NEWS - Archive August 2010

Headlines 27 August, 2010


30/8/2010- A man armed with a submachine gun and two handguns killed six members of a Roma family in their apartment house in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, on Monday, and then, firing wildly as he tried to evade the police surrounding the building, killed another person and wounded 15 more before fatally shooting himself, police and government officials said. Among the wounded was a police officer who was shot in the head. The killings shook the country and resonated with Europe’s growing xenophobia against Roma, or Gypsies. While the police in Bratislava said that the gunman’s identity and motives were still being investigated, relatives and neighbors of the victims said the killer lived in the same apartment building, often railed against the Roma, and had accused the family of dealing drugs and otherwise disturbing the peace. In a video interview with the victims’ family members posted on the Web site of SME, a leading Slovak daily, one young Roma woman, identifying herself as a granddaughter of one of those killed, said she believed the crime had been fueled by racism. “He’d always been very hostile to colored people and hated us,” she said. “He picked on us all the time.” SME ran a photo of the killer taken by a witness from a balcony, showing a gray-haired man wearing a denim jacket and ear muffs and carrying an assault weapon. The Slovak news media identified him a former soldier.

In France, French police in recent weeks have been dismantling Roma camps and deporting Roma living illegally in France to Bulgaria and Romania, prompting accusations of ethnic discrimination. Clashes with Roma have also been intensifying in other countries in Eastern Europe and in Italy. In Hungary, at least seven Roma have been killed in the last two and a half years, and Roma leaders have counted about 30 firebomb attacks. In Slovakia, a small, predominantly Catholic country where about 380,000 Roma eke out an existence on the fringes of society, anti-Roma demonstrations have been held repeatedly since late last summer, when two Roma badly injured a man in a robbery in the east.
The New York Times



27/8/2010- An Italian MP is planning to ask gay couples to hold a day of mass-scale public kissing in September in a fight against petty homophobia. But a draft EU law combatting the same problem is likely to stay off the agenda for years. Paola Concia, an MP from the Partito Democratico, which sits with the centre-left S&D group in the EU parliament, is rolling out the project after organising an earlier protest in the town of Torre del Lago on 11 August, when around 100 people locked lips on the beach in an event called "Many Kisses Against Intolerance." "This is our answer to a sort of strange campaign against gay and lesbian people in Italy this summer. In many cities and villages, local authorities or even the police told gay and lesbian people that they are not allowed to kiss in the street," she told EUobserver. "The problem with homophobia in Italy is alarming. In September, I want to organise this in all the cities in Italy, from north to south."

Ms Concia's partner, Ricarda Trautmann, added: "The situation here is worse than in Poland or in Greece. I don't know why this isn't generally known. The Italian government couldn't care less about European law. If the rest of Europe doesn't force Italy to change, then nothing will ever change here." No EU country has a law against public displays of affection by gay people. But some local authorities, as in Italy, use "homophobic interpretations" of laws on public order and morality to target gay couples, according to Juris Lavrikovs, from the Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association-Europe. "This is yet another example why the EU needs to adopt its proposed anti-discrimination directive which would ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in such areas as access to goods and services, housing, education, health and so on," he said.

The directive in question is currently being discussed by EU diplomats in a working group in the EU Council, but the Belgian EU presidency has signaled to the European Commission that there is not enough support for legislative action. Opposition to the bill, which also covers discrimination against disabled people, is linked to the economy rather than Christian Democrat values. Germany, for one, is worried that its small businesses will be forced to install disabled access or that family-run hotels will have to hire lawyers to fight off complaints by pro-minority-rights pressure groups. The two governing parties have in their coalition agreement said the EU law is "not fit for purpose," despite the fact that Germany's finance minister is in a wheelchair and its foreign minister is openly gay.

