NEWS - Archive May 2015

Headlines 29 May, 2015

Turkey: Uneasy neighbors: atheism and Islam

With the Islamic-conservative AKP set to lose its majority in Turkey's upcoming elections, dissenting voices have started to speak up. One of those is the country's only atheists' league. Sertan Sanderson reports.

26/5/2015- The latest polls show that Turkey's President and former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have to form a coalition government following the June 7 elections. In its unlucky 13th year in rule, Erdogan's AKP has suffered several image attacks in recent months, triggering defections among erstwhile supporters to other parties, especially within Turkey's minorities. Among his opponents, a newly-formed group of "Istanbullu" - those born and raised in Istanbul - has grown steadily over the past year and now numbers around 150 individuals across Turkey. Without a party-political agenda, the country's first official atheism league, Ateizm Dernegi, says that it wants to create a platform for like-minded people amid the AKP-driven climate of political Islam.

"Being an atheist in Turkey is not exactly a desirable label. We few are wearing it proudly and we refuse to be silenced by the fear and threats," Morgan Romano, vice-president of the association, said at the group's first public conference in Germany on Sunday. "The term 'atheist' is used as a harsh insult - one of the harshest in the country. Furthermore, atheists are commonly and publicly discriminated against and are subjects of public and private hate speech in Yeni Turkiye all the time." Romano repeatedly referred to present-day Turkey as 'yeni Turkiye' - the 'new Turkey', and its "booming Islamism growing at a rate unlike any other nation". Born and raised in the US, Romano described how she considered herself part of the old Turkey before the AKP's rise to power.

Legal recognition
The association is the first of its kind to be legally recognized in the Turkish republic, and also the only known atheist organization tolerated in any nation across the Muslim world. However, Romano stressed that the legal acceptance of Ateizm Dernegi did not grant her and her associates any genuine protection. "Major companies discriminately prefer to hire covered women, while non-theists stand at a high risk to lose their jobs - and even their lives. Just ask our members how many of them have lost their jobs and whose lives have been threatened." Romano and her colleagues hope to attract open-minded people and draw attention to their unique distinction in the world. The group's director, Zehra Pala tried to address the interests of the many Turks in exile attending the Cologne gathering, who questioned whether Islam still represented their values. "Many Muslims approach me and ask things like, 'don't you feel lonely without having a God to turn to?' They even come up to me and take pictures with me when I wear our association's T-shirt in public, as if I'm the latest tourist site in Istanbul," Pala explained in Turkish.

Daily struggles
But despite attracting such attention Pela clarified that she continued to face many daily struggles, detailing how atheists in Turkey were considered terrorists and Satanists. She emphasized that the reputation of an atheist was that of people sacrificing cats at altars. She added that non-believers were just everyday people, adding that she kept two cats as pets herself, sending a round of laughter across the room. Nevertheless Romano underlined that being involved in Ateizm Dernigi was a labor of love for her in more ways than one. "I met my current husband through his family in the United States, and he invited me to move to Istanbul. It wasn't until I came to Turkey that I needed to give myself a label as an 'atheist.' Nobody would ask me what I believed when I was living in New York. And as a foreigner, I get the benefit of doubt whenever I don't fit in. I can't imagine how it must be for someone, who grew up in Turkey and identifies as atheist," Romano said about her experience living in Istanbul.

Zehra Pela also addressed Romano's sentiments about being Turkish and atheist: "I asked a lot of questions as a toddler already, like 'if we are all descended from Adam and Eve, isn't every marriage incestuous?' And I continued to ask such questions throughout my life, and finally found my peace when I arrived at atheism. So to spite all the bigots, I'm completely at peace." Whether or not that peace will be short-lived is something that Ateism Dernegi said it was trying to monitor for the upcoming elections. "If they leave us in peace, I see no reason why we shouldn't all be able to get along. But they don't leave us in peace. At the end of the day, we are glad we're still alive. In other Muslim countries we'd long be dead. But that doesn't mean we're grateful to live in Turkey as opposed to, say, Iran," Pela explained.

