NEWS - Archive May 2009

Headlines 29 May, 2009

NEW FRA REPORT EXAMINES DISCRIMINATION AGAINST MUSLIMS (press release)

Under-reporting of incidents and lack of trust in public authorities

28/5/2009- The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) today released a report on discrimination against Muslims in the EU. The results for Muslim respondents indicate similarly high levels of discrimination and victimisation as for other minority groups surveyed. Many racist incidents are not reported to the police or to any other organisation. Knowledge of anti-discrimination legislation is low, and there is a lack of trust in complaints mechanisms. FRA Director Morten Kjaerum: “Overall, the results suggest that Muslims are treated very differently, dependent on both their ethnic origin and their country of residence. Wearing traditional clothing hardly increases discrimination. Muslims surveyed do not consider religion to be the main reason for their discrimination.” On average 1 in 3 Muslim respondents were discriminated against in the past 12 months, and 11% experienced a racist crime. The highest levels of discrimination occurred in employment. Morten Kjaerum: “The high levels of discrimination in employment are worrying. Employment is a key part of the integration process. It is central to the contributions that migrants make to society, and to making such contributions visible. Discrimination may hamper the integration process”. The FRA calls on EU governments to tackle the situation of discrimination by making people aware about how to make a complaint, improving the recording of discrimination and racist crime, better informing people of their rights, allocating more resources to integration measures, especially for youth, and strengthening the role and capacity of accessible mechanisms for reporting racist incidents. The findings form part of the first ever EU-wide survey on immigrant and ethnic minority groups’ experiences of discrimination and racist crime (“EU MIDIS”). The report covers 14 EU countries. Report and press release



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AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: BULGARIA VIOLATES HUMAN RIGHTS

28/5/2009- Discrimination against minorities, violence and intolerance towards Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, lengthy detention of asylum seekers are serious issues for Bulgaria. The above problems are pointed out in the annual report of "Amnesty International", published Thursday. The report further states that he Roma minority continues to face discrimination at the hands of public officials and private individuals especially when access to housing is concerned, including forced evictions, and access to public services. In addition to the ethnic and sexual orientation minorities, the report points out that the state of mental health and social care institutions raises serious concerns about admission procedures, ill-treatment and living conditions at the institutions visited.

The report highlights the lack of staff, staff training and resources in such institutions, conditions which had led to violent incidents, limited therapeutic options and insufficient provision of rehabilitation programs. The extremely poor conditions at the Mogilino childcare institution, highlighted by the BBC documentary and the Minister of Labor and Social Policy's promise that six similar institutions would be closed down, are given special attention. The European Commission's progress report in July, urging Bulgaria to increase efforts to combat corruption and criminality, following the country's accession to the EU is defined by the report as a political development of significant importance. "The Commission condemned the misuse of EU funds and adopted sanctions against Bulgaria," the report reads.

The months-long and sometimes year-long detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, along with the lack of protection is also considered a serious human right violation. The report further reminds about complaints coming from representatives of the OMO Ilinden PIRIN party, which represents the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, talking about harassment and intimidation by police officers against supporters of a new application for its registration. Regarding the Turkish minority rights, the report cites the Sofia City Court's rule that Volen Siderov, leader of the far-right party Ataka (Attack), was guilty of using hostile and discriminatory language against the ethnic Turkish minority and of creating an atmosphere of animosity towards them. "He was threatened with a fine if he ignored the ruling that he should stop using such language," Amnesty International says.

As far as the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the report mentions the first LGBT Pride event in Sofia in June, 2008 when increased intimidation of LGBT people in Bulgaria was reported and some 150 peaceful marchers faced violence from counter-demonstrators who threw stones, bottles and Molotov cocktails. In 2009, there have also been numerous reports about ill-treatment on the part of the authorities and frequent cases of non-compliance with international standards of legislation. The report mentions the case of the dead Angel Dimitrov aka Chorata, whose death was initially explained by the police as the result of a heart attack, but a second autopsy demanded by relatives showed that he had died from blows to the head.

