NEWS - Archive August 2012

Headlines 31 August, 2012

New expulsions, persecution of Roma have some warning 'Hitler was not alone'

"Remember that Hilter was never alone,” warns one European journalist and blogger in the wake of recent violence throughout Europe, racist actions by right wing groups, and now, just this week – more forcible expulsions of the group known as “Roma” or gypsies from France.

31/8/2012- Meanwhile today, human rights groups, the European Union and several independent United Nations rights experts have issued statements that contain more harsh condemnation for France and concern for the actions against the Roma populations who are seeing a growing wave of persecution all over Europe. View slideshow An Irish rights activist commented, "Europeans should know the way to genocide is a slippery slope, and it begins with just these kinds of devaluation of other human beings based on race, religion, or cultural differences." There were also terse statements of warning from other rights activists against the degenerating spiral of racism against the Roma or any ethnic group, which led to Hilter’s ovens in the 1940s, and a statement by EU's Vivianne Reding that "enough is enough," echoing her 2010 video statement. Another EU official in an email called the French deportations of Roma "Nazi-like" and "a disgrace." She also pointed to the EU Directive on Freedom of Movement, contains several provisions to ensure the right of EU citizens to move freely within the European Union.

Veronika Szente Goldston, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, also stated, “Rather than trying to get rid of unwanted Roma while no one is watching, the government should take a critical look at its sorry record in this area, and act to rectify abuses.” French police just yesterday dismantled another Roma camp near Paris, sweeping 70 people, - including 19 children - onto the streets, and this happening just days after the government had promised "a fresh approach" in its controversial handling of the ethnic minority migrants. “Why did God even create us, if Gypsies are to live like this?” cried 35-year-old Babica to a group of French press as bulldozers moved in to tear down the camp in Gennevilliers, on the outskirts of Paris. Police in the Paris suburb of Evry also moved in at dawn to clear the camp following an expulsion order issued by local mayor Francis Chouat on safety and public health grounds. The move pre-empted by 24 hours a court hearing scheduled to review the mayor’s decision. The government pledged last week that it would seek court orders for clearances but that requirement was over-ridden by the mayor’s ruling that the camp’s proximity to a commuter rail line made it dangerous.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who has sanctioned the clearance of several Roma camps since the new Socialist government came to power, backed the move, describing sanitary conditions in the Evry settlement as “unbearable.” An estimated 15,000 ethnic Roma currently live in similar camps across France. Meanwhile, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, has warned in a statement to press that “these evictions and expulsions are inevitably fuelling the already worrying climate of hostility against Roma in France.”

In a statement issued on their website, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) condemned the expulsions and violence against the Roma that is continuing to escalate in Europe. “In the last week (in France), around 500 Roma have been forcibly evicted from their homes. Some of them have been sent back to Romania, with a cash payment of 300 Euros. The scheme is apparently a voluntary returns system, but how voluntary is it to decide to leave when you’ve been kicked out of your home by the prefecture and you’re surrounded by police? What does voluntary return even mean when you’re well below the poverty line and there’s a cash payment attached?” “If you have any doubt about the situation of Roma, consider that in the last few years they have variously been evicted (in Romania) to rubbish dumps and toxic chemical plants, separated from their towns by a wall, and shot at and killed by police officers. All in all, it’s unsurprising that Roma leave Romania,” the statement read.

U.N. representatives today urged the French Government to ensure compliance with international non-discrimination standards when it comes to the dismantling of Roma settlements and the expulsion of migrant Roma from what they’ve termed “illegal settlements.” Roma – more familiarly known as “Gypsies”, are the largest minority group in Europe, have lived throughout the continent for centuries and have long faced discrimination and high levels of poverty. Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union (EU) in 2007, have particularly large Roma populations, a U.N. spokesperson said, and have faced numerous racial-based crimes and even murders. In recent years, the Roma have come under new pressure in EU Member States like Italy and France as those countries have emphasized expulsion as a means of addressing “migration concerns”. For Roma from Romania and Bulgaria living in France, 2010 marked the beginnings of persecutions and escalation of state-sponsored expulsions.

A number of evictions and expulsions this month - including in the cities of Lille, Lyon and Paris - have been documented by non-governmental organizations and the media, and seem set to continue, according to a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). “Forced eviction is not an appropriate response and alternative solutions should be sought that conform with human rights standards,” said the U.N. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik. “Legal safeguards must be in place, including the provision of adequate housing alternatives to ensure that individuals, particularly children, women and those with illnesses or disability, are not left homeless or vulnerable.” Rolnik also noted that ‘though these acts are being justified on the basis of unsanitary conditions, few if any visible efforts are being developed to find alternative solutions for these communities, such as improving housing conditions.” Similar actions against the Roma undertaken in August 2010 were also met with widespread European and international criticism.

“These reports are disturbing, especially because it is not the first time that Roma are collectively expelled from France,” said the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák. “The Roma are European Union citizens and Europe’s most marginalized minority.” Izsák, who is herself of Hungarian Roma origin, added, “Regrettably, these acts demonstrate that they do not always enjoy the same right of free movement and settlement, and continue to experience discriminatory treatment.” Imminent Hindu statesman Rajan Zed; and Rabbi Jonathan B. Freirich, prominent Jewish leader in Nevada and California in USA; in a joint statement in Nevada today, said it was “disturbing that France was still reportedly expelling Roma despite the promise in 2010 to change its laws on the free movement of European Union citizens in view of a European Commission ultimatum following a crackdown on Roma during the months before.”

