NEWS - Archive April 2009

Headlines 24 April, 2009


24/4/2009- Racism and xenophobia are thriving as much as they were 50 years ago, fuelled by fears about growing migration and economic strife, the UN expert on racism said on Friday at a conference on the scourge. Githu Muigai, the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, told AFP that the pressures engendered by globalisation were amplified in the economic crisis as tensions rose over job losses. "There are serious problems of racial discrimination today, as there were half a century ago," Muigai said on the sidelines of the UN's controversial Durban Review Conference on racism in Geneva. "The world has opened up, some people call it globalisation, and that has brought people of different races, ethnic or religious origin into contact who would otherwise never have met 50 years ago," he said. Muigai, a Kenyan lawyer, said international institutions set up to tackle racism and discrimination during that period had failed to reduce the problem. "For the reasons of migration, people moving to seach for opportunities and so on, the problem has grown, not lessened at all."

Financial insecurity and job fears historically fuelled animosity towards foreign migrants, but that has grown in the current meltdown because it was affecting so many people, he said. "If you are an illegal in the United States for example, you're probably costing the employer less and demanding less by way of social security benefits, insurance health care and so on, and there is a resentment that works around that," Muigai said. Muigai, who took over the post last August, also pointed to anecdotal evidence of an increase in xenophobic and racist sentiment among the middle class in Europe. "I suspect that we will see more of it, not less of it, until there is a stabilisation," he added. Recent "xenophobia" against Mozambicans and Zimbabweans in South Africa was also driven by "frustration and insecurity" and fears about jobs that were unjustified, he added. The UN conference, which ends on Friday, has adopted a declaration against racism, xenophobia and intolerance. The 16-page text enumerates a huge range of issues that need to be tackled, including discrimination against migrants, access to justice, social services, and racism in sports.



23/4/2009- Continuing their efforts to curb the movement of illegal migrants and refugees, French officials said Thursday that a migrant camp here in the overgrown sand dunes known as “the jungle” would be taken down by the end of the year. The announcement was made two days after 500 police officers and other officials rounded up 194 migrants around Calais, trying to disrupt the networks that smuggle them into Britain. “The jungle will not exist by the end of 2009,” Éric Besson, the French immigration minister, said after listening to local businesspeople, who said that their employees lived in fear of attack and that their operations were being damaged by the migrants. “The law of the jungle will not rule here in Calais or anywhere else in France.” Even as volunteers watched teams of riot police officers block Afghan migrants trying to walk to City Hall, Mr. Besson insisted that the site would be dismantled. After the authorities in 2002 closed a shelter run by the Red Cross in Sangatte, west of Calais, many migrants simply moved down the coast. Asked whether shutting the squatter camp in Calais might produce a similar result, Jean-Yves Topin, director of the French border police, said that was not a reason for inaction. “Just because it starts again three months later doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it,” he said.

Mr. Besson said France was in talks with Germany and Italy about ways to halt the movement of illegal migrants within what is known as the Schengen zone, the European region without border controls. Some of the migrants hope to seek work, while others are political refugees. Mr. Besson said France was also talking with Britain about “more humanitarian and financial help.” While France is taking active steps, he said, Britain also needs to do more. “Calais has been taken hostage because of national and international accords that the British don’t want to revise,” Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, said in an interview. “It is not up to us to ensure security for the comfort of the British people.” Members of the charity Salam, which provides aid to migrant workers, said that local businesspeople were exaggerating when they talked about violence associated with them. About 800 migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and Eritrea are estimated to be staying in the vicinity of Calais, hoping to be smuggled onto trucks that would take them by ferry to Britain. They are attracted to Britain in part because many of them speak English and they think it is easier to find work there than in France. Increased controls in Calais and at five other ports along the northern coast of France mean that migrants who once spent four days in Calais awaiting transfer are now waiting as long as five months. In a concession to humanitarian organizations, Mr. Besson said that by May 5, the government would open an information center in Calais where migrants could apply for asylum.
© The New York Times



