NEWS - Archive December 2010

Headlines 31 December, 2010

BELARUS CLOSES DOWN OSCE OFFICE AFTER POLL CRITICISM

31/12/2010- The former Soviet republic of Belarus has shut down the local office of European human rights watchdog the OSCE, after criticism of its election. A foreign ministry spokesman said the decision had been taken because there were "no objective reasons for retaining" the OSCE's mission. He did not refer to the presidential poll on 19 December, which sparked violent unrest after fraud allegations. The OSCE had said many of the counts it monitored had been "very bad". A positive judgment by the OSCE on the conduct of the election had been seen as crucial to Belarusian chances of receiving EU economic aid. But Tony Lloyd, head of the short-term OSCE observer mission, told reporters on 20 December: "This election failed to give Belarus the new start it needed." The incumbent President, Alexander Lukashenko, was officially re-elected for a fourth term with nearly 80% of the vote. Police dispersed at least 10,000 anti-Lukashenko demonstrators in the capital, Minsk, arresting hundreds of people including opposition candidates.

'Valued' work
Speaking on Friday, Belarusian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh said his country had "valued" the work of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), and looked forward to further "interaction" with the body. However, "an evaluation of the results achieved by the OSCE mission in Minsk shows that the mission has fulfilled its mandate", he said. The office, which has five international and eight local employees, was set up in 2002 to assist the Belarusian government with developing civil society and the economy. In another development on Friday, media representatives reported that the Belarusian secret police (KGB) had been raiding the homes and offices of independent journalists. Reporters Without Borders condemned the raids which, it said, seemed aimed at seizing all documents and files related to coverage of the election.
BBC News

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WILDERS TO PUBLISH ANTI-ISLAM BOOK (Netherlands)

31/12/2010- The Dutch right-wing populist politician Geert Wilders to to publish a book highly critical of Islam in 2011, he revealed in a newspaper interview Friday. The book, following his controversial 2008 anti-Islam film called Fitna, is particularly aimed at the American market. The head of the Party for Freedom (PVV) told De Telegraaf the book would be 'about how we can better fight the Islamisation of the world.' ‘We can do a lot in the Netherlands but we want to send out a strong international signal to the Arabic world that a party with a lot to say is fighting back’. Wilders, whose PVV is now supporting the coalition Dutch government but not formally part of the coalition, is also intending to found an 'International Freedom Alliance.' Wilders praised a similar book by the former German central banker Thilo Sarrazin this year, which complained that Germany's level of Turkish immigration was destroying the country from within. Wilders said he has many international ambitions and hopes to get his International Freedom Alliance up and running. He also expects the PVV to win between 10 and 15 seats in the 75-seat senate.
DPA

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2 FAR-RIGHT EXTREMISTS RELEASED FROM CUSTODY ON BAIL (Czech Rep.)

30/12/2010- The Prague 1 district court has decided to release after 14 months Patrik Vondra, former chairman of the Prague branch of the disbanded ultra-right Workers' Party (DS) and Michaela Dupova, a former DS member, from custody on a 400,000-crown bail, judge Libor Vavra told CTK yesterday. Besides, they promised not to be involved in any criminal activity and they will be under the supervision of a probation officer, Vavra said. Vondrak, Dupova and another six DS activists are charged with support and promotion of movements to suppress human rights and freedoms. Vondrak, 25, and Dupova, 21, spent about 14 months in custody, since the police raids at the end of October 2009. According to state attorney Zdenka Galkova, the eight people assisted in pasting up stickers of the neo-Nazi National Resistance (NO) movement and in organising a demonstration in memory of fallen German Wehrmacht soldiers and SS members. The remaining six defendants were not in the custody.

Dupova is also charged with operating a website of the Resistance Women Unity (RWU), a women's branch of the NO, according to police, and helping organise a concert of "white power music." If found guilty, the accused extremists face up to eight years in prison since they committed crimes as members od an organised group in a very efficient way. Police consider Vondrak one of the leading and most active representatives of the neo-Nazi NO. He was also a co-founder of the Young National Democrats civic association which tried to stage a march of ultra-right radicals through Prague' Jewish quarter on November 10, 2007, the anniversary of the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) anti-Jewish pogrom in Nazi Germany in the night of November 10, 1938. The other charged persons are Milan Hroch, former chairman of the DS regional organisation in Vysocina, Richard Lang, Filip Vavra, who invited former Grand Wizard of Ku-Klux-Klan David Duke to the Czech Republic, DS candidate in the 2008 EP elections Petr Fryc, Daniel Zavadil and Martin Vaclavek. All the defendants have pleaded not-guilty.

