NEWS - Archive September 2011

Headlines 30 September, 2011

30/9/2011- Migrants whose rights are being breached are scared to speak up and start legal proceedings as they fear it would work against them, according to Neil Falzon, the director of immigrant NGO Aditus. When, for example, a migrant left an open centre with no work permit he ended up working on the black market. Reporting abuse would expose the illegality of his work that was essential for him to get by and pay rent. Various immigrant NGOs yesterday voiced their concern about the situation during a training seminar organised by Aditus, the UN Refugee Agency and International Commission of Jurists. The seminar focused on the accessibility of rights to migrants. These include rights to an adequate standard of living and housing, social security and non-discrimination. During discussion time NGO representatives pointed out that the current system allowed migrants to leave open centres without work permits.

This was compounded by inadequate housing facilities that often gave migrants no choice other than to work illegally to have a roof over their head. The situation was even more precarious for women with children who could not afford to pay for day care to be able to go to work. This sometimes forced them into prostitution. If migrants felt their rights were being breached in detention, or while living in open centres, they often did not want to speak up for fear of upsetting the authorities they depended on. NGO representatives said one of the major problems in dealing with migrants was that unlike other vulnerable groups they had no political clout and could, therefore, not exert political pressure on policymakers. A representative from the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality said it did not receive many complaints from migrants. The commission needed to spread awareness among them to ensure they knew about its role.
© The Times of Malta



30/9/2011- Police launched a probe here Friday over a "Jihad" banner displayed by fans of Polish club Legia Warsaw during a Europa League match against Israeli side Hapoel Tel Aviv. "We are investigating. We are due to meet with the match organisers and club representatives," said Warsaw police spokesman Maciej Karczynski. No-one had so far filed a formal legal complaint, he told Poland's PAP news agency, which said officers were seeking to establish whether displaying the banner was criminal. At the start of Thursday night's Group C home game in Warsaw -- which Legia won 3-2 -- a group of fans unfurled a huge banner across three blocks of a stand. Written in Arabic-style letters, it read "Jihad Legia". "Jihad", an Arabic term which can mean "holy war", is used in the name of several fiercely anti-Israeli Islamist groups. The banner was green, which is one of Legia's colours but also that of Islamist organisations. The slogan was used in the past when hardline Legia's fans were locked in a bitter conflict with the club's owners, but campaigners said the meaning was all too clear at a game involving an Israeli team. "This is yet another case of anti-Semitic behaviour by extremist groups active in Polish football stadiums, and it could have been predicted," Rafal Pankowski of the Warsaw-based campaign group Never Again told AFP.

"Some Legia fans have been known for anti-Semitic and extreme-right behaviour for years and they had a chance to express their hatred of Jews again when Legia played an Israeli team, this time adopting a pseudo-Islamist guise," said Pankowski, who also runs a regional monitoring unit for the UEFA-backed Football Against Racism in Europe network. Miroslaw Starczewski, deputy head of security at Poland's PZPN football association, said Legia could be hit hard by UEFA, European football's governing body. Under its disciplinary rules, UEFA could levy a fine of up to one million euros ($1.3 million). "Legia should pay the price for this. A fine is the most likely penalty. And UEFA may even ban Legia fans from the second leg in Tel Aviv," Starczewski told the daily Gazeta Wyborcza. Legia's away game in the Israeli city is scheduled for December 15. Club spokesman Michal Kocieba said Legia were also investigating. "We certainly didn't approve the display of this banner," he said. Stadium racism and hooliganism are in sharp focus in Poland ahead of the 2012 European Championships, which the country will host along with neighbouring Ukraine. Far-right and anti-Semitic banners and slogans are notably shocking given the region's World War II history, when millions perished at the hands of occupying Nazi Germany, including the overwhelming majority of its Jews.