22/4/2009- The French police conducted early morning raids at four locations on the outskirts of Calais on Tuesday, arresting nearly 200 migrants just two days before the immigration minister, Eric Besson, will visit the port city that Britain has long considered a springboard for irregular immigration. The largest of the raids involved 225 riot police and targeted shelters in a thicket of thorn bushes known as “the jungle,” where 150 migrants, mostly Afghans, were detained, according to Catherine Mandet, a spokeswoman for the prefecture in the regional capital, Arras. Forty-four others were picked up in operations at a highway toll barrier, at the Transmarck parking zone beside the port and at the Saint-Hilaire-Cottes truck stop, where smugglers try to cram migrants into the backs of freight trucks. In addition to Afghans, the police picked up Pakistanis, Iraqis and Iranians in the court-ordered operation, which involved 500 police officers and officials, Ms. Mandet said. She said those arrested had been taken to Boulogne, Calais and Lille, where they can be kept in custody for questioning for up to 48 hours. She said there had been no instances of violence.

The operation came a day after Italy agreed to take in 142 African migrants rescued by a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean and at a time when Britain and France are trying to crack down on irregular immigration. The issue is expected to be discussed when leaders of the two countries meet next month. Jean-Pierre Leclerc, head of the volunteer organization Salam, which provides aid to migrants, said by phone from Calais that riot police had closed off the area and moved in at 7.30 a.m. “This is not the first time,” he said. “The state is trying to tackle the problem.” It was the biggest raid since November, when the French police rounded up 57 Afghans in Calais in the hope of placing them on a deportation flight jointly with Britain. Mr. Besson said in Paris on Tuesday that the raids were meant to snare the smugglers and were not aimed at migrants. “To say or suggest that smugglers and traffickers rule in Calais is unacceptable, and from that point of view, the state had to show its determination,” Reuters quoted Mr. Besson as saying.

On most weeknights, smugglers usher groups of migrants, who pay €300 to €700, or about $340 to $900, apiece, onto freight trucks headed by ferry for Britain. Many are discovered by their heartbeats or carbon dioxide detectors as the trucks move through customs controls. Britain, which has little tolerance for illegal immigration, has long sought France’s help on the issue. The U.K. Border Agency has set up controls in French ports, the two countries have tried to organize joint deportation flights, and Britain was vocal in encouraging France to shut Sangatte, a Red Cross migrant shelter, in late 2002. About 800 migrants were camped out around Calais before the raids, according to Mr. Leclerc.
© The New York Times



20/4/2009- Since the late 1990s, French stand-up comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala has used satirical comedy to spread his self-described anti-Zionist views in the name of politically oriented art. Despite past French court convictions for spreading “racial hatred” of Jews, the 43-year-old Dieudonne managed for years to draw large audiences and earned a reputation for poking fun at France’s right wing. At least, until recently. Last December, Dieudonne apparently went too far when he invited a notorious Holocaust denier associated with the far right, Robert Faurisson, to join him on a stage near Paris in front of 5,000 roaring fans. As the crowd cheered, an actor dressed as a Jewish Nazi camp prisoner awarded Faurisson a prize for “unrespectability.” The stunt was possibly Dieudonne’s most outlandish since he made far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen his daughter’s godfather in 2008. In addition to prompting new charges of anti-Semitism against Dieudonne by Paris prosecutors—they were announced April 8—the Faurisson scandal has crystallized Dieudonne’s transition from the political left to the far reaches of the political right. The scandal also has helped turn Dieudonne into a symbol of the anti-Semitism that connects the far right and far left in European society.

Dieudonne is running for election to the European Parliament on an anti-Zionist ticket that includes supporters on the political far left and right. The comedian has become a bridge for otherwise disparate political elements that share an intense aversion to Zionists and Jewish institutions, which Dieudonne says “poison France.” “Dieudonne represents what radicalism can become,” said Marc Knobel, a researcher at the CRIF umbrella group of French Jews. “He’s a hyphen between extremists.” Due to his latest antics, negative public opinion of the comedian has risen sharply, and many French cities now bar him from publicly performing. “How painful it is to come to despise someone whom we admired,” wrote one anonymous ex-fan on the French news Web site Rue89. “Now things are clear,” said Alain Jakubowicz, a lawyer for the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism who has sued Dieudonne in the past. “His clown nose has fallen. He’s no longer a comedian at all. He is simply an extremist politician. Now we can see what is underneath.” This wasn’t always so clear. Until he teamed with Faurisson, Dieudonne had earned a significant following despite his views on Jews.

