NEWS - Archive March 2009

Headlines 27 March, 2009


27/3/2009- Serbian lawmakers narrowly gave final approval Thursday, March 26 to an anti-discrimination law that is part of pro-Western reforms but was strongly opposed by the Serbian Orthodox Church and other conservatives. Parliament passed the bill with a slim majority of 127 votes in favor to 59 against — one more vote than was needed for passage in the 250-member parliament. The remaining deputies did not attend. The law bans any kind of discrimination, whether based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender or other factors. The legislation was part of reforms to align the nation with European Union policies and was crucial if Serbian citizens were to gain the right to travel without visas to the 27 EU member nations. But its adoption triggered public turmoil in Serbia, which is predominantly conservative. The Serbian Orthodox Church, supported by other religious groups, had requested changes to the articles on gay rights and religious freedoms. It has argued the law could be open to misinterpretation and misuse. Other critics have said it runs counter to Serbian tradition. The government initially withdrew the law to review the church’s remarks, but that angered liberals. In the end, the government made no major changes. Apart from banning discrimination, the law also provides for a special state representative to monitor possible discrimination, and outlines punitive measures. The parliamentary vote came after a lengthy debate pitting the pro-Western lawmakers against the nationalists and conservatives. Serbia launched pro-Western reforms after the ouster in 2000 of former autocrat Slobodan Milosevic.
The Associated Press



27/3/2009- A Greek appeals court has exonerated the author of an anti-Semitic book who was given a 14-month suspended sentence in December 2008. The court cleared Constantine Plevris of racial insults and inciting hatred and racial violence with his book The Jews -- The Whole Truth. Lawyer and self-declared neo-Nazi Plevris denies the Holocaust in his 1,400-page book, takes sides with the Nazis and threatens Jews. Published in 2006, the book also accuses Jews of being sub-human and worthy of the firing squad. Greece's Central Jewish Council (KIS) expressed 'disappointment and astonishment' at the decision and vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court. The appeals court verdict "does not protect freedom of expression but a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi and anti-Semite," the KIS told AFP. The case against Plevris, which was the first of its kind in Greece, was initiated by the KIS and the Greek minority rights organization. Plevris had said that his conviction would only show that the judges had been “bought by the Jews." About 6,000 people live in Greece and anti-Semitic literature is freely produced and circulated in the country.



25/3/2009- The International Union for Assistance to Migrant Workers announced over the weekend that its members will form “self-defense” units to defend themselves against attack if what they described as “fascist” tendencies in Russia intensify over the coming months. The union, led by Islamic Committee chairman Geydar Dzhemal’, held a regional constituent congress in St. Petersburg on Saturday. Organizers stressed that they plan to recruit and defend both workers from former Soviet republics as well as from non-Russian regions of the Russian Federation. At the session, Dzhemal said that “we will create such conditions in which such fascist measures as deportation will be impossible,” adding that he did not exclude that “if fascist tendencies in Russia cross a definite line,” then, in the words of one report, “the Union will create self-defense units” to protect its members. Other speakers were equally outspoken and political. Aleksey Aksyonov, a representative of the Eurasian Union of Youth, for example, said to the applause of those assembled that the group needs to take steps “to force deputies of the Sate Duma and the president to be held responsible for their actions”. The St. Petersburg meeting is the second of what are planned to be sessions in each of the seven federal districts. The first took place in the Urals a month ago, and others are now slated to occur in the others. After that, the group plans to set up an All-Russian International Union, which will not play the role of a political party but will advance “political demands.”

In the overheated atmosphere in major Russian cities where some xenophobic skinheads have already armed themselves and used a variety of weapons to attack non-Russians, the desire of at least some of the latter to take steps to defend themselves is understandable but represents a dangerous new development in that it makes future clashes more likely to result in deaths. And just how dangerous the situation could quickly become was underscored by two reports yesterday. In the first, Leonid Bogdanov, chief of the St. Petersburg city council’s committee on law and security. He told the government that “manifestations of extremism,” involving “ethnic and religious conflicts” are “sharpening”. According to Bogdanov, terrorism remains a threat as do extremist acts, as a result of “the political processes that are taking place in Russia” at the present time. He said city officials are monitoring three “youth groups of an extremist orientation and also more than 1600 youths, two-thirds of whom identify with skinhead groups.” And he expressed particular concern about “the general growth in the number of young people inclined to extremism. For the first nine months of 2008, he said, this category had increased by more than 1,000 people, and its members thus present a challenge to the residents of the city and the government’s ability to control the situation. And in the second, the SOVA Analytic Center which tracks religious and ethnic issues in the Russian Federation said it was worried by the consequences of the appearance in Moscow and other Russian cities of Orthodox popular militias, which are operating without clear supervision or rules.