Novinite

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FEMININE FACE OF HUNGARY'S FAR-RIGHT JOBBIK MOVEMENT SEEKS MEP'S SEAT

A blonde mother has become the cheerleader for a party backed a militia and linked to anti-Semitism and anti-Roma violence, reports Colin Freeman in Budapest.

24/5/2009- On paper, Krisztina Morvai is the kind of woman that any political party would like on their ticket: an attractive blonde working mum, who juggles a high-flying legal career with bringing up three children. Yet for someone notably more photogenic than many of her party followers, Dr Krisztina Morvai gets called some ugly names. "I am a decent politician and a mother of three children, yet you in the West keep on portraying me as a Nazi and a fascist," scolds the would-be MEP for Hungary's Jobbik movement, just one of many extremist parties hoping for a breakthrough in next month's European Parliamentary elections. "Don't think you can keep doing this forever." Meet the coiffeured, fragrant new face of the Far Right in Europe, whose blonde bob, customary red jacket and campaigning feminist background make her arguably the world's only cross between Hillary Clinton and British National Party leader Nick Griffin. Or rather, don't meet her. Having agreed to be interviewed by The Telegraph in Budapest last week for an interview, she changed her mind at the last-minute after taking offence at British newspaper reports linking Jobbik to anti-Semitism and anti-Roma violence. "I am seriously considering as a lawyer to sue because of the damage they have done to my reputation," she warned, the red, lipsticked smile that radiates from billboards all over Hungary suddenly fading.

Yet for all the claims of being misrepresented - or perhaps because even because of them - parties like Jobbik are finding ready audiences across Europe before the June 4 polls, capitalising on mounting joblessness and social unrest caused by the global economic meltdown. Continent-wide, they are expected to return at least 25 MEPs into the 736-seat parliament, passing a threshold that entitles them to status as a formal political bloc, and annual funding worth up to £1 million. In Britain, where Mr Griffin has been tipped as the bloc's possible leader, the key to success has been to drop any bootboy image in favour of suited respectability. But in Hungary and elsewhere, the approach has been to combine the two. While Dr Morvai will be its respectable face in Brussels, the Jobbik, whose name means "Movement for a Better Hungary", also has its own uniformed street militia, the Hungarian Guard. A self-styled citizens' defence force, its stated aim is to prevent crime by the country's half-million strong Roma community. But critics say it bears a disturbing resemblance to the Arrow Cross, Hungary's Second World War fascist militiamen, who collaborated with the Nazis in killing tens of thousands of Hungary's other prominent minority, the Jews. "We are not racist or Nazi," protested Jobbik spokesman Zoltan Fuzessy, whose party insists the Hungarian Guard's uniforms are simply national folk costume. "But there is a problem with the Roma and we need to talk about that."

Be they Boy Scouts or modern-day Brownshirts, Dr Morvai, 46, is still an unlikely bedfellow for such a movement. Indeed, her CV looks more like that of a polician of the liberal left. A professor of law at Budapest University, she is a practising human-rights lawyer, the author of a respected book on domestic violence, and won a Red Cross "Freddie Mercury" prize for promoting Aids awareness. Her politically correct halo slipped, however, after she was ousted from a United Nations committee on gender rights, where the Israeli government objected to comments she made about the plight of Arab women in the Palestinian territories. Since then, she has drifted ever rightwards, flirting first with the conservative Fidesz opposition party, and last year joining Jobbik as it sought wider electoral appeal. While she is careful to avoid inflammatory talk on race, her campaign speeches play directly to a populist sense among Hungarians that they have been treated as "second class citizens" since joining the European Union in 2004. "We are getting further from West-European countries, being reduced to an almost colonial level," she said. "Hungarian businesses, farmers, growers go bankrupt one by one."