In 2003, when Dieudonne disguised himself as a Muslim-hating Chasid wearing a military jacket and ski mask, hinting that Zionists wield disproportionate power in the world, a French audience and celebrity guests applauded the comedian. “I recently converted to Zionist fundamentalism,” Dieudonne said in the 2003 performance, “for professional—I mean spiritual—reasons.” In the sketch, he asked young people to “convert” to the “Amerciano-Zionist axis,” since “that is the only way to keep living in this country.” In the past, Dieudonne’s work enjoyed sympathy from political activists and fans who associated him with anti-racist mockery—Dieudonne is half Cameroonian—and the simple desire to entertain. He has more than 30,000 fans on the social networking Web site Facebook, and when Dieudonne ran for the European Parliament in 2004 on a “Euro-Palestinian” ticket, he did relatively well in some poor French suburbs. “Before, there were a certain number of people who advocated for freedom of speech around Dieudonne; now that’s impossible,” Knobel said. “People who said he’s not so bad, we don’t hear from them anymore. He’s totally marginalized.” For his part, Dieudonne says he’s anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.

The Dieudonne affair is related to the debate in French society over whether certain forms of anti-Zionism constitute anti-Semitism and whether the problem of anti-Semitism in France is exaggerated. In the poor suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where riots broke out in 2005, high school history teacher Antoine Germa says his students once agreed with Dieudonne’s argument that French society focused attention on the Holocaust at the expense of other tragedies, such as slavery. But now “he has lost credibility,” Germa said of Dieudonne. “When it comes to anti-Semitism, there are few who support him.” These days, as Dieudonne tries to keep up his performances while running a political campaign and defending against new charges by French prosecutors, the once-popular comedian is struggling to sell seats to his shows. He reportedly will be performing out of a bus in the coming weeks. On May 5 he’ll face anti-Semitism-related charges for the Faurisson skit. To some fans, Dieudonne is still about having a good laugh. Outside Dieudonne’s private Theatre de la Main d’Or in an alley in the Bastille district of Paris, Laurent Stammegna explains why he still pays to see Dieudonne. “It’s true he’s really shocking, but he’s never killed anyone, unlike the people who are in power,” Stammegna told JTA. “It’s still just comedy.”
© JTA News



Political crime is on the rise in Germany, and far-right crimes in particular rose 16 percent in 2008, according to new government figures. Part of the increase is a result of new statistical standards, but the numbers on the right include two murders.

21/4/2009- The number of far-right crimes recorded in Germany increased by around 16 percent last year to 20,422, with violent crimes up 5.6 percent at 1,113 cases, including two killings, according to figures released by the German government this week. Far-right crimes accounted for two thirds of all "politically motivated" crimes last year, which reached 31,801 -- an increase of 11.4 percent and the highest level since 2001. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said the rise in politically motivated crime was disturbing and swore the government would counter it with a variety of measures against extremism, racism and intolerance. The two deaths were in eastern Germany -- the murder of a 55-year-old homeless man by two men from the far-right scene, and the murder of a 20-year-old art student who was kicked to death after a political argument in a disco. Part of the increase in far-right crimes is explained by a statistical change that took effect on Jan 1, 2008 when all police forces adopted common standards for recording so-called "propaganda offenses" which include displaying banned symbols such as the Nazi swastika. But the rise was also driven by a growing far-right youth scene whose members dress like left-wing anarchists, in black-hooded jackets. "They are attracting young people to a greater extent than the conventional far-right scene has been able to so far," Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in a statement. Left-wing politically motivated crimes rose 14.6 percent to 6,724.
© The Spiegel