($1=19.228 crowns)
The Prague Daily Monitor

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THE RIGHT WING AND THE ROMA part 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 (Hungary)

Part 1 EU Presidency a Test for Tolerance in Hungary

Hungary will assume the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union in January and the government is pledging to forge a policy for addressing the Roma in all of Europe. But the country has its own troubling history with the Roma, who have been deeply impoverished and pushed to the margins of society since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

31/12/2010- Csaba Csorba is standing in scrubland beside the burned-out shell of a small house. He points to the spot amid the tall grass where he found his son Robert bleeding in the snow almost two years ago. Nearby lay the body of his four-year-old grandson Robi. The small boy had been shot through the head, his face was unrecognizable. The murders of Feb. 23, 2009 saw the Hungarian village of Tatárszentgyörgy become synonymous with hate, hatred towards Europe's Roma people. Robert Csorba, a 27-year-old father of three, had gathered up his young son in his arms and ran out to escape the flames that engulfed his house, the last one on the edge of the village. Unknown assailants had attacked under the cover of night, throwing Molotov cocktails at the door and then opening fire when those inside tried to flee. Robert was shot in the lungs and lived for another hour, dying on the way to the hospital. His six-year-old daughter Bianka was injured but survived, while his wife Renata and younger son escaped the blaze. There is no indication that the murderers even knew who their victims were. "The attackers didn't really care who they killed," Robert's father says today. Csorba, a short stocky man who is missing many teeth, looks at least 10 years older than his 47 years. He believes his son might have survived if he had received proper medical attention. "The ambulance only came an hour and a half after we called, even though the hospital is five minutes away, and it didn't have oxygen," he claims. And he alleges that when the police arrived, they said the fire had been caused by electrical problems, and that the doctor claimed his son's wounds had been caused by nails from falling beams and not gunfire. It was only after the intervention of Viktória Mohácsi, a Roma politician who at the time was a member of the European Parliament, that the investigation into the deaths became a murder enquiry. Last year, four men were arrested in connection with the crime, tracked down through mobile phone records. But the suspects have yet to face trial.

Tough Questions as Hungary Takes EU Helm
The Csorba family were the latest victims in a series of vicious attacks on Hungary's Roma that shocked the world in early 2009. Now, barely two years later, Hungary is about to take the helm of the rotating European Union presidency, and leaders in Budapest say a central plank in the country's EU agenda will be addressing the issue of the Roma. But how much leadership can be expected from a country in which virulent hatred of the Roma is part of every-day discourse and where an avowedly anti-Roma party regularly attracts the support of almost one-fifth of the electorate? The new center-right government under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, elected in April, has pledged to forge an EU-wide policy for the addressing the Roma issue during its six months of leadership in Brussels. "By the end of the Hungarian presidency, the European Union will have a Roma policy," Orbán told state news agency MTI in late December. The Hungarian leader said a draft policy would be presented in the spring and debated before seeking approval from the EU member states. "The European Roma strategy has to lay emphasis on education and employment," he said.

The issue took center-stage in EU politics this summer, following the expulsions of around 3,000 Roma from France. The EU rapped Paris on the knuckles for its actions, saying it contravened rules on the freedom of movement of EU citizens, though it desisted from accusing the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy of discrimination against an ethnic group. The events of this summer brought into sharp relief the fact that Europe's largest minority group, with a population estimated at between 10 and 12 million, are living in the deepest poverty. Yet the Roma issue, in both Eastern and Western Europe, is often being presented within the framework of the problems the Roma pose, for example as a security or public order issue, rather than the troubles they themselves face, from massive unemployment, poor access to education, to discrimination and in the worst cases, anti-Roma violence, including murder. And the wave of hate crimes against the Roma in Hungary in 2008 and 2009, along with the rise of the fiercely anti-Roma political party Jobbik and a general turn to the right in Hungary, raises questions about what Europe's Roma population should anticipate from the Hungarian EU presidency.

Part 2: The Face of Eastern European Poverty
The government in Budapest estimates that of the 10 million people living in Hungary, 700,000 are Roma. They are thought to have first arrived in Hungary in medieval times, having originally migrated from India. Excluded from the feudal system of rural peasants and urban craftsmen, they developed other skills, carving out niches in metal-working, prostitution and menial labor. During the Holocaust, like elsewhere in Europe, the Roma here fell victim to the Nazi murder machine. As many as 50,000 Hungarian Roma are believed to have perished in the concentration camps. Under communism there was a certain amount of forced integration, with the regime determined to harness the Roma's labor potential. They were employed at the lowest rungs of the economy, in mining, metal work, road building and other unskilled jobs. Nevertheless, the Roma had steady incomes, giving the communities some stability, and slow improvements in educational attainment and health followed.

Ravaged by Years of Chronic Unemployment
With the collapse of the communist planned economy after the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, jobs for the once in demand unskilled Roma workforce quickly disappeared. "The Roma were the first to lose their jobs," says Lívia Járóka, a member of Hungary's governing Fidesz party and the only member of the Roma minority with a seat in the European Parliament. "In the last 20 years, very little has been done to recognize this process of ghettoization and slumification, this complete dropping out of society," she says. Although Járóka points out that around 30 percent are well integrated, the sizeable majority of Hungary's Roma are cut off from the rest of society, stranded in separate districts in towns and cities or marooned in small villages. Many of these settlements are in formerly industrial regions of the northwest, an area hit particularly hard by the collapse of the Soviet system and now ravaged by years of chronic unemployment. Járóka says she has seen for herself the devastating impact on the Roma community: "What it means to lose your job, to lose the financial security of your family, to be a father of several children, not having work and not knowing what is going to happen tomorrow."

'A Social Problem as Well as an Ethnic' One
The 36-year-old former anthropologist says that, as the sole Roma member of the EU parliament, she bears a "huge responsibility." A parliament with 21 or 22 Roma MEPs would more accurately reflect their proportion of the European population, Járóka believes. The politician also claims that the problems that plague the Roma are in no way exclusive to them -- they represent the poverty of residents of certain highly disadvantaged regions, not only in Hungary, but across Eastern Europe. "The Roma are simply the most visible face of it," she says. Járóka believes that targeted funding, particularly from the EU's coffers, provides the best way to tackle the problem. In November, she presented her proposal for a "micro-regional development program" to the European Parliament's committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs. Járóka's views echo those of her government back in Budapest. "If we see it as a purely ethnic problem, we are on the wrong path," says Zoltán Balog, Hungarian minister of state for social inclusion. "It is a social and economic problem as well as an ethnic problem."

