NEWS - Archive February 2010

Headlines 26 February, 2010

U.S. EMBASSY WARNING: POSSIBLE NEO-NAZI RALLIES IN KYIV AND UKRAINE ON FEB. 27

26/2/2010- This Demonstration Notice alerts U.S. citizens that Neo-Nazi groups and supports from all over Europe will arrive in Ukraine for the “Festival of German-Slavic Fraternity” to be held in Kyiv on Saturday, February 27, 2010. In addition, it also appears that Neo-Nazi music bands from Ukraine, Russia, and Germany, will hold a concert in Kyiv on February 27. No venue has been announced. The U.S. embassy notes that spontaneous demonstrations take place in Ukraine from time to time in response to world events or local developments.The embassy reminds American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations. American citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the U.S. Embassy's website, and the U.S. Department of State's, Bureau of Consular Affairs' website, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information can be found. The U.S. Embassy also encourages U.S. citizens to review to "A Safe Trip Abroad," which includes valuable security information for those both living and traveling abroad.
The Kyiv Post

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SEOUL CALLS ON MOSCOW FOR MEASURES TO BLOCK HATE CRIMES (Russia)

20/2/2010- The South Korean government requested Moscow to take stronger security measures to prevent hate crimes against its citizens living in Russia. The move was prompted by an attack on a college student earlier this week that resulted in his death, the South Korean media reported on February 19, citing Foreign Ministry officials. "We urged both the central and local governments of Russia to take measures to help prevent any hate crime from happening again," an official said. "The government expressed its concerns over the gravity of this incident and the negative impact it could impose on the relationship between the two countries," said a dispatch from the Yonhap News Agency. The 22-year-old South Korean, identified only by his surname Kang, was attacked by three youths in Barnaul and died in a hospital on February 18, according to media reports. All three suspects have been arrested. Local police believe that the attack was a racially motivated, as no cash or valuables were taken. Kang was on an exchange student program at a national college of education in Russia where 18 other South Koreans are also enrolled. Now all of them are scheduled to return home.
UCSJ

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ROMANIAN GYPSIES PROTEST FOREIGN MINISTER REMARKS

24/2/2010- Some 200 Gypsies and others are protesting comments by Romania's foreign minister suggesting some Gypsies, or Roma, were born criminals. Protesters gathered Wednesday in front of the government offices in Bucharest held banners that read "If we are Roma, then we are criminals." They also chanted "Down with racism," and "Resignation." Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi earlier this month suggested during a meeting with French state secretary Pierre Lellouche that criminality among Gypsies was a biological trait. He later acknowledged the comments "did not adequately convey the message the minister wanted." Romania has up to 2 million Gypsies, most of them living in poverty and facing deep discrimination.
The Associated Press

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NEO-NAZIS BUY PALACE IN EASTERN GERMANY

Two prominent neo-Nazis have bought a crumbling 18th century palace in an eastern German village. The locals don't seem bothered about the prospect of far-right neighbors, but regional authorities are worried that the property will be turned into a neo-Nazi training center.

24/2/2010- Trebnitz palace, an austere-looking manor built at the start of the 18th century, has seen better days. Weeds grow out of its gray stone façade, many of its windows are broken and the stone staircase to the main entrance is crumbling. The former seat of the aristocratic Rauchhaupt family stands empty in the village of Trebnitz, some 20 miles southwest of the eastern German city of Leipzig. At one point it was a retirement home. Soon, young neo-Nazis might be moving in, after two leading figures in Germany's far-right scene purchased the property for just €80,000 ($108,000) at an auction a few days ago. The new owners are Thomas Wulff and Axel Schunk. Wulff has been convicted several times for incitement to racial hatred and displaying banned Nazi symbols. He calls himself "Steiner," in honor of a former officer of Hitler's murderous Waffen SS unit, and is a member of the executive of the far-right National Democratic Party. He was a close friend of Jürgen Rieger, the prominent neo-Nazi who died last year. Schunk was a leading member of the far-right "Wiking" youth organization, which has since been banned. Asked by SPIEGEL ONLINE what they plan to do with the property, both declined to comment.