Slippery slope
Romano, meanwhile, says the situation is critical. "(In some places), it is punishable by death to be an atheist in Islam. It is punishable by death to leave the Islamic religion. This is what we are dealing with. In some ways, it's even more dangerous to be in Turkey because this country gives a false appearance to the world, and I don't think the rest of the world will realize this until it's too late." But not everyone agrees. Bekir Alboga, secretary general of the Turkish Islamic Union of Religious Affairs DITIB, based in Germany, told DW that Turkey's democratic statutes should allow for atheists to live alongside believers. "Christians, Jews and Muslims all live side by side in Turkey. Why should atheists not be able to live there? These people have the same rights as everyone else."

But Romano explained that some forms of discrimination against non-Muslims were taking place from birth, saying that she felt like she hardly had any liberties to express her lack of faith. "The policy is that when one is born in Turkey, one becomes Muslim legally - unless further action is taken at the time of birth. And once a Muslim, always a Muslim. Due to this fact, 90 percent of the members of our Atheist organization are actually listed as 'Muslim' in government databases." In fact, Turkey's ministry for religious affairs recently reported 99 percent of the country to be practicing Muslims because of this policy. Whether the 1 percent that Ateizm Dernegi falls under is considered a statistical oversight or not, the association insisted before heading to its next public meeting in Berlin this Tuesday that it will prevail, taking its motto to heart: artik yalniz degiliz - "we are no longer alone."
The Deutsche Welle.

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UK: Neo-Nazi protest in Golders Green condemned

A religious group is calling on the community to take a stand against an “aggressive” neo-Nazi rally that will be held in Golders Green.

27/5/2015- Barnet Multi Faith Forum is angry about plans by far-right groups including the New Dawn Party, to hold a demonstration against “Jewish privilege” on Saturday, July 4 – the Sabbath. The Metropolitan Police says it has no legal power to prevent the ‘static’ protest. A counter-demonstration has also been planned by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism UK. Esmond Rosen, chairman of the Barnet Multi-Faith Forum, said: “The forum is appalled by this planned act of provocation on the Jewish Sabbath. “It is good that Jewish people are heartened by the united response from the people of Barnet to oppose this threat.” The protest has been compared to the Battle of Cable Street, which took place during a march by members of the British Union of Fascists through the East End on Sunday, October 4, 1936.

The forum is calling on people to work together to ensure “these people of hate” do not disturb the harmony of the borough. The group said: “This aggressive act is designed only to raise fears and tension in the local community. “Fortunately the actions of such dreadful groups are counterproductive.” The rally has been linked to an anti-Semitic demonstration in Stamford Hill last month, which the Jewish security firm the Community Security Trust says was attended by 20 to 30 ageing neo-Nazis, who were “drowned out" by anti-fascists. So far, nearly 10,000 people of all faiths have signed a petition calling on Home Secretary Theresa May to intervene and ban the gathering. Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer, is in talks with the Home Office about ways to tackle the group.

Golders Green Councillor Dean Cohen, who is Jewish, said: “Barnet is known for its different ethnic groups. It is known that Barnet is a very cohesive borough with a range of different religions. “The council is working closely with the police to ensure that if it does proceed, residents and those close to that location are protected, and to ensure that nobody is impacted on anyone during that process. “I’d also like to commend the Shomrim and the CST for all their hard work.” In a statement posted on Twitter, the New Dawn Party said they oppose the fact that the Jewish people “are allowed” to have their own police force, which they claim is funded by the police. The party's statement added: “If we include the JCST (sic), then the Jews actually have two policing bodies. We already have an officially government regulated police force for everybody. This is London, not Tel-Aviv.”

This is incorrect – the Shomrim and the CST are funded and trained by private bodies and members of the Jewish community, though they have received government grants. A spokesman for the CST said: “Should this neo-Nazi demonstration occur, then CST will urge our community to stand firm and not be cowed or intimidated. "Neo-Nazism is reviled by all other sections of society. If they come to Golders Green, then it will be an opportunity for Jews and non-Jews alike to stress their united values and their utter rejection of racism and anti-Semitism.” “Anti-Semitism and racism have no place in this society and borough and it is shocking and deplorable that such a rally is even being contemplated.
Times - Series

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UK: Campaigners criticise police response to EDL march

25/5/2015- Campaigners have criticised the ‘vast’ amount of money spent on policing the English Defence League’s (EDL) march through Walthamstow during an era of budget cuts. Waltham Forest trades council (WFTC) has written to the Metropolitan Police to complain about the financial cost and policing style of the protests surrounding the English Defence League’s march on May 9. They have estimated that the cost of policing the march was £300,000 as police officers were drafted from all over the country to deal with the march from the Far Right ‘human rights organisation’. In the open letter signed by WFTC secretary Linda Taaffe and president David Knight the union criticised police tactics amongst the closure of police stations throughout Waltham Forest.