"It is a problem in all of the Eastern European countries," he admits. "Twenty years after the fall of the Wall, it is getting more dramatic," he says, adding, "Now it is an issue within the whole of the EU." Balog, a former Lutheran minister who was involved in the civil rights movement, is not a member of Fidesz. He asked to be appointed to his current post when the new government came into power. "Three million people live below the poverty line, of which, 300,000 to 400,000 are Roma," Balog explains. He says his government ministry is seeking to target programs at the regions where these people live -- both Roma and non-Roma. This approach has an obvious political advantage in that it makes the policies more palatable to a public that can be resentful of funds being chanelled specifically to Roma programs.

Part 3: Are the Roma a National or EU Problem?
Robert Kushen, director of the European Roma Rights Center, a legal advocacy group based in Budapest, says that the familiar stereotype is that the Roma are the "welfare queens of Europe. So if you can counter that by directing programs that impact non- Roma as well, that's great." However, Kushen is adamant that this approach ignores the reality that the Roma face problems not shared by some other impoverished groups: rampant prejudice and racism. "It's something Roma face every day," he says. "And my concern is that if you downplay that too much then there is the risk that you're not taking the problem seriously." Kushen is concerned that the government's initial Roma policies have been punitive, and "seem designed to play to the right wing." These include changes to social welfare programs that only allow a single adult in a household to collect social assistance, or rules that tie access to social welfare to children's school attendance. "We still haven't seen any meaningful policies to address Roma exclusion in Hungary," he argues. Kushen is also cautious of presenting the plight of the Roma as a pan-European problem, warning that such thinking could enable member states in the region to shirk their responsibility to bring the minority back from the margins of society. "At the end of the day, all the issues are ones that have to be resolved by national governments," he argues. The EU can provide resources or set standards, but "it is the member states that really have to step up" their efforts.

Tivador Fátyol is skeptical of what can be achieved under the Hungarian EU presidency. The director of Radio C, a completely Roma-run station based in Budapest, is a debonair man in his sixties with a neatly trimmed beard. Fátyol says that millions of euros have been spent by the EU and the Hungarian government on the Roma issue and that "nothing much has happened." Nor is he optimistic that Hungary's presidency and its promised focus on the Roma will bring about much change. "Our core question is what is going to happen in the future, how will the next generation live? People in the villages live in inhuman conditions," he says. The C in Radio C stands for cigány, or gypsy, a term which is politically correct in Hungary. The station has become hugely popular far beyond the Roma community for its rich mix of music. Housed on a side street next to a small market in the 8th district, the Roma-dominated area of central Budapest, it consists of just two small studios and a number of bare rooms with a few sofas, some old computers and countless photographs of famous Roma musicians on the walls. The radio station is broke and is fighting for its survival. Fátyol says it is important that institutions such as Radio C keep going, because Roma journalists know the problems their society faces best. He says that the majority in Hungarian society "see us differently and we see ourselves differently," adding wryly: "It's an old Hungarian habit to tell the Roma how to act or think."

Getting out the Vote with Anti-Roma Rhetoric
In addition to persistent poverty and social exclusion in recent years, Hungary's Roma have also experienced a climate that is increasingly hostile -- with a surge in hate speech and violence directed at them. A visibly impoverished minority, they provide picture-perfect scapegoats in times of political and economic uncertainty. The issue provides fertile soil for the politics of the county's far-right Jobbik party. Founded in 2003, the party -- which has its roots in a right-wing student movement -- has found anti-Roma rhetoric to be a vote winner. Jobbik's first triumph was attracting 14.7 percent in elections to the European Parliament in 2009 and securing three seats. In 2010, it became the third-largest party in parliament, attracting 16.6 percent of the vote in the Hungarian national election. Like many far-right and right-wing populist groups across Europe, Jobbik politicians pride themselves on their straight talk. "In the last 20 years the gypsy question was a taboo," says Ádam Mirkóczki, Jobbik's spokesman for religious affairs. "We are the only ones who say that the gypsies are one of the biggest problems." Jobbik have a two-pronged approach to attacking the Roma: First they slam them for being welfare scroungers, and then they campaign on a platform of protecting society from "gypsy criminality." The Roma are an easy target. By virtue of their high levels of unemployment and the fact that they have more children, on average, than the rest of the population, they are necessarily bigger beneficiaries of the social welfare pot than other groups.

'Gypsy Criminality' As a Campaign Slogan
"The social net is so widely spread that there is a certain group of people that is physically very strong and that lives very well from this social welfare," Mirkóczki says. "We want them to find their way back to the labor market. We don't want to exclude them. We want them to have the same living standards as the rest of society." And how does he suggest going about this? "The situation is simple: Cut the unnecessary social welfare or cut it completely." What he doesn't explain, however, is how these cuts are supposed to increase the living standard of an already impoverished group that faces tough discrimination in an already tight job market. Jobbik even used "cigánybujözés," or "gypsy criminality," as a campaign slogan during the recent local elections in October. When MTV, the state broadcaster, tried to block Jobbik election ads, which featured the "gypsy criminality" slogan along with a woman walking down a street with a hooded figure lurking ominously in the background, the courts ordered that they be aired, citing freedom of speech. "It's a socio-cultural term," Mirkóczki says. "It's often claimed that we use it genetically or racially differentiated, that is not true. The fact that it is not used anymore is very obviously due to political pressure."