30/9/2011- The Serbian LGBT pride march Parada Ponosa, due to take place on Sunday in the capital, was banned today by the National Security Council. The Council announced it would forbid the pride march, as well as three far-right counter-protests that were planned tomorrow and Sunday. Members of the European Parliament and Vincent Degert, Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, had called earlier for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly to be respected despite threats of violence from several extreme-right groups. Organised groups repeatedly threatened large-scale physical violence in and around Belgrade, should the pride go ahead. Last year 150 police officers and members of the public sustained injuries; 250 arrests were made; and authorities acknowledged over 1M€-worth of damages to public property. Explaining why they banned all planned events, the National Security Council cited the incapacity of police forces to cope with such confrontations. At the time of writing, it is not clear whether organisers will still attempt to go ahead and hold the pride.

Ulrike Lunacek MEP, Co-President of the LGBT Intergroup and substitute member of the South Eastern Europe delegation, reacted: “I deeply regret that Serbian citizens will not be able to march for tolerance, acceptance and equality on Sunday. Serbian authorities have a duty to care for everyone’s safety, but it is profoundly disturbing that the leadership of a country seeking EU candidate status and membership—supported by a majority in the European Parliament—feel incapable of providing such safety for all citizens.” “The government has to be much, much stricter towards extremists whipping up violence in the country . A society that cannot express itself for fear of violence is not a free, democratic society.”

From Belgrade, Jelko Kacin MEP, European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia’s accession and member of the LGBT Intergroup, added: “The decision to ban Pride Parade is a sovereign decision of the Serbian Government and the National Security Council. I receive such a decision with deep regret; as a matter of fact, it deprives citizens of the constitutional and legal right to free expression and peaceful assembly. A state seeking to access the EU must guarantee the human rights of its citizens. I have come to Belgrade to give my full support the pride’s organisers.” In a June 2011 report, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg had highlighted strong public opposition to LGBT pride events in Serbia. The European Parliament will take note of this weekend’s events in its upcoming accession report for Serbia, planned for early 2012.

© The European Parliament's Intergroup on LGBT Rights



Serbian authorities banned a gay rights parade in Belgrade on Sunday as well as all other public gatherings this weekend fearing a repeat of the violence at last year's event.

30/9/2011- "The ban was issued in line with the law on public gatherings which prescribes such a measure in cases of probable disruption of public transport, threats to public health or safety of people and property," Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said on Friday. Traditionally conservative societies across the Balkans have been slow to accept open homosexuality and many gay rights events in the region have ended in violence. Another government official said that Serbia's National Security Council, comprised of heads of police, security agencies, the military and President Boris Tadic, ordered police to cancel the event after security assessments indicated "extremely serious security threats." "Our intelligence indicated hooligans are poised to attack gay activists, police, media, offices of political parties, foreign businesses, embassies and burn cars," the official said.

Goran Miletic, a human rights activist and an organizer of the pride parade, condemned the decision as a capitulation to hooligans, but said the rally would not go ahead. "We are shocked," he said. "With this the state capitulated ... a democratic state should be able to guarantee two hours of security to its citizens." More than 100 policemen were injured last year and dozens of right-wing activists were arrested after trying to disrupt the parade. Rioters attacked offices of the ruling coalition parties, set ablaze the headquarters of Tadic's Democratic Party and caused widespread damage across the capital Belgrade. Interior Minister Dacic, who heads the ruling Socialists, said the gay pride event posed a major security risk for ordinary people, property and police. "Police will not allow gatherings because if it does, there will be conflicts, casualties, blood and chaos," he said.

Dacic said as many as 5,000 security personnel including anti-riot units, plainclothes agents and mounted police would be needed to ensure security around the parade.
Cedomir Jovanovic, the head of the pro-Western opposition Liberal Democrats, said the ban "demonstrates the government's cowardice and weakness." Serbia must demonstrate its readiness to protect human rights to boost its European Union membership bid. But its society has deeply conservative elements resistant to change.
Irinej, the patriarch of the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, labeled the gay pride event as the "parade of shame." "I would call this pestilence a parade of shame which is smearing human dignity and the holiness of life and family. I have an impression it was (to be) staged to hide and overshadow the tragic suffering of Serbs in Kosovo," Irinej said. More than a dozen Serbs and four NATO peacekeepers were injured this week in clashes over a contested border crossing in Kosovo's tense and predominantly Serb north.
© Reuters



Nationalists have announced a "family walk" in Belgrade one day before Gay Pride at which they will also demand the resignation of Serbia's President.

