Headlines 27 July, 2012
Curing Russia's Xenophobia (opinion)
By Michael Bohm, opinion page editor of The Moscow Times.
27/7/2012- President Vladimir Putin must have smiled when he saw the results of a VTsIOM poll taken on July 15, in which 64 percent of respondents said they opposed foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations that are "politically active" in Russia. All of his hard work on the anti-Western propaganda front over the years seems to have paid off. Granted, Putin got a little help from VTsIOM itself, which explained to the respondents before they voted, most of whom have little knowledge of what these organizations really do, that many foreign-funded NGOs organize protests and rallies — a clear distortion of the facts. Nonetheless, Putin can congratulate himself on a propaganda job well done. Using his heavy administrative resources, Putin strengthened Russians' convictions that foreign-funded NGOs play a negative, if not subversive, role in Russian society — that they are inherently "anti-Russian," interfere in Russia's internal affairs and are part of a larger, soft-power U.S. secret project to execute an Orange Revolution in the country.
Putin began his attack on NGOs in earnest in December 2005, when, as president, he signed a law that placed exorbitant registration requirements on these organizations and required foreign-funded NGOs, in particular, to reregister all over again. Then, during his 2007 Luzhniki speech, Putin accused unspecified NGOs of being "jackals" for accepting grants from foreign governments. This smear campaign intensified in December after the Golos elections watchdog produced evidence that as much as 20 percent of the State Duma election votes were outright falsified or otherwise manipulated to boost United Russia's results. State-controlled NTV made a significant contribution to the NGO vilification campaign by broadcasting several pseudo-investigative programs from December to March, including, "The West Will Help Them," which claimed that Golos, on U.S. orders, disseminates false information about electoral fraud to discredit Russia.
In addition, NTV aired "Anatomy of a Protest," which showed how opposition protesters were supposedly paid to attend rallies. The program also implied that U.S. diplomats, who were "caught on tape" attending protest rallies, were somehow orchestrating the events. It was also NTV that released an Internet video in mid-January titled "Receiving Instructions From the New Ambassador," in which NTV journalists bombarded opposition leaders and directors of foreign-funded NGOs with questions as they approached the U.S. Embassy for a meeting with the new ambassador. Questions included, "Why are you going to the U.S. Embassy?" and "What is your goal?"
Amid all this disinformation and state propaganda against foreign-funded NGOs, a crucial principle is lost on many Russians: By helping victims of human rights abuses and exposing government corruption and other abuses of power, these NGOs serve the Russian people much more than they do foreign interests. The July VTsIOM poll also showed that 73 percent of the respondents agreed that financial audits needed to be strengthened for foreign-funded NGOs, a key element of the new NGO law. This reflects, in part, a common belief among Russians that there is a high level of corruption among foreign-funded NGOs. In reality, however, the audit procedures for NGOs receiving foreign grants have traditionally been strict. The United States, for example, requires Russian-based NGOs that receive U.S. government grants to submit yearly independent audits, and virtually every dollar spent from the grant must be justified, including money spent on pens and pencils and on coffee breaks at seminars. Grants have been terminated for NGOs that cannot justify their expenses.
There are, indeed, corrupt NGOs operating in Russia, but it would appear that the majority of them are Russian-funded. A vivid example is the Federation Fund, a charity that was run by a Kremlin insider and supposed to have helped cancer-stricken children. In August 2011, the fund was hit with embarrassing claims that money raised at an event attended by Hollywood stars like Sharon Stone and Mickey Rourke — as well as Putin, who sang "Blueberry Hill" to guests — went unaccounted for. It is no surprise that this scandal and others like it involving Russia-funded NGOs have seriously undermined Russians' faith in all NGOs, including those funded with foreign money.
Finally, more than half the respondents in the VTsIOM poll supported the provision in the NGO law to label foreign-funded NGOs "foreign agents," something that was particularly important for Putin. When Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Kremlin's human rights council, suggested to Putin during a July 10 meeting that the wording in the NGO bill should be softened to avoid the negative association that "foreign agents" has with spies, Putin insisted on keeping the harsh wording. "There is sharp wording in many of our laws," Putin told Fedotov. From a propaganda and populistic perspective, Putin clearly played his cards right in pushing for the foreign-agent wording in the NGO law. He understands the psychology of the conservative majority, particularly in the regions, that still largely adheres to old Soviet stereotypes: If Russian individuals or groups receive money from abroad, they are likely to be "foreign agents."
