NEWS - Archive January 2015

Headlines 30 January, 2015

Will Europe ever escape debt penalty sentence? (opinion)

All across Europe extreme right-wing parties are on the rise because people are being pushed to the extremes by extreme poverty
by Pat Flanagan

30/1/2015- In the week where the world marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a neo-Nazi party came third in the Greek general election. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t seem to remember anything about Nazis in any of the EU referendums we were pressurised into voting for. The success of the Golden Dawn party in Greece has caused some alarm but not as much as the election of the left-wing Syriza party which has vowed to renegotiate the country’s massive debts. The Irish Government will no doubt be appalled at Syriza keeping their promises to the people who elected them. Labour might also note that a Greek neo-Nazi party has almost as much support as them if recent polls are to be believed. But the real question is what could possibly make 6% of people of what is considered the cradle of European civilisation vote for a bunch of racist thugs? One word: Austerity – the same impoverishing plague which pushed the German people into the hands of the Nazis in the 1930s.

And it’s not only in Greece, all across Europe extreme right-wing parties are on the rise because people are being pushed to the extremes by extreme poverty. It should also be remembered the German people actually voted for the Nazis because they were being forced to pay for massive debts imposed on them from World War One. The results in Greece show just how sick Europeans are with the EU when they are starting to vote for Nazis. Of course the powers that be in Brussels and Berlin will warn the lessons of the past have not been learned but it is the likes of Angela Merkel who are repeating past mistakes. There is much made of Germany’s obsession with avoiding inflation and the folk memo-ry of the ruinous hyper-inflation era of the 1920s. But that country conveniently forgets what happened in 1953 when half of Germany’s post-war debt was cancelled.

After WW2 Germany still owed huge debts from the First World War which simply could not be paid back if that country was to recover. While the debts were huge they were nothing like the levels experienced in Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal. But its creditors, including Greece, agreed to write off 50% of all its debts including those owed by private companies and individuals allowing what became known as Germany’s economic miracle. Now instead of helping poorer countries recover the EU and the European Central Bank are punishing populations by forcing them to service unsustainable debts. It’s not just wrong, it is evil to impose austerity on entire nations while a wealthy elite grows richer. Like the Greeks, the people here have been pummelled by constant cuts and taxes imposed by all-too-willing quisling governments. The so-called adjustments talked about by Coalition ministers have made Ireland’s health service one of the worst in the EU, where patient empowerment is on a level with Romania. But like some house proud snob who would let his children starve rather than go to St Vincent de Paul for assistance the Taoiseach claims Ireland doesn’t want help with our debts.

While the new Greek government has been criticised at least they are facing up to and dealing with their huge debt – the greatest threat to their country. Per head of population Ireland is even more indebted than Greece yet Enda Kenny’s Coalition is behaving as if the country is awash with cash. Not alone is it a major threat to Ireland’s future, it is taking up to eight billion a year to service, money that could be used on health and eduction. Rejecting Greek calls for a Europe-wide debt conference, Enda said any renegotiating should be done through existing European institutions. Does he mean the same ones which made a gobshite out of him by promising that infamous “seismic shift” in legacy bank debt which amounted to not a single red cent? When our own leaders are afraid to ask, we can only hope the financial fascists in Brussels and Berlin realise that forgiving debts might be the best way to prevent the rise of actual fascists and a small price to pay for a peaceful Europe.
© The Irish Mirror


EU interior ministers discuss anti-Muslim discrimination in Europe

EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove Thursday urged EU member states to improve their cooperation on exchanging information to fight terrorism.

29/1/2015- Speaking to reporters at an informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Riga, Latvia, he said “there is an ever growing consensus in making EUROPOL a hub for informa-tion exchange and this is an excellent idea.” Kerchove called on the European Commission “to do more in terms of cohesion, fighting anti-Muslim discrimination, anti-Islam behaviour and as well anti-Semitic. I would like to hear from the ministers.” “Another point is the counter narrative, how we can do better to challenge the narrative of Al Qaeda,” he said. He hoped that today¬’s meeting will prepare concrete and ambitious measures to be adopted by EU leaders during their meeting in Brussels on 12 February. He said one of the main measures will be not only improving the monitoring of Internet but boosting the programme “Check the web” at Europol to be a bit more effective in removing illegal content from the web. On his part Rihards Kozlovskis, Minister for the Interior of Latvia, said “we are going to continue to discuss measures to help fight terrorism, such has combating radicaliza-tion, improving exchange of information and cooperation among all the authorities involved in fighting terrorism. As well, I would like to mention the fighting against the traffic of illicit firearms.”
© Northern Voices