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, and Rabbi Freirich, further said in their protest statement that it was even more upsetting to learn that the expulsion order of Roma who had taken refuge in the church just south of Paris was signed by the priest. Also see Vatican expels Roma who took refuge in ancient Roman church In their statement, they pointed out that "Jesus Christ clearly told the world to help the helpless, defenseless and downtrodden and love them and he showed the way also." They quoted from The Bible: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)".

Zed and Rabbi Freirich argued that France had become an "embarrassment for Europe" due to its xenophobia and racism - as was apparent from continuing Roma maltreatment. It was sad to see the "great nation of France", who claims to be the "mother of human rights", falling so low, they said, adding, "This Roma maltreatment was not acceptable and further expulsions should be immediately halted." Singling out of helpless Roma was appalling and immoral, was "officially stamped racism", and was a major offense, Zed and Freirich stated, and also stressed, "The European Commission, which was guardian of the treaties, will lose its legitimacy if it does not show guts and take strong action against France over stubbornly continuing racism coated Roma abuse."

A political writer from Gord’s Poetry Blog, had this to say about the persecution and expulsions: “…What will the French government do if the Roma refuse to be expelled? Will the government arrest and intern them or allow mobs of other french citizens to take action against the Roma as in Hitler's notorious staged phony-populist uprising against the German Jews known as "Kristallnacht"… Are the lessons supposedly learned after the Shoah / Holocaust and the extermination of Jews, Roma, etc. all forgotten as Europeans gin up their hatred of the Roma?” The author expresses fear that, “this just the beginning of another era of racial hatred and intolerance … Prejudice and bigotry against the Roma is unjustifiable and should be socially and politically unacceptable.”

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, highlighted that collective expulsion is banned under international law and any repatriation should be “voluntary, in compliance with international standards, and based on individual assessment and independent monitoring.” According to U.N. experts, there are up to 12 million Roma living in Europe, and other sizeable Roma populations which live in Latin America and other regions - most of them still on the margins of society. Meanwhile, just last year, Canada put restrictions on Czech immigration to halt Roma seeking asylum from the violence against them in that country.

Ales Horvath and his young family had been tyringto join relatives who moved to Canada in the mid 1990s. "Ninety percent of us have been attacked," he says, "including me, my brother, my cousins. Everyone's experienced physical attacks. On top of that, I can't go into just any restaurant or disco with my wife - many places won't let us in." This, he feels, is no place to bring up his children. "Our children get called ‘black bastards’ as soon as they start school - other kids are taught by their parents that gypsies are bad, that they're dirty, they steal, and so on."

Since 2009, Roma in communities in Belgrade, Serbia, say they have been living under the constant threat of forced eviction by the authorities. Some, like ‘Tomica’, have already lost their homes. “They came with trucks and police and vans. We all had to leave in 20 minutes. I lost everything. I wasn’t even there when the house was taken down,” she said. In Northern Ireland, over 100 Belfast Roma were beaten and driven from their homes by thugs using bricks and bottles and had to seek refuge in a nearby church, and persecutions have continued to alarm human rights groups in the UK.

Just last week in Cegléd, Hungary, a Roma neighborhood was attacked by over 400 rightwing thugs, causing many Roma to flee for their lives at night. The group leading the violence has vowed to return this week, sources from the area say. “Remember that Hilter was never alone,” warns journalist and blogger Anuraag Sanghi. Marian Mandache, from the Romanian Gypsy NGO Romani Crisis, said the Northern Ireland violence was another disturbing trend of attacks in recent years across Europe that are growing steadily worse. “Starting with Italy in 2007, there have been waves of … racist attacks against Roma,” said Mandache. “Afterwards, there were attacks in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.” also see: Gypsies face Northern Ireland ethnic violence

What is known about the history of the persecuted Roma shows they have always been a nomadic group – and a target for persecution. According to Roma historians and experts, in the year 1000, an event in northern India at about the time of the Muslim invasion to the region likely triggered the group’s mass exodus. The Roma then journeyed towards the Caucasus and China, as well as through the Middle East and Greece towards the Balkans; and by the 16th century, had could be found in all regions of Central and Western Europe, with a population estimated to be in the tens of thousands. Some historians have argued that in the 15th and 16th centuries, many Roma had recommendation letters from European kings — and even the Pope — and used these to enter European towns and cities of all sizes. However, persecutions followed the Roma throughout history – including expulsions and massacres during the Middles Ages, and mass –expulsion from England during the 17th century “Age of Enlightenment.”

“This enlightenment has never extended to gypsies, or what we call ‘travelers’ in the European culture. They have been reviled, attacked and shunned throughout the ages, and it seems this racism still is acceptable in this 21st century age of supposed political correctness.” Said Dr. Kenneth Feagan, an Irish Roma expert, and of Roma descent on his maternal side. Feagan – who lost family members in the Holocaust, pointed out that – as with the Jews - the Roma were also singled out as a minority group for persecution by the Nazis, who cited the ethnic group as being “racially inferior.” The group was not only used as forced labor in concentration camps, but also subjected to horrific scientific and medical experiments and to mass killing. While no accurate figure is available for how many Roma were killed by the Nazis, the United States Holocaust Encyclopedia estimates about 220,000 - which is approximately 25 percent of the population in Europe were killed – with tens of thousands more killed in the Russian campaigns, and more than 19,000 in Auschwitz alone. Authorities of the State of Croatia, an Axis partner of Germany, physically annihilated virtually the entire Roma population of the country - around 25,000 people – by the war’s end.