24/4/2009- A controversial Prague exhibition by Polish artist Peter Fuss showing large pictures of Nazi soldiers with stars of David instead of swastikas on their sleeves lasted only several minutes on Tuesday before being dismantled by visitors from the Prague Jewish Community. "This is no censorship. If somebody offends you, you must react," Prague Jewish Community head Frantisek Banyai told the paper Lidove noviny (LN) Friday. Banyai told CTK that the exhibition was "clearly a provocation degrading Holocaust victims" because it opened on Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day that commemorates the beginning of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 when Polish Jews were fighting against the Nazis. The photomontages had a strongly anti-Semitic character, Banyai pointed out. The organisers presented the exhibition as criticism of Israel's anti-Palestinian policy. The Linhart Foundation that runs the Roxy/NoD gallery in a building owned by the Jewish community in Prague centre apologised for the exhibition and promised to adopt measures preventing similar failures, Banyai told CTK. The exhibition was cancelled and information about it was withdrawn from the Internet. Banyai said the Jewish community wanted to immediately contact the Linhart Foundation at the exhibition's opening, but its heads were not on the spot. He told LN that the dismantling was not organised, but spontaneous. One of the visitors who removed the pictures allegedly said "Polish swine" when he received the information that the author is a Pole, the paper says.

Fuss claims that Israel is not the weak, persecuted party but the persecutor in the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a text accompanying the cancelled exhibition, Fuss asks how come that people who remember ghetto walls that surrounded Jews allow and accept that Palestinians are now surrounded by walls. The photographs of Nazi soldiers during anti-Jewish pogroms that Fuss used for the exhibition are not historical, but pictures from the films Schindler's List and The Pianist. Fuss's previous art projects react to the situation in Poland, concerning mostly fanatic Catholicism, favouritism, censorship and suppression of the freedom of speech. In January, the Polish police dealt with his billboard placed next to a church, saying "Jews get out of the Catholic country"!" and showing a number of faces of popular Polish personalities, including Lech Walesa and President Lech Kaczynski. Fuss keeps his real identity secret because he fears about his safety. His Prague exhibition opened a few days after several far-right marches through Czech towns and an arson attack against a Romany family.
© The Prague Daily Monitor



23/4/2009- Following the latest violent attack against the Czech Roma community, in which an unknown perpetrators threw petrol bombs into a Roma-inhabited house on Saturday night, leaving a 2-year-old girl in a critical condition, Roma organisations have called on Roma to seek asylum in Canada. At the same time, Canada is urging the Czech government to crack down on operators who they say are probably behind the rising number of Czech Roma seeking asylum. But experts say racism is not the only reason behind the increase.

Extremist groups intensifying activity
Last week's incident, which took place just hours after hundreds of far-right extremists marched through the northern Bohemian city of Ústí nad Labem, is not an isolated case of violence against Roma, HospodáÝské noviny reported. In northern Moravia, at least ten such attacks happened in the past. The scenario was similar: The perpetrators threw petrol bombs in a Roma-inhabited house at night and disappeared. The police have not found the aggressors, HospodáÝské noviny said. The attack in Vítkov and the neo-Nazi march in Ústí nad Labem got on the agenda of the government meeting on Monday. Outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek did not want to say what specifically the cabinet would do to fight the rising extremism in the country. He only said that the state should use both prevention and restrictions when dealing with extremists groups. Exact proposals will be included in a draft policy of a fight against extremism that ministers will discuss in two weeks. The only measure that Topolánek has suggested is to ban neo-Nazi demonstrations. At present, authorities have three days to ban a suspicious march. But if neo-Nazi groups announce a march on Friday, the officers cannot check it during the weekend. In the future, the law could be changed to include only working days in the deadline. The city of Ústí nad Labem banned two of three extremist marches announced for last weekend, but courts cancelled the city hall's ban.

