NEWS - Archive February 2015

Headlines 27 February, 2015

Polish nightclub owner defends giant yellow swastika

Swastika? What swastika? says Polish nightclub owner when confronted over symbol in his carpark

27/2/2015- A Polish nightclub owner has defended a giant swastika design laid out on the surface of his club’s car park, claiming it is merely a path to mark the way to his club. The yellow swastika appeared in a car park adjacent to the Ray disco in the central Polish town of Czestochowa. Visible from the road and passing trams it has cau-sed controversy and anger in Poland and could become the subject of a criminal investigation. Displaying a swastika is illegal in Poland, which suffered catastrophic destruction during the Second World War. But Marek Pelian said the design was a yellow path to guide his guests. “What swastika? This is just the yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz,” he told the local press, explaining that one arm of the design leads to the nightclub’s door while another will lead to an outdoor stage that has yet to be built.

“This design has four arms, just like the galaxy, and this is an astronomical disco,” he added as further explanation. “Just because Hitler used it does not mean it’s a sign of totalitarianism.” His explanation has failed to win everyone over. In a commentary piece for Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading Polish newspaper, Pawel Krysiak, a Czes-tochowa resident, said in Poland the swastika will always be “associated with genocide, not the Wizard Oz,” and reminded Mr Pelian of what happened to Czestocho-wa’s Jews during the war. “In the autumn of 1942 the Nazis deported 40,000 people to the Treblinka death camp,” he wrote. “This is what happened to people under the sign of the swastika. Czestochowa still lives in the shadow of this crime and we do not want to forget it.”
© The Telegraph

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Kosovo Minister's Swipe at 'Privileged' Minorities Slated

NGOs representing minorities in Kosovo have called for the dismissal of a minister who compained that the 'privileged' position of minorities made it hard to change the constitution.

27/2/2015- NGOs representing ethnic minorities in Kosovo have called for the dismissal of the Minister of Diaspora, Valon Murati, after he told a lecture at one of the private uni-versities that minorities were "privileged". “Murati’s statement is very dangerous and represents the well established routine of blaming the Serbian community for the failures of Pristina’s political elite. Such statements can lead toward mobilization of people along the ethnic lines,” said the statement signed by Kosovo Policy Action Network – a network of 95 non-majority NGOs and individuals. They “demand an apology from the government and Murati’s immediate resignation.” The NGOs were referring to a statement made during a lecture at the Juridica university earlier this week, which was also attended by the Dutch Ambassador, Robert Bosch, at which Murati spoke about the spike in the illegal migration from Kosovo to EU countries in the past month. “There exists a very problematic relationship with the Serbian minority. Our constitution is also problematic because it gives minorities a privileged position,” Murati said.

He said that although minorities in Kosovo composed less than 10 per cent of the population, owing to their over-representation in parliament, “we can’t change the constitution without two-thirds of the votes of the minorities in parliament”. The group of NGOs maintained that such statements could lead to increased ethnic animosity in the country. Murati is a member of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, and the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, but comes from the ranks of a smaller party, the Movement for Unity (Levizja per Bashkim – LB), which advocates the unification of Kosovo with Albania. The NGOs' request is being compared to the earlier successful demands of Albanians for the removal of the ethnic Serbian former Minister for Returns and Communities, Aleksandar Jablanovic, who public outrage after calling a group of Kosovar protesters “savages.” After two large and violent protests in the capital, Pristina, Prime Minister Mustafa axed Jablanovic from the cabinet. His Srpska List, party, an umbrella list that includes Serbian ministers and MPs in the Kosovo parliament, has boycotted parliament since then, and is expected to announce whether it will continue to participate in the government.
© Balkan Insight

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Italy/Netherlands: Feyenoord: Inflatable banana thrown at Gervinho 'pure coincidence'

The Dutch club's general manager Eric Gudde has claimed the object thrown at the Ivorian in Thursday's Europa League clash was not an act of racism

27/2/2015- The inflatable banana which was thrown in the direction of Gervinho during Roma's 2-1 win over Feyenoord on Thursday was not an act of racism, according to the Eredivisie club's general manager. The first leg of the last-32 Europa League tie, which ended 1-1 last week, was overshadowed by Feyenoord hooligans who caused significant damage in the Italian capital before the game, and the behaviour of the club's supporters again made the headlines in Rotterdam. Adem Ljajic gave Rudi Garcia's men the lead before the hosts equalised in the 57th minute through Elvis Manu, but former Arsenal attacker Gervinho sealed the 3-2 aggregate win for Roma shortly afterwards. But the tie was marred by the home fans' volatile reaction to Mitchell Te Vrede's sending off in the second half, which caused the referee to stop the match and lead the players down the tunnel for 10 minutes for their own safety.