A trip to Europe can often shock American visitors when they see signs beside the entrances to establishments to the effect of ‘We Do Not Serve Gypsies’ . In a blunt comment on existing racism against the Roma in Europe, UK human rights blogger Dan Barron states, “Whether you call it racism or not, anti-Gypsy bigotry exists in a big way in this country and all over Europe, particularly fiercely in countries such as Romania, Hungary and Italy but what is most worrying about it is that it is more than acceptable. Although banning words from being heard is hardly any solution to racism, you will casually hear words like ‘gippo’ and ‘pikey’ on television and on the radio where you would never hear the words ‘paki’ and ‘nigger’.”

Said Renzy in a recent Amnesty International report on Racism against the Roma, “Discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance have proved particularly difficult to eliminate in Europe. The Roma, one of Europe’s oldest minorities, have endured a long history of discrimination and disadvantage throughout Europe, which has only recently begun to be acknowledged and addressed. The Roma form one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Europe. Nearly 80 percent of the European Roma population (around 10 million people) live in EU Member and candidate Member States.”

Roma settlements in France vary in size but are often located near urban zones. Shelters are constructed out of whatever materials are available, and many do not have running water or electricity. In the case of travelers, the government is supposed to provide designated sites for them to congregate, but rights groups have said this process is not fully implemented. Following a spate of violence in July of last year involving French police and some Roma and traveler individuals, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a crackdown on unauthorized settlements. The government estimated the number of such settlements at 539. French police dismantled numerous settlements, primarily occupied by Roma from Bulgaria and Romania, and the government expelled more than 1,000 of their inhabitants between July and September, sending them back to their “home countries”. Sarkozy, for whom security is a hallmark issue, justified his hardline stance on grounds that the settlements were” illegal and presented a security risk.” A statement from the president's office also identified the camps as sources of illegal trafficking, appalling living standards, exploitation of children through forced begging, prostitution, and crime.

Sarkozy also characterized the deportations as voluntary, because a significant number of the Roma Bulgarian and Romanian citizens were given 300 euros (US$380) in exchange for their cooperation in the return process. A furor also ensued last September when official French government memos leaked to the French press and published in September revealed that Roma settlements had been identified as priority targets of the campaign. This information contradicted statements the French government had made saying that the intensified measures were directed at illegal settlements in general, and not just at those where Roma lived. One leaked memo stated in part, "Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be evacuated within three months; Roma camps are a priority," the memo reads. "It is down to the préfect [state representative] in each department to begin a systematic dismantling of the illegal camps, particularly those of the Roma."

Following the leak, the United Nations, the European Union, the Vatican, various rights groups, and politicians opposed to Sarkozy's policies began criticizing the French government. In a variety of forums, they argued that the Roma were targeted for expulsion from France based on their ethnicity, in violation of EU laws prohibiting discrimination and guaranteeing freedom of movement. Some members of the European Parliament have also expressed dismay that the Commission was not pursuing France on discrimination grounds, calling the official memos clear evidence of discrimination, which the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International also criticized the Commission's decision not to move forward with proceedings against France for violating EU antidiscrimination law.

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), a Hungary-based public-interest law organization that provided legal briefs to the Commission on the Roma expulsion issue, argued that France's actions violated not only the Freedom of Movement Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (known as the Charter) but also the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
A Fact Sheet on the History and discrimination Against the Roma in Europe
The Examiner

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Bosnia Vows to End Ethnically Divided Schools

The Education Ministry in the larger of Bosnia's two entities has unveiled a two-year plan to end the phenomenon of 'two schools operating under one roof' and unite children of different ethnic groups. 

31/8/2012- The Education Ministry of the mainly Bosniak and Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has presented a solution to the phenomenon of "two schools under one roof", a problem in three of the ten cantons in the entity. Education Minister Damir Masic said in Sarajevo on August 30 that the plan aims to end segregation and the division of structures in education in the entity. Implementation of the plan will start from September and will take two years, depending on the readiness of schools to accept the suggested steps, which include administrative and legal acts to unite divided teaching institutions and creation of equal conditions for pupils. Instead of divided schools, which in practice means one building with two entrances and divided playgrounds, the plan calls for the formation of multi-ethnic classes. The plan follows the recommendations of a Mostar court, which has ruled that the "two schools under one roof" system in the towns of Stolac and Capljina violates Bosnian law against discrimination. Masic added that the phenomenon is just one of the many violations of international agreements that Bosnia has signed up to. Cantonal Education Ministers have supported the idea.

“The problem of 'two schools under one roof' was not made because children wanted it, or because of parents or teachers, but because politics demanded it,” Masic noted on Thursday. “This is a chance to solve it...because Bosnia and Herzegovina was a multi-ethnic country for thousands of years and there is no reason why it should not continue being so,” he added. The first step will consist of uniting schools under one administration, one name, one management and one teaching and parents council. “That means establishing one school bell and one entrance, which is not the case now, when children do not even meet each other in the hallways,” Masic said. He recalled cases of children commuting many miles to “their” schools, so as not to have to sit in the same class as those of a different ethnic, national or religious group. “Joint school and after school activities will be planned after that,” Masic continued. “The last step will be establishing multi-ethnic classes... and unique books.” The minister also cited the example of schools already operating in the District of Brcko,where all children attend the same schools and the same classes but follow some subjects differently.
Balkan Insight

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Montenegro to Rehouse Burned-out Refugees

Roma refugees who lost their homes and belongings in a barracks to a July fire should be rehoused in containers within the next two months. 