It read:“The police presence was made up of hundreds of officers on foot, and waiting in vans, some on horses, some in the air and others with dogs. “This over-the-top mobilisation contrasts sharply with the woeful response ordinary citizens receive when we report a real crime in this borough. “A number of people were unjustly arrested for the simple reason that they wanted to walk the highway in their own neighbourhood." The EDL spokesman Keith Thomas said: "The police only needed a third of their numbers for that march. We are a non-violent organisation." Ellie Merton, who ran as an Independent candidate for Walthamstow in the General Election, and attended the march said at the time: “There were helicopters and about ten police officers, including riot police, to every EDL member. "In the age of austerity it is a complete waste of money. “Nobody wanted the march to go ahead except the Home Office.” Police said they had adequate resources in place for the march but refused to give out operational information.
The Guardian - series

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Czech Rep: Government again rejects proposed quota on refugees

25/5/2015- The Czech government insists on the reception of refugees in the EU being up to the voluntary decisions of EU members, disagreeing with the refugee quotas proposed by the European Commission, the state secretary for European affairs, Tomas Prouza, told CTK yesterday. This is included in the Czech Republic' framework position on the struggle against illegal immigration to the EU approved by the government yesterday, Prouza said. Two weeks ago, the EC unveiled the programme in reaction to the growing influx of refugees in the Mediterranean. In it, Brussels has proposed that more money should be spent on the naval operation of the European agency Frontex and that an increase in its powers should be considered. It also wants to drastically intervene against people smugglers in the Mediterranean, to improve cooperation with the transit countries and to help the European states to which the refugees are coming.

The EC also wants to spread 40,000 immigrants, now asking for asylum in Italy and Greece, in other EU countries according to a specific quota. This may mean 1,192 refugees for the Czech Republic. The EC also wants to resettle 20,000 refugees from the countries from outside the EU with a claim to international protection in EU countries in the next two years. This may mean 525 persons for the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic supports most of the measures, but it has always rejected the compulsory refugee quotas. Reservations about the plan have also been expressed by Central European and Baltic countries, Bulgaria, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Spain, Prouza said last week. The Czech government wants the EU to focus on the causes of the immigration wave in the countries of origin and on battling people smuggling. The EU plans are to be discussed by the EU interior and justice ministers in mid-June and by the heads of state and government at the summit in Brussels at the end of June.
The Prague Daily Monitor

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Montenegro Plans to Tighten Asylum Law

Following a very sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers, Montenegro plans to strengthen its control measures including giving police powers to detain illegal migrants.

25/5/2015- The Montenegrin government plans to set clearer rules on granting asylum in order to distinguish "those in need of international protection" from a growing number of illegal migrants, mainly from Asia and Africa. Explaining the new law on asylum, the government said the intention is to prevent abuse following a sharp increase of the number of asylum-seekers from only 235 in 2011 to more than 3,500 in 2014 - a more-than-tenfold rise that is causing growing concern. The Office for Refugees says anything from 50 to 90 asylum seekers arrive in Montenegro a day, mostly from Syria. For most, Montenegro is just a transit country and after a few days the majority of them leave towards Western Europe. The Montenegrin police in 2014 also recorded a sharp increase in the number of illegal migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East crossing Montenegro en route to the West.

The new law introduces the possibility of "administrative detention" for asylum seekers or immigrants who illegally cross the border. They will be detained in police facilities in the capital until the judicial authorities decide their requests for asylum. The law will also set out the conditions under which the asylum-seeker or migrant must apply for a solution to the judicial authorities. The new law also enhances police powers to distinguish between irregular migrants and asylum seekers and "between perpetrators and victims". "Migrations are often paired with terrorism and organized crime, which, abusing the difficult position of migrants, use such situations to achieve criminal goals," the government said. The new law obliges the state to provide asylum seekers and migrants with food, clothing, housing, health care and the right to privacy.

