NEWS - Archive February 2009

Headlines 27 February, 2009

RUSSIA: INVESTIGATE THREATS TO CIVIC GROUP

Mounting Neo-Nazi Calls for Violence and Intimidation Against Research Center SOVA

25/2/2009- Russian law-enforcement authorities should ensure that neo-Nazi groups stop their threats against a leading Russian NGO and hold the perpetrators accountable, Human Rights Watch said today. At about 9:30 p.m. on February 21, 2009, a group of neo-Nazis made a threatening visit to the apartment of Alexander Verkhovsky, director of SOVA Center, an independent research center that monitors ultranationalism and extremism in Russia. At least two of the men fraudulently gained access to the building and stood at Verkhovsky's door, knocking and ringing and trying to lure him out. They dispersed before the police arrived. It was the second time in the past month that they had appeared at his door, and the latest in a series of threats by ultranationalists against the organization. "These are threats to the lives of activists and to all of Russia's civil society," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Ultranationalist violence is on the rise, and the Russian government needs to treat this as an emergency and protect those at risk." In early 2008, Verkhovsky's name, home address, and other personal details were part of a list of "enemies of the Russian people" that a neo-Nazi group posted on its website, along with direct appeals to kill the individuals. Others listed included prominent Russian human rights defenders and civic activists. Since then, Verkhovsky and his deputy, Galina Kojevnikova, have received numerous anonymous telephone and email threats.

In July 2008, several neo-Nazi youths tried to lure Verkhovsky out of his apartment building for the first time. They rang the bell at the front-door and introduced themselves as "young anti-fascists" wanting to speak to him about their work. Several days later, a film that included footage of the threatening visit was posted on the web, identifying Verkhovsky as a key enemy and a priority target for violence. The film was circulated among ultranationalist blogs. In January, on the eve of a SOVA news conference, ultranationalists sent a letter to Kojevnikova stating that they were planning to kill human rights defenders and journalists. The letter also stated that she should stop her human rights work unless she wanted to "join" Nikolai Girenko, a prominent anti-fascist activist and researcher who was killed in June 2004, and Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer who was killed in January 2009. After the visit to Verkhovsky's building last July, the prosecutor's office initiated a criminal investigation into "threats of murder." However, the investigation was later suspended with no suspects identified. "Ineffective, business-as-usual investigations can only embolden ultranationalist groups bent on silencing Russia's civil society," said Cartner. "The authorities need to undertake an effective investigation of those criminal actions against SOVA, take concrete measures to protect their staff, and bring the perpetrators to justice."

Russia is a party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which require states to protect the rights of those within their jurisdictions, including an obligation to protect them from harm by third parties. The European Court of Human Rights has on numerous occasions made clear that law-enforcement agencies must take adequate action to deter violations and also to take preventive measures to protect an individual whose life is at risk from the criminal acts of another individual. The court requires state parties to the European Convention to do all that is reasonably expected of them to avoid a real and immediate risk to life of which they have or ought to have knowledge. "The European Court's rulings have clear relevance in this case," said Cartner. "If this known and real threat posed by ultranationalists against individuals they have identified as ‘enemies of Russia' materializes, the Russian authorities will be accountable for their failures to protect them." The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders also reminds states that they have obligations to take all necessary measures to ensure that everyone is protected against any threats or acts of violence, including those perpetrated by groups or individuals, as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of their rights (Article 12).
© Human Rights Watch

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BULGARIA FAR-RIGHT POLITICAL LEADERS ENTANGLED IN FIERCE LIBEL SUITS

26/2/2009- Two of Bulgaria's most prominent far-right and nationalist political leaders, Volen Siderov and Boyan Rasate, are entangled in a fierce court battle with libel suits. Siderov, who is the leader of the extreme right and nationalist Ataka ("Attack") party, has filed a second libel suit for BGN 50 000 against Rasate, who is the leader of the far-right BNS/Gvardia ("Bulgarian National Union/Guard) party. Siderov is suing Rasate for Rasate's statements in a Bulgarian tabloid that Siderov had "made a deal with the governing parties especially with the Bulgarian Socialist Party". Rasate claims that Siderov should have been sentenced for a thrashing incident on Bulgaria's Trakiya Highway in 2005 but that he was acquitted because he had agreed to calm down his party members and to keep quiet. Rasate further stated that Ataka's presence in the Bulgarian Parliament was a waste of money, and accused Siderov of stealing key political postulates and ideas from the program of his Bulgarian National Union/Guard. According to Rasate, the nationalistic Ataka party was created as a fake alternative to the other parties, in order to channel and control people's dissatisfaction with Bulgarian politics. One of the questions in Rasate's interview for the Bulgarian tabloid is regarding Siderov's sexual orientation. When asked whether Siderov was gay, Rasate says "It is possible, but he is, rather, a spiritual homosexual".