Recently, the government has attempted to ban the Workers' Party, which organises marches into Roma ghettos and threatens with a "Gipsy terror". However, a court rejected the Interior Ministry's proposal. "The Workers' Party will now intensify its activities ahead of the European Parliament elections. If they manage to get one per cent of votes, they will receive CZK 30 for each vote, which will be their financial base for further expansion," HospodáÝské noviny quoted political scientist Miroslav Mareš as saying. Czech extremists have invited US political scientist David Duke, a well-known racist and Holocaust denier, to deliver a few lectures in Prague and Brno this weekend, the news site reported. One of the lectures was to take place at the Charles University, but the school banned the event. However, a shift in activities of the domestic neo-Nazi movement is apparent. Until now, it has focused on racially and politically motivated attacks, on spreading of its propaganda on the internet and on leaflets distributed to people's mail boxes. "What is new about the far-right movement is its effort to present itself also at other places than its own events. Small groups of far-right extremists take part in various exhibitions, seminars, and street festivals, where they distribute their materials, provoke discussions, trying to convinced the passers-by about their opinions," quoted Jan Šubert, spokesman for the counter-intelligence service BIS.

Roma leaving for Canada again
Following the racial attacks at home, Czech Roma are once again seekying asylum in Canada. They have a big chance to succeed. Canadian authorities accepted 84 Czech refugee claims last year, while only five were rejected, 11 abandoned, and 95 claims were withdrawn. The National Post, a Canadian daily, reported last week that the Czech Republic has suddenly become one of Canada's top seven sources of refugees, ahead of violence-stricken countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The increase, believed to emanate from the minority Roma community, began in late 2007 when Canada lifted the visa requirement for Czech visitors to Canada, The National Post said. However, the daily Lidové noviny reported that there is also a strong economic factor behind the Roma exodus. Referring to a report by several experts dealing with the Roma issue for many years, the daily said that the migration is managed and prepared by so-called prospectors, former Czechoslovak citizens. The Roma Community Centre in Toronto plays the key role in the process, as it present the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board with information on the situation of the Roma minority in the Czech Republic on the one hand, and represents immigrants in asylum proceedings at the same committee on the other hand. The immigration committee is influenced by the prospectors to the extent that it does not require evidence of discrimination, the authors of the report say. Canada's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called on the Czech government last week to crack down on unscrupulous operators that are believed to be behind a massive surge in the number of refugee claimants arriving at Canadian airports from that country. "It's hard to believe that the Czech Republic is an island of persecution in Europe," Kenney told Canwest News Service.
© The Prague Daily Monitor



20/4/2009- Czech Romany activists are deeply concerned about the Molotov cocktail attack on a Romany family in Vitkov, north Moravia, during the night in which a two-year-old girl was severely burnt, and called for Romany guards to be formed and for emigration to Canada. "The movement of Romany resistance calls on Romanies to be watchful against terrorist attacks by Czechs," the movement says in a statement for CTK Sunday. The statement was joined by the organisations Roma realia - north Bohemia, Romani Aliance - west Bohemia and Futurum Roma - central Bohemia. The movements says Romanies should not rely on the "failing state apparatus" and reminds that arson attacks on Romany homes are not unique in the Czech Republic. Unknown perpetrators threw Molotov cocktails into a family house inhabited by a Romany family. Three people, including the child, were injured in the consequent fire. The attack has been sharply denounced by outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and President Vaclav Klaus. The movement has called on Romany communities to prepare possible escape routes from where they live or stay. They should not leave old people, women and children alone without "a strong Romany protection." "This is the sole that Romanies can do within their possibilities," the movement says. The movement called for emigration last week already when figures on the number of Czech asylum applicants in Canada were released.

Ombudsman Otakar Motejl said 570 Czech citizens applied for asylum in Canada in January and February, which is markedly more than from other countries. A total of 853 Czechs applied for refugee status in Canada in the whole of last year. Several years ago the high number of asylum applicants led Canada to introduce visas for Czechs. If Canada overlooks "the terror targeting Romanies in the Czech Republic," the movement says, it will face the risk of international agreements violation. The movement also told possible critics of the call for emigration that no one has the right to keep Romanies at a place of danger where they are the possible targets of neo-Nazis, the statement says. The movement said it does not trust the Czech government at all and that it will communicate its fears to U.S. President Barack Obama. Kumar Vishwanathan, who has devoted himself to work with Romanies in north Moravia for many years, said Sunday the attack was an expression of cowardice. He said the situation in the Czech Republic starts to be intolerable. He said he could personally see Romany families having machetes and axes prepared at the door to defend themselves in case of an extremist attack. "Unless our elected representatives and courts awake and unless they do something about the situation, disturbances will follow," Vishwanathan said.
© The Prague Daily Monitor