Resolving the issue of asylum seekers is important for Montenegro's EU membership negotiations, falling under the most demanding chapters in the talks, 23 and 24, on the rule of law. Last February, Montenegro has opened its first centre for asylum seekers after the European Commission advised it to strengthen its asylum reception capacities in order to cope with an increasing number of arrivals. The Commission called the centre a positive development but said further steps were needed to ensure the country's full alignment with EU "acquis" in the field of migration and asylum.
Balkan Insight

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French police break up riot in migrant camp in Calais

Fourteen migrants were injured after a squabble over a stolen mobile phone turned into a riot involving around 200 people

25/5/2015- Riot police were called in to break up a pitched battle in Calais involving around 200 of the thousands of migrants who flock to the French port hoping to sneak into England in the back of a lorry. Migrants threw security barriers and other objects at each other in the fracas that left 14 people injured on Sunday, La Voix du Nord newspaper reported. The incident, the latest in a series of violent clashes in Calais, was apparently sparked by a fight between an Afghan and a Sudanese man over a stolen mobile phone. It took place at a recently-opened day centre on the outskirts of the town that provides showers and serves 1,300 meals a day to the rising number of migrants from a string of war-torn countries including Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria, Sudan and Somalia.

Several dozen CRS riot police, backed by municipal officers, rushed to the scene to quell the violence. They briefly shut down the centre, which also provides overnight accommodation to a small number of women and children, and then stayed on when it was reopened to provide security as meals were distributed. French authorities are under growing pressure to clear the migrant squats and camps around Calais that have mushroomed as growing numbers flock to the port to try to make it to the UK. Hundreds of migrants seek to hide daily in lorries or cars as they queue up to board UK-bound ferries. Currently more than 2,000 migrants live in Calais, most in a makeshift camp dubbed The New Jungle next to the new day-centre, some three miles outside the city centre. But charities are warning of a likely upsurge in Calais following the record numbers of migrants reaching Italy, many of whom are waved through and make their way to northern Europe.

Britain has said it would refuse to accept a proposal by the European Commission to share the refugees and asylum seekers among the EU’s 28 member states. The riot in Calais on Sunday was the latest in a series of violent incidents in the port. In January, around two hundred migrants fought running battles against one another, with Africans pitched against Afghans. Last summer, police used tear gas to end fights among hundreds of migrants who were attempting to storm lorries bound for Britain.
The Telegraph

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Italian migrant centre scam exposed

Couple accused of skimming public money meant for migrants arriving in Italy and using it buy property

24/5/2015- aples prosecutors say €2 million (£1.4 million) destined to provide migrants in Italy with basic services instead went to a couple managing reception centres. Alfonso De Martina, president of a non-profit association based in Pozzuoli, was arrested on Saturday, along with his companion Rosa Carnevale, both accused of skimming public money in Italy’s rapidly growing migrant management business. According to their website, the non-profit has more than 100 operative seats. Prosecutors allege the couple swindled the sum by falsifying numbers of migrants it was hosting, but also by skimming money destined to provide services for those actually present. Finance police say they used the money to buy real estate in Milan and Pozzuoli as well as a mobile recharge business. They had billed €345,000 for operations never carried out, and were allegedly found with €130,000 in cash. €6,000 earmarked for migrants was spent on stadium tickets for the Napoli-Chelsea Champions League match in 2012. The arrests came as the two were preparing to flee to Montenegro, authorities said. Several civil protection functionaries, employees of the Campania region and a priest in the nearby Salerno region, are also under investigation. Since 2011, Italy has spent about €2 billion on basic support in first reception centres for at least 200,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean in recent years, fleeing Africa and the Middle East.
The Telegraph

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Italy says 'We're next' after Irish gay marriage vote

Positive reaction to overturning of Catholic church's hold on Ireland may have knock-on effect elsewhere

24/5/2015- Ireland's historic vote in favour of same sex marriage reverberated across Italy on Sunday, as Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's lieutenants came out in force to call for fast-track passage of a stymied civil partnership law. Socially conservative Italy now is the only Western European country that does not recognize either same sex marriage or civil unions. But that the Irish referendum garnered an unexpectedly strong 62 per cent "Yes" vote in such a deeply Catholic country rallied backers of the Italian law, which has been languishing in parliament for months. Several editorials on Sunday suggested that such a referendum in Italy would have a similar outcome, recalling the divorce referendum in 1974, when 60 percent of Italian voters went against the wishes of the Catholic church on a major social issue. La Repubblica reported Mr Renzi confided privately that in the wake of the Ireland vote the question of civil unions in Italy can no longer be put off. Many of his key cabinet members and key party allies spoke out in favor of swift passage of the proposed legislation.