Prior to that, the official also momentarily paused the game when a giant inflatable banana was launched at matchwinner Gervinho, but Feyenoord chief Eric Gudde claimed that it was merely an unfortunate coincidence. "We told the Uefa delegation that this has happened for years with us," he told reporters. "I'm ruling out racism. Racism is not an issue here at all. "It was pure coincidence that the banana dropped near Gervinho. But the referee reacted very strongly on it. During half-time we explained the situation. I hope they take that into account." Regarding the missiles thrown on to the pitch, he added: "I understand the irritation of fans as I, too, was surprised about some of the refereeing decisions, but it never legitimises throwing things at the linesman. "We will be fined heavily - that money should be being invested in youth, not wasted on fines."

Feyenoord coach Fred Rutten backed Gudde's view that the club's supporters are not racist, but it remains to be seen what action Uefa will take over the chaos against Roma. "Lots of things happened on the field tonight, but there is not too much fuss that should be made about the banana incident,” Rutten said. “We have various nationalities here, so I do not see how that can be racism." Gervinho, meanwhile, is simply relieved that the Giallorossi can rest easy knowing they have reached the last 16 of the Europa League and defended the form of his fellow Ivorian, Seydou Doumbia, who has struggled since joining Roma in the winter transfer window. "Qualification was very important, the team needed a win like this - we won first for us and then for the fans," he told the club's official website. "The jubilant reaction was a spontaneous thing, it was just very important to us, we have to win every game, the result is important for the team. Today we played well.
© Goal

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Scale of racism in Cup host Russia a threat, report says

27/2/2015- Russian football is plagued by a racist and far-right extremist fan culture that threatens the safety of visitors to the 2018 World Cup, according to a report provided to The Associated Press. Researchers from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the Fare network, which helps to prosecute racism cases for European football's governing body UEFA, highlighted more than 200 cases of discriminatory behavior linked to Russian football over two seasons. "It shows a really quite gruesome picture of a domestic league which is full of aspects of racism, xenophobia: The far-right play a significant role in the fan culture," Fare executive director Piara Powar said in an interview with the Associated Press. The report collated dozens of cases where fans carried out campaigns and sold far-right merchandise to collect money for imprisoned neo-Nazis. It provides a detailed breakdown of discriminatory incidents around matches, pinpointing 72 displays of neo-Nazi symbols, 22 acts against people from the Caucasus region, which includes Dagestan and Chechnya, and five occasions of abuse against black people.

The report, which covers 2012-14, does not include an apparent rise in the targeting of black players being documented this season, Fare said. In the week when the football world was focused on the rescheduling of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, this report — entitled "Time for Action"— underlines that the next World Cup will be held in Russia in three years' time, not the Middle East. "Our hope in Russia in the lead up to 2018 is we get action taken to protect the safety of fans and of players," Powar added. "Players have already said they will walk off if they hear racism. That is a danger. We want that to be addressed in advance." The Russian Football Union and World Cup 2018 organizers both declined to comment when asked to by the AP. The report was sent on Friday to FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Without referencing the report's existence, a post on Blatter's Twitter account said on Friday: "In December, FIFA's (anti-discrimination) Task Force presented concrete action plan to tackle discrimination in build-up to 2018 World Cup."

