NEWS - Archive April 2011

Headlines 29 April, 2011


28/4/2011- Disturbing news from Tirana, the capital city of Albania, where a house jointly occupied by five trans people and a Roma family of seven members (five of whom were minors) was deliberately set on fire in the early hours of last Wednesday, 27 April. Thankfully all twelve occupants are alive and well, although the house is no longer habitable.

The following Press Release has been issued by Pink Embassy in response:
PINK Embassy, an organization that works to protect the rights of LGBT community in Albania, would like to express its concern about an event that happened today morning, on 27 April 2011, where the of five transgender people seriously was put at risk because the house where they stood was set on fire by unknown persons. The transgender people were housed in an abandoned house in Durres Road, adjacent to the building of the former Yugoslav Embassy in Tirana. Around 4:30 am, they were being alerted by smoke and flames, which had blocked almost all entry-exit points of the house. In the same house lived a Roma family of seven members five of whom were minors.

Although fortunately there were no casualties, the transgender community believes that the act of vandalism was committed by a group of homophobes, which should have previously identified their location. The police and firemen arrived on the scene immediately to extinguish the fire and give first aid to the victims. However, the Tirana Police Authority at the time of preparation of this statement had not issued any press release about the event. Hate crimes are severely punished throughout the civilized world and Albania cannot make an exception to this. The event in question shows once again that, while Albania has adopted the Law against Discrimination, the life and dignity of the trans-gender community continues not to be respected and put at risk.

The fact that the Transgender community have not been provided, nor by the Municipality of Tirana or by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, with any opportunity for housing, employment and security, indicates that homophobia is rooted in the mentality of governance in Albania. This is unacceptable for us! The life and dignity of every transgender person is equal with that of every Albanian citizen!

Taking into consideration this event, we would like to urge the Municipality of Tirana and the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, to react against this act, while provide transgender community in the shortest possible way the completion of their minimum rights for security, housing and food. These rights expect an urgent response thus we expect immediate actions by the Albanian public institutions. Such episodes damage community life in particular and society in general. Human rights are equal for everyone.
© Bird of Paradox (blog)



29/4/2011- Over the past decade, we’ve observed a disturbing pattern of threats and assaults against human rights activists in the Russian Federation. Perpetrators of these heinous acts have been rarely brought to justice, and we still don’t know who is responsible for the murders of Natalya Estimirova, Anna Politkovskaya, or Magomed Yevloyev. Last night, however, a divided jury issued a guilty verdict against Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgeniya Khasis, the neo-Nazi couple accused of murdering Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova in downtown Moscow on January 19, 2009. Seven jurors found the defendants guilty, and the forthcoming sentencing could yield a life imprisonment for Tikhonov and as many as 20 years behind the bars for Khasis.

Markelov, a human rights defender, lawyer and founder of the Rule of Law Institute, and Baburova, a young freelance reporter working for Novaya Gazeta, were fatally shot after leaving a press conference. Markelov, who is a well-known and respected figure in Russia’s human rights community, represented victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya, independent journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya and Igor Domnikov, as well as victims of neo-Nazi violence. Anastasia Baburova wrote about street protests, demonstrations, youth movements, and high-profile court cases, including the latest ruling against Russian skinhead violence. Human Rights First, joined by some 1,400 of our supporters, appealed to President Medvedev, calling on the Russian authorities to carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the murder of Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov, and to find and prosecute those responsible.

Tikhonov and Khasis are well-known figures on the ultranationalist scene in Moscow. At the end of last year, the neo-Nazi movement demonstrated its potential as a viable threat to public stability and an aggressive opponent to the Russian government. In December 2010, ultranationalist groups were able to quickly mobilize thousands of supporters to spread xenophobic rhetoric and rally in downtown areas, committing a slew of violent acts against ethnic minorities encountered by the angry mobs in the streets and on the subway. Trials of alleged organizers are set to begin later this year.
© Human Rights First



The party may be intensifying its creed of xenophobia to tackle the more popular N-VA