Part 4: Conflating Roma with Criminality
Szilveszter Póczik was one of those who fought to change that kind of terminology. The criminologist and historian explains that until the mid-1990s the term "gypsy criminality" was commonly used by academics and the police, as a way to denote a certain type of crime, either motivated by poverty or of a particular brutal or emotional nature. He argued that it should instead be described as "poverty-related crime." "We should not label an entire minority by mixing up Roma, the minority, with the general idea of criminality," Póczik says. "That gives the impression that they are somehow organically or systemically criminal." He does, however, insist that there are problems with crime in the Roma community due to the extreme poverty many of them live in. He says the settlements where some of them reside "are like favelas in South America with an African type of poverty." "It is understandable that conflicts arise between the majority population and the Roma who live in these circumstances," he says. For Jobbik, however, there is no such nuanced approach. "We say this is gypsy criminality because, apart from the Roma, no one else carries out this kind of crime" Mirkóczki claims. "Of the worst brutal criminal acts of the past few years, 100 percent were carried out by Roma." In Hungary, the police are not allowed to record ethnic data related to perpetrators, so Jobbik can provide no proof of their assertions that all these crimes were carried out by Roma. But that does not deter them, in fact in many ways it plays into their hands, because the lack of record keeping also means their claims cannot be refuted as easily.

'The Classic Victim/Oppressor Inversion'
For Magdalena Marsovszky, a cultural theorist and expert on anti-Semitism and anti-Roma prejudice, this type of rhetoric is typical of the far right, in that it seeks to present the minority as a threat to the majority society. "Everything is turned on its head," she says. "It is the classic victim/oppressor inversion." That inversion is perhaps nowhere as blatant as within the Magyar Garda, or Hungarian Guard, the now banned paramilitary group which was founded in 2007 by, amongst others, Jobbik leader Gábor Vona. That perceived threat from Roma criminals provided the impetus for its formation. The guard immediately began to appear in the Roma areas of towns and in Roma villages, holding dozens of rallies to "defend Hungary," spreading fear among the people there. Its first march was in, of all places, the village of Tatárszentgyörgy, where Robert and Robi Csorba would die only a few years later.

The guard members wear a uniform of black pants and vests with white shirts, and a cap emblazoned with a medieval coat of arms, the Arpad Stripes. The symbol is a centuries old Hungarian banner, a version of which was used by the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party that briefly ruled Hungary toward the end of World War II. The courts banned the group in 2009 but it still exists, it just no longer gathers for public marches. "It can be banned 10,000 times, but it cannot be destroyed," says Márton Gyöngyösi, deputy leader of Jobbik's parliamentary group. He claims the Hungarian Guard members are harmless: "They have no weapons, and their black and white uniform is normal Hungarian folk dancing costume." Gyöngyösi says the group was founded because the Hungarian state fell apart in 2006, after the Socialist prime minister was caught on tape admitting that he lied in order to win that year's election. The Jobbik politician says it was a natural instinct for people to come together and "provide security."

'They Create a Climate that Is not OK'
It is important to state that neither the Hungarian Guard nor Jobbik have been implicated in any way in the murderous attacks of 2008 and 2009. However, Tara Bedard, a programs officer at the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), claims that their presence has had a definite influence in the country. "They contribute to a climate in which people feel more empowered to act out on negative feelings that they might hold, frustrations that they might have," she explains. "And there's nobody in Hungary who is standing up to say that the image they promote, the climate they create is not OK." During its time in opposition, the now ruling Fidesz itself was not averse to harnessing anti-Roma rhetoric. In February 2009, Viktor Orbán stated publicly: "It is clear that the ratio of perpetrators of serious crimes of gypsy origin is increasing day by day, considerably and tangibly."

Part 5: 'The Most Pressing Human Rights Issue in Europe Today'
The party's flirtation with populist nationalism, as well as its efforts to undermine the authority of the Constitutional Court and increase control over the media since coming to power, have created some unease. Its decision to give ethnic Hungarians in other countries passports not only antagonized neighbors, but also seemed to set a yardstick for what it means to be Hungarian. Marsovszky is critical of the climate created by Fidesz. "The cultural outlook of this government is really the same as that of the far-right in that it sees Hungarian society as a racial national community." She argues that this comes across in the way some members of the government speak about the ethnic Hungarians in other countries as "blood brothers." And in Hungary, which has little immigration, it is the Roma, "the people with dark skin," who are excluded from this community. "There are many politicians in Fidesz or those with ties to the party who have a very anti-Roma attitude," she argues. "And when they try to tell Europe what to do about Roma, then I don't have that much hope that anything will change here structurally."

The government has already come in for criticism from abroad for not dealing more robustly with hate speech and violence against Roma. In October 2010, the United Nations Human Rights panel called on Hungary to tackle the widespread and "virulent" hate speech against Roma in the media and from those in public life and called on the government to promote tolerance and counter "hate or racially motivated crimes." During the same month, Amnesty International released a critical report on anti-Roma violence in Hungary, calling on the government to improve the way the criminal justice system investigates crimes motivated by racism.