"We are waiting for the commission to explain the economic repercussions of the directive. We understand the commission is doing some research. We fear there would be strong repercussions for small and medium-sized enterprises," a foreign ministry spokesman told this website. A senior EU commission official explained that if Berlin requests a fresh impact assessment study, Brussels would be willing to do one. But if Germany is waiting for the results of an ongoing commission study into the economic effect of three previous directives - on race, gender and anti-discrimination in the workplace - it will have to wait until late 2011 or early 2012. If it is waiting for a sustained economic upturn, Berlin could block the bill even longer.

"With the way the economy is today, people are frightened that voters will say 'Why are we putting another burden on our companies in these difficult times?'" the commission source said. The contact noted that member states who oppose the bill could in theory be violating their commitment under the UN's 2008 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. "There are millions of disabled people in the EU waiting for their rights. And there are increasing numbers of people over 70 who don't want to sit at home and watch TV. They want to move around. But if you want to do this in a town like Brussels [which has a prevalence for vertiginous stairwells to basement toilets in bars and cafes], then ... good luck!"
The EUobserver



Jyllands-Posten culture editor says his book is just an insider’s story

26/8/2010- A new book from the man who approved the Mohammed cartoons for Jyllands-Posten newspaper could revive tensions between the Muslim world and Denmark and trigger another Mohammed crisis, say several experts. The book by Jyllands-Posten culture editor Flemming Rose, ‘Tavshedens tyranni’ (‘Tyranny of Silence’), is scheduled to be released on 30 September. It will include the 12 drawings of Mohammed originally printed in the newspaper in 2005 – an act that subsequently resulted in boycotts of Danish products and the burning of the Danish flag in Muslim countries around the world. In 2008, three people were arrested for plotting to kill one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, who was also accosted in his home by a man with an axe in January of this year. In Chicago, terrorist David Headley, who was one of the men behind the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, admitted there were plans to bomb Jyllands-Posten’s head office in Copenhagen. No Danish newspaper has reprinted the cartoons since Politiken and several other media outlets in February 2008. They have, however, been reprinted countless times worldwide since then.

Evan Kohlman, an American terrorism expert, warned that reprinting the drawings could be a mistake. ‘If I were him, I would very seriously consider the consequences of reprinting the cartoons,’ Kohlman told Politiken newspaper. Ole Wøhlers Olsen, Denmark's ambassador to Algeria, said he understood that the interests of free speech needed to be reinforced. ‘But every time the drawings are reprinted, there are riots and demonstrations – and also bloodshed,’ said Olsen, who added the more radical Islamic groups would welcome the move because they would use it as propaganda. ‘And government leaders in the Arab and Muslim world will probably shake their heads and say that Danes have failed to understand that the issue is something that bothers them and creates internal problems for them,’ he said. Rose himself said the book was not an attempt to provoke Muslims. ‘I’m just telling the story of the drawings and putting them in a context about pictures that can be offensive,’ said Rose. He added that if he didn’t include the pictures, then there would be an uproar over why they weren’t in the book. Rose’s book is not the only one on the subject due out this autumn. Westergaard, the man who drew the infamous drawing of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, has written his memoirs, ‘Manden bag Stregan’ (‘The man behind the drawing’), which are due out in November.
The Copenhagen Post



26/8/2010- Irish band U2's first Russian concert was marred after police arrested activists from rights group Amnesty International before the gig began. A police spokeswoman said they did not have permission to hand out leaflets outside the Moscow event. The head of the human rights group's Moscow office, Sergei Nikitin, said U2 management had assured them all the necessary permits were in place. The campaigners have since been released, police said. News agency Agence France-Presse also reported that police forced volunteers from U2's own charity fund, the ONE Campaign against AIDS, out of Moscow's Luzhniki stadium. Tents set up by Greenpeace Russia were also moved on according to the organisation's director Ivan Blokov. "We were not allowed to collect signatures and to talk to people," he said. "Our activities were agreed with U2's management, so we are very much surprised." Mr Nikitin added that Amnesty had been present at many of the band's concerts throughout their European tour. "I don't know if Bono knows about what happened to us," he said. "It was a typical publicity event, which this organisation has carried out in every city where U2 has performed." During the gig, Bono invited Russian rock star turned anti-Kremlin activist Yuri Shevchuk onstage for a rendition of Knockin' on Heaven's Door. The Irish singer called his Russian counterpart a "great man". On Sunday, Mr Shevchuk appeared at a banned concert in central Moscow protesting against plans to build a motorway through a forest.
BBC News



The number of websites with right-wing extremist content has reached a record high. In the course of the last year, 1,872 Neo-Nazi websites were logged in Germany, over 800 more than five years previously.

