NEWS - Archive April 2013

Headlines 26 April, 2013

How anti-racism lessons increase pupil intolerance by 'causing animosity to other cultures'

Dutch study finds discussing sensitive ethnic concerns can be counter-productive; Education Secretary Michael Gove under fire over plans to stop teaching teenagers about multicultural topics 

26/4/2013- Children who are given anti-racism lessons in school are more likely to be intolerant outside the classroom, a major study found yesterday. It said accusing white pupils of racism causes animosity, and discussing sensitive ethnic concerns such as honour killings paints minority group children in a bad light. The survey said children who live in mixed neighbourhoods are often free of hostility towards other racial groups. But it found that ‘when more attention in class is being paid to the multicultural society, the liberalising effect of positive contact in class on youngsters’ xenophobic attitude decreases’. The project carried out in the Netherlands comes at a time of controversy over the place of multiculturalism – which blames Britain for historic racism and demands the encouragement of minority cultures – in the national curriculum and teaching in British schools.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has been under fire from Left-wing academics over plans to stop teaching teenagers about topics such as ‘the wide cultural, social and ethnic diversity of Britain from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century and how this has helped shape Britain’s identity’. Instead, in future pupils will be taught much more British history. The study, published in the European Sociological Review, was based on a survey of 1,444 pupils aged 14 and 15 in ten schools in the city of Nijmegen. The teenagers, drawn from different class and racial backgrounds, and with differing academic abilities, were questioned on their attitudes to those from different ethnic backgrounds and about multicultural teaching in their schools. It said boys tended to be more intolerant of other groups than girls, and intolerance was greatest among those with strong religious or ethnic identity, among those from Turkish or Moroccan backgrounds, and those with the lowest educational achievements.

But it said the teaching of multiculturalism had an ‘unexpected negative effect’. It added: ‘The impact of positive inter- ethnic contact in class disappears or even reverses when multiculturalism is more emphasised during lessons. Discussing discrimination and the customs and habits of other cultures during lessons affects the youngsters’ xenophobic attitudes indirectly.’ The report added that bad feelings among minority groups could be generated by discussion of topics such as honour killings or female circumcision. Animosity could also be caused by ‘a one-sided offender- victim approach to racism’. The findings echo the views of Bradford head teacher Ray Honeyford, who was driven from his job nearly 30 years ago over his claim that multicultural teaching was harming pupils. Mr Honeyford said that pupil performance was hindered by ‘the notion of the multi-racial curriculum urged by the authorities, and of making colour and race significant, high-profile issues in the classroom’.

Patricia Morgan, an author on the family and education, said yesterday: ‘If you rub children’s noses in their supposed racism, they resent it. ‘Pupils are being accused of things they haven’t thought or done. Multiculturalism attempts to manipulate children’s thoughts, beliefs and emotions, it amounts to indoctrination, and it doesn’t work. It is counter-productive. ‘This study shows that when people try to manipulate children’s minds, it bounces back on them.’
The Daily Mail

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Report: Russian Gay-Rights Activist Granted Spanish Asylum

Prominent Russian gay rights activist Aleksei Kiselyov has reportedly been granted political asylum in Spain.

26/4/2013- A fellow gay rights activist based in Moscow, Nikolai Alekseyev, said that Spain gave Kiselyov asylum and a five-year permanent resident permit. Kiselyov participated in a protest against the reelection of President Vladimir Putin on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square in May 2012 that was violently dispersed by police. Several activists who took part in the protest have been charged with organizing mass disorders. Kiselyov told the group GayRussia on April 26 that he would return to Russia "only after Putin's dictatorship regime is gone." Kiselyov also said Spain's decision shows it understood "the political nature of the events on Bolotnaya Square." He is believed to be the first Russian activist to receive political asylum abroad in connection with the protest.
Based on reporting by gayrussia.ru and Interfax
RFE/RL

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Anne Frank, Mehmet Sahin and Dutch anti-Semitism

by Rabbi Abraham Cooper 

26/4/2013- Last week, I joined the never-ending line of pilgrims of memory waiting their turn to walk in Anne’s shoes — if only for a few moments. The teary-eyed 30-something woman in front of me clutched her well-worn copy of Anne’s diary in Korean as we slowly ascended to the attic within whose walls a young Jewish girl penned her inner thoughts as she dared to hope of a bright future that never came. But if millions flock to Anne’s hiding place to pay homage to one beautiful Jewish girl murdered by the Nazis, too many people in The Netherlands today and across Europe show no such respect for living Jews.

To the contrary:
The Anne Frank Foundation reported severe anti-Semitic acts have increased by more than 50 percent, with 2,700 incidents reported overall in 2011. MDI, a group that tracks Internet hate lists anti-Semitism/Holocaust denial as accounting for 28 percent of online hate in 2012, with sites targeting Muslims (who outnumber Dutch Jews by 20 to 1) at 18 percent. On the political front, parliamentarians of the Freedom party, led by Geert Wilders, have proposed legislation to ban shechita, Jewish ritual slaughter.

The Dutch collective memory of their own complicated record during World War II is increasingly wobbly:
+ The municipality of the village of Bronckhorst has decided that its official delegation on National Memorial Day on May 4 will also honor fallen soldiers of Nazi Germany who are buried in the village, in addition to the Dutch dead.
+ Jews from Amsterdam who survived the Holocaust, either in hiding or in Nazi concentration camps, were later fined for failing to pay taxes during the Nazi occupation. According to the Dutch paper, Het Parool, many Jews had their homes confiscated, ostensibly for failing to pay taxes and those homes were then given to members of the Dutch Nazi Party. For years after WWII, city officials continued trying to collect taxes from the few Jews lucky enough to have survived the Shoah.
+   Last year the Dutch Prime Minister reiterated the government’s refusal to apologize for the apathy that the Dutch government-in-exile demonstrated toward the roundup and murder of most of the country’s Jews during the Holocaust. Why? The Jewish community had not asked for one he argued. Almost all other European governments have since apologized or admitted guilt for the conduct of authorities under Germany’s occupation.

As for Israel, there seems to be much “moral clarity”. Over 38 percent of Dutch respondents to a poll conducted by the respected Ebert Foundation said they believed that Israel intends to carry out a war of extermination against Palestinians, the way the Germans exterminated the Jews! The Dutch government wants legislation imposing labels on all products from the disputed West Bank. No such law has been proposed for products from Tibet, Turkish-occupied Cyprus, or disputed parts of the Sahara occupied by Morocco.