The first systematic study of fan racism in Russian football shows the scope of the discriminatory behavior that thrives at football despite President Vladimir Putin pledging to address the issue. "We see it and we believe it is a problem and unfortunately we have quite a number of such problems," Putin said in December 2010 within hours of Russia winning the FIFA vote. Highlighting "xenophobia, racism and other national and religious intolerance," Putin added: "Russia is fighting it just like any other country in the world. We will do it persistently in future." But the report argues that not enough is being done by Russian state and football authorities. The intelligence and insights gathered will now be handed over to world football's governing body by Powar, who sits on FIFA's anti-discrimination task force. "FIFA need to push the LOC (local organizing committee) harder, we think the government needs to work with the (Russian) FA and the LOC to make sure that things are getting done," Powar said.

The report says "it will be difficult to ensure the safety of visitors" to the World Cup unless Russia implements a series of measures:
- apply sanctions for discriminatory conduct consistently
- create a plan to take on far-right groups,
- prioritize educating Russians about xenophobia and actively promote diversity in World Cup host cities.
"Russia needs to get a point where people can be assured if they go they won't be attacked," Powar said.

Some of the Russian groups have links with racist organizations, a factor in the prevalence of abuse against black players and fans from Russia's own ethnic minorities. While some fans shout racist abuse for political reasons, many others see it simply as another tactic to distract the opposition's star players, according to longtime Spartak Moscow fan Dmitry Dedkov. "A good player on the team of your main or chief opponent is an irritant, like a red rag to a bull," he told the AP. "They can insult an African or any other player." The report acknowledges rules were implemented in 2011 designed to combat discrimination at games, and welcomes the introduction of a "Spectator Law" in 2014, but that only regu-lates behavior inside venues.

The number of incidents of racism around stadiums has not decreased despite the threat of sanctions, including fines or stadium closures, the report says. "This is not surprising because the boundaries of what is accepted in the football fan scene are blurry," the report says. "Well-known coaches and players have photos taken with fans wearing swastika tattoos or T-shirts with Nazi symbols, and well-known singers sing songs with them in the stands." The report particularly highlights offensive conduct by fans of Moscow clubs CSKA, Dinamo, Lokomotiv and Spartak, and Zenit St. Petersburg. There is a prevalence of neo-Nazi and fascist symbols being adopted by far-right fan groups, including swastikas and Celtic crosses, and banners such as "White Pride World Wide." "This is not surprising given the fact that xenophobic attitudes inside the fan community correlate directly with high levels of ethnic xenophobia in Russian society in general which have been developing intensively since the early 2000s," the report says.

The report does highlight cases where UEFA has taken against Russian clubs involved in European competitions. Monkey chants aimed at Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure by CSKA Moscow fans during a Champions League game earned the Russian club the first of two UEFA racism sanctions in the 2013-14 season. That prompted the Ivory Coast player to warn: "If we aren't confident at the World Cup, coming to Russia, we don't come." Although only five cases of abuse against black people were recorded by Fare in 2012-14, Powar attributed that to the lack of stadium spotters to uncover the full scale of the problem. The report only covers until May 2014, and there have been high-profile incidents since then. "One of the things we are picking up from our preliminary monitoring this season is the abuse of black players — Africans and those from Latin America," Powar said. There have been cases where the Russian Football Union punishes the victims.

FC Rostov midfielder Guelor Kanga, from Gabon, was himself banned for three matches for an offensive gesture to Spartak Moscow fans who racially abused him in a Russian Premier League game in December. Spartak was only fined 70,000 rubles ($1,300) for "the chanting by fans of insulting expressions," a charge which usually refers to swearing, rather than the separate offense of racist chanting. That game took place at Moscow's Otkrytye Arena, a 2018 World Cup venue. Rostov coach Igor Gamula served a five-match sanction for discriminatory comments about black players in his own team. As the 2014 World Cup was drawing to a close in Brazil last July, Blatter spoke to Putin about making tackling racism a priority in 2018. Since then, world football's governing body has said it wants to use the Russia tournament to "showcase FIFA's zero-tolerance policy against any form of discrimination."