Jobbik has also capitalised on widespread disillusionment with Hungary's domestic politicians, who are seen to have squandered its early advantage as the most Western-leaning and economically dynamic of all the ex-Eastern bloc countries. Since then, Hungary's low-cost, high tech manufacturing sector, making everything from car to circuit boards, has been among the hardest hit in Eastern Europe by the global economic crisis, and unemployment has hit an 11 year high of 8.4 per cent. Like her party, Dr Morvai denies being anti-Semitic, homophobic, or racist in any way, dismissing such criticisms as the "favourite topics" of an "ignorant and misled" European Union. But magazines supportive of her party’s aims openly play on such fears. One publication available at the venue of a Jobbik press conference last week contained an item entitled “Who decides?” on Hungary’s future. The non-Jobbik options were either a dreadlocked Jew, a pair of naked homosexuals, or a dark-skinned thug. Such inflammatory rhetoric comes amid a recent wave of violence against Hungary's Roma community, in which Roma homes have been petrol-bombed and in which seven people have died. But it has gone down well in towns like Pomaz, a well-heeled commuter settlement nestling in the forested Pilis hills outside Budapest, where Jobbik held a rally last week. Aside from a few skinheads hanging at the door, the assembled company of middle-aged couples with their children could have been a school parents' evening. "Is this paramilitary clothing?" asked Jobbik's grey-haired, donnish vice-president, Balczo Zoltan, as he gestured to the local Hungarian Guard members in their uniforms of black boots, trousers and waistcoasts with white shirts. "No, it is traditional Hungarian clothing and they have no weapons, not even a stick."

Local Guard organiser Timea Karsai, a demure, bespectacled 33-year-old whose day job is as a psychiatrist, added: "We demonstrate in towns where families have been attacked by gypsies, but we also help gypsy families themselves when they have been threatened by other gypsies. I am not a racist, just a nationalist." Indeed, it is the "respectable" votes of people like Ms Karsai, who do not consider themselves bigots in any way, that is likely to do most to boost the showing of the Far Right in the elections. Far from signalling a new wave of Neo-Nazism, many analysts say it shows how mainstream parties have simply dismissed understandable concerns about racial problems and future immigration from Africa and Asia. "Mainstream political parties avoid dealing with sensitive issues like Roma and immigration by dismissing it as the talk of the Far Right," said Robin Shepherd, a Europe expert at the Henry Jackson Society, a London thinktank. "But that is an easy and lazy designation, which plays into extremists' hands." All the same, many Hungarians still find Jobbik's image unpalatable. "We are disappointed by the main parties because they are always quarrelling and lying," said Peter Nehoda, 29, an IT worker drinking coffee in a Budapest cafe. "But I wouldn't consider voting for Jobbik. The Roma people are not the only ones to blame for our problems."
The Telegraph

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FAR RIGHT RILES AUSTRIAN CHURCH

22/5/2009- A Church leader has added his voice to criticism of the campaign tactics of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party. The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, spoke out in a sermon on Thursday, warning politicians against exploiting Christian symbols. He did not name the Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe), but it is using the slogan "The West in Christian hands" in its European election campaign. The FPOe's leader held up a cross at a rally against a Muslim centre recently.
Heinz-Christian Strache has also been condemned as a "hate preacher" by Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann.

'Inciting hatred'
In his Ascension Day sermon, Cardinal Schoenborn said the Cross "must not be misused as a fighting symbol against other religions". He said the Cross was "a sign of love, which does not answer violence with violence, or hate with hate, but conquers hatred and hostility through devotion and forgiveness". In national elections last year, the FPOe came third, taking 17.5% of the vote. Austrians go to the polls on 7 June in the European Parliament elections. In its campaign advertisements, the FPOe has said it would veto bids by Turkey and Israel to join the EU in order to avoid "getting sucked into the bloody Middle East conflict". Israel, unlike Turkey, is not a candidate for EU membership. Chancellor Faymann warned in a newspaper interview that "it cannot be a trivial offence in our country to establish oneself using Israel and religious feelings in order to incite hatred and gain a few votes". Referring to the FPOe's slogan, the archbishop said: "My question is not whether the West remains in Christian hands, but whether the West has Christ in its heart". "A West without faith would be a West to fear," he added.
BBC News

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FAR RIGHT TRIES TO CONQUER YOUNG GENERATION (Germany)

While Germany celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of its constitution, the NPD, the country's main extreme far-right political party, is trying to seduce the young generation, particularly sensitive to its ideology in times of economic crisis.

