought he had closed the book on the affair when he said during a TV appearance earlier in the month that he would put it behind him. The minister cited Prammer and People’s Party (ÖVP) Second President of Parliament Fritz Neugebauer's apparent dismissal of it as the reason for his decision. Prammer and Neugebauer had met with Graf a few days before Spindelegger’s TV appearance to discuss the Greens’ accusations about his staffers. Spindelegger also said he didn’t believe the affair would have a lasting impact on Austria’s reputation abroad but added politicians with top positions always needed to be careful not to sully the country’s image abroad in their work. Graf, he added, knew what his job was. The FPÖ had also said discussion of accusations of right-wing radicalism against party staffers had come to an end. FPÖ General Secretary Harald Vilimsky said Graf’s meeting with Prammer and Neugebauer had effectively closed the case despite her desire to keep it open. Vilimsky refused to comment on Green social spokesman Karl Öllinger’s claim that items purchased on the German website by Graf’s staffers were "Nazi trash," saying "I haven’t seen them." The wearing of shirts with slogans like "Comradeship is more than only a word" was really not a problem, the FPÖ general secretary added.
The Austrian Times

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ETHNIC MINORITIES CALL FOR BUSINESSES TO ENGAGE WITH THEIR CULTURE(uk)

26/1/2009- With Barack Obama now sworn in as the first African-American president of the United States, British ethnic minorities are calling for businesses to do more to understand the diverse cultures within the communities in which they operate. Following a recent report from the charity Business in the Community, which revealed that that British boardrooms across the private and public sectors remain ‘stubbonly white’, the research by Salaam Halal insurance reveals the need for positive role models within ethnic communities, and demonstrates the vital role that businesses play in improving community cohesion. A concerning 95 per cent of people from ethnic minorities who live in Britain feel that community spirit in their area is in decline. Almost one in two attribute this decline to a lack of positive role models (42%). Meanwhile, more than one in ten Britons belonging to an ethnic minority say that a lack of understanding of local cultures by businesses is making the problem worse (12 per cent). Said Bradley Brandon-Cross, chief executive of Salaam Halal insurance: "Businesses can aid cultural integration within the community by engaging with community leaders and taking time to really understand the diverse needs of people within Britain today. "As the first independent Islamic insurance provider in the UK, understanding the needs of the Muslim community is key to our success. "We are taking steps to enter communities and work with local leaders in order to understand our customer’s needs and raise awareness that, there is now a Shariah-compliant insurance product that solves the previous difficulty of finding insurance that meets the needs of British Muslims." This research forms part of Salaam Halal insurance’s commitment to understand the attitudes and experiences of ethnic minorities living in modern Britain. Salaam Halal insurance polled a GB representative sample of more than 2,800 adults across all ethnic backgrounds, in order to understand their perceptions of community spirit within modern Britain.
The Asian News

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GERMAN FAR-RIGHT HAILS HOLOCAUST DENIER WILLIAMSON

27/1/2009- Germany's far right has welcomed the move by German Pope Benedict XVI to lift the excommunication of British bishop Richard Williamson, who denied the Holocaust in an interview last week. German Jewish leaders are appalled at the decision. In the churches and chapels of the Society of Saint Pius X, the incense burners at the holy masses have been swung with even greater vigor since the weekend in joy over the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to lift the excommunication of their founding father, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the bishops he ordained, among them Archbishop Richard Williamson. British bishop Richard Williamson denied the Holocaust in an interview on Swedish television. Germany's far right is equally pleased with the decision and is hailing Williamson as a hero -- because he has denied the Holocaust. He told Swedish television in an interview broadcast last Wednesday: "I believe there were no gas chambers." He claimed that only 300,000 Jews perished in the Nazi concentration camps, instead of the 6 million figure that is widely accepted by historians. "A bishop is saying what he believes," said one far-right supporter in the Internet blog German Wehrmacht which featured the transcript of the interview along with a video clip of it. "One must distance oneself from the content of the video if one wants to avoid any kind of trouble," the author goes on to warn, in reference to the fact that denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany. Nevertheless, he adds, "thoughts are free." Another far-right site, Störtebeker-Network, also celebrates the Society of Saint Pius X. Williamson, says an editorial posed on the site, has shown "how one should position oneself as a true Christian these days against general materialistic decay and decadence, by holding on to the original values of one's faith."