Spain: Pegida Anti-Islam group to hold first Spanish rally 'possibly in Catalonia'

29/12015- The Spanish wing of the far-right Pegida group is preparing to hold its first rally. A spokesman for Platform for Catalonia, which has declared its support for Pegida, said it would be held in the coming weeks. "In a few weeks they will organise an important rally that will possibly be held in Catalonia," Robert Hernando, the general secretary of the party, told Russian state news outlet Sputnik. Pegida, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, was founded in Dresden, Germany, and has seen surging support, with 25,000 attending a rally held by the group in the wake of the Paris terror attacks. Hernando said there were two separate Pegida groups in the country: Pegida Spain and Pegida Catalonia, and denied it was a neo-Nazi group. However, the original Pegida has been rocked by a series of resignations in recent weeks, amid claims it could be unravelling. The movement's leader, Lutz Bachmann, resigned after pictures appeared of him online posing as Hitler, and his replacement, Kathrin Oertel, has stepped down citing media pressure.
© The International Business Times - UK


Group records 255 anti-Jewish incidents in 2014, primarily online harassment and vandalism, compared to 137 in 2013

30/1/2015- The Forum Against Anti-Semitism recorded 255 incidents last year, compared to 137 in 2013, the watchdog group reported earlier this week. It was the highest figure recorded since 2008, surpassing the previous record year of 2009 by more than 22 percent, or 55 incidents. Similar increases have been recorded in Belgium and France during and following Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Of the 255 incidents documented in Austria, nine were physical attacks and 57 were cases of vandalism. Threats and insults that occurred on the street or in public spaces numbered 21 and cases online hate speech deemed by the watchdog to be of a criminal nature totaled in at 83. Around 9000 thousand Jews live in Austria.
© The Times of Israel


Austria: Man jailed for far-right Facebook comments

A 36-year-old man from Lower Austria has received an 18 month conditional prison sentence and been ordered to pay a €500 fine for making far-right statements on Facebook.

29/1/2015- The judge was told that the man, a father of three from Wiener Neustadt, had become a skinhead at the age of 12, and had his first Nazi-inspired tattoos at the age of 14. "This stupid ideology has been inside me since I was a teenager - I can’t deny it. But I never intended to do anything radical or even incite people," the man said in his defence. He admitted to posting a number of xenophobic and Nazi-inspired comments on the internet in 2012 and 2013. He said that on one occasion he wrote "Happy Birthday Papa Adolf" on Facebook when he was drunk, and that he would often write inflammatory statements after having too many beers. “Sometimes I couldn’t even remember doing it the next day, until friends would call me and tell me I was an idiot,” he said. The 36-year-old had previous convictions for damaging property but swore to the jury that he intended to renounce the “stupidity of his youth”. He plead guilty and said he regretted all of the comments he had made. He was sentenced under Austria’s Prohibition Act which aims to suppress any potential revival of Nazism.
© The Local - Austria


Bulgaria: Ambulance attacks open wound of Roma relations

29/1/2015- When Bulgarian doctor Irena Marinova arrived in an ambulance at the home of a pregnant Roma woman in November, she says she was beaten up by two men who accused her of being late. The government blamed Roma for 175 such attacks on medics last year and in December told ambulances not to go to areas where they have previously been assaulted unless their safety could be guaranteed. The remarks reignited tensions with the impoverished community and pose a new challen-ge to Europe's efforts to integrate its largest ethnic minority. "I have worked as a doctor for 17 years but such a thing has never happened to me," Marinova told Reu-ters at the hospital where she works in Botevgrad, about 40 km (25 miles) east of the capital Sofia. "Many things should change. They (the Roma) feel they have impu-nity and that is why they are doing this."

