Headlines 25 February, 2011
MORE NEO-NAZI OFFENCES REPORTED (Austria)
25/2/2011- The frequency of National Socialist activities is on the rise, new figures show. The justice ministry said yesterday (Thurs) that 741 people were reported for spreading neo-Nazi propaganda or engaging in crimes with a far-right political background last year, up by 39.5 per cent to 2009 when 513 such cases were dealt with by the police and state prosecutors. Forty-five people were sentenced for such crimes last year, down one from 46 in the previous year, according to the ministry which released the figures upon request by Social Democratic (SPÖ) MP Johann Maier. Long-term figures however show that the number of people found guilty of such acts has been on the rise over the past years. Just 11 people were sentenced for National Socialist activities in 1998. Meanwhile, a taxi driver in Vienna has been accused of throwing out an opera singer because of the colour of her skin. US star Angel Blue said yesterday she was ordered to get out of the vehicle moments after she entered it. "The driver said: ‘I don't drive black women - get out!’" the 27-year-old claimed. Blue said the driver was a grey-haired Austrian aged between 50 and 60. She appealed on police to find the man, while the Association of Taxi Drivers in Vienna argued this was "impossible" considering the 4,500 cabs in the city.
© The Austrian Independent
Social Democrats and Liberal Alliance increase pressure on Integration Minister.
25/2/2011- The fate of Integration Minister Birthe Rønn Hornbech, who has been at the centre of a controversy over the illegal rejection of stateless Palestinian citizenship applications, seems increasingly uncertain. Pressure on the minister rose even higher Friday, with the Social Democratic Party now joining the rest of the opposition to demand the minister’s resignation. “You cannot have a minister who knowingly administers illegally,” says Social Democratic Nationality Spokesman Henrik Damm Kristensen. The Social Democratic move comes as a reaction to an admission by Rønn Hornbech yesterday evening that she had been aware of her ministry’s application rejections since 2008. She did not inform Parliament of the issue until January 2010, but claimed this was because it took such a long time to investigate the issue. The opposition and three independent MPs are not, however, satisfied with the explanation given and are demanding an independent inquiry.
The new situation places the Liberal Alliance, which normally backs the government, in a key role as its support could result in a Commission of Inquiry. On Thursday, the Liberal Alliance increased its demands on the issue, saying that a report that Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has called for, must be produced within 14 days. The Liberal Alliance is now believed to be prepared to go even further, demanding either an independent inquiry or the minister’s resignation. Politiken’s investigation into the complex has shown that on at least eight occasions, the government has named the UN convention concerned in connection with, for example, legislation. The UN, convention to which Denmark is a signatory, is designed to try to eradicate statelessness by giving stateless people up to the age of 21 the right to citizenship in the country where they were born. That right has been denied in Denmark since 2002. At the same time, the government and the Danish People’s Party have ordered legal opinions on the convention twice in the past five years.
MINORITIES COMPLAIN OF RISING RACISM IN RUSSIAN UNIVERSITIES
There's increasing concern about the high levels of discrimination which ethnic minority students face if they study at Russian universities. Insults, beatings and official harrassment are among the complaints.
24/2/2011- Fenced off public squares guarded by hundreds of security officers are not an uncommon sight in Moscow. City authorities are anxious to avoid gatherings that could lead to violent clashes between right-wing hooligans and ethnic minorities. Such street battles first happened in December, after a football fan was killed, allegedly by people from the Caucasus region of Russia. Making an appeal for calm at the time, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addressed the issue of extremism and discrimination in Russian society - normally a taboo for the authorities. Putin called the extremism a "virus" that had to be suppressed. He could also have mentioned the fact that many of those who participated in the riots were students. Indeed, racism at Russian universities appears to be a growing problem. Ten years ago, Moscow University law student Aida moved to live in the Russian capital with her family from Dagestan in the North Caucasus - now infamous as a stronghold of Islamist terrorism. With her long dark hair and dark eyes, 22-year-old Aida says she that she is discriminated against because of her origin, and because of fears of terrorism. "Just recently there was another unpleasant incident at my own faculty," said Aida. "It was just after the blast at Domodedovo airport at the end of January. As always I showed my student card to the security at the entrance. And he just started swearing at me with racist remarks and said something about me probably not even knowing Russian."