The report from Fare paints a bleak picture — just five months before the World Cup qualifying draw event in St. Petersburg. "Racist attitudes and ultra-rightist ideas are wide-spread among Russian football fans, and it is unlikely that this situation will fundamentally improve in the near future," the report concludes.
© The Associated Press

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5 facts about religious hostilities in Europe

27/2/2015- While Europe is not the region with the highest level of religious hostilities – that remains the Middle East-North Africa region – harassment and attacks against religious minorities continue in many European countries. Indeed, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, hostilities against Jews in particular have been spreading. Here are five facts about social hostilities – i.e., hostilities perpetrated by individuals or social groups rather than by governments – that tend to target religious minorities in Europe:

1 In 2013, the most recent year covered by the study, harassment of Jews in Europe reached a seven-year high. Jews faced harassment in about three-quarters (34 of 45) of Europe’s countries. In France, for instance, three men attacked a teenager who was wearing a traditional skullcap, or kippa, in Vitry-Sur-Seine, reportedly threatening to “kill all of you Jews.” In Spain, vandals painted a large swastika on the side of a bull ring in the city of Pinto, along with the words “Hitler was right.” And in the town of Komarno in southern Slovakia, metal tiles in the pavement honoring a local Jewish family killed in the Holocaust were destroyed when vandals poured tar over them.

2 Muslims experienced harassment in nearly as many European countries (32 of 45) as Jews. By comparison, the Middle East and North Africa was the only region where Muslims faced more widespread harassment, dealing with hostility in 15 of that region’s 20 countries. In Germany, bloody pig heads were found at a site where the Ahmadiyya Muslim community was planning to build Leipzig’s first mosque. And in Ireland, several mosques and Muslim cultural centers received threatening letters, with one of the letters stating: “Muslims have no right to be in Ireland.”

3 In two-thirds of the countries in Europe, organized groups used force or coercion to try to impose their views on religion in 2013. Sometimes this activity is aimed at dominating a country’s public life with the group’s particular perspective on religion through means such as online intimidation of minority religious groups. Other times, it is focused on a particular religious group, such as anti-Semitic postings and anti-Muslim rhetoric on online forums. In Italy, for example, four men were sent to prison after they published lists of Jewish residents and businesses on neo-Nazi websites. This type of social hostility was more prevalent in Europe (30 of 45 countries, or 67%) than in any other region.

4 Women were harassed over religious dress in about four-in-ten European countries (19 of 45) – about the same share as in the Middle East-North Africa region (where it occurred in eight of 20 countries, or 40%). This includes cases in which women were harassed for either wearing religious dress or for perceived violations of religi-ous dress codes. In France, for example, two men attacked a pregnant Muslim woman, kicking her in the stomach and attempting to remove her headscarf and cut her hair; she suffered a miscarriage in the days following the attack. And in Italy, two Moroccan men attacked a young Moroccan woman, beating her for “offending Islam” when she refused to wear a headscarf.

5 Individuals were assaulted or displaced from their homes or places of worship in retaliation for religious activities in roughly four-in-ten European countries. In Po-land, for example, arsonists set fire to the door of a mosque in Gdansk. And in Greece, arsonists attacked Jehovah’s Witnesses’ houses of worship and several  informal mosques in multiple cities during the year.

For details on the sources and methodology of this analysis, and to read an expanded sidebar on social hostilities toward religious minorities in Europe, see our 
full report on religious restrictions.
© Pew Research Center

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Portugal: Demands for racism to be criminalised

While the Left Bloc is one of the smaller parties with a presence in Parliament, its proposal for the majority coalition government to criminalise racism could be one of the lasting legacies of its current legislative mandate. The proposal to declare racism a crime comes after a month of protests which followed claims of police brutality in the Cova da Moura neighbourhood whose inhabitants are mostly black. An independent organisation with consultancy powers at the UN has also since alleged that 40 youths died between 2000 and 2010 during police action.

26/2/2015- “We are seeking a revision of the Penal Code in order to make room for racism to be criminalised, a feature which the Code currently does not possess”, Left Bloc MP Cecília Honório said this week. The demand came after a public hearing in Parliament’s Senate Hall concerning allegations of a spike in police brutality and other forms of instituti-onalised racism. The public debate, staged on Tuesday evening, attracted around 60 interested parties, including community leaders from a number of Lisbon’s council estates, and focussed heavily on proposals aimed at police action in these neighbourhoods. “This was a debate centred on police violence, on racism and the need to continue to bring to light other forms of discrimination which these people in these fringe neighbourhoods experience. “We have heard witnesses with intense testimonies that this sort of violence forms part of the daily existence of these people”, the Left Bloc MP was quoted as telling Lusa News Agency after the meeting.