27/9/2011- Under the slogan "For a life without humiliation," the far-right group Dveri Srpske (Serbian Doors) has called on people who believe in family values to gather in Belgrade on October 1, a day ahead of the Gay Pride Parade. The exact route of the march is yet to be revealed. In the past few weeks, Dveri activists have collected several thousand signatures calling on the Serbian authorities to cancel the parade. The government has ignored the petition. "Their ignorance might begin the kind of scenario we have seen North Africa," Vladan Glisic warned, referring to the popular uprisings against the regimes in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. "The Family Walk will not only be a warning for the regime not to hold the gay parade, but will represent a call for the resignation of President Boris Tadic," Glisic continued. Dveri, which is well known for its hostility to gay marches, describes the whole movement for gay and lesbian rights as "a totalitarian ideology promoting homosexuality that attacks family values​​".

According to Glisic, the aim of the family march is to show "the strength of Serbian people in the fight for real, family values". But by holding their walk a day ahead of the gay march, Dveri activists want to avoid blame for any riots that occur on the streets of Belgrade on the day of the parade. Last October's parade, the first since 2001, ended in mayhem as stone-throwing anti-gay youths clashed with police. Rightist groups enjoy strong popular support in their campaign against gay rights. According to a recent poll, 60 per cent of high school students in Serbia admit to holding homophobic views, only slightly less than the 70 per cent of students who adnit to holding similar attitudes towards Roma. The research was carried out by Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia on a sample of 630 high school students from Belgrade, Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, Nis, Novi Pazar and Krusevac.
© Balkan Insight



As far-right groups muster counter-rallies timed to coincide with Gay Pride, some police unions are threatening to boycott providing security for the controversial march planned for October 2.

29/9/2011- Several Serbian far-right organisations have announced rival rallies on the day of the gay parade on October 2, raising fears of street disturbances on the same scale as last year's parade - or worse. One group, "Obraz" ["Cheek"], whose leader Mladen Obradovic was sentenced to two years in prison for organising riots at the 2010 Belgrade Pride Parade, is planning a "prayer walk", starting with a service at the Serb Orthodox Church cathedral of St Sava. From there the group supposed to walk to the old Saborna church, in the heart of the old city. Obradovic, who has been released from custody until his final verdict, claims that several Serbian Orthodox priests are supporting Obraz but he insists that the "prayer walk" is not going to be violent. “This is a peaceful gathering, a gathering of Orthodox believers, so the possibility of incidents is excluded,” Obradovic told Balkan Insight.

Another far-right organisation, Nasi Srbija [Serbia is Ours], formerly called Nasi 1389, after the date of a famous battle, has decided to join the "prayer walk". Nasi Srbija will also organise gatherings at four locations around Belgrade. According to one leader of this group, Misa Vacic, his organisation will organise interactive workshops promoting traditional values on Terazije and in front of the buildings of the Serbian parliament, government and the President's office. Vacic says Serbian patriots must be allowed to express their views and that if the police allow them their constitutional rights of free assembly, there will be no violence. “We are appalled when our city suffers an injustice. Serbia must show it has tolerance also for those who are against gay pride,” Vacic said.

Another far-right group, Dveri Srpske (Serbian Doors) has already called on people who believe in family values to gather in Belgrade on October 1, a day ahead of the Gay Pride Parade. On the day of their parade, this organisation will launch a petition for a dismissal of Serbian President, Boris Tadic, in dozen Serbian towns but not the capital. “We won’t be collecting signatures in Belgrade, as we want to avoid any risk of violence,” Dveri Srpske spokesman told Balkan Insight. More worrying than these trailed "family value" rallies are reports that other unnamed groups are planning serious violence. The leader of Serbia's Independent Police Union, Momcilo Vidojevic, said police had obtained information that some rightists are preparing an operation under the alarming codename "Belgrade in flames" for October 2.