20/4/2009- Czech Romany activists call for protective guards to be established immediately now that a Romany family has been brutally attacked in Vitkov, north Moravia, Romea association says on its website. The activists say the extremist movement's rise in the Czech Republic, also due to politicians and the state's lenience, results in attacks bearing symptoms of terrorism. The guards should cooperate with the police and with local authorities in protecting Romani families, writes Romea, some members of which are part of the government council for the Romany minority affairs. The activists call on politicians, the Interior Ministry and the Czech public to stand up against intensifying neo-Nazism and extremism. "Romanies are the target Monday, but it could be the turn of anyone of you tomorrow," they write. The guards should not be set to provoke violence but to protect their families' members, the appeal says, calling on Romanies to shun open clashes with extremists and not to succumb to the latter's provocations that are obvious in recent months. Apart from Romea representatives, the appeal, called Enough! (Dost!), has been signed by representatives of Dzeno, another Romani organisation, including the government council deputy chairman Ivan Vesely and the council member Cyril Koky, and members of other Romany groups.

A two-year-old girl, who suffered burns in the fire of a family house in Vitkov on Sunday, probably caused by a Molotov cocktail attack, is hospitalised in a critical state. Indignant over the brutal attack, Romanies are preparing a public fund raising and a protest meeting in support of the afflicted family. The Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, too, said it minds the way the state approaches the neo-Nazis. The uncertainty of the responsible institutions and the incapability of using legislative tools to prevent neo-Nazi activities, which include arson and attempts to kill, must stop," Jewish Communities' Federation chairman Jiri Danicek says in a press released sent to CTK. Outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said after the government meeting Monday that the state wants to apply both repression and prevention in fighting extremism. The new strategy in this respect should be adopted at the outgoing cabinet's last meeting due in a fortnight. Another house inhabited by a Romani family flared up in Prosec, east Bohemia, this night. The house was empty when the fire broke out. The police say that either negligence or arson might have been behind the fire. No racial motive has been detected in this case for now.
© The Prague Daily Monitor



22/4/2009- In Hungary, fascist groups are targeting Roma gypsies, but the government seems to turn a blind eye on the problem of ethnic minorities, and offers no protection for them. A cold and brutal crime has torn a young family apart. Robert and his five-year-old son were shot dead, and his two other children seriously injured when their home was attacked. A homemade bomb was thrown through the front door and immediately sent the entire house up in flames. The young family had just finished building their small but modern house. Their only crime was being Roma gypsies. Robert’s family lives next door, and are reminded daily of the terror of the tragedy, but what haunts them more is the way the criminal investigation is being carried out. “They pretended not to see 18 bullet holes in the small boy’s body. How is it possible that an experienced police official could not see this? Then it was reported that the fire was electrical. But there are remnants of a bomb everywhere,” says Robert’s mother Erzsebet Csorba. The European Roma rights centre strongly supports the family’s claims. “The police were not acknowledging that a murder had taken place. I’m not aware that there has been any progress,” said Rob Kushen from the European Roma Rights Centre in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. Fighting for their rights, activists also fear that the economic crisis will lead to an increase in hate crimes against Roma in poorer EU countries. “So far they have done a good job in keeping the peace – which is a recipe for disaster,” Kushen believes.

Attacks on Roma haven’t only increased since the onset of the crisis, but a neo-Nazi trend is also growing in Hungary. The far-right Jobbik party, said to be affiliated with a banned fascist group called the Magyar Guarda, is growing in popularity. They often hold protests against Roma, insisting they are criminals. Bela Kovacs, President of the Jobbik Party for a Better Hungary is unequivocal in his views: “Gypsy crimes are growing every day, and it's getting so bad that people are afraid to go out at night,” he said. But the party refused to comment on its connection with the extremist group which often attends their protests. Robert’s family believes the Magyar Guarda brutally attacked their loved ones, and will never be punished, especially under the wing of a growing political party. In the past year alone in Hungary, there have been 18 attacks on Roma homes, and six people have been killed. No one has been caught.
© Russia Today


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