For a decade now, European polls, including those conducted by the European Commission and the BBC, consistently rank Israel among the top threats to peace in the world. In neighboring Germany, respected authors and media pundits see Israel -- not Iran -- as a nuclear threat to the world. So in some ways, the Der Stuermer-like cartoon that appeared this week in a prominent Dutch newspaper shouldn’t surprise us. Alongside the nuke-threatening North Korean leader, is the real menace to the world, Israel-depicted as the conniving bald-faced lying, hooked-nosed Chasidic Jew. While I raised these issues with the Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands, parliamentarians, and the media, the main reason for my visit was to show solidarity with a true Dutch hero — a Muslim, Mehmet Sahin.

A Dutch Muslim doctoral student, Sahin works with youth in the city of Arnhem. A few weeks ago he interviewed a group of Dutch-Turkish youth on Nederlands TV2, during which several declared their unabashed hatred of Jews and open admiration of Hitler. “What Hitler did to the Jews is fine with me,” one said. “Hitler should have killed all the Jews,” said another, adding, “What Hitler said about Jews is that there will be one day when you see that I am right that I killed all the Jews. And that day will come.” A shocked Sahin made the mistake of committing on air to do whatever it took to remove the hatred from these teens. The result? Denunciation by his community leaders at Friday prayers at their local mosque for having the audacity to stand up against anti-Semitism, denunciation as a “Jew” by neighbors, and death threats. The police have done virtually nothing to punish his tormentors, and he and his newlywed wife were literally forced into hiding. I told Dutch officials that Sahin should be hailed as a role model for the people of the Netherlands, not relegated to the anonymity of a Witness Protection Program.

Recently, Sahin wrote:
“Within a couple of days, I will move to another city of the Netherlands. My personal situation/story is a shame of the European civilization because it is inconceivable that such barbarism can occur in this country. After what happened in the last three weeks, I understood the eternal loneliness and pain of the Jewish population. In the rest of my life, I will tell the whole world that we all must resist this aggression…” A few days ago I presented Mehmet Sahin with more than 500 messages of solidarity from around the world. I invite you to add yours c/o information@wiesenthal.com.

What becomes of Mehmet Sahin will inform us about the future course of Dutch society: Will it be true to Anne Frank’s vision of a better world or to the infamy of those Dutch collaborators who sealed her fate.
The Jewish Journal

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Primary schools reject minority pupils over test score fears (Netherlands)

26/4/2013-  Primary schools are structurally refusing to accept children with an ethnic minority background because of fears they may drive down test scores, experts from multicultural institute Forum say in Friday’s Trouw. Schools fear that children who don’t speak Dutch as a first language or who are ‘behind’ in other ways may have a negative impact on the school’s Cito score, Forum says. Most primary school children take exams known as the Cito in their final year. The results are used to determine school performance. In addition, schools are worried about becoming classified as ‘too black’ and therefore unpopular with white parents, starting a negative downwards spiral, Forum told Trouw.

Research
‘This is not good for integration and we will end up with parallel societies,’ Forum says. The research was carried out by the Nijmegen-based KBA bureau and involved interviews with dozens of parents plus 12 school heads and civil servants, Trouw said. Although it was a small research project, complaints about discrimination are 25 years old, Forum’s education expert Zeki Arslan told the paper. ‘In this research, education professionals also acknowledge it happens on a structural basis,’ Arslan said. ‘And this in a country where we have freedom of educational choice… I hope this small survey will lead the minister to set up a major research project.

Support
School board association PO-Raad supports Forum’s position. ‘We hear these signals as well,’ a spokesman said. ‘And if it is happening, it is unacceptable.’ Some 12% of Dutch primary schools have more than 50% ethnic-minority pupils. Parents of children with a minority background who try to register their children at white schools hit a variety of obstacles, Trouw said. These range from simply feeling unwelcome to long waiting lists. In some cases they are referred to a more mixed school ‘where there is more experience with language disadvantage’, Trouw said.
The Dutch News

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Is Lithuania Tolerant Enough to Lead Europe?

A current of hostility to gays and other minorities undercuts the country�s efforts to burnish its image as it takes the EU helm.
By Linas Jegelevicius

26/4/2013- With hundreds of concerts under his belt, some in the Lithuanian hinterlands shunned by other pop musicians, Ruslanas Kirilkinas has seen it all: tears, smiles, grins, hugs, kisses, and other signs of encouragement for the crooner’s heart-rending encores. The 29-year-old singer concedes that sometimes, in some of those dimly lit, mildew-smelling, Soviet-inspired rural concert halls, he has also seen fans smirk as they struggle to digest the fact that Kirilkinas is gay. Having publicly announced that fact seven years ago, Kirilkinas remains the only openly gay Lithuanian pop star. And he is one of very few “out” gays in any sphere in a country regarded as one of the most conservative in Europe. “I just couldn’t hide who I was and I have never thought that people in Lithuania were hostile to homosexuals,” he said. But after being pelted with eggs at a recent rural concert, Kirilkinas’ belief in that tolerance has cracked. “My sexual orientation undoubtedly triggered the ambush,” he said, admitting that he now feels frightened and anxious about his safety. After the nasty attack, Kirilkinas hired beefy security guards to protect him at concerts. 

This year, the eggs must be gently fashioned into an omelet known as the European Union presidency. Now that Lithuania's government is to assume that rotating, six-month responsibility 1 July, some wonder if it is tolerant enough to guide the progressive-minded union. Many Lithuanians, for their part, don't see things the same way as their fellow European Union members. According to Lithuanian's own perceptions, things are better in their own country: a Eurobarometer survey released late in 2012 by the European Commission found that 56 percent of EU citizens perceived widespread ethnic discrimination in Europe. Only 17 percent of Lithuanians perceived such bias, the survey showed. The one area where Lithuanians were in synch with their fellow Europeans was in seeing discrimination against gays, with 46 percent of Europeans finding it widespread, compared with 45 percent of Lithuanians.

Nevertheless, tolerance issues are not among the Lithuanian EU presidency's priorities, which include enhancing energy security, promoting cooperation among Baltic nations, rapprochement between Eastern Partnership (mostly former Soviet republics) states and the EU, and better protection of the EU's outer borders. Where those issues have been found is in Lithuanian leaders' program to put tolerance in the public eye. From events that reach out to long-oppressed Jews and the Roma people to a 'pride' parade to make gays feel welcome, Lithuanian leaders are creating the impression, at least, that the issue is being dealt with. While Lithuanians may not perceive it, examples of intolerance have grabbed headlines recently. Last year, for instance, African singer Viktoras Diawara-Vee, who is married to a Lithuanian woman, suffered the racist insults of nationalists marching along the main promenade of the second-largest Lithuanian city, Kaunas, celebrating the Restoration of Lithuanian Independence. Some youth in the parade, including skinheads, shouted that he was a 'sleazy monkey' and yelled other slurs.