A "Reconciliation Gift" for Germans
One commentator writes: "His Excellency Williamson: after David Irving there's a further Briton who has given us Germans a big reconciliation gift." The closing of ranks between the German pope and the right fringe of his church is threatening to turn into the biggest mistake of his term. The head of the Society of Saint Pius, Bernard Fellay, knows why Benedict XVI announced the lifting of the excommunication of Williamson and other brethren of the society: "1,703,000 rosaries were said to Our Dear Lady to bring about the end of this disgrace," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Meanwhile the head of the German arm of the Society of Saint Pius, Pastor Franz Schmidberger, is attempting damage control in the wake of Williamson's comments on the Holocaust. "It's clear that the comments Bishop Williamson is reported to have made don't mirror the stance of the Society of Saint Pius X and only the author himself is responsible," he declared in a statement. Williamson himself has made no further comment and is believed to be in Argentina. If he were to travel to Germany he would very soon have to contend with the Regensburg public prosecutor's office, which has opened an enquiry into his remarks, which constitute an illegal offense in Germany.

"Complicit in the Murder of Christ"
Schmidberger's argument that the Society of Saint Pius isn't anti-Semitic despite the comments of its senior bishop Williamson isn't especially convincing given that Schmidberger merely states: "Our Lord Jesus Christ in his human nature is Jewish, his sacred mother is Jewish, all the apostles are Jewish. For that reason no upstanding Christian can be anti-Semitic." The Central Council of Jews in Germany begs to differ. It had pointed out what it said was an anti-Semitic passage in a letter written by Schmidberger and his brethren before Christmas. The letter was sent to all bishops of the 27 Catholic dioceses in Germany, and none of the Roman Catholic bishops protested against it. In the letter, Schmidberger stated: "We look on with sorrow as Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI go into a Jewish synagogue." Another passage reads: "The Jews of our days (are) not only our older brothers in faith as the pope claimed during his visit to the synagogue in Rome in 1986; rather they are complicit in the murder of Christ as long as they do not distance themselves from the guilt of their forefathers by acknowledging the divinity of Christ and through baptism." Schmidberger now says: "The statement that today's Jews bear the guilt of their fathers" only refers to "those Jews who welcome the killing of Jesus Christ."

"Pure Anti-Semitism"
Is that enough to placate the Central Council of Jews? Its vice president Dieter Graumann told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Monday: "It's not just that one passage. The whole letter breathes the spirit of pure anti-Semitism." None of Germany's bishops got in touch with Jewish leaders in response to the controversy, said Graumann. So far only the bishops of Aachen and Hamburg have said the Catholic Church doesn't have anything to do with the Society of Saint Pius because its bishops had been excommunicated. Now that the pope has lifted that excommunication, Germany's Catholic bishops won't be able to avoid the issue so easily in the future. Graumann had demanded that the Catholic Church distance itself more forcefully from this peripheral group on its right wing. Instead, the German pope has rehabilitated it. The German Bishops' Conference this week tried to defuse the row. Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff, the chairman of the conference's commission on relations with the Jewish faith, said the church "utterly disagreed" with Williamson's Holocaust denial. Graumann is appalled by the lifting of the excommunication. "By rehabilitating the Pius Brothers the Vatican is importing all the old anti-Semitism back into the church after one thought it had got over that stance long ago. The danger is obvious. If neo-Nazis are cheering the Pius Brothers, then the Catholic Church must surely ask itself whether it's done something wrong," he said.
The Spiegel

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GERMAN POLICE RAIDS CLOSE DOWN NEO-NAZI 'HATE CREW' (PRESS RELEASE)