Nazi College?
There's talk that Wulff and Schunk plan to use Trebnitz Palace as some sort of far-right training center. Authorities and local political parties are worried. The interior ministry of the state of Saxony-Anhalt suspects they want to Trebnitz into a place of "national importance for right-wing extremists," not least because of its favorable location close to the A14 autobahn. The region seems to be a focal point for neo-Nazis. The NPD youth organisation "Junge Nationale" recently moved its headquarters to the nearby town of Bernburg, and some leading eastern German extremists live in the area. Neo-Nazis have tried to purchase properties in other towns around Germany in recent years, but their attempts were usually thwarted by local resistance. The people of Trebnitz, though, don't seem overly concerned about their new neighbors. Many refused to talk to journalists. One man walking his young daughter down a street pointed out that right-wing extremists had owned the building once before.

Red Tape, Watchful Authorities Could Thwart Plans
Steffen Hupka, a local neo-Nazi, wanted to convert the palace into a far-right center in 2001 and tried to make friends with the villagers by throwing a large party. But nothing came of the plan and the building has fallen into disrepair in the last few years. Locals believe it would take hundreds of thousands of euros to make the palace usable. Even if the new owners have the cash, Wulff and Schunk face some tough administrative hurdles before they can realize their plans, whatever those may be. The palace is under monument protection, and they will have to submit a detailed concept for its use if they are to have any hope of getting planning permission. That can take a very long time in Germany, especially if the owners are frowned upon. The Interior Ministry and Germany's domestic intelligence service have pledged to keep a very close eye on who goes in and out of the building.
The Spiegel

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EUROPEAN COURT COULD SUCCUMB TO DELUGE OF CASES

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has a backlog of nearly 120,000 cases. Stricter selection of lawsuits should bring relief.

24/2/2010- There is no doubt about the seriousness of the situation in Strasbourg. Jean-Paul Costa, president of the European Court of Human Rights, has referred to it as extremely disturbing. The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, which is responsible for the institution, has said the court threatens to suffocate. A count late last year showed 'Strasbourg' has a backlog of over 119,300 cases, all complaints from European citizens who feel their human rights have been in some way violated. They did not get their way in their home countries and decided to plead their case at a higher level. Strasbourg is their last resort. The court is keen to boast the unique right it offers individuals to file complaints against the state, but this system is under huge pressure. Particularly plaintiffs from Eastern European countries, which became signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) after the fall of the Berlin wall, have found their way to Strasbourg. For decades now, the court gets more complaints each year than it can process. The result: an extreme workload and excessively long procedures.

Orchowski Krzysztof (1971) has been detained in several prisons in Poland since September 5, 2003. He usually has less than three square metres of personal 'living space', the Polish legal minimum. His complaints about this were dismissed by the national authorities, so he went to the ECHR court in May of 2004. Five-and-a-half years later, in November 2009, the court came to the unanimously conclusion: "the distress and hardship endured" as a result of the "structural nature of the overcrowding in Polish detention facilities" was "inhumane and degrading treatment".

Last week, representatives of the 47 countries that signed the ECHR came together in Interlaken, Switzerland. They adopted an 'action plan' to reform the overburdened court. In the short run, the plan should lead to a more efficient handling of the many complaints that will surely be deemed inadmissible in the long run. This should allow the court to focus on what it was really intended for. A new 'filter' system has to be developed to prevent the court from being overwhelmed by cases that are irrelevant to the further development of law in Europe. Those might soon be dealt with by a lower court under the supervision of the ECHR.  In recent years, over 90 percent of all complaints has been declared inadmissible. Most often, this is because the prescribed procedures were not followed. And the court has some querulous complainers who have filed numerous of cases without merit.

Kevin Gillan (1977) and Pennie Quinton (1971) were on their way to a demonstration against an arms fair when they were stopped and searched by the London police in September 2003. Their complaints about the police's behaviour were rejected in the United Kingdom and they turned to the court in January 2005. Last month, it ruled that the anti-terrorism legislation the police used as a pretext for the search contains inadequate safeguards against abuse and arbitrary conduct. This meant a violation of the“right to respect for private life", according to the court.

Fewer than ten percent of the cases are substantially reviewed by the court. And half of those cases are so-called 'clone cases', issues pretty much identical to others the court has already ruled on. Only four percent of the remaining complaints deal with new violations. This category can be divided into incidental and structural matters. Annually, only 40 to 50 cases fall in the last category - the one the court was really set up for. The Interlaken agreement should make sure the court can focus on these fundamental questions of law.