“According to our intelligence, hooligans are planning to hold destructive protests in all Belgrade municipalities and in some other Serbian towns,” Vidojevic said on Tuesday. It is still not clear how many police officers will be securing the parade. Vidojevic said he will decide whether to call on members of his union to boycott the parade by Saturday. He said the police was not adequately equipped for such potentially violent events. Other police unions say they will do their duty. “Every police officer decided to perform his tasks when he joined the police, so we will all go out and do our duty. But it’s ungracious of the authorities to assign tasks for which we are not equipped,” Velimir Barbulov, leader of another union, the Independent Union of Police, said.

The biggest police union, the Police Union of Serbia, previously called gay pride organisers to postpone the parade, but the Union president, Veljko Mijailovic, says his members will also obey their orders. Mijailovic said an event carrying such a big risk of violence, such as gay pride, demands large number of officers, which is difficult when at the same time police are being tasked with securing the area around the Kosovo border. Regardless of all the various threats, Gay Pride organisers are not considering cancellation. “That was never an option,” Goran Miletic, one of the organisers, told Balkan Insight. “The problem with violence is constant here. Cancellation of the parade will not solve it,” Miletic added.
© Balkan Insight



Serbia’s biggest police union says gay march poses a danger to public order - but marchers say they have no intention of calling it off now.

24/9/2011- Serbia's biggest police union has piled pressure on the organizers of a forthcoming Gay Pride parade in Belgrade, questioning whether police have the manpower to protect the marchers. The union raised eyebrows by holding a joint press conference with a far-right organization, Dveri Srpske, on Thursday, where they issued a joint statement complaining about the planned march. "We consider that holding a gay parade poses an unnecessary danger to public order and the security of property and jeaopordizes the lives of both citizens and police," the joint statement read. Dveri has said it plans to hold an alternative march on October 2, devoted to promoting family values. “We don’t have anything against the parade but do we really need another crisis?” the special advisor to the president of the police union, Niksa Nikodinovic, told Balkan Insight. “Considering the country's financial crisis and the situation in Kosovo, we can’t pull out thousands of men to protect a hundred participants of the Parade,” he added. “Last year the city of Belgrade spent 1 million euro repairing the damages after the parade,” the advisor continued.

In last year's parade, some 200 police were injured in riots as hooligans and right-wing extremists attempted to attack the marchers. The police union is the biggest police union in Serbia, with more than 15,000 members. Meanwhile, Ivica Dacic, the Interior Minister, went one step further than the police on Friday, saying: “It would be better if the Parade was not held.” ‘The police always pay the highest price, not only financially, but also in terms of injuries,” he added. However, the minister cautioned that it was not up to the police to decide whether such an event should be held. Goran Miletic, one of the organizers of the Parade, told Balkan Insight that they had no intention of backing down and calling off the march on October 2. “I hear statements like this every day and I will probably hear them every time we have a Parade for the next 10 years,” he said. Miletic said the Pride Parade committee had already obtained official permission from the government to go ahead. “We also have promises from the police that they will provide security at the day of the event,” he added. “The police are obliged by law to provide security and maintain public order at any time. It would be terrible if the police decided not to follow those rules. They are requirements in accordance with international standards.”

While the Parade is a high risk event in security terms, Serbia has little room for manoeuvre at a time when its fitness for EU candidate status is still being assessed. Dacic confirmed that the Serbian government had recently received a letter from the European Parliament saying that they were carefully following the proceedings surrounding the Pride Parade this year. Serbia expects official confirmation from Brussels about its EU candidacy in October.
© Balkan Insight



30/9/2011- On Tuesday, 27 September, two Romani children, a four-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl, were playing in the village of Ļurkov near Košice on the street in front of their home. A car pulled up in front of them with two men and two women inside. The driver went up to the children and slapped them with such force that they both fell into the gutter. Malvína Hanková, who is the mother of the little girl and the aunt of the little boy, informed the Romani Press Agency (Romská tisková agentura - RPA) of the incident. "I didn't see what happened myself because I was inside at the time, but the children were crying loudly. My sister's boy wet himself out of fear at that moment and my daughter has a bruise on her cheek. I asked the children what happened and my daughter told me that some 'uncle' got out of his car and yelled 'What are you doing here?' at them," Hanková said. "I was in shock. When the driver saw that we had come out in front of the house and that we are Romani, he called the police. We called the police too. A police patrol from the Bohdanoviec district arrived. They had no interest in listening to us, they just gave me a piece of paper and said I should take it with me when I take the children to the doctor for treatment."