'Justice Has Been Very Slow to Come for the Roma'
ERRC's Bedard says that violence against Roma is "the most pressing human rights issue in Europe today." The ERRC has followed up on the investigation into the murders of 2008 and 2009 as well as 50 other attacks on Roma over the last two and half years, checking with the police and prosecution authorities to see if those who experience acts of violence get justice. "The results so far have been pretty disappointing," Bedard says, "Justice has been very slow to come for the Roma who were victims of these attacks, if it is to come at all." Robert Csorba's family are among those still waiting for justice. His widow Renata and his two surviving children now live with her parents about one kilometer away from their former home. A shy young woman, 24-year-old Renata Csorba says it is too painful to talk about what happened the night of the murders, saying simply: "We are two fewer now."
The Spiegel

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ROMA FLEE HOME AFTER THREATS IN SILESIA (Poland)

Local authorities in the southern Silesian city of Bytom have held a meeting with local Roma gypsy residents after a spate of incidents forced them to leave their homes for fear of physical harm.

30/12/2010- “We are a little calmer, but there’s still a long way to go,” members of the Roma society told the local edition of Gazeta Wyborcza after meeting with local authorities, including the police. The meeting comes after local gangs tried to extort ‘protection’ money from a resident Roma family, with the stipulation that if an installment was late, then the son would have his legs broken. As a result, the mother stopped sending her son to school, but he was beaten up in a shopping mall. After calling the police, the family continued to be hassled by the gang, and in the end was forced to move to a nearby hotel. Soon after, other Roma families started receiving similar treatment. An anonymous Roma ‘judge’ told the Katowice edition of Gazeta Wyborcza that “it is good that the meeting took place, but no message were voiced that would ensure the protection of those people that need it most.” Police in Bytom are looking into the matter.
The News - Poland

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FORMER NEO-NAZI JAILED FOR AUSCHWITZ SIGN THEFT (Poland)

Two-year sentence for Swede who masterminded the crime

31/12/2010- A former Swedish neo-Nazi was yesterday jailed for more than two years for masterminding the theft of the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign from the entrance of memorial museum on the site of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. The 16ft wide sign, a lasting symbol of the Holocaust which states "Work Sets You Free", was removed from the gate of the former Auschwitz camp more than a year ago and found in woods in northern Poland three days later. A gang of five Poles with a so-called "Swedish connection" was held responsible for the theft. They had planned to ship the sign to Sweden where it was to be sold. The theft provoked international outrage and protests from Israel and Jewish groups worldwide. An estimated 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, were systematically murdered at Auschwitz. The camp site is now a museum and serves as one of the world's most chillingly powerful Holocaust memorials. It is partially funded by the German government and it attracts thousands of visitors annually.

Yesterday, a court in the southern Polish city of Krakow, sentenced Anders Hogstrom, 34 – a former Swedish neo-Nazi who is said to have turned his back on the far right a decade ago – to two years and eight months imprisonment for his role in the theft. Hogstrom, who helped set up a far right, anti-immigrant group called the National Socialist Front in Sweden in the 1990s, told the court calmly after he was sentenced: "Yes I accept the verdict." A Polish court spokesman said Hogstrom had reached a deal with prosecutors which would allow him to be sent to Sweden to serve his sentence. The court also sentenced two Polish men identified as Marcin Auguscinski and Andrzej Strychalski to jails terms of 30 months and 28 months respectively for stealing the sign and cutting it into three pieces to get it into their getaway vehicle. Auguscinski apparently met Hogstrom more than two years ago while doing odd jobs on his family estate in southern Sweden.

Despite his sentencing, Hogstrom's exact role in the theft remained unclear. The former neo-Nazi, who lives in the southern Swedish city of Karlskrona, is said to have renounced the far right more than a decade ago. He now claims to be a member of a group which helps ex-Nazis to return to normal life. Poland convicted him of masterminding the theft after prosecutors failed to turn up any evidence which supported Hogstrom's claims that he was acting as a middle man in a plot to steal the sign for financial and possibly political gain. Swedish police arrested him early in 2010. Hogstrom also claimed that rather than being arrested, he had turned himself into the Swedish authorities after he realised that proceeds from the sign's sale was meant for a political campaign to disrupt Swedish general election in September which saw huge gains by the right-wing Sweden Democrat party. No evidence has emerged to support his claim that there was a political element to the theft

Polish prosecutors said Hogstrom had admitted his guilt at the last minute. The most likely cause for Hogstrom's change of heart appears to have been the settlement reached with prosecutors which allows him to return to Sweden to serve his sentence. But whether the motives behind the sign's theft were political or linked in any way to the election gains by Sweden's anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, remains a mystery. Robert Parys, the Polish prosecutor who headed the investigation, said he was convinced the main motive was financial. What is clear is that the gang, whose members were aged between 25 and 39, had clearly not bargained for the international outcry and nationwide manhunt the theft provoked. Avner Shalev, chairman of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial was one of the many Jewish leaders who felt outraged. He said the incident had given "pain to Holocaust survivors and people of conscience everywhere." Despite the rediscovery of the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign soon after its theft, its place remained occupied yesterday by a copy. The original – under lock and key at the Auschwitz memorial museum – is being repaired and will eventually take its place.
The Independent