North Caucasus students asked to inform
It's not only fellow students and security staff who treat students from the North Caucasus in an unfriendly manner. The university authorities are also guilty, according to Dmitriy Dubrovski, a human rights expert and professor of history at the University of St. Petersburg. “My students didn't tell me at first," said Dubrovski. “Then I found out that everyone from the North Caucasus has to fill out a couple of forms, in which they are questioned about their relatives: where they live, if they're members of a rebel group, what property they own, what cars they drive and so on. That's outrageous. If nothing else, it's a breach of article 51 of the Russian constitution that guarantees that you don't have to give testimony against your own relatives." Students from the North Caucasus are not the only ones suffering from xenophobia. There are around 130,000 foreign students at Russian universities, many from China, Vietnam or African countries. Though they regularly suffer racist remarks, even from staff, Dubrovski said that hardly anyone complains. "The main difficulty is that no one talks about the problems," he said. "Countries like China and Vietnam for example don't even want their students to complain and would prefer them to leave Russia if there is a problem. They don't want to risk their relations with Russia. As a result, the students put up with everything with gritted teeth and we don't have a clue what is really going on."
Boris Dengsten from Congo came to Russia three years ago, because it was a perfect chance to get a quality university degree. In May last year he was beaten up by more than a dozen Russian students who had been drinking, after they saw him and another student from Congo talking to a Russian girl at a bus stop. "One of them pulled the girl on her arm and asked her: Why do you speak to these apes," said Dengsten. "I said, ‘Where do you see apes, we are people too, aren't we?' And he just continued swearing at us. And then he hit me really hard, I almost fell. And when my friend hit him back to stop him, we were attacked by 15 Russians at once." In the end it was Dengsten, not any of the Russian students, who was expelled from university - for having started a fight. While his case may be an extreme one, it shows the dangers that non-European students may face. Those with black skin or an Asian appearance rarely venture out alone at night. Dengsten made his story public in the Russian courts with help from human rights organizations, but he lost his case. Now the 26-year-old has given up and will return to Congo, where an uncertain future awaits him: universities in Congo only accept new students who are under 25. The fact that he hoped to gain a university degree in Russia, Dengsten believes, could turn out to have been the biggest mistake of his life.
© The Deutsche Welle
GAY BELGIANS' ORDEAL ENDS AS SON EXITS UKRAINE ORPHANAGE
23/2/2011- After years battling nature, prejudice, law enforcement and a Belgian judicial imbroglio, two gay men finally recover their surrogate son this weekend from a Ukrainian state orphanage after a landmark legal ruling. Some 90,000 euros ($125,000) later, all told, married Belgian couple Laurent Ghilain and Peter Meurrens will at last be reunited with Samuel Ghilain, now aged two years and four months, on Saturday afternoon, and bring the child to Brussels later that evening. Their emotional reunion, scarred by threats of abortion and a failed attempt to smuggle him into Poland, only became possible when the Belgian government relented on Friday with a decision to issue Samuel with a passport. While the legal arguments here revolved around homophobic attitudes among some bureaucrats handling Ghilain's dossier, the case has also triggered a wider debate about surrogate mothers from other countries and is likely to result in changes to Belgium's law. "Samuel has suffered for so long -- the psychologist says to expect a difficult reunion," Ghilain told AFP as he readied to fly out and start his new, family life -- still only half-believing after so many let-downs. "Deep down, I'm asking myself 'how will he react?', 'will he cry in my arms and will he reject me?'," said fitness trainer Ghilain, 27, who is Samuel's biological father. "The first contact must absolutely not be in front of flashing lights," he underlined.
Held in an eastern European staging-post, well away from cameras, the meeting will be more than emotional, seven months after Ghilain last saw the boy. The foreign ministry only grudgingly ordered the boy to be issued with his ID, through Belgium's embassy in Kiev, after a court judgment earlier in the week. His new parents cannot set foot in Ukraine after their failed kidnap attempt. "We were at our wits' end, with the lawyers for the Belgian state refusing to pronounce on the case," Ghilain recalled. They were paying a foster family 1,000 euros per month, but then the family "threatened us with chucking Samuel into an orphanage without his birth registration. "We might never have found him again. "We took a picture of him, glued it to a false passport and went out there to bring him back. "But the woman we hired to take him across the border was stopped by customs, and it cost us another 10,000 euros to get her out and find out where Samuel had been placed. "For three months, we had no information whatsoever." Along with cardiologist Meurrens, 37, Ghilain lives of the south of France. When they travel home after the weekend, he prays the nightmare that began when the mother threatened to abort even while six months pregnant is truly over.