31/8/2012- Procurement and installation of containers to rehouse the Konik camp residents who lost their homes in a fire should be completed within two months, the government said on Thursday. The government has provided around almost a million euro for the procurement and installation of more than 200 containers and over the next few days it should choose a supplier, Suad Numanovic, Minister for Labour and Welfare, said. The fire at Konik, the largest refugee camp in the Balkans, which hosts around 1,500 mainly Roma refugees from Kosovo, broke out on July 24. More than 800 people lost their homes. The goverment opened a solidarity account as well as an account for donations in order to help the victims of the fire. So far, the United Arab Emirates, United Nations, the Red Cross, Turkish Red Crescent, Germany, Slovakia and the US have all provided aid in health care, food and equipment. The containers are seen as only a medium-term solution for the refugees, who currently live in more than 150 tents. In March, Montenegro and EU officials signed an agreement allocating 3 million euro to the Ministry of Labour for the construction of 90 apartments and a community centre for the people of Konik camp. Construction of these permanent homes is expected to start in 2013.
Balkan Insight

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Race row erupts at equality watchdog as staff say all managers will be white (UK)

Ethnic minorities, women and disabled staff go in latest redundancies 

31/8/2012- Britain's equality watchdog could be left with an "all white" senior management because of Government-imposed cuts, employees have claimed. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is being chopped down to a fraction of its original size, with staff numbers cut from a peak of 420 to 180. So far, generous redundancy terms have seen the cuts carried out through voluntary redundancies, but it is feared that dozens of people may have to be sacked in the autumn as volunteers dry up. A high proportion of those in line to lose their jobs are women, disabled or from ethnic minorities – the very sections of the population most vulnerable to the kind of discrimination the EHRC was set up in 2007 to prevent.

The EHRC has attracted criticism in the past because of financial management and complaints about the leadership of its £112,000 a year part-time chairman, Trevor Phillips. Mr Phillips's six-year chairmanship ends on 10 September. His former deputy, Margaret Prosser, a former TGWU transport union official, will act as interim head of the organisation while the hunt goes on for a successor. In a letter to Baroness Prosser, 124 staff members have warned that when the cuts are complete, the senior management will be "all white" – although this was denied by an EHRC spokeswoman, who said new ethnic minority appointments were in the pipeline. The cuts include reducing the number of commissioners from 14 to eight, which means that the majority have been told they must re-apply for their positions. Insiders complain the job advertisement published by the Cabinet Office lists senior level finance, commercial business experience, and legal skills as essential qualifications while making only passing reference to a background in equality.

The Minister for Equalities, Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone, has ordered the Commission to cut its budget from £50m to £26m in the coming year – but its management are working to a budget of £18m in anticipation of a new round of cuts. Lester Holloway, a Liberal Democrat councillor campaigning against the cuts, said he is "ashamed" at the part played by Liberal Democrat ministers such as Ms Featherstone. "The commission will be less able to hold public bodies to account and as a result equality may well fall down the agenda. The scaling down of casework will certainly affect those who are not represented as a result, and failure to strengthen case law through test cases is to the detriment of everyone who falls under those categories of people who suffer discrimination," said Mr Holloway. Mark Hammond, the EHRC's chief executive, said: "We don't have any choice about cutting jobs to match our reduced budget... but we are being fair and transparent as we go about it. Our staff diversity is one of the best in government and far better than the average employer in Britain. We are doing everything possible to maintain that record, including using positive action."
The Independent

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Labour leader says Chris Said’s comments on same-sex partnerships not on the same level as families bonded by marriage are ‘homophobic’.  

30/8/2012- Justice minister Chris Said has denied passing homophobic comments during a press conference this week in which he introduced a bill to regulate cohabiting couples, when he said the proposed law would not put same-sex relationships on the same level as families formed in marriages. Said also said Muscat had failed to pass comment on the cohabitation law, and instead resorted to an erroneous interpretation of his declarations. Said insisted that in answering questions from the press, he said the law being proposed would not consider gay couples the same as a families in a marriage. "My credentials in favour of gay and transgender rights cannot be measured by Muscat's sensationalism," Said said, who said he had legislated to increase penalties against hate crimes earlier this year and widening the remit of the Equality Commission.

In a statement, Said said the personal relationship between opposite-sex couples was precious to those who lived this experience. "I also understand that to them this relationship is their family nucleus, even if they are unmarried." Said however said Muscat had conveniently spun his own interpretation of his comments. "Muscat should know that Maltese laws do not give a definition to the family. Marriage laws give a clear definition of what marriage is. The cohabitation law does not go into this matter, becuase it regulated cohabitation, for heterosexuals and homosexuals, as a state of fact outside of marriage," Said said. "This law establishes for the first time the rights and obligations of people who choose to cohabit, principally by safeguarding the weaker party in such a relationship."