Stephan Bock (1951) is an official in Frankfurt an der Oder in Germany. He has a gross income of 4,500 euro a month. From August 2002 to December 2007, he tried, in vain, to have 7.99 euros paid for prescribed medication reimbursed. He then lodged a complaint with the court in Strasbourg, which also ruled against him last month. The court agreed that the German compensation regulations are below par, but the trivial nature of the case stood in no proportion to the years-long procedures which contributed to the overburdening of the Strasbourg court. The judges barely controlled their annoyance with Bock for abusing his right to complain.

But while the court needs to focus, its member countries need to improve the way they impose ECHR rulings. The ongoing flow of complaints about inhumane treatment in Polish prisons, long trials in Italy, unfair judicial procedures in Russia and oppression in Turkey shows that not all countries take the treaty seriously enough. The court relies mainly on 'soft power'. It can impose fines, but only of amounts up to a few thousand euros. A solid plan for imposing extra large penalties on notorious violators was not accepted last week in Switzerland. Certain countries were against it.
The NRC

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NEO-NAZI SKINHEADS JAILED IN RUSSIA FOR RACIST KILLINGS

25/2/2010- A court in Moscow has sentenced nine members of a neo-Nazi skinhead gang to prison terms of up to 23 years. The gang members, most in their late teens, were found guilty of a string of brutal and very public murders. The skinheads targeted people of Central Asian origin and posted videos of their attacks on the Internet. Russia has seen a surge of racially-motivated attacks in recent years. In 2009 alone, neo-Nazis are believed to have killed more than 70 people.

'Wrong accent'
The nine neo-Nazis called themselves "The White Wolves". They sought out Central Asian migrants, and attacked them in Moscow's back streets. They clubbed some of their victims to death with wooden planks and killed others by repeatedly stabbing them with knives and screwdrivers. In one case, a glazier from Kyrgyzstan was stabbed 73 times, as the gang members shouted "Russia for the Russians!" and filmed the murder on their mobile phones. The jury heard the gang was responsible for at least 11 killings, possibly even more. And so - after five months of deliberations - came the prison terms: Twenty-three years for the gang leader and up to nine years for the others - the maximum prison term allowed in Russia for underage criminals. Human rights activists have welcomed the sentencing. They admit that the police are now cracking down on skinhead gangs. But even so, last year alone, dozens were killed, and hundreds injured simply for not looking Slavic, and for speaking with a foreign accent.
BBC News

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ROMA CITIZENS REMAIN AT RISK IN HUNGARY, REFORMS NEEDED (opinion)

By Joelle Fiss, Human Rights First

23/2/2010- A year ago today, on February 23, 2009, Robert Csorba, a 27-year-old man of Roma origin, and his almost-5-year-old son were shot dead as they ran from their burning home in Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary. The violence struck shortly after midnight. The family tried to flee from their house in flames but while trying to escape in the dark, Robert Csorba and his son were shot and died from the bullet wounds. Csorba's wife and two children suffered from severe burns, and needless to say, emotional trauma. One year later, when Human Rights First visited the family, there was a sense that these deaths could have been averted. Errors were unquestionably made: the ambulance arrived much later than expected after the crime was committed. Police and medical personnel were slow to recognize the motive of the incident that led to their death. Also, the police concluded initially that the fire was caused by an electrical accident. They may have missed important clues that would have led them more quickly to the suspects. This double murder was not an isolated incident. Similar violence struck the nation in 2009, targeting Hungary's Romani - or Gypsy - community of 600,000 members. Dozens of grave hate crimes were registered, involving the use of guns, the throwing of Molotov cocktail explosives or severe beatings.

Progress has been made to tackle the backlash of violence and the Hungarian authorities have taken important steps. Four suspects involved in what are referred to as "serial" killings were arrested last August. Hundreds of investigators were entangled in cracking these high-profile cases. Human Rights First hopes that the trial of the suspects will start swiftly and be public, so that it will help to bring a sense of justice to the victims. An open, national trial would propel the question of racist violence against Roma to the forefront of the public debate. Conversations could be initiated between policy-makers, human rights experts and Roma communities on measures to take to avoid such violence in the future. Journalists could discuss how to avoid stepping onto editorial booby traps that tend to stereotype all involved, when incidents that involve Roma are reported. Paradoxically, it is also encouraging that the Hungarian police have recently admitted that some mistakes were made. When slip-ups are openly disclosed, there's a better chance that those responsible are open to discuss sorely-needed police reforms to avoid a repeat. A few days ago - almost one year after the murders - the Hungarian national police recognized that there had been police misconduct in the response to the double murder in Tatárszentgyörgy. As a result, internal disciplinary procedures have been initiated against two police officers to ensure accountability for their failings. This goes some way toward upholding the Hungarian government's claim that adequate mechanisms are in place to respond to police abuses.