Originally from Mali, singer Viktoras Diawara-Vee has had to endure the racist insults of nationalists. "I was dumbfounded, unable to believe that this was happening in the broad light of day," Diawara-Vee recalled. The event was encouraged by a number of Lithuanian members of parliament, seeing it as a manifestation of patriotism and nationality. Confusing that concept with intolerance is a mistake, Diawara-Vee said, shaking his head. Such cases of intolerance may be shrugged off by some Lithuanians as isolated incidents, but with the approaching presidency of the Council of the European Union, they undermine the country's efforts to present itself as a safe and friendly European state. But some say Lithuania has always been a tolerant place. "Certainly, quite different value systems have to be applied through history, but generally speaking, Lithuanians have always been friendly and embraced other national minorities," said Tomas Cyvas, a historian and political analyst. "For the simple reason that in the medieval ages, the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania cared about only one thing: how to attract craftsmen from other countries here and boost local trade. Obviously, the relations among nations didn�t have the tinge of nationalism back then, as trade prevailed."

Nonetheless, the nation’s leaders have seen the need to promote their country as diverse, mature, and tolerant. That effort has included projects like “Tolerance’s umbrella,” which aimed to explain to every secondary school student the essence of the word “tolerance” and foster the idea in young minds. While students might be keen to learn about diversity in their society, the educational measures often don’t include representatives of the minorities in question. “The best way to learn about tolerance is through vivid examples,” said Edyta Kazlauskiene, a social worker and project leader at a school in the central city of Panevezys. She said she wishes schools could attract more minorities to discuss tolerance with students, “instead of speaking about them and the issue in the classroom.” She also emphasized the need to discuss tolerance every day, not just on special occasions like November’s United Nations’ Day for International Tolerance.

But Salomeja Slaboseviciene, a retired teacher and former deputy principal of a secondary school, observed that such programs are often “stamped out” in pro forma fashion to appease strict EU requirements and the dictates of local human rights watchdogs. “From my own experience, many of the programs aiming to promote tolerance in school are stitched up hurriedly, after schools get grants for it,” Slaboseviciene said. Teachers are often preoccupied with ticking off tolerance requirements on their syllabi “in such a way that no one can nag about the use of money.” As far as convincing young Lithuanians to be more accepting of minorities, however, “the programs and the cause of tolerance are doomed,” Slaboseviciene said. And while the curriculum attempts to teach acceptance of ethnic minorities like the Roma and other vulnerable social groups, it often ignores the issue of gay and transgender citizens, gay rights activists charge. “Alas, the whole issue of homosexuality is still a taboo in Lithuanians schools. Principals are scared to death of being accused by parents or anyone else of promoting homosexuality,” said Vladimiras Simonko, chairman of the Lithuanian Gay League. “Most intolerance against the [gay] community on the casual level is due to lack of information, but policy makers often do what it takes to withhold it from the public,” Simonko said. “As a rule, the argument is the same: society is not ready for it.”  

The Lithuanian EU presidency gives the country “a unique chance” to show that Lithuania is a vibrant democracy based on pluralistic principles, he added. “Therefore we are eagerly looking forward to the Baltic Pride events at the start of the chairmanship,” Simonko said. But many in the country, like Slaboseviciene, are vehemently against the gay pride parade set for the beginning of July. “I see that some minorities, especially gays and Poles, are going to extremes in defense of their ostensibly violated rights. If they didn’t cry so loud and often unjustifiably, their public acceptance would be much better and quicker,” she said. With open European borders, more Lithuanians are able to get a taste of the Western lifestyles. But encounters with cultural variety can also trigger contempt and bolster a nationalistic mindset, say tolerance advocates. When singer Diawara-Vee worried about the deteriorating situation in his native Mali in February, he shared this concern online. But his post about his parents’ safety and his plan to bring them to Lithuania was met with a raft of racism-laden comments. “It made me sick to my stomach,” he said.

So lately, Diawara-Vee has been expressing both his worries about his family’s safety and his concern about rising xenophobia in Lithuania. “It’s time to make a clear distinction between patriotism, nationalism and extremism, but I just don’t see that happening in Lithuania yet,” Diawara-Vee said. Rights advocates say if hateful slurs surfaced elsewhere in the EU, politicians would likely hurry to condemn them and, in some cases, urge law enforcement to crack down on more extreme manifestations of hate speech. But they say that is not likely to happen in Lithuania, where the boundaries between national pride, ethnic identity, and extremism are often blurred. How, EU-sensitive leaders are wondering, should they deal with seemingly intolerant speech shouted during Restoration of Independence Day celebrations, such as “Lithuania for Lithuanians”? Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius seemed caught off-guard when asked that question by a reporter. “Unless they shout the slogan, I am OK with them and the marching,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite took a similar tack with the Lithuanian news website Delfi, saying, “If the youth speak of patriotism and don't hurt other citizens with discriminating slogans, then the thing should be welcome, why not?” But if the slogans become threatening to social groups or minorities, “then that is not good and not tolerable." While the nation’s leaders consider where to draw the line, those who monitor bigotry are alarmed by what they’re seeing inside the borders of Europe’s next agenda-setter. In February, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization, urged the Lithuanian government to ban what it called neo-Nazi marches on Restoration of Independence Day. The center warned of a “resurgence of fascist ideology and extremist nationalism” evident in the marches. Nevertheless, national pride – not necessarily the intolerant kind – is important for this small Baltic country that has seen invasions from east and west that have erased its statehood. That doesn’t justify bigotry, human rights advocates say. They argue that many Lithuanian officials continue to treat the tolerance issue as politically sensitive, leaving room for intolerance to be tolerated.

“As long as Lithuanian politicians keep setting up issues of patriotism and tolerance as against a lack of patriotism, servility to the EU, and threats to Lithuania’s national security, a clear distinction among patriotism and extremism will not be drawn,” said a senior pollster for a major public opinion research company, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue. The pollster said his company’s research shows “a slow but steady creep” of greater bigotry, especially toward non-Christians, ethnic minorities, and gays. For Arturas Racas, a well-known Lithuanian analyst and former editor in chief of the Baltic News Service, the media also bear some responsibility when it comes to getting the tolerance issue off of the back burner. “Unfortunately, racism, homophobia, and other fear-laden remarks are not a rarity in Lithuanian media,” Racas said. “Many of those who tend to consider themselves tolerant in person admit they often feel like smashing a gay [person]’s face behind the corner of apartment building.” Only when such attitudes change, when every journalist takes personal responsibility for reporting on minorities without bias, will the media help promote tolerance, Racas said.