In a subsequent statement issued on Wednesday by the Left Bloc, the party said it was commonplace “to hear in these neighbourhoods that blacks are to be eliminated.” According to the Left Bloc, these reports are “absolutely deafening” and are calling for a “profound debate on the multiple forms of racism Portuguese society continues to endure.” The MP added that “studies, including a recent UN report, show that communities of African origin have limited access to education and public services” and that these “communities are also under-represented.” The Left Bloc also called for tighter evaluation of police forces who they said should be subjected to anti-racist training on the ground, a feature which the party says should form part of the anti-racism laws it is proposing. Jakilson Pereira, representing Plataforma Gueto, lamented the problems between communities and the police, and accused law enforcement of exhibiting what he termed “generalised violent behaviour.”

He argued that “while the community does not want to stand in the way of police work, it demands respect, and called on society to take note that the rule of law is often suspen-ded in these areas.” Mamdou Ba, leader of SOS Racismo, revealed that “police violence is a structural issue and most, if not all state institutions, are infected by racism. “There has to be a law change. Racism has to be criminalised and should be regarded as an urgent matter by Parliament. They [police] cannot come into neighbourhoods as if they were entering a war zone”, stressed Mamdou Ba. This debate came a fortnight after several hundred people demonstrated outside Portugal’s parliament in protest at the handling by local police of incidents at a police station in Amadora, near the Cova da Moura neighbourhood. The protestors brandished placards and banners bearing phrases such as ‘Punish-ment for crimes of police racism and brutality’ and ‘We want justice. End police violence’. These events unfolded after five youths, aged between 23 and 25 were detained after they - according to police – “tried to invade” Alfragide police station, after the arrest of another youth from Cova da Moura.

The five detainees were later taken to the local hospital in a condition that, according to Ba, showed that they had been “very ill treated.” A police spokesman later said that the youngsters had only slight injuries, resulting from their having “resisted arrest.” During the police operation, officers fired rubber bullets as they sought to disperse a group of local residents who were protesting at the way the first detainee had been treated. A woman, who was on the balcony of her apartment was hit by three of these bullets, according to Ba, with photos of her bruises later appearing on social media. Police Internal Affairs has in the meantime announced that it will investigate the police actions. In a statement sent to The Portugal News by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), an independent, non-profit, campaign, research and advocacy organisation based in London, which has con-sultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, it is claimed that 40 young people were killed during police action in Portugal between 2000 and 2010.

The organisation made these findings after using data supplied by political activists such as Mamdou Ba and members of Plataforma Gueto. The IHRC statement explains that these deaths occurred mainly in the Lisbon metropolitan area and the figure for black youth was over one third, which it says is a “largely disproportionate figure regarding the total population.” It adds that “no conviction of a police officer for any of the killings had been achieved so far, and only one case went on trial in a court of justice. Therefore, these recent events cannot be read as isolated cases in the European context.” The IHRC adds that what it has witnessed in Portugal is “revealing of the contemporary climate of crimi-nalisation and racial profiling of black youth in Europe.”
© The Portugal News

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Balkans Told to Curb Flow of Asylum Seekers

After the European Commission revealed that the number of false asylum seekers from the Balkans rose by 40 per cent last year, Brussels has called for more decisive action to curb the numbers heading westwards.

26/2/2015- The number of asylum seekers in the EU from five Balkan countries - Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – rose by a massive 40 per cent in the first nine months of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. On February 25, the Commission wrote that the vast majority of applications had been rejected as unfounded. “The benefits of visa liberalisation have been very visible in terms of enhancing peopleto-people contacts and business opportunities," it noted. “However, misuse of the visa-free travel scheme for seeking asylum in the EU must be addressed systematically and through proper allocation of resources. "I strongly call for the full support and engagement of all participating countries,” Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, said. Avramopoulos's statement came as the Commission published its fifth report on the functioning of the visa-free scheme with these five Balkan countries.