The Labour party has described comments by justice minister Chris Said on his bill to regulate cohabitation, as a confirmation of the government's "homophobic policy."
Labour, which in the past said it would legislate in favour of same-sex unions, has so far not commented on the law being proposed by the Nationalist government. But comments by Chris Said, who is anchoring the public consultation on the Bill, saying that cohabitation will not on the same level as the family in a marriage, have provoke the PL's criticism.

"Chris Said's declaration confirms the government's institutionalised homophobia," Labour leader Joseph Muscat said. "This declaration of principle is unacceptable because the government is institutionalising homophobia. If Lawrence Gonzi agrees with Chris Said, then he is confirming GonziPN's homophobia." Muscat has long declared his position in favour of the introduction of civil unions for gay couples and this pledge is expected to form part of Labour's manifesto, but the proposal falls short of labelling such unions as 'marriage'. Muscat said Labour sees a family being constituted irrespectively of people's sexual orientation. "Earlier on we saw GonziPN's homophobia made clear in the parliamentary debate on the rent laws when the Opposition proposed the extension of such laws for same-sex couples, to which the government put up its opposition."

So far the cohabitation bill, which introduces the civil cohabitation partnership as a registered contract between two people, has disappointed gay rights groups. The law does not recognise cohabiting partners on the same level as families borne out of marriage under the proposed law. "We do not want to put cohabitation on the same level as a family constituted in marriage. The Bill is based on what the government believes is right and is acceptable to society," Said said when presenting the bill earlier this week. The Malta Gay Rights Movement said it was "hugely disappointed" as the Bill failed to recognise same-sex couples and their families as civil unions on a par with marriage, the minimum acceptable to them.
Malta Today

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New gay bashing incident in central Athens (Greece)

30/8/2012- Two young men were the target of a blatantly homophobic attack in central Omonia Square in the early morning hours of Sunday, 26 August 2012. One of the men, Stefanos Agelastos, is a gay activist and a member of Athens Pride. As they waited for a bus, two Greek men passing on a motorcycle asked them if they were gay. When Mr. Agelastos replied “yes,” the two Greeks got off their bike and proceeded to brutally beat them. Mr. Agelastos and his companion were injured, but fortunately not seriously. Mr. Agelastos immediately reported the incident to the Police, who appeared cooperative but then refused his request that they escort him the several blocks to his home, even though Mr. Agelastos expressed fear that his attackers might be lurking there. Athens Pride strongly condemns this particular incident, which unfortunately is neither isolated nor random. It stresses in particular the overwhelming lack of state protections for LGBTs. It is extremely concerned over the ever increasing frequency of homophobic assaults (gay-bashing) that have come to its notice. Most of these incidents, however, are never recorded since very few of the victims have the courage to report them. With the deepening Greek economic crisis there is a disturbing increase of organized attacks on vulnerable social groups. Hate crimes and racist violence are the greatest threat for a society in crisis. The state has a mandate to protect all its citizens. The quality of a democracy is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable groups.
ILGA Europe

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It's not rhetoric to draw parallels with Nazism (Greece, opinion)

Actual fascists in actual black shirts are waving swastikas and murdering ethnic minorities in Athens
By Laurie Penny 

30/8/2012- "After the immigrants, you're next." That's what was written on flyers that appeared this week in the gay clubbing district of Athens. As violence against immigrants and ethnic minorities escalates across Greece, supporters of the ultra-right Golden Dawn party have also begun to promote hate attacks on homosexuals and people with disabilities. These fascists march with black shirts and flares through Athens, terrorising ethnic and sexual minorities, waving an insignia which looks like nothing but an unravelled swastika, and declaring disdain for the political process. And yet, across Europe, they continue to be treated as a mere symptom of Greece's economic crisis. Once, right-wing thugs only came out to attack immigrants at night. Now they do so in daylight, unafraid of the consequences because there rarely are any. In recent weeks, the number and severity of the attacks have increased – on 12 August, a 19-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker was fatally stabbed by a gang on motorcycles just streets away from the Greek parliament – and if migrants report attacks to police, they risk being arrested.

Not only are crimes against immigrants in Greece considered low priority, much of Golden Dawn's support base comes from police ranks. Exit polls in the May 2012 elections suggested that in some urban districts up to 50 per cent of Greek police voted for the racist group, which now holds 7 per cent of the seats in parliament. The stabbings, beatings and motorbike attacks have become so routine that in many parts of the capital, immigrants are afraid to go out alone. While Greece has long had a large migrant population – 80 per cent of refugees to the European Union arrive in Greek ports – families who came to the country seeking safety are now afraid for their children. A recent Human Rights Watch report, Hate on the Streets, found that "national authorities – as well as the EU and the international community at large – have largely turned a blind eye" to xenophobic violence in Greece.

Turning a blind eye would be bad enough. But now the Minister for Public Order, Nikos Dendias, has pledged to crack down on immigration, which he described as an "invasion" and "a bomb at the foundations of society". Tellingly, Dendias also described the presence of foreigners in Greece as a more significant threat than the economic crisis – a message he would no doubt plaster across the walls of Athens if he could. Whipping up racism has become a strategy for diverting an embittered nation's attention away from the government and public spending crisis. Like many flagging centre-right administrations, the New Democracy coalition is mimicking the language of far-right extremists, pandering to rather than pacifying public xenophobia. With Dendias's support, the police are rounding up immigrants, arresting and deporting thousands in raids across Athens and nearby cities – a programme named, with no apparent irony, after Zeus Xenios, the Greek God of hospitality.