Bulgaria is home to one of the largest populations of the EU's six million Roma, and as in other countries, many live on the fringes of society, suffer discrimination and struggle to get jobs. The EU spends billions of euros on integration projects but Bulgarian Health Minister Petar Moskov's instructions and comment that "he who has chosen to behave like a brute will be treated as one" caused outrage and risk undermining progress. Opposition lawmakers were so upset they have threatened a no confidence vote against the government unless Moskov resigns. "Moskov's statement is a gross manifestation of misunderstanding the principle of the rule of law, and an incitement to racial hatred," the head of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights Krasimir Kanev said. Restricting emergency treatment to some Roma areas - a proposal Moskov watered down after talks with Roma leaders - would have further exacerbated the divide in access to healthcare between Roma and the rest of the Balkan state.

Nearly 40 percent don't pay state health insurance and at 65 their life expectancy is ten years shorter than the average Bulgarian's, according to the World Health Orga-nisation. The picture is equally bleak across much of central and eastern Europe, where the majority of Roma, an ethnic group with origins in India, are concentrated. In Bulgaria's neighbour Romania, nine out of ten live in severe material deprivation while only a third of Roma boys and even fewer girls will still be in school aged 16, according to a 2014 World Bank study.  In Serbia, there are persistent attacks against Roma by far-right groups. The life expectancy for Roma is around 63 years com-pared to 75 years for the rest of the Serbian population.

"Many of them lead a decent life and do not create problems in society. But these Roma, in Bulgaria as well as other European countries, are invisible, while some politicians and media focus only on the poorest part of the Roma community and those who commit crimes," said Liliya Makaveeva, the executive director of the Bulgaria-based Integro Association, a Roma NGO. Bulgaria was allocated 6.9 billion euros in EU funds towards integrating disadvantaged people between 2007 and 2013. These funds support a wide range of sectoral investments, including those that concern the Roma, such as financial help for housing and school infrastructure. It will get a total of 7.2 billion euros in EU funds from 2014 to 2020.

Beaten and Insulted
Many Bulgarians came out in support of Moskov. Medics staged a rally and draped banners on their ambulances in solidarity. Furious at the calls for him to step down, they sent a declaration to parliament promising mass resignations if he did. "We did not lie, we were beaten and insulted," it said. Moskov dismissed calls for his resignation as an attempt to destabilize the government early in its term. An anaesthesiologist who promises to modernize Bulgaria's health service, Moskov's popularity has surged since the row. According to a recent Gallup poll, his approval rating has risen to 27 percent in January from 13 percent in December. Nevertheless, Moskov later apologised for his remarks and met representatives of the Roma community for talks. In a statement to Reuters, the health ministry said there had been no new attacks on doctors since such discussions were held.

"I offered my apologies and I will do it again for some of the words that I spoke," Moskov said. The conciliatory tone was echoed by Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, whose cabinet contains members of ethnic groups: "we consider them our brothers and sisters and they have nothing to be concerned about." Sasha, a Roma woman in her twenties with a three-year-old son in Vrachesh, a village of nearly 4,000 people at the foot of one of the highest peaks in the western Balkan mountains, said medics actually responded quickly to emergency calls, while several people around her vigorously agreed. "Yes, incidents happen and that's not nice, but I do not understand why you need to divide Bulgarians and gypsies. Who needs such discrimination?" she said. "We are people, we live together in this country and we all need urgent help. It's a hard life, many people are jobless but we're not complaining."
© Reuters


Dutch prosecutor acts on anti-Muslim Facebook comments

30/1/2015- The public prosecution department is beginning a criminal investigation into 12 statements made on a Facebook page set up to support the anti-Islam PVV. Police are now tracking down the identities of people who left racist and discriminatory comments on the Facebook page Steun de PVV (support the PVV). The comments were made after the page published an article from the Telegraaf newspaper about the firebombing of mosques in Sweden. A number of Moroccan organisations made formal complaints against the page for threatening behaviour and incitement to discrimination and hatred. Claims that some comments urged people to firebomb Dutch mosques were not proven, the prosecutor said. However, some of the comments were inflammatory and did urge violence against Muslims and mosques, the prosecutor said. Nevertheless, the prosecutor said, there was no ques-tion of incitement to hatred. The page manager does not face charges because he removed the reactions extremely quickly.