The report revealed that the number of asylum applications submitted in the EU had steadily risen since the visa regime was liberalised in 2009 and 2010. The EU has issued a list of recommendations calling on Balkan countries to take decisive moves to curb the numbers. “Each Western Balkan visa-free country must be able to show a sustained downward trend in the number of unfounded asylum applications submitted in EU Member States,” the Commission wrote. The recommendations include that Balkan countries should take action to address the "push" factors of irregular migration to the EU and increase assistance to minority populations, in particular those of Roma ethnicity. The EU has also urged Balkan countries to prosecute those behind the abuse of the visa-free scheme, to strengthen border controls and enhance awareness campaigns aimed at further clarifying to citizens the rights and obligations of visa-free travel.

Serbian citizens up made the largest group of Western Balkan asylum-seekers in the EU, with 42 per cent of applicants coming from this country alone. Among Balkans asylum seekers, Macedonians and Albanians each made up 21 per cent of applicants. Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina made up 14 per cent and Montenegrins, 2 per cent. The Commission also wrote that “in recent months, the EU faced a considerable increase in irregular migration from Kosovo via Serbia to several EU Member States”. Most Balkan asylum applications were submitted in Germany. Its share of the Western Balkan would-be asylum intake rose from 12 per cent in 2009 to 75 per cent in the first nine months of 2014. The Commission has also urged EU countries to speed up processing applications, be more selective in providing cash benefits, and boost cooperation with concerned countries.

According the European Commission data, about 3.7 per cent of asylum application for Montenegrin citizens were approved, 2.7 per cent for Serbian citizens, and 1 per cent for Macedonians.
Meanwhile, 8.1 per cent of Albanian applicants and 5.9 per cent of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina received international protection in the EU and Schengen-associated countries in 2013
.
© Balkan Insight

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Estonia: Members of Swedish Neo-Nazi Group Spotted at Estonian Torch-Lit March

A torch-lit march held by the youth wing of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia was attended by a Swedish white nationalist organization, despite organizers' claims that the event had 'no connection fascist radicalism'.

26/2/2015- Members of the Swedish neo-Nazi youth organization Nordisk Ungdom ('Nordic Youth') took part in a torch-lit march in Tallinn, Estonia Tuesday night commemorating the nation's independence, Estonian news agency Delfi has reported. Jaak Madison, head of the youth wing of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia, which organized the march, confirmed that members of the group "participated in the torch-lit march, along with guests from other parties in Latvia and Lithuania." Nordisk Ungdom, an extreme nationalist group which formed in Sweden in 2010, is considered by Swedish police and anti-fascist activists to be a "fascist and right-wing activist organization." Members of the group are known to have traveled to Ukraine in in March, 2014 to support the ultranationalist Svoboda party, ostensibly for the purpose of "saving the white race," Swedish newspaper Nyheter Idag had earlier reported.

Madison defended the group's participation in the march, which had gathered about 200 people Tuesday night for a march through the old city of Tallinn, including past the Russian embassy. He noted that the term "radical" is used in an "arbitrary and uncontrolled way." The CPPE had invited "all patriots seeking to express their respect toward Estonia" to the event. Slogans featured in the march included "For Estonia!" and "Estonia for Estonians!" Following the march, participants sang songs and gave speeches. Estonian and Russian me-dia reported that the event took place without any provocations. Organizers of the event denied any association between torch-lit marches and right-wing extremism. Madison noted that torchlight "is very beautiful," and symbolizes "a desire for freedom, to overcome the darkness." He noted that "participation in such a procession makes you stronger; you begin to love Estonia even more. There is no connection to Nazi Germany."