Golden Dawn's surge in popularity and confidence did not come from nowhere. The party has been active for decades, but four years ago, before the first wave of austerity cuts in Greece, it was regarded as something of a joke. This summer, with its party at the table in parliament, members of Golden Dawn are setting up "Greeks only" supermarkets and distributing food parcels to the unemployed in Syntagma Square – but only for "real Greeks". The left does not need to point to the historic correlation between imposed economic austerity and the rise of fascism: Golden Dawn is making that link explicit, celebrating it. But simple willingness to capitalise on public anger will never, in any nation, make racist thugs the voice of the people.

As with many fascist groups, Golden Dawn claims to represent the marginalised working class. Like far-right groups across Europe – including the English Defence League and the new British Freedom Party – Golden Dawn declares itself the enemy of a bankrupt democratic system, exploiting for its own ends popular anger against neoliberal economic mismanagement. However, although it professes to stand against austerity, it has no economic project: its tactics are simply violent, divisive and nauseatingly racist. And the governments of Greece and Europe seem willing to tolerate this as the social cost of an ongoing austerity consensus. The European Union was established after the Second World War to ensure socio-economic unity on a continent ripped apart by fascism. In the Greece of today, Golden Dawn is being treated as a serious political party, despite its members' eschewal of democratic process and tendency to assault rival politicians on television.

Long after the Nazi party took power in Germany in 1933, after the Reichstag had been burned and anti-semitic violence became official state policy, European governments remained more worried about the possibility of a socialist Germany than a fascist one. Almost until the Second World War, it remained more important to many world leaders that Germany pay down its debts. Drawing historical parallels with Nazism is a weary rhetorical technique that commentators on left and right have cheapened by tossing the simile into discussions of food labelling and over-enthusiastic traffic control. In this case, however, it's not rhetoric. Actual fascists in actual black shirts are actually marching around Athens waving swastikas and burning torches, and maiming and murdering ethnic minorities, and world governments appear frighteningly relaxed about it as long as the Greek people continue to pay off the debts of the European elite. When the lessons of history are taught by rote, they can be easy to miss when most needed. This time, Europe must remember that the price of fostering fascism is crueller and costlier by far than any national debt.
The Independent

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Anti-immigrant view being 'legitimised' in Greece

27/8/2012- Anti-immigrant and nationalistic discourse has existed in Greece since the 1990s, say experts, but has become more radical with the economic crisis. For Golden Dawn, the neo-facist movement that scooped 6.9 percent of the vote in the June election, the simmering discontent has proved fertile ground. “People can now stand up in the middle of a cafeteria and start declaring without a thread of shame that they voted for the Golden Dawn,” says Aristotle Kallis, a professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Lancaster University. “The Golden Dawn does not create a new phenomenon in Greece. The Golden Dawn, through its radical action, through its very populist action, are legitimising a particular anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-immigrant point of view in Greece,” said Kallis. He noted that the party is also targeting the radical left in Greece, including journalists, students and politicians. The Golden Dawn brands people who oppose their views as “anarcho-communists”, an old-fashioned term Kallis says was commonly used in the 1960s when the country was politically polarised.

Manolis Kypreos, a Greek journalist who worked for the Gastone media group, is familiar with the tactics of Golden Dawn supporters. “Day-by-day attacks and threats are becoming more [frequent] from the members of the Golden Dawn. The police [are] just sleeping or the police officers are blind or very slow to react,” he told EUobserver in an email. Kyreos says the Golden Dawn constantly threaten him either through twitter or notes left on his car. “You fucking leftist deaf journalist. Your end is coming. We are coming for you,” was one of the messages he found taped to his car in the morning of 19 August. He is suffering from near-total hearing loss after anti-riot police tossed a stun grenade at him during a protest against EU-imposed austerity measures at Syntagma Square in June last year. He was taking photos and had identified himself as a journalist. Kypreos says immigration has profoundly divided the nation with some, like the Golden Dawn, making claims that force is the only appropriate measure to restore the country to its former “glory”.

“Foreigners out!” and “The Garbage Should Leave the Country!” are among some of the party’s favourite slogans. “The issue with the Golden Dawn in Greece, must be a concern for all of Europe. It is not only a Greek problem,” said Kyrpeos. He claims members of the party had joined ranks with anti-riot units to help disperse the demonstration last year. In June, around 30 members of the party broke into the Panteion University in Athens and beat leftist students who had organised an event against the party. Five people were reportedly injured. Efstathia Lambropoulou, a lecturer in the university’s department of criminology, said the Golden Dawn have not attempted to enter the premises since. “It happened only once,” Lambropoulou told this website from Athens. “I think it was and is over-estimated. The media and the students overemphasised the reactions or the activities of the Golden Dawn. It is much more rumour than really action.”

Meanwhile, an anonymous writer posted a 2,500 word letter on the Golden Dawn website making veiled threats to the editor of the foreign news desk of Kathimerini, Xenia Kounalaki. Kounalaki had published a piece called “Banality of Evil” in April calling upon media outlets to blacklist the Golden Dawn from their coverage. The letter, published five days after her article, also mentioned Kaonalaki’s 13-year old daughter. Kounalaki went to the police to file a complaint and was told to stop writing “negative” reports on the party. They could not protect her, she says. The Pan-Hellenic Police, in some cases, have also been accused of brutality against their own citizens and failing to convict those responsible for hate crimes targeting immigrants and undocumented migrants.