28/4/2011- When the Belgian government collapsed a year ago, a deputy from the extreme-right Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) party was heard to utter “long live free Flanders, may Belgium die” as parliament dissolved before the general election. Vlaams Belang pursues independence for the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium with a xenophobic, anti-immigration, law-and-order slant. The party says Belgian mosques are a recruiting ground for “jihad warriors” and that the country is an “operating base of Islamic fundamentalism”. A poster for its recent congress showed a white sheep kicking a red sheep emblazoned with the insignia from the Turkish and Moroccan flags from ground covered by European flags. The party won the support of almost one-in-five voters in the Flanders region as recently as 2007 but its electoral fortunes ebbed last year in the face of a ground swell of support for the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a stridently pro-independence party which does not pursue hard-right dogma favoured by Vlaams Belang. Led by Bruno Valkeniers, who started his career as a commercial manager in the port of Antwerp, Vlaams Belang has long been linked with parties such as the National Front in France, Austria’s Freedom Party, the Northern League in Italy and Switzerland’s UDC.

Other Belgian parties have kept Vlaams Belang out of national power via a political cordon sanitaire , a policy Vlaams Belang spokesman Yannick De Ruyter describes as “absolutely unjustified and undemocratic”. Still, the onward march of the N-VA demonstrates the increasing potency of the independence agenda in Flanders. This flows from mounting frustration at huge fiscal transfers from prosperous Flanders to the less-wealthy French-speaking region of Wallonia. Vlaams Belang won about 13 per cent of the Flemish vote in the election last June, the N-VA surged to some 30 per cent and a smaller separatist party, Lijst Dedecker, won about 4 per cent. Belgian politics has been in a funk ever since. Despite months of endless talks, the country’s leaders have not agreed a formula to share power. This has raised renewed fears for the unitary Belgian state, with senior figures in diplomatic circles saying the country could disintegrate within a decade. While many Flemish voters shy away the Vlaams Belang brand of extreme-right radicalism, local analysts believe the party is stepping up its xenophobic rhetoric in a bid to appeal to core supporters who might otherwise follow the N-VA.

In a country with a rising Muslim population, however, the immigration debate is not without resonance in mainstream politics. On both sides of the linguistic divide, there is near-unanimous support for a ban on the public wearing of headscarves such as the burka and niqab. Vlaams Belang was established in 2004 after the Belgian high court ruled that its predecessor, Vlaams Bloc, was “racist”. The party disbanded and its leaders immediately formed Vlaams Belang with a policy platform little different to that of Vlaams Bloc. Mr Valkeniers says Vlaams Bloc “always inspired” him. However, Mr De Ruyter maintains the Vlaams Belang programme has “absolutely nothing to do” with racism: “We are a nationalist party with firm policies on immigration and criminality which is not afraid to call things by their name. “The best example of our party programme not being racist is the fact that in countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark, several of our policies – minaret ban, strict immigration requirements, ban on ritual slaughter . . . have been adopted or are part of the government programme.” Vlaams Belang wants a “solid immigration stop”, saying “thousands of illegal aliens and so-called asylum seekers” enter the country each year. “Foreigners from Islamic descent clearly have large difficulties to adapt to our western lifestyle. In some cases, there is no adaptation at all,” its policy programme says.

“These people’s cultures differ greatly from our culture, especially when it comes to values such as the equality of men and women, freedom of speech and the separation of church and state, which are basic principles in our western democracy.” The party accuses successive governments of brushing aside a “massive overrepresentation of immigrants” in crime statistics. “Over 40 per cent of the inmates in Belgium are of foreign nationality. On top of that is the fact that a lot of prisoners have obtained the Belgian nationality through naturalisation, which is not taken in consideration when calculating the statistics.” Vlaams Belang also opposes Turkey’s long-stalled accession to the EU. “On a geographical, historical, cultural and religious basis, Turkey has nothing in common with Europe.”
© The Irish Times