24/8/2010- Right-wing extremism on the Internet is on the rise. The number of neo-Nazi networks has tripled within a year to 90, according to the German youth protection organization, The number of websites from the NPD (the right-wing German National Democratic Party) rose 30 percent to 242. The extremists are even spreading their message via social networking communities like Facebook, and video sharing platforms such as YouTube. The content is invariably xenophobic, anti-Semitic and racist. The form it takes varies: some sites rewrite children's songs into neo-Nazi anthems, others call openly for violence. Often it can be hard at first glance to tell the ideology behind the content.

How to tackle the problem?
Up to 10,000 internet users access neo-Nazi blogs and platforms every day according to The organization is now working to combat the problem by raising awareness among young internet surfers. also targets the sites themselves, and has succeeded in banning four out of five cases of offensive content. Stefan Glaser is head researcher for right-wing activities at the organization. He is pleased with the success of this strategy, which relies on international partners to ban content. "If we in Germany have a case that is based in Hungary or Romania, or has a provider that we cannot access, where there may also be language barriers, then we will contact our local partners," Glaser explained. "They contact the operator or try to get the content removed from the network via other means."

Parents often need advice
Another resource in the struggle against online neo-Nazism is an online advice forum led by graduate teacher Martin Ziegenhagen. He encourages people to seek advice over problems with neo-Nazis at school, in the workplace or at home. There is a closed chat room for parents worried about their children. Ziegenhagen says online consultation can be an important factor in a successful turn-around:
"After over two years, a son left the NPD. The fact that the boy's mother survived the two years and has repeatedly dealt with the topic while remaining in contact with her son, that's largely thanks to the online consultation."  The President of the Federal Center for Political Education, Thomas Krueger hopes that the fight against neo-Nazis on the internet will be more focused in the future. "I would like to see a bit more strength and creativity from the Internet community. The sort of demonstrations against the NPD which take place in the real world must also take place in the virtual world."
The Deutsche Welle



Unknown perpetrators have trampled an enormous swastika into a corn field in the Upper Bavarian municipality of Assling, and authorities fear it may signal renewed neo-Nazi activity in the region, a media report said this week.

24/8/2010- A photographer spotted the Nazi symbol, about half the size of a handball court, on Sunday during a sightseeing flight, and passed the photos on to police, daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday. “We've never had something of this dimension,” Bavarian police investigator Gerhard Karl told the paper. “At the most someone has peed a swastika into the snow.” The owner of the land in question, Erna Lechner, called the incident a “pigsty” and a “murderous injury” to farmers in the Upper Bavaria region. The farmer who rents the land from Lechner did not wish to comment. “The poor man will now be expected to do something, and in the worst case will have to destroy the crop,” she said. Assling Mayor Werner Lampl called the perpetrators “die hards” who were trying to make their mark.

Authorities believe the swastika was stamped into the field sometime on Saturday night, and Lampl did not rule out the possibility that it could have been done by guests at a nearby airfield festival, which drew hundreds from out of town. But whoever the culprits may be, the accuracy of the formation indicates they weren’t joking around, criminal investigator Karl said, speaking of a very clear “right-wing extremist” motivation. The use of Nazi symbols is illegal in Germany and carries a sentence of up to three years in jail, he added. His department plans to take a helicopter out for further investigation in the next several days.