The money already spent came from an insurance windfall after a parachuting accident, Ghilain stressed -- and only a portion of it went to the mother, most going on legal fees. There may yet be more legal expenses, though. "Brussels city prosecutors still have 30 days in which to lodge an appeal," foreign ministry spokesman Bart Ouvry told AFP. The prosecutor could not be contacted on Wednesday. Although Ghilain fears that Ukrainian officials on the ground may "still not recognise the document," his lawyer Celine Verbrouck said nothing can now stop the child's homecoming. That may not remain the case in future, though. In announcing its compliance, Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere said his government "henceforth strongly advises against compatriots seeking surrogate mothers overseas and warns against commercial exploitation witnessed abroad." The caretaker Belgian administration now wants to plug a legal gap and expressly outlaw commercial trade in babies. Two federal senators have said they will lodge parliamentary bills in this area of family law.
JUSTICE STILL AWAITS VICTIMS OF ANTI-ROMA HATE CRIMES IN HUNGARY
By Paul LeGendre, Director, Fighting Discrimination Program
22/2/2011- Two years ago today, 27-year-old Robert Csorba and his four-year-old son were shot dead as they ran from their burning home in Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary. The Csorba family is Roma, a fact that sparked unknown assailants to set the home ablaze and then wait to murder the fleeing victims with shotguns. This heinous double murder was not an isolated event. Between January 2008 and August 2009, a series of crimes with similar characteristics—the use of guns and the throwing of Molotov cocktails—occurred in Roma communities throughout Hungary, leaving at least six Roma dead and many others gravely injured. In August 2009, the investigation of these crimes—one that had been marred by delays and instances of misconduct—finally concluded with the arrest of four men who have been charged in connection with the crimes. As of today though, their trial has yet to commence and nobody thus has been held accountable for the murders.
Last month, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declared Roma issues a priority for the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union. He promised to work towards a “functioning Roma strategy” at EU-wide level to improve social inclusion of Roma citizens. While the Prime Minister’s pledge to enhance Roma rights across the EU is commendable, the rhetoric has done little to console Hungary’s Roma, who continue to face discrimination, including in the form of hate crime. They have been waiting for justice to be served and for Hungarian officials to lead by example when it comes to addressing the daily struggles of Roma at home. Setting aside its high rhetoric in support of Roma rights across Europe, there is much that Hungary’s government could do at home. There have been some welcome steps in the form of commitments to train police on combating hate crime and an early initiative to encourage more Roma to join the police force. Yet much remains to be done. It’s time for the government to prove that Hungary is serious about standing up for its Roma citizens at home as it pursues initiatives at the EU level. Here are four steps—outlined in more detail in HRF’s Blueprint to the Hungarian Government—that Hungarian authorities could take today:
1. With regard to arrests already made in August 2009, the Hungarian authorities should move quickly to bring the suspects to account through an open and transparent trial, a proceeding that could play a role in elevating the problem of racist violence against Roma to the forefront of the public debate.
2. Law enforcement authorities should ensure that police have clear guidelines to vigorously address crimes that are motivated in whole or in part by racism or other forms of bias. Although the country has in place specific, albeit limited, laws addressing hate crime, these provisions are not adequately implemented. The police need to enhance their capacity to recognize when a crime should be classified and investigated as “racially motivated.”
3. A more effective system for publicly reporting the incidence and response to hate crimes should be implemented. The current system does not permit the identification of the ethnicity of the victim of a crime. As a result, there is no statistical information on the number of crimes in which an individual was targeted because of their ethnicity or due to other bias motivations.
4. Finally, the Hungarian authorities should take a more vocal role in acknowledging the problem of hate crime against Roma in Hungary. They should publicly condemn such crimes when they occur at home or in other European nations. Only when the extent of the problem is fully acknowledged and authorities take a public stance to act can real progress begin.