The SOVA experts noted that even if these groups are not armed, their organization along ethnic or religious lines has the potential to spark “conflicts on a religious basis,” especially if the appearance of groups tied to one religious or ethnic community leads members of others to form their own in response. Not only do the rise of such Orthodox groups and the likely response of non-Orthodox ones represent a direct threat to “the civil character of the state,” but this combination of the two entails a direct challenge to “the freedom of conscience” the Russian Constitution mandates and the possibility of violence, the SOVA Center said.
Window on Eurasia Blog


26/3/2009- Austria’s first ever Islamic cemetery will see its first burial tomorrow (Fri). Omar Al-Rawi, a Social Democrat (SPÖ) municipal councillor and the person responsible for integration at the Islamic Believers Denomination (IG), said today the first body to be buried there would be that of a Moroccan who at worked for the UN in Vienna and died of illness. The service will take place after the daily prayers at the site in southern Vienna. Al-Rawi said the cemetery was available to every Muslim who died and parcels of land in it would be not sold or reserved for anyone. The cemetery would be open to all who wanted to visit it, just like any other, he added. Al-Rawi said the first bodies to be buried in the cemetery would be placed deep into the ground to allow the stacking of corpses in order to accommodate a maximum number of bodies, which he estimated to be 4,000. The cemetery has a long history. The first discussions between IG and the city government about an Islamic cemetery started some 20 years ago and finally led to acceptance of a plan by both sides in 2001, when it was hoped the cemetery would be able to open in 2003. In the interim, archeologists would conduct excavations on the 3.4 hectares of land in question. IG was responsible for construction of the cemetery, but the bankruptcy of a construction company and lack of funds delayed construction. Funds contributed by the Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC), Saudi Arabia and Qatar finally enabled it to begin. A fire occurred at the partially-finished visitors’ centre, and vandals scrawled crosses on the cemetery’s walls in 2006, which caused a delay in its official opening until 3 October 2008. Cemetery officials received official operating permission several weeks ago.
The Austrian Times



27/3/2009- The exploitation of migrant workers was highlighted today at a conference called to look at working conditions for migrant workers in the current downturn. Giving the keynote address, BBC Newsnight 's economics editor Paul Mason called for "a language better than racism" to be able to discuss migration issues. "[We need to talk] about what migrant workers mean, what it means to have your food replaced and you culture replaced by other people's culture," he said. Mr Mason said the UK and the rest of Europe were also dealing with the "massively unresolved question" of undocumented migrants. There was a growing acceptance that the number of undocumented migrants in the UK could be as high as one million, he said. Mr Mason described as "really shocking" the collapse in global trading and outsourcing. He highlighted the collapse in manufacturing exports in particular. "So South Korea, China and Japan are all seeing a 40 per cent annual rate of collapse of their exports," he said and questioned if people wanted to retreat to closed markets and protectionism. Migrant Rights Centre director Siobhán O'Donoghue warned against shying away from racism where it was found to exist. "Here in Ireland for the last number of years we've actually stopped talking about racism. We've started talking about culture," she said. "Under the guise of culture . . . a lot of racist things are said." She claimed the Government was using migrant workers as "convenient scapegoats" to distract from the State's employment problems. Some 13,000 work permits were issued last year and this was a relatively small number, she said, but Fianna Fáil backbenchers Noel O'Flynn and Ned O'Keeffe had called on the Government to review the issuing of permits to people from outside the European Union. "13,000 work permits are going to distract us again from the real issue of huge employment problems that this country is facing, by somehow or other blaming 13,000 people," Ms O'Donoghue said. Ictu legislation and social affairs officer Esther Lynch said she was "very concerned" at discussions played out in the media that pitted workers against each other. Private sector workers were pitted against public sector, full time against part time and women against men. "And nothing surer, there will soon be discourse, and horrible discourse, built on racism," she said. The trade union movement has sometimes been very good at challenging this discourse. "But then again the trade union industry has not always played a positive leadership role, and I think we have to recognise that," she said.
The Irish Times



Soldier, two detention services officers injured

24/3/2009- A soldier and two detention services officers were injured yesterday as between 500 and 600 illegal migrants, whose requests for asylum have been turned down, yesterday staged a disturbance at the Safi detention centre during which they destroyed facilities, equipment and a tent used for education purposes. The riots broke out at around 7am, when migrants living in Warehouse A forced their way out and pelted detention officers with stones. As the migrants were still outside their compound, migrants living at Warehouse B followed suit, forcing their way out of their own compound. Policemen from the Mobile Squad rushed to the site in aid of the detention services officers who became targets as the migrants threw objects at them. It is understood that pepper spray had to be used in order to bring the migrants under control. Migrants who were pushed back to Warehouse B struck back by throwing hot water and stones at the officers and started burning mattresses as well as breaking window panes. The Police Special Assignment Group, AFM anti-riot Squad and the Civil Protection Department arrived on site as an AFM helicopter hovered above the centre and took video footage of the riots in order to help investigators.