"What joy," said Roberto Speranza, leader of Mr Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party of the result. "Now it is Italy's turn." "The moment has arrived, finally, to approve this before the summer's end," said Democratic Senator Andrea Marcucci. "Ireland is giving us a lesson in civility," said gay Italian politician Nichi Vendola, president of the Apulia region since 2005. Laura Boldrini, speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, said Ireland was giving Italy a much-needed push forward. "It is time that Italy has a civil unions law," Ms. Boldrini said on Twitter. "To be European means to recognize rights." Ireland is the 13th EU country to recognize gay marriage. Many countries, such as Germany, allow civil partnerships but are yet to allow marriage, while Cyprus, Greece and most of Eastern Europe do not recognize any form of same sex union.

The vote in Ireland crowned a dramatic shift in public attitudes towards homosexuality and a wide range of other social issues as the Roman Catholic church's once-firm grip on the country weakens. There was soul-searching in churches across the country after the vote in favour of changing the 1937 constitution specifically to allow same-sex marriage was declared passed, with a vote of 62.1 per cent in favour, on Saturday. The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, described the vote against church teaching on gay marriage as "overwhelming" and said Catholic leaders needed "urgently" to find a new way to speak to the country's young. "It's a social revolution," he said. "The church needs to do a reality check right across the board." He said that some church figures who argued in the "No" camp came across as "harsh, damning and unloving, the opposite of their intention". "Have we drifted completely away from young people?" he said. "Most of those people who voted 'yes' are products of our Catholic schools for 12 years."

The vote is likely to have a knock-on effect elsewhere, particularly in Catholic-majority countries. It was also welcomed by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general. "This is a truly historic moment: Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve marriage equality in a nationwide referendum," he said. "The result sends an impor-tant message to the world: All people are entitled to enjoy their human rights no matter who they are or whom they love." Italy's proposed civil partnership law – based on the German model - gives same sex couples many of the same rights as married couples, as well as the option of stepchild adoption, which allows a partner the possibility of adopting the biological child of the other partner. But the law is stuck in a Senate committee, where it has been bombarded with 4,320 amendments and is currently being rewritten with careful language that does not mention marriage.

Many of the roadblocks to the law have been thrown up by the far-right Northern League and the New Centre Right party of Angelino Alfano, which remain steadfast in their opposition to the adoption of children by same sex couples, the right for same sex partners to each other's pensions or a union that resembles marriage. "In our country we need to identify a path for civil unions that at the same time is not the same as marriage," said NCR's Fabrizio Cicchitto. How the Vatican will respond to the social shift underway is as yet unclear. Pope Francis remained silent on the Irish vote during his Pentecost Sunday address, while comments by some senior Catholic clergy suggested the Church was reeling from the result.

"Many times the Catholic Church in Italy has said it is one thing to respect legitimate rights of every person, but it is another to speak of gay marriage," said Sicilian Archbishop Michele Pennisi in La Repubblica. But at least one senior Catholic cleric in Ireland now disagrees, saying the outcome of the vote was a message that the Church needs a "reality check. " "I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day," said Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin. "That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live I think it is a social revolution." While Pope Francis has in the past stressed that the Church continues to regard marriage as being a union between a man and a woman, he has also asked senior Church leaders to study the reasons why many countries continue to legalise same sex marriages.