(ICARE editor note: As we happen to know the page manager only removed comments when there was some publicity and journalists actually traced some posters and asked for their comments. The racist comments were there for at least 2 - 3 days.)
© The Dutch News


The European establishment ignores the populist tide sweeping Europe at its peril
By René Cuperus

29/1/2015- Less than a year ago, I suggested that Germany appeared to have escaped the wave of populist protest sweeping across Europe. This was in contrast to the Nether-lands, which developed into one of the populist laboratories of Europe, in which a number of variants – from Pim Fortuyn’s postmodern populism to the Islamophobic populism of Geert Wilders to the Socialist party’s leftwing populism had been incubated. The German experience also stood in contrast to other surrounding countries, such as France with Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Austria with its legacy of Jörg Haider or Sweden and its rightwing populist Sweden Democrats. I painted a picture of Germany surrounded by the demons of history in neighbouring countries: the rise of Euroscepticism, the return of nationalism and the growth of anti-migrant xenophobia.

But that was before the emergence of Germany’s Pegida movement, self-described “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West”. The populist surge has finally arri-ved at the European Union’s leading nation. One could even say that Pegida – setting aside judgment of its pernicious politics – is causing a normalisation or Europeanisation of Germany. Now a level playing field, in terms of the populist challenge, has been created across the bigger European countries. Where once David Cameron and François Hollande’s room for manoeuvre was restricted by, respectively, the United Kingom Independence party and Nigel Farage, or the National Front and Marine le Pen, now Angela Merkel is also feeling the political and social pressure of the populist voice. This could have an impact upon future policies for European integration and migration.

Twenty years ago few would have predicted that German cities would see marches against foreigners, with people chanting “Wir sind das Volk” (We are the people) and carrying German national flags. The current situation in Germany is more concerning than in the Netherlands. Rightwing populism in Holland – of the Fortuyn and even the Wilders variety – has always been free of Nazi or neo-Nazi influence. That, unfortunately, cannot be said for the Pegida-form of German populism. Neo-Nazi groups and far-right individuals have joined the Dresden and Leipzig demonstrations, alongside the ordinary German Wutbürger (those ‘angry men’ who feel left behind and betrayed by the political and media ‘esta-blishment’). This neo-Nazi influence makes it reasonably easy for the German establishment to paint the whole Pegida movement in a ‘dark brown’ light.

In a way, it is quite impressive (and even moving) to see that the German Gutmenschen are able to mobilise enormous crowds against Pegida. Especially in the big cities of the former West Germany, the anti-Pegida demonstrations are overwhelmingly overpowering the Pegida marches. The anständige Germans want to show the world that postwar Germany is “tolerant, vielfältig und weltoffen” (tolerant, multicultural and open to the world). Even the populist tabloid Bild Zeitung is aggressively attacking Pegida. The ‘Pegi-disten’ are demonised as Nazi-like stupid Ossis (East Germans), who are tarnishing postwar Germany’s good name. But the fact remains that now, even in Germany, the populist Pandora’s box has been opened. The pan-European crisis of trust and political representation has come to Berlin and a people’s revolt against the established order seems to have begun focussing on Muslim migration and European integration. Nearly everywhere in Europe, the challengers of established politics are in the waiting rooms of power – an ominous and sinister prospect and a symbol of the instability of European society.

One would have expected that this unprecedented populist threat would have given rise to greater degrees of caution and concern. But Europe’s establishment appears curiously unmoved. Much of it pays only lip service to populist discontent and the fraying of democracy and its institutions. Instead establishment politics and its cosy circles of policymakers continue with business as usual as if there is still a stable, harmonious society, with a great capacity for flexible adaptation and permanent reform. Last week, the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, announced a massive quantitative easing programme, in defiance of the northern countries of the Eurozone and, last but not least, Merkel. How could someone risk putting to the test European relations, and especially Franco-German cooperation, in such a drastic way?