29/4/2011- Denouncing Turkey's bid to join the European Union, demanding first World War reparations from Ankara and ranting about the Roma the far--right Ataka party is the most strident voice in Bulgarian politics. Although it was officially founded only a few months before the 2005 general election, Ataka claimed more than 8 per cent of votes in the ballot and secured 21 seats in parliament, a position it consolidated in 2009 polls. Ataka is the creation of Volen Siderov, who first attracted a public following with a television programme of the same name, in which he blamed many of Bulgaria's ills on its ethnic-Turkish minority, its large Roma community and the corruption and venality of mainstream politicians. Rights groups have accused him of virulent anti-Semitism, but Siderov describes Ataka's outlook as "defensive nationalism . . . an immune system saving the nation from extinction". The approach has not only given Ataka a significant presence in the Bulgarian assembly but won it two seats in the European Parliament, where one of its representatives raised hackles with an allegedly racist and sexist e-mail about a Roma MEP in 2006. That was the year Siderov came to greater international attention, when he made it into a presidential election run-off with ultimate winner Georgi Parvanov, an event many people likened to Jean Marie Le Pen's 2002 challenge to Jacques Chirac in France. There are suggestions that Ataka's star may now be on the wane, however. Much of its anti-corruption thunder has been stolen by Gerb, the new ruling party run by tough-talking former bodyguard Boiko Borisov, who now enjoys the broad support of Ataka's MPs. Some analysts wonder whether Siderov is trying to win Borisov's backing for another crack at the presidency in this autumn's election but, in the meantime, polls show support for Ataka has tumbled to just 3 per cent.

In neighbouring Romania, the Siderov/Le Pen-style challenge to the political elite was posed way back in 2000 by ultra-nationalist Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the Greater Romania Party. A former "court poet" of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Tudor became a prominent political figure in the 1990s. His appeals to national pride and patriotism and denunciation of Romania's large Roma and ethnic-Hungarian minorities struck a chord in a country that struggled with poverty, instability and deep social divisions after its 1989 revolution. The Greater Romania Party was ousted from the national assembly in 2008 elections but, a year later, Tudor did win a seat in the European Parliament alongside uneasy ally Gigi Becali, a scandal-plagued businessman infamous for insulting Jews, Gypsies and Hungarians among many others. They appeal to some voters as mavericks but do not form a unified political force. Some experts say the weakness of radical parties in Romania is due partly to the fact mainstream parties accommodate views that would be considered extreme elsewhere, such as a strong moral conservatism, deep reverence for the Orthodox Church and antipathy towards minority groups like Roma, gays and lesbians. "Nationalism is not as strong as it was in the 1990s . . . and populism is so mainstream that the nationalists are being squeezed out" said Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, president of the Romanian Academic Society.
© The Irish Times



27/4/2011- A Żabbar man who posted comments on The Times’ news portal last year was found guilty of inciting racial hatred. In what is considered to be a rare case of its type, Lawrence Galea, 63, was conditionally discharged for two years over remarks made in reaction to a news story entitled ‘Project to integrate regular migrants launched’, published in March last year, and in reaction to comments by other readers. He had posted several comments such as: “Wake up to the realities of what multiculturalism has done and is doing to other countries and their natural citizens”, “I am disgusted how the government is doing absolutely nothing to prevent the takeover of MY country by foreigner settlers and illegal immigrants”, “Third country nationals have no right to emigrate to Malta”, and “Integration over our dead bodies. Leave now because you shall have to leave later whether you like it or not”. About two years ago parliament approved amendments to the Criminal Code with the aim of strengthening the fight against xenophobia and racism. The Code refers to: “Violence or hatred against a group of persons in Malta defined by reference to colour, race, religion, descent, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins or against a member of such a group.” The amendments had widened the definition of xenophobic and racial hatred, and punishments had been increased by one to two degrees for offences that are racially or religiously motivated.
© The Malta Independent



28/4/2011- The far right group the Scottish Defence League is to march through Berwick ahead of a rally in the town on Saturday, April 30. The group, an offshoot of the English Defence League, has made police aware of its plans, which include marching from Berwick railway station to The Parade, where a short rally will be held. Police have said that it will be ‘business as usual’ for shops and pubs in Berwick, although there may be ‘minor disruption’ caused by temporary rolling road closures put in place for the march. Chief Supt Mark Dennett, Northumberland Area Commander, said: “Public safety is our absolute priority and our aim at all times is to allow these events to pass off peacefully with the minimum of disruption. “We’ve been in close contact with the organisers of the event to ensure this happens. “We have extensive experience in policing events of this nature and have the necessary skills and resources to manage what will be a busy bank holiday weekend. “But we recognise the impact such events have on local communities and appreciate some people may be concerned. I want to reassure them we’ll maintain their safety across the town that day.” A police spokesperson said that anywhere from 60 to 150 people were expected to meet at around noon at the railway station before heading to The Parade for the short rally. Berwick Trades Union Council will have a presence in the town on Saturday, with a stall outside the Town Hall, where members will be handing out anti-fascist leaflets to the public.
© The Berwick Advertiser



A Roman Catholic charity has lost its latest appeal against equality laws which allow gay couples to use adoption services.