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NO RACISM IN ITALY, BALOTELLI'S JUST STUPID SAYS SEEDORF

30/12/2010- AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf has said racism in Italian football, recently brought to light in a children's book endorsed by Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli, is "from a small group that doesn't need attention". Balotelli, born and raised in Italy of Ghanaian immigrants, features in a new children's novel called Buuu written by Italian sports journalist Luigi Garlando, about a boy who receives ridicule for walking on his hands. The Italian relates to tale, given his experiences of being at the brunt of monkey chants hurled at him from the terraces of Serie A. Seedorf, a Dutchman of Surinamese descent, told press in a conference to announce AC Milan's friendly bout with Al Ahli, "There is no racism in Italy. There is ignorance and it's from a small group that doesn't need attention. "Bolatelli is an exciting player but his stupid attitude sometimes attracts attention from the crowd — nothing more, nothing less." Balotelli was recently sidelined by coach Roberto Mancini in a Europa League match for Manchester City against Juventus in Turin for fear of attracting racial abuse.
Gulf News

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ROMA STRUGGLE TO WIN SHARE OF EU CASH

28/12/2010- Twice a week Angela Kocze, a Roma activist, drives hundreds of kilometres through the Hungarian countryside in a 16-year-old Toyota pondering ways that European Union structural funds could better help the continent’s most downtrodden minority. Ms Kocze thinks in far smaller amounts than the billion-euro bridge and road construction projects that people associate with EU money: a few thousand euros for a community centre, perhaps €20,000 for a local employment project. Even modest schemes are something of a departure for Roma gypsies, who have been largely overlooked by EU structural funds, a development-focused kitty worth €50bn ($66bn) a year.

“Getting grants from Europe is difficult even for highly educated people. It requires a complex knowledge of how the system works,” Ms Kocze explains. “You need networks and a formal organisation: isolated Roma groups here don’t have any of those.” Ms Kocze, herself a Roma, is part of a group funded by the Open Society Institute, a non-governmental organisation that aims to teach Roma groups in central and eastern Europe how to make the most of EU structural funds. The object is to explain to isolated communities which grants they are eligible for, how to go about accessing them and even helping draft the application. “We are working in areas with no Roma organisation – for example, no one had applied for EU funds for northern Hungary for years,” she explains.

The dearth of structural money reaching Roma projects became a sensitive political issue in September after Brussels took on the French government over its policy of dismantling Roma camps and expelling their residents. Paris responded by criticising the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, for not channelling more structural funds to Roma causes, implying the gypsies had migrated to France because of poverty that the EU was not doing enough to alleviate. Brussels points out that Roma are eligible for €17.5bn of funds destined to vulnerable groups but admits gypsy causes are likely to have received only a small fraction of that. Just how much, however, it cannot say with any confidence.

“It’s clear that this is an area where experience is mixed,” says Laszlo Andor, the commissioner who controls the European social fund, the most likely source of Roma funding. The database of structural funds recipients compiled by the Financial Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in November shows a couple of dozen projects specifically targeted at Roma, most of them in central and eastern Europe but also in Germany and Italy. The projects range from infrastructure improvements in overwhelmingly Roma areas to funding a Roma music college in Felsöörs, western Hungary. But the one-off projects do little to conceal the fact that isolated gypsy communities frequently fail to qualify for the EU funding they were entitled to.

George Soros, the financier behind the Open Society initiative, estimated that perhaps 1 per cent of EU structural funds go to the Roma population of 10m-12m in the EU and its neighbours. This is nowhere near what the Commission claims, nor what the Roma would get with more insight into how to tap the money. “I have always regarded structural funds as the main motor for dealing with the [Roma] issue in Europe,” he said on a visit to Brussels. “It is a pot of money that is independent of electoral cycles, so it can be put to use in ways national money cannot. But I think it can be used better.”

The Commission recognises the problem. Though Mr Andor says quotas for Roma groups are out of the question for now, Brussels has made clear it expects national authorities to table more projects explicitly benefiting gypsies. Ms Kocze, as a foot soldier of those efforts, highlights problems that only a fundamental review of structural funds could fully address. Among those, the time limitations imposed on EU money are perhaps the most constraining. Educational projects or crèches, for example, can only get funding for bursts of two or three years.

The scale of the funds can be daunting for the grass-roots structures Ms Kocze is building. “You have to be careful for a small, new organisation that they don’t get too much money. Smaller amounts are more do-able for them.” Often the amounts accessible from EU funds are too large, pushing her to look at NGOs or other sources of funding instead. “There is a lot of EU money, that is what we are trying to apply for [but] it is often easier to get funding from the Norwegian government,” she sighs.
The Associated Press

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THE UNENDING BATTLE OVER BERLIN'S SINTI AND ROMA MEMORIAL(Germany)

The monument to the Sinti and Roma murdered in the Holocaust has been in the works in Berlin for years. But bickering has accompanied the project for just as long. Now, with construction underway, a new squabble threatens to derail the memorial.