In July, the rest of Europe will be turning its gaze toward Lithuania. When that happens, it seems likely that people who secretly hold up Ruslanas Kirilkinas as a role model will be wondering if their country’s halting steps toward tolerance will have a lasting effect on their lives, their neighbors, and their nation.

Linas Jegelevicius is a freelance journalist in Klaipeda, Lithuania
Transitions Online

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Bulgarians turn to right and left-wing parties

Parties on the right and left-wing in Bulgaria benefit from voters' concerns about the impact of the financial crisis. There is also a growing acceptance of xenophobic views ahead of elections in May.

25/4/2013- Both right and left-wing parties in Bulgaria are benefitting from voters' concerns about the impact of the financial crisis ahead of parliamentary elections on May 12. Thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets for weeks at the beginning of this year. The demonstrators, who belonged to no particular party, protested against the effects of the financial crisis, rising electricity prices and growing unemployment. Activists in several cities waved the country's flag and sang battle songs from the 19th century, from the time of the so-called "liberation from the Turkish yoke" after nearly 500 years of Ottoman rule.

Noticeable nationalist sentiment 
Two people killed themselves by self-immolation. On February 20, Prime Minster Boyko Borissov responded by resigning and setting new elections for May 12. But the nationalist sentiment is still noticeable and is influencing the election campaign. Hardly anyone in Bulgaria today thinks much about the old Ottoman Empire. The demonstrators are more concerned with another "foreign power" - the one made up of big international energy companies and food chains that Bulgarians blame for the high cost of living. Culture expert Alexander Kiossev said the protests have clearly led to an escalation of xenophobia. "Such uprisings of despair always try to find the guilty one among the so-called strangers," he said. "Not only foreign investors but also Turks and the Roma are frequent targets of aggression, which is even more dangerous with the presence of football hooligans and criminals."

True Bulgarians
When Bulgarians speak of "the Turks," they refer to the Turkish-speaking Muslim minority that accounts for 8 percent of the country's population. The Roma community is estimated to be roughly the same size. For populist parties such as the "Ataka" alliance, which is represented in both Bulgaria and the European Parliament, both groups are the enemy. For years, Ataka has been able to score points with its protests against new mosques and Turkish lessons in schools as well as its claims that the Roma population lives at the expense of "true Bulgarians" by exploiting the social system. Sociologist Andrey Raytchev said he sees a new trend emerging in Bulgaria that acceptance of extremist views has grown but is not leading to a jump in xenophobia or racism.

"Ataka is presently on an upswing but radicalization is moving less toward xenophobia," he said. "It is the calls for an 'expropriation of foreign capitalists' that sound so attractive to a number of Bulgarians." Raytchev and other observers have noticed a general radicalization on both the right and left-fringes of society. The violent soccer hooligans who are openly homophobic and often attack homosexuals, the radical nationalists who still dream of Great Bulgaria and the general group of right-wing people who hate the Roma and Turks suddenly found themselves on the street protesting together with ultra-left and nostalgic communists. Many of the smaller parties are hunting for votes in these groups ahead of the May 12 elections

Xenophobia, homophobia, racial resentment
Sometimes the parties demand that the nation's wealth be returned to the people or they sometimes promise to clean up Roma ghettos and to require the long-term unemployed - and by that they mean the Roma - engage in forced labor. These, according to the political scientist Parvan Simeonov, may be populist slogans but they sound plausible and politically consistent for a noticeable group of marginalized voters. His colleague Ognian Mintchev said a single-digit percentage of Bulgarians has been vulnerable to xenophobia, homophobia and racial resentment. While the street demonstrations have not contributed to the growth of this group, they have led to a radicalization. "Some populist politicians who have called out for these protests are not in a position to receive serious political support in the election," Mintchev said. That is exactly what the election in May is all about: Which parties will win over the 15 to 20 percent of the voters who have actively supported the street protests? The two major parties, Prime Minister Borissov's right-wing GERB and the socialist BSP, have so far avoided any comments on the populist slogans and promises of the protest leaders.
The Deutsche Welle.

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2012 Annual Report of the Racist Violence Recording Network (Greece)

Introduction
25/4/2013- The present report consists of two parts: First, the quantitative and qualitative findings of recording incidents of racist violence, through interviewing victims, by organizations participating in the Racist Violence Recording Network during 2012; and, second the Network’s positions on state responses and initiatives to combat racist crimes, including the adoption or amendment of relevant legislation or initiatives to do so.
Original version (in Greek)

1) Findings
During the period January-December 2012, the Racist Violence Recording Network documented, through interviews with victims, 154 incidents of racist violence, of which 151 were committed against refugees and migrants and 3 against European citizens (1 Romanian, 1 Bulgarian and 1 Greek). Location of incidents: 107 incidents occurred within the geographical area of the Municipality of Athens, and particularly in areas of the city centre, such as Aghios Panteleimonas, Attica Square, America Square and other areas around Omonia Square, while 23 incidents were recorded in the broader area of Attica prefecture. Moreover, 13 incidents occurred in Patras, 3 in Corinth, while 3 incidents recorded in Igoumenitsa and Evros have occurred in detention centers. Finally, incidents have also taken place in Rhodes, Chios, Konitsa and Nea Manolada Ilias. The majority of incidents occurred in public places, while 6 were more particularly recorded on public transport. There are also 7 incidents which occurred in detention facilities (police stations and detention centers) and 16 were perpetrated in private places such as migrants’ houses, shops and places used as lodges.

Characteristics of the attacks: The majority of incidents concern physical attacks against foreigners, while the types of crimes are mainly severe body injuries (in 66 cases) and assaults (in 76 cases). Threats against foreigners have also been reported as well as cases of verbal abuse and property damage. It is worth noting that at least 22 incidents combine property damage and assault against a person (or persons), as shows the case involving the arson of a barber’s shop owned by a Pakistani national near the area of Metamorfosi. Most incidents occurred at night or in the early morning hours.

The Racist Violence Recording Network registered a homicide case in 2012, following communication with the victim’s family; the victim was a 31 year-old Egyptian citizen who died after 17 days in coma after being savagely beaten. This incident, like the atrocious murder of a 19 year-old Iraqi boy at the center of Athens in August 2012 and that of a 26 year-old Pakistani male who was fatally attacked by two people on a motorcycle near the area of Petralona at the beginning of 2013, constitute a dramatic reminder that violent attacks with racist motives are not merely a continuous phenomenon, but one the degree of violence of which is frighteningly increasing within the Greek society.