27/4/2011- Catholic Care, run by the Diocese of Leeds, argued it would have to give up its adoption service if it was not made exempt from the law. The case has already been rejected by the High Court last year and the Charity Commission. Now the Charity Tribunal has dismissed the charity's appeal.
The tribunal said it would be "a loss to society" if the charity stopped its adoption service but said it was "by no means certain" this would happen.

'Balance the risk'
It said it had to balance the risk of the service closing against the "detriment to same-sex couples and the detriment to society generally of permitting the discrimination proposed". The charity argued that its stance attracted potential adopters who did not approach other agencies. It told the tribunal that same-sex couples could get adoption services from local authorities and other voluntary agencies and said failure to secure the exemption would hit the voluntary donations which keep it afloat. The Bishop of Leeds, the Right Reverend Arthur Roche, told the tribunal that he believed the law should respect the Roman Catholic church's views on the issue in the same way that it allowed churches not to have to bless civil partnerships. The tribunal also said there was no evidence, except for the bishop's opinion, that donated income would be hit. It said it had heard expert evidence which contradicted the charity's case that, if it were to close, children would be left unadopted. It said other Roman Catholic charities had found alternative means of operating since the law changed. Rt Rev Roche said: "Catholic Care is very disappointed with this ruling."  Laura Doughty, the deputy chief executive of the gay equality charity Stonewall, said it applauded the decision.
© BBC News



Extremists, civic activists plan rival marches for May 1

27/4/2011- Brno is set to be the scene of a tense confrontation between extremist supporters and counter-demonstrators, with three rival protests organized in the city May 1. Workers Youth (DM), a group that is linked to the extremist Workers Party of Social Justice (DSSS), has scheduled a march through central Brno against what it calls "an invasion of foreign workers and the exodus of our people."  Brno City Council's National Minority Committee has said that while the rally is officially an extremist youth event, it believes the protest will turn into a wider gathering of extremists from around the country and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. The march will start in Koliště Park between the Brno House of Arts (Dům umění) and the Zemanova Café, continuing down Cejl street and returning to the park along Merhautova and Milady Horákové streets. A counter-demonstration by the "We Don't Want Neo-Nazis in Brno Initiative" is slated to take place in an area encircled by the route of the DM march. A second initiative known as the Brno Blocks (Brno blokuje) is also planning to stage a protest against the DM march that organizers describe as a "nonviolent but very firm stance against neo-Nazism and racism." "We have strong signals that a lot of people are going to join our nonviolent blockade," Jiří Koželouh, spokesman for the Brno Blocks, told The Prague Post, adding he estimated up to 1,000 people would join the demonstration to "stand up against neo-Nazism." "Considering the past and present of the Nazi movement, we regard the [DM] march as a deliberate attempt to spread fear and xenophobia," he said. "More and more celebrities are expressing support for this nonviolent blockade," he added.

Singer Iva Bittová, fashion designer Liběna Rochová, author Ivan Klíma, bands Midi Lidi and Čoko Voko, TV host Jan Kraus, Thai boxing champion Jan Müller, philosopher Erazim Kohák and actors Jiří Kniha, Jiří Vyorálek and Simona Babčáková have all expressed their support for the blockade. In a statement adding his support, Erik Tabery, editor-in-chief of the weekly Respekt, said, "It is in all our interests to protect those who are most vulnerable, because harm done to them is just a precursor to the harm that will be visited upon us next. Let's think of ourselves and stand up to the neo-Nazis." Koželouh conceded that the blockade was not an officially registered protest "due to the current wording of the law," but stressed he believed the demonstration was very much legitimate. "In such a situation, we view a nonviolent civil blockade as an adequate answer to the inability or unwillingness of the police, courts, authorities and politicians to effectively face marches of hate," he said. "People have the right to stand up for the jeopardized Roma residents and the right to draw attention to the fact that the dissemination of fear and hatred cannot be ignored," he added. This lack of official designation was what led police to mount a physical intervention against another counter-demonstration in protest of an extremist march in the town of Krupka last month.