© Human Rights First
CONTROVERSY OVER COMMENTS ABOUT ROMA BY HUNGARIAN FAR-RIGHT LEADER
25/2/2011- Gábor Vona, chairman of the radical nationalist party Jobbik, has recently come under fire for comments made about Roma in Hungary. During a parliament session on the 14th February, he said that a major problem in Hungary was the fast reproductive rate of the gypsy community. The Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly László Kövér made no objection to this remark. When the Socialist chairman Attila Mesterházy later advised Kövér to take action against similar behaviour in the future, he was told by the Speaker to not commentate on how the session was being led or else he would not be allowed to speak. Vona also spoke about the way in which gypsy crime, especially in the Borsod county, was causing people to live in a state of fear. Whilst in parliament, the Jobbik leader was wearing the banned uniform of the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary-style organisation he formed in 2007 but which was disbanded by the Metropolitan Court of Budapest in 2009 for activities that were deemed in contravention of the human rights of minorities.
This is not the first time that Vona has made such comments. At a speech at the end of January outlining the future strategies of his party, he expressed his view that it was essential to ‘slow the reproduction’ of Roma, promoting the idea of food stamps instead of financial benefits as a means to do so. This forms part of Jobbik’s intention to increase the number of Hungarian families and avoid Roma becoming ‘a majority in Hungary,’ even though the Romani community currently make up around 2% of the country’s total population. In addition, he said that gypsy children should be educated in special boarding schools to break the cycle of crime that is passed on through generations in the gypsy community. There have been strong reactions to Vona’s statements on the birth rate of Roma, with the current Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declaring that ‘unnecessary life has never been born.’ Green party Politics Can Be Different added that such comments against Roma or other groups like Jews cannot be tolerated in today’s Hungary.
At present, Jobbik is Hungary’s third largest party, with 3 seats in the European Parliament. It describes its aim as defending the interests of Hungary, with support for Hungarians living in bordering countries to achieve self-determination. Jobbik has faced allegations of being fascist and anti-Semitic but these have been denied by the party.
2010 was the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. And yet Europe’s estimated 8-10 million Roma found themselves poorer and more socially excluded than ever after the Italian and French governments demolished “illegal” Roma settlements and deported thousands of Roma in clear violation of their rights as citizens of European Union member states. A bill introduced recently in the Romanian parliament to change the official name of the Roma people to “Gypsy” so as not to confuse them with ordinary Romanians merely added insult to injury.
By Richard Field, founder and chairman of the American House Foundation, a US-registered private foundation that is working with the Hungarian Red Cross and other Hungarian non-government organisations on issues of poverty, homelessness and social exclusion.
The attitudes on the part of individual Hungarians towards the Roma ranges from paternalistic condescension to vile contempt and even murderous hatred; in 2009 a number of Roma were randomly gunned down in their homes. Even educated Hungarians generally consider the Roma lazy, unreliable and dangerous. The Roma react to such attitudes on the part of their non-Roma neighbours with a mixture of fear, mistrust, and loathing. Underlying racial stereotypes is a body of anecdotal evidence repeated ad nauseam. One hears of gangs of criminals stripping gardens of their vegetables, orchards of their fruit, workshops of their equipment, and transformers of their copper wiring; of Roma families illegally squatting in outbuildings; of chronic absenteeism from school and work; of Roma parents squandering their welfare money on cigarettes and alcohol while their children go hungry; of murderous knife-welding Roma gangs roaming the streets; and of local police too intimated to do anything about “gypsy crime.”
A wide brush
No doubt Roma are among those committing crimes of this nature. But ask any social worker or missionary working with Roma families and they will tell you that the entire Roma community is being unfairly blamed for the actions of a few of its members. My personal experience dealing directly with some of the Roma community’s poorest families is that they are, on the whole, kind and considerate, grateful for whatever assistance they receive, willing to work with school and town authorities to ensure their children have access to proper education and healthcare, and eager to improve their plight, but that nobody will hire them.