28/12/2010- December 6 is usually a day for gift giving in Europe. But on St. Nicholas Day this year, Bernd Neumann, the commissioner for cultural and media affairs at the German Chancellery, received an unpleasant surprise in the mail. It was a letter from Israel, and it was filled with expression of outrage, like "disgrace," "credibility" and "parting of ways." The note of protest was sent to Neumann, 68, in his capacity as warden of the nation's monuments and memorials. Whenever a memorial is built for victims of the Nazi dictatorship, Neumann, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, is the man in charge of construction. It's a job that requires a sensitive touch, as it addresses the placement of victims in history and the status of victims' organizations today. The erection of a new monument is almost always accompanied by harsh and highly emotional battles, sometimes lasting until the day of the dedication ceremony. The current controversy revolves around a memorial to the roughly 500,000 Sinti and Roma murdered by Nazi Germany during World War II. The monument is under construction just across the street from the Reichstag, Germany's parliament building in Berlin, but the Israeli artist Dani Karavan, 80, and the client have been at odds for months. Initially the dispute was over such mundane issues as construction materials and expenses. But now the dispute is of a more fundamental nature. The artist is concerned about the "sanctity" of his work and is threatening to pull out. The project is in jeopardy.

A Small Pool of Water
It was a complicated undertaking from the start. In 1992, the German government promised the Sinti and the Roma a memorial of their own, because the Holocaust memorial in the heart of Berlin was to commemorate the extermination of the Jews. Other victim groups were promised their own memorials. The government's partner in the construction of the monument is the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and the group's chairman, Romani Rose, was responsible for bringing in Karavan, a headstrong but respected artist. His design for the memorial -- a small pool of water some 12 meters (39 feet) in diameter with a stele jutting out of the middle -- was accepted without a bidding process. But almost from the very beginning, the Sinti, the Roma, historians and the government became embroiled in a heated discussion over the wording of an inscription to honor the victims. Indeed, in 2009, while Germany's upper legislative chamber, the Bundesrat, was commemorating the persecution of the Sinti and Roma, police were called to the restrooms in the Bundesrat building to break up fights between members of various victim groups. Now, however, construction is finally underway. The federal government has earmarked €2 million ($2.6 million) for the project -- plenty, one might assume, for the relatively simple fountain design planned. That assumption, however, has proven to be incorrect. The attorney Peter Raue, an influential art aficionado partial to lengthy briefs, has taken on Karavan's case. "How much deviation from the perfect must the artist endure?" Raue asks, accusing the Berlin authorities of being "bureaucratic and suspicious." This is not the way to create works of art, he adds in a letter to city officials.

'Unacceptable Irregularities'
Not a single detail is being overlooked in the dispute. "Can it be guaranteed" that the steel being used in the construction is truly rust free? Does the water in the pool look as dark as the artist wants it to look? And who is supervising the company hired to build the monument? Attorney Raue complains that the city is engaging in "secretiveness" because city officials have had the audacity to visit the construction site without Karavan or his representative present. There have been conflicts over weld seams, over when freshly delivered segments can be unpacked and whose fault it will be should rust develop later on. Karavan once complained that there were "unacceptable irregularities" in the pool, and he has been on the verge of obtaining a court order to stop construction. In a series of toxic briefs, both sides are now blaming each other for delays. Karavan's special wishes, say Berlin city officials, have delayed the project by two years -- "at least." Raue, on the other hand, accuses the city bureaucrats of being "impolite and destructive" and is not ruling out the "collapse of the project," saying: "The artist will withdraw his name if the work is not done in accordance with his specifications." By now, Chancellery officials are tired of the whole affair. They also suspect that there is something else behind the "artist's constant requests for changes," namely that it is merely a way of demanding a higher fee and higher expenses in the end. A lump-sum reimbursement for travel expenses had been agreed with Karavan, and the Israeli was expected to fly to Germany 10 times for meetings and site visits. But then he claimed higher costs for individual tickets to Berlin or, in one case, a visit to the Philharmonic including a meal for his guests. "Absolutely not reimbursable," the officials concluded.

Waiting for a Thaw
But how exactly does one reach the German capital inexpensively? By flying with El Al or Lufthansa? And should the elderly artist be allowed to fly Business Class? Attorney Raue and the Berlin administration have been exchanging sharply worded notes, initially about solder points and test reports, and now about the cheapest possible plane tickets. His client has never submitted an inaccurate expense report. Because everything is taking so long, says Raue, he is now determined to achieve a higher fee for the Israeli artist. Culture Commissioner Neumann is doing his best to keep his cool, tactfully trying to placate all parties. He wants to see the work completed, "in agreement with the artist, if possible," he emphasizes. Neumann sees himself called upon to serve as an arbitrator. The scheduled date of the dedication ceremony, October 28, has already passed, and not without a dispute over a new date. Now the parties are vaguely shooting for next May. Whether it will happen remains to be seen. For now winter weather has brought construction to a halt. Both sides are waiting for a thaw.
The Spiegel

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HAVE BERLIN MOSQUES BECOME A TARGET? (Germany)

Several Muslim centers in Berlin have been the target of arson attacks in recent months. Police have made little progress in their investigation, but many suspect that the series of incidents has its roots in the raw rhetoric surrounding Germany's integration debate.