22/5/2009- Germany is about to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of its federal constitution. But the NPD, the country's main extreme far-right political party, continues to gain ground. Its strategy is to start with town halls and regional parliaments in order to, one day, reach the national parliament. And it is betting on the young generation in order to get there. According to figures published in March, 5.2 % of 15-year-old Germans say they belong to an extreme right-wing organisation. At barely 26, Michael Schäfer embodies this new generation. He is not a skinhead in a bomber jacket. But his role in the NPD consists in bringing together small neo-Nazi groups so that they join his party. And the NPD doesn't skimp on resources: parties, treks, concerts. But behind the festivities, the racist, nationalist and anti-democratic speeches remain the same. According to a report published on Wednesday by the German Home Office, in the past year, right-wing extremist acts of violence have increased by 15.8 percent.
France 24

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ATHENS MUSLIM GROUP ATTACKED IN WAKE OF VIOLENT PROTESTS(Greece)

23/5/2009- At least three people were hospitalized in Athens on Saturday morning after a firebomb attack on a shop used as a Muslim prayer center for immigrants. Police said unknown assailants smashed the shop's windows and poured gasoline inside before igniting it. The attack came a day after clashes between more than 1,000 Muslim protesters and Greek police in central Athens, after the police allegedly desecrated a copy of the Koran. The march was organized by leftist, immigrant and anti-racism groups. Violence broke out after the rally when a group of protesters began throwing projectiles at police. Immigrant groups allege that an Athens police officer tore apart and stepped on the Koran of a coffee shop customer during a police check in central Athens on Thursday. Police said they have launched an investigation into the incident. Some 46 protesters were arrested Friday during the clashes, while seven Muslim immigrants and seven policemen were hospitalized for treatment. More than 70 cars and around a dozen businesses were damaged in the clashes, which sent tourists running for cover in nearby hotels. A day earlier an even larger crowd of around 1,500 Muslim immigrants rallied before the march degenerated into violence. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Muslim hardships
Many Muslims in Athens use abandoned factories and converted coffee shops as makeshift prayer houses. Some Muslim groups have complained of police brutality and poor treatment by officials in the past. Athens is the only European capital which does not have a proper mosque or cemetery to serve its Muslim population. There are more than 300,000 Muslims living in Athens, mainly from various parts of northern Africa and Pakistan. At present, the only operating mosques in Greece are in the north-eastern region of Thrace, home to some 100,000 Muslims.
The Deutsche Welle

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POLICE DETAIN OVER 40 SUPPORTERS OF EXTREMIST PARTY IN PRAGUE(Czech Rep.)

24/5/2009- The police detained 42 supporters of the Czech ultra-right Workers' Party (DS), including its head Tomas Vandas, who did not respect the call for dissolving their meeting and marched to the public Czech Radio seat in Prague centre on Sunday, police spokeswoman Eva Miklikova told CTK. The DS supporters protested against the Czech Radio (CRo) decision not to broadcast the party's election spots ahead of the EP polls to be held on June 5-6. Several dozen armoured policemen interfered against the marching extremists. The Prague City Hall decided to dissolve the DS meeting at Palacky square, where public meetings can be staged without announcing it to authorities, this afternoon since Vandas referred to national socialism in his speech. The meeting was attended by some 60 people. Some 40 participants then marched to the Czech Radio headquarters, but the police stopped them before they reached Wenceslas Square. After a short brawl, the police detained three extremists. Another 39 participants in the march were detained in Jecna street. The Czech Radio management has decided not to broadcast some election spots of the Workers' Party (DS) this week, arguing that their broadcasting would violate law. The radio did not broadcast two DS's spots including the statements as "We reject the government policy of Gypsy racism in which we pay Gypsies from our taxes to enable them not to work and devote their free time to bothering decent people." The DS then filed a legal complaint against the CRo director on suspicion of marring the preparation and course of elections. The radio plans to lodge a complaint over the spots, too. The Czech Radio and public Czech Television (CT) also decided not to broadcast some spots of the nationalist National Party (NS) that included racist slogans. CT has already filed a complaint over the spot. Supporters of the DS met last time in Bilina, north Bohemia, on Saturday. Some 200 local Romanies protested against the meeting attended by 50 extremists. The police divided both groups to prevent incidents. The previous centre-right government sought the abolition of the DS but the Supreme Administrative Court (NSS) rejected the proposal. New Interior Minister Martin Pecina said he would submit it to the court again.
The Prague Daily Monitor