The economic disenfranchisement and physical segregation of the Roma has reached the point where Hungary’s Roma and non-Roma peoples no longer mix. Hungary’s upper and middle classes go to great lengths to ensure that neither they nor their children need ever come into contact with Roma. The absence of regular social interaction and meaningful dialogue merely serves to reinforce racial stereotypes and fuel prejudice on both sides of the divide. I witnessed a truly shameful spectacle the summer before last. I was invited to attend an international Roma music festival hosted at a beautifully renovated castle on a hillside overlooking a village whose inhabitants today are nearly all Roma. In the hollow next to the castle hill a covered stage was erected. The area for the audience in front of the stage was cordoned off from the rest of the grounds by a two metre high circular fence. Those wishing to enter or exit had to pass through a metal detector. Security for the event was provided by a small army of skinheads dressed in commando-style uniforms. Being in the audience was exactly like being in a high-security prison yard. Looking around at the Roma concert goers, I could see I was not the only one uncomfortable with this arrangement. Nearby, well-meaning Knights of Malta, dressed in medieval outfits, banners waving, handed out bags of apples. Only visitors with VIP passes were granted access to the castle grounds where they could watch the event from the relative “safety” of the castle gardens overlooking the stage. Virtually none of the VIPs were Roma. I was stunned by the event’s non-Roma organisers’ failure to understand that it was wrong to treat their Roma guests like inmates in a concentration camp. According to the event’s organisers such security precautions were necessary to ensure their celebration of Roma culture and music went off without incident.
Apartheid, Hungarian style
State schools throughout Hungary are eager Roma school children not exceed 10 per cent of the student body for fear this will trigger an exodus of “white” students. The fact that one in three children born in Hungary today is Roma helps explain why a disproportionate number of Roma students are placed in special schools for children with slight learning disabilities. School administrators are terrified of their school being labeled a “gypsy” school, and all this implies. To see what a typical “gypsy” school looks like visit the Attila József Primary School for Arts in Budapest’s District IX. A plaque by the main entrance commemorates the fact that the school’s namesake attended the school as a child. One doubts the great 20th-century Hungarian poet would recognise it today. The roof has been badly leaking for so many years that classes can no longer be held on the top floor. Huge patches of plaster are pealing off the walls and ceilings, none of which have been painted in the past 20 years. The building reeks of mold and mildew, the result of improperly installed drainpipes. The walls of the sports hall are covered with mold. Window panes are missing. Modern ceiling lamps and the occasional interactive whiteboard stand in stark contrast to the dilapidated state of the building and furnishings. The neglected state of “gypsy schools” mirrors the poor physical condition of many of the students. In neighbouring District VIII (home to one of Europe’s largest concentration of Roma) one third of the children attending the Menyhért Lakatos primary school receive little, if anything, to eat outside of school. One wonders how they survived to the age of five by which time all Hungarian children are required to attend kindergarten providing they meet the minimum weight requirement. Many Roma children do not.
The situation in the countryside is even worse. In December, on the eve of Hungary’s assumption of the EU presidency, the United States and Norwegian embassies sponsored a day-long symposium at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences with the stated objective of compiling a specific set of proposals for improving the plight of Hungary’s and, by extension, Europe’s Roma. The conference was attended by a number of government representatives as well as various NGOs. While there was general agreement that the Roma faced enormous challenges, there was little agreement as to what should be done. And despite the organisers’ best intentions, the conference mainly consisted of representatives of the government criticising the policies of the previous government while trying to explain the current government’s policies which had been formulated and were being implemented without consulting any of the NGOs attending the symposium. Although providing a useful forum for discussion and debate, the day long conference failed to yield any specific proposals. This was not the organisers’ fault. There is little consensus among the various stakeholders as to how to go about addressing what is not one problem, but a complex series of interrelated problems.
The fall after communism
Under communism the Roma were forced to abandon their itinerant life-style and work either in factories or on collective farms. Many of them were settled in the new heavy industrial cities of northern Hungary. On the eve of the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 some 90 per cent of working-age Roma were gainfully employed, and had been for decades. During the 1990s the agricultural cooperatives and heavy industry on which Roma livelihoods depended were either wound up or closed down. Former state-owned companies frequently emerged from the privatisation process having shed most of their Roma workforce. Most of the direct foreign investment in manufacturing during the 1990s took place in the western half of the country. The northern and eastern parts of the country, cut off from the rest of Hungary by a lack of highways, attracted little foreign investment, resulting in persistently high levels of unemployment. Whereas their grandparents worked on factories and farms, most Roma children today are being raised by parents who have never held a regular job. In most of the smaller towns and villages near the Slovak and Ukrainian borders the local government is the largest and often only employer, providing temporary employment cleaning and maintaining public areas six hours a day for up to nine months. Inexplicably, the national government recently decided to limit this to four hours a day for three months. One wonders what Hungary’s leaders are thinking, or whether they think at all.