After another attempt by migrants to retaliate, the combined efforts of the army and police brought the riot under control There were reports that migrants had escaped, but The Malta Independent is informed that the riot was contained inside the perimeter of the Safi Barracks, which house the Safi detention centre. The area was surrounded by the police while two police buses filled with officers were kept on standby outside the centre, even as three trucks full of soldiers were driven in. Journalists, photographers and cameramen who were kept at a distance from the detention centre saw two officers being driven out, one with a bandage over his left eye, the other one with sticking-plaster on his forehead. Both men are thought to have been injured in the pelting. A detention services officer was injured when bleach was thrown at him. Rioters are believed to have burnt mattresses and broken windows as well as smashing a new e700 water boiler. They also destroyed a tent which served as an education unit and which had housed IT equipment and hundreds of books used in an EU-funded project to help migrants integrate themselves in European society, learn English and life skills. Order was restored by 9am and half an hour later SAG members entered the compounds in order to identify ringleaders. Three migrants are expected to be charged in court in the coming days.
The Malta Independent



The trial of three key members of Germany's far-right NPD party began in Berlin on Tuesday, March 24. The men are accused of discriminating against a German soccer player of Nigerian descent.

24/3/2009- Far-right National Democratic Party leader Udo Voigt, party spokesman Klaus Beier and the head of the party's legal committee, Frank Schwerdt, face two counts of racial incitement and one of defamation. The defendants refused to enter pleas in their trial's opening day. They are said to have printed and distributed leaflets before the 2006 World Cup insinuating that Patrick Owomoyela was not worthy of playing on the German national soccer team. The NPD distributed the pamphlets in early 2006 ahead of the Germany World Cup showing Owomoyela wearing the white shirt of Germany's national team with the caption, "White. Not just the color of the jersey!" Owomoyela, the son of a German mother and Nigerian father, has already won a civil trial against the NPD. Following that victory, he and the German Soccer Federation (DFB) also filed criminal charges. The DFB has said it fully backs its black former national defender, adding it was pressing charges to fight "the racist campaigns against players for the German national team." Owomoyela currently plays for Borussia Dortmund. The trial was supposed to have begun in the first week of March, but had to be postponed because the three defendants couldn't be found at their registered addresses. If found guilty, the three men could each face a fine or up to three years in prison.
Deutsche Welle



Denmark has been ranked as one of the best countries in Europe in terms of satisfaction by Muslim immigrants

23/3/2009- Despite disagreements over religion, Muslim immigrants are overwhelmingly satisfied with life in this country, according to data compiled by Statistics Denmark. Commissioned by libertarian think-tank Cepos, the poll showed that 91 percent of people whose parents came from Muslim countries say their lives are better here than what they would be in their parents’ native countries. And 79 percent of those who immigrated to Denmark answered the same in the survey. The figures are far above those of many other western European countries, including Germany, England and France. The only country where Muslims were more satisfied with their conditions was Spain, where illegal immigrants are given the opportunity to obtain residency. ‘This is the first time anyone has asked these people how they feel about being here,’ Geert Laier Christensen, head of research at Cepos, told Politiken newspaper. ‘And it surprised us that people of immigrant background were just as happy with Denmark as native Danes.’ One survey area where there was less satisfaction related to religion, where 40 percent of the respondents indicated they felt conditions for religious freedom were better in their native countries. Immigrants from Morocco, Palestine and Pakistan were the most dissatisfied in this area, with 42, 36 and 34 percent preferring their homelands, respectively. But Mehmet Yüksekkaya, integration specialist with the Danish Working Environment Authority, said the survey cannot necessarily be taken at face value. ‘As a rule, immigrants will generally say what the survey questioner wants to hear,’ he said. ‘If they had a problem, they would never mention it over the telephone because they come from countries where they fear the authorities.’ As far as the political situation in Denmark goes, survey respondents were split over whether those conditions were better or worse than in their or their parents’ native country. Forty-seven percent said the political situation in their country of origin was better than in Denmark, 35 percent said it was better in Denmark and 30 percent indicated the situation was roughly the same. The poll included responses from 1,247 immigrants and 457 of their children.

Reader comment:

Reluctant Mermaid - Something is rotten in the State of Denmark ... |2009-03-23 23:08:27
"As a rule, immigrants will generally say what the survey questioner wants to hear. If they had a problem, they would never mention it over the telephone because they come from countries where they fear the authorities." Ay, there's the rub ... because if you ask any immigrant taxi driver what they think of life in Denmark you will seldom be told that they are satisfied with it. Quite the contrary in fact. I have had many a conversation with taxi drivers in Copenhagen (they’re easier to understand than native Danes because they speak more slowly and don't eat the ends of their words!) and, to date, not one of them has ever said that they particularly like living here.