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COUNCIL OF EUROPE GENERAL SECRETARY OUTRAGED AT CZECH PARTY'S TELEVISION SPOT

22/5/2009- Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, on Friday said he was outraged at the television spot by the Czech National Party (NS) that offered a "final solution to the Gypsy question" before the elections to the European Parliament. Davis said he shared the concern of a large number of television viewers in the Czech Republic. He said he understood the Czech government that was set to adopt measures against a party that had produced the view for the purposes of election campaign before the elections to the EP, he added in a press release. Under the notion of 'final solution,' Nazis had in mind a well-planned extermination of millions of Jews, Romanies, homosexuals and disabled persons, Davis said. When assessing the importance of the incident, courts should bear in mind what happened in the past, Davis said. The European convention on human rights guarantees the right to the freedom of speech, but also outlines a certain framework, he added. Davis said he believed the words about 'final solution to the Romany question' clearly transgressed the framework. On Thursday, the public broadcaster Czech Television (CT) filed a lawsuit against the nationalist NS over its election spot in which the party offers "a final solution to the Romany issue." On Wednesday, CT broadcast the television spot for the first time, along with the spots of other Czech parties and movements running for the European Parliament in June 5-6 elections. However, CT director Jiri Janecek decided immediately after the broadcasting that CT would no longer broadcast the spot though it will continue broadcasting the other parties' video presentations until June 2. The law binds the public CT to broadcast election spots in the form submitted by political parties.
The Prague Daily Monitor

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WOMEN 'MORE ACTIVE' ON SWEDISH NEO-NAZI SCENE

22/5/2009- Women are playing an increasingly active role on the Swedish neo-Nazi scene, a new book has revealed. Authors Maria Blomquist and Lisa Bjurwald found that the notion of women as passive neo-Nazi group members, simply following their boyfriends into the movement, was largely a myth. "Women are active in everything from distributing propaganda material, writing articles and takng part in white power concerts, to releasing their own collections of poetry, standing for election and speaking at public demonstrations," Maria Blomquist told The Local. The book, Good dag kampsyster ('Good day, sister in arms'), also looks at the growing numbers of women signing up to the burgeoning right wing extremist movement in Sweden. "At the neo-Nazis' national day march last June we counted 200 women, making up some 20 to 25 percent of the total participants," said Blomquist, adding that women often find their way into neo-Nazi circles in much the same way as their male counterparts. "They get involved via the internet, by attending concerts or following the lead of a famly member, to name just some examples."

Blomquist and Bjurwald's book tracks the development of 111 members of the National Socialist Front (NSF) from 1997 to 2003. By analysing membership registers and cross-referencing them with public records, the authors examine the women's lives at the time they joined the NSF, followed by a snapshot of the same women's circumstances in 2008. According to excerpts published in the Swedish magazine Expo, the median age of women who joined NSF was 19, with just a handful over the age of 30. Expo is the publishing arm of the Expo Foundation, "a privately-owned research foundation founded in 1995 with the aim of studying and mapping anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and racist tendencies in society." On average NSF's female members -- the majority of whom lived in southern Sweden -- remained members for a year and ten months. Few of the women had jobs, and though their circumstances had improved by 2008, their incomes and education levels were generally low. A lot of the women had left the organization by autumn 2008 but there were some who had remained members for over 10 years. The National Socialist Front (NSF) disbanded in November 2008 and re-launched itself as the Folkfronten (’People’s Front’) party.
The Local