The victims: The victims who approached the members of the Network and reported the incidents, consisted of 149 men (average age 27 years old) and 5 women (average age 24,6 years old), mainly from Afghanistan (47), Pakistan (13), Algeria (12), Bangladesh (12), Egypt (10) Morocco (7), Somalia (6), Soudan (6), Guinea (6), Tunisia (5) and Iraq (4). Nationalities of victims also include Iran, Mauritania, Syria, Eritrea, Congo, Senegal, Palestine, Comoros, the Ivory Coast, Albania, Georgia, Gambia and Ghana. In addition, the Network recorded 3 European citizens: 1 Romanian, 1 Bulgarian and 1 Greek who was victim of homophobic attack.

As regards the legal status of the victims, except those who have the nationality of an EU Member State, 44 were asylum seekers, 4 were recognized refugees, 15 were holders of residence permits and 79 held no legal documents or were under deportation order (in 8 cases the victim’s status was unknown).

In the vast majority of cases, the victims consider the fact that their characteristic as foreigners is the reason for the attack; they believe that they were targeted because either of their skin color or of any other characteristic revealing the fact they were not natives (the majority of migrant victims were Muslims). It is worth noting that 2 out of 5 female victims believe they were attacked because they were wearing the hijab. Also, in most cases, the victims themselves were able to identify the motive of the attack, since the attacks followed a question or a comment about the origin of the victims and were accompanied by verbal insults and threats against the foreigners. In many other instances (in particular cases where the victims were present in the country only for a short period of time and were unaware of racist violence incidents), the racist motive of the attack was clearly expressed to them by the perpetrators when victims requested on the reason of the attack.

Finally, the Racist Violence Recording Network recorded for the first time an attack where the motive was related to the sexual orientation of the victim. This record should not lead to the conclusion that there were no such attacks in recent years, but it is linked to the mobilization and participation of LGBT organisations in the Network only recently, and their active follow-up of relevant attacks.

The perpetrators: The perpetrators in the recorded attacks were men, with the exception of 8 incidents where the perpetrators acted as a group in which the participation of women has also been recorded. At least in those cases where victims could assess the age of the perpetrators, the average age was 27 years old and they were in the vast majority Greek citizens. Incidents where the perpetrators belonged to different ethnic groups have also been recorded (i.e. attack at the centre of Athens in which ethnic Albanian immigrants participated). In only 6 out of 154 incidents the perpetrator acted alone.

According to the victims’ testimonies, in 91 cases, the perpetrators are believed to belong to extremist group. This fact also emerges from the qualitative elements recorded concerning the attacks: in these instances, the perpetrators are believed to act in an organized manner and in groups, moving either by motorcycle or on foot, often being accompanied by aggressive dogs. They are dressed in black and at times with military trousers, wearing helmets or having their faces covered. In similar attacks the participation of minors is also recorded. Most incidents occurred after sunset or in the early morning hours. Motorcycle or foot “patrols” by people dressed in black are described as the most common practice; they act as self-proclaimed vigilante groups who attack refugees and migrants in the streets, squares or public transportation stops.

The victims speak of areas in Athens which have become inaccessible to them due to the fear of being attacked. In at least 8 cases, the victims or witnesses to the attacks reported that they recognized persons associated to Golden Dawn among the perpetrators, because either they wore the insignia of the organization, or they were seen participating in public events of the organization in the area, or they were known as associated with the local branch of the organization. The Racist Violence Recording Network also recorded the following important cases: an assault perpetrated by 20 people who broke into a migrant’s house in Perama, leaving two people injured (one of whom had to undergo extensive face surgery), the incursion in the house of the Imam of the Pakistani Community in the area of Sepolia and 3 cases of invasion in abandoned buildings used by migrants as a lodge (2 in Athens and 1 in Patra). Moreover, at the end of October 2012, an attack against an Afghan restaurant was recorded following a demonstration of far-right supporters at the centre of Athens, while witnesses reported other various attacks on shops owned by migrants in the same evening.

Involvement of police personnel and public servants in racist attacks: There is a distinct category of 25 incidents where police and racist violence are interlinked, 7 of which occurred in locations where migrants are detained (Igoumenitsa police station, Attica Aliens Directorate, Agios Panteleimonas police station, Chimoniou Orestiada police station, Vrachati police station), while in 17 other cases in 2012, the involvement of law enforcement officials in racist attacks was also reported. In the reports of these incidents are involved officers on duty who resort to illegal acts and violent practices while carrying out routine checks. There are also cases where victims report that they were brought to police stations, were detained and ill-treated for a few hours, as well as reports of legal documents being destroyed during these operations. There is also 1 incident alleging cooperation between law enforcement officials and members of extremist groups during an assault on a migrant’s house in Chios. Finally, 6 cases occurred on and around public transport, in 2 of which the perpetrators were public servants: 1 incident where an Egyptian woman was verbally abused by a bus driver who shut the door on her baby’s carriage and 1 incident where an Afghan young male was reportedly beaten by bus controllers because he did not present a validated ticket.

Intensity of the attacks and use of weapons: The recording of incidents reveals several qualitative elements regarding the nature of the attacks: the violence of the attacks increases, while there is greater tolerance or fear by witnesses who do not intervene to assist victims during the attacks. In many cases victims report the use of weapons during the attacks, such as clubs, crowbars, folding batons, chains, brass knuckles, spray, knives and broken bottles, while the use of large dogs has been repeatedly reported in the area of Aghios Panteleimonas and Attica square. The victims suffer multiple injuries such as fractures, sprains, contusions, lesion injuries, abrasions, eyesight and hearing damages, symptoms of post-traumatic stress, etc. Lodging of official complaints and the response of state and local authorities: Only 24 victims have addressed the competent authorities to file an official complaint and initiate judicial procedures, while 23 would like to do so. The rest do not wish to take further actions, most of the times because they lack legal documents and are therefore afraid that they will be arrested and deported. Indeed, instead of dealing with complainants as potential victims of a crime, the police authorities prioritize control of the victim’s legal residence in the country and abstain from the duty to investigate the reported incident.

In many cases, the victims of racist attacks stated that they attempted to report the incidents to the police but were faced with unwillingness or deterrence and, in some cases, the actual refusal of the police authorities to respond. Moreover, some victims did not wish to lodge a complaint because they had already been victims of police violence or because they argued that the perpetrators were associated with the police and / or the Golden Dawn and were afraid of being targeted.