That said, much more needs to be done.

First, police training lies at the heart of preventing more racially-motivated violence. If racist violence is committed, police must benefit from good training to collect evidence, so that the prosecution can correctly define the nature of the crime committed. Indeed, if the investigation at the crime scene is incomplete and racial motives not uncovered, the justice system cannot ensure full accountability. Those who tracked down the serial killers in these cases are experienced national investigators. But are local police adequately trained to cope with lower-level, day-to-day incidents of harassment and violence that may not hit the headlines as hard? Police need to adapt conflict resolution mechanisms to their local contexts. It would be helpful if they could brainstorm with their counterparts from other countries to come up with creative solutions. In that respect, the United States could prove to be very helpful. In the same manner that FBI investigators flew to Budapest last summer to assist Hungarian police in identifying the serial killers, other forms of technical cooperation and mutual projects could be rooted in the future too, with the support of the US Department of Justice or the State Department. Secondly, the Hungarian law enforcement authorities should consider making concerted efforts to include more Hungarians of Roma origin into police units, in order to break down the cognitive sentiment of "us against them" that feeds into social tensions. Thirdly, when the police do make errors, investigations must be systematically carried out - as in the mishandling of the case in the Csorba murders, so that there is a genuine sense of accountability for those who feel that their rights have been violated.

Even tougher, yet no less important a challenge, is to transform the deeply entrenched anti-Roma stereotypes that are stomached at many levels within Hungarian society - whether in private circles, in the political arena or in the media. Istvan Serto-Radics, a Mayor of the town Uszka largely populated by Roma residents, co-wrote a research paper with a US Professor John Strong from Long Island, comparing the plight of the Roma in present day Hungary to those of African Americans in Mississippi in the mid-1960s and 1970s. Describing prejudiced psychological patterns, he says: "There are several important similarities between the Roma and the African Americans...similar stereotypes are frequently used to describe them. They are both viewed as lazy, crime prone, intellectually inferior, emotionally immature, albeit gifted in music". In addition, the structural problems of high unemployment rates, ghettoised housing areas, discrimination in healthcare and education, as well as tense relations with the police, are all other factors that bring about historical resemblances. Despite that, there are significant differences; for example the Roma community never struggled to acquire voting rights - they even participate actively in elections.

How does this turbulent social context fit into Hungary's upcoming national elections to be held in April? The neo-fascist political party Jobbik is well positioned to win a generous chunk of votes. Its political agenda is simple: it's militaristic. Aside from crude hate speech against Jews, it has also called for the use of the army to take action against Roma to "restore order" and to combat "Gypsy crime". "Gypsy criminality" is a problematic notion that has sadly seeped into the public discourse as a mainstream concept. It is one, however, that people seem to grasp intuitively, whereas understanding the impact of racist violence is less widespread and not always accepted. There is indeed a problem of petty crime that strikes a sensitive chord to many Hungarians. However, public outrage is far stronger if a Roma is caught stealing than if he is brutally shot at. The response of the police can reflect this, as racist attacks against Roma can take a back burner to crimes in which they are the perpetrator. Members of the Hungarian Guard, Jobbik's paramilitary wing, exploit legitimate fears of crime. They are known to roam around villages populated by Roma, intimidating them with violent threats or being at the source of the aggression. In fact, Tatárszentgyörgy is one of the first places where they started parading since their creation in August 2007.