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FAR-RIGHT PARTY EYES FIRST EURO MP (uk)

22/5/2009- Streets dotted with boarded-up pubs; English flags fluttering from passing cars: Moston is fertile ground for the British National Party (BNP), battling for its first European MP. A working-class, traditionally Labour Party stronghold in Manchester, locals say Moston has changed in recent years due to the decline of traditional industries -- and the arrival of immigrants from countries like Nigeria. "They think it's the land of milk and honey. It would be OK if they were honest asylum seekers, but they're not," said a 61-year-old ex-brewery worker coming out of one of Moston's discount stores, who spoke anonymously. "There's nothing here for the Englishman, it's all foreigners. That may sound prejudiced, but I never was," added a 50-year-old woman, who said she would vote for the far-right BNP in the European elections on June 4.

The BNP came second in a council by-election in Moston last month, but expects to do better this time and send at least one MEP to the European Parliament. That will likely be Nick Griffin, the Cambridge University-educated party chairman who has recast the party since taking over in 1999, emphasising grass-roots activism over extreme-right ideology. "I would say we stand a very good chance indeed -- if we weren't to win, we would be convinced it would be the result of serious electoral fraud," Griffin told AFP at the party's northwest campaign launch in Manchester. "(Mainstream politicians) have made a shattering mess and they deserve and should expect to be punished," added the BNP leader -- who was in the spotlight this week after it was revealed he plans to attend a garden party given by the queen at Buckingham Palace this summer.

The BNP's pledges include opposing the European Union and its "dangerous drive... to give 80 million low-wage Muslim Turks the right to swamp Britain". It is also campaigning over "British jobs for British workers," the world financial crisis and the row over MPs' expenses, Griffin added. The expenses scandal prompted the BNP slogan "Punish The Pigs," which screams from billboards over an image of two MPs, one Labour, one Tory, wearing pig masks and fighting over a pile of cash. Griffin is the BNP's lead candidate in the northwest, which the party sees as its most winnable target. At the last Euro elections in 2004, the BNP won 6.4 percent of the vote in the region, and also secured its biggest-ever total nationally. This time, the party believes it needs eight percent in the northwest to earn its first MEP at a time when commentators say it is stronger than ever, with no MPs but one member in the London Assembly and 55 local councillors.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman told the Independent last month that the BNP were "a bigger threat than they have been before". Researchers from Manchester University have compared the BNP's upsurge to that of Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National in France. Much of its support comes from older, working class men in urban areas -- traditional Labour voters disillusioned with the party's modernisation under Tony Blair and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, they add. Viewing the BNP as a "lunatic fringe" is a "dangerously complacent view of a party that has grown more rapidly than any other in 21st century Britain and is on the brink of an electoral breakthrough," researchers Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford wrote in April's New Statesman magazine. With their dark suits and red, white and blue BNP rosettes, the candidates at the campaign launch where Griffin spoke -- who included two ex-Labour activists and a former senior nurse -- did not look like the "lunatic fringe". But it was Griffin's promise to spend Britain's entire foreign aid budget -- which he put at seven billion pounds -- on a programme of voluntary repatriation for immigrants, and to stop all immigration which drew the day's loudest, and longest, ovations.

An estimated 375 million voters across the 27 nation EU will elect 736 deputies for a five-year term at the parliament, which is the only directly-elected EU institution and has an important role passing pan-European legislation drafted by the EU Commission. It also passes the commission's annual budget which will be about 140 billion euros in 2010. The parliament, which has struggled to strengthen its standing in the continent, is expected to stay under centre-right control after the June 4-7 vote.
AFP

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