30/1/2009- Augsburg, Germany - German police raided homes in Bavaria state Thursday, seizing recorded neo-Nazi music and other evidence to close down a skinhead network estimated to have 15 to 20 members. The rightists, based in the Swabia region, styled themselves the Hate Crew of Swabia, making no secret of their racist attitudes. Police based in the city of Augsburg had been investigating the group for months and hope to indict seven men aged 26 to 33 for spreading Nazi propaganda, sedition, glorifying violence, promoting racism, money laundering and evasion of taxes. Most of the charges involve sales of compact discs of neo-Nazi music. Police said they seized thousands of CDs, sales records, cash and four clubs during the raids. Many young neo-Nazis in Germany wear jackboots, shave their heads and sing by heart the hate-filled lyrics of skinhead rock music. Some Hate Crew members were active in the far right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and were affiliated with neo-Nazi groups. Police in Augsburg said they searched eight properties in Bavaria state and another just outside the state line.
Earth Times

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PRIEST IN ITALY DEFENDS HOLOCAUST-DENIER

30/1/2009- A priest in an ultraconservative society recently rehabilitated by Pope Benedict XVI has defended a bishop in his group and joined him in expressing doubts about the Holocaust. While making more cautious remarks than Bishop Richard Williamson, the Rev. Floriano Abrahamowicz echoed, in an interview published Thursday by an Italian daily, the prelate's doubts that Jews were gassed during World War II. "I know gas chambers existed at least to disinfect, I can't say if anybody was killed in them or not," Abrahamowicz told La Tribuna di Treviso, a newspaper in northern Italy.Contacted by phone in Treviso, Abrahamowicz said the report of his interview was accurate, but declined to elaborate. Benedict lifted Williamson's excommunication and those of three other members of the Society of St. Pius X last week as part of his efforts to bring the group, which opposes many of the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, back into the church. Williamson's superiors at the society have distanced themselves from his comments. Asked for comment about Abrahamowicz' remarks, a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, noted that Benedict had warned Wednesday against any denial of the full horror of the Nazi genocide and had expressed his unquestioned solidarity with Jews. The spokesman also reiterated the Holy See's position that rehabilitating Williamson by no means implies that the Vatican shares his views. On Thursday, the Vatican cardinal in charge of negotiating with the society was quoted as saying that no one at the Vatican knew about Williamson's views until after the decree lifting excommunication had been signed. "We absolutely didn't know anything about this Williamson, I really think that no one was aware of it," Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos was quoted as saying in an interview published in Corriere della Sera.

Jewish groups denounced Benedict for embracing Williamson, who denied during an interview broadcast last week on Swedish state TV that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. The bishop said only about 200,000 or 300,000 were killed. In Thursday's interview, Abrahamowicz defended the bishop, saying Williamson had not denied the Holocaust but had only questioned the "technical aspect" of the gas chambers. The priest, who heads the society in northeast Italy, referred to Jews as being "the people of God who then became the God-killing people" — a remark that contradicts the Vatican II teaching that Jews as a people cannot be held responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Williamson and three other bishops were excommunicated 20 years ago after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent. In Germany, the head of the German Catholic Bishops Conference demanded that Williamson apologize. And the head of Germany's main Jewish organization, Charlotte Knobloch, was quoted as saying in a newspaper interview that she would like to see an "outcry in the church" against the lifting of the bishop's excommunication. In Israel, Oded Weiner, the director-general of the chief rabbinate's office, said the Holy See had sent a letter urging the rabbinate to reconsider its decision to cancel a March meeting in Rome that had been scheduled as part of periodic dialogue. "More important than the letter was the pope's speech yesterday, which delivered a very important message," Weiner added, indicating a decision would come by sometime next week.  A New York rabbi who hosted Benedict last spring during the first-ever visit by a pope to a synagogue in the U.S. expressed hope that Catholic and Jewish communities could avoid "missteps and irritants." Rabbi Arthur Schneier described Williamson's holocaust denial as "despicable" and his views as "painful and divisive."
The Associated Press

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