Here's a suggestion to all democrats in Hungary who are serious about fighting the rise of extremism in their country as the national election campaign kicks off. If Hungarian citizens feel equally protected by the State, there's a better chance to curb extremism. Alienated Jobbik voters who fear being robbed, are turning to neo-Nazi bullies for more security. In the meanwhile, members of the Romani community fear being insulted, threatened or assaulted on the streets: it's time for responsible politicians -and opinion shapers of all kind- to speak out as loudly against racism, as they do on fighting crime. It's time to make sure that there is never another crime like the one that stole the lives of Robert Csorba and his young son.
The Huffington Post

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OUTGOING HUNGARIAN PM WARNS OF RISE OF FAR RIGHT

22/2/2010- Outgoing Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai said on Monday Hungary's main parties must join forces to prevent the far right entering parliament in April elections, calling it a "monster" that threatens democracy. Hungary will hold elections on April 11 and 25. Opinion polls give the far-right party Jobbik 6-7 percent support, which could lead to it winning dozens of seats in the Hungarian parliament. It won three in the European parliament last year. Jobbik has been banking on deep public discontent over the economic crisis and rising resentment against Hungary's large Roma minority. It campaigns on tax cuts, clamping down on corruption and what it calls "Roma crime". "This monster stands in front of our doors and is banging on the door demanding that we let it in," Bajnai said in a speech in parliament. Jobbik has no representation in parliament. "It became a movement ... from a movement a party, and it got into European Parliament and now it wants to make it into the Hungarian parliament," said Bafnai, who is not running in the April election. Jobbik has strong support in the countryside, mainly in the northeast where unemployment is high. Analysts have said that cooperation with the far right could dent the next government's image in the eyes of investors. Bajnai said Jobbik had no realistic programme and was only seeking scapegoats for the economic crisis. "The far right ... abuses democracy and freedom. It lies that it has a solution to all those who have been worn out and have lost patience, while it itself is the problem," he said. The main centre-right opposition party Fidesz, widely expected to win the elections and oust the ruling Socialists, has ruled out any coalition with Jobbik. The Socialist minority government has steered Hungary back from the brink of financial collapse since it called in the International Monetary Fund in 2008. But the economy contracted by 6.3 percent in 2009 and job losses soared. The main parties remained split later on Monday in votes on proposals to fight both far-right and far-left ideas. Parliament approved legislation to punish public Holocaust denial with up to three years in prison, the Socialists voting in favour and Fidesz, whose proposal to add Communist crimes to the bill failed to get a majority, abstaining.
Reuters

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HUNGARY PARLIAMENT MULLS LEGAL BAN ON HOLOCAUST DENIAL

22/2/2010- Hungary's parliament voted on Monday in favour of making Holocaust denial a criminal offence, punishable by up to three years imprisonment. The law was passed in a final vote with 197 in favour, 1 against, and 142 abstentions. It had been proposed by Attila Mesterhazy, prime ministerial candidate of the governing Hungarian Socialist Party. A motion by the centre-right opposition party Fidesz to extend the law to cover the denial of other crimes committed under the Communist regime was rejected by 178 votes to 146, with seven abstentions. The law, which is due to come into effect in 30 days, was passed on the final session of parliament until after general elections that are due to be held in April. New legislation is subject to review by Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom, who has the power to return it to parliament for reconsideration. Fidesz, whose lawmakers abstained in the final vote, is far ahead of the Socialists in opinion polls and is widely expected to form Hungary's next government. Some 450,000 Hungarian Jews are thought to have perished during the closing months of the World War Two at the hands of the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross Party, backed by Nazi Germany.
DPA

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CZECH POLICE FIND ASSAULT WEAPONS IN THE HOME OF AN ANTI-ROMA FACEBOOK PAGE AUTHOR

26/2/2010- Yet another Czech-language anti-Roma Facebook page has been set up recently, this time entitled “Prerov against Gypsies!” However, unlike the authors of previous racist Facebook pages, the author of this particular page will not get away with it so easily. News server Tn.cz reports police have detained the 19-year-old male. Detectives found an air rifle with a targeting system and a submachine gun in the author’s home. Reports suggest the Facebook group had been previously shut down and then reopened without the original photographs, which promoted Nazi armed units with swastika flags. Just before it was shut down, the social networking site had 248 members. After it reopened today, membership rose to 264. According to data posted on Facebook, the founder of the group is Karel Trojak of Olomouc, who endorses the Workers’ Party in his profile. Members of the group were not very active on the page, but police started investigating the problem at the suggestion of a TV Nova reporter. Whoever founded the Facebook page is evidently uncivilized and uneducated, as are the other contributors who were glad to find yet another site against Roma. The page is headed by the slogan “YOU ARE NOT WELCOME IN OUR COUNTRY”. Czech chauvinists (extreme nationalists), fascists, neo-Nazis and other racists deliver similar messages to the Roma very often.
Romano vodi

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