Commenting on this phenomenon, Vedomosti wrote in an editorial on Thursday: "Fear of foreigners is called xenophobia and is considered a psychological disorder. Patients who suffer from this illness see foreigners as a threat. The roots of this fear are very old, but countries that are able to overcome this fear become global leaders." If Putin wants to treat these xenophobic patients and integrate Russia into the modern world, he should stop feeding Russians rubbish about foreign-funded NGOs being a fifth column of foreign agents and jackals who are trying to carry out a U.S.-orchestrated Orange Revolution. If the Kremlin wants Russia to become a global leader, it should act like one.
© The Moscow Times
Mosque row in Spain
27/7/2012- In Madrid attempts by Torrejon de Ardoz’s 10,000 Muslims to expand their mosque have sparked a dispute that has pitted far right politicians against left activists. Torrejon’s Mosque occupies the ground floor of a block of flats. In February the local authority approved planning permission for a bigger mosque to be built near the centre of town but after external pressire made a U-turn on June 27 and changed the site outside the town. Muslim community leader Farid Bahoudi said local Muslims tried to educate and integrate “But instead of wanting to integrate with us, the locals here would rather we moved elsewhere.” Bahoudi says he has never received any complaints from locals about the present mosque and he stresses that the new mosque will not cause any disturbances. But 2,000 signed a petition against the new mosque. The dispute became national after the intervention of a far-right politician from Catalonia, several hundred miles to the northeast. Leader of the Platform for Catalonia anti-immigration party, Josep Anglada, visited Torrejon at the end of June, and staged a rally against the mosque and the “Islamisation” of Spain. Anglada’s party has made substantial gains in Catalonia over the last few years and he has campaigned against the building of several mosques. Leftist activist Leandro Ortega who took part in a counter-rally against Anglada’s meddling in Torrejon, said the politician is a “fascist”.
© The Muslim News
26/7/2012- The Greek Jewish community in a letter to political leaders and the country's president expressed its “revulsion” to the swearing-in of an anti-Semitic musician as a national lawmaker. Artemios Mathaiopoulos of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party took the oath as a member of the Greek Parliament on Wednesday. He replaces another member of the party who resigned. “This composer of hate lyrics that praise Auschwitz, offends the memory of the six million Jewish victims of Nazism -- of whom 65,000 were Greek Jews -- also offends thousands of their Christian fellow Greek citizens and vulgarly trivializes Jews and their sacred places, is now a member of the Greek Parliament,” said the letter from the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece sent Thursday.
The Jewish community took particular exception to Mathaiopoulos, who was a bass player in a hard rock Greek band called Pogrom, which has a “repertoire of fiercely racist, fascist, vulgar and anti-Semitic songs,” the lettter said, noting that a song titled “Auschwitz," has lyrics like “f*** Anne Frank”, “f*** the tribe of Abraham” and “piss on the Wailing Wall.” The letter asked President Karolos Papoulias to take “all necessary measures to keep those who extol Nazism out of the mainstream of our country's political and social life.” Golden Dawn, which features a Nazi swastika-like flag and has a Holocaust-denying leader, swept into parliament with 19 lawmakers in recent elections campaigning on an anti-austerity, anti-immigrant platform.
© JTA News
Olympics-Athletics-Greek far-right party rails at athlete's ban
Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party condemned on Thursday the withdrawal of an athlete from the London Olympics for an anti-African tweet, saying it reflected "racism against Greeks".
26/7/2012- Triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou was taken off the Greek Olympic team on Wednesday after causing an uproar at home with a tweet about West Nile virus and the number of Africans in Greece that was deemed as racist. Golden Dawn, who rode on a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in austerity-hurt Greece to surprisingly win seats in the country's parliament last month, objected to her withdrawal. "The only racism in Greece is the racism against the Greeks," Golden Dawn said on its website that also featured a photograph showing Papachristou waving a huge Greek flag. "Anybody who says even a word against illegal immigrants is held up to public ridicule," the party added. "It would be more honest to pass a law condemning everybody who has different views to death by stoning." Several other smaller parties and politicians also criticised the Olympic team's decision, saying it was excessive. "I believe it was exaggerated to expel Papachristou, especially after she apologised," tweeted Adonis Georgiadis, a conservative MP. But others defended the decision. "Her excuse (apology) was just for show," Greece's biggest newspaper Ta Nea said in an editorial. Other media also criticised Papachristou for nationalist tweets last month, including one in which she reportedly sent names day wishes to Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, wishing him to continue being "truthful".