The first time Siderov decided to sue Rasate was for the statements Rasate made in his own TV talk show on the BBT cable television that the Ataka party was made up of "homosexuals and pedophiles", apparently alluding to the case in which the former MP from the Ataka party, Vladimir Kuzov, was sentenced for pedophilia. Siderov's far-right party "Ataka", also known as "Attack National Union", is the most popular Bulgarian nationalist party. During the 2005 Parliamentary Elections, it ranked fourth winning 9% of the popular vote, and 21 out of a total of 240 Parliament seats. During the 2007 European Parliament elections, it won three of Bulgaria's 17 seats in the European Parliament. Boyan Rasate's Bulgarian National Union/Guard is much less popular in terms of public support. Both Siderov and Rasate are the hosts of TV talk shows - Siderov's show is called "Ataka", and is running on the SKAT cable TV, and Rasate's show is called "National Guard", and is running on the BBT TV.
© The Sofia Weekly

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ECRI: DESPITE PROGRESS ROMA SITUATION IN BULGARIA REMAINS WORRYING

24/2/2009- The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), announced Tuesday the release of the reports on Bulgaria, Hungary and Norway as part of a new series of country monitoring, examining racism and intolerance in Europe. ECRI is an independent human rights body of the Council of Europe which monitors problems of racism and intolerance, prepares reports and issues recommendations to member states. The release of those first three reports was announced by Eva Smith Asmussen, Chair of ECRI, and by an ECRI press release. The reports are the first of ECRI's fourth round of country monitoring work, which focuses on the implementation of ECRI's previous recommendations, the evaluation of policies and new developments since its last report. ECRI underlines that positive developments have occurred in all three of these Council of Europe member states. At the same time, however, the reports detail continuing grounds for concern for ECRI. In Bulgaria, the legal and institutional framework against racism and discrimination has been strengthened and initiatives have been taken to improve the situation of Roma and of refugees. However, some anti-racism or anti-discrimination legal provisions are rarely applied, the situation of Roma and asylum seekers remains worrying, the public's awareness of problems of racism and intolerance still needs to be raised, and the response of the justice system to racist publications and to allegations of racist or discriminatory behavior on the part of the police should be improved, the ECRI report concludes. In Hungary, a variety of measures have been taken to improve the integration of disadvantaged individuals, including Roma, however, the recent rise in racist and xenophobic discourse in Hungarian society is worrying, the report points out. The ECRI assessment further explains that in Norway, the legal and institutional framework against racism and discrimination has been strengthened, however, the situation of persons of immigrant background remains worrying in sectors such as employment and school education, as well as the situation of Roma and Romani/Taters.
© The Sofia Weekly

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OSCE HR OFFICE CONCERNED ABOUT CONTINUING ATTACKS AND HATE SPEECH TARGETING ROMA

27/2/2009- The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) today expressed concern over continuing attacks and hate speech targeting Roma and Sinti communities in several countries across Europe. "We observe with great concern the emergence of a climate of hatred directed against Roma and Sinti minorities in some OSCE participating States, which in some cases has led to violence and even deaths," said Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, ODIHR's Director. "It is the responsibility of governments to speak out against any form of violence motivated by racial hatred, bring the perpetrators to justice, and take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of minority communities," he added. The recent killing of a Roma man and his son in Hungary was only the latest in a series of attacks on Roma and Sinti in the country and elsewhere in Europe. Although these incidents have generally been condemned by the authorities, investigations have rarely succeeded in identifying and prosecuting perpetrators. "In these times of economic crisis, the risk is increasing that Roma and Sinti are being made scapegoats for problems they are not responsible for," said Lenarcic. OSCE participating States adopted an Action Plan in 2003 to improve the situation of Roma and Sinti in the region. However, a report published by ODIHR in October 2008 concluded that minimal progress had been made in closing the significant gaps that remain between mainstream society and Roma and Sinti communities in areas such as education, housing, employment and access to social services and justice. Insufficient funding and scattered and piecemeal programmes mean that efforts to improve the situation of Roma and Sinti have been largely ad hoc and symbolic, with little hope of long-term sustainability.