Another organizer, interviewed by LifeNews, noted that the "event is analogous to the processions taking place in Latvia on November 18 on their Independence Day," and that "any associations with Nazi Germany are out of place." On January 1, a torch-lit procession took place in Kiev and in regions across western Ukraine to commemorate the birthday of Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian fascist and militant who collaborated with Nazi Germany, and later convicted of terrorism by Poland. Human Rights Group Secretary Andrei Saren-kov of movement "Estonia Without Nazism" told LifeNews that "as cultured people, we understand where this sort of thing starts and what it could lead to. Today these guys hold a torch, but tomorrow they may take up weapons. And we know, most importantly, how all this ends, and it ends badly, in Germany and in Ukraine." Earlier on Tuesday, Estonian and NATO armed forces held a parade in the border city of Narva, just 300 meters from the Russian border.
© Sputnik

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Romania: Steaua Bucharest punished by Uefa for racist behaviour by fans

25/2/2015- Uefa has punished Steaua Bucharest for racist behaviour by the Romanian champions’ fans for the third time this season. Uefa announced that Steaua must play their next two home matches in the Champions League or Europa League in an empty stadium. Steaua lead the Romanian league by seven points and could enter next season’s Champions League in the second qualifying round. Uefa said Steaua fans showed a racist banner at a Europa League match against Dynamo Kiev at the National Stadium in Bucharest in Decem-ber. The club were fined €20,000 (£14,668), with other offences included. Steaua were previously fined €64,500 for racism and other offences in a Champions League playoff against Ludogorets Razgrad. The first racist incidents were at a qualifying round match against the Norwegian side Stromsgodset.
© The Guardian

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Bulgaria: Amnesty International Notes Mixed Record on Human Righs in 2014

Amnesty International released its annual report on Wednesday, which documents the state of the human rights during 2014 in 160 countries, including Bulgaria.

25/2/2015- The NGO notes that Bulgaria achieved partial improvements to reception conditions for asylum-seekers entering the country, but concerns remained over access and integration of refugees. Amnesty International also expressed concern over the inadequate prevention and investigation of hate crimes in Bulgaria. The report on Bulgaria starts by mentioning the influx of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, which the country experienced in August 2013. This represented a considerable surge in their numbers, as previous-ly they had amounted to only 1700 in 2012, but their number rose to 11 000 by the end of 2013. The Bulgarian authorities were initially unprepared to address the influx and pro-vide adequate response. As a result of this, hundreds of people in need of international protection were exposed to poor living conditions without access to asylum procedures.

In January 2014, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) concluded that refugees in Bulgaria were in risk of “inhuman and degrading treatment” due to deficiencies in the asylum and reception system. UNHCR called on EU member states to stop transfers of asylum-seekers to Bulgaria and largely with the help of EU and bilateral assistance the conditions impro-ved. UNHCR reviewed the situation in April 2014, noting the modest progress, but pointing to serious shortcomings, which were still remaining. It lifted the general suspension of transfers with the exception of certain groups, especially those with special needs. Amnesty International notes that Bulgaria experienced a dramatic drop in the number of refu-gees and migrants in 2014, who amounted to 3966 by October.

Several NGOs established that violations, such as unlawful expulsions of people back to Turkey without providing them an opportunity to seek asylum-seekers, were committed. Further problems were identified in the integration of recognised refugees, who experienced troubled access to education, healthcare and other public services. In August 2014, the government rejected a plan for the implementation of the National Integration Strategy, which had been prepared by the Labour Ministry and the State Agency for Refugees (DAB). According to DAB, only 98 out of 520 refugee children were enrolled in schools in September 2014. This low number of enrollments was mainly due to the School Act, which provides that any new pupil should pass an exam in the Bulgarian language and other subjects. The draft Law on Asylum and Refugees, which addressed some of these problems, was not adopted due to the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski.

A leading human rights NGO, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, which is vocal about the government's human rights record, faced tax inspection and harassment by far right groups. Amnesty International also expressed concerns over the effectiveness and independence of investigations into police ill-treatment. Investigations into the alleged use of excessive force during the anti-government protests in Sofia in the summer of 2013 were still ongoing by the end of 2014. The report noted the violent attacks against ethnic groups and religious minorities, including refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in the second half of 2013. Amnesty International pointed to shortcomings in the investigation and prevention of hate crimes, as well as some legislative gaps. Between July and September 2014, Amnesty International researched 16 cases of alleged hate crimes, noting that the hate motive was being investigated in only one of the cases. The report concludes by noting that a new Criminal Code had been proposed, but not adopted yet.
© Novinite

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