Finally, there is a widespread impression that, even if the victims report the incident to the competent authorities, they will find no justice. A significant, though not general, trend is that victims do not receive any substantial assistance from the police, and, on the opposite, they often face indifference and are also deterred from officially denouncing the incident. There are numerous cases recorded in 2012 illustrating this phenomenon: 1) a victim alleges that when trying to report the incident, he was told “there is nothing the police can do, that’s how things are in Greece”; 2) another victim reports that a police officer retorted “we know the game, you, foreigners, play, you’d better leave”; 3) a victim reports that while he was being beaten in the street, a police officer intervened but instead of arresting the perpetrators, he kicked him and told him to leave from the area; 4) a victim was deprived of his asylum applicant’s document (pink card) while trying to file a complaint in police station and had to return accompanied by a lawyer in order to collect it back; 5) a victim who was beaten while exiting a police station reports that the attack was linked to a prior threatening and offensive behavior of a police officer in his regard.

These indicative reports show that a significant number of prosecuting agents consider racist attacks as a daily and ordinary phenomenon, they dismiss the reported cases as insignificant and show, therefore, no will to tackle it. They avoid intervening during racist attacks and when they do so, they treat victims with indifference and mistrust, and/or discourage them from filing official complaints. The Racist Violence Recording Network assesses that the findings were exceptionally alarming, while increasing concern rises from the fact that the incidents recorded by the Network’s members are only the tip of the iceberg. The geographically limited range of the participating organizations, the spreading fear amongst the victims which often prevents them from approaching even the organizations where they could report the incidents anonymously, as well as the inability of organizations to provide effective protection to the victims, are strong indications that the number of racist violence attacks recorded by the Network is much smaller than the actual one. This conclusion is reinforced from the frequent media reports of incidents in areas different from the ones covered by the participating organizations, revealing that racist violence is spreading.

2) Positions of the Racist Violence Recording Network on state responses and initiatives to combat racist crimes
Access to lodging official complaints and victim protection: The Racist Violence Recording Network welcomed the legislative initiative by the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection introducing special Departments and Offices within the Hellenic Police aiming at tackling the phenomenon of racist violence (P.D. 132/2012). This initiative could contribute towards addressing and preventing violence with racist and xenophobic motives. However, it should be noted that any initiative of the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection will bear no meaningful results unless reports/ testimonies/ complaints about police arbitrary behavior are effectively addressed, both when these concern a wrongdoing of police officers during the performance of their duties or the reproduction of biased reactions towards the victims (arising from personal opinions or due to the lack of targeted training); both may result in direct or indirect behaviors with racist motives that constitute violations of human rights. Hence, the effective and unconditional condemnation by the State of any act of police violence and arbitrary behavior is imperative.

Moreover, the provisions of P.D. 132/2012 fail to address issues of major importance for the effectiveness of these special Departments, namely the selection and recruitment procedure of their personnel, as well as their respective training. Members of the Racist Violence Recording Network participated as trainers in the two-day training organized for the newly appointed officials, which by no means is considered sufficient for the increased training needs on such a sensitive and complex issue. The Network therefore suggests a mandatory process of continuous training, including on up-to-date developments, and providing expert knowledge, for the police officers appointed in these Departments. To that end, the Network proposes the elaboration of Guidelines on how to address hate crimes and offers to actively contribute to their drafting. In any case, frequent complaints alleging unlawful actions with racist motives perpetrated by police officers, reveal the necessity for a transparent selection process, under objective criteria, so that staff likely to undermine the effective functioning of these Departments is excluded.

It should also be noted that the above legislative initiative lacks guarantees for the safe lodging of official complaints by persons who do not possess legal residence documents. Yet, effective prevention and combat of racist crimes presupposes the effective ability of the victim to report such a crime under safe conditions, without the fear of being found in such a position that would dissuade him/her from reporting the crime. The State should encourage the victims – regardless of their legal status in the country – to report any threats or attacks against them. Of significant importance is the fact that out of the 154 victims whose testimonies were recorded by the Network in 2012, the vast majority did not wish to file a complaint due to fear mainly related to the lack of legal documents. Undocumented migrants, who form the majority of the victims recorded, even in case they are willing to report the attacks to the authorities, are immediately arrested upon arrival at the police station with a view to be deported, and as a consequence they are deterred from reporting any racist attack against them. In addition, during judicial procedures against the perpetrator, persons without legal documents are once again dissuaded from participating in the process since they are threatened with arrest and deportation.

In order to tackle the above issue and reduce subsequent impunity of the perpetrators, the Racist Violence Recording Network suggests to explicitly provide for the suspension of arrest and deportation decisions against victims who file a complaint, complemented by the granting of a residence permit on humanitarian grounds, similar to the protection framework for victims of trafficking. More specifically, it is suggested, in cases where victims and/or witnesses without legal residence documents report incidents of racist violence, to suspend arrest and deportation decisions, following a special prosecutor act which will at first verify the grounds of the complaint and then recognize a victim or witness of a racist crime as such, allowing for the granting of a special protection status (residence permit on humanitarian grounds) for the time required until the perpetrator(s) is/are prosecuted and sentenced and until the final judgment in the criminal case against the offender is reached. In short, the State should give out the message that the physical integrity and safety of any person living on Greek territory are absolutely respected.

To this end, the Racist Violence Recording Network considers that the Law Proposal «Combatting racism and xenophobia», recently submitted before the Parliament, could form the basis for a dialogue towards the effective response to racist violence, provided that some necessary amendments are made. The said Law Proposal is a remarkable step forward, to the extent that it suggests the granting of a residence permit on grounds of “public interest” to victims and key witnesses of racist crimes, following a decision for the suspension of the deportation process and protection from return. The Network welcomes the inclusion of the above provisions in the Law Proposal, however, it re-iterates that the granting of a residence permit to victims and key witnesses of racist crimes should not only apply where the “public interest” is exceptionally invoked. Instead, granting a residence permit on humanitarian grounds (as defined in Article 44 in conjunction with article 46 of L. 3386/2005) to victims who report incidents of racist violence, as well as to key witnesses, should be envisaged as an option until the perpetrator(s) is/are prosecuted and punished.

Adequate investigation of racist motive: The Racist Violence Recording Network welcomes the appointment of a Special Prosecutor responsible for the coordination and the proper investigation of racist crimes by prosecuting authorities and looks forward to a fruitful cooperation. Given the continued escalation of attacks against refugees, immigrants and other groups by organized extremist groups, any legal instrument aiming at strongly tackling the upsurge of manifestations of racist violence should include adequate investigation of racial motives and provisions enabling the effective prosecution of such acts.