Greece drops far-right-tweets athlete Papachristou
25/7/2012- Triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from Greece's Olympic team Wednesday for her comments on Twitter mocking African immigrants and expressing support for a far-right party. The Hellenic Olympic Committee said Wednesday that Ms. Papachristou is "placed outside the Olympic team for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement." Ms. Papachristou is in Athens and has not responded to calls from The Associated Press. The committee said she was to travel to London shortly before the track events start. Ms. Papachristou's Twitter account @papaxristoutj contains several retweets and postings of YouTube videos promoting the views of Golden Dawn, a formerly marginal extreme right party that entered the Greek Parliament in the recent two national elections—in May and June this year—by polling almost 7% of the vote. But it was her attempt at a joke Sunday that went viral. Commenting on the widely reported appearance of Nile-virus-carrying mosquitoes in Athens, Ms. Papachristou wrote: "With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!". Her tweet prompted thousands of negative comments that snowballed Wednesday.
Since anyone can access an unprotected Twitter account, Ms. Papachristou's YouTube links and retweets inevitably became known. Several of her retweets were original tweets by Ilias Kasidiaris, the Golden Dawn spokesman and one of the party's 18 Parliament members, who became notorious a few weeks ago for striking a woman Communist MP in the face and throwing water at another female MP during a TV talk show. Ms. Papachristou tweeted to Mr. Kassidiaris on his name day, last Friday, "Many happy years, be always strong and true!!!" Ms. Papachristou's initial reaction to the negative comments, on Tuesday, was to tweet: "That's how I am. I laugh. I am not a CD to get stuck!!! And if I make mistakes, I don't press the replay! I press Play and move on!!!" Her attitude changed completely Wednesday and she has posted five apologetic tweets in less than two hours. The last tweet, a very long one in English, which she has also posted on her Facebook account, reads: "I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account. I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.
"My dream is connected to the Olympic Games and I could not possibly participate if I did not respect their values. Therefore, I could never believe in discrimination between human beings and races. I would like to apologize to all my friends and fellow athletes, who I may have insulted or shamed, the National Team, as well as the people and companies who support my athletic career. Finally, I would like to apologize to my coach and my family." Before the publication of the last tweet, Democratic Left, one of the three parties in Greece's coalition government, had published a statement assailing the "racist humor" and calling on the Hellenic Olympic Committee to expel Ms. Papachristou from the Olympics. "Let her make any miserable 'jokes' on social media while watching the games on TV. She definitely cannot represent Greece in London," the Democratic Left statement said.
© The Associated Press
Montengro: Kosovo Roma Protest Over Temporary Housing
Almost a hundred Kosovo Roma, who were made homeless after a fire destroyed parts of the Konik refugee camp, staged a protest on Wednesday in front of the Montenegrin government headquarters.
24/7/2012- The Roma were protesting because they had only been given tents as temporary housing after a fire burned down their settlement on the outskirts of the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica on Tuesday. According to Montenegrin officials, some 850 people, mainly Roma who fled Kosovo during the war in 1999, lost their belongings in the fire that swept through the refugee barracks in the suburb of Konik. The Red Cross set up 90 tents for the refugees on Tuesday night but the Roma told the Serbian news agency Beta on Wednesday morning that they wanted a permanent solution. “The temporary housing has lasted for 13 years. If you cannot come up with a permanent housing solution and provide us with something better than shacks and tents, do not deceive us. You would be better off shooting us, this is torture,” one of the protesting Roma said. Zeljko Sofranac, the director of the Montenegrin Bureau for Care of Refugees, says that the tents were a short-term solution and that the government was working on providing permanent housing for the Roma. The EU has recently donated €2.5 million to finance the creation of permanent housing for the Konik refugee camp residents. The European Council said in a recent report that the camp “de facto represents segregation” and “that living conditions in the camp are inhumane and dangerous”. The cause of the fire, which started in the early hours of Tuesday morning, is still unknown but police suspect that it broke out due to negligence.
© Balkan Insight
Roma refugees in Montenegro lose homes in fire
23/7/2012- It was the only home Selija Hisenaj knew since she was forced out of war-torn Kosovo 13 years ago, and now it's gone too. The 30-year-old mother of seven is among hundreds of Roma, or Gypsies, from Kosovo who are living in tents after a fire burned down their settlement on the outskirts of the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica. Officials said Wednesday that some 850 people lost their belongings in the fire that swept through the refugee barracks in the suburb of Konik a day earlier. No one was injured in Tuesday's fire, but for some it was still too much. "We should have stayed and burned as well," said Hisenaj, who fled from the Kosovo village of Istok during the 1998-99 war. "I lost everything." It remains unclear what caused the fire that erupted early Tuesday and spread quickly because of strong winds, says emergency official Radomir Scepanovic. He said a police investigation was under way. There was no indication it was a hate crime similar to those that sometimes target Roma in other Balkan countries and elsewhere in Europe.