Hanková went on to say that the unidentified driver who beat the children claimed to have done nothing to them but yell at them because they allegedly threw a rock at his car. However, his claim was refuted in front of the police patrol by a witness to the entire incident, a non-Romani neighbor, who said the driver was lying. The neighbor saw him beat the children and had shouted at him to stop. Hanková said police interrogated the driver immediately twice, out of earshot, but apparently did not give him a breath alcohol test. Police officers did not photograph any alleged damage to his car or any other material facts. Hanková then took the children to the emergency medical service in Košice and from there to the police department in Bohdanovec to file criminal charges. While she was making her statement, she was shocked when police officers asked whether her daughter could write in order to sign her name to her statement. The girl is seven years old and has been attending the first grade of elementary school for one month only, but she was able to write her first name. The police officer then asked her if her four-year-old son knows how to write. He also told Hanková the entire matter would be addressed in civil court, which she disagrees with. In her view, the entire incident occurred because her children are Romani and was a criminal assault on minors. The RPA requested a statement on the incident from the police corps in Košice, but no statement has yet been provided.
© Romea



28/9/2011- Swiss MPs have approved a far-right move to impose a ban on the burqa or other face coverings in some public places, including on public transport. With 101 votes against 77, the lower chamber of the house approved the motion, which was titled "masks off!", on Wednsday. The draft bill will still have to be examined by the upper chamber. Put forward by Oskar Freysinger, a politician of the Swiss far-right SVP party, the motion requires "anyone addressing a federal, cantonal or communal authority exercising his or her functions, to present themselves with their faces uncovered." Burqas would also be banned on public transport, while "authorities can ban or restrict access to public buildings to such individuals in order to guarantee the security of other users." Explaining the motion, Freysinger noted that "at a time when insecurity is growing in our streets, more and more people are hiding their faces behind a balaclava, a mask or a burqa. "This makes it impossible to identify these people, a fact that is particularly troublesome in case of violence or identity checks," he noted. France was the first European Union country to impose a ban on the burqa in public places, while Belgium joined it some months later. On September 16, the Dutch government also agreed to a ban on the full Islamic veil under a deal with the far-right party of the anti-immigration MP Geert Wilders.



The following is a translation of a speech written by Èenìk Rùžièka, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, for the occasion of the commemoration at the former concentration camp for Roma at Lety u Písku held in honor of the Day of Czech Statehood (28 September):

29/9/2011- Speaking as a survivor of the victims of Nazism who are rest here, I have the honor of welcoming you. We are standing at one of the places where events occurred during Nazism that marked us for our entire lives. Those events have been irrevocably engraved on our memories, reminders that are once again relevant today with respect to the currently exacerbated relations between the majority and the Romani minority in this country. Yes, esteemed Roma, this is the sacred site from which essential appeals must be heard. The words spoken here are dignified and important.

Today this place should be honored by reading the names of the Romani victims of racism who were murdered at the hands of Czech neo-Nazis after 1989. This makes for sad reading. When reading the names of innocent victims, our hearts ache, but given the rising aggression being committed against our people by our fellow citizens, it is even more important to read their names. Our appeal and our wish is that we will finally live in this country as free, respected people whose lives are not at risk.

I am one of those Roma whose entire families all but completely perished, for racist reasons, in the Nazi concentration camps. I know very well what a manipulated mob, as we have been watching live on television recently, is capable of. The Roma and Sinti, whose roots in the Czech lands are 600 years old, have had their own experiences with the Czech nation. Those who can remember the 1930s, who can remember the law that violated the constitutionally guaranteed equality of citizens and set up special police files on Roma and Sinti, banned our entry into selected towns, introduced special "Gypsy identification cards", ordered us to regularly report to police stations, and terrorized us in other ways - thank God, some of the people who lived through that are still alive.