A July report by Amnesty International claims human rights abuses by Greek law enforcement include torture and other ill treatment during arrest or detention. The incidents, says the NGO, are not isolated. Of the 63 cases of violence recorded by the Racist Violence Recording Network – an UNHCR initiative - over a three month period at the end of 2011, 18 were perpetrated by police officers whom the network claims “seem to act as members of extremist groups”. The network noted that the incidents recorded were only a fraction of actual cases. Europol, the EU’s police agency based in The Hague, noted in a report in April that growing concerns over austerity programmes combined with disillusion with mainstream politics may lead to an increase in violent right-wing activities. “The threat of violent right-wing extremism has reached new levels in Europe and should not be underestimated,” said the report.
The EUobserver

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'Downplaying racist taunts is like spitting in victims' faces' (Sweden, opinion)

Those who try to explain away the racism experienced by Somalis in Forserum in south central Sweden are simply adding insult to injury, argues local Green Party politician Etelka Huber

29/8/2012- That parents living in Forserum in Nässjö municipality didn't dare let their kids go to school for fear of reprisals is a tragedy. It's a serious situation with racist aspects. This is nothing new, but rather appears to have been going on for a long time. Last year there were 160 Somalis there and many have moved away because of xenophobia. What has happened in Forserum is horrible but unfortunately not entirely unexpected. Matters there have been smoldering for a long time and the situation is complicated. Of course the thugs who have been reported to the police ultimately bear responsibility, but the issue is much more complicated than that. Moreover, the events are the result of a failure on the part of municipality.

Forserum is a small community of about 2,000 inhabitants. It has received 160 of a total of 320 to 360 refugees who have come to Nassjö municipality. This in itself is a dilemma. When political leaders fail to present a well-thought through action plan for integration, that is a failure in itself. It places extra demands on a plan for integration when a large group of newcomers end up in a small town. The Swedish state bears the financial responsibility for newcomers for the first two years after their arrival. After that, municipalities take over responsibility. This presents a potentially huge financial expenditure on the part of Nässjö if these people don't find jobs. Failing to build networks and platforms for new arrivals leads to social exclusion for those involved and a financial hit for the municipality. This requires political leadership and expertise.

Now, apparently, the number of Somalis in Forserum is around 60. As it stands, the racists have won the upper-hand. They have managed to scare many away. The question is how Nässjö's local political leaders will choose to act going forward. Social Democrat Bo Zander and his friends in the local council's governing majority, which includes the Left, Centre, and Liberal parties, need to do a great deal to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. In addition, the issue of integration needs to be higher on the political agenda. Local council member Anders Karlsson of the Centre Party should use the right name when referring to the actions of these gangs – namely, racism. The use of euphemisms to try to downplay the situation using words is cowardly. Perhaps Karlsson and his friends in the leadership of Nässjö don't want the municipality to be portrayed as a nest of racism.

But if the victims experience the situation as xenophobic, that's what it is. Trying to explain it away is like once again spitting in the faces of our Somali friends. But this time by a blazer-wearing, well-groomed, big-shot local Centre Party politician. Unfortunately, Forserum, in Nässjö municipality, in the highlands of Småland in south central Sweden is not unique. The only thing unique is here there is a group of thugs who, through beatings, stone throwing, spitting and other methods, have been physically harassing Somalis. Those who silently watch also carry a responsibility. But political leaders' responsibilities are greater. Social exclusion creates barriers, which in turn lead to tensions and xenophobia. It is time to break this chain.

Etelka Huber is a local Green Party politician in Nässjö municipality and a member of the local council as well as a substitute member the municipality executive board.
The Local - Sweden

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For the dignity of Roma people in Europe: Roma Pride!

28/8/2012- Weariness and despair could have finally caught up with us. Haven’t the Roma people -- Tziganes, Gypsies and Sintis -- been persecuted for centuries? Haven’t the stereotypes against them spanned several centuries, countries and political regimes? Wouldn’t it be illusive to think that one could “normalize” a situation that may appear desperate? Indeed, in many ways, violence against the Roma people in Europe seems endless and the problems they face to be fully integrated into society appear insurmountable.

For example, in Central Europe and the Balkans, a rationale exists which pushes for their removal from public space, often even by physical eradication. They are thus confined to the outskirts of major cities. In many cities and villages, Roma people are packed into separated and walled districts without any access to running water, electricity or public services. It is particularly the case in Ostrava (the Czech Republic), in Michalovce, Košice, Prešov and Svinia (Slovakia), and in Tarlungeni and Baia Mare (Romania). In Baia Mare, the Roma people have even been recently evicted and relocated to a disused chemical factory with high levels of toxicity. Furthermore, there are countless urban ghettos in Bulgaria, where in 2011 the far-right Ataka party organized anti-Roma protests in some 20 cities under the banners of “Death to the Roma people!” and “Turn the Roma people into soap!” In Hungary, the Jobbik party’s paramilitary militia terrorizes Roma people, forces them to flee their villages, as in Gyongyospata, and regularly triggers extreme racist violence. All the while the Hungarian government uses the fight against benefits fraud as an excuse to set up blatant open work camps for Roma people.