Witnesses said the fire engulfed the entire settlement in just ten minutes and there was little anyone could do. "We saw the fire and just ran," said Hisenaj. She said she lost all her documents and the little money she had. Most refugees, including Hisenaj, have moved to tents set up next to the burned-out settlement, while the elderly and small children were placed in a local school. Like 13 years ago, when they first arrived from Kosovo, Hisenaj and other refugees were left with nothing, living in tents in unbearable summer heat, crammed next to each other. They accuse authorities of doing little to help them in the past years, and several dozen refugees gathered Wednesday in front of the U.N. refugee agency headquarters in Podgorica to protest. "We have been waiting and waiting, but they have done nothing for us," said 20-year-old Kujtin Krasniqi, also from Kosovo.
Thousands of Kosovo's Roma fled to neighboring countries during the brutal conflict there between Serbia's security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels seeking independence. Many still live in make-shift settlements throughout the region and often face harassment from extremist groups. The refugees in Podgorica have lived on humanitarian aid and from money they earn collecting old papers and other objects. Their settlement was set up by the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, as a temporary solution. Montenegrin Labor Minister Suad Numanovic, who deals with refugee issues, said the government has drafted a strategy to allow refugees to either apply for permanent residency or return to their home country. He said Montenegro has about 10,500 people who are either refugees or are internally displaced.
© The Huffington Post
Late Austrian far-right head sullied in graft trial
Late Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider's reputation was further tarnished Wednesday by dramatic confessions by two defendants in a high-profile corruption trial in his home state of Carinthia.
25/7/2012- Tax advisor Dietrich Birnbacher told the Klagenfurt court that he had agreed in 2007 to donate two-thirds of his 12-million-euro ($14.6-million) fee for arranging a business deal to two political parties, including Haider's. Even after his bill for the sale of Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank to Germany's Bayerische Landesbank was halved, Birnbacher said he was told by Haider, then state governor, in 2008 that "there is still a million in it for the party." Josef Martinz, local head of the other party involved, the conservative Austrian People's Party (OeVP), confirmed on Wednesday the testimony and immediately resigned, saying: "What Birnbacher says is true." He told the court Birnbacher had handed him an envelope containing 65,000 euros at a Christmas party. "I am sorry for letting myself get involved in Haider's system," Martinz said. "This was a political and personal mistake that I deeply regret." Haider, who died in a drunk-driving accident in October 2008 aged 58, has also been accused of stashing millions of euros in secret accounts in Liechtenstein and of accepting donations from dictators Moamer Kadhafi and Saddam Hussein. The colourful politician, who praised the Waffen SS and described Nazi concentration camps as "disciplinary camps," sent shockwaves through Europe in 2000 when he entered into a national coalition with the mainstream OeVP. The trial was meanwhile adjourned until August 6.
© MSN News
Migrants protest lack of integration as EU ministers meet (Cyprus)
24/7/2012- Recognised refugees, migrants and other foreign workers yesterday held a peaceful demonstration outside the Philoxenia Conference Centre where EU interior ministers were meeting to discuss migration and asylum issues. They said they wanted to draw attention to the difficulties faced by non-Cypriots seeking to integrate in Cypriot society. The protestors handed over a letter to the interior ministry’s permanent secretary, Andreas Assiotis, so he could distribute it to the European ministers. They wished, among other things, to draw attention to a report by the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), which recently ranked Cyprus second from last of all 31 MIPEX countries, saying the island discouraged long-term integration. “The exclusion of immigrants and foreigners in Cypriot society is one of our main concerns,” the group of protestors said in an announcement. “These vulnerable groups have been exploited in the labour market and they suffer lack of respect from Cypriot society.” They said the recognised refugees were treated unequally compared to Cypriots, even though they were officially told their rights were equal. “The situation in Cyprus has gotten worse because of the economic recession,” they added. “With the imminent visit of the troika and the austerity measures which are likely to be imposed, this vulnerable group of people are certain to find their already precarious situation will become even worse.” The recognised refugees, migrants and foreigners called on the European Commission to monitor Cyprus, during efforts for economic recovery.