What extreme poverty looks like
The collapse of the cooperative farms and heavy industry was devastating for Hungary’s Roma communities. In the town of Forró just west of Encs one-third of its 120 Roma families live in “extreme poverty”. One encounters this term frequently when reading about the Roma, but what exactly does that mean? It means living nine or ten people to a room in ramshackle houses without running water or sewerage. It means sleeping three or four to a bed with the kitchen table doubling as a bed for one or more children. It means children taking turns going to school because there is only one pair of shoes. It means subsisting largely on a diet of vakaró (literally scratch) - flour mixed with baking soda and water, kneaded into a dough and cooked on the top of a wood or coal burning stove. And when the flour runs out towards the end of the month, it means going hungry for days or even weeks at a time. It means constantly having to forage for firewood, twigs, roots, fence ties, roof timbers, windows, doors: anything that can be chopped up and burnt in the stove. And for those caught illegally foraging for wood unable to pay the HUF 50,000 (EUR 185) fine, it means spending days, weeks or months in jail while their families freeze, not to mention the confiscation by the police of the offending bicycle or wagon used to transport the firewood. And according to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) documentary Without Rights (Jogtalanul) it means continually being harassed by the police. If one-third of Hungary’s Roma population lives in extreme poverty then somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 Hungarian Roma live under continual threat of starvation and exposure. And because of the Roma penchant for large families, one can only conclude that between 120,0000 and 200,000 of them are children.
Whites only need apply
Clearly, no one symposium or article can begin to do the topic justice. But the crux of the problem can be seen in the following real-life example: After graduating from vocational high school, a young Roma adult male answered a work ad placed by a Budapest bakery by submitting his resume in person. The bakery continued to advertise the position for another month without contacting him. As the representative of the Polgár Foundation for Opportunity put it, “only in Hungary do people condemn the Roma for being too lazy to work but then refuse to hire them.” Unfortunately, this phenomenon is probably not limited to Hungary, as Roma throughout Europe find themselves competing for fewer and fewer jobs. The case of the Roma baker is particularly discouraging because the individual in question was exceptional, both in terms of education and marketable job skills. Few Roma complete high school and even fewer go on to university. One reason is because most Roma are unable to meet the demanding academic requirements necessary to gain admission to pre-collegiate high schools (gimnázium). Those finishing the first eight years of primary school tend to be shunted into vocational schools where they usually end up learning trades for which there is little demand. With little prospect of finding a job after graduation there is little incentive to finish high school. Besides, one doesn’t need a high school diploma to work as a seasonal labourer or perform menial work on construction sites. (The collapse of Hungary’s agricultural and construction sectors has deprived tens of thousands of Roma of their livelihoods). Potential employers justify the decision not to hire Roma on the grounds that they are “too unreliable”. While absenteeism may be a problem among new Roma employees, this attitude ignores the fact that tens of thousands of Roma work full-time jobs. I recently visited a large bakery and dairy in Encs and Abaujdevecser where a majority of the employees were Roma.
Weakness in numbers
One of the problems confronting well-meaning policy makers is the absence of reliable statistics. Many Roma are reluctant to declare themselves Roma for fear that this will be grounds for discrimination. According to the 2001 census only 190,046 or 1.8% of Hungarians identified themselves as Roma, whereas informed estimates of the number of Roma living in Hungary range from 550,000 to 800,000. One wonders whether the census scheduled to take place later this year will measure their numbers any more accurately, especially as few of the census takers are likely to be Roma and few of the advertisements encouraging individuals to participate in the census are likely to feature Roma individuals or families.