In Latin America, where Catholic traditions and conservative governments tend to be anti-gay, Brazil, Uruguay, the Pope's native Argentina and the Federal District of Mexico City have passed laws allowing same sex marriages. Last week, the Pope appointed a liberal Dominican priest, Father Timothy Radcliffe, as consultor for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The Englishman is an outspoken proponent of gay rights – another sign, some say, that Pope Francis is showing willingness to take a more inclusive stance on the issue.
The Telegraph

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Italy: The Ugly Side Of Italian Football: Blatant, Widespread Racism

24/5/2015- At the end of a football game last month in Forte dei Marmi, a coastal town in Italy’s Tuscany, an 11-year-old striker playing with AC Milan’s youth team walked off the field in tears. He wasn’t sad about the score: His team had just crushed France’s Paris Saint Germain, 4-0, moving on to the semifinals of a 48-team youth tournament. The boy was crying because the parents attending the tournament had hurled racist insults at him and his four black teammates. Italian football is popular all over the world, and the national team playing the game called soccer in the U.S. is tied with Germany for the most World Cup victories, trailing only Brazil. But in Italy the sport has an ugly side that distinguishes it among other European nations: the blatant racism displayed by many fans, players and coaches. Episodes such as the one in Forte dei Marmi, and recent instances of racist statements by top figures in Italian football, are an alarming signal that while overt racist episodes in the sport are on the decline in other parts of Europe, the problem may only be getting worse in Italy.

Experts say football may reflect the persistence of racism in Italy, where episodes such as the racist heckles directed at Cecile Kyenge, the first black cabinet minister in the country’s history, are commonplace. She has been compared with an orangutan by a national politician and had bananas thrown at her. “In the last two or three years, we had a higher number of racist episodes in youth tournaments,” said Mauro Valeri, a professor of sociology of ethnic relations at La Sapienza University in Rome who works with the government’s National Office Against Racial Discrimination. After all, this is a country where fans of the national team routinely heckle their own star striker Mario Balotelli by chanting while he is on the field, “There’s no such a thing as an Italian n----.” In addition to being offensive, these comments also ignore the growing number of black players growing up in Italy. Balotelli is an Italian citizen, born to Ghanaian parents in Sicily and adopted at a young age by an Italian family from Brescia. He speaks with a distinct Northern Italian accent.

“In Italy, there is an increase of young black players,” Valeri said, “most of whom were born and raised in this country.” According to Valeri, authorities recorded about 750 episodes of racism in all of Italy’s football leagues between 2000 and 2014. “Just during the 2013/2014 season, we experienced 118 incidents, especially among youngsters,” Valeri said. “Clubs paid almost 4 million euros in fines, but the money was not used for anti-racism initiatives as happens, for example, for the Union of European Football Associations,” Valeri said, referring to the body governing Europewide competitions. “In Italy, it was used mainly to pay for assistants or to make photocopies.” African players are frequently the targets of incredibly offensive heckling. In January 2013, Kevin-Prince Boateng, a Ghanaian player for AC Milan, walked off the pitch with his teammates during a friendly match against third-division Pro Patria after opposing fans howled, to simulate monkeys, every time he carried the ball. In May 2014, Atalanta fans threw bananas at Kevin Constant, an AC Milan defender from Guinea.

Experts say the Italian football federation, or FIGC, is responsible for not stamping out racist attitudes among Italian fans, players and coaches. “In Italy, part of the problem has been the leaders within football. It sometimes seems that even at the top level you have individuals who either carry these prejudices themselves or feel it is OK to talk in a loose way,” said Piara Powar, executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe. One of those football leaders is the current FIGC president, Carlo Tavecchio, who made headlines last summer with a racist remark uttered while campaigning for election. He indicated African players get jobs too easily with the Italian top teams, while in other European nations only good players make the cut. “Here we get Opti Poba, who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player ... In England, he must demonstrate his curriculum and his pedigree,” Tavecchio said, referring to a fictitious African whose name he had made up.

The episode shocked many, but a few weeks later -- amid the feeble opposition by a large daily newspaper, a few clubs, some coaches and players’ associations -- Tavecchio was elected president with 64 percent of the vote. The Union of European Football Associations and the International Football Federation sanctioned the newly elected president for racism, but an internal FIGC investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing. “My words were unfortunate and I immediately apologized,” Tavecchio told International Business Times through a representative via email. “On this topic, my human and professional paths are clear: for over 30 years I collaborated with [aid organizations] in Africa.” Tavecchio may really have believed he wasn’t being racist. He is currently traveling around Italy presenting an anti-racism program directed at young people. “Often, things that in other countries are seen as racist are not seen as racist in Italy. The former Italy manager [Arrigo Sacchi] said there are too many black players, and then said this isn’t racist. That’s quite ridicu-lous,” said John Foot, a professor of modern Italian history at the University of Bristol and one of the foremost experts on Italian football.