According to the MIPEX report, “At 35 points, Cyprus is the only country far below average and falling further behind, ranking second last of all 31 countries”. At their meeting, the EU ministers discussed cybercrime and preparing to help Syrian refugees during the informal council meeting on justice and home affairs. “[… ]The EU recognises the significance of continuing to build a well-balanced migration policy that provides a meaningful contribution to the union’s growth agenda,” said Interior Minister Eleni Mavrou, who was chairing the meeting. Mavrou said that any policy should include “measures for integration” as well as “a comprehensive approach on providing international protection and ensuring solidarity between EU member states.” Ministers discussed how member states can host Syrian refugees and how the EU can help neighbouring countries “in their efforts to deal with persons displaced by the conflict there,” a press release said. Cyprus, at the EU’s easternmost border, is expected to be the first port of call for a number of Syrian refugees. Ministers also discussed cybercrime and the need to develop strategies on a national level.
© The Cyprus Mail
Anti-gay bill in Ukraine calls for banning rallies, movies, TV shows depicting gay people
23/7/2012- If a group of Ukrainian lawmakers succeeds in its mission, TV shows and movies sympathetically portraying homosexuals such as “Brokeback Mountain” will be banned. So will gay pride parades. The recently introduced bill, supported by the president’s representative in parliament, would impose prison terms of up to five years and unspecified fines for spreading “propaganda of homosexuality” — defined as positive public depiction of gays in public. It has sparked an outcry from rights organizations in Ukraine and beyond, who condemn the bill as a throwback to Soviet times when homosexuality was a criminal offense. They also warn that harassing the gay community could lead to a spike in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine, one of Europe’s most severe, by driving gays further underground. Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Ukraine and neighboring Russia after the fall of communism, animosity toward gays remains high across the former Soviet sphere. St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city and regarded as one of the country’s most sophisticated, this year passed a law mandating fines of up to $33,000 for promoting homosexuality among minors. A gay pride parade in the Georgian capital ended in a scuffle with opponents in March.
The Ukrainian bill comes in the wake of organizers’ decision to cancel the country’s first gay-pride parade in May, which they made after hearing that hundreds of potentially violent opponents of gay rights had come to the capital. Two Ukrainian gay rights activists have been brutally attacked in recent months. The hostility toward homosexuals raises concern wider questions about tolerance in Ukraine and whether the country is truly capable of embracing Western values as strives to join the European Union. In the run-up to last month’s European football championship, co-host Ukraine was rocked by allegations of racism, as fans at one stadium performed monkey chants directed at black players. Pavlo Ungurian, one of the six lawmakers from various parties who authored the bill, told reporters Monday that growing acceptance of gay rights in the West is “not evolution, but degradation” and needed to be fought. “Our goal is the preservation of the moral, spiritual and physical health of the nation,” Ungurian said. “We must stop the propaganda, the positive description and the publicity ... of this abnormal lifestyle.”
Ruslan Kukharchuk, who heads the group “Love Against Homosexuality” and campaigns in support of the bill, said the legislation would make TV dating shows involving same-sex couples and movies like “Brokeback Mountain,” which explores the romantic relationship of two cowboys in the United States, illegal. Gay pride events and parades would also be banned. Kukharchuk charged that homosexuality is an illness and that people must be treated for it. In 1990, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the international classification of illnesses. “We believe that homosexuality is a disease, it is a psychological disorder of a person and without a doubt there must be institutions, perhaps even financed by the government, to help such people get rehabilitation therapy,” Kukharchuk said. No date has been set for a vote on the bill in parliament, but Kukharchuk hopes it will be considered in September before a parliamentary election in October. President Viktor Yanukovych has remained mum about the initiative, but the fact that his parliamentary representative Yuri Meroshnichenko supports the bill is an indication that Yanukovych may back it as well. It was unclear how much support the bill enjoys among lawmakers.
Anastasia Zhivkova, a gay rights activist, called the bill “a throwback to the Middle Ages” that would even further clamp down on Ukraine’s gays and lesbians, most of whom already hide their lifestyle because of a severe public stigma. For every one gay Ukrainian who is out, another 80 are forced to conceal their sexuality, according to gay groups. The United Nations Development Program said in a statement that the bill amounts to “state-supported discrimination against” gay, lesbian and transgender groups and could fuel the AIDS epidemic in Ukraine, by preventing them from getting proper information on preventing and living with sexually transmitted diseases. Zhivkova said gays are forced to hide their relationships not only from their work colleagues, but also from their relatives, often cutting vacation photos in two, to avoid showing who accompanied them. “A great part of our life remains in the shadows,” Zhivkova said. “All the time you balance between being an outcast or a criminal.”
© The Associated Press