Moreover, in France, despite the change in political leadership, expulsions and deportations are restarting and they continue to take place in Germany, Sweden and Italy. Finally, daily racial discrimination in healthcare, employment, leisure and education persists in Kosovo, Portugal, Serbia, Croatia and Poland. Whereas this worrying situation could have drowned us in despair, in fact it pushes us to an even greater commitment to the fight for dignity and equality of rights.

This is why, on Sunday, October 7, we will march in our countries, leading the unified European civil society across the continent, from Norway to Serbia, from Portugal to Poland, including Italy, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, to calmly but firmly proclaim together: “Roma Pride!”

Together, we will lead a mobilization both political and cultural, which will take the form of political gatherings or cultural events. Despite what naysayers and those driven desperate by weariness may say, our hope to have the dignity of the individuals coming from one of the oldest European communities fully recognized is not in vain.

Indeed, at the institutional level, the European Union has made some steps in the right direction: For the first time, owing to the help of the Commission and of some members of the European Parliament who have been involved in the issue for a long time, all member states had to draft and present to the Commission a “National Strategy for Roma Integration” by the end of 2011. However, how could some of these strategies really have an impact when they remain without funds or planning? How couldn’t we see that it is a way to avoid the issue, and so allow the perpetuation of violence and discrimination?

Above all, a Roma elite is emerging today in Europe, with a simple and clear objective: full equality of rights and responsibilities. This elite, composed of political women and men, intellectuals, artists and activists, is not alone. It is deeply rooted in the Roma communities across the continent and fully part of the European civil society.

Roma Pride is therefore a mobilization of and a support system for self-emancipation. It will be carried out by civil society regardless of the origins of individuals and organizations involved, since universalism is our inspiration, and the full integration of all, our shared demand.

This integration does not mean a threat to culture nor to the transmission of identities and traditions which, in their diversity, are part of the European heritage.

It means, everywhere, an end to racist murders, the dismantlement of the ghettos, an end to the stigmatization of Roma people for political purposes, an end to discriminatory laws and to “exceptional” amendments. In practice, these amendments target Roma people, as is the case with those concerning the Schengen agreements, which limit the freedom of movement in Europe. It means a determined fight to deconstruct stereotypes, to fight discrimination in employment and housing, and an end to segregation in education. It means, at last, the recognition of the individual and national responsibilities for the persecution of Roma people, particularly by the European countries allied with Nazi Germany during WWII.

In order to eventually obtain the full integration of all individuals into European society, to achieve the dignity of all and respect for equality of rights across the continent, let us send a clear signal on October 7 and let us march together throughout Europe for Roma Pride! 

Benjamin Abtan, president of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM) and, by country:
Albania: Aldo Merkoci, president of the Mjaft! movement, and Adriatik Hasantari, president of Roma Active
Austria: Claudia Schafer, CEO of Zivilcourage und Anti-Rassismus-Arbeit (ZARA), Alexander Pollak, president of SOS Mitmensch, and Andrea Harle, executive director of Romano Centro
Bosnia: Alma Masic, director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights -- Bosnia
Bulgaria: Krassimir Kanev, president of the Helsinki Committee, and Deyan Kolev, president of the Roma Center Amalipe for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance
Croatia: Mario Mazic, director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights -- Croatia
Czech Republic: Anna Sabatova, president of the Helsinki Committee, and Jarmila Balazova, president of Romea
Denmark: Anne Nielsen, president of SOS mod Racisme, and Ferdi Sabani, chairman of Roma Foreningen i Danmark
Finland: Janette Gronfors, coordinator of the Rasmus antiracist network and founding member of Nevo Roma
France: Cindy Leoni, president of SOS Racisme, and Alain Daumas, president of the French Union of Gypsy Associations
Germany: Serdar Yazar, spokesperson of the Turkish Union in Berlin-Brandenburg (TBB)
Greece: Ahmed Moawia, coordinator of the Greek Forum for Migrants
Hungary: Janos Farkas, president of the Government of the Roma Minority of Gyongyospata, and Erika Muhi, director of NEKI
Italy: Angela Scalzo, president of SOS Razzismo, and Olga Bala, president of Partita Romilor
Kosovo: Raba Gjoshi, director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights -- Kosovo, and Osman Osmani, director of Initiative 6
Latvia: Sigita Zankovska-Odina, researcher at the Latvian Center for Human Rights
Moldova: Nicolae Radita, president of the Roma National Center
Montenegro: Boris Raonic, president of Civic Alliance, and Teuta Nuraj, president of Nacionalni Savjet Roma i Egipcana
Norway: Kari Helene Partapuoli, director of the Antirasistisk Senter
Poland: Kasia Kubin, director of the Foundation Forum for Social Diversity, Paula Sawicka, president of the Open Republic Association, and Roman Kwiatkowski, president of the Roma People Association in Poland
Portugal: Bruno Goncalves, vice president of the Centro de Estudos Ciganos
Romania: Marian Mandache, executive director of Romani Criss
Russia: Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Memorial Migration Rights Center
Serbia: Maja Micic, director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights -- Serbia, and Jovana Vukovic, coordinator of the Regional Center for Minorities
Slovakia: Irena Bihariova, president of Ludia proti rasizmu
Sweden: Mariam Osman Sherifay, chairwoman of Centrum mot Rasism
Turkey: Selcuk Karadeniz, president of the Roma Youth Association, and Cengiz Algan, spokesperson of Durde!
Ukraine: Zola Kundur, Chiricli International Roma Women’s Fund
Kathimerini

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