Assling has already had problems with neo-Nazis in the past, the paper said. Some six years ago police raided a barn shed used as a meeting place, finding a Nazi imperial war flag, or Reichskriegsflagge, and other paraphernalia. Seventeen young people were questioned as possible suspects in the case. While Mayor Lampl told the paper that efforts to rehabilitate the youths mean there is no longer such a problem in the region, landowner Lechner disagreed. “Unfortunately the brown scene is managing to spread out,” she told the paper, referring to the colour associated with Nazi brownshirts. Further evidence of the problem can be seen in frequent threats to a local immigrant aid organisation (Ausländerhilfe) and the district presence of the BJR Bavarian youth organisation’s coordination headquarters for work against right-wing extremism, the paper said.
The Local - Germany



German companies and ministries are testing new ways of screening job applications to prevent immigrants and other minorities from being being discriminated against.

24/8/2010- Try submitting a job application in Germany if your name is Ali or Mehmet and the chances of it being rejected are pretty high, a recent study says, whatever grades you got at school. Now try submitting that same application without a photograph, your age or marital status and you could be more successful in getting that first interview and your foot in the door. In a study conducted by the Bonn-based Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) researchers found evidence of statistical discrimination. "Having a Turkish name can mean that that your chances of getting a job interview drop by up to 25 percent," said Ulf Rinne from the IZA. "In the study applicants with German names had, on average, around 14 percent higher chances of being invited for a job interview."  But it's not just applicants with foreign names that are facing this kind of discrimination. Similar studies show that women, mostly mothers, the disabled and elderly people have less chance of getting a job, irrespective of their qualifications and experience. Christine Lueders, director of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency in Berlin, has launched a pilot project in which a number of companies and ministries are testing anonymous job applications. "Photo, age and marital status - these things don't belong on an anonymous application," explains Luebers. A neutral body, like a commission, could ensure that the name and address of the applicant are withheld from personnel departments. In this way personal documents from immigrants or older applicants are not rejected from the outset. "When an applicant has overcome this hurdle and is having a job interview, some prejudices are broken down."

Cool reception from German industry
Many German employers have voiced their opposition to the scheme, citing an increase in bureaucracy, given that the scheme requires a neutral commission. "The time and effort taken to fill job positions will increase considerably," said Dieter Hundt, the President of the German Employers Association. But Lueders strongly defends anonymous applications: "German industry shouldn't get so worked up about this and give this pilot project a chance." The process is voluntary and there is no intention of seeking legislation to make it compulsory.

Unconscious decision by personnel managers
One of the companies participating in the project is cosmetics giant L'Oreal: "We want to prevent unconscious decisions being taking in job selection," said Oliver Sonntag, Personnel Director at L'Oreal. "Internationally-mixed teams, in which women, men, older and younger colleagues work together are especially successful. That's why it's in the interests of the company to eliminate discrimination." "The anonymous application will clearly help us to get to know a lot of different people and select them purely on the basis of their qualifications," he said. But what happens in the job interview? Will prejudices surface at this stage? No, says the L'Oréal personnel director: "In the interview everyone can demonstrate their ability, their motivation and their energy. That creates equality," Sonntag said.

Not a German phenomenon
Economist Ulf Rinne from the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) is convinced that that job seekers can profit from submitting anonymous job applications: "The best qualified person should get the job, If discrimination prevents this from happening then it is a macroeconomic problem, that leads to deficits in welfare." Anonymous applications have long been established in the United States. France and Switzerland are testing a pilot scheme. A similar project in Sweden recently proved that the anonymous application is successful: Women and foreigners definitely have better chances of being invited to a job interview there. The timing of the study coincides with proposals by Germany's Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) and Interior Minister Lothar de Maiziere to encourage skilled workers to stay in Germany.
The Deutsche Welle



Espoo fitness centre does not want Muslim women to pray in locker room

24/8/2010- Minority Ombudsman Eva Biaudet plans to investigate whether or not the Espoo-based Lady Fitness gym is guilty of discrimination because of its ban on Muslim prayers in its locker room. Biaudet plans to ask the fitness centre, located in the Entresse shopping complex in the Espoon Keskus district of the city, to explain the reasons for the ban. Women arriving at the centre on Monday were surprised to see a sign on the wall of the locker room asking people to hold their possible prayers outside the gym. The sign read “the locker room is a religion and politics-free zone, where everyone can spend their free time in a neutral manner”. Riding on an exercise bicycle, Agemine Fallenius is not disturbed by Muslim prayers at all. “I know that the Muslim religion calls for prayers five times a day. I feel that we need to respect the culture and customs of others”, Fallenius says. The owner of the gym, P-C Nordensved, says that the decision to ban prayers came after years of complaints, dating back to when the gym was in another location nearby.