ODIHR hosts the Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues which offers assistance to participating States in implementing the commitments they made in the OSCE Action Plan.
© OSCE

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ANTI - ROMA ACTIVITY ON THE RISE (Czech Rep.)

Gov't moves to ban DS party amid surge of far-right movement

26/2/2009- A political party best known for targeting the Roma community with frequent violent rhetoric and occasional physical violence faces possible abolition at the hands of the government, but vows to march on regardless. The Czech Supreme Administrative Court is expected to rule on a potential ban for the right-wing Workers' Party (DS) March 4, but the party leadership says the ruling is virtually irrelevant. "The verdict will hopefully confirm that we have the same rights as everyone else in this democracy," said party Chairman Tomáš Vandas. Should it not, "Very simply, we will form a new party. I do not want to pre-empt the ruling or give any details, but we are prepared for all outcomes." During the 2004 regional elections, the Workers' Party garnered about 3,000 votes. By 2008, that number had climbed to more than 29,000, according to the NGO Tolerance and Civil Society, which monitors extremist groups. "In several regions, they were more successful than the Green Party," said Klára Kalibová, a lawyer with Tolerance. "They are getting some of the so-called 'real' Czech people." Gwendolyn Albert, a longtime Roma rights activist and director of the Women's Initiatives Network of the Peacework Development Fund, noted a similar trend. "Times are bad, and people need a punching bag," she said. Activists point to increased cooperation between the DS and radical groups in neighboring countries. Kalibová says the party has also recently allied itself with the National Resistance - a right-wing group with overt neo-Nazi ties - adding that violence has since markedly increased.

Vandas says the DS is increasing cooperation with the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NDP), a successor to the German Reich Party, as well as the right-wing Slovenská pospolitosť in Slovakia. "As we grow, we will be able to focus on this more," he said. The Interior Ministry requested this fall that the government ban the DS, which it says violates the constitution in four major ways. Presently, the Interior Ministry is looking into a similar ban for the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSÈM). "The basis for a democracy is free competition for its political parties. On the other hand, it is also required of a democracy to have the power to protect itself from those who, under the screen of a political party, lobby for ideologies that are against the law and violate the rights and freedom of individuals," said ministry spokeswoman Hana Malá. In November 2008, a DS rally involving 600-700 radicals in Litvínov led to a violent clash with police. Vandas denied that the group advocates violence, and, when asked where this perception comes from, said, "We are often portrayed as having close relations to right-wing workers' groups and neo-Nazis, which is not correct." On Feb. 21, about 40 DP members distributed party pamphlets in Postoloprty, north Bohemia. The event was peaceful, and also saw Roma activists distributing literature. Albert warned that local politicians are increasingly allying themselves with the DP. She points to recent events in Chomutov, where city officials teamed with a private collection agency to confront Roma as they came to pick up social benefits, all the while broadcasting the embarrassing scene on television. While in support of banning the DP, Kalibová is not optimistic. "The government presents no serious legal argument," she said, adding that legal grounds for banning the party do exist. Confronted with the possibility of a ban spawning a new party of the same ideology under a different name, Kalibová responded, "What can you say? It is a battle between right and wrong."
© The Prague Post Online

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DOZENS OF ROMA EMBROILED IN MASS BRAWL (Czech Rep.)

24/2/2009- About 70 people were on Tuesday involved in a mass brawl in the Cejl street, mostly inhabited by Czech Romanies, in which at least 50 national as well as local police had to intervene, police spokesman Pavel Svab told CTK. One man with a gun was detained as he threatened the rest, Svab said. "We have sent all available patrols to the place," Svab said. The police are investigating the cause of the scuffle. Server novinky.cz said the dispute had flared up over the abduction of a girl to Slovakia. "This is nothing but speculations, I would not like to elaborate on," Svab said, adding that this could not be ruled out. Brno municipal police spokesman Zdenek Novak said the conflict had been probably provoked by a conflict between two families, one local and one that had come for a visit. This was followed by the brawl, Novak said. "Tram traffic was discontinued for about 30 minutes," Novak said. The situation in the street has calmed down, he added.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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EXTREMISTS NAME THEIR OWN MAYOR FOR NORTH BOHEMIAN TOWN(Czech Rep.)