The list isn't long. In early December, a petrol bomb exploded with a loud bang against the façade of the Iranian cultural center in the Berlin district of Tempelhof, sending flames licking up the front of the building. Before that it was the Al-Nur Mosque in the Neukölln neighborhood, where the majority of Berlin's Muslim population lives. Berlin's Sehitlik Mosque, also in Neukölln, has been attacked four times since late summer. Yet even if there have been no injuries in the attacks to date, city officials are concerned. Berlin's State Criminal Police Office has established a special task force to look into a perplexing series of petrol bomb attacks that has targeted Muslim facilities in the German capital for months. Results, however, have so far been scant. Berlin police spokesman Klaus Schubert declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation, but told SPIEGEL ONLINE "there are no indications that the attacks were intended to cause actual harm to people." Others, however, aren't as sanguine. The year 2010 in Germany was one which saw an intense debate about the difficulties of integrating the country's Muslim minority -- a discourse which many observers thought crossed the line into racial and religious profiling. Indeed, the interior minister of the city-state of Berlin, Ehrhart Körting, said recently that there may in fact be a connection between the attacks and the immigration debate. The discussion, he told the German news agency DAPD, may have established a climate "which could have encouraged right-wing extremists or Islamophobes to perpetrate such crimes." That, he continued, "should be clear to all those responsible for creating this climate."

The Hallmarks of a 'Hate Crime'
Indeed, following the most recent attack on the Sehitlik Mosque on November 19, police said it bore the hallmarks of a "hate crime." Berlin's Muslim population has sought to maintain its composure. A spokesman for the Iranian cultural center told SPIEGEL ONLINE that they had not increased security and that the attack "has not made a difference to those visiting the center. They do not feel nervous or unsafe." This upbeat attitude was reiterated by Yavuz Selim Akgül, chairman of the Sehitlik mosque. "Considering one mosque after another is being set alight," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "one could imagine the general atmosphere here would be less than positive. But that's not the case: calm prevails and attendance has not decreased." Security, though, is tight. Akgül's mosque is under 24-hour guard and additional surveillance cameras are being installed. While police have removed the police guard placed in front of the mosque in the wake of the attack, a spokesman said they are closely monitoring the situation. And it is a situation that may have to be monitored for some time. In addition to the rancorous immigration debate, Berlin has been on a high terror alert since mid-November, when German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, said that the German government had "concrete indications" that Islamists were planning an attack and Germany could be a target. Heavily armed police have been patrolling Berlin streets ever since.

'Erosion of Solidarity'
Some have criticized the terror warnings for being detrimental to the welfare of the German capital's Muslim population. In late November, Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told the German press agency DPA that "not a week goes by without an attack on a mosque or a Muslim citizen. This terror hysteria exacerbates the situation and leads to an erosion of solidarity with Muslims."  Indeed, Ehrhart Körting himself has been blasted for using the kind of rhetoric he recently condemned. In the wake of late November's terror warnings, he told Berliners in a radio interview: " If you suddenly see three somewhat strange-looking men who are new to your neighborhood, who hide their faces and who only speak Arabic, you should report them to the authorities."  But it is Germany's ongoing integration debate which has particularly inflamed tempers on both sides. It is a discussion which the country has been wrestling with for years, but a book released in August by former Berlin politician Thilo Sarrazin poured fuel on the fire. Sarrazin, who was fired from his position on the board of the German Central Bank as a result of the book, claimed that Muslim immigrants would soon outnumber the country's ethnic German population because of their higher birth rates. He also suggested that because immigrant children are less successful in school, immigration is making the country less intelligent. His theories found tacit agreement from many in Germany, but also ignited widespread disgust.

Stirring up Fear
Governor of Bavaria Horst Seehofer then one-upped Sarrazin in an October interview with the newsmagazine Focus. The powerful politician said: "It's clear that immigrants from other cultures such as Turkey and Arabic countries have more difficulties. From that I draw the conclusion that we don't need additional immigration from other cultures." German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that efforts to establish a multi-cultural society in the country had "utterly failed." While there is, as yet, no indication of a concrete connection between such comments and the attacks in Berlin, some have posited such a link. "I can only see these inhuman attacks as a consequence of the witch hunt by Sarrazin, Seehofer and co. against those Muslims they accuse of refusing to integrate," said Left Party parliamentarian Ulla Jelpke earlier this month. Nurhan Soykan, general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, likewise blames the public debate: "Some media and politicians have stirred up targeted fear and rejection of Muslims and now we are seeing the results of this," she said. "The community is reacting and hostility towards Islam is growing."

Intolerant Germany
A recent survey would suggest that Soykan's comments might not be far off the mark. While Sarazzin's rhetoric was loudly rejected in the media, a recently released study by the University of Münster revealed startling levels of intolerance of Islam in Germany. The survey, which polled 1,000 people in five countries -- France, Denmark, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany -- showed that just 34 percent of respondents in Germany had a positive view of Muslims. In each of the other four countries, the results were over 50 percent. In addition, the study found that over 80 percent of Germans associate Islam with discrimination against women, over 70 percent with religious fanaticism and over 60 percent with a propensity to violence. Just 5 percent of Germans considered Islam to be a tolerant religion -- in contrast with a 30 percent result in the other four countries. According to Professor Detlef Pollack, who presented the study in Berlin on Dec. 2, two fifths of those polled in western Germany, and half of those polled in eastern Germany, feel that foreign cultures are a threat to the country. The ongoing debate about Islam and integration would appear not to be helping the situation. Indeed, Soykan feels it is counterproductive. "The threshold of inhibition in politics and society has been lowered so dramatically that what would have passed for racism in the past is now an acceptable conversation topic at bourgeois parties," she said. "This is driving a wedge through society, and ultimately making integration more difficult." Whether it is also fuelling attacks on Muslim centers in Berlin remains, for now, a matter of speculation.
The Spiegel

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