One of them summed it up thus (I’m paraphrasing, but you’ll get the general gist):
“One of the problems is that the Danes complain about the immigrant population living in ‘ghettos’ and not mixing with the Danish population. What the Danes fail to understand is that they do not appear to welcome and accept an immigrant population (particularly if one ‘looks Muslim’) and so stay in their ghetto, effectively forcing us to live apart from them.”

I wouldn’t be too confident about the accuracy of this recent survey …

The Copenhagen Post



23/3/2009- A Russian company has been heavily criticised for creating a racist ice-cream advert featuring Barack Obama. The advert for a chocolate and vanilla bar shows Obama standing in front of the US Capitol Building with the caption, Everybody's talking about it - Dark in White. The advert sparked mass outrage when shown on the Ads Of The World website, with one blogger asking, "Is the ice cream as tasteless as the ad?" Alexander Verkhovsky of anti-racism group Sova, based in Moscow, told Sky News: "Violations of political correctness in Russia are clearly acceptable and adverts like this just reinforce ethnic divisions. "The fact this is a mainstream advert is potentially dangerous - the image is not aggressive in itself - but it can foment prejudice in a more insidious way." The company which produced the advert has defended itself, saying the image is not consciously or unconsciously racist. Voskhod advertising agency said: "We see nothing wrong with this... We believe pointing to race is not racism. "With our ad we are celebrating the fact there is a black president in the White House." President Obama has been a hit with Russian advertisers since being elected. The colour of the President's skin has already been used as part of a campaign by a tanning salon. And a leaflet has also been released with Obama's image and slogan Full Dental Democracy! to promote a chain of dental clinics.
Sky News UK



In the drive to stop the site falling into ruin and preserve the memory of the 1.1 million overwhelmingly Jewish victims who died here during World War II, officials face tall odds.

24/3/2009- Museum authorities at the former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland are struggling to save the enduring symbol of the Holocaust from the impact of time and the elements. In the drive to stop the site falling into ruin and preserve the memory of the 1.1 million overwhelmingly Jewish victims who died here during World War II, they face tall odds. "This is our last chance," warned Piotr Cywinski, director of the state-run museum. The museum keeps going thanks to the Polish government, which covers around half of its costs, plus visitors' ticket fees. Up to five percent of its budget comes from the US-based Lauder Foundation and Germany's regional governments. Last month, it announced plans for a 120-million-euro (162-million-dollar) appeal to enable it to become self-financing. Crucially, said Cywinski, it could then set aside some 5.0 million euros a year for conservation work. The rudimentary buildings of the camp's Birkenau site, built by the prisoners on marshy land, are being battered by soil erosion and water damage. "We have to finish conservation work on all these buildings within 10 to 12 years, so we need to start within three years at the latest," said Cywinski. "The primary goal is to preserve the site's authentic nature and not to rebuild it, in order not to change the perception of this place." "But the big question today is: do we want to save this place?" he said. Preserving a single barrack-block costs around 880,000 euros, said conservation chief Rafal Pioro. Warsaw has called on the international community to support the new drive to maintain the camp. The museum site covers 191 hectares (472 acres), with 155 buildings and 300 ruins, and has a collection of thousands of personal items, as well as documents exposing the minutiae of the Nazis' killing machine. The Nazis initially set up the camp for Polish resistance fighters, nine months after invading Poland in September 1939.

The original camp was at a former Polish army barracks on the edge of the southern town of Oswiecim -- known in German as Auschwitz. Two years later, the Nazis greatly expanded the site at nearby Brzezinka, or Birkenau. Around 1.1 million people died at Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945 -- one million of them Jews from Poland and elsewhere in Nazi-occupied Europe -- some from overwork, starvation and disease but most in the notorious gas chambers. It was one of six death camps set up in Poland -- home to pre-war Europe's largest Jewish community -- by the occupying Germans, who murdered six million Jews during the war. Non-Jewish Poles, Roma and Soviet POWs were also among the victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the other death camps of Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek and Belzec. The museum devotes much of its time protecting the intimate traces of the prisoners' presence. Each of the 80,000 shoes stockpiled by the Nazis, for example, are being painstakingly preserved. "There's no technical problem to bring back the original beauty of an old shoe but that would wipe away its entire story," said Cywinski. The task of the museum's laboratories, financed by the Lauder Foundation, is unique. "There are ways to restore Medieval objects, but not to conserve six-decade-old, poor quality plastic toothbrushes... We don't have any reference point," said Cywinski. Researchers have identified 90 different kinds of ink or pencil on the 40,000 documents left by the Nazi medical service. Each requires a different conservation method, said expert Nel Jastrzebiowska. The museum, set up by the Polish government in 1947, last year drew 1.13 million visitors compared to half that in 2001 -- crucial for remembrance but putting extra physical pressure on the site.
Expatica News


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