25/2/2009- The Czech far right Workers' Party (DS) has appointed a shadow mayor of Litvinov as an expression of disagreement with the authorities' approach to the solution of the situation in Litvinov's housing estate Janov mainly populated by Romanies, the party told CTK Wednesday. "The appointment was also a consequence of Tuesday's events in Janov that demonstrated incompetence of Minister for Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities Michael Kocáb, and an arrogant course adopted by members of the Litvinov town hall and by the local Romanies, DS deputy chairman Jiri Stepanek said. The DS appointed Vladan Renak, a foreign language teacher at a grammar school in the nearby Most, as Litvinov mayor. Stepanek said that Renak would be in the opposition to the current town authorities until the next local elections. Litvinov Mayor Milan Stovicek (senior ruling Civic Democrats, ODS) said the DS's decision was its internal affairs. "The town hall whose members were elected in the regular local elections is my only partner," he told CTK. DS resents that its representatives were not invited to Kocab's meeting with civic and Romany group that was held in Janov on Tuesday because it was the DS that opened the case of unadaptable Romanies in Janov last year. The DS is monitoring the situation in Janov. Last it sent a patrol to the housing estate on January 24. Kocab said after his visit to Janov on Tuesday that the situation at the problematic housing estate was dramatic.

The town hall has been checking inhabitants who violate rules and disturb their neighbours at the housing estate since November. Some 6000 people, mostly Romanies, live in Janov. Litvinov deputy mayor Martin Klika (Social Democrats, CSSD) said earlier that some flats were overcrowded, the Romany tenants violated sanitary regulations, had illegal connections to the grid and disturbed their neighbours.
Poor families from various parts of the country and from Slovakia moved to Janov in the past years. There are many unemployed people who have debts and no motivation to receive any education. The relations between Janov's original inhabitants and the newcomers are tense. The original inhabitants who would like to move elsewhere cannot sell their flats because nobody wants to live in the locality. The government wants to ban the DS. The Czech Supreme Administrative Court discussed its proposal for ending the party's activities on January 18 but has made no decision and adjourned the case till March 4 when it will issue a decision, according to its chairman Vojtech Simicek. However, the DS leadership says that even if the party were dissolved it would continue with its activities and nothing would change.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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NO CONFLICT DURING MARCH OF CZECH EXTREME RIGHTISTS

21/2/2009- A two-hour campaign of vigilante patrols of the extreme rightist Czech Workers' Party (DS), who claimed they monitored the situation in the town fraught with tension between the majority and the "unadaptable" minority, was held without any conflicts Saturday. About 40 DS members marched from the railway station to the town center, speaking with locals and distributing their paper Delnicke listy (Workers' Newspaper).  After their march and speeches at the square they returned to the railway station shortly before 15:00. The police watched the rally, but there was no conflict. Some Romany activists distributed their own paper. DS deputy chairman Petr Kotab said 99 percent of the addressed residents were of the view that the town did not want to settle the problems with unadaptable citizens, agreeing with the presence of the DS. "There will be certainly more reactions. We will accept them all and then we will send an appeal to the town mayor," Kotab said. Kotab said night calm was being regularly disturbed and drug addicts met in the square. Kotab said if the town hall did not resolve the situation, the DS would return to Postoloprty. In mid-February, the Czech Supreme Administrative Court (NSS) adjourned the proceedings on the abolition of the extra-parliamentary DS until March 4 when it is to issue a verdict.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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NEO-NAZIS PLOTTING 'FOURTH REICH' IN GERMANY

A defector from Germany's hard-core neo-Nazi party the NPD has painted a chilling picture of the rise of new Hitler worshippers and their plans to build the "Fourth Reich".