Koželouh also admitted May 1 had often seen protests end in violence in recent years, including two such incidents in Brno in the past four years, but laid the blame squarely upon the extremists, whose marches he said were always "a security hazard for all other people." "But we hope that May 1, 2011, will be free of accidents, and that neo-Nazis will have no opportunity or courage to commit violence against people," he said. At subsequent talks with city officials, DM representatives yielded in part to requests from city officials to scale back their desired march route, Brno City Hall registrar secretary Pavel Loutocký said. The group, however, declined to make greater adjustments to their protest, Loutocký told news site April 22, and their march will still run through areas of the city where many Roma live. Police President Petr Lessy has meanwhile vowed to mount a large-scale police operation to prevent violent clashes between the demonstrations.
© The Prague Post



Jews and Russians decry homage to second World War veterans but defenders say Latvians fought not for fascism but to restore their sovereignty

29/4/2011- On March 16th every year, a dwindling band of Latvians who fought alongside German troops in the second World War carry flags and flowers to Riga’s revered Freedom Monument. Many foreigners are shocked to see Nazi “allies” honoured in such a way, while on the fringes of the event, far-right Latvians hail the veterans and trade volleys of abuse with ethnic-Russian nationalists who claim the march glorifies a band of murderous fascists. The day is a nightmare for Latvia’s leaders, who fret not only over security issues but the surge in media coverage that it brings to the small Baltic state – little if any of it favourable. Criticism comes from an unlikely chorus of voices, from Jewish groups to the Russian government, which denounce this homage to a Latvian unit of the Waffen SS and claim it offers a glimpse of a seething nationalism at the country’s heart. Latvians reject such suggestions. They insist most of the legionnaires were conscripted, and those who joined willingly did so to fight the Soviets, who had brutally occupied the Baltic states in 1940. They say the legion fought not for fascism but to restore Latvian sovereignty, and did not commit atrocities against Jews – although some of its members had done so before joining. Moreover, most Latvians are adamant that the ultra-nationalists who jostle on the margins of the parade represent a tiny sliver of society, a belief supported by the minor role played by far-right parties in the politics of Latvia – and those of its Baltic neighbours, Lithuania and Estonia.

“I wouldn’t link the march to extremism, though in recent years it has become the day when all our ‘loonies’ come out – both Latvian far-right supporters and Russian nationalists,” said Nils Muiznieks, chair of the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. “Recent surveys suggest only 5-6 per cent of the Latvian population are proud of the legion. “The far-right has tried to turn them into heroes, but they are not widely seen that way,” he said. Even the National Alliance – which includes the nationalist All for Latvia party and holds eight of parliament’s 100 seats – is relatively moderate and has expelled members for making anti-Semitic remarks, Muiznieks said. “By European standards extremism is very weak in Latvia,” he added. Moscow complains of discrimination against large Russian-speaking communities in Latvia and Estonia, and cites it as evidence of Baltic nationalism, also citing the European Union’s failure to deal with it. But there are signs ethnic divisions may be weakening. The Harmony Centre party, which emphasises a multi-ethnic agenda, is now Latvia’s second largest party, and Riga has its first mayor from a Russian-speaking family, Nils Usakovs. Gay activists still regularly face legal problems and threats of violence in organising pride marches in the Baltic states, however. “These societies are very conservative,” said Muiznieks. “And Latvia’s right-wing loonies are very active on this issue – as are its Russian-speaking loonies.”
© The Irish Times



28/4/2011- Latvian Finance Minister Andris Vilks said Thursday he did not expect a wave of mass emigration with the opening up next month of the German and Austrian labour markets to workers from the east. 'I do not believe that tens of thousands of people will leave,' Vilks told the Latvian daily Diena. Germany and Austria will loosen their rules on migrant workers on May 1. Vilks said there wouldn't be a repeat of the situation after Latvia's accession to the European Union in 2004, when large numbers of Latvians relocated to Britain and Ireland. The minister's comments came the day after a special briefing by the Foreign Ministry as part of an attempt to provide accurate information for Latvian workers seeking work in Germany. Foreign Ministry official Andris Teikmanis warned against scams designed to take advantage of workers desperate to escape Latvia's double-digit unemployment. 'Don't just buy a ticket and hope to find a job or you could easily find yourself on the streets,' he said. Officials stressed the need to acquire German language skills and to take care of complex paperwork, including residency and tax details. Migrant workers were also warned that they would face tough competition for jobs. 'It's important to remember that in Germany and Austria as well there are 3 million people without work,' said Teikmanis.


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