The provisions introduced under L. 4139/2013 «On addictive substances and other provisions» of the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights, which was recently adopted by the Greek Parliament, although they are in a positive direction, are not sufficient to tackle the problem. In particular, the provision stipulates that the sentence to imprisonment for hate crimes, according to Article 79 par. 3 of the Criminal Code on aggravating circumstances, will not be subject to suspension. However, the Network highlights that the crucial issue for tackling hate crimes is not linked to the suspension or not of a sentence to imprisonment.

In practice, the impunity of the perpetrators is a result of the fact that the relevant provision of Article 79 par. 3 of the Criminal Code (which was added through a legislative amendment in 2008 and stipulates that the perpetration of an act of hatred on national, racial, or religious grounds or hatred due to differentiated sexual orientation constitutes an aggravating circumstance) is not applied by neither the police nor the Prosecutor at the stage of the criminal prosecution; it is applied only at the stage of the decision on the sentence, thus, after the guilt or innocence of the offender has been established. It is noteworthy that this Article has never been used by the judicial authorities to date. It is therefore necessary to take an immediate legislative initiative related to the introduction of distinct offences (substantive offences) for crimes when they are accompanied by a racist motive; this proposal was recently presented by the Prosecutors of the Supreme Court to the Minister of Justice, while the recent Law Proposal «Combating racism and xenophobia» is also in the same direction.

Along with the explicit commitment of the prosecuting authorities to record, from the moment a complaint has been filed, any events or suspicions of the victim that relate to racist motives, the adoption of law provisions is required as follows: a) provide that the crime committed with racist motive is a crime with distinct offences, or, b) provide, in relation to some specific types of crime (including, indicatively, those against life, physical integrity, personal freedom and property), for a sentence increase if the crime is committed with racist motive, or, c) provide for the racist motive to constitute a general aggravating circumstance, including as regards the criminal sentence. In that manner, the exercise and initiation of the prosecution will be enabled, based on a specific type of crime that will allow the investigation of the racist motive already from the beginning of the criminal proceedings, including the stages of interrogation and judicial process.

Nevertheless, we reiterate that notwithstanding any legislative amendment, the State should provide adequate training and guidance to the prosecuting and judicial authorities involved so that the racist motive is investigated at all stages of the criminal proceedings. Adequate investigation of attacks on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity: The Racist Violence Recording Network welcomes the amendment brought by L. 4139/2013 «On addictive substances and other provisions» which foresees the explicit inclusion of gender identity in Article 79 par. 3, namely as one of the grounds constituting an aggravating circumstance when committing a criminal offence. It is considered a positive step that makes the country’s legislation to be in conformity with European laws and practices.

However, P.D. 132/2012, introducing special Departments and Offices within the Hellenic Police aimed at tackling the phenomenon of racist violence, limits its scope only to victims of acts of hatred “on national, racial, or religious grounds”. Consequently, both the P.D. and any future legislative initiative should be expanded to include the protection of people who have been victimized due to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Greek Left Review

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Duma Votes on Rights of Children From Mixed Marriages (Russia)

24/4/2013- The State Duma has passed a bill in a key second reading that would ease the procedure for children of mixed marriages who were born abroad and live there to obtain Russian citizenship. The legislation is aimed at protecting the rights of Russian children abroad, officials said. The bill, approved late Tuesday, would abolish a requirement that the foreign parent give his or her permission for the child to obtain Russian citizenship. Children also would no longer be required to live in Russia for five years or study the language. But the children would have to choose between two citizenships within two years after turning 18. The bill was drafted following a series of custody disputes over the past several years involving children from mixed marriages. President Vladimir Putin submitted the bill to the Duma in mid-March. Article 62 of the Constitution gives Russians the right to hold dual citizenship, but this usually concerns people whose first citizenship is Russian.
The Moscow Times

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The Courage Required To Come Out In Putin's Russia

As France becomes the 14th country to allow same-sex marriage, Le Monde looks at one of the bleaker corners for gay rights in 2013.
source: LE MONDE/Worldcrunch 

24/4/2013- Journalist Anton Krasovsky has committed a significant act in the small world of Moscow’s elite – he revealed he was gay. It was January 25, on Kontr TV – a Kremlin-backed Internet and cable television network he helped to launch. The debate focused on the latest initiative of the Kremlin: the adoption by Parliament of a law prohibiting “propaganda” of homosexuality among minors, punishable by fines of up to 12,000 euros. Such measures already exist in rural cities. But ever since its decriminalization in 1993, the Russian government hadn’t organized such an attack on homosexuality – considered by many Russians as a deviancy. A sad legacy of Soviet times. Aged 37, Krasovsky has frequented the corridors of power for long enough to be immune to sentimentality. That evening, during a show, he dropped a bombshell. He announced that not only was he gay, he was also as human as President Putin, Prime Minister Medvedev and the members of Parliament. He was fired on the spot. Videos of him were deleted from the Kontr TV website and YouTube.

"Russia is a philosophical black hole, nothing is important – and neither is my action," he says. But then why come out so publicly? Because, he says, of the worrying turn the country is taking since the return of Putin to the Kremlin in May 2012. The multiplication of repressive laws and the development of a populist state, based on the promotion of patriotism, the Orthodox Church and anti-Americanism ended up dissolving the layer of cynicism that was protecting the journalist. This has a name: it is conscience. "Everything is leading us to a pit where I do not want to fall,” says Krasovsky. “Maybe I'll end up there like the rest of the country. But I do not want my name associated with the process. I fight for human rights, not for gays. The time has come to take risks for our rights without waiting for someone to serve them on a fucking platter. Martin Luther King, he was killed!”

Krasovsky was the editor of a popular show for the NTV channel, the Kremlin's favorite weapon to discredit the opposition. In autumn 2011, the man who swears like a sailor when his thoughts are racing, became the pilot of a funny project: the entry into politics, at the request of the Kremlin, of billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. "An excellent manager for peacetime, but not a new Yeltsin emerging from all this mud," says Krasovsky. Today, Krasovsky believes that his career prospects are shot in Russia. He is planning to go abroad for a few months, "in Italy or the United States," to write a book. "It will be about life in the 1990s, the fears, a hero who lies to himself, gays, business and politics.” Oddly enough, Krasovsky is a mix of courage and denial. He believes that "there is no real homophobia in Russia" and that for a gay Russian to be in the closet has deep-rooted “psychological reasons.”