26/2/2009- Uwe Luthardt was a senior member of the NPD but quit to inform on the party which Germany tried unsuccessfully to ban several years ago. He told of weapons stores and how members greet each other with "Heil Hitler" salutes, sing the banned songs of the Third Reich and relish the idea of a new Holocaust against the Jews. Last year neo-Nazi attacks in Germany reached an all-time high and authorities are battling to stop youngsters from being attracted to the politics of the right – particularly now that Germany is in a deep recession and jobs are being lost by the thousands every day. Luthardt, a former board member of the party, said he was threatened that he could "disappear" if he informed on its inner workings. "Someone who just quits usually gets a lot of problems, and can find himself waking up in intensive care," he said. "It wasn't really my world. When you went along to evening meetings, you saw all the shaven heads, and a black sun or other Nazi symbols tattooed on arms. They usually just boozed or were abusive. If there's no opponent around, they just fight among themselves. "Many have an IQ close to my shoe size. Most of them are simply failures: failed pupils, people who dropped out of school or their apprenticeships, alcoholics that can't find a foothold anywhere else, thugs. But every local organisation has three to five men who don't have criminal records. They're the ones sent to face the press or man information stands. "I joined because I wanted to do something for Germany, I wasn't interest in a Greater Germany. And suddenly everyone was saying we'll take back Silesia in Poland and then we'll give the communists a thrashing."

He said old Nazis living in South America still donate to the party and other funds come from the staging of skinhead-music concerts. He went on: "The simple aim is the restoration of the Reich in which a new storm trooper organisation takes revenge on anyone who disagrees with them. "In Jena in East Germany in the NPD HQ there are a load of SS pictures in the cellar. And there's a room with weapons. "'Let's kick out all the foreigners, then the Germans will have jobs again' – that's the basic concept the NPD talks about. They only refer to freight trains when no one from outside is listening." That is a chilling reference to the murder of the six million Jews of Europe during the Third Reich, most of whom were transported to extermination centres in railway cattle cars. "They want the Jews and the foreigners to be transported away once more once they've taken over the country again. Internally there's very plain speaking. And the singing of the Horst Wessel song - the anthem of the original Nazi party – is also very popular. "But there are internal documents which clearly state how everyone should behave in public. Anything to do with the Third Reich is especially sensitive. "The dream is of the German Reich. They're totally convinced that they'll win an election one day and that things will really get going. Everyone can imagine what would happen then."
© The Telegraph

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GERMAN NEO-NAZI CONVICTED OF HOLOCAUST DENIAL

25/2/2009- A founding member of a left-wing terrorist group turned neo-Nazi was convicted Wednesday in Munich of Holocaust denial and sentenced to six years in prison after a judge accused him of using the courtroom to spread his message of hate. Horst Mahler — a founder of the Red Army Faction in 1970 — was convicted of incitement for posting videos denying the Holocaust on the Internet and distributing CDs promoting anti-Jewish hatred and violence. Denial of the Nazi Holocaust is a crime in Germany. Mahler, who initiated the Munich state court case by filing a complaint against himself, was accused by Presiding Judge Martin Rieder as using the courtroom as a stage to promote his "nationalist croaking." Mahler used his right to make a closing statement at the trial to give an hours-long monologue, repeating his denial of the Holocaust and expressing his sympathy for Richard Williamson, the Roman Catholic bishop whose assertion that no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust embarrassed the Vatican. "The rage of the people is at the boiling point," he said in defense of Williamson, telling the judges: "Watch out that you don't get scalded." Rieder sentenced Mahler to one year above the maximum recommended five years in prison, saying he is "completely unrepentant and totally unteachable." "It was as if these people have had to die again," Rieder said. "Therefore, the Horst Mahler show has now ended."

 The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem hailed the verdict and sentence. "It reinforces the message that there's no tolerance for Holocaust denial, and it is a strong reminder that the courts should not be misused by deniers to disseminate their lies," said the Wiesenthal Center's Efraim Zuroff. Mahler did not say in court whether he would appeal the sentence but prosecutor Andrea Titz said she was certain he would. It was the latest in a string of neo-Nazi-related convictions for Mahler, who is a lawyer. In addition, a court in Mainz in 2003 found Mahler guilty of condoning a crime for saying the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States were justified and fined him several thousand euros (dollars). He was also convicted in the mid-1970s for Red Army Faction-related activities — including several bank robberies and for helping notorious terrorist Andreas Baader, another founding member of the group, to escape from jail. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison but was released in 1980 after he made several public statements condemning terrorism and Red Army Faction methods. Mahler then joined the far-right National Democratic Party, from 2000 to 2003, and acted as its attorney.
© The Associated Press

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