Large numbers of immigrants live in this area of Espoo, and there are many Muslims among them. There are dozens of Muslim women who go to the gym. “Some of them have very weak language skills, and they deal with membership issues through an interpreter. The ones that have lived here longer have adapted to our customs”, Nordensved says. The shopping mall does not have a meditation room where the Muslims could hold their daily prayers. “Might there be a room in the public library to which they could be guided?” Nordensved ponders. He plans to take up the matter next Tuesday at a meeting of shop owners at the mall. Walking in the door in black Muslim attire is Piia Keskinen, who has been a member of the gym for two and a half years. “I have prayed here once, and I have seen others pray”, she says.
Keskinen feels that the locker room is not an appropriate location for prayers, because it is not quiet. “I also understand that others might feel strange about it.” She also notes that there is a mosque 500 metres away.

The proprietor of the gym hopes that Keskinen might pass on the message to her own community. “The community might think about the matter among themselves and give guidance on how to behave.” Minority Ombudsman Biaudet notes that the practice of religion is a human right, which is guaranteed by the Finnish Constitution.
Finland also has a law on equal treatment. “It applies to the offering of private services. It bans discrimination, both direct and indirect, against people of different ethnic origin.”
The Helsingin Sanomat



5,000 Jews live in Lituania, once a thriving centre of Judaism

24/8/2010- Lithuania's Jewish organisations on Monday condemned an apparent neo-Nazi attack in which a pig's head was left at the entrance of a synagogue by unknown perpetrators. "The Lithuanian Jewish community and the Religious community of Lithuanian Jews judge this as Nazi provocation aimed at insulting the ethnic and religious feelings of Lithuanian Jews," their leaders, Simonas Alperavicius and Chief Rabbi Chaim Burstein, said in a statement. The statement said that the pig's head was found on Saturday -- the Jewish holy day -- outside a synagogue in Lithuania's second city Kaunas. The use of a pig is particularly offensive because Judaism, like Islam, considers pigs unclean and bars the consumption of pork. Simonas Gurevicius, executive director of the Lithuanian Jewish community, told AFP the incident should be treated as an attack on all believers, not only Jews. "We hope that Lithuanian society will not be impassive, as this act of a few anti-Semitic vandals does not reflect the attitude of Lithuanian society," he added.

Kaunas police have launched a formal investigation but there are no suspects so far, officer Gintautas Dirmeikis told the Baltic News Service. Lithuania was once home to a 220,000-strong Jewish community, and Vilnius was a cultural hub and world centre for the study of the Torah, known as the "Jerusalem of the North". At the end of the 19th century, the number of synagogues in Vilnius exceeded one hundred. But 95 percent of Lithuania's Jews perished during the country's 1941-1944 German occupation at the hands of the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators. Today there are no more than 5,000 Jews in Lithuania, of whom around 500 live in Kaunas, Gurevicius said.
The European Jewish Press



24/8/2010- Swiss death penalty advocates can start collecting signatures for a referendum that would revive capital punishment in the country after 68 years, the government said today. An announcement in the federal bulletin says the documents submitted by campaigners meet formal legal requirements. The group now has until February 24 2012 to collect 100,000 signatures for a popular vote to reintroduce capital punishment for murders involving sexual abuse. Government spokesman Andre Simonazzi says authorities have yet to examine whether the death penalty would be constitutionally legal and in line with Switzerland's international obligations. Switzerland struck capital punishment from its criminal statutes in 1942. The last military execution took place in 1944.
The Independent


RSS feed
Suggestions and comments please to