Population time bomb
One thing is clear. Despite their poverty (and perhaps because of it) the Roma are having more children at a younger age than the Hungarians. A lot more. At a time when a typical Hungarian family has one or two children, a typical Roma family has between three and five and often as many as seven or eight. And whereas Hungarian women typically put off childbirth until their 30s, Roma women usually start reproducing in their middle to late teens. Hungary’s exploding Roma population is one of the main drivers of radical right-wing politics. At a recent demonstration by the New Hungarian Guard (successor organisation to the banned Magyar Gárda), its leader, Jobbik chairman Gábor Vona, publicly called on Roma to have fewer children. Cultural factors aside, most Roma women have large families at a young age because this represents the highest and best use of their time and energy thanks to Hungary’s generous system of state-financed maternity leave and child support. All Hungarian citizens residing in Hungary are entitled to three years paid maternity leave, receiving a large percentage of their average salary the first two years and a percentage of minimum wage the third year. In addition, the State pays HUF 16,000 (EUR 59) a month after each child. Furthermore, by law all children from families having three or more children eat at school for free. For a university-educated woman speaking one or more foreign languages earning a Western salary these are not strong inducements to start a family. And when she finally gets around to having one or two children she has a strong financial incentive to return to work as soon as possible.
For Roma women the minimum maternity allowance of HUF 28,000 (EUR 119) a month combined with child support is a strong financial inducement to have children. The day the government pays unemployed Roma women HUF 50,000 a month not to reproduce they will start having fewer children.
Programmes have not worked
It is neither desirable nor politically feasible for the state to pay members of a national minority not to have children. Instead, the government needs to do more to ensure that at the end of 12 years of public education there are enough decent paying jobs to go around, and that at least 10 per cent of these go to Roma.
Unfortunately, Hungarian governments tend to throw money at problems without achieving any meaningful or lasting results. At the December symposium Roma politician Flórián Farkas declared facetiously that the previous government had spent so much money on skills training that by now every Roma living in Hungary of working age should have mastered at least two trades. One suspects much of this money allocated for this purpose was misappropriated. Farkas is one of a mere handful of Roma leaders attempting to define and advance a national Roma agenda. Their work is hampered by the fact that the Roma community is divided into rival castes and clans and therefore incapable of acting in a concerted and unified manner. The past six decades have witnessed extensive intermarriage between the Roma and non-Roma, especially in the smaller towns and villages. However, unlike their mulatto counterparts in the US who consider themselves members of the African-American community with a vested interest in the advancement of the African-American people, as a general rule the product of Hungarian-Roma marriages do not consider themselves Roma, even though they often find themselves the victims of discrimination at school and at work.
A call to affirmative action
So what is to be done? The government should start by enforcing anti-discrimination legislation already on the books and fining firms for refusing to hire qualified Roma applicants. And it should vigorously implement EU directives to desegregate its public schools. Ultimately, however, affirmative action is required if Hungary’s Roma are to be (re)integrated economically and socially. If Roma make up 10 per cent of the Hungarian work-age population then at least 10 per cent of Hungary’s 800,000 government and public sector jobs should go to qualified Roma applicants. To the extent there aren’t enough qualified Roma applicants, governments and publicly owned companies should be required to recruit and train Roma for future job openings. Private companies over a certain size should be required to do the same.
With regard to education, if 15 per cent of school- age children are Roma, then at least 15 per cent of academic high school and university slots should be filled by Roma students regardless of test scores. Whatever the merits of the “Harlem Children’s Zone” model of minority public education, Hungary must integrate its state schools if Roma and non-Roma children are to learn to accept one another. Finally, far greater resources must be devoted to identifying and nurturing Roma youth with academic potential and natural leadership skills.
Only by excelling in professions traditionally reserved for non-Roma and interacting in a socially meaningful way with non-Roma can the Roma successfully challenge the racial stereotypes too often used to justify depriving them of education, jobs, and civil rights. Many experts on both sides of the issue do not believe in desegregation, arguing the Roma should have their own classes and their own schools where Roma language and culture is taught in addition to the usual academic subjects. Certainly, there is a place for Roma national minority schools in Hungary just as there is a place for Serbian, Slovak, Croatian and Romanian national minority schools (Hungary is far more ethnically and culturally diverse than certain right-wing politicians care to admit). But the fact remains that if Roma and non-Roma are denied the opportunity to interact as children, then it is difficult to see how they will choose to do so as adults. And the only way to ensure they interact as children is through the desegregation of public schools. If the Roma are ever to acquire the education and skills necessary to lift themselves out of poverty and establish their own set of professionals, businessmen, politicians and community leaders, they must be granted access to elite public schools, universities and government jobs in proportion to their numbers. Europe needs to break down the fence encircling the Roma and admit them to the castle grounds.