One of Italy’s most successful and respected coaches, Sacchi said this year that in Italian football “there are too many black players, even on the youth teams. Italy has no dignity, no pride. It’s not possible that our teams should have 15 foreign players on the roster.” When confronted about his comments by journalists, Sacchi, who was technical coordinator of the youth program at FIGC until last July, replied indignantly that “I am certainly not racist, and my history as a coach proves that, starting with [Frank] Rijkaard,” a black Dutchman who was a prominent player on his AC Milan squad in the 1980s. “There is always a denial that something is racist. It shows that most Italians think that racism is a bad thing,” Foot said. “They don’t want to be openly racist, but they don’t really understand what racism is.” Or even understand that it’s a problem.

Tavecchio, a former politician who served as the head of the national amateur football league for 15 years, considers racism an overblown issue. “There are only a few bad episodes,” he said, “and thousands of positives that should make news.” But we may know about only a fraction of the racist incidents that actually happen on Italian football fields. In March last year, a 19-year-old playing for top-division Atalanta’s youth team was suspended for 10 games after calling another player “vu cumprà” or “wanna buy,” a racist term for African street peddlers. Last October, a 16-year-old AC Milan player was suspended for five games and fined for 5,000 euros for insulting a Ghanaian opponent with the Italian equivalent of the English N-word. In January, an Italian 15-year-old of Ethiopian origin was insulted by an opponent’s parent in Florence, after a match between two local teams.

According to Foot, racism is clearly a problem in Italian society as a whole, since Italy had very little immigration until the 1970s, and society doesn’t yet have the cultural tools to deal with a population that has rapidly grown diverse. “Football mirrors the social tensions faced by Italy, as well as other nations,” Tavecchio himself said. According to the National Institute of Statistics, as of January, there were 5.73 million foreign residents in Italy, about 8.3 percent of the total population. In France, Germany, Spain and the U.K., the comparable figure is well above 10 percent. To be sure, Italy may not be alone among European nations in being a hotbed of football racism, but its inability to deal with the persistence of racism is baffling. “Eastern Europe in some ways is even worse,” Foot said. “Italy however is an interesting case: It has a very powerful football federation, it has a very important league, but despite 25 years of racist episodes it hasn’t resolved this issue.” And, he added: “The example that’s coming down from politicians is a terrible one, and very little has changed in terms of cultural ability to deal with it. Progress is very slow, and there is still a long way to go.”
The International Business Times

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Germany: Amnesty discusses racism surge, criticizes government

Amnesty International has criticized the German government for lacking a clear policy to combat racism at its annual meeting in Dresden. The rights group is currently documenting racially motivated attacks in Germany.

23/5/2015- Some 500 Amnesty International (AI) members are currently in Dresden to discuss the issue of racism in Germany. The rights group's German section demanded Saturday that the German government develop a strategy to deal with growing racism in the country. According to AI Germany's general secretary, Selmin Caliskan, racism was not the same phenomenon as right-wing extremism and must be analyzed as a problem for the whole society. A team of AI's researchers from the organization's London headquarters is in Germany to document racist attacks and human rights violations by government officials, Caliskan told the DPA news agency. The findings will not be published until 2016, she added. "In relation to rights breaches by police, it is very difficult to find people who are willing to talk about it," said Caliskan.

Racism and the far-right
The AI official said the organization's hate crime report would also investigate the scandal surrounding the far-right National Socialist Underground (NSU) group's attacks on immigrants, mostly on Turks. The extremist group had killed nine immigrants between 2000 and 2006. AI will also look into the surge in the number of attacks on refugee hostels in Germany. Caliskan said that racism could be combated through intercultural institutions that can educate people, particularly the police. "Discriminatory police checks are still the order of the day and must be abolished," urged Caliskan. When asked about why the organization chose Dresden as its conference venue, she said the location carried significance because it had been the center of the right-wing PEGIDA's anti-Islam demonstrations.

Badawi's plight
AI's conference, which is not open to public, will also discuss the topic of human rights in the digital age. Ensaf Haidar, the wife of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, will also speak at the conference. Amnesty International has over 130,000 members and supporters in Germany.
Deutsche Welle

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