“Homosexuals should be liquidated”
In reality, the situation is much starker. Being gay in Moscow and St. Petersburg often forces concealment strategies. No physical contact whatsoever in public. Meeting places are discreet. In October, 20 masked gunmen stormed into a club in Moscow, the 7FreeDays. Several people were injured, including three seriously. No politician, or famous singer or actor has ever come out as a homosexual. According to a survey published in March, Russian pollster Levada, 50% of Russians said they felt “irritated and disgusted” by gays and lesbians and 18% said they felt “a sense of alertness.” For more than one out of three Russians, 34%, homosexuality is “an illness that should be treated,” 23% believe it is “the result of a bad education,” while 5% say homosexuals should be “liquidated.”

In rural regions, the situation is much worse, and homophobia is rampant. According to Igor Kotchetkov, president of the Vykhod (Coming Out) organization in St. Petersburg, the law against homosexual propaganda, passed in January, is part of a broader framework, a repressive road that the Kremlin has embarked on for a year now. "The government panders to its less-educated, most conservative constituents, those who grew up during the Soviet era, lost a lot after the Perestroika and is looking for someone to blame – immigrants or gays.”

According to Kotchetkov, it is unimaginable in rural Russia for homosexuals to live together as a couple. You have to register at your parents address. "If you're gay, it is impossible to get a job in education or public services." In addition, there is violence. "Each year we do an Internet survey. Up to 3000 people participate, of which 30% say they have been the victims of a physical assault." One of the veterans of the gay cause is at an unknown address – for security reasons – in an apartment north of Moscow. These are the offices of Kvir, Russia’s first magazine for the gay community, founded in 2003. Vladimir Voloshin, 46, is the editor in chief and only full-time employee.

Kvir recently decided to stop its printed version to focus on the Internet. In Kazan, the newsstands selling the magazine were told they would be being burnt down. In St. Petersburg, the distribution agreement was broken. Fortunately, Internet browsing happens in the privacy of one’s home, so the readership is much higher than with the printed version. "Many people were afraid to buy the magazine at their newsstand, admits Voloshin. “Homophobia – that existed in everyday life – is now state-sponsored. The new laws are immoral and discriminating," he adds. Voloshin’s parents still live in Uzbekistan, where he was born. He never told them where he worked. "Most gays refuse to come out, because it’s dangerous. We risk losing those close to us," he says.
World Crunch

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Raids On NGOs Could Threaten Ordinary Russians

It was a banal traffic argument that turned Mikhail Masalgin’s life upside down.

2/4/2013- On the evening of August, 20, 2008, Masalgin, an information-technology expert, had a dispute with another motorist in the driveway of his Moscow apartment building. Soon after the incident, the other driver returned with a group of friends in police uniforms. According to Masalgin, they threw him to the ground, handcuffed him, and kicked him until he passed out. Masalgin regained consciousness in a police station, where he told RFE/RL he endured a night of humiliation and torture. "They tied my handcuffs to the ceiling with a rope and pulled the rope from behind," he said. "My arms were pulled up and my whole body, including my legs, was lifted off the floor." Masalgin, who is now 45, never fully recovered from the ordeal. It has left him with lingering shoulder pain, stiffness in his arms, and scarred wrists. He has also developed a steely determination to see his attackers in court. Masalgin turned to Public Verdict, a nongovernmental organization that helps people like him seek redress for police brutality, a pervasive problem in Russia.

A Wave Of Inspections
But a wave of spot raids on civil groups, including Public Verdict, could threaten his pursuit of justice. Like hundreds of other NGOs across the country, Public Verdict has been ordered to provide reams of documents following unannounced audits by prosecutors, tax police, and Justice Ministry officials. Prosecutors say they are conducting checks under new legislation that requires foreign-funded groups engaged in political activities to register as “foreign agents” -- a Soviet-era term synonymous with spying. Noncompliance carries fines of up to $16,000. Many NGOs deny interfering in politics. They have boycotted the controversial law and denounced a campaign of harassment, which they say is aimed at shutting down groups critical of President Vladimir Putin.

Advocacy groups, whose criticism of government policies has long riled the Kremlin, were among the first to be hit by the raids. But the searches have also targeted scores of NGOs seemingly remote from political concerns, such as organizations offering medical assistance, battling pollution, distributing clothes and food to the needy, and, generally, improving the quality of life for ordinary Russians. Their closure could affect thousands of families who rely on NGOs for services that Russians authorities have been unable, or unwilling, to provide. Aleksandr Nikitin heads the Bellona environmental group in St. Petersburg, whose parent organization is based in Norway. It, too, has been targeted by inspectors.

“When it comes to many vital services, the government either does not want to act or has failed to address these needs because nongovernmental organizations are already taking care of them," Nikitin said. "Our lawyers help people in a wide range of situations, including in cases when their health is at risk. If we are shut down, these people will have nowhere to turn. But as far as I can judge, the current authorities don’t care whether or not Russian citizens will be affected.” Agora, a legal rights group, says the Russian Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor-General’s Office have launched audits into more than 500 nongovernmental organizations in recent weeks. Many groups have also reported inspections by tax police, federal migration, sanitary authorities, and the fire inspectorate.

Accusations Of Meddling
In Bellona’s case, prosecutors accuse the group of failing to keep a log of fire drills and say the air at its St. Petersburg office violates sanitary norms. Nikitin says Bellona is likely to be fined a total of $20,000. The hefty penalty bodes ill for Public Verdict, which faces far more serious accusations. According to its director, Natalya Taubina, inspectors are looking for evidence of possible extremist and terrorist activity. Like other NGOs, Public Verdict has refused to register as a “foreign agent.” Taubina has insisted that her group focuses on assisting ordinary Russians, not on waging politics. "We don't think we are foreign agents," she said. "First, we do not act in the interests of those who donate money to our organization. The only interests we defend are the interests of Russian citizens. Secondly, we do not conduct political activities. We deal exclusively with human rights, and we believe that human rights are not a political activity.”

Putin has long accused foreign-funded groups of meddling in Russia’s internal affairs. The raids began soon after he gave a speech urging the Federal Security Service (FSB) to increase their scrutiny of such groups. Earlier this month, he accused NGOs in Russia of receiving $1 billion in foreign funding since the beginning of the year. This prompted 56 organizations to sign an open letter demanding explanations from the Kremlin for what they describe as a grossly inflated figure. Activists say the searches are part of a broader clampdown on dissent as Putin scrambles to counter growing public disenchantment. In the eyes of veteran human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the Kremlin's strategy is clear. “After bringing the business world, the judicial and the legislative power under its control, after mastering the technologies to arrange election results, the authorities are determined to tackle Russia’s last bastion of independence -- civil society," she said. "Civil society is increasingly active, and this frightens them.”
RFE/RL

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