© The Budapest Times
LGBT ACTIVITST SAY CROATIA NOT READY TO CLOSE EU CHAPTER ON FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS
22/2/2011- Croatian LGBT associations believe that the country will not be ready to close the European Union negotiations chapter on judiciary and fundamental rights before hate crime becomes a criminal offence. The Centre for LGBT equality comprising of associations LORI, Queer Zagreb and Zagreb Pride expects the Croatian government to report to the public on the implementations of the measures needed for closing the chapter 23 on judiciary. 'Anti-discrimination and respect for human rights are an important part of chapters 23. In Croatia, the national and ethnic origin and sexual orientation and gender expression are most often the grounds of discrimination and hate-motivated crimes," the organizations say. Official statistics recorded around 20 hate-motivated crimes last year, and only three on the basis of sexual orientation. The organizations say that these numbers do not reflect Croatia's reality, as NGOs have noted a much higher incidence of hate-motivated crimes, the daily Jutarnji List writes.
© The Croatian Times
TRIAL OVER RIGHTS LAWYER'S MURDER STARTS (Russia)
22/2/2011- An open jury trial over the 2009 twin killing of lawyer and rights activist Stanislav Markelov and liberal Novaya Gazeta reporter Anastasia Baburova started in the Moscow City Court on Monday, Interfax reported. Alleged ultranationalists Nikita Tikhonov, 30, and Yevgenia Khasis, 25, are charged over the attack, but plead not guilty to murder charges. The 34-year-old Markelov, who often represented victims of ultranationalists' attacks in court, was gunned down in broad daylight in downtown Moscow. Baburova was shot dead when she tried to stop the attacker. Markelov represented the mother of Alexander Ryukhin, an activist fighting hate crime in Moscow, who was shot dead in 2006, anti-xenophobia watchdog Sova reported. Tikhonov was one of the people charged in the case. Several neo-Nazi attackers were convicted over Ryukhin's death in a 2007 trial, but Tikhonov escaped arrest and went into hiding. He was detained along with his girlfriend, Khasis, in 2009, months after Markelov's shooting. The two requested sanction to marry while in pretrial detention, but the investigators denied the request, allegedly believing it an attempt by suspects to gain good publicity ahead of the trial. Tikhonov, who was on the run from the law over Ryukhin's murder, admitted Monday to charges of use of forged documents and illegal firearms possession, but denied killing the lawyer and the reporter. Tikhonov also admitted that he had no alibi for the day of the 2009 shooting, but said killing Markelov was pointless, because charges in Ryukhin's murder were levied by police, not the lawyer.
© The Moscow Times
ULTRA-NATIONALIST SERB LEADER DENIES EXPOSING WITNESSES
22/2/2011- Ultra-nationalist Serb leader Vojislav Seselj on Tuesday denied accusations that he identified protected prosecution witnesses in his war crimes trial. "I never revealed the identities of protected witnesses," Seselj told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where he is standing trial for contempt or court. "It was the witnesses themselves who revealed their identities. They gave me their permission to reveal the truth," Seselj said, claiming the witnesses had lied and made up evidence against him. On the sidelines of his main trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, this is Seselj's second contempt case for putting protected witnesses at risk. The 56-year-old stands accused of having published the real names, occupations and addresses of 11 witnesses in a book he authored, in violation of a court order. "I wanted to show that certain witnesses are false witnesses, and to prove it," Seselj told the court. "My only aim was to unmask the office of the prosecutor." In July 2009, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison for identifying another three protected witnesses. His subsequent appeal was rejected. Contempt of the ICTY carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a 100,000 euro (132,000 dollar) fine. Seselj went on trial in November 2006 for his alleged role in the persecution of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serbs and their expulsion from areas of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia between 1991 and 1994.
© Expatica News