In the same laconic fashion, Brussels is attempting to expand the European internal market into a gigantic Transatlantic internal market, adapted for the special needs of the big international corporations through the so-called TTIP trade deal. These actions seem to be underpinned by the notion that ordinary voters lost any sense about what goes on in European politics a long time ago, so why not make some further steps? And what about democracy? That concept is dismissed as so very 20th century. In domestic politics, the situation is not much better. In Holland, national policymakers are transforming the Dutch welfare state into an exclusive paradise for people like themselves: self-reliant, self-seeking, financially secure professionals, whose religion in life is freedom of choice. The average Dutch citizen is confronted with a permanent demolition of social protection and collective security in housing, care and pensions. This fuels anti-establishment discontent and social resentment. Government policies are ignoring the populist elephant which thunders through European societies. Democracy is for populists. Leadership for technocrats.
René Cuperus is senior research fellow and director for international relations at the Wiardi Beckman Stichting, the thinktank of the Dutch Labour party
© The Policy Network


Netherlands: Integration test for long-term residents not okay

28/1/2015- The Netherlands may not force people to take an integration test if they have lived in the country for more than five years, the advocate general at the European court of justice in Luxemburg said on Wednesday. The advocate general, Maciej Szpunar, was commenting on cases brought by an American and a New Zea-land national, both of whom have refused to take the test. The American, named as P, has lived in the Netherlands since 2002 and was granted a long-term residency permit in 2008. She was told that year by Breda city council she had to take an integration course and pass an exam within a certain period. P began the course but became ill and failed to start it again when she recovered, the court document states. The New Zealand national, named as S, came to the Netherlands in 2000 and was given long-term residency in 2007. Amstelveen city council told her in 2010 that she needed to take and pass the exam. The Netherlands requires non-EU newcomers to follow an integration course and take an exam to qualify for residency. People who have lived here for longer periods may also be told to comply. In his statement, the advocate general said countries are allowed to introduce integration measures for long-term residents under EU law.

However, the introduction of a compulsory examination ‘to test language proficiency or knowledge of the society does not … contribute to the objective pursued by
integration measures’, he said. The advocate general goes on to state that anyone who has lived in a different country for some time will ‘undoubtably’ be linked to it through family, work, neighbours and hobbies. In addition, integration measures cannot be used as a condition to ensure someone keeps their right to live in the coun-try. ‘In particular, those measures may not include any obligation to pass an examination relating to social integration,’ the advocate general said.
Read the statement (English)
© The Dutch News


UK: Apology after teacher listed UKIP as a racist organisation

30/1/2015- A Bristol school has apologised after a teacher listed UKIP as a racist organisation during a lesson. Bridge Learning Campus in Hartcliffe says it was an error for the main-stream party to be named alongside far-right groups the British National Party and English Defence League during a class discussion about community relationships and tolerance. The blunder caused uproar among UKIP representatives in the city, with the party's councillor for Hengrove calling for an investigation to be conducted. Beneath the list of groups on a slide headed The Rise Of Racist Groups, shown to pupils on Wednesday, was the following: "You have the right to believe what you want - but if you have racist ideas and discrimi-nate against a group of people - THEN YOU ARE A RACIST." Michael Frost, who is Bristol's first UKIP councillor, representing Hengrove ward, said: "Was it a deliberate attempt to link UKIP to far right and extremist groups like the EDF and the Neo Nazis, and show a political bias?

"If this isn't the case, why is the teacher doing teaching something as politically sensitive as this without understanding what the groups stand for? "At that young age, pupils have got knowledge-thirsty minds and something like this could give them a false impression of a legitimate mainstream party, showing them to be something they are not." Mr Frost believes the teacher responsible should be suspended from their duties until a thorough investigation has been carried out. He said: "The teacher has a serious responsibility in the education of our young people. Whether deliberate or naive, this is serious." John Langley, UKIP's Bristol spokesman, said: "This is outrageous and highly inflammatory given that some students may live in Hengrove where we have an elected councillor who is very much anti-racist. It is a dangerous attempt to defame UKIP as we head towards another election, and leaves Bridge Learning Campus in an untenable position of showing inappropriate political bias contrary to law."

Mr Langley said the teaching material was in breach of the 1996 Education Act, which states that bias should be avoided when teaching political issues. He said the matter had been referred to HM Inspectorate of Education and Ofsted. Mark Davies, chief executive of the school, said: "The slide was used in a class discussion about community relationships and tolerance, and was designed to stimulate debate among our pupils. "It was a mistake for UKIP to have been listed along with the other groups, and I have apologised to the party for its inclusion. "The reference has been removed from the slide and the teacher concerned has apologised and we have taken steps to ensure it will not reappear in future."
© The Bristol Post


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