The adoption of that law exacerbated society's anti-Roma sentiment even more, and those who were mayors then, like those who are mayors today, contributed to the aggravation. The end result was the behavior of the Czech camp guards toward our people in the Nazi concentration camps at Lety and Hodonín, where Czech guards tortured as many as 600 of our people, i.e., their fellow citizens. Of those victims, at Lety alone, 241 of them were children.

Romale, when I learned what happened to my people here at Lety, I could not believe my ears. Until the recent events that have taken place in Šluknov occurred, I continued to hope that somewhere in the archives we would discover documentation of the fact that the Czech guards had actually been ordered to work our people to death, instead of doing it on their own initiative. However, we really do not have time to do this work now. It's useless. We already know how far hatred of the Roma can go.

We know very well what kind of a hell the Czech guards prepared for our people at Lety and Hodonín. We know how hatefully a large part of the majority society treated them. Each one of us still experiences this day in and day out - at local authorities, on public transportation, in the shops and in the streets. It is merely a fortunate coincidence that the ongoing crusade against Romani families has not yet resulted in the very worst outcome of lives being lost.

Who can guarantee that similar pogroms against the Roma will not be repeated with even greater intensity in any part of our country, and with fundamentally worse outcomes? Who can guarantee that Romani individuals, concerned for the lives of their families, will not do something reckless? The tragedy of our people in this country has no end. Are the 20 racist murders of our people that have been committed during this new regime not enough?

We must count on the fact that the relationship of Czech bureaucrats and politicians to the Roma corresponds now and will correspond in future to the general relationship of Czech society toward the Romani community. Moreover, among a large part of high-level politicians, this relationship is even more dangerous and more hateful, because they are designing and passing the laws that influence our life. Take, for example, Czech MP Ivana Øápková (whose educational qualifications I will not list for reasons that are infamous). This celebrity star totally lacking in intellect, this woman who is compensating for her own deficiencies with her hatred of the Roma, this woman who has risen into the lower house by walking all over us. As you know, she is not alone on the political scene.

Romale, what will laws look like when they are designed and passed by people who utterly hate the Roma? They exploit the individual offenses of individual Romani people and intentionally base generalizations on those incidents which they then apply to an entire "category of people". They adopt repressive laws - mayoral decrees - and they are not thinking of the results of their behavior at all.

Can you imagine what would happen if we were faced with elections in the immediate future? These officials are able to behave this way because they have the support of a fundamental majority of right-wing politicians and they feel supported by a large part of the nation, i.e., by their voters.

Esteemed Roma, my question is: How much money does any family in this country require not to fall into the category of people below the poverty line? In the US, this amount is established at USD 22 000 annually, which is CZK 370 000. The social welfare system in this country is not as overgrown as politicians from right-wing political parties claim. In comparison with other EU Member States, it is rather modest. What defines the poverty category in this country? Someone needs to specify this. How much money does a family or individual have to make in order to not live below the poverty line?

The state cannot reject our arguments forever. The tragedy of the Roma in this country has no end. Both non-Roma and Romani mothers are afraid to let their children walk to and from school. Romani families are worried about what tomorrow holds for them.

I want to send all politicians a message from this place: If you continue to make life difficult for us by adopting decrees and laws while the cost of almost everything in this country keeps rising, you won't force us to leave as you hope. You will just create an army of homeless Romani families making their living somehow, and the voracious media are already making sure prejudice against us intensifies and inter-ethnic relationships radicalize.

An exacerbated situation will eventually arise to which the police will not be able to respond in time. There is a risk that human lives will be lost.

How loudly do we have to shout here for our arguments to be heard? There are journalists here, the television is here. Naturally, we will be grateful for their assistance in delivering this message.

Romale, we have lived in this country for centuries, we are living here, and we will live here whether anyone likes it or not. We want to live like free, respected people, a proud Romani nation - not like people who fear for their lives. We must remember the Romipen of our ancestors and practice it as ours - we must resurrect it once more. This is missing from our lives, and to a certain extent is the cause of the moral decline of some of our families.

I would like to say more about this, but there are others here who want to address you. As a Rom whose family members lie here, I thank you sincerely for the flowers, and I would truly prefer that we meet under happier circumstances.

Aèen devleha (God be with you).
© Romea


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